Date: Thursday, 11 September, 2003
From: "Ade" <>
--Goaallll! and Ferro's equalizer leaves the greens with more room to breath. It's Boca one, friends, Ferrocarril Oeste one.
Sitting on the unevenly tiled pavement, Fleco took a swig of his Quilmes, the beer soothing his racked nerves.
"Shit, I can't believe it."
El Irlandés cranked up the volume of his radio and placed it face up on the cobble-stoned surface of the road. They were resting on a narrow street, barely more than an alley, encumbered with the sort of one-way traffic that doesn't put a big strain on the buildings. The green-white plantain trees that dotted both pavements, cast a flickering shadow as the leaves danced in the breeze. The sun, slowly beginning to dive behind the Sailor's Church dome, was poor remedy against the dropping temperature.
El Irlandés adjusted the position of his legs and winced, feeling pins and needles all over them. "You are out numbered. It was to be expected."
They listened in silence for some time, Fleco sipping now and again, El Irlandés shielding the sun from his eyes as he tried to guess the colour of the car that would drive up next. Both men took a long breath, and exhaled in unison. It wasn't boredom, precisely.
Being a football fan, they knew, was to be doomed to a life of frustration. It was to be forever waiting for something thrilling, for something beautiful and exceptional to happen. It was to dream and hope for the inspired touch of a gifted player. And to sing and cry, and have your heart pound madly in your chest when your team strung together four or five one-touch passes that might culminate in something close to a goal. It happened so rarely. You had to be so long-suffering, so madly optimistic. And more often than not, you were obliged to feed on crumbs.
Fleco passed the Quilmes and El Irlandés took a swig.
"How long before the final whistle?" Fleco asked.
"Ten minutes."
El Irlandés passed the bottle back. "Red, I knew it," he said, motioning his head towards a passing car. Fleco regarded him quizzically.
"I'd offer to make it interesting, but I have nothing to gamble with," El Irlandés said seriously.
"Don't you box for money?"
"I box for board and food."
"In the clubs of Soldati, you could box for money," Fleco pointed out, remembering his uncle who often came to his brother for help when he lost half his paycheck by the ringside. El Irlandés nodded, making due note of it, and Fleco smiled. "I teach at college, a workshop for first year students in my own career. Don't get any money for that, either."
"No?" asked El Irlandés.
Fleco shook his head. "Giving back in kind to your alma mater, and all." An impish smile appeared on his face. "But if I said no, my parents would kill me."
A blue car passed by, and then a metallic green. El Irlandés frowned.
"You any good?" Fleco asked after a beat, "At boxing, I mean."
El Irlandés shrugged, and made a gesture to be passed the Quilmes again. Fleco obliged. "I saw you shadow boxing at the park the other day."
El Irlandés drank, and returned the beer in silence. Which was just as well, since Fleco had carefully avoided mentioning the recent fight. The tacit agreement to ignore the incident not only saved his face, but also, he suspected, avoided the foreigner having to accept his gratitude. Fleco congratulated himself on his insight and casting a bemused glance at his friend, shook his head resignedly. The man simply didn't show any promise whatsoever in the public relations department.
Fleco asked, "Do you have a coach?"
"I don't want a coach," came the immediate reply.
Fleco frowned.
"Ah," he said at last, having waited in vain for the foreigner to elaborate. His theory proved beyond shadow of a doubt, he stood up, facing the other end of the road. He took a last drink of beer, cleaned his mouth on his shirtsleeve and said, "I'll go return this."
El Irlandés didn't even look up.
Fleco ran up to the grocer's on the corner, an old shop that had been on that very spot ever since he could remember, and possibly half a century before that. He climbed the worn marble steps and veered this way and that amongst boxes filled with biscuits, flours, and noodles, huge jars of green olives, and cage after cage of empty milk bottles. He ducked and evaded dozens of assorted hams, sausages and salami that hung from iron hooks along a bent bronze bar. And finally reaching the counter, he put the bottle down with a loud 'thump!'
"Don Carlo, la botella!" he added, for good measure. - Here's the bottle, Don Carlo.
Don Carlo, his triple chin on his chest and an earphone in his good ear, half puffed, half snored on his corner by the gas stove, but didn't make a single attempt to stand up. He was a balding, stout Italian of around seventy who considered that work should never get in the way of a man's well-deserved siesta. His wife, who thought otherwise and often came to spy on him, was the only reason he was there at the moment, and not reclined comfortably on the cot he kept in the back of the shop.
"Don Carlo!" insisted Fleco, this time banging his open hand on the counter.
