We were sitting on
the grassy bank of the Drin River in the shade of a walnut tree, looking down the stream
toward the hills of Montenegro. It was the middle of summer. In back of us the town was
preparing to nap away the scorching midday hours, and perhaps we too shouldve been
in bed. But Id insisted that we stay out here instead, on the riverbank in the
shade, with cows near us, listening to the crickets hiss with chronic steadiness, and
watching the river running westward, running rapidly toward the Albanian-Montenegrin
The shrill of crickets and the hot, muggy air was
making me drowsy. To keep awake, I shifted my gaze from the foreign hills to an islet in
the stream. The sun beat fiercely on the water, and heat waves, thick and blurry, hovered
over the islet. This reef of stones and pebbles and underbrush rose up from the riverbed
every summer when the water level dropped, around where the stream flowed clear, cold and
fast, fantastic to swim in. But getting there on foot was possible only from a shallow
tail end on the other side of the river. From our side, you had no choice but to swim
there, about the width of a soccer field in distance, and we were too young then and too
unskilled to swim that far.
For the past few minutes Id been watching three
young men stand on the islet. They skidded flat stones in the stream and chatted
tranquilly among themselves; bits of dialogue skimmed and glided like the flat stones, and
echoed clearly across to us. They were talking about the World Cup, about that
evenings game between Germany and Argentina. It didnt surprise me. It was the
final match of the tournament, and people spoke of nothing else, not of the crops in the
field, or of the reduction in bread rations, or of the recent division of livestock among
the peasants, or even of the sequential fall of communist regimes all across Eastern
Europe (of course, people were too afraid then to talk about that); everyone was focused
on the clash between these two great teams, and their two great players, Mathaus and
Maradona. Four years earlier, in the finals of Mexico 1986, Germany had lost to Argentina.
Though I was only eight when it happened, watching them lose had left me infatuated with
them. I was anxious about the rematch, and liked nothing better than to listen to others
talk and argue over who would win.
I listened to the strangers a while longer. Their
conversation seemed to go nowhere aside from a few loud insults directed at Germany, which
felt as though they were directed at me. So I shifted my gaze from the gravelly islet to
our grassy side of the Drin, checking briefly on Lara and Plaka herding on the shrubbery
that grew around a riot of bamboos. It was unhealthy for the cows to be in the sun at this
hour, but the devil eat them, I thought. I turned toward Dorian, my cousin, who sat there
in the shade with me. He was chewing on blades of grass, his big head leaning forward,
heavy with sweat and self-pity. He was sulking and with good reason.
Before hed lost my elastic ball, our only ball,
wed been playing soccer nearly every day. Wed come to the riverbank with our
cows, and while they herded undisturbed nearby, wed make two goals with our sandals,
far enough from the river so that the ball wouldnt fall in by accident. Energized by
the World Cup, wed play from morning until noon, and again in the afternoon, and
sometimes even our older cousin Martin would join us, and wed team up and play
against him. (He was the best soccer player we knew though, and we didnt like
playing against him much.) Nearly everyday Dorian and I played and nearly every time
Id beat him and every time Dorian would take it like a man. But just the other day
he got bitter and hung up on some petty rule about where the out-of-bounds line was, or
shouldve been. The only way to appease him was to offer him the ball and tell him he
could hold it for a while if it made him feel better. Dorian took the insult worse than
the loss, threw the ball on the ground and kicked it with more force than I ever thought
he had in him. The ball soared in the air for a good distance, flew high over the canopy
under which we now sat and into the river.
Let him sulk, I thought, recalling my beloved ball
there on the stream, floating westward down the Drin. I gave him a fierce look and then my
gaze shifted once again toward the islet. The three young men had quit skidding flat
stones in the stream; theyd quit talking about the World Cup. They just stood there
now and I watched them a moment, waiting to see what they were going to do next. But all
they did was strip down to their underwear and go for a swim.
