Goooal!!!! That was a goooooal !!! Goooooooal!!!

The whole Samuel Doe Stadium erupts. It’s party time. We embrace, we’re all Liberians today and we are dancing with everyone. Gilberto is engaging in consensual fondling with the girl sitting behind us and someone is slapping me on the back as if they’d known me their entire life, everyone is moving their asses, man. Then, I am baffled again and feel as if I were five, seven, nine or at the most eleven years old. We go on and on celebrating the goal as if our lives depend on it. Our life does depend on it.

An interval.

At halftime, the moment clearly calls for upbeat music, not even the best skin antioxidants can outdo this feeling. Everything is glowing and Frankie is getting annoyed because I am the only one in the stadium who is not dancing. I am a little lost in thought, but I soon start to awkwardly shake my body. “I don’t want to leave Liberia, man,says Frankie as he shoves me sideways with his rear. I am five again, maybe seven, nine at the most. Teeth glisten, bums shake and the laughter sounds as though it comes from down South.

I know that girl must only be about eleven, twelve years at the most, and look how she moves! She’s like a chewing gum – she doesn’t need to move sideways or forward, her feet are fixed to the ground but she continues dancing, banging a plastic bottle against her arm as an instrument. She is in her own world; she can’t care less about her surroundings or her eyes.

She lives in accord with the rhythm, which drives her to move as if she is enchanted. She moves to the beat, a beat that is embedded within her DNA, that she was born with, the way you are born with an ear, a little finger, or envy.

To suffer.

During the second half it’s time to suffer. Cape Verde is on a comeback; they’re attacking our goal. How dare they! Sighs are followed by punches of exhilaration. To move your ass or bite your nails? That’s the question! A sorcerer – who occasionally comes into view – is trying to unravel the dilemma one way or another. He wears one eye painted in blue, which looks almost like a pirate patch.

Weighed down with several necklaces, the sorcerer runs up and down, parallel to the opposition’s bench, releasing evil spirits onto the visiting team over and over again, scampering like a lizard, until he stays put at the sight of a man wandering by, wearing nothing but pants and his body painted in white. The man painted in white swaggers around the stadium in slow motion, like a mime artist who has forgotten his script, a tortoise who is tired of waiting. I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love.

Suffer, suffer, we are all suffering, until the referee at last blows the final whistle! The Samuel Doe bursts like a psychedelic piñata in the middle of a carnival. Party, party, party! The police are the first to run onto the field to protect the referee, who soon disappears under a sheet of blue uniforms and plastic shields. The message was quite clear: only the police are allowed to jump onto the field. And to make sure of it, a chain of puny security guards form a ring of bones around the football field.

But they soon become invisible under the onslaught of crowds who lose their minds and trample on the grass; the country only has time to celebrate now, at last. The ones down there in the arena make knowing gestures of victory and encourage us to join the gladiators down below, to join the party, to go back to school and feel like you are five, seven or nine years old. Everyone leaves the stands behind as they jump down and meet on the grass swaying like brainless and misleading tides. That’s the way it is.

When we believe that we can leave the stadium, we start to move. But all of sudden, Cape Verde’s red bus appears on the grass, out of the blue, literally out of the blue! Cape Verde’s red bus looks on in awe at the outside spectacle as the contagious joy spreads over them. Frankie has disappeared, but Gilberto and I are now walking towards the exit, singing some random song, until we find ourselves gazing at the back of a young lady who is wearing a tight turquoise top, suggesting a body that has just come off the Milan or Paris catwalk.

“Look at that babe,” says Gilberto, as he strokes her back. Just like in an advert, she turns around as if per miracle, a full-blown woman, and Gilberto is enthralled: “Eeeh, ooooh.” The lady, an accomplice now, reacts in tune: “Wooooow….” “So, where are we going?” asks Gilberto, innocently. She laughs and laughs, and points with her index finger in some direction. “That way, that way.” Until the crowd sucks her in and drags her out.

Amidst the drums, the partying and the necessary irrationality – long live necessary irrationality! – we find our way to the Toyota Prado and once inside, we put the music on top volume and cover the whole window with the Liberian flag. The whole window. “The best one so far was the one wearing the tight turquoise top, what a fine piece of work,” says Gilberto, as we start to look for the babe in the crowd with a degree of professionalism that would make the KGB proud.

And then, there she is, at the back! Beep, beep, beep! Follow her. She’s a lively girl no doubt, and she certainly knows who to hang out with. She is surrounded by an entourage of high-flying females and male satellites who are eagerly watching over them. We can see the girls over at the back, walking unevenly, from celebration to celebration. Gilberto plonks himself right in front of a couple of the girls, pulls down the mirror and says: “Yeah, yeah,” encouraging them with his hand gestures to get into the car.

“Come in, come in!”  And then that smile, which looks like night, appears. In the middle of this harmonic disorder, the girl in the tight turquoise top appears like a mermaid at the edge of the window, and giggling, she touches her hair, points to her lips, and replies: “Around, around.” She laughs a little more as she lets her friends through, taking it in turns to take centre stage at the window amid songs, euphoria and anti-oxidants. At the stadium, Frankie had said: “I don’t want to leave Liberia, man.”

It’s not easy. Leaving the vicinity of the Samuel Doe stadium is no easy task. We’re in a traffic jam now, fully immersed in the music, the slums extending themselves on our flank, reminding us.  Gilberto overtakes whenever he can, driving the Prado into potholes and mud. After a journey worthy of an odyssey, we manage to join Tubman Boulevard, where Liberia remains cracked and in disarray.

The highly congested traffic, almost sneezing, stops us from circulating freely, while the beeping cars encourage the zinc neighbourhoods to flock to the roadside and watch the traffic crawl by, as if they were at a Three Kings Parade. There are hundreds of clustered heads by now, curiously gazing on in their rags. Curiosity and rags.

Then we look forward and notice four young people taking shelter in a taxi, sitting in an open carrier, their eight legs dangling and their eight eyes popping out. I take a photo and then look away, trying to pretend I didn’t see them, but when I turn back, I spot a guy with bloody eyes and a tense vein-stricken face, screaming his head off at me and about to explode.

The guy can’t seem to stop. He gives his all and starts inciting one of his fellow passengers to do the same, as he gesticulates and pulls out what seems to be a gun that he is about to shoot. Things are taking on an intense dark red colour, like the sea, so I tell Gilberto to mingle in over there, to blend in, until we lose sight of the guys.

Gilberto has his foot down on the accelerator, and that bright auburn bus is most probably Cape Verde’s red bus, which is now progressing at a snail’s pace down Tubman Boulevard. Gilberto puts his foot down and drives up to the side of the bus and flashes the Liberian flag out of the window at some wary faces, which culminates in a player with long hair and a menacing look on his face, waving his threatening finger at us.

But nobody can spoil it for us and we move forward – because we know how to, we know how to move forward and how to explore, while the night becomes longer and stretches like an elastic of infinite possibilities that make me think that maybe today. I am seven, nine or eleven. At the most.

Carlos Battaglini

Lo dejé todo para escribir Samantha, Otras hogueras y Me voy de aquí.

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