Watching Girls Play Football, Part 2
I sat on the porch of our townhouse waiting when Chima finally arrived and parked his Toyota Venza close to the curb. It was 3.00 p.m., and he was thirty minutes earlier. He hailed me as I bounded down the short flight of stairs. He leaned over the passenger seat and opened the car door, and I slid into the leather seat.
“You look sporty,” said Chima, “even with your potbelly.”
I had on a green V-neck T-shirt, black combat shorts, and black sneakers to match.
“But your belly is twice the size of mine,” I shot back, strapping on the seatbelt, “like a rhino’s, you know.”
“Ugh,” Oluchi said from the backseat.
I turned. “Hey. How are you?”
“I’m good,” she replied. “And how are you doing, Uncle Vin?” Oluchi was twelve years old and wearing a blue jersey.
“I’m cool and excited for you.”
“Thanks, Uncle Vin.”
Chima cleared his throat. “Wait a minute,” he muttered and clenched his face in mock anger. “You mean my belly is full of shit like a rhino’s, eh?”
“Larger even!” I drew an arc over my own belly.
“That’s gross, Dad,” Oluchi protested.
Chima and I both laughed.
He checked for an oncoming vehicle, then steered his SUV smoothly onto the road. A hip-hop artist was on the radio, bragging about his gold and diamond jewellery.
I looked at Oluchi in the mirror in the passenger seat. “It’s a big day, is it?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“So, you’re ready to impress us?”
“That’s my girl,” Chima said and described how competitive the tryouts were. We were attending the final tryout, he told me. Oluchi had been practicing for the last five months. She’d watched reruns of the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga.
“She’s going to be the next Messi,” said Chima.
“Dad?” Oluchi called. “I’m going to be greater than Messi.”
I said, “Wow,” to myself. I hoped Oluchi would get a spot. She sounded so, or maybe, too confident. I wouldn’t want to be around her if she ended up not making the coach’s final list of players.
Chima flashed his excitement at me, slapping me playfully on the shoulder. “What did I tell you, Vin?” He sounded almost as confident as her, “Of course, dear. Of course.”
We arrived at Taylor Elementary School before 3.30 p.m., where the tryouts were to take place. The school was in Pleasantville, a quiet but affluent neighbourhood. Vehicles perched on the roadside, so Chima snuck his car between a white Dodge Journey and a blue Nissan Qashqai.
There was already a little buzz of activities on the field. Some girls in jerseys and vests flashed across the field, back and forth. Others listened to their coaches while a few girls passed the ball around one another. Parents and their children gathered in small clusters on the sidelines. A handful of grandparents sat in their folding chairs, excitedly swapping banters. Bystanders lingered some feet away from the sidelines.
We stepped out of the car into the sunny afternoon. There was a slight touch of chill, but of the pleasant kind, the one that made you want to close your eyes and take a deep breath, feel grateful to be alive in such a Covid-riddled moment.
Chima gasped when he handed Oluchi a water bottle.
She rolled her eyes. “Dad, stop being dramatic.”
“I forgot the chairs,” he groaned.
“So?” I asked.
“We’d have to stand for at least an hour.”
“You mean…?” I dropped my jaw.
“It’s actually one hour and thirty minutes,” Oluchi clarified.
I scratched my brow. I wouldn’t have accompanied Chima if he’d mentioned that we would spend more than an hour at the tryouts. One hour and thirty minutes, my goodness. That was just too much!
I managed to smile and sound enthusiastic. “Let’s go watch Oluchi shine.”
“You’ll be fine.” Chima patted me on the back.
I almost glared at him. “Of course, I will.”
“Wish me luck, Dad.”
Chima extended his arms for a hug, but his daughter raised her hand instead. He acted disappointed and pouted. She giggled. They finally slapped each other’s palms and thrust their interlocked fingers in the air.
“Go, team Titans!” chorused father and daughter.
“Give me a goal. Just one goal.”
“What do I get in return if I gave you a goal?”
Chima frowned. “Aren’t you a tough negotiator? Fine. I will get any jersey of your choice. You name it.”
Oluchi lifted her little finger, smiling. “Promise?”
“Yes, that’s a promise.”
“I’ll get you a goal, Dad.” She turned and waved at me. “See you in a while, Uncle Vin.”
Oluchi was about sprinting off when I called out, “Give me a goal, too.”
She stopped in her tracks, spun around, and frowned. “But that’s two.”
“It’s okay,” I joked. “Half of a goal if you can’t get me a full goal.”
Her frown deepened. “There’s no such thing as a half goal, Uncle Vin,” she muttered and glanced over at her father, who blew her a reassuring kiss. Oluchi waved at us, and then shot off towards the field like lightning.
Chima and I made our way to the bystanders on the sideline adjacent to the goalpost belonging to Oluchi’s team.
“Is this the joy of fatherhood you’ve been telling me about?” I teased him.
“This, my friend, is one of the joys,” he replied. “Come on, let’s go see my daughter shine like a million stars.”
Oluchi’s teammates were dressed in blue jerseys while their opponents displayed red jerseys.
“Which position does Oluchi play?”
“She’s a winger. Number seven.”
“Like Finidi George.”
“Um, yes, like Finidi. Only better.”
I stared incredulously at him. “Seriously?”
“I know, I know,” Chima replied with an air of pride. “She’s ambidextrous. Remember Totti? Ribery? Ibrahimovic? Hazard?”
I kept staring at him as he reeled off those foreign names.
“But of course, you remember Okocha.”
“Wait until you watch her play, Vin.”
“You sound as though she is a soccer prodigy.”
“She is. It’s only a matter of time.”
I gazed towards the field where Oluchi was doing a couple of workouts: squats and lunges. I hoped she was as good as her father boasted.
The referee signalled for the coaches to leave the field, and the two teams swept around him as he began dishing out instructions. When it appeared that he had finished talking, each team withdrew to its side.
In a minute, I heard the blast of a whistle. I looked up and saw a girl in a red jersey volley the ball over Oluchi’s head towards another girl in a red jersey whizzing up from the right flank.
I suddenly had a vision of Oluchi letting her father down.