Who could blame them? I wanted to rouse Dorian, strip
off our clothes off too, and join them. But no, forget it Pierin, I thought. It was safer
to sit in the shade and watch. We were also keeping an eye on Lara and Plaka after all.
The stupid cows were feeding on the leaves of bamboos now, which were difficult to digest.
Of course, I didnt want them bloated and dead, so I told Dorian to pull them away
from the bamboos and fasten them under the shade of the walnut tree where we could watch
Dorian did as he was told. When he sat back down in
the shade, I said: "Why dont you bring them some water, too?" With eyes
barely open, I watched him stand up and step reluctantly out of the shade and into the sun
again. He stood dazed for a moment, his eyes squinting.
"Looking for the buckets?" I asked.
"Where are they?"
"I dont know. At home maybe?"
"Why dont you bring us some water,
too," I said.
"Ill get us another ball, man," he
mumbled, somewhat angrily, and went strolling toward his house.
Shortly after, he came back with two empty buckets in
one hand and a jug full of water in the other. He handed the jug to me, then walked to the
steeply eroded riverbank, descending it carefully. Once he filled the buckets with water,
he summoned me to help him carry them to Lara and Plaka. Their backs had roasted in the
sun, and we splashed water on them as they drank from the buckets. Then Dorian picked up
the jug hed brought earlier, drank from it, tipped it over his head, and sat down
with his back against the trunk of the walnut tree. Lara and Plaka wasted no time shitting
the place. It began to attract flies, but damn it if we were going to be ousted from the
shade because of the smell and the flies.
The men across the stream had stopped swimming, but
were still splattering about, splashing sounds coming just a split second after we could
see their hands hit the water. Their shrill laughter blended with the cries of the
crickets and the buzzing of countless flies dining on Lara and Plakas manure. They
were talking about the World Cup again, arguing almost. One of them was clearly rooting
for Argentina. He hated the German team. I suspected that he was probably an Italian fan,
and was bitter that Italy had lost to Argentina in the semifinals. German and Italian fans
were like that; they wanted the team that beat their favorite team to beat every other
team. I knew, because I was one of them.
"You think Germany will lose again tonight?"
"No, dont say that. Dont even think
"I worry about Maradona."
"To hell with him," I said. "He
wont do shit with Mathaus blocking." I got up from the shade and went to the
edge of the riverbank. "Lets ask our friends across the stream and see what
"Come on, Pierin. Dont be stupid."
"Itll be fun," I said, and began
waving with both hands at the men standing in the shallow stream. "Hey, comrades!
Hey, comrades!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, my words echoing in the streams.
The men stopped splashing about and turned toward me,
all three of them in white, wet underwear, the rest of their clothes piled up on the
islet. They must have been in their mid-twenties. I didnt see cows anywhere near
them or on the grassy plain that stretched to the foot of Mount Taraboshi on the other
side of the river. Perhaps they were mere peasants whod come to the river to cool
"You think Germany will win tonight?" I
hollered, words echoing.
"Easily," one of them hollered back.
"No doubt about it."
"Are you all German fans?" I asked.
"Two of us are," another one shouted,
"but not our friend here." He pointed to his companion. "Hes an
"Germany is the greatest team in the world,"
"Germany is shit," the companion fired back.
"Germany is the absolute greatest of the
great," I hollered.
"Germany can kiss my ass," the Argentinean
fan fired back, and his friends broke into laughter.
I glanced over my shoulder and winked at Dorian. He
was missing out on all the fun, but he made no move to join me, so I turned again toward
the islet. "Hey, comrade!" I yelled with my hands cupped around my mouth.
"Hey you, the Argentinean fan over there. Do you even know where Argentina is on the
"Germany is crap," he shouted, louder than
before. "And when they get pounded tonight, the whole team can come and kiss my
"And if Germany wins, comrade," I retorted,
turning around and lowering my shorts, "will you come and kiss my ass?" I
began to swing my ass from side to side, smacking my butt cheeks. "Hey,
comrade," I shouted over my shoulder. "If Germany wins you can come and kiss it.
