Pedro Ávila

I snapped up in bed with a jolt as if hit by the titillating 20,000 Volts of a distributor cap. Disturbed from sleep out of a terrible dream is no proper way to make a man jump out of bed – but boy, is it effective.

The first thing I noticed was how dark it was. Not just dark, but black. Pitch black; not like the night, but like fear — like bad things face down in wet roadside ditches, cold and abandoned. Outside the lamps were still on but their lights seemed to be shut out from illuminating my room. The darkness was so empty it held no memories — it was cold and smelled of fiends and… enemies. My chest was soaked but my skin was dry. My medical training jumped and I checked for gashes and other wounds.

Nope, nothing.

I still clung to the dream, not wanting to forget it yet. It disturbed and vexed me in a way that made me very uneasy. I had perished killing my killer; died bloody in his hands, and he breathless in mine. He’d stabbed me repeatedly as I strangled him in a bright place surrounded by people. It was not a good hour for such thoughts.

I thought back to the day — what was it? I had come home from work dead tired… dead? Could that be it? …nah – too obvious.

Maybe that run… that run yesterday, concentric circles around the 10 miles of the main canals in Amsterdam — it had almost killed me… but no, no. Too much of a stretch.

I thought back to the roda… that was it: that guy. Tall and muscular; a thin face. He wasn’t just dark, like an African American – he was black. Black like emptiness, black like danger. Negro. A pit of confused anger embodied in the color of a man’s skin. Whatever it was, the important thing is that I saw no smile on his face; no white teeth presented themselves. I didn’t like it.

He was angry from the start. There was no playfulness in his attempted take downs, no creativity in his forceful kicks. Who did he think I was? Was he mistaking me for someone else, someone with whom he had a grudge? Had I done something I did not realize? He was coming for me, and there was anger in his face; fury in his exhaled breath.

I dodged, I rolled, and I answered back with my own, but I own no fury like that. I loath nothing that seriously. I’m there for fun.

Then it happened. His arrastao put me on the defensive and I was forced into holding him in a head lock from above; I hate this position. He twisted out of it and instead of putting me in a headlock – which is what usually happens and one of the reasons I hate that position – he pushed me down to the floor. Fuck.

That horrible position on one knee, head down, elbow to the face for protection: completely vulnerable from above. I’ve always had an irrational fear of this position; a trauma of some kind. Maybe a saw a film or something when I was young, but it makes me uneasy. Something akin to that scene where Alex Murphy gets shot in “Robocop” comes to mind. Why the hell was I watching that when I was 7?

Anyway, my enemy close above me, his thigh keeping me down from behind. The position I dread. Then I hear the click of the knife and the air gets cold with the tip of the blade. What? Wait… why? No, wait!

It sinks in easily and the blade under my flesh fills me with fear. As he pulls it out I draw a quick breath out of instinct; a short, pitiful, thin breath that barely whispers any oxygen. I can smell the blood instantly.

In that second I think back to that first time I was knocked down. The friendly mestre who knocked me horizontally five feet into the air (with all his friendliness), and let me fall into the watching crowd. Piles of humiliation. Yeah.

That’s what it was about; humility. It was always about learning humility. And how do you react? Do you try to rid yourself the humiliation by standing up and getting angry? You’d look more foolish and you wouldn’t learn a thing. Do you cower and roll into a fetal position, hoping for pity yet fearing further beating with no defense? Do you just let fear rush in and do it’s thing, settling into a pointless panic? Or do you rise above, learn, and come back with a bit more awareness, your fear fueling your drive and a cool head full of wisdom to drive the strength?

First, I guess — you have to fall well. Then you worry about what to do after the fall. I have fallen many times since then, and have had it with humility. There were other days in which I might have sat still, hoping for action from someone. Help. Pity. No more knockdowns, no more flying through clapping crowds — no more stabbing, please; let it stop here. There were times when I would not have thought to fight back immediately while the strength was still in me.

But not this time.

Before that breath could be drawn in again I stood straight up, my back to his chest, reached back and grabbed his neck, firmed my grip and pulled. I use my hips to push him over and flip him in front of me, on his knees. He never saw this coming. My elbow was already around his throat, squeezing, squeezing the life out of him as I squeezed the hate out of me. I wanted it all gone and I didn’t have much time.

His arms flailed, looking for a hold, trying to tap, trying to scratch, trying to do anything, but I was out of his reach. I didn’t question him. I looked for no explanation; I needed no explanation. He went limp soon enough but I didn’t let go right away. I had more hate still to squeeze out of me and wanted no drop left.

As I thought about this horrible moment in that lonely and new kind of dark, a strange sound rang in my ears. A repeating buzzing, loud and terrible as if it were right next to my ears.

What do I do?

Everything around me was fading, the darkness thinning and I could see an outline of… red lights, numbers…

what is this?

I needed to do something, but what? Suddenly:

Alarm! The alarm clock! Turn it off: Right arm, GO! Reach across; not too far! Remember there was a glass of water there or something…

_No? You’re not working?


Ok, never mind… left arm, swing around over the chest; you can do it old boy! That’s it! Right onto the buzzer button. Snooze — don’t turn it off!

At a kid!


A nightmare. What time is it? Did I sleep enough? What did I do to deserve this? It’s cold outside isn’t it? Fuck.

It’s going to be a long, strange day.

Oh well. At least I didn’t kill anyone last night, and then die in his arms. What with the Patriot Act and all, it’s a bad time for people who do that kind of thing.

Pedro Ávila Pedro Ávila

For a reasonably sane & productive member of society (arguable, but let’s not complicate things), I’m far too mobile and unrooted. I travel quite a bit for a job that is simultaneously my greatest privilege and my worst burden.

So I write. And I write. Travel pieces, political journalism (a stretch from ranting but, still), short stories, poetry and other such riff-raff. I contribute to a handful of publications and will probably just keep going until something gives out, or someone gives in.


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Of smiles and roars