Playing football

There was this field near their house in which they played football. Playing and playing, day in day out… year after year. They were a small bunch – all between 12 and 15 at the time. The words that would describe them would be “camaraderie,” “friendship,” “unconsciousness,” “impulsiveness.” Then that day came: the 22nd of December. 

They were all there – same time, same place, same bunch. However, there was something in the air that day. Even something palpable: like noise. Or was it noise? 

It was a cloudy day, and it had something ominous about it: For the first time in all these years they became aware of a new feeling few of them were ready to digest. They were watching each other with what he can only describe now as suspicion. For some reason, the camaraderie and feeling of mutual caring and warmth—materialized by the usual swearing and cursing at each other—was not present, and in its place, a deafening silence floated in the air. 

They all knew about the Radio Free Europe broadcasts the previous days. And imagined (although didn’t dare voice it) that their parents must have told everyone about them. There were mass protests in other cities which they knew it was only a matter of time till they reached their hometown. And although they wanted to play football as much as anything, they couldn’t do it as they had previously.

Suddenly, as if everyone was thinking about the same thing, they started focusing their collective attention on one guy—rather the silent type—who had all of a sudden seemed suspicious. He was playing along, just as he had always done, but he remembers there was some unvoiced grumbling about him among them. Could he have always been different from the rest of them, and was it just then, on that strange day, that they all noticed it?

They played for about half an hour when the game tapered off to a halt, as if they just didn’t have the energy to go on with it anymore, as if that force that was in the air had overwhelmed them. They gave up, picked up their ball, and started to head back home to their communist blocks of flats that were flanking the field nearby their playground. 

They were filing back in silence and reached the asphalt road that made its way to the field. Suddenly, a Dacia car came in sight, a yellow Dacia which they all recognized because it belonged to this neighbor they all knew for his calm and composure. But this time he wasn’t calm. He was driving unusually fast and erratically, and he almost ran them over before he braked a few inches from a cement fence. They jumped out of his way and watched him incredulously. He got out of the car, his face almost white, his little hair left on the top of his head disheveled and in disarray. 

He wanted to speak but his words couldn’t come out. Then finally he blurted out in a high-pitched voice: “What are you doing? Are you unashamedly playing football while children your age are dying in the main square? You— you— disgraceful people!” he shouted and then got back into his car and drove away. They stood there speechless. Unable to comment as they usually did, unable to move. In the end they continued home. But the brief presence of their neighbor had the effect of a catharsis. “What’s going on?” they asked, but they were all too afraid to answer. The demeanor of their neighbor frightened them, making them feel as though their reality suddenly became unreal. There was also an unacknowledged feeling of guilt in the air. Was it their guilt for being alive? 

One thing was certain: The feeling of suspicion they had felt about their friend just minutes before had vanished. He was one of them again. The camaraderie was back. Who could have known, however, that it would not be suspicion (the suspicion of their friend being different) but the revolution that would change their camaraderie forever? Who could have known that day was the beginning of the end?