There were words that disappeared. I contemplated whether it was better to forget them in any case, at this moment. In place of words, handshakes were greeted with smiles, flags were waved joyously. A scoreless draw of an association football game, with fans in fiesta mood, did not reflect the volatility of the nation states involved. There was no mention of boko haram, Isis, Shi’a or Sunni as Hajsafi, Hosseini, Moses and Musa ran lengths of the shining Arena da Baixada, in the Água Verde neighbourhood of the plateau city of Curitiba, Brazil, near where the Araucaria forests are dying.
The man who did too little.
The man who did too much.
The woman left in the frame.
The woman who ducked the issue.
The man who spoke too late.
The man who spoke too soon.
The woman with the loudest voice.
The women you never heard.
The man who no one liked.
The man who was most popular.
The woman who called the shots.
The woman who only followed.
The man who knew everything.
The man who knew nothing.
The woman who told lies.
The woman who told the truth.
The man who ran away.
The man who remained.
‘When you leave you never go back, even if you think you might: it’s impossible.’
With these words he left: took a job somewhere abroad. He never visited, or if he did he kept it quiet. Of course we saw updates online: places he went; achievements; petty squabbles.
‘All as the world turns,’ an old friend once said.
I have grey hairs.
‘There is no such thing as “close of business”.’
That’s another thing I heard.
When he finally returned there was little fanfare, just raised eyebrows.
He hadn’t come back, he had tried to catch hold of a shadow.
Some of us came from the factories, sons and daughters of coal miners and steel workers. Others were the children of doctors and professors. We were brothers, sisters, neices and nephews, friends, colleagues and lovers. You saw us only through what we did; the ways in which we toiled. We created glories, memories, happiness, and you took it all to the bank. Cash in hand you led us to nightclubs, bought us drinks and fast cars. We hatched plans and got drunk, occasionally made the news. And now we are gone and the obituaries written. You smile, averting your eyes.
Did I even wear spectacles when I began all this? My hair was thicker, definitely: brown, remember? Now it is thinned and grey. It needs to be cropped short. I was slim then too, though I didn’t think so at the time. Out of shape is what I said. I looked at myself; looked at the kids coming through. Their wee bandy legs and enthusiasm. They’ve done well. Better than I could’ve hoped. But they grow up and leave, filled with urgency, pride and belief in themselves. And I remain. Some say I could have stopped them. But that’s family.
As he walked away from the football fields he heard a cheer. One of the kids must have scored. He looked at the time on his phone: it was fine, he’d be in the pub in twenty. Sometimes he wondered whether his own boy liked playing football. How old would he be now? Nine, maybe ten? Sarah had made it so difficult though. Splitting up was difficult. She’d taken him. It was better if you just stayed away – and they would be okay for money. Her family would help. What could he do anyway? He was skint. He couldn’t help.
I was born to lead. That’s why I’m always in the limelight. Events revolve around me. People are envious. It’s natural for me. Sometimes the truth has to be told. People respect that. They respect me. When things need to change people look to me to make it happen.
* * *
He’s always been a bully. He lets no one else shine. He attracts trouble. People resent him. He won’t even try to change. He just mouths off all the time. It pisses everyone off. We’re tired of him. Things need to change and we’re starting to think he has to go.
I have heard it said that what is difficult to grasp in life is that moment when a thing that was before you becomes a thing that is behind you.
An old friend once suggested something similar: ‘What the eye doesn’t see the foot suffers,’ he would intone sagely.
You concentrate so hard on things in life. You watch things so carefully, surveying the scene and your place in it, looking after yourself and those around you.
Then, in a second, the very outcome you did not want is real. You look behind; in front. Events have taken over again.
You’ll be the away team captain this week, the teacher shouted.
Nick stepped out of the line-up and turned to face the other boys. He started to shake. Choose goalies first, then a good striker, then a midfielder – defenders last.
Finally only two boys remained to be picked. One was a big scowling lad who towered over the rest and bullied people. The other was a bighead but he could make things bad for you, real bad.
Nick looked at each. He had a lump in his throat. Oh but how could he choose? He wanted to go home.
They were on the attack; shots rained in. Soon each side would assess the casualties, know who was defeated. It had all been going on too long; it felt senseless, stupid. Days ago he had felt optimistic but now reports were coming through on the radio about yet another loss. He wanted it to be over: for the whole thing to end. He might turn his back and try to forget. Was that what people did? There was a deafening roar. Elsewhere, a boy closed his eyes and started to cry, not able to watch as the final whistle blew.