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'All I had to do was imagine my father’s face when confronted by his daughter’s puffed up, battered eye socket'

Ruqsana Begum recalls her early days competing.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Born Fighter by Ruqsana Begum.

Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit.

I’d known this moment would come. For three and a half years I’d felt like a fugitive living with the constant fear of capture. But I still felt unprepared for it. What should I say? What could I say?

I said nothing. I was frozen. Stuck halfway up the stairs with my father glaring at me from the bottom step. A few moments earlier, he’d caught me coming home from training, attempting – as I always did – to make it upstairs to the relative safety of my bedroom without being seen.

‘Ruqsana, why are you walking like that?’

His voice chased after me as I hurried further up the stairs.

‘Like what?’ The moment the words came out of my mouth I wanted to suck them back in.

‘Like a boxer.’

I’d made it as far as the second to last step when I was paralysed. He knew. Shit.

I turned and stood there, looking at him, my mouth hanging open while my brain searched for a response.

Eventually I turned away – I could never look directly at him when I wasn’t being entirely truthful – muttering something about the treadmill and my tired legs. Then I forced myself to move, picking up one leg at a time to inch closer to my room and further away from him.

Fight or flight? Outside of the ring, it’s always the latter, especially when it comes to my family. Anything to avoid confrontation.

I don’t know if he was still watching me but I made sure to move as calmly as possible, just in case. Internally, I was anything but calm.

A million thoughts whirred around my head. Did he really know? If not, why would he say that? And if he did know, then why not say something?

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Back in my room I went straight to my bedside cabinet where I’d hidden my first-ever trophy. It was a golden figure of a boxer standing on a plinth. Beneath the fighter’s feet was a silver plate bearing the words: Ruqsana Begum.U21 Atomweight Champion

What if he had found it? I was so stupid. I should never have brought it home. I found a stash of old plastic bags in my wardrobe and wrapped the trophy in them. Next time I went out it was going straight into the neighbour’s dustbin.

‘What’s that?’

I spun around, clutching what turned out to be a tatty old Tesco bag tight to my chest and glared angrily at my sister. She’d scared the crap out of me.

‘It’s my room too, you know,’ she said, flopping down onto her bed. ‘Anyway, what’s in the bag?’

Ane (whose full name is Farzana – in our culture we have a ‘passport’ name, which is used for formal things, and a nickname that we use at home. So while everyone outside of the family knows me as Ruqsana, at home I’m usually Tanni, or Tan) had known about the Muay Thai right from the start.

She’s only a year younger than me and we’ve always been really close. She was my best friend. We told each other everything. Even if that hadn’t been the case, sharing a bedroom meant it would have been almost impossible to keep it from her. I told her what Dad had said. That he must have found the trophy and that I was going to have to give up something that over the last three and a half years had become an important part of my life. An important part of me.

Ane wasn’t convinced. ‘If he knew, you would already know that he knew. You know?’

As she spoke, Ane came closer and motioned for me to turn around. After every training session she checked me over, looking for any cuts or bruises that I might need to hide from our parents. The backs of my legs were the usual spot – the kicks in Muay Thai can be more brutal than the punches – but they were easy enough to hide with trousers or a long skirt.

My arms often took a battering, too, from blocking the kicks aimed at my body or head. Long sleeves covered them up for most of the year, but in the summer it could be a real struggle. I’d sweat my way through a family meal, dressed for winter when it was 25 degrees outside.

So far, I’d been lucky. I’d never suffered any real facial damage. I often think that’s one of the reasons my defence became so good – all I had to do was imagine my father’s face when confronted by his daughter’s puffed up, battered eye socket and my levels of concentration doubled.

This time, Ane found no visible signs of damage. I was given the all-clear to go downstairs and help Mum with the dinner. As the oldest daughter, I’d always felt it was my responsibility to help around the house, and that feeling was redoubled by my guilt.

In some ways, doing something that I knew went against my parents’ wishes actually made me a better daughter. When I wasn’t at the boxing gym, I was either in lectures at uni, studying in the library or doing chores around the house. No socialising, no partying, no boyfriends. Outside of the ring, I was the perfect daughter.

Born Fighter by Ruqsana Begum is published by Simon & Schuster UK. More info here.

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