Come and kiss it, comrade. Ha, ha, ha."
"You little shithead," the Argentinean fan
yelled, with real menace now, raising his fist in the air. "Ill come over there
and beat you stupid. You hear me?! Ill come over there and kick your fucking face
He fired all sorts of threats and curses, at me, at my
mother, at my sister, at my clan. The angrier he became the higher his fist went. That was
the product of Marxist education, I guess. Soon he bent down, though, and began digging at
the bottom of the stream for rocks. He collected a handful and began to launch them at me.
I dont know what that was a product ofBalkan temperament, perhapsbut it
alarmed Dorian who jumped up and came to the edge of the riverbank to pull me away. The
rocks landed with deep thuds in the water in front of us, sometimes even hitting the
riverbank. But I didnt worry. I knew it would take a rare arm to hit a target across
the stream. The more rocks he launched, the more I laughed. Dorian couldnt be docile
anymore and began to laugh, too.
"Son of a bitch!" the Argentinean fan was
shouting now. "You think you can insult me like that. I dont care whose son you
are. Ill swim over there and strangle your scrawny ass." He got back on the
islet and went running in the opposite direction from the stream. If he wanted to swim
across hed have to start diagonally from us. That way the stream would make his
swimming easier and carry him right to us.
"Leave him," one of them shouted at the
Argentinean fan as he ran up the islet. "Hes just some punk kid. Leave
him." They were not on our side anymore, and the Argentinean fan didnt listen
anyway. He kept on running, then headed for the stream, dove in and began to swim toward
us. I could see him approaching fast.
Dorian had turned pale. Without a word to each other
we rushed to the walnut tree. I untied Lara with trembling hands, casting rapid glances
over my shoulder at the stream. The man was almost halfway across. I looked at Dorian as
he untied his Plaka. But the cows were hardly as eager to leave the riverbank as we were.
I smacked Laras ass hard to get her to move, and Dorian was smacking Plaka, too. But
they wouldnt budge, and then Dorian tore into me: "You idiot! Why do a thing
like that, you stupid idiot?" I took Lara by the lead and began pulling her, and told
Dorian to slap her and to keep slapping. Finally she began to move when I pulled and
Dorian slapped, and that prompted Plaka to follow. Soon we were all moving at a good pace.
The riverbank was now behind us.
"That was fun," I said, still trembling and
panting a little, and sweating all over.
"Youre an idiot," Dorian said.
"Fine, fine," I said "Ill see you
after the nap."
I steered Lara toward my house, brought her to the hut in the backyard, placed another
bucket of water in front of her, and went in the house. I had some lunch and was off to
When I awoke my head felt dizzy and my limbs were numb. My hair and neck were drenched in
sweat. My folks were still napping. I stumbled out of bed, walked outside and sat on the
steps of the veranda. The day seemed brighter than it had been earlier. My eyes had not
fully adjusted to the light, but I sensed someone creep up beside me, and before I had
time to turn, I was slapped hard in the face. I jerked back as my eyes began to water,
caressing my cheek and rubbing my eyes, and soon my cousin Martin came into full view. He
was shirtless and barefoot, wearing only his gray polyester pants. He had a shaved head,
like a soldiers, a tanned face and rippling muscles that he liked to show off every
chance he got.
"What the devil was that for?" I asked.
"To wake you up," he said and gave me
another hard slap on the other cheek. By now I was fully alert. Both my cheeks burned. I
shoved Martin, trying to catch him by surprise and make him tumble backwards, but he
hardly moved, so I sat back down on the steps and caressed my cheeks.
"Wheres your girlfriend?" he asked.
"Hes probably still napping," I
scowled. "What do I know?"
"Go call him so we can play soccer."
"You go call him."
"You want another slap?" he said, and raised
his hand. I told him quickly about the soccer ball, that we no longer had one because
Dorian had kicked in the Drin.
"That little bitch," Martin said.
"Lets go call him anyway."
