A dedication of soul in gestures so rare,
On the battlefield, stands the defender,
Strength drawing from a love so pure,
Of unheard pains that only he can endure,
Leave aside where the world is one,
It is just him and his game!
‘THAT WAS CLEARLY AN OFF-SIDE,’ she screamed running into the field.
‘I SAW THE WHOLE THING,’ she charged a tall guy in red jersey, who had involved himself and a few others in a heated argument regarding the goal, which, according to him, his team had scored.
The angry female voice seemed to break the spell of the cause of the dispute. The tall guy, who was apparently the captain of the team looked around and in his most polite tone, something his teammates and opponents never had the chance to hear, said, ‘Dear Missy, you stay out of this, please.’
‘Dude, Manyo IS RIGHT,’ she ignored the sugar-coated words. ‘Your dumb right winger was clearly a feet ahead of Brihat when Das passed the ball and YOU CALL IT A GOAL? LOSERS!’ The players who didn’t know her were dumbstruck and those who knew her started talking among themselves. They were amused by the way Tapashya had thrown the words upon Rik’s face. Rik, the captain of the red team, promptly accosted Manyo and said, ‘Okay. I guess the dispute is resolved.’ Walking up to Tapashya, he remarked, ‘I’m sorry for my judgement. You do understand the game well. Hi, I am Rik.’
‘This is not social media,’ Tapshya snapped, ‘And I am not in a mood to socialize with stranger, who all this while was trying to deceive his opponent by humiliating him and all of a sudden he turns out to be this goody goody kid when he hears the verdict from a girl.’ The players around broke off in fits of laughter. Manyo however remained silent all this while. He moved towards his goal post and started looking at the ground, engrossed in choosing the right spot of the free kick which he deserved. The goal post along with the net, and the goal line was his castle, a castle which he had vowed to protect with all his life. And there resided an invisible princess, the lady he loved; he was protecting his kingdom, like an emperor.
‘Spirit of the game,’ Tapashya explained, ‘Yes, he loves the spirit of the game and that is why he is so dedicated.’
‘I guess so,’ said Brihat, a player of Manyo’s team. ‘Manyo da is so dedicated to the game. He is an inspiration for all of us.’
Tapashya eyes sparkled, flashing an unknown pride.
‘Seriously Tapashya di,’ Brihat continued as others went to drink water and Manyo kept himself engaged with his lady love. ‘And yes, that was funny the way you made Rik da look like a joker.’
Tapashya started to laugh. ‘Oh, that dodo. Tried to take a chance...’
‘Hahaha! By the way, Manyo da didn’t tell us that you were coming today.’
‘As if he himself knew,’ Tapashya tried to smile back. ‘Good luck with the game. I will be around.’
Tapashya left the field, her eyes, occasionally stopping at Manyo. The game began in full swing and after half an hour, the blue team was celebrating their victory. It was a friendly and they had won by scoring a goal. Manyo was standing proudly with his team; the pride of the winning captain was reflected in his smile, a smile which was a reward to all of his fans, including his close friend Tapashya. It was like a magnet, which dragged her to his matches, no matter what other priorities she had to ignore.
Tapashya stood like an outsider till the celebration was over. She waited near the field as Manyo came to fetch his bag, with his two shin-guards in his hands.
‘Congrats,’ Tapshya smiled as he started to pack.
‘Oh, thanks,’ he answered politely. ‘But that off side goal should not have happened. I should have been more cautious.’
‘But Manyo, you played really well.’ Tapashya argued. ‘That wasn’t your fault.’
‘I should have practiced harder,’ Manyo ignored.
‘A reminder. It’s Sam’s birthday.’
‘Oh…I must have remembered. Anyway. Thanks.’
Manyo left the field brooding over the off side goal. He was not at all satisfied with his team’s victory. It was true they won, and thanks to their left winger but it would have been otherwise had the goal been not an offside one. He switched off his cell phone. He was not in a mood to talk to communicate with anyone. Sam’s birthday flew off his head, even though Sam happened to be one of his closest friends, always providing him with class notes as he would spend time in the field with his goal post; even teachers got used to Sam giving proxy for Manyo. He took his football and went to the roof. Under the dark night sky, as the stars giggled with one another, the moon remained the sole observer to the young lad, sweating even in the month of November. The tears that were wrecking havoc in his heart have taken the form of sweat as he tossed the ball, kicked it, juggled it and took in his arms, caressing it like a new-born baby. He preferred to practice his physical trainings alone, and whenever he was not in the field, he would do the exercises alone. His every move, his every breath reverberated his passion, his love. His encrypted love was deciphered by the air as he stretched his legs and hands, grooming his body to protect his team, to protect his goal post. He focused on his flexibility, and concentrated on increasing his acumen, he meditated and all he could see with his eyes shut close was the goal post; he knew he had to defend it any cost. The stars seemed to convey a message from someone, someone he missed and he felt the burden of a shared dream. Football was his only confidante now, a lover and a best friend in one, the cause and means in one nutshell.
