On sea-blue-sky days you could see the railings round the training ground shining more and glinting sharper than the gold virgin and child cresting the church that hung over it.
Bless me, he said, as he turned his eyes down from there and started to climb those sun-warmed gates. He could see his football through the bars, a prisoner, a damsel in black and white leather-patternwork distress.
Him the hero.
Him the liberator.
Him the star.
He looked up at the church, the mother, again and thought of Zizou. Knew it had been a good idea to shave his head just like him because it meant he didn’t sweat so much in this heat, which was good because it stung his skin when it sweated. He’d forgotten to bring water today, but Bless me and Cool me he said as he looked back through the bars. Bless me and Cool me and Don’t let them find me here until I have played.
Dropping from the top of the fencing his knees bent and he rolled over, sprung to his feet and started sprinting for the ball, had it moving from foot to foot as the running slowed down. He tripped it up, kept it up, one foot, next foot, first foot, second foot, right foot, left foot, right knee, left thigh, head and sun in his eyes as it bounced off and he had to let it fall.
He kicked the ball against the siding and it rattled like the clappers some fans would shake as they chanted, boomed like the sucking in of air to make the hush those same fans would hold before he scored. He moved closer in, cutting down the distance the ball travelled before it started coming back. Coming back to go again and again and again and coming back so he could tee it up and volley it towards the goal. It bounced off the bar and steadied, quiet, on the plastic turf.
Still, there had been the hum it made as he hit it. Helicopter/bee-sting hum, but different, but better, but his and here and now. Can you explain, he looked up, Can you explain the Hum of ball on foot? Bless that Hum. Bless me, Keep me cool and Bless that Hum.
He came running to it again, and if you were watching you would see him like a child running for the first time to his father’s arms, that same wide, world-love smile on his face, even as his lungs were tiring, as his shins still ached from the jump. He came running to it and kicked it so hard it made a ripping sound against the net like the wildest fish, like dolphins even, and like a weak fisherman it let the ball come out again to his feet.
He turned and pushed it away again, set off chasing, feeling little stings of sweat, but saying Cool me as he breathed and he could tell that he was being cooled, that he was being blessed. Keeping it up again, he moved with it, had his eye on it all the time, knowing exactly where it was and where it would come down and which part of which part of his body it would hit and come right back up again. Then he let it sink and balance in the cradle of his right foot, angled upwards to press it in against his shin. And he watched it, and he looked up the hill again and it didn’t roll out of that cradle, just stayed newborn sleeping, and then he let it grow, let it come through the air to head height and this time the sun didn’t put him off, because he closed his eyes and still had everything under control. It hit down onto his thigh and he flipped it again, turned his whole body and hit it on the volley again, hit it out with his words that said Bless me, Bless this Hum, and he watched as it sailed up and over the railing, kept on sailing.
Running and smiling again he reached the bars and saw the football through it one more time, lodged beneath a car, moved from one cell to another, shifted before he’d fully set it free.
Test me then Bless me. Test me and I will pass.
I will pass and pass and pass and watch the passes of my teammates and how they run beneath this fishwater blue sky, and I will call for it, and when all the passing is done with I will score. That hum will happen and then that wild dolphin biting at the net and then that boom that comes before silence will come after it too and they will call for me.
They will call, like that car alarm is calling, like that man who owns the car is calling. Please let me get There before he gets There, so I can get the ball and play tomorrow before they come and find me here. And Cool me, he said, because the sweat was stinging as he climbed.