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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Beautiful Game

Look. He's there. Move.

I receive the ball from the half-way line, dribble past one player and then another, I feel my feet pound rough stadium floor. My leg's calf muscles go taught.

Now, says something from inside. I take a shot from about 20 yards. I beat the keeper but the cross-bar denies me. I get a few pats on the back for my effort.

We fall back. I check the faces of my men. If it comes our way again, they're going to give me another chance.

Run. Don't think. Run.

It comes sooner than I anticipate. The ball at my feet, I know I've been given the signal for a last minute goal.

You have three to pass. Three.

I run from the half way line, and pass three players only to find myself one and one with their centre back.

Look at the ball. No where else.

I flip flap the ball through his legs and carry on running.

Now. Drive. It. Home.

It's a predatory instinct that leads me to the box, but one that comes from the knowledge you are part of a pack. I need to find a space for my man to finish, or make the decision to go in myself.

Look at the keeper now. For a second.

I make space. Their keeper waits for me.

Look at him. He thinks you won't pass the ball.

With a controlled side-putt I pass the ball. My receiver catches it deftly and finishes it with his left foot. Cheers ring out from the distant crowd.

The keeper looks at me in surprise as I shrug and pat him on the shoulder for a good effort. We look at the referees. We have the goal.

The whistle goes. We have the game.

A louder cheer goes up from the stadium. Our teams congratulate each other.

"Hey Ali!"

"B? What are you doing here? I thought you weren't coming?" I am bathed in sweat. I take off my shirt and wipe myself down as I wait for B to come over from the stalls. I accept pats on the back, give a few in return. My lungs are still full of air, the adrenalin is still high. I feel I can run for miles.

"So how was it kicking about a bag of wind? Better than talking with one?" She looks at me with a smile, "At least your exercises are keeping you in shape."

I nod in agreement. "But this a one-off for charity, definitely my last game." My brother had been a well-known footballer in Cyprus in his day. A close friend of his, the local organiser of today's event, asked me if I would consider taking part in a benefits match at the Atatürk Sport Stadium in Nicosia, with proceeds from tickets going to a local Turkish Cypriot cancer charity. "I think I'll stick to watching from now on."

"I'm sure your brother will be proud to hear your team won."

"I'm sure my brother would be shocked to hear I got on the pitch."

"Why is that?"

"It's a competitive sport. People can rarely just play it for fun, have you noticed that?"

B smiles again. "You are the most perceptive male ever, only serious when it matters. If I only read about you I'd think you were just fiction."

I'm about to say something, when my team members come up from behind me and raise me on their shoulders. I call back, "Want to meet me outside the parking lot, honey B?"

"Better than that," she answers, "I've come to cook you dinner!"

I indicate to be let down, so I can get collect my belongings from the sidelines. B cooking dinner is an event not to be taken lightly. She is a great cook, but rarely enters the kitchen, and I wasn't going to question her reason for the offer now.

Offering my excuses to leave the celebrations and speeches early, I make some small-talk with congratulating spectators as I explain I have to exit the stadium.

It takes me a little longer than I hope to make it out to the parking lot and I expect a severe ear-bashing from B, as finally free, I grab my bag to go.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

Coming out of a side entrance, and suddenly forgetting the anticipating growl in my stomach, I look around at the sound of B's raised voice. She is standing a few metres away from her car, with Mr X's daughter and one of the boys from the other team, who has a clenched, stocky fist raised in the air, poised to strike.

"I wouldn't do that," I say in Turkish quietly, approaching the tall boy with a small smile. "B is likely to beat you to death."

He doesn't appreciate my humour, and starts to shout out some common Turkish curses, but brings his hand down to his side. I ignore him for the moment, and look at B to explain.

B speaks to me in English, "This is her fiancé, Ali."

"I see." I don't like to intervene between couples, but I trust B's judgement. If she feels it necessary to get involved, then I assume she has good reason.

"Seems he hasn't had enough sport for one night, and wants to continue with another. I just thought he picked the wrong partner for boxing."

"So you thought you'd even the odds? What a small island to have him in the match." I look at Mr X's daughter. "Are you okay?"

The young girl is naturally subdued, her bubbly personality from the other evening all but gone. She simply nods.

I ask her, "What do you want to do? Do you want to stay here, or come with us?"

B gives me the look. I give her one back. She drags me aside saying, "Ali, can I speak to you for a moment?"

"B, don't be rude. You were the one that got involved. How's she going to get back to home if her fiancé doesn't take her?"

B answers in a low hiss, "Don't make me feel sorry for stopping her from getting a slapping only to want to give her one myself! I think she wants to break up and he is taking it badly."

