I leave the stairs and step out into a room full of sweat and sound. People are everywhere, in boxing rings, pounding at bags, and there are two guys right in front of me mixing it up in some freaky looking cage.
“Yo!” booms a male voice.
The whole place goes silent.
The two guys in the cage stop their crazy wrestling-boxing thing and glance over. Their stare is intense, and I take a step backwards, reaching for the door to the stairwell. Then both men are popping out gum guards and giving me a wave, and I realise it’s the two guys from last night.
“Hey Justine,” says the older, taller, darker of the two, opening a door to the cage. “Shana is going to be here soon. She’s just sorting out the kids.”
The other guy gives me a nod, before turning his gaze on the rest of the crew. The older man’s eyes follow and he barks, “Back to work,” and all those eyes swivel away from me.
Air rushes out of my lungs in relief.
The younger guy takes a couple steps forward and raises a hand. “Dax. The one sleeping upstairs.”
“Wonga,” says the older one. “Shana and I own this dojo, and Dax manages the place when we’re not here.” Then he turns to Dax, “Take a breather. I’m going to go hustle the slackers.”
Dax nods, before returning his gaze to me. Rubbing the back of his neck, he says, “Need anything?”
I shrug, not wanting to admit that being alone had started to feel creepy. Which is probably weird. But, knowing I’ve got to say something, I ask, “What is this place?”
Dax visibly relaxes. The muscles under his vest soften, making him look far less intimidating. He’s a big guy. Looks about my age, maybe a few years older, but with a lot more confidence – as if he knows how to do life right. “This is a dojo, a kind of gym. We train in various fight skills: Karate, Kickboxing, K1, Muay Thai and MMA, mostly. But we also teach self-defence and have some boxers who use the space, too.”
I think of the loaned T-shirt I’ve got on under the white pyjamas. “MMA?”
“Mixed martial arts: kind of like boxing, karate and wrestling all put together.”
“And you do it in that thing?” I point to the cage.
“Yeah,” Dax says.
I study the black chain link of the cage. “I don’t think I’d want to go in there. Too much like being … trapped.”
Dax glances back at it. “I can see why you might feel like that. But for me, it’s a place where I can let go. When I’m in there, I’m focused, thinking of nothing else but my game.”
I blink, taking this in. I’ve never had a space like that. My head is all over the place, full of thoughts and memories and what’s going on and what I’ve got to do. Tazmin used to describe surfing a bit like that. As her time. But I never tried it. No way: too many sharks.
And somehow, with that thought, my mouth is moving before I can stop it, “Do any girls train here?”
Tell us: Dax and Tazmin have sports that give them a break from their everyday worries. Do you have a place or activity or sport that allows you to ‘let go’?