Issue 54: July - August 2006 

| author bio

World Cup
Julian Daragiati

We were sitting on the grassy bank of the Drin River in the shade of a walnut tree, looking down the stream toward the hills of Montenegro. It was the middle of summer. In back of us the town was preparing to nap away the scorching midday hours, and perhaps we too should’ve been in bed. But I’d insisted that we stay out here instead, on the riverbank in the shade, with cows near us, listening to the crickets hiss with chronic steadiness, and watching the river running westward, running rapidly toward the Albanian-Montenegrin border.
      The shrill of crickets and the hot, muggy air was making me drowsy. To keep awake, I shifted my gaze from the foreign hills to an islet in the stream. The sun beat fiercely on the water, and heat waves, thick and blurry, hovered over the islet. This reef of stones and pebbles and underbrush rose up from the riverbed every summer when the water level dropped, around where the stream flowed clear, cold and fast, fantastic to swim in. But getting there on foot was possible only from a shallow tail end on the other side of the river. From our side, you had no choice but to swim there, about the width of a soccer field in distance, and we were too young then and too unskilled to swim that far.
      For the past few minutes I’d been watching three young men stand on the islet. They skidded flat stones in the stream and chatted tranquilly among themselves; bits of dialogue skimmed and glided like the flat stones, and echoed clearly across to us. They were talking about the World Cup, about that evening’s game between Germany and Argentina. It didn’t surprise me. It was the final match of the tournament, and people spoke of nothing else, not of the crops in the field, or of the reduction in bread rations, or of the recent division of livestock among the peasants, or even of the sequential fall of communist regimes all across Eastern Europe (of course, people were too afraid then to talk about that); everyone was focused on the clash between these two great teams, and their two great players, Mathaus and Maradona. Four years earlier, in the finals of Mexico 1986, Germany had lost to Argentina. Though I was only eight when it happened, watching them lose had left me infatuated with them. I was anxious about the rematch, and liked nothing better than to listen to others talk and argue over who would win.
      I listened to the strangers a while longer. Their conversation seemed to go nowhere aside from a few loud insults directed at Germany, which felt as though they were directed at me. So I shifted my gaze from the gravelly islet to our grassy side of the Drin, checking briefly on Lara and Plaka herding on the shrubbery that grew around a riot of bamboos. It was unhealthy for the cows to be in the sun at this hour, but the devil eat them, I thought. I turned toward Dorian, my cousin, who sat there in the shade with me. He was chewing on blades of grass, his big head leaning forward, heavy with sweat and self-pity. He was sulking and with good reason.
      Before he’d lost my elastic ball, our only ball, we’d been playing soccer nearly every day. We’d come to the riverbank with our cows, and while they herded undisturbed nearby, we’d make two goals with our sandals, far enough from the river so that the ball wouldn’t fall in by accident. Energized by the World Cup, we’d play from morning until noon, and again in the afternoon, and sometimes even our older cousin Martin would join us, and we’d team up and play against him. (He was the best soccer player we knew though, and we didn’t like playing against him much.) Nearly everyday Dorian and I played and nearly every time I’d beat him and every time Dorian would take it like a man. But just the other day he got bitter and hung up on some petty rule about where the out-of-bounds line was, or should’ve been. The only way to appease him was to offer him the ball and tell him he could hold it for a while if it made him feel better. Dorian took the insult worse than the loss, threw the ball on the ground and kicked it with more force than I ever thought he had in him. The ball soared in the air for a good distance, flew high over the canopy under which we now sat and into the river.
