Palms are sweaty. Knees trembling, unable to carry my weight. My stomach is doing backflips.
I close my eyes, exhale. It’s good to be nervous.
But I’m not nervous: I’m terrified.
The doors open, a crack of light intrudes the dark elevator. My calm has been broken. Terror clamps back onto me as I recoil back into the walls of the elevator: my final sanctuary. I resist as I am forced into the bright, harsh light of the dressing room. I am bombarded with advice as my prep team work, I try to remember, but my head is filled with death. I try to stay focused, but I feel dizzy and lethargic. My hair is wrenched back into a pigtail as I am wrenched back into the reality of my situation. Keep calm.
I am going to be sick.
I am marched down a hallway, the white harsh light from the dressing room is the same here. I approach a glass door, and can see my reflection. I am as white as a corpse; those wide, startled eyes look critically at me, searching for any flaw, as though it matters. I push the door and walk through, past the doors of others. They all have numbers on. From mine – 12 – down to 1. Most are open, and as I glance sideways into the rooms, they are exactly the same as my dressing room.
My heart is thundering in my chest. Adrenaline is coursing through my veins.
He is at entrance 12. I try to greet him, but my mouth is parched. I don’t know when we will enter, but it will be soon. There is some inconsequential smalltalk, keeping up the act, ignoring that we both fully-well know that the other will have to die. We hold hands.
After an eternity, the immense, cold steel doors slowly swing open and we step forward into the glare, into the screams and cheers of spectators, into the arena.