"All right," I said, standing up and
following him through a green tunnel of grapevines that my Dad had built in his spare
time. The tunnel provided generous shade to the walkway to our house. But relatives and
guests always liked picking grapes better, which irked my father to the point of
threatening to tear it all down.
Martin was half-hopping as he walked, and as he
hopped, he picked some grapes that had turned purple. I said nothing about my
fathers irritation, and only followed him. I guess thats what disciples do. If
Doriand been here, hed follow him too. We were his disciples whether we wanted
to be or not, and whether wed asked to know or not, hed taught us a lot about
girls and sex, and more important things too, like soccer and soccer players. He claimed
to be an expert in both, and he was twenty so we believed him. I believed him too because
hed just returned from the two-year mandatory service in the army where boys across
Albania were sent to become men.
We found Dorian seated in the shade of a fig tree that
stood like a giant mushroom in front of his small, brick house. Kisa, his bitch, lay on
her stomach next to him. She looked up and barked as we entered the yard. Dorian turned
his head. His face was smeared with lines of dirt and dried sweat running from his
forehead to his jaw. He looked dazed and cockeyed from fatigue. There was something on his
lap. He stood up and tried to explain what hed done. But it needed no explanation.
There it was in his hands. Hed taken somebodys light woolen
slipperslikely his grandmothersstuffed the material with old rags, and
patched it up nicely with nylon string. It looked sturdy and heavy and somewhat round. But
it wasnt very big and when he dropped it on the ground it didnt bounce. It
just fell there and stayed.
Martin laughed harder than Ive ever heard him
laughing. He slapped Dorian upside the head, and that made me laugh, too. "Who gave
you that idea, ball-head?" he said, and began kicking the ball of rags around the
Watching Martin, I was reminded of those
black-and-white war films theyd show us every Sunday. They were often about World
War II, about brave Albanian partisans with red stars on their caps fighting the Germans
or the Italians. Of course, the brave Albanian partisans would constantly outsmart the
Germans and defeat them. But every now and then there would be some quiet scene with young
kids playing soccer with an old, decrepit ball while mean-looking German soldiers in
groups of two, with metal helmets and machine guns across their chest, looked on.
"Come on, Martin. Lets not play here,"
Dorian said. "My folks are still napping."
"The riverbank then?" Martin said.
"As always," I said.
At the riverbank, Dorian and I made our goal with
Dorians sandals, placing each sandal about one meter apart. Martin made his goal
with my sandals about twenty meters away from ours. As we stretched, Martin juggled the
ball. Though it was made of rags, he juggled it well, first with his feet, then with his
knees, his shoulders and finally his head. With my old ball hed always juggle with
the grace and confidence of a professional; with an actual ball he was Pele. With a
pomegranate or a persimmon, which he juggled once in a while for show, he was Maradona.
And with a ball of rags, I was certain, he was as good as anybody.
Rarely was I able to take the ball away from him.
Whenever he feigned a shot or a move, he kept the ball very close to his feet. His feigns
almost always threw me off. Once he was past me, Dorian was easy. Martin scored in the
first few minutes, and I got angry because Dorian never knew where to stand or when to
make a run. He could never read the play and always stood behind Martin it seemed. Once he
even had a clear line to Martins goal, but kicked the ground instead of the ball.
Then he complained that his foot hurt, and that he couldnt run. My teammate was just
a post in the field. I even tried to dribble the ball myself, but the rags wouldnt
roll well on the grass. Then out of nowhere Martin leapt forward and took it away. He
sprinted to our goal, but didnt shoot the ball past the line. Beating us easily made
him cocky. He simply held the ball at the goal line now, his foot on top of it, until I
charged to take it away. Then he tapped it lightly with his heel before I could get to it.
