Wednesday, June 25, 2014

First Word: Ellen Hawkins: Football

Five empty buses motor by; a sixth carries a single passenger. This is unheard of in this city of six million but Chile is playing Spain in the World Cup.
            I am out for a walk on this warm sunny afternoon. If the streets are empty they are not quiet. The game is being broadcast from radios and televisions in homes, shops and high-rises. Car horns vie with whistles, barking dogs and the rapid-fire voice of the commentator who has not taken a breath since the game began. So far, I’ve heard two outbursts of jubilation. That could mean anything; I will hear only silence if the Spaniards score. A school bus hurtles by, toddlers and driver alike cheering and waving flags. Chi-le! Chi-le! Chi-le!
            I ask the concierge as I enter our condominium. Chile is leading 2-0. In my study, I turn on the television and mute the sound. Figures move across the screen in a lazy pantomime. It is a humid 27°C in Rio; the players must be running on low. Or maybe the game is nearly over and they’re letting the clock run down. A player trips and falls. He lays still a millisecond then grips one knee and writhes like a stuck python. Yet when they show the replay, it’s obvious that he merely tripped, which means the rest was for the benefit of the referee, or the spectators. Minutes later, someone from the opposition treats the public to an equally grand performance. He is not hurt either, nor is any penalty given. 
            For a brief moment, the game comes alive; there’s a shot on goal. The Spaniards are awarded a free kick. The Chilean goalie deflects the ball. The crowd roars! The goalie collapses on the pitch, totally spent. Is he faking too? What’s going on here?  
But wait. Surely I, though a mere spectator, am also playing a part. What real aficionado would even think of going for a walk at such a time? It’s not that I don’t like sports. Baseball now, there’s a game. I can watch baseball and tennis, and even golf, having been indoctrinated by my husband. But given a choice, I’d pass on football every time. Yet here I am, cheering for the home team.  Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le! Viva Chile! And I’m not even Chilean.

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