PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Papa gets by everywhere. Once he was gone for three days in Bochum. Mama didn’t know where he was. That wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but what made it so bad was that it was my birthday.
“He even forgets your birthday. He FORGOT YOUR BIRTHDAY!” Mama was even angrier than I was.
“You forgot my birthday,” I said to him the next evening when he suddenly turned up again.
“Your birthday?! Carlo!! Dio mio! Your birth-day!!” he shouted. “Forgot your birthday? Carlo, what do you think? I just postponed it! To today!”
He hugged me tight, fat on fat. He was really strong, just like a bear, squeezing the air out of me. Then he let out a great laugh, that warms my tummy. Papa’s laugh can wash everything away and you can’t stay angry at him.
“Have you got the tickets for the game?” I asked.
“Tickets for the game! Yes, sure! We just need to pick up the tickets. Let’s hit the road straightaway.”
“Or is it too late for the game now?”
“It’s never too late for anything!” he cried.
Then we rattled off to the stadium on the moped.
The sky was full of floodlights and there was loud cheering and drums beating in the stadium.
At the ticket-desk Papa got really excited. “They won’t stump up any tickets for us.”
“But you said, we just have to pick them up!” I cried.
“That’s true. Now we’ll look for Luca. He’s our ticket,” he said.
Then we walked half-way around the stadium. We found Luca at one of the entrances. He was wearing a neon shirt with “steward” printed on it.
“Luca! Tell us, it’s not all sold out, is it? Can you have a look?”
Luca and Papa laughed. Papa knows nearly everyone in Bochum, especially the Italians.
“I can’t just let you in. I’d be fired,” Luca said.
“Luca! Are you my friend? It’s Carlo’s birthday today. It is so important! Do I really have to tell him that we have to go home again?? Carlo wants to be the goalkeeper here, so you’d better be good to him. Now tell me honestly, Luca, are you an Italian or what?”
“Well, I don’t know…”
“You don’t know? Of course, you’re Italian. And when you have a steward’s shirt, you have to make use of it.”
Papa spent another two minutes persuading Luca, and then, with his help, we were in, over the turnstiles.
We were in before half-time and after the second half there was extra time and penalties. And we won because the goalie saved two penalties. After all that I had no voice left.
“Now we’ll collect your present, from the president,” Papa said.
He went up the steps with me. Our president sits at the top of the stand, just under the roof of the stadium. A football president is a bit like the king of the club. Papa pushed his way through a row of seats, past important people, until he got as far as the president. Then he spoke to him. I saw it with my own eyes. He pointed at me and talked until the president laughed. Papa and the president were like best buddies!
Another man took us down then, through corridors and down the stadium steps. And sud-denly we were in front of the dressing-room. It was just like a dream. The dressing-room’s the most sacred place in the world!!! The man pushed me inside to the celebrating players. He caught the goalkeeper and pushed a pen into his hand. And the goalkeeper wrote his name on my keeper’s jersey. Right in the middle! With his penalty-saving
“Papa, how did you manage that? How do you know the football president?!” I asked him on the way home, roaring above the noise of the moped.
“Why do you think I know him?”
“Well you were talking to him!”
“Of course, I talk to people. When you want something, you’ve got to talk to people, even presidents, just like that,” Papa bellowed against the wind.
I sit on a bench on the platform and pull my keeper’s jersey out of my case. The signature is almost as black as on the first day. I run my finger over it. I can’t understand why Papa can’t manage to visit me in Bochum, when he could get right to the dressing-room in the stadium. He tells me on the phone that he’s coming then nothing happens.
The night train comes into the station! It’s dark blue and the brakes screech. I pack my goalkeeper jersey back into the case. The people on the platform surge through the train doors. Suddenly my determination is gone. Whispering through the night into another country, with no ticket or bed is a bit different from eating in the restaurant car. And I remember, from old gangster films, that it’s not that easy to get over the border. You need to show passports and open bags, in case of smuggling. And I hadn’t even thought of a passport.
The guard whistles, loud and long. The sound goes down into my toes. When the doors beep, I jump up after all and run from the bench to the train. But the doors are closed already by the time I reach them.
“Over here, if you still want to get on,” bellows the guard from the last open door.
I look down at the ground while I’m running, so that he won’t see my face. It’s just too noticeable. Besides me there’s no one else running along the platform.
“Next time get in earlier!” grumbles the guard, as I stumble past him into the train.