Crimson Tiger 10th Anniversary Vignette
Dawn found Mali working the heavy bag. Twelve years old and already focused on heavy duty training. She studied the internet for all sorts of training tips. She was already a prodigy of Muay Thai. Her father started training her when it was evident that her mom couldn't handle another pregnancy. It was America, her dad said. Girls could fight, too.
The training was a game, before. It kept her in shape, she enjoyed the practices. She was a fitness expert. She didn't much care for studying at school, but she dove headfirst into the fitness manuals and health books. She wanted to push herself, but she didn't want to hurt herself. She wanted to make sure she wouldn't suffer side effects as an adult.
It wasn't a game anymore. Her father had told her the story of her great grandfather, the legendary Black Tiger. If he could be a superhero, so could she. This was America. Girls could be heroes. So she resolved, eighteen years old. She gave herself six years. She'd design a costume, put everything together, put everything to work. She'd study whatever it took, whatever she needed to do.
Martial arts were nothing but applied physics. No mysticism to Muay Thai. Maximize the force into a minimal impact area. That kind of power could shatter stone, wood, and bone. She'd seen the kind of power her dad could put out, how hard he could hit if he needed to.
She'd be better than him. She'd come at it with everything she had. She wanted to be the second superhero in her family. The stories of her great grandfather's adventures inspired her, drove her, pushed her. She was going to save people, help people, and beat up bad guys.
The kids at school already thought she was a freak. Twelve years old and stronger than the boys. She could have joined any of the sports teams, but none of them would be good enough. None of them would give her the rush of training to fight. That sense of satisfaction as she shattered boards and her own limits.
She thought about names. Every hero had a name, a motif, a color scheme. All the ones she knew about, anyway. Like Lady Liberty, or Siren. She wanted to go with a tiger theme, like her great grandfather. Something tiger, something like Blue Tiger or Gray Tiger. No, no, her favorite color was red. Red tiger? No. She grinned to herself, Crimson Tiger.
“Hey, mom, dad.” Mali said, stepping into her parents' home. She was a frequent visitor, but she'd been called over, asked to come visit. It sounded important. “What's up?”
Sitting on the couch was a young woman she'd never seen or met before. She was pretty, but sad. Mali's sharpened senses picked up a few things. She was nervous, even scared. Worried about something. Mali didn't know who she was, but she felt for her.
Her dad was sitting in his chair, he took a deep breath. “I'd like you to meet Lawan. Lawan, this is our daughter, Mali.” He said in Thai.
Mali nodded and smiled. “Hi, nice to meet you.” Mali sighted. Her Thai was slightly rusty, but serviceable.
Lawan smiled, still clearly nervous, and nodded politely. “Nice to meet you.”
“So.” Mali said. She looked at her parents in confusion. Was she a visitor? A cousin she didn't know about? That was a distinct possibility. There was a big family. This felt different, though. This felt like something more important than a simple visit.
“Lawan is Anuman's ex girlfriend.” Her father said. A chill ran up Mali's spine. The man who nearly killed him, nearly killed her. The man who even know rotted in prison. Mali shuddered. “She came here, to the states. After you defeated your cousin, his organization hasn't been the most stable. She fled, worried that she would get caught up in it. That, and her son.”
“Son?” Mali said with a blink.
“Somchai!” Lawan suddenly said. “Can you come here please?”
“Somchai...” Mali repeated, quietly. Somchai was a kind man, her great uncle, son of Black Tiger. This little boy was Anuman's son.
Somchai walked in and stared straight at Mali. How much had he been told? What did he know about what happened between his father and her? His gaze didn't linger long, before he said. “Yes mother?”
“This is Somchai.” Lawan said with a nervous smile. “He's my son. I....”
Her father interrupted. “I'll explain to Mali in English, okay?” He said. Lawan nodded, understanding. “Anuman abandoned them when he found out that Lawan was pregnant. She named her son after his grandfather in an attempt to connect them, but Anuman didn't care. He's six years old and has never known his father. She was poor, see...” Her father was a disciplined man, and even as he began to age, he was in great health. Still, his steely will wavered, his voice was shaking in anger.
Her mother spoke up. “He's never met his father.” She said again, in English “He knows his father is in prison, that he did something bad. Tarrin called us and asked us if we could host her. He called in a favor with the American government to get her a VISA. She's going to learn English, go to college, and establish herself. She and Somchai will be staying with us for the duration.”
“Tarrin didn't want the boy pulled into the scene his father was involved in.” Her father said. “Whatever his father is, this boy is family, and so is his mother.”
Mali nodded and understood. Then, she smiled to Lawan, and said. “Lawan, welcome to America, and our family. If you need any help with anything, don't hesitate to ask. Somchai is family, and so are you.”
Lawan teared up, and smiled. “I, after what he did, after...” She was shaking.
“What he did doesn't reflect on Somchai.” Mali said, looking down at the little boy. She dropped to eye level. “Hi. I'm your cousin Mali. I mean, I guess you can call me your aunt.” She smiled to him.
“Hi.” He said. He only spoke Thai, at least for now. That would change. “You know Muay Thai?” He glanced at her arms. It wasn't a far leap, even for a child. It was the national sport of Thailand, after all.
She chuckled. “Yup. My dad taught me.” He was a bright kid, she decided. She wasn't exactly showing off, but he could tell she was in good shape.
“Wow.” Somchai turned to her father. “Can you teach me Muay Thai? Mother, can I learn?”
Lawan seemed to consider it for several minutes. “Yes.” She said. “If he'll teach you.”
Her father considered for a moment. She knew what he was thinking. Six was a good age to start training, she thought. It wasn't much older than she'd been. The basics, just some fitness training, basic strikes. It was good for discipline and fitness.