      Let him sulk, I thought, recalling my beloved ball there on the stream, floating westward down the Drin. I gave him a fierce look and then my gaze shifted once again toward the islet. The three young men had quit skidding flat stones in the stream; they’d quit talking about the World Cup. They just stood there now and I watched them a moment, waiting to see what they were going to do next. But all they did was strip down to their underwear and go for a swim.
      Who could blame them? I wanted to rouse Dorian, strip off our clothes off too, and join them. But no, forget it Pierin, I thought. It was safer to sit in the shade and watch. We were also keeping an eye on Lara and Plaka after all. The stupid cows were feeding on the leaves of bamboos now, which were difficult to digest. Of course, I didn’t want them bloated and dead, so I told Dorian to pull them away from the bamboos and fasten them under the shade of the walnut tree where we could watch them.
      Dorian did as he was told. When he sat back down in the shade, I said: "Why don’t you bring them some water, too?" With eyes barely open, I watched him stand up and step reluctantly out of the shade and into the sun again. He stood dazed for a moment, his eyes squinting.
      "Looking for the buckets?" I asked.
      "Where are they?"
      "I don’t know. At home maybe?"
      "I’ll go."
      "Why don’t you bring us some water, too," I said.
      "I’ll get us another ball, man," he mumbled, somewhat angrily, and went strolling toward his house.
      Shortly after, he came back with two empty buckets in one hand and a jug full of water in the other. He handed the jug to me, then walked to the steeply eroded riverbank, descending it carefully. Once he filled the buckets with water, he summoned me to help him carry them to Lara and Plaka. Their backs had roasted in the sun, and we splashed water on them as they drank from the buckets. Then Dorian picked up the jug he’d brought earlier, drank from it, tipped it over his head, and sat down with his back against the trunk of the walnut tree. Lara and Plaka wasted no time shitting the place. It began to attract flies, but damn it if we were going to be ousted from the shade because of the smell and the flies.
      The men across the stream had stopped swimming, but were still splattering about, splashing sounds coming just a split second after we could see their hands hit the water. Their shrill laughter blended with the cries of the crickets and the buzzing of countless flies dining on Lara and Plaka’s manure. They were talking about the World Cup again, arguing almost. One of them was clearly rooting for Argentina. He hated the German team. I suspected that he was probably an Italian fan, and was bitter that Italy had lost to Argentina in the semifinals. German and Italian fans were like that; they wanted the team that beat their favorite team to beat every other team. I knew, because I was one of them.
      "You think Germany will lose again tonight?" Dorian asked.
      "No, don’t say that. Don’t even think it."
      "I worry about Maradona."
      "To hell with him," I said. "He won’t do shit with Mathaus blocking." I got up from the shade and went to the edge of the riverbank. "Let’s ask our friends across the stream and see what they think."
      "Come on, Pierin. Don’t be stupid."
      "It’ll be fun," I said, and began waving with both hands at the men standing in the shallow stream. "Hey, comrades! Hey, comrades!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, my words echoing in the streams.
      The men stopped splashing about and turned toward me, all three of them in white, wet underwear, the rest of their clothes piled up on the islet. They must have been in their mid-twenties. I didn’t see cows anywhere near them or on the grassy plain that stretched to the foot of Mount Taraboshi on the other side of the river. Perhaps they were mere peasants who’d come to the river to cool off.
      "You think Germany will win tonight?" I hollered, words echoing.
