I laced up my shoes and started down the stairs of my apartment complex. From an open window I could hear some sort of Latino music, the tacky kind that sounds like a Mariachi band. I put my headphones in.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I unlocked the door and started to jog down the street towards the park. It had been a muggy overcast day but now that night had fallen, the air seemed to crack like a whip.
I was listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits as I passed the Saturday night crowd on the sidewalk. They were all dressed for the bars, but I was wearing sweatpants and a grey hooded sweatshirt. To me, it doesn’t get any more American than Skynyrd, and I felt like I was hiding a secret from them; like I was a spy in a foreign land carrying sensitive dispatches.
I reached the park and cut through. I liked this park because it was small enough to be quaint and bohemian, but big enough to have a Starbucks. It was 8:30 on a Saturday night and people congregated in aimless clusters. There were dozens of chic bars within walking distance which would soon be overrun.
I kept my head down and avoided them as I ran through. I was starting to sweat now and it felt good in the cool air. I had to lose seven kilos in the next week. I hadn’t been that light since NCAAs my junior year of college – March of 2009. My stomach sank a little bit thinking about it, but I was sweating now and that was good.
I reached the other end of the park and passed Starbucks. Someone was playing guitar on a bench, but I couldn’t hear it over the Skynyrd. I descended the stone steps towards the beach. I turned onto the long cobblestone road that cut through the cliff. Sometimes I sprinted up this road on my return, but tonight there would be too many people for that. There were big groups who took up the entire width of the road.
“Permiso!” I said. I hoped it wasn’t too loud, with my headphones in I could never tell. I wanted to be mad at these people, but really I was just jealous. Both sides of the path were lined with cebicherias and tapas bars. People inside were probably laughing and having a great time sipping down Pisco sours and Chilcanos. Everyone always told me I was lucky to live in Barranco because the bars were so much fun, but I was embarrassed I hadn’t been to any yet.
The smell of pollo a la brasa invaded my nostrils. It smelled like they were using a real wood fire too. The savory smoke made my mouth water. I had been dieting hard and my stomach was empty. I looked around at the people dining on the porches. I was jealous. They were having a great time and I was suffering.
I got a kind of solace from this thought. I felt for a minute like I was superior in some way. I was sacrificing those things which they were able to savior. You self-righteous bastard, I thought.
It was true, I wanted to be there with them. The only thing keeping me back was my upcoming fight. There is something intensely sobering about the thought of getting into a cage with another human whose only goal is to hurt you for 15 minutes.
Still, I felt that solace. It was a warm glow of pride. I didn’t need to measure myself against those people, only myself. I was forgoing something I wanted to do, for something I needed to do, and it felt good.
The soreness and the hunger and the sweat all coalesced into an intense feeling of satisfaction. I was now past the restaurants and approaching the beach. I crossed over the wooden footbridge and descended the crumbling stone stairs.
I took a left and followed the path along the beach, under the glow of intermittent streetlamps. I looked out to my right and could see waves cresting and breaking. The cool ocean breeze swept over me.
My legs fell into a natural cadence and I was striding along the beach, cutting through the crisp night air. I ran and ran and eventually realized that I would have to turn around, but I didn’t want to. I always hated running back. I wished life had only one direction. Onwards and upwards.
My legs burned and I was tired and hungry, but my mind was fresh and awake. I forced myself to turn around. Damn. I had been in such a good rhythm. I had the runners high.
I thought of how spiritualists had practiced fasting for thousands of years. I think I was starting to understand why. Fasting is an expression of discipline, of transcending human temptations. When you forgo your desires, you get a sense of power. Not power over others, but over yourself. That’s what discipline is: power over yourself.
I ran back along the shore. I felt very alone against the vast ocean. Fighting is a lonely sport, I thought. I train with a team, but it is just me out there in the cage. When a knee smashes into my face, no one else can take the pain for me. There is no place to hide.
I was spending my Saturday night alone with Lynyrd Skynyrd. I had sat alone in my room most of the day. I was losing weight and didn’t have the energy to deal with other people. Even if I did, I couldn’t go out to eat or drink so why even bother.
When I arrived back at the footbridge, I didn’t want to leave. I jumped down the steep embankment to the rocky beach. Instead of sand, it was covered in smooth stones – the kind you find in a New England lakebed. They varied from the size of grapes to grapefruits. The beach was steep from erosion and I sat on the edge where it dropped down into the surf. The waves crashed inches from where my feet hung. This was my favorite spot in all of Lima.
I came here often to think. I pulled my headphones out and listened. Ahhh yes, that’s it. A wave crashed and battered the small rocks, carrying them up the steep beach. When the wave could go no further, it hung there for a second, then slowly fizzed out, like an opened bottle of soda. As the wave receded, it dragged the rocks back into the sea. This made the sound of a child pouring a bucket of marbles down a playground slide. Then the next wave came and it happened all over again.
It lulled me off into a state of deep tranquility. As I sat there thinking, nothing else mattered but that very moment in space and time. All was right in the world. Tonight, I had done battle with desire and I won.