Don Carlo finally opened one outraged eye. "Tu sei pazzo, regazzo?" he growled in Italian. - Are you mad, boy?
"Here's your bottle," Fleco said once more.
"Leave it on the counter," the man replied, not bothering to stand up.
Fleco did as asked, but was reluctant to leave. "Don Carlo, what about my deposit?"
"Chè dicce?"
"My deposit, for the bottle."
But Don Carlo seemed suddenly too interested on his radio, and took a finger to his lips to hush Fleco.
"I can take it myself, if you want," the young man offered, leaning onto the counter and grabbing a hundred pesos from the till. "Okay?" he said again, showing the old man the bill, "I took a hundred, okay?"
Don Carlo's eyes were now huge like saucers, and before Fleco had time to climb back and run away, El Irlandés burst in, tripped over a sack of beans and went sprawling on the floor, right by Fleco's feet.
"Ouch," El Irlandés said from the floor, "Goal."
"Goaaaaaallll!!!" yelled Don Carlo, finally standing up from his seat, and waiving the blue and gold flag of the Xeneizes.
"Gooooaaaaaaalll!" Fleco echoed, jumping up and down like a madman. "We win. We're the champions!"
Fleco caught El Irlandés in a bear hug. "We're the champions, Don Carlo!"
El Irlandés disengaged himself as quickly as he could. "Match's not over yet."
Fleco's smile didn't waiver for a moment. "They're dead, kaput, finito! No, Don Carlo?"
"Finito!" the Italian echoed, and taking another bottle of Quilmes from the icebox, gave it to the lads. "On me."
El Irlandés took the beer, and his ear glued to the radio raised it in a toast. "Boca Juniors."
But Fleco was already running towards the door "Grazie, Don Carlo!" he yelled.
"A domani, regazzi!" - Until tomorrow, boys!
El Irlandés waved a hand, and more carefully this time, exited the shop. He caught up with Fleco at the traffic lights, and both headed towards the park. The streets were almost empty, but on the sound of the final whistle, hundreds of horns, firecrackers, and drums seemed to materialise from thin air. People started pouring out of homes and bars, some with the Boca shirt on, some with its flag tied around their necks.
El Irlandés took a drink and passed the bottle to Fleco. "How much did you pay for that other bottle?" he asked as soon as his partner had stopped jumping and bellowing, and a semblance of calm had returned to his face.
"A hundred."
The foreigner frowned. "You took a hundred back for a deposit."
"That's what the bottle costs. If I return the bottle, then I don't have to pay for it," Fleco pointed out, quite pleased with himself. And taking his cue from the man walking next to him, he failed to elaborate further.
"How much does the beer cost?" El Irlandés wanted to know.
Fleco's smile grew wider. "One hundred."
"Don Carlo is not a sound businessman," El Irlandés observed.
Fleco laughed, content that for once, the conversation followed his rules. "Oh, yes he is. He charges my mum three hundred for a bottle of beer. Two if she brings an empty bottle with her."
"And your mother doesn't mind?" El Irlandés asked in wonderment.
Fleco shook his head. "Oh, it's a long, complicated story--"
El irlandés raised an eyebrow.
Fleco smiled. "Let just say that this way, the old lady can truthfully claim her college attending, clean shaven, law abiding son never spends one cent on beer."
Fleco kicked a loose pebble on the ground, and stuck his hands in his pockets. "I guess your mother is not the control freak mine is, no?"
"Mhmm," said El Irlandés, his eyes on the struggling new grass, "I guess not."
"Come on!" Fleco said, as he jogged towards the playground, intent on reaching the pitch before someone else took the space. It was only when the foreigner caught up with him by the sandbox, pulling him by the arm, that he stopped short. The eyes of El Irlandés rapidly checked their surroundings, and reminded Fleco why they had left in the first place.
"The coast seems to be clear," El Irlandés commented.
The green Falcon was indeed gone, and a popcorn salesman had taken its place by the newsstand. With the match finished, the children's songs emanating from the merry-go-round now filled the air. It was a welcome change. During the afternoon, the place had gradually filled out with the families, old and young, that every Sunday chose the park for an afternoon mate round.
"Clear? Would you look at all these children?" said Fleco in dismay.
They walked the remaining distance with less enthusiasm, half expecting the pitch to be in use by a gang of annoying ten year olds, or worse still, their fathers. But on arriving they found all but one of Fleco's side waiting, with smiles of triumph all over their faces, and thirsty for River Plate supporters' blood. They knew, of course, the rival side wouldn't show.