      "Easily," one of them hollered back. "No doubt about it."
      "Are you all German fans?" I asked.
      "Two of us are," another one shouted, "but not our friend here." He pointed to his companion. "He’s an Argentinean fan."
      "Germany is the greatest team in the world," I hollered.
      "Germany is shit," the companion fired back.
      "Germany is the absolute greatest of the great," I hollered.
      "Germany can kiss my ass," the Argentinean fan fired back, and his friends broke into laughter.
      I glanced over my shoulder and winked at Dorian. He was missing out on all the fun, but he made no move to join me, so I turned again toward the islet. "Hey, comrade!" I yelled with my hands cupped around my mouth. "Hey you, the Argentinean fan over there. Do you even know where Argentina is on the map?"
      "Germany is crap," he shouted, louder than before. "And when they get pounded tonight, the whole team can come and kiss my ass."
      "And if Germany wins, comrade," I retorted, turning around and lowering my shorts, "will you come and kiss my ass?" I began to swing my ass from side to side, smacking my butt cheeks. "Hey, comrade," I shouted over my shoulder. "If Germany wins you can come and kiss it. Come and kiss it, comrade. Ha, ha, ha."
      "You little shithead," the Argentinean fan yelled, with real menace now, raising his fist in the air. "I’ll come over there and beat you stupid. You hear me?! I’ll come over there and kick your fucking face in."
      He fired all sorts of threats and curses, at me, at my mother, at my sister, at my clan. The angrier he became the higher his fist went. That was the product of Marxist education, I guess. Soon he bent down, though, and began digging at the bottom of the stream for rocks. He collected a handful and began to launch them at me. I don’t know what that was a product of—Balkan temperament, perhaps—but it alarmed Dorian who jumped up and came to the edge of the riverbank to pull me away. The rocks landed with deep thuds in the water in front of us, sometimes even hitting the riverbank. But I didn’t worry. I knew it would take a rare arm to hit a target across the stream. The more rocks he launched, the more I laughed. Dorian couldn’t be docile anymore and began to laugh, too.
      "Son of a bitch!" the Argentinean fan was shouting now. "You think you can insult me like that. I don’t care whose son you are. I’ll swim over there and strangle your scrawny ass." He got back on the islet and went running in the opposite direction from the stream. If he wanted to swim across he’d have to start diagonally from us. That way the stream would make his swimming easier and carry him right to us.
      "Leave him," one of them shouted at the Argentinean fan as he ran up the islet. "He’s just some punk kid. Leave him." They were not on our side anymore, and the Argentinean fan didn’t listen anyway. He kept on running, then headed for the stream, dove in and began to swim toward us. I could see him approaching fast.
      Dorian had turned pale. Without a word to each other we rushed to the walnut tree. I untied Lara with trembling hands, casting rapid glances over my shoulder at the stream. The man was almost halfway across. I looked at Dorian as he untied his Plaka. But the cows were hardly as eager to leave the riverbank as we were. I smacked Lara’s ass hard to get her to move, and Dorian was smacking Plaka, too. But they wouldn’t budge, and then Dorian tore into me: "You idiot! Why do a thing like that, you stupid idiot?" I took Lara by the lead and began pulling her, and told Dorian to slap her and to keep slapping. Finally she began to move when I pulled and Dorian slapped, and that prompted Plaka to follow. Soon we were all moving at a good pace.
      The riverbank was now behind us.
      "That was fun," I said, still trembling and panting a little, and sweating all over.
      "You’re an idiot," Dorian said.
      "Fine, fine," I said "I’ll see you after the nap."
I steered Lara toward my house, brought her to the hut in the backyard, placed another bucket of water in front of her, and went in the house. I had some lunch and was off to bed.

