I was somewhere I should not have been. Or, if we discard notions of should or should not, at least I was somewhere I felt myself the outsider. There were crowds of people gathering for a ceremony and because I was there I was gathered up with them. The community watched as the young people were sent through massive doors and because I was there I was also sent. But I was not one of them. I was there by choice, of my own free will, but I was not one of them.
It was a test, a trial, a bloodbath. Everyone cowered before the young male, the leader, he who had killed before. They kept their distance, explicitly yielding unto him the space he felt was his due. I did not. When he challenged me, and threatened those others sent before him, I took up two straight swords and fought with him. All were surprised that I, the interloper, challenged him. They were surprised I challenged not only him but the assumption that insisted these young people spill each others’ blood for dominance. I didn’t want dominance. I wanted to bring down the very institution that accepted murder as a rite of passage.
He rose to the challenge, full of grace and aggression. Circling me like a cat with a new plaything that fights its own instinct to eat it in order to prolong the play. I would have none of it and remained silent and still, waiting for him. He attacked. I fought with the shorter sword in my left hand, held back to catch his blade, and the longer blade in my right hand, forward to catch his blood. These were not rapiers or foils, nor katana and wakizashi. They were perfectly straight, tapering to an asymmetrical point like a knife, sharpened along one whole edge and along both sides on a third of the length back from the tip. They were designed for stabbing and cutting, but thick enough to catch a much heavier blade without braking. The grips were carved and straight, with no hilt or hand guard – blades designed for attack rather than defense. To survive, the one who wields these blades must be swift enough to leave only air where the enemy aims, or deflect and control the other’s blade, turning it away, giving it nothing solid on which to rest. She must be as a ghost, right up to the moment of attack.
And attack I did. Though I reviled the ritual violence I had been unwitting thrust into, the elders who perpetuated it, the young leader who reveled in it, and though my compassion sang for the frightened youth subjected to this horror, it is also true that I wanted to fight. Not to kill perhaps, if I could avoid it, but yes to test myself and spill blood and sweat and tears, my own and his. I enjoyed it.
He was surprised. I was smaller, lighter, more contained, but I held my ground. I was vicious in my own way. My style was strange to him and might just prove a match, but rather than halting his attack, he reveled in me, much as reveled in him. He fought with a shark’s smile on his beautiful face and I greeted it with death’s grin. There was blood and sweat and tears, but I cannot speak to the outcome, except to say I am still alive.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out, nor even a minor in psychology. The analogy is apparent in the light of day; I was dreaming about college. I forgot it the moment I woke and only remembered hours later, that youth’s blood splatter torso and manic grin a vivid image against the banality of my waking life. The comparison of college to this epic battle seems ridiculous on the face of it – but it’s my struggle, so my ego makes it epic. My subconscious re-presents a complex navigation of misty cultural expectations into a simple fight for victory over the aggressor. If only it came down to that: one fight, one battle, one enemy. Destroy him and the foundation collapses, the system comes crashing down ending everyone else’s struggles, setting them free to live in happiness. Heroic, that. Simple. Delusional.
But someday it’s going to make for wonderful fiction.