a short story
S. Francis Pringle
Yes, this was the year the Springboks won the Rugby Union World Cup. Lifting his glass, a rugby enthusiast in a Capetown pub expressed the nation’s view: “Damn, and we bloody well could have won it all in ’87 and ’91 . . . if they would have let our team play. Just because a country tries to keep its niggers in their proper place is no reason to ban their teams from competition. The bloody niggers never give a damn for the game anyway; they all want to be footballers, or the uppity ones try a go at cricket.” The 60,000 plus fans in the stadium did give a damn, however.
The loudspeakers blared the home teams national anthem during injury breaks.
Wearing a Springbok’s captain’s shirt, the head of state visited the home team’s dressing room just before the match began and exhorted: “This game is not just in pursuit of victory, but a national crusade.”
Overhead, a jumbo jet from the national airline circled the stadium at rooftop height, a giant-sized good luck message to the Springboks lettered on the underside of its wing.
Standing in the shade of the shanty house he shared with his mother and grandparents, Mulo squinted at the huge airplane banking low in the bright sky, its wing tips seeming to almost touch the ground. There was writing on the underside of the wing. He could see it clearly, but did not know what it said. Although Mulo was nine years old, he could not read. He had never been to school, not even for one day.
“Momma . . . why is the great airplane flying so near to the ground?”
His mother did not know, nor did anyone else among the groups of people who had come out of their jerry-built shacks to watch.
Mulo loved airplanes. Three years ago Mulo had seen the place where they came to “walk on the land” when he had gone in a truck with his mother to try to find his father. The man had disappeared after being arrested for participating in a demonstration. The boy had been more excited at seeing the airplanes than distressed by the thought of what might have happened to his father. But, he had only been six years old then. Mulo asked his mother if he would ever be able to go up in an airplane.
Squeezing his hand as the truck bounced along, Murlo’s mother had replied: “Someday, maybe. . . .” She had inquired once, in secret, about the price of airplane tickets. This was when she planned to run away from her husband – who beat her regularly – and live with her sister in England. She knew now that, unfortunately, the price of even the shortest flight onan airliner was more than she earned in a year.
RRRRROOOOOAAARRR . . . rrroooaarr. . . .
Down in the stadium, the whine from the jumbo jet’s four Pratt and Whitney turbofans drowned out even the crowd’s noise.
The Springbok’s opponents, New Zealand’s All Blacks – who were neither all black, nor all from New Zealand – took the aerial diversion distorting the sporting nature of the contest stoically. They also chose not to make an issue of, nor publicize, the fact that 18 members of their team, including 10 starters, suffered food poisoning after a lunch at their hotel two days earlier.
RRRRoooooooaaaaarroooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .
The people from the shanties had all gone back indoors. If they had windows, or shutters, they closed them. However, the sun on the tin roofs would soon make it too hot inside. The jumbo circled for another pass at the stadium. The black exhaust, from having to run the engines at a rich mixture because of the low altitude, was coating the neighborhoods with a thin film off oil. Those who came back out soon found the oil clogging their nostrils, and a petroleum taste on the insides of their teeth.
Covering his ears with his hands. Mulo tried to hide under his bed, as he had done when his father used to come home in a drunken rage. “Make it stop, Momma . . . make the noise go away!” he cried. Coughing in the dust under the bed, Mulo decided he did not like airplanes now.
RRRRRRRROOOOOOOAAAAAAArrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .
One of the All Black’s star players, still suffering from food poisoning, and passing gas all through the first half, had retired to the lavatory at half-time, and did not return for the rest of the game.
RRR . . . OOO . . . Aaaa . . . rrrrrrrrr. . . .
Crouching in the corner of their shanty, Mulo’s grandfather contentedly smoked a cigarette. He had gone deaf some three years ago, just after his son disappeared. He took a deep drag, the light from the cigarette stabbing at the darkness of the hot room. If he closed his eyes, and held the smoke in his lungs long enough, it seemed as though he did not exist.
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . .
Despite the distracting circumstances, the All Blacks were playing well. A team that offered neither tactical innovation, nor outstanding flair was nevertheless, beating them. The Springboks favored orthodox rugby, based on the avoidance of risk-taking, and a willingness to tackle everyone in sight.
“Fuck, that Lomu has got the fucking ball!”
“What the fuck! . . .”
“Grab the black son-of-a-bitch!” “Fuck the bloody bastard . . . kill the fucker!”
Springboks converged from every angle, hitting the runner, with a crunching of bones, high, low, and somewhere in between – spirit counting for more than finesse. Waving his beer and shouting, “Bloody good show! Scragg the fuckin’ nigger!” a fan from Johannesburg voiced his approval of the play.
Normal time ended with the teams tied at nine.
RRR OOO AAA RRR RRRooooaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr!
During the break, the unstoppable 6 foot 5 inch, 20 year old, Johna Lomu, one of the All Blacks premier runners, sat on the bench, isolated in his headset, farting, and listening to a Bob Marley tape.
“Make it stop Momma, make the noise go away!”
“I don’t know how Mulo . . . I don’t know how!”
“Make it stop, Grandpa, make the noise go away!”
“I cannot hear you, Mulo . . . I have gone deaf.”
“Make it stop, Papa, make the noise go away!”
“I cannot help you my son . . . I am not here anymore.”
The shape of the match changed dramatically during the extra time, going from a traditional running game to a more modern, tactical kicking game, with the Springboks finally claiming victory by 15 to 12.
Lifting a glass of Champagne at the banquet held to mark the end of the World Cup, the country’s rugby president, in a stumbling speech that resonated with the old Afrikaans arrogance, proclaimed the Springboks as the first “true” world champions. “There were no true world champions in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups because South Africa was not there,” He declared.
At this remark, the captain of the defeated New Zealand team got up and led his players from the room. The All Blacks were quickly followed by the French and English teams.
S. Francis Pringle was born in New Zealand, and educated in England. His stories have been published world wide, and he has won the Kiwi Prize. One of the foremost experts on the Ojibwa language, Pringle currently resides in upstate New York where he translates textbooks on casino gambling methods into Native American dialects.
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