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Submitted on 11/06/2020

Categories: Fiction Friendship Drama

“Come on! Harder!” Mayra Alexandra clapped her punch mitts together and squatted to accommodate her tiny opponent.

Alicia lifted a fist enclosed in a boxing glove almost as big as her head and tapped the older girl’s mitt.

Mayra Alexandra sighed as only a 13-year-old could and stood up. 

“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat,” she told Alicia. “Stand back. Watch me.”

The bag shuddered as Mayra Alexandra unleashed a flurry of jabs and crosses on it, long braids whipping around her face, hot pink gloves flashing. Alicia dutifully watched, mimicking Mayra Alexandra’s movements.

“Pow!” she whispered, punching the air, each time Mayra Alexandra pounded the bag. “Pow pow pow. Pow!”

She wondered if the bag, patched with splotches of duct tape, could hold together under the assault. 

Panting slightly, Mayra Alexandra knelt down again and held up her mitts. 

“Ok, let’s go! Focus!.”

Alicia bit her lip and zoned in on her target. She took a deep breath and threw every ounce of her 44 pounds into the punch, knocking Mayra Alexandra back on her heels.

“Pow!” she shouted.

“Yes!” Mayra Alexandra sprang to her feet and lifted the six-year-old’s hand in victory. Alicia beamed and the other students applauded.

“Way to go, Alicia!” said Senhor da Silva. He took her by the hand and touched Mayra Alexandra on the shoulder. “You two. Come with me,” he said.

He led them over to a short woman wearing heavy-framed glasses, wavy hair gathered in a ponytail, scribbling furiously in a notebook.

“This is Senhora Ferreira. She’s a reporter from O Globo newspaper and is doing a story on our little program. She’s going to ask you a few questions.”

Alicia liked the merry way Sra. Ferreira’s eyes crinkled at the corners when she smiled. The reporter turned her attention on Mayra Alexandra.

“I was so impressed when I heard about Do Morro Para O Ringue. This program is so unique in Rio de Janeiro,” she said. “It’s the first in the favelas to train at-risk children. Sr. da Silva tells me you’re the star student.”

Mayra Alexandra smiled and looked Sra. Ferreira straight in the eye.

“We are very proud of our boxing school. We work hard to excel in our training, study and teach the younger students,” she said.

Mr. da Silva interrupted.

“Mayra Alexandra came to us after a police raid on her home last year. Her brothers were arrested for drug trafficking and one of the officers brought her here,” he explained.

“What do you hope to accomplish with boxing, Mayra Alexandra?” asked Sra. Ferreira.

“I am going to study a lot and I am going to focus – on boxing and on my schoolwork. I am going to get to the top and win! I am going to show the world that I am not just another girl called Mayra.”

Sra. Ferreira smiled and patted her on the arm. 

“That is a good goal. And how about you, little one?” she asked Alicia.

“Alicia is one of our newest students and our youngest – six years old,” Sr. da Silva said.

Alicia put her hands behind her back and said solemnly, “Struggle and discipline. I promise to use what I learned today only for good, only for defense and only in a positive manner and to never do wrong. Amen.”

Sr. da Silva chuckled and patted her on the head. “That is our closing mantra,” he told the Sra. Ferreira. “Mayra Alexandra, do you want to do the honors today?”

The star student clapped her hands sharply and the children fell into rows, Alicia standing in front. Mayra Alexandra began the mantra and 24 voices quickly joined her:

“Struggle and discipline. I promise to use what I learned today only for good, only for defense and only in a positive manner and to never do wrong. Amen.”

Alicia never missed a day of training. She raced to the boxing school the moment her classes ended, often the first to dig into the pile of donated gloves and grab the red ones, her favorites despite the cracks in the vinyl and ragged stitching. Sr. da Silva’s wife would carefully wrap her tiny hands  and send her scampering over to mirrors where she would study herself earnestly as she punched and kicked the air. Her cheeks flushed and brown eyes brightened as she worked her way through the drills, and she always stayed well after the other students had left, until Sr. and Sra. da Silva locked up for the night.

“Why don’t you want to go home, Alicia?” Sra. da Silva asked her one night.

Alicia shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, looking down at her feet.

Sra. da Silva looked over her head at Sr. da Silva.

“Is your home safe?” Sra. da Silva asked.

Alicia nodded. 

“Are your parents at home?”

“My mama.”

“Does she wonder where you are so late each day?”

“No. She’s busy with the other kids.”

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

Alicia counted on her fingers.