"So, what do you want to do?"

"Take her home is fine. Just don't invite her to dinner!"

I eye the young couple, and think that a little time between themselves might resolve their differences. "Speaking of dinner, what do I owe to have this great honour bestowed upon me?"

B gives me a light punch on the arm. "I know you're home alone at the moment, as your mum's away having an eye op in Istanbul. So, I thought I'd treat you to a home cooked meal at your house."

"B you're always welcome, no need to cook me dinner for that. And I appreciate you driving all the way down from Kyrenia."

"Don't be silly. It's not that long a drive, and you'd come for me, too, mister." B sighs suddenly. "What do you want to do about him?"

"It's really not our business, B. But obviously if he is so quick to raise a hand to a girl, or to anyone for that matter, he needs help. If she doesn't want to go with him, get her in your car, and then ask her if she wants to come back to my place with you. Don't look at me like that B. She might want company right now. She is a friend, and you don't have to cook. That has to come before my stomach."

"But I want good company, too, to sit down with a well-informed man and have a great deal of conversation over a good dinner. No. I'm still going to cook. I'm not changing my plans!"

I smile. "You're wrong, that's not good company. That's the best company."

Before she can respond, Mr X's daughter cries out in Turkish, "Let go of me!"

I walk over to them. "Let's you and I talk," I say to the boy in Turkish.

He glares at me, as B moves Mr X's daughter away. "Why?"

"Because obviously you need some tips on how to talk." I watch as B says something to the young girl, who nods at her. "It looks like your fiancé is coming with us."

"You can all fucking go to hell."

B approaches me, but before she can speak I say, "B, everything is okay here." I bring my car keys out from my pocket and take the house key from off its metal ring. "Here, take this and go to my house. I'll be there shortly."

She eyes me with a glance that tells me in no uncertain terms that she thinks my plan to be a very bad one. "Let's both go now."

"B," I say quietly, "trust me. Take the key and go. I'll be right behind you."

She takes the key reluctantly, and makes her way to the car with slow steps. I wait until she is in the car, and watch as she and Mr X's daughter drive away.

"Okay. So now it's just us," I say. I indicate to a wooden bench nearby. "Sit down, let's talk."

"No. What the fuck has this got to do with you?"

I look at him. "Sit down." I strip away the light timbre of gentility I usually put in the tone of my voice and leave just a deep rawness there that he would understand. "Now."

He sits down. I stay standing, and continue to speak, "I'm only going to give you a few words of advice. Take it or leave it. I understand you. You're doing this because you don't want to lose her, but trust me this is the only sure way you will lose her. Hitting another person, even in self defence, never gets you as far as hitting them with the right words. Never raise your hand just for the heck of it, never."

The boy suddenly begins to sob, and not expecting such a reaction, I take a step back and soften the tone of my voice. "You're both young. As long as you talk and listen to each other, and give each other time, you can sort out your differences."

"After all this time, she says she wants some space," he replies.

"Think of love like football," I say sincerely. "The beautiful game."

"Yeah, and there are winners and losers in both."

I shake my head at his retort. "It all depends on how you play the game. You can still get applause even if you lose. You can still be a winner for having loved, even if that love is no longer there. That's the beauty of the game. Never let the seriousness of your ego kill the fun of it, or make you feel you have to raise you hand out to strike it."

He looks up at me, and is about to say something, when my mobile phone begins to ring from my bag. I open it up and take my phone. The screen flashes B's number.

I take the call. "Hi B, what's up?"

"I can't actually believe your line is open and you're actually carrying your phone! This is a night of firsts."

"Mum's away, she might need to get a hold of me. So, get to the point Missy."

"Is everything okay? Are you coming?"

I smile, realising how familiar her demanding tone has become over the years. "Yes, I'm still alive and so is he and I'll be there in a minute. Need anything from the shops?"

"No, I brought all the ingredients with me..."

I wait, sensing she has something else to tell me. I guess right.

"...And we're going to have company after all. She's here."

"B, I'm proud of you. You have a heart of gold really, however hard you try to hide it."

She snorts down the phone. "Yeah well, I figured instead of the best company, we could settle for the good kind just for tonight."

"How about four?" I put out the offer, as I suddenly feel very sorry for the boy.

But B is adamant. "Ali, no. And not for me. I've been speaking with her, and I just don't think she'd stay if you brought him. Tell him to give it some time. Three's company but four would be a crowd tonight."

"Okay. Be there in a bit." As I close the phone, the boy looks at me with understanding, but his features have softened.

He is no longer angry, and my stomach growls to be home.

Main Index | End of part one | Part two | Part three

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