‘I know he will not call you,’ Tapashya spoke as Samarprit picked up his phone. ‘But Sam, he did remember you. He was just upset because there was an off side goal. You know him…’
‘I know. Thanks,’ Sam replied, ‘But stop acting like his lawyer.’
‘Chill Sam. Manyo is just too much passionate about football and is not that much of a social person… Soooo…’
‘So he unofficially got a lawyer? When did they start teaching law in linguistics?’
‘He lives in his own world of football.’
‘And what is your world?’
Tapashya fell silent.
‘Hello... You there, Tapashya?’
‘Hmm…Connection problem. I think I should call you later. Take care. And Happy Birthday.’
Tapashya hung up. She had seen Manyo’s behaviour as he left the university campus. She knew Sam was upset; at least a text would not have taken his football away from him, she thought but she never pushed Manyo. He was not like the other players of the team. He was different. She knew it was his love for the game from which he drew the strength to play and he had always preserved and worshipped this love; he never wanted to become a professional football player even though he had a huge potential. He had always defended it with all the physical, spiritual and emotional prowess he had; it never became an option of his sustenance but it was the cause of his existence , like the corona of the sun which keeps the galaxy alive, like a love which keeps the flower alive even though she knows, some day, she will wither away, silently in the day and the ignorant night will never know she had bloomed for him. She could see him more engrossed in football with a queer strangeness after the death of his cousin, Shakyo, displaying an unusual indifference she never knew why but felt the icy fire she could not break.
Tapshya looked at her watch. It was 3 pm. The sun rays seemed to reflect the determination on Manyo’s face. Even after a practice of more than one hour, he was not tired. Apart from him, there were only three or four players in the field and they were practicing penalty shoot outs. There was a certain charm in Manyo’s goalkeeping which dragged Tapashya every time, with or without Manyo’s knowledge. Sam’s complaint seemed useless to her as she saw Manyo defending. There was a certain valour in his moves, a certain rhyme of a romance as be moved to and fro , his sharp sight, figuring out that perfect angle and then spurring to catch the ball at the right moment. The ‘out-of-society’ Manyo would turn to an altogether different person when he played on the field.
‘Why are you here today?’ Manyo’s deep voice brought abstracted Tapashya back to reality.
‘Why can’t I be here?’ she answered in a tone of irritation.
‘We are just practicing. We don’t have match. So...’
‘My wish, my time... I was just here.’
‘Um... how are your parents and aunt putting up with your cousin’s death?’
‘I don’t know. Tournament is coming up. Have been busy.’
It was evident to Tapashya that it would be useless to nag him with these questions. She didn’t say anything. Manyo went back to the field like the prince who had to leave his princess for attending some external affairs. She admired his love for football and has never seen anyone so passionate and diligent. She just wanted to see him play and that was a blessing for her.
‘It’s strange that he has so many female fans and he ignores them, especially one, if am not wrong,’ Sam quipped as Tapashya sat near the field. Tapashya looked around hearing Sam’s voice.
‘You’re here to settle scores with him for yesterday?’ Tapashya answered back. ‘I shouldn’t have told you my plans for today.’
‘Relax, Tapashya,’ Sam laughed. ‘How can I settle scores with a rock?’
‘He is a human being... he has emotions.’
‘Yes, so much so that he didn’t stay at home to attend the family gathering his parents organized in the memory of his cousin. Shakyo.’
‘How do you know ...?’
‘His mother called up. Seemed upset.’
‘Why can’t you try to understand Tapashya? He is just getting obsessed with this game day by day.’
‘He has been playing for years.’
“But this is obsession”.
‘Come on Sam, don’t be hard on him.’
‘And you don’t try to behave like his unofficial lawyer.’
‘You know he told his mother that his cousin is dead and he can’t do anything about it, that he is still alive and has a tournament and because of some insane off-side goal, he had to practice. He gives a damn to his parents’ sentiments. Ignores them completely.’
Tapashya got up from the ground. Her curls fell over her face; the soft breeze took her tears as it flew by. She was conscious of the things happening around her, conscious of people accusing Manyo but she was torn apart between the passionate Manyo who was committed to the game and the Manyo who was eschewing his responsibilities.
‘You are always right,’ Sam exclaimed, ‘Watching Manyo play is like watching a happy couple.’
‘This Manyo is an idiot. He should just get out of his fantasized love and look around.’
‘If this love makes him happy, why would want to snatch it away?’