I brought the ball back on the field, determined to
score at least one goal. I could pass to Dorian, then make a diagonal run, if only Dorian
knew where to stand. But he knew nothing. I tapped the ball forward lightly with my toes,
ran to it and kicked it as hard as I could. I cant say for sure if I was aiming for
Martins goal or for Dorians head, and my foot couldnt decide which
either. The ball took a strange path, flew past the imaginary out-of-bounds line and into
the river. We all stopped to look at it for a second, then Martin raced after it, leaping
straight into the river from the bank.
Dorian and I ran up to the edge to watch him. The ball
was nowhere in sight, and Martin dove deep for it. We didnt see him or the ball for
several seconds. Then suddenly he emerged, a ball of wet rags in his hand. He launched it
from the stream to us. We followed the looped path with our eyes. Dorian reached out and
caught it, water splashing all over him and dripping from the rags. Martin swam fast up
the stream, reached for the branch of a weeping willow and lifted himself out of the
water. He looked at the wet ball of rags in Dorians hands, then at Dorian.
"Well, dont look so hurt about it," he
said, taking his pants off and squeezing the water out of them "You can just put it
out in the sun."
Dorian and I took the ball apart carefully and spread
the wet rags on the grass. The sun leaned westward, casting an orange glow across the
horizon and reflecting on the stream. The sunrays were hardly as fierce as they had been
earlier, but in an hour or two the rags would dry anyway, and maybe we could play again
before going to watch the game. We went to sit in the shade of the walnut tree. By now
Laras and Plakas manure had formed hard dry crusts, and flies even more
numerous than before had homed in, so we decided to sit instead at the edge of the
"Were watching the game at your house,
no?" Martin asked, putting his pants back on.
"I guess so," I said. "I dont
know who else has a TV."
"Whats the matter with you? Show some
"I have passion."
"I hope youll have lots of raki, too. I
want to celebrate."
"Well have plenty," I said. Looking at
the islet, lonesome and beautiful in the setting sun, I wanted to tell Martin what
Id done to the Argentinean fan earlier. I was proud of it, and I thought he might be
proud of me too. Or he might tell Dad, I thought, so I opted against it. We sat in silence
for a short interval, our feet dangling from the riverbank, and the soccer ball drying in
the sun behind us.
"The next World Cup will be held in
America," Martin said after a while.
"Will it be on TV?" I asked.
"It wont matter to me. Im going there
to see it live."
"In America?" Dorian laughed. "You
cant go to America."
"Yeah," I said. "How can you go to
"What do you two kids know?" Martin said,
growing quiet and thoughtful for a moment. Then he pointed in the direction of Montenegro,
where a small tower stood on a hill, barely visible in the sun. "See that tower over
there? Once you make it there, its a cinch. There you can ask for political asylum
in America. The Yugoslavians will understand."
"What does political asylum mean?" I asked.
Martin chuckled. "Political asylum means standing
in a giant stadium in America, watching the great German team playing live in front of
you. It means shaking hands with Mathaus and Klinsman after the game and asking them to
autograph my real soccer ball. It means watching Germany raising the Cup again in the USA
in94, as theyll do tonight."
"Why dont you swim across the border then
and get your political asylum?" I asked.
Again Martin chuckled, the sort of chuckle that was
more irksome now than condescending. "Tonight, Germany will raise the Cup in
victory," he said, not bothering with my question. "I cant wait to see
"Theyll win," Dorian said. "My
heart feels it."
I said nothing, but only looked at the tower in
Montenegro and tried hard to imagine myself in political asylum in America. I tried to
picture myself standing in a giant stadium and watching Germany playing live in front of
me. I tried to picture myself shaking hands with Klinsman, Mathaus, Muller and other great
German players that might still be around in 94. I gazed at the Montenegrin
border-patrol tower and tried hard to imagine it. But I couldnt do it. I just
couldnt picture it. It was like trying to picture myself standing on Mount Olympus
in the company of the gods.
