“The main event… you must be joking with me!” Alex shook his head violently from side to side, as though he was trying to shake off a clinging spider. “No, I cannot believe it!”
“I’m a terrible liar Alex; you can ask anybody here and they’ll tell you the same. It’s why I don’t play poker with them anymore.”
He tilted his head slightly to the left, his eyes narrowing and a smile forcing its way onto his lips. I crossed my arms, met his gaze openly and waited for him to accept the truth. Suddenly his eyes went wide and his mouth fell open.
“L’en mede… you’re serious?”
“I’m not sure what that first bit was about,” I said with a laugh, “but I can confirm the last half.”
“I am sorry, Creole still expresses some feelings better than English,” he said with an embarrassed smile, his eyes darting between my feet and my face. “You will come with me, be in my corner?”
“It was part of the deal, sorry. But don’t worry,” I rushed to add before he could respond, “it’s just for this one fight. I’m not trying to force my way into your corner or anything like that. If you want to find a new coach to train with after this fight I won’t be offended or -”
“Nate. Let us see how the next nine days go and then we will go from there – that sound good?”
I nodded once, scratching my nose to hide my smile. The kid had a good head on his shoulders – I just hoped I wasn’t about to get it knocked off.
“I’ll be here around eight thirty tomorrow morning, we can go through a few exercises together if you’d like,” I said.
“Hey – you are the boss man! You tell me what to do and I do it!” Alex was almost bouncing in place; if I didn’t have to get home to cook dinner with Cara I would have suggested we start right then and there. “I can be here by seven thirty if you want to start earlier.”
“No can do – I walk my daughter all the way to school on Fridays,” I said as we strolled together towards the stairs. He was only a few inches shorter than me, lean muscle mass from neck to calves. “And there’s not enough money in the world to bribe her out of bed early.”
“I did not know you have a child – only the one, or does she have a brother or sister?”
“No, it’s just me and Cara,” I said. I saw his eyes go briefly to my bare fingers before flicking away. “Her mother left a long time ago.”
“I understand that is common here, but I think more usual for the woman to stay and the man to leave? In Haiti so many marriages were torn apart by the slave trade that marriage is not so normal now.”
“We were never married… Cara is all the family I have.” I paused, realizing there was an uncomfortable amount of truth in that statement. “You do what you must for your sister and mother; I do the same for my daughter.”
“Then we have much riding upon our shoulders,” Alex said as he turned to face me. “We cannot let them down.”
“We will not let them down.”
He nodded once, a slow, solemn gesture. It felt like we had just agreed to a contract that neither of us would walk away from. There was an understanding that we would see this thing through to the end.
“Tomorrow morning then,” he said and began to turn away.
“Alex… do you…” I cleared my throat and tried again. “If you don’t have any plans for tomorrow night, would you like to have dinner with Cara and me? There’s a great Jamaican restaurant over on Granville Street, I think you’d like it – my treat.”
“That is very kind Nate – thank you. You do not have to pay for me though; I have made some money from washing dishes in the evenings.” There was no injured pride in the admission – this was simply a man who was willing to do whatever it took to bring his family to safety.
“No, I insist – just this one time. Consider it your official welcome to Vancouver. Besides,” I added with a smile, “having Cara pepper you with questions will be a high enough price to pay.”
“A price I will pay gladly,” he said. “Have a good night Nate.”
I bade him farewell and headed for home. Street lights struggled to life, their weak yellow glow preparing for another night's work, as I made my way along tree lined side streets covered with the first fallen leaves of the season.
It wasn't until I was taking the elevator to our apartment that I realized I was still smiling.