Author: Guede Mazaka
They got along well enough. Of course they’d met more than a few times in Ligue One play, and probably they’d even had to comment on each other in some post-match interview along the way. Before their national team call-ups, they’d known each other the way most professionals do: through videos, coach analyses, a dry handshake at the beginning of a match and sweat-bleared, antagonistic glances during it.
Robert got his first, so when Thierry finally stepped into Les Bleus’ training camp, there was that year between them on top of the four calendar ones. And besides David was there and he already knew from the club when Thierry’s smile was genuinely admiring—dear God, they were really here, in grass-stained track-pants and battered cleats—and when Thierry was letting it widen to hide the rest of him. David had just come up as well, but he was the darling of the youth team and he had the big family name to boot, and Zizou and Vieira already knew exactly why he was here. Their eyes didn’t ask questions when they looked at him.
“Don’t listen to the papers,” David would tell Thierry. “Jacquet picks you because you’re good. That’s all.”
And Thierry would open his mouth, and then David would jump on him and they’d roll around over the pitch like the idiots they were, too-long legs tangling with everything in sight till they’d crushed the fresh crisp scent entirely out of the grass beneath them and till one of them bumped a head against some disapproving elder’s boot. They were young, they were full of awe and dreams and they would talk to the others, yes. Talk and train, learn to stop staring when one of the legends-in-progress swore like a dockman, learn to stop staring when Zizou sneaked off to have a smoke. Learn to keep their heads up after a mistake in a match—not so different from Monaco; everyone sounded the same when they were yelling—and then learn a little about getting angry right back when the so-called experienced ones did the same.
But at the end of the day, when people were slipping out of the dressing room in twos and threes, Thierry didn’t worry so much about all his other teammates. He knew David, knew the arm would drop over his shoulders or around his waist, and it suited him.
Robert Pirès? Oh, he’s a great player, very skilled, excellent touch and foresight and his finishing is, well, you can see his finishing for yourself. I’m still very young so I can’t say my opinion is much good but—no, he’s nice. They’re all very nice and welcoming. We’re all teammates here.
“I’ve got ‘em,” David would say, and flash half of Zizou’s pack from behind his back. He’d grin at the scandalized look on Thierry’s face and then clap one hand over Thierry’s shoulder as he ushered them out, grinning his way past the older men. “C’mon. Let’s go wait in the lobby while he looks for them.”
Thierry never had any idea where Robert Pirès was then.
* * *
If you play enough together, you do start to have that odd connection, that way of lifting your head only after lofting the ball and not being surprised to see him already racing its shadow to its touchpoint on the ground.
But the national team doesn’t meet more than a handful of weeks out of the year, and it’s strange, but it is so easy to lose that link, that extra sliver of perception that seems to lengthen your gaze. It’s part of the frustration and the challenge of getting a call-up; it’s what drives the coaches to make screaming phone calls in the middle of the night to the club and then in the morning you and them and someone at the club with a smooth voice have to do a press conference about how all the commitments will work out, no problem.
A week here and there, gathering together and running through drill after drill. They’re meant to remind you of that moment when it all just clicked, like the give of grass after hard concrete and the blast of fresh air right out of the tunnel, but really they almost make you resent ever having that moment when you cut around the defender and turned, and the ball was already swinging in from Robert flying down the left. Or the right. You don’t even remember.
* * *
“Stop saying that. It’s not our first. We just played the World Cup last year.” Thierry’s forgotten how to tie his damn laces. The first time he knotted his thumb into them, and when he pulled it out, the whole knot came untied. The second time was David’s fault.
David laughs and the sound echoes high and brittle against the crouching gray walls of the hall, like a bird trying to beat its way into the sky. His teeth flash white as freshly-cracked bones. He can’t stop moving, dulling his cleats as he grinds his feet across the ground.
For the third time Thierry loops double, wraps round, tucks under—some nonsense rhyme from his childhood springs to mind and the rabbit from it leaps out into the man nervously dancing around him. “It’s all right. It’s nearly the same.”