When I awoke my head felt dizzy and my limbs were numb. My hair and neck were drenched in sweat. My folks were still napping. I stumbled out of bed, walked outside and sat on the steps of the veranda. The day seemed brighter than it had been earlier. My eyes had not fully adjusted to the light, but I sensed someone creep up beside me, and before I had time to turn, I was slapped hard in the face. I jerked back as my eyes began to water, caressing my cheek and rubbing my eyes, and soon my cousin Martin came into full view. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing only his gray polyester pants. He had a shaved head, like a soldier’s, a tanned face and rippling muscles that he liked to show off every chance he got.
      "What the devil was that for?" I asked.
      "To wake you up," he said and gave me another hard slap on the other cheek. By now I was fully alert. Both my cheeks burned. I shoved Martin, trying to catch him by surprise and make him tumble backwards, but he hardly moved, so I sat back down on the steps and caressed my cheeks.
      "Where’s your girlfriend?" he asked.
      "He’s probably still napping," I scowled. "What do I know?"
      "Go call him so we can play soccer."
      "You go call him."
      "You want another slap?" he said, and raised his hand. I told him quickly about the soccer ball, that we no longer had one because Dorian had kicked in the Drin.
      "That little bitch," Martin said. "Let’s go call him anyway."
      "All right," I said, standing up and following him through a green tunnel of grapevines that my Dad had built in his spare time. The tunnel provided generous shade to the walkway to our house. But relatives and guests always liked picking grapes better, which irked my father to the point of threatening to tear it all down.
      Martin was half-hopping as he walked, and as he hopped, he picked some grapes that had turned purple. I said nothing about my father’s irritation, and only followed him. I guess that’s what disciples do. If Dorian’d been here, he’d follow him too. We were his disciples whether we wanted to be or not, and whether we’d asked to know or not, he’d taught us a lot about girls and sex, and more important things too, like soccer and soccer players. He claimed to be an expert in both, and he was twenty so we believed him. I believed him too because he’d just returned from the two-year mandatory service in the army where boys across Albania were sent to become men.
      We found Dorian seated in the shade of a fig tree that stood like a giant mushroom in front of his small, brick house. Kisa, his bitch, lay on her stomach next to him. She looked up and barked as we entered the yard. Dorian turned his head. His face was smeared with lines of dirt and dried sweat running from his forehead to his jaw. He looked dazed and cockeyed from fatigue. There was something on his lap. He stood up and tried to explain what he’d done. But it needed no explanation. There it was in his hands. He’d taken somebody’s light woolen slippers—likely his grandmother’s—stuffed the material with old rags, and patched it up nicely with nylon string. It looked sturdy and heavy and somewhat round. But it wasn’t very big and when he dropped it on the ground it didn’t bounce. It just fell there and stayed.
      Martin laughed harder than I’ve ever heard him laughing. He slapped Dorian upside the head, and that made me laugh, too. "Who gave you that idea, ball-head?" he said, and began kicking the ball of rags around the yard.
      Watching Martin, I was reminded of those black-and-white war films they’d show us every Sunday. They were often about World War II, about brave Albanian partisans with red stars on their caps fighting the Germans or the Italians. Of course, the brave Albanian partisans would constantly outsmart the Germans and defeat them. But every now and then there would be some quiet scene with young kids playing soccer with an old, decrepit ball while mean-looking German soldiers in groups of two, with metal helmets and machine guns across their chest, looked on.
      "Come on, Martin. Let’s not play here," Dorian said. "My folks are still napping."
      "The riverbank then?" Martin said.
      "As always," I said.
      At the riverbank, Dorian and I made our goal with Dorian’s sandals, placing each sandal about one meter apart. Martin made his goal with my sandals about twenty meters away from ours. As we stretched, Martin juggled the ball. Though it was made of rags, he juggled it well, first with his feet, then with his knees, his shoulders and finally his head. With my old ball he’d always juggle with the grace and confidence of a professional; with an actual ball he was Pele. With a pomegranate or a persimmon, which he juggled once in a while for show, he was Maradona. And with a ball of rags, I was certain, he was as good as anybody.
