I was eight years old the first time somebody tried to kill me.
When you are that age and try to plan your summer ahead, being murdered it’s the least thing you imagine could happen to you. Yet for me, it was a possibility lurking at my horizon.
As all the summers during my childhood, my family traveled to visit my grandmother. It was great to see my whole family reunited, play with cousins or just wander around the houses of my uncles. But as all the pre-digital era kids know, summer was also a time when we learned to cope with boredom: figuring out how to invent new games or simply give a new twist to old ones.
During the 80’s as the technology broke into entertainment industry, capitalism gave kids a place where to spend countless hours (and coins of course) instead of being bored to death: Arcade Games.
Luckily for me, there was an Arcade place two blocks away from my grandmother house, so I can’t deny I’ve spent countless hours (and money) playing a bunch of video games.
Street Fighter II was the most popular game back then. For those who don’t know, Street Fighter II is a 1-vs-1, fighting game with a very diverse roster of characters and an additive fighting system which turned it very competitive. I remember that was a sign of respect in the neighborhood to be ranked top three in the local arcades playing that game. So competition was fierce, more considering every time you have lost a match, you lost your money as well.
While visiting my grandmother, most of the times we used to attend the arcade games in group, with my brother and cousins, but sometimes I also sneaked for some gaming by my own.
And that fateful day of August was one of such occasions.
I arrived to the Arcade games with just a few coins and high hopes that I would get the most out of it. I was not a top player, but I was way above average. A few kids were playing the Street Fighter II game when I arrived. I took my turn to challenge the winner from the previous battle, and I won my first match. Then I won the second and the third and so on. The group of kids tried three or four times each, but by then I was undefeated by more than 15 straight matches. Of course I was more than happy, all the training (and money) invested was finally paying off.
Then a group of grown-ups arrived to challenge me. They were three guys around twenty years old. I was not judgmental back then, but looking in retrospective maybe they were hangover or maybe still drunk. But in that moment I just disliked the fact they were smoking. I hated when they placed the lighted cigarettes between the buttons while they played, burning the plastic.
Anyway, I convinced myself that these new challengers would not break my winning streak. And just as planned, I kept winning. I feel proud of defeating guys that were at least twice my age, and maybe I got little cocky I should recognize. I felt I was unstoppable until they got pissed off, smacking the joystick and buttons every time I defeated them. But I decided not to pay attention to their tantrums (it was something not uncommon to see) and rather focusing in playing the best I could.
I was beyond the 30 straight victories, and those guys kept losing money. In the last round I was literally crushing my opponent, the oldest of the three, but before I could knock-out his character once more, my adversary turned and pulled me away from the machine, preventing me from land the winning hit. I felt irritated, “that was not a fair”, I thought. So I wrestled him and managed to free my arm and using my finger I pushed the button which granted me the victory.
Enraged, my opponent shoved me away crashing his buddies behind me. His hand reached his pocked and he pulled a knife. The man’s eyes shone with determination for stabbing me until his rage has appeased. And without hesitation he lunged against me and did my best to avoid his attack, but truth is, my effort was insufficient to put me out of danger, the knife was coming to me and I had no other means to stop it.
Suddenly, from the crowd surrounding us, a boy probably fifteen years old intervened, ramming my attacker against the arcade machine before the knife could reach my belly. I seized the commotion caused and rushed against the henchman behind me and battled my way out. Once outside, I ran the faster I could, looking behind for making sure they were not following me.
I arrived to my gran’s home with my hearth trapped in my throat. I didn’t want to any member of my family to see me like that so instead of walking through the front door I used the backyard to hide. I waited there digesting what happened until I regained composure and made sure that my attackers were not in my pursuit. But when I got inside the house my mother noticed me anyway. She questioned my whereabouts, and I lied, but she was not easily fooled, “you were at the arcades, right?”, but I denied adamantly.
From that moment, things started normalizing until later that day my grandmother arrived home very preoccupied. She had visited the hospital and she went on recounting the happenings. The eldest son of the domestic employee that helped my grandmother was rushed into the hospital, “he has been stabbed multiple times at the Arcade Games,” my gran informed us.
A knot formed in my throat as I heard the story. The boy had recognized me and didn’t hesitate to jump in my aid when he saw me in trouble, and was him instead of me who was hurt.
He had saved me from my probable death.
But even then, I was unable to speak about what happened. I feared my mother’s punishment more than the knife I suppose. I remained silent. Unable to ask my grandmother about his condition. Unable to at least visit him at the hospital to say “thank you” for his heroic deed. Because any of those actions would blew my cover.
Fortunately, my savior survived and after recovering he never revealed what truly had happened.
For me, the summer finally ended and we came back home to the usual routine.
I stored these memories in the shelf of “stories to be told” and from time to time I remember the courage of the unsung hero that saved my life. A true Street Fighter.
And if you, my savior, are able to read this wherever you are, I have for you the words that by fear I was unable to say: Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope life crosses our paths once more to pay my due respects.
M. Ch. Landa
PS. And for the new generations of video gamers that feel badass trashing people on the internet while playing online multiplayer, I tell you, that you will never know the thrill of risking your own life at the Arcade Games—and I’m not speaking about playing Mortal Kombat.