Tonight, I’ll roast up some sunflower seeds, a whole bowlful, and plop myself in front of the television to watch the soccer game. Spartak will be playing Dynamo and I’ll be glued to the screen, tossing shells next to the plate, and following the game with bated breath. I’ll be desperately rooting for Spartak, but Dynamo will win, and I’ll so admire Dynamo’s first-rate technique that I won’t feel at all bad when my favorite team loses. And when Pele will kick the third goal into Spartak’s net, I’ll even choke on the seeds and cough for so long that my puffed-out cheeks will turn red—I’ll be tearing up and spraying spit.
After the game, I’ll start calling my friends—devoted fans of Spartak just like me—but each time their wives will pick up and answer that they’re already sleeping, though it’ll only be nine o’clock at night. Then I’ll head to sleep, too, and when I wake up, I won’t bother eating breakfast but will quickly get dressed and run outside, where half-asleep but already cheerful men will be walking up and down the street with signs reading “Spartak!” and “Spartak is the champion!”
I’ll join them and walk back and forth in the street for a bit and then say to one of them that Spartak is, of course, a killer team, but that above all else I appreciate skill and showmanship and not the name of the team and that Dynamo won last night fair and square.
And then the guys will look at me like I’m an idiot and will tell me that I drank too much vodka yesterday and still haven’t sobered up and that Spartak won by a score of 3 to 0, otherwise why would they be out on the street at the crack of dawn like crazy people? And I’ll tell them that they are crazy, and that I haven’t taken a drink of liquor for three months already, not even beer, and not even on holidays, no way, and that I saw with my very own eyes how Spartak got scorched, and that they’re the ones that haven’t sobered up since last night and who kept on drinking through the morning.
The guys will say they were all sitting together in front of the television last night and they remember every goal kicked into Dynamo’s net, and that I must have a serious case of the shakes. And my longtime enemy Sergei, whose wife I once stole—though, to be honest, I didn’t take anyone away, and frankly I’m shocked that anyone could have lived with such a pig—will say that my eyes are not right, it’s not theirs that are alcohol-soaked, but if I want, he can straighten mine out for me. And I’ll say there’s no point in the pot calling the kettle black when his own huge cuckold horns are hanging down over his forehead and blocking his eyes.
Saying this will be a bad idea since he weighs just under two hundred and twenty pounds of liveweight and is a former boxer, and I only weigh just under one-fifty. And as expected, Sergei will drag me to a construction site far away from the residential neighborhood and the police, and I’ll be swinging my arms around in vain to try and stop him. At the construction site, he’ll start beating my eyes with a belt and will say that Spartak won and not Dynamo, but I’ll know that this isn’t about Spartak or Dynamo but about his ex-wife. And when I fall on the ground and my blood, mixed with sand and cement, clots into little pebbles and becomes stronger than concrete, he’ll kick me a few more times, aiming for my face, but I’ll tuck my head into my chest and his dirty, broken-down shoes will only get my ribs, and my teeth will remain intact.
Then his friends will get him off me, but he’ll still manage to pull away one last time, grab a “Glory to Spartak” sign from a guy I don’t know, crumple it up and shove it in my mouth while telling me to eat it. And when they drag Sergei far enough away, I’ll pull the sign out of my mouth and yell that he should eat it himself and that he’s a pig and a bastard, and I’ll basically cuss for a long time and yell that Spartak is the most worthless team in the world. I won’t yell that Dynamo is the best team in the world, but will instead play it safe and shout that the best team in the world is Mettalist or Ararat.
Then I’ll sit silently for a little while, collecting in my hands the hard concrete pebbles that were just recently my blood and tossing them far, far away, I’ll smooth out, straighten, and then fold the “Glory to Spartak” sign eight times so it will fit in my pocket, and I’ll think that this is material proof. The paper, hard and rigid, will barely bend in my hands, and I’ll think that it’s unlikely I would have eaten it, and when I think this, I’ll get terribly hungry and remember I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.
Then I’ll get up and wander home while attempting to figure out which of us is right—me or the guys. On the way, I’ll stop and ask a girl: who won yesterday, Spartak or Dynamo? The girl won’t respond but instead get scared and run away. And an old man with a dog and a cane will tell me that yesterday Spartak won 5 to 0 and that I should go home and wash up because my face is covered in blood.
I’ll think that the whole world has gone crazy, because I’ll be convinced—no, not just convinced but positive, I’ll bet my life on it—that Dynamo won, and I’ll be surprised that everyone around me is talking nonsense: either everyone’s televisions are wrong or everyone is intentionally playing dumb because they don’t want to admit that Spartak was defeated. After all, everyone in our little town, from the youngest to the oldest, roots only for Spartak: Rinat Dasaev from the second alternate team is from our town, so who else would we root for? Or maybe they wanted Spartak to win so badly that they couldn’t accept Dynamo’s victory and convinced themselves and everyone around them of it?
I’ll come home but won’t eat, and instead I’ll call my mom—her I trust—and ask: who won yesterday? My mom will answer that Spartak won and will say “congratulations!” I’ll also congratulate myself because I’ve gone crazy. But tell me, why should I go crazy when I wanted Spartak to win anyway? I have no reason to lose my mind over a Dynamo loss, especially since I never even liked Dynamo. CSKA wasn’t that bad, but never Dynamo, after all. For me Dynamo is no different than Pakhtakor.
And I’ll also think it’s silly to go crazy over Dynamo, and it’s too bad my wife left me yesterday morning, the one that left Sergei before, because she definitely would have told me who won. And I’ll feel so bad that I am completely alone and going crazy alone while everyone around me is normal and sure that Spartak won, and I, like an idiot, am convinced that Dynamo won. I’ll feel so bad for myself and so intolerably alone, like I am now, as I write this. After all, I hate sunflower seeds—roasted or raw—and I don’t care about soccer at all. And nothing ever happens in my life, and nothing ever happens to other people either. I don’t live, I just go to work and read. And no one ever beats me. And I don’t have a mom. Except my wife did actually just leave me. Today. Forever. And I want to lose my mind over it, but I can’t, nothing’s working.
Though it’s true she never was never any Sergei’s wife, and no one else’s either. She was always only mine.
Still it’s upsetting that I never got into soccer. Then I’d never have acknowledged Spartak’s defeat, even if they beat me up or got rid of me me altogether.
© Andrei Krasniashikh. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 Tanya Paperny. All rights reserved.