He may have started with the frail sinews and slack muscles of a man near the end of his life, but he had been working at a pretty effective workout every day for over three thousand years. Just look at his legs now. Solid. And upper body? Forget about it! He could give even Heracles a run for his money. The skin may still be a bit pasty, there were a few wrinkles where it had not been stretched taut by muscle, a few liver spots, but what lay beneath was made of steel. Amazing what the constant application of one man against a boulder for a few millennia can do.
He had finished. Finally wrestled that boulder right to the top. Hell, he’d even given it a nudge and sent it tumbling down the other side. The deal was done, they had to let him leave. He knew all his friends were dead. His wife, the lovely (if a little shrill) Merope, likewise. His children. Still, he wanted to give it another go. Plenty of life in him yet. Persephone hung around while he packed his bags and he told her as much. She sighed, looking both wistful and decorative as she leaned against the doorframe. Everyone knew she hated goodbyes.
There was a dizzying amount of choice in the world now. He loved the decadent luxury of selecting from hundreds of possibilities what particular combination of food and drink would make up his lunch. There was the same delight in shopping for clothes. The colours! More than he had ever seen in one place; a rainbow held less splendour. He did not miss the shapeless grey tunic, faithfully laundered by Merope every week. He did not miss his old life at all.
He knew he cut an unusual figure. His shirt, called Hawaiian by the store clerk, was brighter than he saw other men wear; his shorts, a print he found exciting and which he learned was called rainbow plaid, made him feel like an actor playing royalty. He knew he studied the menu in the restaurant with too much relish, practically smacking his lips as he mouthed the names of each entree. What did he care? Life was too short to spend aping the indifference of others.
Choosing a new name for this life was much easier than choosing a career. The restaurant that provided him with such tasty ribs was called Sid’s. Henceforth, so was he.
Back home the choice had been no choice. He broke his back in fields and olive groves for half the year, as his father had done before him. The other half was spent marching all over the countryside in heavy armor if there was a war on. Drinking and wrestling, if there wasn’t. Anything to keep him away from home and his nagging wife.
He tried his hand at a few things. He worked at a shoe store, pumped gas, did odd jobs at a printer’s. Even a stint doing secretarial work in an employment office, for which he was ribbed mercilessly for doing a woman’s job. It all seemed like pushing a boulder up a hill to him.
Then one day, after leaving his shift at the printer’s, he walked slowly down the street, hoping the light October wind would blow off the heavy smell of ink that settled in his clothes and in his hair. The neighbourhood contained warehouses and little else. Since the war, which he learned had rather improbably involved the whole world, many of them had been abandoned. Only a few still held any life at all. Once the ringing in his ears from the rolling and pounding of machinery left him, a familiar sound caught his attention and pulled him toward an open door. The solid thwack of a fist into a punching bag. The accompanying grunts. He couldn’t help himself, he really couldn’t.
Sunlight attempted to enter the large, high-ceilinged room through the high, dirty windows, but gave it up as a bad job. He breathed in the familiar, sharp smell, a mixture of chalk dust and sweat, and began to make out shapes in the dim interior. Equipment, none of it new, lined the walls haphazardly; dumbbells, barbells, punching bags and skipping ropes. In the centre, a kind of roped-off stage. He had never seen an arena for fighting quite like this before but he recognized it instantly. He was punctured right through with homesickness.
It wasn’t long before he was working there. It was called work and he was paid for it (very little) but it felt more like belonging. The rules had changed a little. And the large red gloves, cartoonish things, he had some trouble getting used to. But if he knew anything at all, it was how to build muscle out of nothing. To find strength in improbable places.