When I Liked Soccer

Oswaldo and me were coming down América Avenue, kicking long passes of the ball from sidewalk to sidewalk, when mom put her head out of the window of the house and started yelling my name. I came to a dead stop looking at how the ball rolled on by itself, without anyone to stop it, caress it, like I would have with my torn and blackened rubber sneakers. Then, Oswaldo, stupefied for a moment, ran after it and I returned home to mom, wiping my hands on my pants.

My mother, angry and withered, her cheeks covered with large wrinkles, talked to me in the same way that all poor mothers do: she reproached me about my dirtiness, and that damned game that destroyed my shoes and left my clothes in tatters.

Later, as she led me into the dining room, she said: “Take down that frame from the wall and clean it, because you have to pawn it.”

I devoted myself completely to this task and Oswaldo helped me try to give it the best shine with the rag that mom used to clean the cutlery (which was almost always clean). It was a silver-plated frame with a hand-engraving of The Last Supper. I despised that engraving–I always looked at it from my seat with that useless, dull benevolence–with the long bearded fellow sitting at the center of an enormous table and the twelve others looking at our pallid faces and noodle soup lunch. Oswaldo told me: “This one needs to have his beard pulled,” and I laughed, searching for that protective trace of friendship in his attitude. But then I became sad and felt a desire to say: “Goddamn it,” because it was painful for me to see how, little by little, we were losing everything. First the radio, then the crockery that Micaela received as a wedding gift, Julia’s alarm clock, the overcoat that Manalo inherited from dad, the brooch that Uncle Alfonso gave mom when he returned from Spain, the medical books that belonged to my brother when he was in school, and so forth and so on. There was also the possibility that Gabriela might see me the moment I entered Don Carlos’s pawn shop, like she had on several other occasions. I was sad for that reason and many others. But Oswaldo told me that he would accompany me, and furthermore, I remembered that I didn’t like the engraving and now I could eat in peace, looking at the bare walls and cobwebs that always produced a strange fascination in me.

We stored the ball in the baggage net that Micaela knit when she was pregnant, and went to Don Carlos’s pawn shop. It was located on the first floor of Gabriela’s house, where one had to walk through a long, tiled hallway. I walked on tiptoe, trying not to step on the black tiles. As long as I didn’t step on the black tiles, Don Carlos would greet me affectionately and say: “Let’s see, let’s see, what have you brought me now, you wretch.” At the end of the hallway there was a set of closed double doors with a faded painted surface, covered with grime and many fingerprints, and a doorbell on one side which made me want to urinate every time I used it. A small sliding door opened silently and Don Carlos’s dim pair of eyes looked out beyond each side of my face without noticing me. He finally looked at me, and in a nasal voice, said: “Let’s see, let’s see, what have you brought me now, you wretch.”

I handed over the package, and Don Carlos said: “What’s this?” while removing the wrapping with yellow and trembling hands. At that moment, I stopped participating in the transaction and started looking behind him to see everything I could: dusty medallions, different colored scarves, watches, radios, sewing machines, typewriters, two or three large Bibles, a trunk containing bones, bedclothes, a leather case, a sword, a law degree in a carved wooden frame, men’s three-piece suits, and overcoats; all of it organized and with a little white sticker attached to each item. But the smoke that filled the room didn’t allow me to see any further back, where a dense fog was spreading as if to engulf the room, not unlike what the entrance to hell must be like, until Don Carlos’s hoarse voice sounded in my ear like a horn and said: “This isn’t any good, it’s pure tin.” I turned my derelict head towards Oswaldo who was leaning behind the door, hiding, and he gave me an impatient signal by frowning and waving his hands, indicating that I should persist. Then, while I desperately and clumsily hopped in place, rubbing my legs together, I told him: “It’ s new, my uncle brought it back for us from Rome.”

Don Carlos passed his finger over the apostles and mumbled something. Then he turned on a light bulb and the room lit up with thousands of golden reflections, which, by simple coincidence, were heading into a collision with my eyes. A short time later he said, “How much?” and I replied: “A hundred, and mom will get it out at the end of the month.” Don Carlos burst out in loud laughter and shouted: “Not if you were selling it, nor if they were alive.” I swallowed my saliva and said: “How much are you offering?” and I felt like one of those women who sell vegetables in the neighborhood market. Don Carlos went to his desk and took out two bills of twenty, saying: “Take this, you wretch, so that you don’t leave with your hands empty. Sign here,” and pointing at the blue book with the torn cover. I signed and picked up the two bills and felt a deep resentment towards mom, Oswaldo, Don Carlos, and those silver-plated old men of The Last Supper. As I was leaving, Don Carlos shouted: “Wait for my countersignature,” and he handed me a receipt, which I folded and placed in the pocket of my shirt next to the two bills, thinking that we now had enough for another day of food.