“Except we’re apparently both grown now. We’re men and this isn’t the Youth World Cup, Titi,” David says. He dances too close and his hand comes down on Thierry’s shoulderblade, then drags off to the side. “This one really counts. You score here and they’ll remember you forever.”
There’s a track where David’s fingers were, an uneven set of parallel grooves where he’s forced the sweat from Thierry’s back into the fibers of the shirt. It’s cold; Thierry shivers and his fingers slip again, and he curses like he’s back in the dirty alleys of the banlieues as the knot unravels on him again. “David.”
“We’re in France. Oh, my God.” David scuffs at the ground and at the angle at which Thierry is crouching, he can see the residue the now blunted tips of David’s cleats have left.
“And we’ll still be here tomorrow. And in a few days, when we have to go and get the three points for Monaco,” Thierry says, trying to sound practical. He has been here before, after all, and he’s coming back for good, he’s been telling himself. He knows how it goes, he should know how it talks as well. Instead he sounds stupid and David sounds blind and won’t stop where Thierry can see him, where he’s not an uncertain blur, and it just isn’t going to work. This isn’t going to work and they’re going to sink like rocks and suddenly Thierry just wishes he weren’t here. “Didn’t your father tell you anything about this?”
David’s feet strike the ground sharply, heel-toe-heel. “Of course he did. But it’s just now—damn it, Titi. Damn it. What’s wrong with your shoe? You’re taking forever.”
“Oh, go out and wait for me. I’ll be done in a second, and I don’t want to hold you back.” Thierry doesn’t like the taste in his mouth then, sour like wine left out to warm. But when he looks up, David’s already a slope-shouldered silhouette at the tunnel mouth.
He wishes he could call, or run after, but if he runs with untied laces he’ll just break his neck. It’s hard enough living beneath your own reputation, Thierry is learning, so he can’t begin yet to imagine what it must be like to live beneath your father’s as well. Though he can feel sometimes the edge of it, the weight on the thin places, that it has on David. It hones David too sharp at times, and then Thierry wants David skidding around him, shared nerves dulling the blades so they can laugh and worry together. Otherwise he doesn’t know who he’s supposed to talk to, and he can’t do this alone, in silence. He’s no monk. He’s not even sure, at this moment, that he’s an international footballer. Maybe the first was a fluke and this second chance is merely false hope.
“Thierry?” Robert wanders down the hall, track-bottoms still on but jacket slung over his shoulder.
Thierry looks up. Looks down, sees the laces tangled in a limp snarl and adds to his list the wish to not have to admit his utter incompetency at a simple bunny-ear knot. But he can’t just sit there; he has to say something, doesn’t he? Because Robert isn’t going anywhere.
“I—” Thierry starts.
And Robert bends down, makes a loop from each lace and then twists them under each other. A tug, a twist, and there’s it done. He pauses as he gets up to pull the bunches out of his track-bottoms, but otherwise he is unruffled, flowing. Picture-perfect calm professional.
“Thank you,” Thierry finishes. He only looks at Robert for a second before the sense of his inadequacy makes him face forward.
Anyway, somebody is coming up behind and Robert’s ‘you’re welcome’ is just as absentminded, distracted as he is by the prospect of someone familiar to him. It’s with more than a little relief that Thierry finally leaves the tunnel for the free air, the sun and David standing there, kicking up clods of turf and nervously, irritably waiting for an apology.
“Damn it, I thought you’d slipped off back to Monaco,” David says.
Thierry shrugs, sidles up to get at the other man’s arm. He bumps it with his shoulder, then walks around and makes a half-hearted attempt to stomp the clods back into place before anyone sees what David’s been doing to a perfectly good pitch. “You know better than that.”
“Well, yes, I do.” David’s arm finally settles over Thierry’s neck like a cradling sunbeam. He corkscrews up a chunk of dirt with his toe cleats and watches it bounce off Thierry’s ankle. “Thank God. If you left, then I’d have no idea where I was.”
