Football. That describes it all. My ending, my beginning, my middle, and the axis my world rotated on. My whole life has revolved around a sport, a football, and a goalpost. Everyone else’s nights are spent tucked into a warm bed where my nights out on a dark pitch, barely illuminated by a street light. My breath fogging up in front of me like that of a smoker smoking his sixth cigarette. The ache travelling in my legs the only proof of my fourth hour out there. A ball at my feet and a goalpost in my sight. I was an eighteen years old girl, and a footballer. In a world full of millions of male footballers, I was one of the rare females that dared enter the world of football. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I had to do my entire life, aside from my best friend’s death.
Hi, my name’s Samantha Juarez and I’m utterly bored at the back of a disgustingly bright classroom. I look up at my calculus professor. He’s droning on about equations, again. I lean back in my chair, letting out a puff of irritated breath, looking at the ceiling. Wow, it needs paint.
“Miss Juarez, I believe there isn’t a football hanging from the ceiling. What are you so intently staring at and not at the board?” I hear Mr. whatever-his-weird-Russian-name-is say.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a football out that door,” I point at the rusted, wooden door at the far right of class, “can I go?” I finish, flashing him a cheeky smile. Oops! Looks like I’ll have to stare at the principal’s office’s ceiling now. Oh well, at least it’s nicely painted.
“We really have to talk about your behavior, Samantha. Your grades are falling, and let’s admit it, they’re not all that pretty in the first place.” Mrs Johnson, the principal, with a very strange hair job, says.
I shrug nonchalantly; the ceiling is nicely painted. I was right.
“If you keep this up, we’ll have to consider taking you out of the football team.”
Something in my mind snaps, and I slowly lower my eyes to meet her shallow stare.
“I’m sorry?” I ask, clenching my fists, my nails digging into my palms.
“I said, we might consider –”
I cut her off. “No, I heard that. My question is: what the hell?”
“Language, Miss Juarez,” she screeches.
I flinch and say, “I take that back. I meant, go to hell.” I get up abruptly, the chair making a painful sound. Turning around, I storm out; the door banging shut behind me, and my life at this school.
Why won’t the pain in my ankle fade? I shoot angrily, watching it fly to the other side of the pitch, flinching as a cramp lances up my left leg. Lifting my leg, I aim for the goal post in the distance; long shots have always been my favorite. Swinging my foot forward, I shoot the ball but soon find myself in sheer agony, realizing my shoelace was stuck underneath the other foot and the jolt of the shoot made the pain in my leg worse. I crumple to the ground, cradling my leg. Today is horrible. A shower of rain starts, startling every nerve in my body. No. It just got worse.
I stare at the poster. “Try Outs 2016. Women’s Football, UK.” I keep staring. Every atom in my body is on fire; it feels good. The bottom of the poster catches my eye, “February 15th, 2016. Rio, Brazil.” The fire’s starting to hurt now; I don’t have money.
The glass shatters into a gazillion pieces, reflecting the pain my soul is in. Brazil? Really? My dream is 5000 miles away? Good one, life. You got me again. I smile bitterly at the wall, the chipped white paint mocking me.
I close my eyes, the poster burned into my eyelids, my brain, my heart, and my miserable life. Letting out a cry, I swipe fiercely at my bed-side table, knocking everything to the ground. Slumping back on bed, I let the tears come, utterly defeated. Blinking through my tears, I focus on the mess on the floor; that’s when I see it.
The business card.
Should I? Can I? I pick it up gingerly, my hands shaking. “Baldovino Benito.” Seeing that name, I’m hurtled back into the past.
It was raining. Abbie was laughing; the last time I saw her smile. I was in the passenger seat of her Porsche. “Woah Abbie, slow down!” I said, chuckling.
The car speeded up, the rain hitting the wind shield more rebelliously. “C’mon Sam, don’t be such a buzzkill. Live a little!” she replied, giving me her Cheshire grin. She stepped on the pedal, and the car jolted forward, further speeding up.
I spotted a gas station a few kilometers away, “Abbie, I want a soda. Stop there, okay?” I said, looking at her.
She nodded, “Sure thing, Sam.” As we neared the station, Abbie kept speeding. I frowned.
“Abbie? We passed the gas station.” I looked at her, and my heart dropped. Abbie’s face was drained of blood; ghostly pale against the darkness in the car.
“I… I can’t slow down. The breaks aren’t working,” she whispered, her voice breaking.
She made me jump out of a speeding car. I landed in a pond. I fractured my ankle. She died. Abbie died. So did I; inside.
“Abbie was my sister. She was the family member I never had. She forced her step dad to take me in when she found me in an abandoned park when I was only 7 years old. She was my inspiration. My guardian angel. My second chance at life. She erased the word ‘orphan’ from my mind. She bandaged my knee when I fell while trying to learn how to dribble a ball. She sneaked out with me at 4am when I craved ice cream. She loved me more than any parent ever could. She supported my football dream. She sent me to academies and made training possible. She steered me away from boys that were trying to use me when I was too young to understand even though she was just 3 years older than me. She loved me at my worst. I loved her. I love her. I don’t know what to do without her.”
I swallowed back a sob, and looked at everyone’s solemn faces. “Thank you,” I whispered and limped my way to the back.
It was then when I saw him. Black leather jacket melting into a well-built body. Beautifully sculpted features; bright green eyes with rings of honey golden around the irises, full plump lips shaped to perfection, and cheekbones that made him look like someone of importance. He looked like the angel of death; standing dark and tall against the gravestones jutting out of the cold earth. But, the thing that made my heart stutter and die was the fact that he was looking straight at me.
