by Mihai Mateiu (Romania)
Translated from Romanian by Rareş Moldovan
for the Romanian version, click here
As the final whistle blows, the scoreboard shows 2-0. The home team’s anthem blasts out of the speakers at full volume, and the cheers of their supporters fill him with hatred. He glances at his friends as he makes his way towards the exit – their deflated, dejected faces. They all wait in silence until they’re allowed to leave the stadium, and then follow the flashing lights of the police car. No one’s singing, there’s only muffled, muttered swearing. At the first crossroads they hang back and separate from the crowd, heading for Belvedere. Skirting round the hotel, they descend the long stairs toward the Someş, then take the narrow sidewalk by the river bank. None of them speak, they just watch the sallow water reflecting the blue lights of the high voltage power line pylons. They cross the river by the Opera bridge and stop at Rainbow to get beer and cigarettes before they plunge into the darkness of the park. Their park, where they finally feel at home.
He’d waited for this game more than for Santa as a kid, he’d dreamt about it all year long, when they were still in the second division and CFR1 were wallowing in the first league. Now, though, the Caps2 had finally returned where they belonged – the One Love, the Big Comeback. They’d lost nearly every game of the season so far, but he didn’t want to think they’d be relegated again. A miracle was bound to happen, and he’d madly hoped it would be in this game, they couldn’t lose to CFR. He’d met with Comi at the Anchor bar at three, that early, – and despite the heat wave warning, they both wore their scarves around their necks. Snake had appeared at four and Rică shortly after. They swilled beer till seven, when they made their way to Gruia hill, glaring hard at the “Cherries”3 they met on the way. An hour before kick-off they’d already taken their seats in the behind goal stand, at the heart of the gallery, waiting anxiously for the start. Then they’d roared for ninety minutes, he the loudest. It was useless, no miracle occurred. “U” played disastrously, although he’d been too worked up to admit it, so he cursed the referee, the linesmen, the team and the CFR supporters, all those fucking wankers. At the end he felt betrayed and followed his friends to the park to drink the anger away. They’re still there an hour later, on a bench in the deserted park. The beer has eventually loosened their tongues and they debate each play out loud.
“Fuck me, that was a foul! The ref was with them, the bastard! “They bought him off, mate! They can buy anyone, these cocksucking Hungarians!”
He’s sloshed, but he suddenly sees clearly how useless all this talk is. Can’t be undone, they’ll probably be relegated again – the thought poisons his mind. He keeps seeing the happy mugs of the wankers in the CFR gallery, their scorning howls. What do they know about football? Shitheads, they think they can buy anything. They’ve only got three Romanians in the team and now they act like big shots. He’d stomp on them, mash the football out of their heads … he snaps to seeing Rică jump up and run to cross the path of a boy walking past in the other alley.
“Come come, I’m not gonna hurt you”, leading him by the arm towards the bench, as if to introduce him. “You know whose park this is?”
The boy stops in front of them tall and skinny and he notices the cherry scarf around his neck – fuck knows how Rică spotted him in the dark. He’s paralyzed with fear, you can see it in his eyes, he’d give anything to be somewhere else. A scrag. A fucking “ceferist” twat. “Are you happy now?” he asks as he gets up, but doesn’t wait for the answer and punches him in the gut, bending him over. Rică slaps him loudly across the nape and when the scrag suddenly runs for it, he also manages a kick in the ass. They laugh but he’s not happy and goes after him. Rică shouts to let him be, but he doesn’t listen, a weird ambition growing in him to get the boy and slap him a couple more times. His mug’s asking for it. He runs effortlessly, catches up with him after fifty meters or so and grabs his jacket, stopping him.
“Where you going, mate?” he yells in his ear, which the boy protects with his raised arm in a defensive reflex. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” He grabs him by the lapel and shakes him, trying to get an answer out of him. What pisses him off really is that the scrag doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t ask him to let go. “Are you Hungarian, say something, will you?” The boy jerks to free himself, then suddenly punches him in the face. He reacts super quick, the hook that beat all the records at the punch ball machine explodes at the scrag’s temple. The boy folds instantly, his head hitting the flagstones with a thud.
