05. 18. 2007. 09:04

Football and literature 2.

László Darvasi: The meaning of the game

"His name was Igor Khlebnikov. He was a midfielder in Vorkuta, and last year, just before a cup match, while they were oiling his thighs, he realized what the meaning of the game was."

He asked his coach for a pen and the referee chatting in the hallway for a piece of paper – the reserve red card – and hastily scribbled on it the few sentences that, he believed with good reason, would change his life, or at least give some direction in the chaos, in the profound perplexity caused by physical conditioning. Everyone plays, but who is the fortunate one who knows to what end?! A good sentence is like a lamp. If you want to see, you turn it on. Turn on the sentence, good, now I can see what I have to do, to accomplish, that it’s good, bad, that there was a goal or there wasn’t, a throw-in, a free kick, they took me out of the game, thank you very much. The essence of the game was but a few sentences. Igor Hlebnyikov pinned the red card above his heart, beneath his jersey, and ran out onto the field, because the game was starting.
 
Igor Khlebnikov could have left the red card in the locker room. But he didn’t dare to leave it there because it would get stolen. The whole world steals, they steal god, God steals back, moreover God steals back more than they steal from him, man is the wolf of mankind, can a trainer trust his field coach, he can never trust him, the sky above Vorkuta is snow-white, tomorrow it will snow, they steal and steal and steal.
 
Igor Khlebnikov wrote down the meaning of the game on the red card. It was nothing more than a few simple sentences. And thus he played the cup match to the end, he scored a goal, he made mistakes too, they fouled him, he fouled back, your stinking mother, who drowned in cum, he hissed at the left full-back on the other team, once he almost asked for a substitution, they kicked him in the kidney, something cracked in his body, but after having it treated he continued, but he felt all the while the pin pressing in his ribcage and he knew that the piece of paper was there, pinned to his heart, the meaning of the game written down, and he, when eventually the game ended, would read it again, because in the meantime he had forgotten, he himself couldn’t understand how that was possible, how one could forget a sentence so important, but he’d read it again and then everything would be fine.
 
Igor Khlebnikov stood in the wall of players, protecting his balls and thinking of the sentence. He had just run past the left full-back, and he thought of the sentence, the meaning of the game. The meaning of the game, the meaning of the game, damn it all, it just won’t come back to me. OK, after the game.
The meaning of the game. Sometimes it’s as if we were made of clouds. He stole the ball from the midfielder on the other team, he felt his forehead beginning to glisten. He looked up, I am Igor Khlebnikov, he yelled, I am Igor Khlebnikov, and he made the nineteen-year-old Popovchev jump so high Platini himself couldn’t have done it more gracefully. The boy came to a standstill in the situation which seemed impossible to screw up, turned around in amazement, hesitatingly stretched his hands towards his pants and whispered, “Igor, you did it so beautifully that the nerve here started trembling, look, in my thigh!”
 
There were five minutes left in the game. Igor Khlebnikov thought of how fantasy itself is only worth something if there is room, in the world one imagines, for defeat. What you imagine should have a shadow, weight, expanse. There must be something at stake, that’s why I imagine that I win, but of course that I could lose as well. What I imagine can change for the worse. What I imagine can change me for the worse. What I imagine can make me sinful. Sin. Igor Khlebnikov did a nice fake, then let them foul him. They tripped him up, at last he rested. He didn’t move. Above me the sky, he thought, the earth below, I live, I am sinful, I would like to be good. The meaning of the game, he whispered.
Naturally, the scrap of paper had been lost. The meaning of the game. They had stolen the paper, because they steal. Never mind. Igor Khlebnikov never found it, though he looked for it everywhere, on the field, in the locker room, on the streets of Vorkuta, in the imagination, in reality, in the church, in the graveyard, in the delivery room, everywhere. He looked for some time at the head of the pin that was stuck in his heart. He tried to pull it out. And he couldn’t.
 
Translated by Thomas Cooper 
 
(A shortened version of a story from László Darvasi's A titokzatos világválogatott [The Mysterious World Eleven], Magveto, 2006)

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