In the old days they used to lock up the ref in the pigpen during each and every game. Now, they usually just beat him up and throw dogshit at him. J.F.K once said that a man can never stop loving the place where he grew up. This is not true. J.F.K never said such a thing, but then again, I’ve never loved my village either.
On any given Saturday evening I would eat my dinner, then I would grab my fishing rod and its accessories, an empty bucket and a jar full of worms that I’d killed during the week. After this, I’d break into the Kovács’ back yard, let the ref out of the pigpen, then walk to the bottom end of the yard where lied the finest fishing spot of the lake. I’d spend the whole night there, fishing and thinking. I would not leave until the dark of the outer space started to turn gray, the stars started to get dissolved in the light, and the chances of getting spotted started to rise.
My parents knew about my little Saturday night hobby, but they didn’t mind it, partly because they hated Kovács and appreciated me trying to cross him in any way possible. Sometimes I think that they were secretly hoping I would get caught one day, and make the old idiot so angry that he dies of a fatal stroke.
My dad especially appreciated my mischief. On Sunday mornings he cleaned the fish I caught and let me help him till I was too tired to even sit. When we were already deep in work, I would tell him how my night went, how the ref was doing, how aggressive the fish were and what kinds of stuff I’d seen happening on the ever-lit football field that was next to the Kovács farmstead.
My dad and I both hated football and all the people who were acquainted with it. I had much of my first-hand experience with them while I was sitting next to the lake clenching my rod. They would often visit the field, young, pimpled, loud teenagers and fat, bald, middle-aged men playing crappy disco music and Nazi rock on their phones respectively, shouting words that were new for me at each other, sometimes even fighting. I’ve never in my life seen more brutal, violent beatings nor dumber, louder people than during those nights. And the saddest thing was that I knew these people to be wholly different by daylight. It was only on their drunken nights on the field when they set their true form free. Other times, they would go to school with me, walk the streets of the village, work in the factory down the Virág street in orderly, everyday manner and spend their days under the sun acting like they were not actual psychopaths deep down. The football field, that infused every and each spectator with vulgarity and aggression during games, drew them to itself on those nights to let go of their loads and be animals somewhere where it was part of the game, where it was natural.
After a while they couldn’t fool me though. In school, on the streets, on the playgrounds I recognized them by the smell of cheap deodorant and sweat, by the empty, dumb voids that were their eyes and by their mouths which always hung open, no matter what they were doing.
“Do not trust people who never close their mouths,” my father once said as he was elbow deep in one of my more sizeable prey. He had his own reasons to hate football too. One day, when I was just about to leave our reeking garage, he, out of the blue, started to talk about his childhood and about the time when he still loved the game.
He told me that he’d gone to every football game that was played in our village till the age of ten. He told me that there was an old lunatic who attended these games with the enthusiasm of a country fuckboy and would walk around the field murmuring incomprehensible nonsense under his nose. My dad had a special relationship with him. Every time the guy saw him, he stopped whatever he was doing, walked up to my dad and asked him the same question.
“Do you have a cat back at home, little boy?”
He’d always answer, mindful for the truth:
”No, I don’t.”
The man would then laugh and tell my dad:
“If the cat is not home, the mice will come out.”
So things went until one weekend my dad decided to play a juvenile trick on the old guy. On this day, which he told me he shall never forget, during this game, which he already did, the old man approached him in the same manner and asked the same question. But this time his answer was this:
“Yes, I have a cat.”
By that time my dad has already played with the thought of attempting to rewrite this scenario one day, but was too afraid of the man to actually do it. It took him enormous courage and a half a cup of stolen beer to gather courage, and now that he finally did, was eager and buzzing to hear the fellow’s answer.
But he said nothing. In fact, my dad has never heard his voice ever since. Instead his wrinkled, dirty face took up an unearthly, utterly delighted expression and he started to search the many pockets of his ragged plastic jacket with urge.
After he had found the thing he was looking for he clenched it inside his pocket, then grabbed dad’s right hand and turned it upwards so that his palm was out to the sky. Then the man took out whatever he was clutching in his pocket and put it right there.
It was the carcase of a mouse, laying motionless in the hand of the ten-year-old kid who was my father.
Of course he screamed, then threw it away. When he turned back to use all the bad language that he had managed to pick up in his life on the fucker, something even weirder happened. The old guy was gone in the blink of an eye and when my dad started to search the crowd of spectators with his eyes, he wasn’t able to find him in the mass of the other drunkards either.
After that day he had never gone to a single football game.
It was an amusing story nevertheless, but there were some aspects of it I could never get my fingers on. In fact, I think I’ve always missed the point entirely. I’m not even sure when he told it to me and in all honesty for much of my recent past it has never came to my mind.
That is until yesterday, when someone died on that football field.
I was driving away from my parents house after my most recent monthly visit when I noticed a huge crowd gathering in the middle of the field, leaving a comfortable place empty in the middle, which they seemed to want to enter, but couldn’t. That was because of the yellow stripes and the police.
I usually never interfere with serious matters that are none of my business and police cases have an elevated standing even among those very serious matters. Why did I drive there and why did I park my car next to the field then?
Perhaps I just felt that the football field was in fact my business.
I left my car and approached the circle. When I got closer I had the uncanny feeling that I could recognize all the faces from my childhood, that I knew all the people who were standing around stretching their necks to see something. Their eyes are so wide and O-shaped that they kind of look alike with their mouths taking on the same curves an inch under them, their smell is familiar and repelling. A few years ago we entered a new millennium but their hairs and pimples and bellies have not changed with time and I believe they never will.
I had no troubles pushing my way through the crowd because when they noticed my out-of-placedness they instinctively leaned away from me making it easier to pass. In a few seconds I found myself right next to the yellow strip and could finally lay my eyes on the body.
Yes, he was dead, but if it wasn’t for the spectacle I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to tell. The man was lying in the grass as if ageless, still and calm despite several injuries and red patches on his body. He’s gotten a bad beating. I had the strange sensation that he was just about to stand up and dissolve in the crowd like it was no-one’s business. I felt he had nothing to do on the ground.
“Well, the cat is not home,” I thought for some unexplainable reason. I glanced in the direction of the Kovács estate and I saw the whole family, dad, mom, three children standing right on my former fishing spot trying to figure out what was happening.
I looked at the body and frowned.
”God help me, I could have,” I thought “And what’s worse, I would have. I would have seen it all.”