Just before eight oclock that evening, the living room of my house was clogged with
young and old men. Me, my father, Dorian, his father, uncle, grandfather, Martin and his
father, and other relatives of ours were all hunched up in front of our black-and-white TV
screen, waiting for the game to begin and sweating heavily from the summer heat and the
anticipation of a German victory. My father brought out the demijohn of raki and placed it
in the middle of the dinner table. The demijohn was more than half-empty. We wouldnt
be brewing again until October, but there was plenty to go around. Most everyone had a
cigarette in his mouth, and all of us looked tense and fretful, with faces glowing from
the cigarettes, the heat, the TV, the alcohol and the World Cup final. No wonder, after
looking at us all ablaze, my mother and little sister had gone to stay with the women
whose husbands, brothers or sons were in our living room.
The game was on RAI, an Italian channel our small
antenna could pick up, but the reception was often poor. The low voltage didnt help
matters much and threatened to go out altogether. Though the door and the windows were
wide open, it was still very hot and very humid, and the temperature rose another notch as
soon as the referee blew the whistle for the game to begin. Most of us were German fans,
except for Martins father who claimed to be only one kind of fan, and that was an
Albanian fan. He was a quiet, old man, a bit of an embarrassment to Martin, and none of us
had the heart to remind him that Albania was a lost cause and would never make it to the
World Cup. No one paid much attention to him, anyway. We left him in peace as he drank
shot after shot of raki so that after a while his head tilted against the wall, and his
eyes, sometimes closed and sometimes half-closed, gave the mixed impression of a man who
was either drunk, asleep, or just plain ill.
Perhaps he had a point, but I was too young to care
about it then. All I cared about was seeing Germany win, and seeing wasnt easy with
all the smoke in the room and the bad reception. It wasnt often I was permitted to
smoke and drink, but the final was too big a deal for Dad to mind what I was doing. So
every now and then I borrowed puffs from someones cigarette, and sips of raki from
anothers glass. Martin was sitting next to me. Unlike most of us, he wasnt
smoking or drinking. He was still shirtless and barefoot, his eyes fixed on the TV. He
didnt blink once. Whenever Germany had a good run to Argentinas goal,
hed clench my shoulder and jump in the air.
But Germany wasnt scoring and some of us were
growing impatient. Martin was defensive. He insisted that Germany was playing well against
Maradonas team, and he was optimistic they would capitalize in the second half. Or
at least, he said, theyd carry the game to penalty kicks, as many other teams had
throughout that tournament, in which case Germany would surely win. His optimism had
resulted in a few red marks on my shoulder. It was time to change my seat.
I huddled next to Dorian. He sat cross-legged on the
floor with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and the ball of rags on his lap. He wasnt
watching the game. He was engrossed in putting the ball back together, using a big needle
this time and more nylon string. Once hed put it together in a bulging, uneven
bundle, hed look at it for a moment, sigh, then take it apart again. "I have no
idea how I did it earlier," he kept saying. "I have no idea."
"Why dont you forget about it and watch the
game," I said, but he didnt care to listen. He stuffed the rags in the slipper,
and kept trying to sew it in a way that resembled a ball. The entire first half he spent
trying to put the damn thing back together before finally throwing the rags on the floor.
Soon as the second half began, we knew it would be a
better match. Both teams were fired up. We could tell from the fouls they began committing
against each other. Players from both teams got booked with yellow cards. In the 65th
minute, the first player was sent out with a red card. Argentina was now down to ten
players. They held up well for a while. Then it happened. It came in the 85th minute.
Voller entered the box with the ball and was tripped. It was not clear at first whether he
was really tripped, or had faked it, but the referee awarded a penalty kick to the Germans
anyway. The replay raised doubts about the referees call. But a referees
decision was final, and Germany had a good chance now to take the lead. Brehme would take
the penalty kick. We all turned rigid, as though waiting in an ambush, as Brehme placed
the ball at the penalty spot. He took a few steps back, ran to the ball and kicked it
easily in the lower right corner. We all jumped with joy, cheering and screaming, slapping
one anothers hands and hugging in celebration.