He had his hands shoved into the pockets of his black jeans. I could see a silver watch peeking out from underneath the sleeve of his jacket. He looked like he had been watching me since a while now; that made my skin erupt in goosebumps. I started walking past him, my eyes on the ground. I should’ve walked faster, but it seems Abbie’s loss had been a loss of the strength in my legs; they, as well, had given up. Just like me. I was almost blissfully past him when I heard him. His voice a bucket full of icy cold water, dunked right over my head.
“Samantha Juarez? My name is Baldovino Benito. I’d like to have the privilege to be granted a little of your time.”
I hated him. It was humans like him that made the earth burn to the ground. He wasn’t an angel of death. He was worse, much worse. He had offered me a job and a place to stay. Kind, right? Wrong. He wanted something in return. He wanted my “service” in return. He wanted me to use my knowledge of people in town to figure out who was interested in drugs, and who was willing to buy heroine. He wanted me to “negotiate” for him and act like his little delivery girl. Why me? May I dare to quote, “You’re homeless, Juarez. You have zero money of your own. I doubt Coach Henley would appreciate an orphan girl training with him…for free.”
I had just stared at his beautiful, disgusting face. I opened my mouth to unleash all the pent up anguish that was threatening to burst right out of my skin but was silenced by his finger pressing against my lips, gently.
“Now, now Juarez. Let’s not make hasty decisions. Call me when you know exactly what to say.” He tucked a black business card into the front pocket of my dress. His lips curving into a smile that had the power to start wars; he stepped back and vanished into a maze of gravestones and trees. I hated him, for getting to me at my weakest point in life. I hated how he was right. I hated how I wanted to take up the offer. Most importantly, I hated how I couldn’t.
Why was I staring at his cursively written name after such a long time? Also, why was I picking up my phone from the ground?
“Is this Baldovino Benito? This is Sam Juarez speaking. I’d like to meet you.”
“Ah, Juarez. Knew you would miss me sooner or later. Of course, meet me at the Burney Bar down sixth-street at 7 o’clock sharp. Oh and please, call me Vino.”
The line went dead.
What have I done?
I was too early, and I was sweating in anticipation. The bar was noisy, and full of drunk people that made my skin crawl. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come. Standing up abruptly, I lurched towards the exit. I was halfway out when someone grabbed my arm and my heart climbed up to my mouth. I jerked back with a gasp, flattening my back against the wall. It was him. “Going somewhere?” he said, a smile travelling in his voice. He was amused. I was dying.
I swallowed, “No.”
He chuckled, “Perfect. Shall we, then?”
Why wasn’t I dead, yet? I nodded. I wanted to be dead. I walked back into the bar after him. Please, let me die.
I did everything he told me to do. I was one of his best. Always getting a job done, never messing up. He called me his “secret weapon”, which made me taste bile. Everything was good up until that one night, I killed someone.
All I had done was do what Baldovino had told me to do; all I had done was try to look out for myself. Mathew Anderson had overdosed on heroine in the High-main Hotel, in room 683. He was found dead in the bed right in front of the chair I was sitting in 5 hours ago, talking to a Mathew that breathed, talked and existed. I killed him; I murdered my humanity.
I quit that night. I left Baldovino’s house. I camped in a run-down house at the far corner of the city. I wasn’t cold, though. Baldovino’s money lit a wonderful, wonderful bonfire.
Funny, how humans do not cease to exist when their will to live does. They keep roaming the world, as zombies. Alive, yet dead. Breathing, yet suffocating 6 feet under. Eating, yet tasting dirt. Speaking, yet hearing nothing but death. I spent the remainder of my days, sleeping in random deserted houses – roads, on bad days – and eating whatever I was unfortunate enough to find. I should’ve starved myself to death. Every atom in my being begged to an end to this nightmare that started when Abbie’s heartbeat stopped. Every fiber loathed the human’s capability to keep living as a monster, haunting their own mind. I understood, though; this world was God’s garden. He plucked the prettiest flowers first, before autumn; before the end.
Abbie’s stepdad called. I stared at the cracked screen of my phone. It ringed. Voicemail. I touched the screen, my fingers shaking.
“Samantha, I just wanted to let you know that mail came in for you this morning. You can swing in any time to take it. See you soon, hopefully.”
I stared at the envelope. Could it be from Benito? The thought made the hair on my neck stand. My heart threatening to fail me, I tore it open and turned it upside down into my hand. A plane ticket and a letter fell out. Frowning I unfolded the crisp letter.
“Dear Samantha Juarez,
My name is Arnold Hardy and I am the coach of the women football team, Wolfsburg. Your late adopted sister Abbie Walker contacted us a little over one and a half year ago informing us about a young rising star, her adopted sibling, Samantha Juarez. She sent us a summary of all your achievements up to date and we were quite impressed. She requested us to consider you and call you for trials. We have kept a tab on your football-related activities and keeping in mind the coming up of Women Tryouts at Rio, we would like to see what you’ve got during those days and then further discuss whether you are worthy of our investment. We have enclosed a plane ticket to Rio, Brazil a day before the Trials take place. We hope to see you there among other competitive young women such as yourself. Have a safe flight, Miss Juarez.
I was breathing. I was crying. I was smiling. God was watering me, and I was blooming in His garden.
I close my diary and smile at the empty seats of Camp Nou, the football stadium at Barcelona, Spain.
“My name is Samantha Juarez and I am in a football club named Wolfsburg. I am on my way to success. I have seen everything from toe-curling joy to immense anguish along the journey. I’ve lost some and gained some. But the climb to the top is worth it. Looking back down is terrifying and makes my knees weak and my heart stammer, my faith threatening to crumble. But, the key is to forget a bottom exists and keep my eyes on the peak. Keep climbing; the view from the top is perfect, I promise.”