The Footballer’s Wife

The cuckoo is still sleepy. Its song snuggles in the otherwise quiet air. While the sun still hides beyond the horizon, its light seeps in the blue sky and paints it orange. The world is still sleeping. It will take another hour or two to wake up from its slumber. Abid will never wake up, though.
I was twenty two when we first met. It was his twentieth birthday. Midfielder at one of the two biggest clubs in Kolkata, he had made a name of himself by then. Just out of the hotel management school, I was the GRO at the biggest hotel in Bangalore.
They had been to our city to play their away match against our home team. Bred in a non-sportif city where people only recognised cricketers, I was not a big football fan. It was when our manager gave us a heads up regarding their arrival that I realise that footballers do exist outside Europe and Latin America and that there are pockets in West Bengal and Goa where people are crazy about them.
“Sir, welcome to Southern Delight. My name is Sukanya Rajendran. I’m your guest relation officer. We’re here to ensure a comfortable stay for you. Rest assured, we work twenty four seven. So anything you need or any trouble you face while you’re here, we’ll be one call away.” While reciting these practised lines, I was flattered to see the group of sturdy youngsters’, their coach’s and a couple of other middle-aged officials’ eyes adore me. Then I noticed the youngest of the lot staring at something behind me. I turned to see our receptionist Sangeeta seated on a sofa at the end of the lounge after her shift. Her thighs ran generously out of the hint of a black skirt that she was wearing. I turned back to look at the youngster who passed an apologetic smile.
What lies in front of me now is just the remains of that man. He’ll never smile again.
The coach had ordered a surprise birthday party that night. While they mostly drank and created ruckus, the nonchalant birthday boy sat at a corner. Later at night, awaiting my cab at the lobby, I noticed a lone figure strolling in the lawn. It was the footballer who’d peeked up Sangeeta’s legs that morning. I walked outside to the lawn.
He stopped short when he saw me approach him. It was a quiet night with an occasional car or truck swishing past the neighbouring highway to cut the silence.
“Birthday boy likes to spend his time alone, huh?” My question melted in the night as he silently nodded. For some moments our eyes pinned each other. I saw a mild sense of detachment in his. I believe he saw a mild concern in mine.
I asked, “Should we walk?” He nodded affirmative.
The yellow lights at the hotel’s driveway had integrated into the silent night to paint a surreal picture all around us. We spent some ten minutes in silence. Or it might be fifteen. We didn’t feel like strangers to each other. When my cab came and screeched in front of the hotel patio, our eyes locked again. Walking the twenty metres to the cab, I felt his eyes follow me. Once seated inside the car, I looked at him again. He nodded. A faint mark of an attempted smile crossed his face.
I had a strange dream that night. We walked arm in arm. As my cab came and I tried to untag my hand from his, he gripped it firmer. I looked at him. Our eyes locked and we inched closer to each other. We then kissed. A storm heaved in my heart and tingled between my legs. When I woke up, a quaint grief and longing gripped me. I wanted to meet him then and there.
I realise that I’ve the same feeling now. At a far greater magnitude, though. I hold his lifeless hand. It doesn’t feel me. And he doesn’t flinch.
I had watched a football match on television for the second time in my life. They had beaten the home team one – nil. I didn’t understand what was going on, and only watched it to feel the thrill of watching Abid on screen. We had enjoyed a mostly silent walk on the night before. We didn’t proceed any further, though. While fraternising with our guests was not denounced, I didn’t wan’t to raise eyebrows. Neither did he take any step further. I greeted them when the team bus was back from the stadium late in the night. While the rest of them hustled to their rooms, Abid stayed back in the lawn. I joined him soon.
“Did you watch the match?” He asked.
“Liked my game?”
“I don’t understand football.”
I studied his face to check if my answer hurt him. If it did, he did well to conceal it.
The moon watched us from behind some misty sheets of cloud. We stood silently. When the cab came, he walked me to it and opened its door for me. Looking at his eyes I said, “I’m trying to understand football. Since yesterday.”
I didn’t dream of him that night. Perhaps because I didn’t sleep much. Most of the night was spent grieving about his impending departure.
He surprised me next day. While the rest of his team boarded the team bus to the airport, he stayed back. I asked, “Are you not leaving today?”
“I’ve called a cab to pick me half an hour later. Can we have our last walk?”
I nodded. We hit the lawn. Its green grass smiled at us. The busy highway threw incessant noises of moving vehicles. The sun filled us with warmth. It was our ten minutes of bliss. We would be sent back to our regular monotonous life after that, and we’d most probably not meet each other again.