“You fucking ceferist prick”, he yells from above, kicking him in the gut. “You hitting me?!?” He’s foaming and leans over to grab him by the scarf, but the scrag’s passed out, limp as a rag doll. In the faint glow of the nearest streetlight he thinks he sees a small dark spot near the boy’s head.
“Hey, heeyy”, he shouts, shaking him by the shoulder, but the boy’s not moving.
“Did you put him to sleep?”, he hears Rică’s grinning voice nearby.
„Hey, mate, I think he’s bleeding through the nose”.
Rică takes his mobile out of his pocket and brings the lit display close to the scrag’s face. The electric light turns the small dark puddle under the boy’s head to blinding red, and both feel weak at the knees. The blood’s not coming out of his nose.
“Oh, man …”, Rică shaking him as well. “Fuck me, he’s dead!”.
His mind suddenly clears, but his hands and legs start trembling painfully.
“I just hit him once, he couldn’t have … he hit his head when he fell …”
He turns to Comi and Snake, who’ve caught up, and starts to explain what happened. He doesn’t even realise he’s whispering. Snake leans over the scrag and puts his hand near the lips, trying to feel his breathing.
“He’s not breathing, fuck me!”
“And what do you want me to do?”, he hears himself say.
“We should call an ambulance”, Comi ventures, his face now terribly worried.
Rică seems nervous, fidgety.
“If the police show up, we’re all fucked!”
He takes out his mobile and stares at it terrified, not knowing what to do. Then, taking a few steps down the alley, he sees himself dial 112 like in a movie, and press the call button. The others hear him say “central park … I think somebody’s dead”, and then “opposite the Napoca hotel”. He answers a few questions mechanically and tells his name, which seems to him strangely unfamiliar all of a sudden. After he snaps the clam phone shut, he makes for the bench slowly and drops in its black hollow. He’s close enough to hear the others, but their words ring meaninglessly to him. Images race through his mind – the plate of fries his mother probably left on the table for when he’d be back, Mona’s breasts in the triangular cups of her bathing suit bra – he promised her they’d go to the pool tomorrow, it’s already tomorrow, really … He tries to shake these thoughts off, to understand what’s going on, but aside from “How …?” it’s all blank. He sees the body lying on the ground, his friends fussing around it, and at the same time he feels the scarf choking him – he pulls at it, takes it off, drops it on the bench, unbuttons his coat. Catching his breath, he tries to recap, put things in order. He left home for the game, passed by the Anchor … that’s where his father used to take him too before the match, when he was little. His father would let him slurp the beer froth, would say that as how a man was made. After crossing the river, they’d buy sunflower seeds from the gypsies, he remembers their small wood cups, their bottom so thick … The sound of the siren jolts him, he sees the lights turning dizzily like strobes on the canopy of leaves. Rică is talking to a woman in red overalls, two emergency guys are taking out a stretcher on wheels from the back of the ambulance. A violent spasm shakes him, he leans forward and throws up.
He raises his eyes only when a hand taps him on the shoulder, but the white beam of the flashlight blinds him. He can’t tell if he’s been asleep, or how long it’s been. He gets up with some difficulty and stretches his arms out submissively to the other cop, watches curiously the handcuffs closing around his wrists, and he’s led to a white car. He gets in the back and the door slams after him with a comforting thump that isolates him from the world. He’s alone for a while, watching the trees glazed with darkness and the intermitent flashes of the police car lights. The radio is on but turned down, and a faint voice is announcing the final results of all the day’s matches. „We lost”, he thinks.
1/ Căile Ferate Române – Romanian Railways, also the name of the football club CFR Cluj
2/ Şepcile roşii – The Red Caps, the nickname for the players of the rival football club in Cluj, Universitatea, or „U” Cluj
3/ Supporters of CFR Cluj, so named after the colour of the team’s shirts.