      Rarely was I able to take the ball away from him. Whenever he feigned a shot or a move, he kept the ball very close to his feet. His feigns almost always threw me off. Once he was past me, Dorian was easy. Martin scored in the first few minutes, and I got angry because Dorian never knew where to stand or when to make a run. He could never read the play and always stood behind Martin it seemed. Once he even had a clear line to Martin’s goal, but kicked the ground instead of the ball. Then he complained that his foot hurt, and that he couldn’t run. My teammate was just a post in the field. I even tried to dribble the ball myself, but the rags wouldn’t roll well on the grass. Then out of nowhere Martin leapt forward and took it away. He sprinted to our goal, but didn’t shoot the ball past the line. Beating us easily made him cocky. He simply held the ball at the goal line now, his foot on top of it, until I charged to take it away. Then he tapped it lightly with his heel before I could get to it.
      I brought the ball back on the field, determined to score at least one goal. I could pass to Dorian, then make a diagonal run, if only Dorian knew where to stand. But he knew nothing. I tapped the ball forward lightly with my toes, ran to it and kicked it as hard as I could. I can’t say for sure if I was aiming for Martin’s goal or for Dorian’s head, and my foot couldn’t decide which either. The ball took a strange path, flew past the imaginary out-of-bounds line and into the river. We all stopped to look at it for a second, then Martin raced after it, leaping straight into the river from the bank.
      Dorian and I ran up to the edge to watch him. The ball was nowhere in sight, and Martin dove deep for it. We didn’t see him or the ball for several seconds. Then suddenly he emerged, a ball of wet rags in his hand. He launched it from the stream to us. We followed the looped path with our eyes. Dorian reached out and caught it, water splashing all over him and dripping from the rags. Martin swam fast up the stream, reached for the branch of a weeping willow and lifted himself out of the water. He looked at the wet ball of rags in Dorian’s hands, then at Dorian.
      "Well, don’t look so hurt about it," he said, taking his pants off and squeezing the water out of them "You can just put it out in the sun."
      Dorian and I took the ball apart carefully and spread the wet rags on the grass. The sun leaned westward, casting an orange glow across the horizon and reflecting on the stream. The sunrays were hardly as fierce as they had been earlier, but in an hour or two the rags would dry anyway, and maybe we could play again before going to watch the game. We went to sit in the shade of the walnut tree. By now Lara’s and Plaka’s manure had formed hard dry crusts, and flies even more numerous than before had homed in, so we decided to sit instead at the edge of the riverbank.
      "We’re watching the game at your house, no?" Martin asked, putting his pants back on.
      "I guess so," I said. "I don’t know who else has a TV."
      "What’s the matter with you? Show some passion."
      "I have passion."
      "I hope you’ll have lots of raki, too. I want to celebrate."
      "We’ll have plenty," I said. Looking at the islet, lonesome and beautiful in the setting sun, I wanted to tell Martin what I’d done to the Argentinean fan earlier. I was proud of it, and I thought he might be proud of me too. Or he might tell Dad, I thought, so I opted against it. We sat in silence for a short interval, our feet dangling from the riverbank, and the soccer ball drying in the sun behind us.
      "The next World Cup will be held in America," Martin said after a while.
      "Will it be on TV?" I asked.
      "It won’t matter to me. I’m going there to see it live."
      "In America?" Dorian laughed. "You can’t go to America."
      "Yeah," I said. "How can you go to America?"
      "What do you two kids know?" Martin said, growing quiet and thoughtful for a moment. Then he pointed in the direction of Montenegro, where a small tower stood on a hill, barely visible in the sun. "See that tower over there? Once you make it there, it’s a cinch. There you can ask for political asylum in America. The Yugoslavians will understand."
      "What does political asylum mean?" I asked.
      Martin chuckled. "Political asylum means standing in a giant stadium in America, watching the great German team playing live in front of you. It means shaking hands with Mathaus and Klinsman after the game and asking them to autograph my real soccer ball. It means watching Germany raising the Cup again in the USA in’94, as they’ll do tonight."
      "Why don’t you swim across the border then and get your political asylum?" I asked.
      Again Martin chuckled, the sort of chuckle that was more irksome now than condescending. "Tonight, Germany will raise the Cup in victory," he said, not bothering with my question. "I can’t wait to see it."
      "They’ll win," Dorian said. "My heart feels it."
      I said nothing, but only looked at the tower in Montenegro and tried hard to imagine myself in political asylum in America. I tried to picture myself standing in a giant stadium and watching Germany playing live in front of me. I tried to picture myself shaking hands with Klinsman, Mathaus, Muller and other great German players that might still be around in ’94. I gazed at the Montenegrin border-patrol tower and tried hard to imagine it. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t picture it. It was like trying to picture myself standing on Mount Olympus in the company of the gods.