Germany 1-Argentina 0: The score was flickering on the
TV screen next to the time that was running out for Argentina. Two minutes later another
Argentinean player was sent out with a red card. The cup was slipping away from the
Argentineans. You could see the frustration on their faces. Their star player, Maradona,
had been booked with a yellow card. He was playing too cautiously now to win. It
didnt matter anyway. The game was coming to an end, and so was Argentinas
chance of keeping the Cup for another four years. It would take a miracle to change the
fate of the final, and that miracle never came. When the referee blew the whistle for the
last time, we jumped up once more, full of bliss and cheer and applause, in solidarity
with the Germans who were cheering and hugging on the screen.
We sat there watching the celebrations on TV until the
power finally went out sometime past ten oclock. Then we lit some candles and went
outside. None of us knew how much Martins father had drunk until then. He could
barely stand. We sat him down on the steps with his eyes closed and his head resting on
the column of the veranda. Now and then a few pistol shots went off in the night to
commemorate the German victory, and we commemorated the pistol shots with shots of raki.
Soon enough, I could see my Mom and little sister
walking up to the house through the tunnel of grapevines. Mom was holding a lit candle in
one hand and my sisters hand with the other. "What is the matter with you
men?" she said as she approached us. "I can hear you from a hundred meters away.
Youve all gone hysterical watching twenty-two men chase after a ball. Why dont
they just put twenty-two balls on the field and save everybody the trouble?"
"Ah, but you dont understand, wife,"
Dad said, putting an arm around her and raising his glass of raki as though to touch it
with another, invisible glass. "Tonight, Germany has won the World Cup!"
"And you, husband, what have you won?" Mom
said, slipping from Dads arm.
Everyone suddenly shut up. We stood silent for a
moment, each of us thinking of good comebacks, but finding none, we burst into laughter.
Mom shook her head. "I better take this child to
bed," she said, picking up my sister. She climbed the steps to the front door where
she stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Martin, you better take your father to
bed," she added, before entering the house. "He doesnt look good."
"No, he doesnt," Martin said without
looking at any of us. He was staring off into the night as though he was no longer with
us. It disappointed me that he wasnt celebrating as hed said he would. He just
sat there, looking distant and melancholy in the candlelight. Perhaps it saddened him that
the World Cup was over, and wed have to wait two years for the European
Championship, and four years for the next World Cup. Or maybe he was celebrating it all
inside, I thought. I sat next to him and nudged him in the ribs to bring it out. But he
only smiled. Then he stood up. "Well, men," he said. "Germany has won as it
should have, and now I will go home and sleep, and maybe Ill see you all again
someday. Are you coming with me, Father?" His father didnt move. Martin went to
the steps of the veranda, put his fathers arms around his neck and helped him to his
feet. He supported him as though he were a wounded soldier; and bidding us good night,
they headed home, disappearing into the tunnel of grapevines.
Everyone was either too drunk or too excited to pay
any attention to what Martin had said, and although Id heard him clearly I was
perhaps too young to know what he meant. So, of course, as I watched him in the
candlelight, helping his father to his feet, I wouldnt have imagined that in less
than an hour, not saying a word to any of us or even a farewell to his parents, he would
sneak out of his house, go to the river and swim for hours down the stream, pass the
Albanian-Montenegrin border into former Yugoslavia. Watching him holding his father, I
wouldnt have imaged that all along hed been making secret plans to escape on
the night of the World Cup Final when the Albanian border-patrol squad was likely too
excited by the game to watch the river. I wouldnt have imagined, as he bid us good
night and headed home, that in a few months, already fed up with communism and a life of
poverty, many Albanians would try hard to change things while others like us would flee to
the border only to run into the border patrol squad ready to empty their machine guns on
us. As I sat there in the dark, watching Martin disappear with his father into the tunnel
of grapevines that my Dad had built and now wanted to tear down, I wouldnt have
imagined any of it. That night in July I felt only joy and jubilation, and when I went to
bed, resting my head on the pillow and entering into a world of weird and wild dreams, I
slept peacefully knowing that Germany had won.