* * *
Though that isn’t true. You can’t depend on anybody else to tell you where you are. It’s important that you be able to say where when they ask, and even when they don’t, but actually that can get complicated. Sometimes it’s better for them to know where you aren’t. Sometimes you’d better be telling them where you’ll be, or else that ball’s going straight to the right-back you’ve just left spinning in the dust behind you. And sometimes it just doesn’t really matter, because that ball is going where it wants to go and if you know anything about it, you’d better follow it because it doesn’t care where you are.
That ball, it looks different in your dreams. A lot of times that year, it’s papered over with money bills and it’s always rolling away from you. Your bank account would beg to differ, but it doesn’t have to get out there every morning on the left and push and fret and clash against defenders till your back aches and your toes feel like they’ve turned into cleats, they’ve been driven so hard into your shoe, and still it doesn’t make a damn difference.
David says he’s coming in a year, in less than a year. He says Monaco doesn’t suit him anymore, that sometimes he’s tempted to show up to a match with a patch over his left eye because God knows it’d be the same. He says he needs you on the side, but nowadays, when you come home from another failed game and think this is not where I should be, this is where I am blind and you see him on the TV with his smile, you hear that phrase so differently. You don’t think you hate him, you think you’re just frustrated, but at the same time you don’t really listen to him anymore. You can’t, because something in you is screaming and screaming so loudly that you can’t hear anyone else.
* * *
Thierry knows a few more people now, but none as well as David and that’s depressing now that they both can walk into a room and need ten, fifteen minutes to accidentally find each other in the middle of the others. But still, it’s a relief to come from Juventus to the national team training camp where at least not everything is unfamiliar. Some of the paths he is required to tread he does know, and remember, and perhaps they’re not his favorites but there is that difference.
David says he’s gotten moody, and of course Thierry has. He tries not to be like that all the time, not wanting to dirty the one drinkable pool he seems to have left, but sometimes his tongue slips.
“So tell me about Monaco, tell me how things are,” Thierry says. What he really wants to know is when David is coming, is when he’ll finally score from wide out, is when it’ll work.
So instead David talks about everything Thierry misses and sometimes Thierry just tunes it out. He can’t help it; he misses it and having it held up to him, wrapped round in David’s voice is just too much for him to take and bear. So he doesn’t bear it. And David starts wandering off, and since Thierry wasn’t really there anyway, they’re having different conversations at the same time with each other. It’s like trying to shove two books together: maybe the pages, in between the wrinkling and crushing and crumpling, occasionally interleave, but not to any understandable meaning.
And Thierry finally notices that the drill’s rotation has taken him from David—David from him? The geography says one thing but Thierry’s instinct begs to differ—to Robert, who’s squinting in the sun and dallying with the ball at his feet, as if he’s not quite sure if Thierry can be trusted with it. People who talk to themselves may have problems with grasping the concept of passing something on, after all.
“Nothing.” Thierry runs one hand over his head, catching his nails in his hair again. The heat of the sun on his head and the sweat soaking up from his scalp mats it horribly together, as if his body were trying to armor itself in reality.
Robert blinks, shrugs. Kicks the ball over, then makes a mock rush that nearly chips Thierry’s legs out from under him because Thierry is not paying attention, because he’s too busy having the long-distance monologue again. Damn it. He knows he’s in Paris and David’s meters away.
Pirès gives him a hand up. Thierry gives him the ball back afterward, since he’s the one who didn’t go down. “I’ve forgotten all about it already,” Thierry mutters. “Why is it the good things slip away the fastest?”
“So you end up missing the things you wouldn’t ever have normally, just to be fair to them. Or maybe too fair,” Robert answers, for some reason. His eyebrows raise a little and he rattles the ball between his feet a bit before trying another pass to Thierry. “Sorry, I heard just enough of what you were saying to have to point that out. La Ligue isn’t heaven, you know.”
This time, Thierry dribbles a perfect arc around him. They switch places and a slight twinge of annoyance has Thierry backheeling his pass. “I was talking about—”
“Hmm? Missed that part.” Robert doesn’t quite steal the ball back, but he does knock it from Thierry’s feet. “Personally I’d take a new country over a jail of a club.”
“Marseille?” Thierry trots after the ball and loops it back.