Just before eight o’clock that evening, the living room of my house was clogged with young and old men. Me, my father, Dorian, his father, uncle, grandfather, Martin and his father, and other relatives of ours were all hunched up in front of our black-and-white TV screen, waiting for the game to begin and sweating heavily from the summer heat and the anticipation of a German victory. My father brought out the demijohn of raki and placed it in the middle of the dinner table. The demijohn was more than half-empty. We wouldn’t be brewing again until October, but there was plenty to go around. Most everyone had a cigarette in his mouth, and all of us looked tense and fretful, with faces glowing from the cigarettes, the heat, the TV, the alcohol and the World Cup final. No wonder, after looking at us all ablaze, my mother and little sister had gone to stay with the women whose husbands, brothers or sons were in our living room.
      The game was on RAI, an Italian channel our small antenna could pick up, but the reception was often poor. The low voltage didn’t help matters much and threatened to go out altogether. Though the door and the windows were wide open, it was still very hot and very humid, and the temperature rose another notch as soon as the referee blew the whistle for the game to begin. Most of us were German fans, except for Martin’s father who claimed to be only one kind of fan, and that was an Albanian fan. He was a quiet, old man, a bit of an embarrassment to Martin, and none of us had the heart to remind him that Albania was a lost cause and would never make it to the World Cup. No one paid much attention to him, anyway. We left him in peace as he drank shot after shot of raki so that after a while his head tilted against the wall, and his eyes, sometimes closed and sometimes half-closed, gave the mixed impression of a man who was either drunk, asleep, or just plain ill.
      Perhaps he had a point, but I was too young to care about it then. All I cared about was seeing Germany win, and seeing wasn’t easy with all the smoke in the room and the bad reception. It wasn’t often I was permitted to smoke and drink, but the final was too big a deal for Dad to mind what I was doing. So every now and then I borrowed puffs from someone’s cigarette, and sips of raki from another’s glass. Martin was sitting next to me. Unlike most of us, he wasn’t smoking or drinking. He was still shirtless and barefoot, his eyes fixed on the TV. He didn’t blink once. Whenever Germany had a good run to Argentina’s goal, he’d clench my shoulder and jump in the air.
      But Germany wasn’t scoring and some of us were growing impatient. Martin was defensive. He insisted that Germany was playing well against Maradona’s team, and he was optimistic they would capitalize in the second half. Or at least, he said, they’d carry the game to penalty kicks, as many other teams had throughout that tournament, in which case Germany would surely win. His optimism had resulted in a few red marks on my shoulder. It was time to change my seat.
      I huddled next to Dorian. He sat cross-legged on the floor with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and the ball of rags on his lap. He wasn’t watching the game. He was engrossed in putting the ball back together, using a big needle this time and more nylon string. Once he’d put it together in a bulging, uneven bundle, he’d look at it for a moment, sigh, then take it apart again. "I have no idea how I did it earlier," he kept saying. "I have no idea."
      "Why don’t you forget about it and watch the game," I said, but he didn’t care to listen. He stuffed the rags in the slipper, and kept trying to sew it in a way that resembled a ball. The entire first half he spent trying to put the damn thing back together before finally throwing the rags on the floor.
      Soon as the second half began, we knew it would be a better match. Both teams were fired up. We could tell from the fouls they began committing against each other. Players from both teams got booked with yellow cards. In the 65th minute, the first player was sent out with a red card. Argentina was now down to ten players. They held up well for a while. Then it happened. It came in the 85th minute. Voller entered the box with the ball and was tripped. It was not clear at first whether he was really tripped, or had faked it, but the referee awarded a penalty kick to the Germans anyway. The replay raised doubts about the referee’s call. But a referee’s decision was final, and Germany had a good chance now to take the lead. Brehme would take the penalty kick. We all turned rigid, as though waiting in an ambush, as Brehme placed the ball at the penalty spot. He took a few steps back, ran to the ball and kicked it easily in the lower right corner. We all jumped with joy, cheering and screaming, slapping one another’s hands and hugging in celebration.
      Germany 1-Argentina 0: The score was flickering on the TV screen next to the time that was running out for Argentina. Two minutes later another Argentinean player was sent out with a red card. The cup was slipping away from the Argentineans. You could see the frustration on their faces. Their star player, Maradona, had been booked with a yellow card. He was playing too cautiously now to win. It didn’t matter anyway. The game was coming to an end, and so was Argentina’s chance of keeping the Cup for another four years. It would take a miracle to change the fate of the final, and that miracle never came. When the referee blew the whistle for the last time, we jumped up once more, full of bliss and cheer and applause, in solidarity with the Germans who were cheering and hugging on the screen.