“I don't think so.” He said. “I think I've taught my last student. Mali, though.” He looked at her. “You're as good as I've ever been, better, even.”
“I'm...” Mali started to say. Somchai looked back at her. He didn't look angry or disgusted at the idea of learning from her. His reaction sold it. “If you'll help supervise, dad.” She looked at her father.
“Alright.” He said. “Somchai.”
“Yes sir?” he said.
“My daughter will teach you. I'll supervise, but she is your instructor, understood?”
Somchai looked the most excited Mali had ever seen a child. He was overjoyed. “Yes Sir.” He said with a big grin.
“Okay, then.” Mali said, standing up. “I'll teach you.” She looked at Lawan, who was a bit nervous, but smiling. “You must mind your mother. You must eat properly. You must do your best in your studies. Muay Thai is a hard road, and you must do your best if you want to succeed.”
“Yes Ma'am.” He said, managing all the seriousness and sincerity a six year old could muster.
She managed not to laugh. He was taking it seriously, and it would be disrespectful of her to laugh at him. This was important to him, and, she reflected, her too. She'd have to make time. Weekly lesson plans, working with his diet to make sure he was eating enough and the right foods. It was a lot of responsibility, but she realized it was a natural step. She was a few years younger than her father had been when he'd started training her. However, she also had him to fall back on. Somchai would have her father to watch over both of them, to help her train him. She was grateful for the assistance.
“Okay. So I'll be in touch, okay? I'll make sure to send a message for when I'm ready to start your lessons. It might be a few weeks, or even a month or two, okay? Please be patient with me. I promise, I will train you. Oh, and when we're not training, you can call me Aunt Mali.”
“Okay Aunt Mali.” He said. He seemed a bit disappointed, as if he expected them to drop everything and start training right now.
“Oh, I'm so sorry Lawan. I know you agreed to my dad, and...”
“It's fine. It'll help him adjust to the States better if he's surrounded by familiar things.” Lawan said “I'm very grateful. I can never repay your kindness and generosity.” She was nearly in tears.
Somchai was late, but she understood. It was a crazy, confusing time. She remembered it fondly, but at the time she was nervous and scared.
“Hey Aunt Mali.” He said, walking through the door to the gym. She had her own facilities, of course. Custom, high end equipment, only the best for her, and her student. “Claremont is crazy. I'm sorry I'm late for training.”
She chuckled. “It was crazy when I went there, too. You're fine.”
“I did see some cute guys there so, I mean, that was good.” He said. “So, what, no gear? I thought we were training.”
“Eh, we'll get to that.” She said. “Hold on.” She walked towards a storage closet, and came back with a box hoisted over her shoulder.
She dropped it, gently, on the floor. Then she pulled out a small folding knife, and handed it to Somchai. “Here.”
“What is....” Somchai looked at her quizzically as he took the knife, and started cutting into the tape. He knelt over the box and worked it carefully as she stood back and watched.
“Holy...” He said as he sat down and stared into the box. “How did you...”
“I asked your mom.” Mali said. “She knew your sizing, of course, and what you wanted to do. The name you wanted, what you wanted for a costume. She asked me if she could send the information directly to the designer. Said you kept your ideas secret because you were self conscious.”
Suddenly, Somchai snapped up the box and stood up with it. “I'm going to go try it on.” He said, exuberantly. She hadn't even got to see it. Teenagers were impulsive, she decided. Somchai was a smart kid, but even he got excitable and didn't think straight.
“Well.” He said. “I think it looks okay.” He was grinning from ear to ear, and gave a turn. “Thank you, thank you so much, Aunt Mali. You don't even know how awesome this feels. Just, look at this. Look at how awesome this is. I'm a superhero. Well, not yet, but I have a costume, and a name.”
Mali raised her hand to her mouth and felt tears well up a bit. The costume was, as she expected, black. All black from head to toe. However, the stripes were dark red.
“I mean, c'mon.” He said. “Black and red, classic color scheme. Are you okay?” He asked.
“I, I'm fine.” She said, smiling. “You look great, Somchai. I thought you didn't want me to know your ideas because you were embarassed or something.”
“No, no.” He smiled, he was tearing up a bit, too. “The Black Tiger is a legend in Thailand, but he's not the one who taught me how to fight. I asked Uncle Tarrin, and he gave his blessing. I figured this could honor both my ancestor and my teacher, you know?”
She smiled and nodded. “Come here.” She opened her arms. She hugged him tight. She was proud of him, proud of his strength, proud of his drive, his sense of purpose. She had started training him to fight. Mostly it was a way to help him focus, help him adjust to his new life in the US.
Lawan and Somchai had flourished in the US. She learned English, went to school, and became a nurse. She married someone a few years later. There had been an adjustment period, and Mali had heard all of Somchai's grumbles about his new step father during their training.
“Why don't you take a day off.” She said “I know school is going to start soon, and you can use a bit of time to unwind. So, go ahead, head out. Hang out with your friends. Just, take your costume off.”
He nodded excitedly and took off. She wasn't sure how he managed to get it off so fast, but he was soon back in his street clothes. “See you later, Aunt Mali.” He said with a smile, running off and out the door.
She sat down on one of the machines, and sighed. She was still in her prime, and she fully intended to take Somchai out on the occasional patrol with her, show him the ropes, some tips and tricks Claremont couldn't teach him. Yet, in some ways, he wasn't her pupil anymore.
She shook the morose thoughts out of her head and headed towards the storage closet. She fetched her gloves and foot wraps. He had a lot to learn, she figured. She could take him on patrols, show him the ins and outs. Tricks he wouldn't necessarily learn at Claremont. She was still in her prime, still had a lot to go. She did some stretches, and started up on the heavy bag.