‘But a lot of other things are being ignored.’
‘Sam...Come on, let’s cheer for him.’
‘And you think he will notice his cheer leaders?’
‘We are his close friends.’
‘But am sorry, am not biased like you. I can clearly see what he is doing and I personally don’t like it.’
‘Sam, try to understand him. Have you ever spoken to him after Shakyo’s death?’
‘Why would I? And why would you too? He has always been busy with the game. Do you really think he cares? Else why would he remain so aloof from the mishap?’
Tapashya turned her face away and moved towards her bag ignoring Sam’s words. Her anklets made the sound she could never utter.
‘I am leaving,’ Sam said as Tapashya was busy fiddling with her bag, acting as if she wanted to find something.
‘Will you not meet him?’
‘If I plan to leave now, of course it means I won’t meet him. And I DON’T WANT TO.’
‘As if you answer all my questions? Connection problem, forgetting things in bag.... not every why has an answer. And don’t act as if I don’t know the answers.’
‘Manyo needs us. His tournament is coming up. He has a lot of pressure.’
‘Dudette .... HIS FAMILY NEEDS HIM ... HIS FRIENDS NEED HIM ... AND OBVIOUSLY HE DOES NOT CARE!’ Sam fumed in anger.
‘The game needs him more than anything else.’
‘You should not have actually blasted off Rik the other day. He is a good player and treats women well and thinks about stuff other than football.’
‘I know whatever he is doing is not right but football is his love.’
‘See Tapashya, like I SAID... I REALLY DON’T CARE, and I think you shouldn’t too. When you admire him so much, start learning ‘ignorance’ from him for your own good.’
‘Shut up Sam...You are just too blinded by the society to see the romance between Manyo and his football.’
‘What a romantic story ... hahhahaha!’ Sam walked away.
Tapashya focused on the game, her mind occasionally reverberating Sam’s words and her heart pausing at Manyo’s sentiments, winning over some logical crap and then finally drenching herself in the flow of the practice as Manyo created a harmonica with the goal post, catching the ball with his hands and then taking occasional breaks by sitting with a laidback smile, his back, resting along the goal post, his throne, with the spirit of football, allaying him in his soliloquy.
Manyo entered his house, every corner reeking of the floral smell of incense sticks and garlands of jasmine, drooping in lassitude, trying not to take a look at the pictures of his cousin hung upon the walls, turning a deaf ear to the elegies and lachrymose chants of his parents, his uncle, aunt and his relatives. The relatives were still there, unwilling to leave as he locked himself up in his room, hunger having left him like his tears on the day he had his final words with his cousin, Shakyo.
There was no picture of Shakyo in his room, he had not brooked anyone to keep one. He wore his image pretty well but the moment he opened his wardrobe and saw the florescent jersey with a special brand mark of ‘Bayern Munich’, the waters broke, gushing out from a frozen glacier, stones pushed away from a mountain. The deluge was intense was the storm thundered a cry.
‘A goalie will never get the Ballon d’ Or’, Shakyo had said. ‘Neuer will not get it, Manyo dada, you will see, even if I don’t live to see it on my own.’
Manyo had tried to comfort him. Only two of them were there in the cabin that day.
‘Shakyo, we know that goalies are the most underrated players. But we can hope.’
Shakyo had tried to smile, enervated by the disease which had taken football away from him and was soon going to take away his life.
‘You will have to prove it, Manyo dada,’ he whispered. ‘Please, for a goalkeeper who never got a chance to play, whose lungs betrayed him.’
Only Shakyo knew that Manyo cried that day, resting his head on Shakyo’s arms, his fingers clutching on to Shakyo’s pale hands, connected to monitors and channels.
‘You can’t give up, Manyodada,’ Shakyo continued, ‘Wear the FCB jersey I gave you. You have to make me proud, you have to make us all goalkeepers proud.’
‘Don’t say like this Shakyo,’ Manyo had pleaded. ‘You will be alright soon.’
‘Forgive me if I die before your tournament,’ Shakyo ignored Manyo’s words. ‘Don’t let the fuss in the family affect you. Remember, you need to play for me. Don’t let my death affect you. Crying won’t help. Crying never helped. I cried when they took me off the field, when my parents took football away from me because of the disease. Didn’t help.’
‘S-T-O-P!’ Manyo had screamed, his voice breaking the silence of the room. A nurse had rushed inside and warned him that a repetition of the same will lead to his expulsion from the ward.
‘He’s a critical patient,’ she chided him. ‘You should understand certain rules.’