Before we left, I asked Oswaldo to go out first and tell me if Gabriela was looking out of her window. Oswaldo went out happily dribbling the ball, then gave me a few signs that I didn’t understand well. When I went out, Gabriela’s unmistakable voice shouted at me: “Chino!” but, feeling a cramp down to my heels, I leaped on Oswaldo, took the ball away from him, and ran as fast as I could. At the corner of Panamá I made change for a bill and bought two cupcakes and a cold drink. I waited for Oswaldo there, but he didn’t arrive. Then, I started to go up to the house kicking the rocks and squashing the Capulín cherry seeds that I came across in the street, their sound producing a feeling of sweet pleasure in the soles of my feet and in my ears.

Near the house I encountered skinny Darío’s friends, who were all in a circle, practicing with an orange peel. I remained there watching them until “The Goat” Sáenz approached me and said: “Chino, let’s play a little.” I was going to turn down his invitation, thinking that mom must be waiting for me to have coffee and to buy Micaela’s baby his milk for his nursing bottle. But Darío approached me from behind and made me release the ball. It was then that I decided to go with them, telling myself: “What the hell, let them wait.”

There was a small field in front of the Espejo School. I played there all the time after school–when I was still attending school, that is. I hadn’t returned to school since dad had died, because mom had told me she needed me to keep her company, that she felt sad and lonely and I was her only gratification. But now I know that wasn’t the reason. The truth was that she needed someone to insult and to send to the pawn shops and the store to buy the afternoon bread on credit. But on the field I would forget about everything and would kick the ball more than anyone, and perhaps that’s the only reason I enjoyed the very small amount of respect I now received when Darío said to me: “Chino, you organize the game,” and I would start to think, put on airs, and look at each of them one by one and in a serious manner, say: “You, Goat, over here, you, Duckie, over there.”

They scored the first goal. Then, we took off our shirts so we could distinguish ourselves better. I played well with Perico, but better with Oswaldo. It was a pity that Oswaldo hadn’t played, because if he had, he would have scored many goals. In any case, we won one game and suspended the other because we almost couldn’t see anymore, deciding to continue playing the next day.

When I went to put on my shirt, it had disappeared. At first I started to look for it with a nervous laugh, then, with a distressed laugh, and then, with tears in my eyes, but I still couldn’t find it. All my teammates started to abandon me and a long, dark abyss opened in front me, out of which emerged mom, Micaela, Micaela’s son, Oswaldo, the professor, the rubber shoes, Don Carlos, Gabriela, and the Apostles.

I continued to look for hours, under the rocks we’d used to designate the goal area, behind the trees, and in the grass. Then, I went to the store and begged them to lend me a candle, and with my back exposed and drenched in tears, I continued looking behind the wild fuchsia plants and along the garden wall to the other side of the field.

It was very late at night, and feeling hopeless, defeated, and very cold, I said to myself: “Well, Chino, how shitty,” and I became filled with sadness. It was the same kind of sadness that mom had felt when she’d lost dad.

Now I’m at the station waiting for Oswaldo and black Bejarano to come by, to find out if we’re going to Guayaquil to embark.


Raúl Pérez Torres

Raúl Pérez Torres was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1941. He is a founding member of La Bufanda del Sol magazine and the Frente Cultural of Ecuador. He won the Casa de las Américas Prize in Cuba for his book En la Noche y en la Niebla. In 1981, he was awarded the José Mejía Lequerica del Municipio de Quito National Prize, and that same year, he served as a juror for the Casa de las Américas Prize in La Habana, Cuba. He is the author of the novel Teoría del Desencanto (1985), and the short fiction collections Da Llevando (1970), Manual para Mover las Fichas (1973), Micaela y Otros Cuentos (1976), Musiquero Joven, Musiquero Viejo (1977), Ana, La Pelota Humana (1978), and Un Saco de Alacranes (1989).

Harry Morales

Harry Morales is a Spanish literary translator whose translations include the work of the late Mario Benedetti, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Francisco Proaño Arandi, among many other distinguished Latin American writers. His work has been widely published in numerous anthologies, and has appeared in various journals, including Pequod, Quarterly West, Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, AGNI, The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Mānoa, BOMB, WORLDVIEW, Puerto del Sol, The Iowa Review, Michigan Review, World Literature Today, and Hayden's Ferry Review, among others. His English translation of two verse collections by Mario Benedetti, Sólo Mientras Tanto: Poemas: 1948-1950 (Only in the Meantime: Poems: 1948-1950) and Poemas de la Oficina: 1953-1956 (Office Poems: 1953-1956), and a volume of stories, El Resto Es Selva y Otros Cuentos (The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories), are published by Host Publications.

Copyright (c) Raúl Pérez Torres, 1994. English translation copyright (c) Harry Morales, 2001.