“Eight. But Julio is in jail. He shot someone.”

Sra. da Silva patted her on the shoulder and glanced at her husband, who look sadly back at her.

“Ok, go on home, meu amor. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Alicia struggled to fit her backpack over her shoulders and trudged out the door.  The late afternoon sun was already casting shadows over the steep streets and haphazard shacks. She cut through an alley and then up road, stepping around sleeping dogs and murky puddles, past cars and doorways leaking tinny samba music.

A block from her home, an explosion of shrieks and laughter caught her attention. She looked up to see a group of teenage girls giggling and dancing near the frango no bafo stand. Mayra Alexandra was in the middle, taller than the others. She moved gracefully, tossing her braids, short denim shorts showing off her long, dark legs.

Alicia watched the girls, longing to join them. She was shuffling her feet to the music when she heard shouting and a slew of curses. A group of teenage boys neared the girls, hooting and jeering. It took Alicia a moment to realize they were aiming their insults at Mayra Alexandra. The pounding beat of the music seemed louder as the girls shrank back. All except Mayra Alexandra, who stood imperiously before the boys, glaring.

“Oy, menina!  Look - it’s the boxing champion,” said one, sarcasm sneering from his curled lip.

“I’m not ‘just another girl called Mayra,’” mimicked another in a whiny falsetto.

“What are you, Mayra Alexandra?  A dude?”

Alicia noticed Mayra Alexandra’s clenched fists and the almost-imperceptible movement of her feet into a subtle fighting stance. She saw the familiar set of her jaw and tension almost pulsing through her body.

“Whore,” said another boy. “They just put her in Globo to get more money. I bet she couldn’t throw a punch if she tried.” He pantomimed a weak jab and faked a high whine, “Ow! My nails!” The boys laughed.

And that’s when Mayra Alexandra unleashed, like a tiger pouncing on a mouse.

She pummeled the boy with a viciousness Alicia had never seen and had him on the ground in an instant. The other boys tried to grab her, but she struck and kicked ferociously, knocking them aside like feathers. She was on top of the other boy pounding his face with a blur of punches until his head was bathed in blood. 

“Oh no, oh no,” whispered Alicia, alarmed.

The little girl sprinted to the fight, ignoring the backpack banging the backs of her knees.

“Mayra Alexandra! Mayra Alexandra!” she shouted.

But Mayra Alexandra heard nothing as she hammered at the boy. Alicia lunged at her arm and held on with all her might as the older girl’s power flung her to the street. 

“Go away!” Mayra Alexandra screamed at her.

“Mayra Alexandra! Struggle and discipline,” Alicia panted. “I promise to use what I learned today only for good, only for defense and only in a positive manner and to never do wrong. Amen.”

The words seemed to have a magical effect on Mayra Alexandra. She paused mid-punch and stared at Alicia. Alicia repeated the statement.

“Struggle and discipline. I promise to use what I learned today only for good, only for defense and only in a positive manner and to never do wrong. Amen.”

Mayra Alexandra pulled herself off the boy and sat on the ground, head in her hands. Alicia crawled to her and put an arm around her while a crowd gathered around the boy and helped him to his feet. The frango  vendor turned down the music and a rare stillness descended on the street corner.

“I can’t go back to the boxing school,” Mayra Alexandra whispered, voice low and raspy.

“You can!” Alicia said. “Sr. da Silva will help you.”

Mayra Alexandra shook her head.

The vendor held some ice to the boy’s head and the bystanders began to disperse. Someone turned the music up again. Three men, unaware of the drama that had preceded them, walked by, laughing loudly at dirty jokes. The sun set over the favela. The smell of grilled chicken filled the air. In the distance, came the rat-tat-tat of gunfire. And still the girls sat, huddled together in the shadows of the frango stall until well into the night. 

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18 comments

Hello! I really loved this story! Great one! :)

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Kristin Neubauer
03:12 Nov 14, 2020

Thank you so much!

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My pleasure! =)

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Kristin Neubauer
10:26 Nov 06, 2020

Author's note: This story was based on a story we did for Reuters back in May. There really is a Morro do Tuiuti boxing school for at-risk youth in a Rio favela that really does use that same mantra I quoted over and over. And there really is a student named Mayra Alexandra. I used her quotes to the reporter, but the rest of it is all made up. The story struck me when the video came in and I've wanted to develop a short story off of it for awhile. Here's a link to the real thing if you're interested: https://uk.reuters.com/article/heal...