Manyo was panting, entangled by a sudden pain. The futility of life and dreams sang a non-existence eternity. Losing the person he loved most threatened his own existence, his deeds were not his now but became a shared dream unlike the ephemeral aroma of the incense sticks or the weary petals of jasmines. Nobody knew of the last conversation he had with Shakyo for he didn’t wake up to see the dawn of the next day. If he had to confide in someone, it had to be the game itself. Affliction owned him, ignorance and silence concealed Manyo and his deluge.
The game began in full swing. Winning the toss, Manyo proudly walked towards his goal post. His mother’s coldness, his parent’s absence on the big day, his close friends’ indifference dissolved in the air as the sun’s rays kissed his smile. Tapashya was however there but her presence made no difference; it was rather those indifferences that clustered to raise the strength of his love. He chose the eastern side where the sun would not be a hindrance and after half time, his eyes battled against the winter sun who tried to obstruct his view; days of training bore fruits which he offered to his love as he fought against the strength of the winter sun, saving some deadly shots, as the opponent team, already losing by one goal, took an attacking mode. After the first match, he walked towards his camp, satisfied with his saves which became the most-talked-about phenomenon among everyone.
‘Those were great saves, Manyo,’ Tapashya said with alacrity as he took off his gloves.
‘Just a few ordinary ones,’ Manyo replied. ‘There are thousands of other goalkeepers who perform a thousand times better than me.’
‘But you did save well. I mean they were great.’
‘Shh....Don’t say this. People will laugh at you.’
Tapashya didn’t speak a word. ‘So much for his modesty,’ she grumbled to Brihat.
‘But he has female fans who praise him,’ Brihat smirked and then seeing Manyo calling his team mates, he made his way.
The first round fetched three victories and thanks to Manyo and his team, they managed to make it to the quarter final, grabbing a win of 2-0 in the knock out round. Before the sun set, Manyo had won the hearts of hundreds of people who had gathered there to see the game. The round of the quarter final was the last round of the day.
‘So much for your support, ma,’ Manyo said to himself. ‘We are in the quarters and of course, you were wrong. All of you were, except one.’ He looked at the FCB jersey he was wearing and smiled at it. He paused for a moment, took a deep breath and walked into the stadium, determined to win the crucial match against one of the strongest contenders of the tournament. Exhaustion didn’t feel to leave a mark on his face but determination and love gave him strength.
Twenty minutes passed with no score for both sides but some impressive attempts of strikers and praiseworthy saves. Manyo kept aside his weariness and didn’t give up; he jumped, he used his head and his whole body to defend his team. It was on the twenty-third minute that a shot came from the right winger and jumping to save it, the ball hit Manyo on his shine. Manyo fell upon the ground clutching the ball. Paramedics rushed to the spot as Tapashya stood helplessly. All she could do was to pray and hope that he will be fine. Manyo took the medical aid and discarded his players’ requests to take rest.
‘This is just a small injury,’ he said. ‘I can play.’
‘But Manyo da, we all knew the ball had a huge momentum,’ Brihat insisted. ‘We know you are hurt.’
‘I am the captain and I wish to play. If I have to take rest, I will not play for the rest of the tourney.’ Manyo threatened.
The managers and coach were well aware of his zeal and his obstinately unmoving demeanour and they had to accede to Manyo’s decision. Tapashya kept herself away from the spot; she could not face Manyo; she didn’t want to break down seeing him. Soon it was half time and Manyo was given a pain killer and spray but nobody dared to ask him to take rest. Everybody feared his diligence; he had a certain spark of anger in him which was both feared and respected.
Ten minutes after the second half, as the sun slowly moved towards the west and ravens glared in some corner, the goal post was shaken as Manyo was thrashed against it, while trying to catch the ball; blood fell upon the earth, invading his orange socks and he was lying there motionless. Para medics rushed to the spot and took him to the ambulance which was kept in any case some major injury happened.
‘I will play,’ Manyo roared as they put him on the stretcher. Tapashya stood there, gulping down every tear. She heard the people talking and it was evident that Manyo had sustained a major injury. In spite of that, he could hear him roar which soon subsided by the sedatives. Her heart was over burdened by Manyo’s pain; she had seen him fighting against his family and friends and there he was fighting to get the chance to play once again. Somewhere she shared the same pain with Manyo; they wanted to be with their love. She saw Manyo being taken away, tears clotting in her heart. She never knew she was this strong, to see everything in silence.
The moon watched Tapashya crying through the night as Manyo struggled to free himself from the channels in the hospital. Their pain met the stars and the night saw them groaning and moaning. Some other keeper would be standing near the goal post next day and someone would never know of a love who always remained an outsider.
‘Well done, you are the best player of the tournament!’ a voice whispered to Manyo. ‘You’ve proved yourself.’ Manyo didn’t open his eyes to judge whether it’s a dream or reality, or to identify the speaker’s voice. The words were enough.