After briefly flirting with the idea of making El Irlandés target of the jokes, the thought of his quick fists and the look of warning on his face decided against it. But young men will always be young men, and it took only an enthusiastic cry of war to send them into a newly found frenzy. Someone cheered, grabbing Fleco in a fierce bear hug and, out of sheer surprise, knocking him off his feet. And before they knew what was going on, everyone was piled up on top of somebody else. The smiles spread easily on their faces as first a small, lilting hum begun to rise from the base of the pyramid, to then grow into a full blown chant: "Yo a Boca lo quiero, lo llevo adentro del corazón---"
No one missed El Irlandés when he retreated slowly towards the trees, his gaze drinking the sight of camaraderie displayed before him with something close to envy. His grip tightening on the laces of his boxing gloves he took another step backwards. He looked around to see whether anyone else was seeing what his eyes were seeing. It seemed such a shame to waste all that joy. But everybody seemed immersed in their own affairs. He was, once more, the sole spectator.
A half-moon was creeping up from under the trees when Fleco decided to go home, his clothes in a helpless state of disarray, his back hair opaque from the dust. He looked for El Irlandés and found him snuggled up against the back of his bench, only his thin jumper and scarf protecting him from the chilly wind. His radio rested, in silence, by his gloves.
"You staying?" Fleco asked.
"I'm waiting for someone," said El Irlandés.
Fleco nodded, remembering the girl. "I'll see you on Sunday."
And when the foreigner's eyes rebelled as expected, Fleco looked down to avoid the piercing glance, too late now to take his words back. He dared look up again after a beat, and it was to see the foreigner do something he had never done before.
El Irlandés smiled.
The End
-Barracas and La Boca: These two southern neighbourhoods have a history of football that is interwoven with immigration. Like in most cities with a history of immigration, the migratory waves from Europe in the turn of the XX century divided themselves in neighbourhoods when they first arrived. Thus, in Buenos Aires the English settled in Tigre, the Irish in Cougland, the Jews in Villa Crespo and Once, the Spanish everywhere and the Italians in La Boca and Barracas. La Boca, literally the mouth of the River, was both home of Boca Juniors and River Plate. Today, it is a major tourist attraction, with its coloured tin houses, its tango, its art, and of course, its football.
-Boca Juniors: whose fans are called Bosteros by their rivals (dung dwellers or dung eaters is as close as you can get in translation) or Xeneizes by themselves (which is Genovese, for, well, Genovese,) was in its beginning a poor neighbourhood club. Its fans, in La Boca, were mostly Italian immigrants. Today, they claim they are "The half, plus one" of all the football fans in the country. Many other clubs beg to differ. Their stadium, La Bombonera, (the chocolate box) is so called because of its small size and shape.
-River Plate: like Boca Juniors, River was born in La Boca. But as soon as they saw cash flowing in, they moved to the rich neighbourhood of Nuñez, in the North of the city. Its fans, los millionarios, are derogatorily called Gallinas (Chicken), because of the white with a spot of red of their shirts. Their stadium is El gallinero (the chicken house.)
-Choripan: a sausage sandwich. Not a hot dog, as its made with a thick crispy sausage in hard-crust bread instead of a bun. Good for lunch, tea, dinner, or after dinner. Whenever!
-Superclasico, it's the biggest derby in the country. Boca vs. River. In order to get tickets for this, you must queue a week in advance. No cheap tickets will be sold on the phone, or over the Internet. It usually means big business for both clubs, and for the guys who sell tents!
-Milicos, it's derogatory for Military, or for Soldier.
- Loco, Chabon, Flaco: (Crazy, Skinny respectively) are all various slang for man, in a phrase like: "Come on, man!"
- Fleco: not to be confused with Flaco, means, literally, lock of hair.
-Potrero: Literally, a stallion's running grounds. Metaphorically, it designates a barren piece of land in a neighbourhood that is used by the boys for playing football with, originally, balls made up of rags. Because of its roughness, speed, and in-cheek sentiment, 'potrero football' is supposed to be the soul of the local football style.
Ford Falcon: this car you may remember. Some say its ugly, and some say its pretty. In Argentina this car has been very popular. A GREEN Ford Falcon, however, is a differentthing. The military, for no reason other that its very popularity, were rather fond of that model and that colour. It became a symbol. To this day, a green Ford Falcon (there aren't that many around these days) is looked upon with, well, distrust.
Montoneros: This was a Marxist guerrilla movement in the seventies. They opposed the military government with violence and were punished with violence. Their war was never won by either side.
Mate: a very bitter, green tea, popular in most of South America. It's drunk out of a sort of bong, through an aluminium straw (or silver, if you're posh).
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