“Do you see the number of people here? Or, rather, the lack of people?” My sister, Eliza, explained with a glimmer of annoyance in her voice. She sat beside me on the freezing gym floor as we prepared in the staging area to be directed to a ring. Other girls sat around us doing a variety of things. Some stretched, some ate, some talked with people that they knew around them and others just sat down with earbuds in, drowning out the noise around them.
“There’s between four and six people per ring, right? But there are eleven people here. We’re divided by age, height, and rank, and there are five people, including us, who could be in a ring together.”
“So?” I retorted, bored with Eliza’s observations and calculations. Stretching was the most important thing to focus on right now. As I interlocked my fingers, I arched my back and extended my arms over my head with a low breath. Slowly, gently, I reach
ed towards my outstretched foot and grasped it, pulling myself forwards, feeling muscles I didn't even know I had.
“You’ll be a lot more worried to know that if I am correct-”
“You’re probably not, but what?”
“If I am correct, we’ll be in a ring together.”
That was enough for me to snap my head up at her. Quizzically, I respond to what appeared to be an outrageous observation.
“What? We’ve never been in a ring together, they rarely even put siblings together! Why would they start now?”
“Because there’s no other choice.”
She went back to stretching, taking her legs and shaping them into unfathomable figures. For being only ten years old, she was amazingly flexible, almost catching up to me in a silent contest of whose legs stretched more. Being twelve, and the oldest, I certainly won.
I held my form, bent over my leg, nose touching the floor, in a seemingly silent state. Any thoughts of doubt were being erased from my brain as I thought of nothing but calm emptiness.
“You five, come over here!” A screeching voice distracted me as I slowly raised my head up to see the person that shrieked. She was a petite woman who looked old and quite frightening.
“My name is Mrs. Nolan, and I’ll be staging you five, as you’ll be in a ring together.” I didn’t even have to turn behind me to see Eliza’s smug look that said only one thing, “I told you so.” I rolled my eyes at her out of eyeshot, and could sense her smile behind me.
We all followed Mrs. Nolan to a fold-out table covered in a cheap, frail, black plastic tablecloth. She had us line up single file in front of the table and asked all of us for our names, ages, ranks, and heights once we were at the front. We all answered her questions and ignored her bored and exhausted sighs.
Eliza was the last person asked, and after she told the Mrs. Nolan her name, her head whipped towards me and she asked, “Are you two sisters?”
We’ve been asked this from a variety of people. From strangers, neighbors, employees at Target where our mom would drop us off and we’d shop, to distant relatives that we didn’t even know existed, it seemed like the biggest secret to them to find out that Eliza and I were sisters. Nowadays, we practiced our impromptu speaking and created a story to explain our relationship before telling them the truth and it was a contest between us to come up with the most unbelievably believable story. Today, it was Eliza’s turn.
“She’s my half sister, actually. Our mum had an affair with her dad after she was born, the guy was her husband’s brother, and voilah! I became part of the picture!”
Mrs. Nolan was unbelievably stunned, and rightfully so. I do not believe she has ever heard a ten year old confidently tell that sort of story. I let out a low chuckle as she continued, “Not really. Yeah, she’s my sister.” Mrs. Nolan let out a nervous laugh and walked away quickly, taking us to our corner of the gym.
“Nice one, how long have you been working on it?” I remarked behind me as we walked, and heard a snicker in return.
“About fifteen minutes actually, since I figured out that we’d be competing together. Impressed?”
Eliza and I have been in the same ring in every tournament since that day four years ago. We’ve performed our forms one after the other, broken our boards in the same ring, catching them for each other after they flew out of the holder’s hands, and have more than enough times sparred together. We are both each other’s largest enemy and biggest cheerleader.
In St. Paul two years later, at the same tournament, Eiza was finishing up her sparring match. A quick word, however, about my sister and her relationship with sparring. Her nickname around the dojang is “The Animal”. She is one of my martial arts school’s fiercest sparrers and while she is not the best, she is most definitely powerful and intimidating. At this point, I was fourteen and she was twelve, and she had become taller than me by a few inches. She may be the master of power, but my head kicks, worth double the points of a body kick in a match, were heard of throughout various schools.