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Thom Brodkin
17:20 Nov 17, 2020

I've missed your stories. I know it's my fault, I've been absent from Reedsy for a few weeks but you remind me what is good about Reedsy. What a well crafted story. It has everything a good short story needs. Great characters with great character development. Great settings described perfectly. Compelling dialogue, and even my favorite thing an ending that leaves me wanting more. I love your stories and your talent. I finally submitted a new story called "Silence" It was a one sitting story without edits so far. Let me know what ...

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Kristin Neubauer
05:33 Nov 20, 2020

Thank you, Thom! I've been dying to write Pow! since we did the story for Reuters. I kept waiting for a prompt that would work. I am sorry I am so late in responding. I am on overnights this month and it is messing with everything. I go back to dayside in December.....and get a month break from school. So I fully intend to start posting regularly again once I'm awake and functioning.

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Bianka Nova
21:10 Nov 06, 2020

Powerful and inspiring story. As I was reading it, I thought that it might be inspired by a documentary and it turns out I wasn't too far off. 😊 As someone learning Portuguese I really appreciate the use of original names and phrases in the text. I actually like it even if it isn't a language I speak. So, well done! 👏👏 I found just a missing "the" between "up" and "road": "She cut through an alley and then up road" 😉

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Kristin Neubauer
09:53 Nov 07, 2020

Obrigada, Bianka! Your feedback on how I used Portuguese in there is so helpful. My Portuguese is very rudimentary, so I couldn't use more but I figured even that little bit could give it a taste of authenticity. Boa sorte com seus estudos!

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Bianka Nova
10:15 Nov 07, 2020

You have just the right amount of Portuguese in there. Adding color to the text, but not making it hard for non-speakers to understand. 😊

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Rachel Sundar
18:31 Nov 23, 2020

Wow! I love this story, it flowed very well from the boxing school to the fight at the end it was a great read!

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K. Antonio
17:41 Nov 08, 2020

Eu adorei o uso de português nessa história. The use of Portuguese was nice, and I loved how this story is based on something real. The names were a nice touch too. The bits of information sprinkled along the story were actually pretty current to what happens in Rio, everything to me felt pretty relatable and raw/real.

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Kristin Neubauer
20:16 Nov 09, 2020

Muito obrigado! I've spent a little time in Rio on assignment for Reuters, but nothing long term nor long enough to speak anymore than a few necessary words. I would have been able to do more with Spanish, but I really wanted to keep this authentic to the original story. I appreciate the kind words!

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:43 Nov 07, 2020

I’m always excited for your stories. I love that this is based on real life, but with that beautiful storyteller’s flair that gives it so much personality. The setting is so rich and every little detail—like the gunfire in the closing paragraph—makes this piece all the more vivid. I imagine with a career like yours you never run out of ideas haha. Keep it up! 😙

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Kristin Neubauer
20:07 Nov 09, 2020

Thank you so much! After reading your work, I'm glowing after hearing such encouraging words from you about mine!

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Yolanda Wu
00:49 Nov 07, 2020

What a sweet and inspirational story about perseverance and friendship. I loved the relationship you painted between Marya Alexandra and Alicia. The part where Marya is about to punch the boy, but Alicia stops her and reminds her of struggle and discipline was great in adding an extra depth to their relationship and how they complement each other. Also the little details in there, which I assume came from article you did was also great, it really added that extra little bit of authenticity. Wonderful work, Kristin! I'm so glad you posted thi...

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Kristin Neubauer
10:00 Nov 07, 2020

Thanks so much, Yolanda! I'm glad to hear that moment where Alicia stopped Marya Alexandra stood out to you because that was the main image in my mind as I was developing the story. Though after reading it, my dad said that Alicia shouldn't have stopped Marya Alexandra and that he thought it was great she was pounding that boy to a pulp and maybe the boys would think twice before they teased another girl. Hah! I'm not sure he got the point, but it made for and interesting discussion between us. As always, thank you so much for reading -...

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Yolanda Wu
11:05 Nov 07, 2020

Honestly, I think both would have showcased something different. But that's the point of stories I suppose - and being the author, you go with what you think is best!

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Prathamesh Chavan
13:55 Nov 10, 2020

Hii, Kristin Sorry to intervene, in this brutal manner, I have a request for you would be kind to give a single glance over the vehicle which my team had been working over months. https://www.instagram.com/p/CHX5VUPBJOp/?igshid=5f72nb3cgg30 Sorry to take your time and If possible like the post.Because this would help team to win

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