The soccer ball bounced on the clay field and rose into the air, fragments of yellow-red earth booming and dispersing before dissolving under the fading orange light projected by a cheerless bulb. Through nebulous vision, the young man watched the ball spiral down to his feet – a perfectly executed cross – and with a lack of agility customary of the washed-up athlete, fumbled the first touch and watched the ball cruise out of bounds, far from any other player, teammate or otherwise. The young man looked up to the dripping, grey ceiling in mock disbelief, mouth open, before looking at the avatars populating the field, both known and unknown, extracted from an admirably hidden well. He smiled and chuckled. Two bronzed juniors were laughing in derision, naked besides their dirt-smeared underwear. He could not recall if they were fellow players or perhaps opponents. Well-intentioned, he ignored the children and play commenced again inside the dreary cage. The young man stopped moving his worthless feet and cast his eyes unto the middle of the field. He watched Omar welcome a poor cross with established grace, rotating to his right with a supple movement of the torso and placing his right foot at the optimal angle to receive the errant pass with his outside foot. One touch and stocky Omar was off, a determined tiger, dribbling across the field, shifting his muscular legs and running towards a purple distance where the young man lost track of the thoroughbred, unable to discern a shape beyond the divergent, twirling shades defining his landscape.
They met again, after the match. It had been many years, some of which the young man could hardly remember, their recollection composed with the same distorted ache present during the fashioning of Omar’s juvenile face. And here, Omar, resting against the asphalt enclosure, laughed with his trademark, dubious smile; all clear, glistening white teeth showing, eyes questioning, waving the strain of a thick, dark lock away from his tanned forehead. The two companions walked around the patch of green grass which separated the clay field for the asphalt pen, their arms loosely around the other’s shoulders. They only laughed, never exchanging a word, until he felt an exterior presence: a woman’s touch, circling around his arms and the oppressive soft skin of lips harassing him. The young man kept his eyes closed, desiring to hold onto every envisioned detail, at last seeing his friend with the transparency his youth had never allowed him. He stood with a maroon-coloured spectre, the imagining of a friend whose characteristics childish eyes could not remark. The dim, brown blotches present on his facial skin, the beginning of acne struggles. Large hazel eyes which expanded when amused or when participating in a clever farce. A slightly chipped front tooth, bunny-sized. The distortion of jaw and lips when he spat the water he had just drank, squirting it all out of the side of his mouth like a sweltering jet. Then, between alertness and stupor, the young man and Omar were approached by the same two junior denizens of their spectacle, rudely asking for the result of El Clasico. Before receiving a response, the boys scurried away into the unattainable light of a locker-room, laughing like maniacal, miniature pests. The friends looked at each other and still laughing, scribbled down identical two-to-one scores (the young man picking Madrid, Omar going with Barcelona). They blew their crumbled papers into the room and waited for a reaction. Excited cries soon emerged, a set of eyes opened, then came a sob or a laugh, before the same eyes shut again, ready for a new departure, a fantasy trailing behind, to which there would be no return.
REDA SOUNNI is a 27 year-old writer. He has previously published two short stories for the online platform Lecteur en série.