In Eliza’s previous round, she got caught with a nasty sidekick to her chest and went down with little air left in her. However, she got back up, much to the dismay of her opponent, and proceeded to score five points in thirty seconds. She won that round twelve to seven, and the moment that the center referee raised her arm, crowning her winner, was the moment that I realized that this match was going to be incredibly hard.
“Xander!” The center referee announced, pointing to a spot to his left where I was to go and stand.
“Yes, Sir!” I replied, leaping from where I previously sat on the hardwood floor in Appleton High School’s gymnasium.
Another quick note, this time about my sparring abilities: they do not compare to those of my sister. Think of it as comparing a fight between a titanic sized gorilla and a baby antelope. Yes, there is difference in both size and power, but if everything goes according to plan, the antelope can outlast the gorilla and hit her while she’s tired. In this case, I was hoping to play my cards right and block her kicks until she tired, which she did easily.
“Are you two sisters?” The center referee asked us, looking between his papers that included our last names and us, attempting to judge if his hypothesis is correct.
“No, not at all!” I replied, enjoying the look of confusion on his face. “I actually just met her a few moments after the tournament began.” I directed my attention towards my sister and nodded. “Your name is Eliza, correct?”
“Yeah, you remembered! I think we’ll be very good friends,” she answered, no longer able to hide her liar’s smile any longer. “Yes, we’re sisters.” I told the center referee. And he and the five fellow judges laughed a quiet laugh.
“Are you both geared up? I see your chest guards and helmets, but do you both have arm and shin guards?”
“Yes, Sir,” we simultaneously replied, nodding our heads in unison.
“Yes, Sir,” we said again.
“Alright. And, begin!”
At the exact moment that the last syllable of “begin” left his mouth, Eliza smirked and immediately caught my side with a roundhouse kick.
“Point!” three voices called, and a point went to her. The score was already one to nothing with a minute and fifty eight seconds left in the match. This is going to be hard.
My sister and I are prone to silent conversations, communicating only through facial expressions and glares. As we continued our match, I raised my eyebrows and glanced at her glimmering eyes, silently asking her, This is how you want to play, huh?
She smirked as we circled each other, calculating where to hit, with how much force to score a point, and if trying to kick the other person’s head is worth the risk of possibly kicking their face and getting them ticked off even more.
You know I’m going to win this, like with this kick now, she leered as she went in for a front kick to my sternum. The contact was sudden, intense, and incredibly painful.
“Point!” Four judges saw that kick and another point went to Eliza.
This went on for a while, my sister scoring a majority of the points while here and there I snuck in a kick to her head, quickly increasing my points. With fifteen seconds left on the clock and the score being seven to six, I had an actual shot at this. Until I made one fatal mistake. My sidekick caught her abdomen and while I got the point, the kick had a tad bit more power than I predicted. Eliza snarled- yes, actually snarled- and even though the score was tied seven all, I knew that I would lose this match. I was proven right, and with a head kick that struck my temple, I was left sprawled out on the cold, miserable floor. I felt defeated, and oh, so sore.
“Eliza, this is your verbal warning. If she falls down again because of your lack of control, you will be deducted points.” Holy son of a serpent, she didn’t get that point. I still had a chance!
“Are you alright?” the center referee asked me, concern flooding his eyes.
“I’m wonderful, Sir! It was just a little kick.” I instantly regretted saying that, for once I looked over the center ref’s shoulder, I saw my sister overcome with some unrecognizable emotion stronger than any anger she has ever possessed. It was because of both the powerful kick on her part and my snide comment. I am not going to win this match. In the end, the score was thirteen to seven, and I had a few battle wounds to show.
“The winner, for first place, is Eliza!” The center announced as he raised her arm high into the air. One would imagine that I would feel anger, misery, or even jealousy for her winning the match. The only thing that I knew then and there was pride for my little sister. My little sister who was always bullied for her height and her large muscles was now putting them to use. Once her arm was set down, the center had us shake hands. We did, and she yanked my arm towards her into the sweatiest hug I’ve ever had; which was both comforting and disgusting.
“Good job, Lil’ Sis,” she whispered, calling me the nickname she gave to me the day we noted that she was taller than I.
“Right back at you, Big Sis.”