When his cab came to pick him up, my dismal eyes stared at his for one last time. He asked, “Can we walk sometime again?”
The question caught me on the wrong foot. I took two seconds to answer, “Yes.”
He said, “I’ll be back.” He made it sound like the terminator.
Later that night, gripped by an unusual grief, I realised that he had not even noted my phone number. Hooking up with women was perhaps a hobby for him. I’d be later proved wrong.
He has now left for some place, devoid of a real address, where no phone number connects.
While I made peace with my fate and tried to forget it as a minute fling, he would sometimes haunt my dreams and leave me in the larch once awake. Two months later, I woke up from one such dream to an incessant ring of my doorbell one night. The clock read twelve thirty. Although it was a crazy thought, a part of me wished it was Abid. My heart leapt when I saw him at the other end of the peep-hole.
Five minutes later, seated in the living room, I asked, “How did you get my address?”
“At the hotel.”
“What brings you here?”
“I’d a layover on my way from Goa, and thought I might pay you a visit.”
“That’s it?”
“Also, I’d a question to ask.”
I frowned.
“You said you’d walk with me again. Does that still hold true?”
That night, he penetrated me to lift me up to seventh heaven. When he left early in the morning, I’d decided to spend the rest of my life with him. Unfortunately, it has worked the other way round. He spent his lifetime mostly with me and left me last night. I don’t know how much of my life I’ve still to go, but he’ll not be beside me anymore.
“What does he do?” My father asked once I broke the news to him two years after our first meeting. The trouble with South Indian families is that it’s not just the bride and groom who marry each other. It’s usually their families who run the show. Marriage without the parents’ approval is almost impossible.
“He’s a footballer.”
Father frowned. “Is he Tamil?”
I gulped before I answered, “No, Bengali.”
“A fish-eating Bengali?” He frowned. “How old is he?”
“Twenty two.”
“What? That makes him two years younger to you?”
“How educated is he?”
I gulped again. “He’d been mostly busy playing football all across the country and even abroad. He managed to clear his tenth class exam last year.”
Father scowled as I went on, “Rest assured, he’ll pull out some time every now and then to soar till graduation.”
“What’s his name?”
My father and I stood in our living room while we talked. I threw a glance at my brother who was slouched on a sofa. My mother sat erect beside him.
I looked back at my dad’s eyes and said, “Abid Hussain.”
My brother stood up, “Abid Hussain? You mean the Abid Hussain? He wants to marry you? Are you bluffing?”
Father pierced him with a glance and then said, “You’re not joking, are you?”
Being a Messi fan, my brother was also updated about the local footballers. However, the last question from my father instilled a hope in me. Perhaps he was impressed by Abid’s fame. This hope, however, crashed as soon as I replied an affirmative.
“If you want to marry a Muslim guy, just forget you’d a father. And a mother for that matter.” He turned towards my brother, “Listen, if you want to bask in your footballer BIL’s glory, just stay out of my house.”
I knew those were his final words. I wasn’t going back. When I left for Bangalore next day to resume my job, I felt like a chopped branch falling off a tree. I never saw or contacted my parents again. In the last twenty years, my brother has often talked to us on phone. We’ve also met twice. These phone calls or meetings were never disclosed to my father. It were through two such phone calls that I came to know of my parents’ death in a gap of three months.
Decades later, the man who, in my youth, swept me off my feet and tethered our lives together, the one for whom I’d cut all ties with the parents who’d birthed and raised me with utmost love and care, has now left me as a middle-aged widow and moved to places unknown.
It’s raining incessantly since daybreak. Small sharp raindrops are plunging from the sky to keep me company. I’m sitting at the back of a car that precedes the glass van carrying my dead husband. My brother has flown from Jakarta, and will be around by the evening. I find myself alone amidst the huge procession accompanying Abid’s lifeless shrouded body. Fellow footballers and club officials are there. They’re walking silently. A couple of local filmstars are there. Some of them are grumbling at the thoughtlessness of the rain-god. At least a dozen politicians have also joined the procession. They’re also flinched by the downpour. Police have been deployed to keep the thousand odd club supporters at bay. They’re all accompanying the body of a yesteryear sport star – someone who’d bemused them in his youth, and was long past expiry date. Someone whose on-field tricks and antics had later shifted to a less than moderately successful coaching career.
On the other hand, I’m here to bury forty years of laughters, conversations, silences, sex and smiles. Six feet underground.

4 thoughts on “The Footballer’s Wife

  1. Pingback: Author Interview – DC Miller – Jellyfish: A Novella (Baby Succubus Book 1) (Paranormal/Urban Fantasy) | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

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