      We sat there watching the celebrations on TV until the power finally went out sometime past ten o’clock. Then we lit some candles and went outside. None of us knew how much Martin’s father had drunk until then. He could barely stand. We sat him down on the steps with his eyes closed and his head resting on the column of the veranda. Now and then a few pistol shots went off in the night to commemorate the German victory, and we commemorated the pistol shots with shots of raki.
      Soon enough, I could see my Mom and little sister walking up to the house through the tunnel of grapevines. Mom was holding a lit candle in one hand and my sister’s hand with the other. "What is the matter with you men?" she said as she approached us. "I can hear you from a hundred meters away. You’ve all gone hysterical watching twenty-two men chase after a ball. Why don’t they just put twenty-two balls on the field and save everybody the trouble?"
      "Ah, but you don’t understand, wife," Dad said, putting an arm around her and raising his glass of raki as though to touch it with another, invisible glass. "Tonight, Germany has won the World Cup!"
      "And you, husband, what have you won?" Mom said, slipping from Dad’s arm.
      Everyone suddenly shut up. We stood silent for a moment, each of us thinking of good comebacks, but finding none, we burst into laughter.
      Mom shook her head. "I better take this child to bed," she said, picking up my sister. She climbed the steps to the front door where she stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Martin, you better take your father to bed," she added, before entering the house. "He doesn’t look good."
      "No, he doesn’t," Martin said without looking at any of us. He was staring off into the night as though he was no longer with us. It disappointed me that he wasn’t celebrating as he’d said he would. He just sat there, looking distant and melancholy in the candlelight. Perhaps it saddened him that the World Cup was over, and we’d have to wait two years for the European Championship, and four years for the next World Cup. Or maybe he was celebrating it all inside, I thought. I sat next to him and nudged him in the ribs to bring it out. But he only smiled. Then he stood up. "Well, men," he said. "Germany has won as it should have, and now I will go home and sleep, and maybe I’ll see you all again someday. Are you coming with me, Father?" His father didn’t move. Martin went to the steps of the veranda, put his father’s arms around his neck and helped him to his feet. He supported him as though he were a wounded soldier; and bidding us good night, they headed home, disappearing into the tunnel of grapevines.
      Everyone was either too drunk or too excited to pay any attention to what Martin had said, and although I’d heard him clearly I was perhaps too young to know what he meant. So, of course, as I watched him in the candlelight, helping his father to his feet, I wouldn’t have imagined that in less than an hour, not saying a word to any of us or even a farewell to his parents, he would sneak out of his house, go to the river and swim for hours down the stream, pass the Albanian-Montenegrin border into former Yugoslavia. Watching him holding his father, I wouldn’t have imaged that all along he’d been making secret plans to escape on the night of the World Cup Final when the Albanian border-patrol squad was likely too excited by the game to watch the river. I wouldn’t have imagined, as he bid us good night and headed home, that in a few months, already fed up with communism and a life of poverty, many Albanians would try hard to change things while others like us would flee to the border only to run into the border patrol squad ready to empty their machine guns on us. As I sat there in the dark, watching Martin disappear with his father into the tunnel of grapevines that my Dad had built and now wanted to tear down, I wouldn’t have imagined any of it. That night in July I felt only joy and jubilation, and when I went to bed, resting my head on the pillow and entering into a world of weird and wild dreams, I slept peacefully knowing that Germany had won.

Julian Daragiati 2006

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author bio

Julian Daragiati was born in Shkoder, Albania, in 1979 into a family of political dissidents, and lived for most of his childhood in the village of Darragjati on the eastern bank of the Drin River. By 1990, growing political unrest in Albania led his parents to escape into former Yugoslavia where they sought political asylum in America. After graduating from college, Daragiati went to Italy as a Fulbright Scholar to conduct background research for a novel about the influence of Albanian immigration on the cultural consciousness of Italian society. He is currently enrolled in an MFA program at Penn State and working on the novel. "World Cup" is his first published story.
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Issue 54: July - August 2006 

f i c t i o n

Josip Novakovich: Ideal Goalie
Julian Daragiati: World Cup
Nickolay Todorov: Penalty in Injury Time
Rob McClure Smith: Easterhouse
Alex Mitchell: The Society for Recreating the Hachiko Statue
Kathryn Simmonds: A Quiet Drink

picks from back issues
     football stories:
Irvine Welsh: A Fault on the Line
Suhayl Saadi: Sufisticated Football

q u i z

Sports in Literature
answers to last issue's quiz, Animals in Literature

b o o k   r e v i e w s

The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

r e g u l ar  f e a t u r e s

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)
TBR Archives  (by issue)

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