One bounce and Robert has it settled, heeling nicely alongside his toes. He looks at the ball with a frown on his face, as if that’s not enough, and suddenly Thierry has to smile. “Completely ridiculous. I don’t know where those people learned about running a club, but—”
He pauses. It’s Thierry’s turn to blink, shrug. Poke at the ball and unsettle it, and in doing so make the other man look at him. “I think I missed that part.”
The corner of Robert’s mouth quirks, slow and dry-humored. “Didn’t talk about it yet.”
* * *
He was gone too long, you eventually have to tell him. Things happened and things didn’t happen that should have, that had to have if you were going to stay, and he missed it all.
And he says no, I wasn’t there but didn’t I call enough? Aren’t there phones and texts and emails now? I thought the world’s shrank too much for that to matter anymore.
And you say, yes, the world is smaller. And still I couldn’t find you when you should have been there, so I taught myself to do without. I don’t like it, I don’t do it well, but—
He’s never liked the word ‘but.’
They comment on it at national team practices, you going as he comes, and you shrug like you’re doing more and more these days and later Robert does wonder, while he’s vaguely near enough to you to be construed as aiming the musing, at the wisdom of trying a second foreign country when the first didn’t work out. You tell him to his face that he said La Ligue was miserable these days, and he laughs while looking the other way. Not that he denies his own words.
He mentions Juventus might be looking at him too and you say you’ve heard just enough to have to—and he laughs, looking at you this time, but not aiming for you. You’d like to say that things are unique, that connections and laughter and ease are gifts of chance and cannot be replaced, but
You’re beginning to learn the difference between irreplaceable and irrecoverable. You are recovering.
You’re going to England. And he is not. And he is a wavering image in your mind, not fixed in one form.
* * *
Robert got Thierry’s number after some national team advert meeting Thierry can’t really recall, only remembering that it’d been in case of a mix-up in directions. Thierry gets Robert’s when the other man calls him for advice about housing in London.
“…it went through? It’s all done?” Thierry says instead. He sits down hard on a chair that is actually against the other wall, and thus adds a string of curses instead of saying ‘that’s wonderful, you’ll love it here.’ Or ‘did you know I thought it’d be Madrid? I didn’t think—’ or any number of other stupid, thoughtless, shallow knee-jerk replies. The cursing’s probably better.
*…well, if you’re that opposed to the move…* But the little snort at the end gives Robert away. He laughs off Thierry’s pained, half-stammered explanation and waits till Thierry gingerly creeps to the chair. *Yes. Yes, it’s all decided.*
And they talk about flights and dates and a thousand other things, and at one point Robert might have said something along the line of ‘good that you’re there, because I needed to call somebody’ but Thierry’s just too anticipatory. He can’t control his feet, they keep wanting to walk kilometers into the future that by now he should know isn’t decided. That he should know not to count on, to build on, to stand on before any leap of any degree. Well, he’s still young. He doesn’t want to know what it is to hold back yet, to not be sure that that reserve won’t be drained too by the time he calls on it.
He forgets that he still doesn’t really know the man, that they’ve only begun talking in multiple-sentence conversations on topics that do not have one-word summations and that even that is only in the strange bubble-space of three, four days in the colors of Les Bleus. He forgets that one lonely text he sent Robert after a really bad spate of tabloid stories about Marseille, he forgets the absence of the lack of response to that.
“I’m happy you’re coming,” he tells Robert. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll show you it all.”
* * *
You won World Cup 1998, Euro 2000 together. Somehow this fools you once again into thinking that those ties, that that huddle of grown-up, ridiculously happy men on the grass is something written in stone and time. And when you first meet him at Highbury, you in your trainers cursing the English drizzle spattering on your bare head and him staring up through a spiderweb of wet hair plastered over his eyes—he’s not looking like a shorn lamb anymore, you think—it does seem the same. You’re filled up with something you can’t even say, and it’s all you can really do to point and look, and his uncertainty and near-fear of the unknown comes out clear in the way his hands slope into his pockets, the stoop of his shoulders, the down-angle of his gaze.
When they give you the trophy, after you’ve worked your blood and sweat and spit into the ground and feel as hollow as a dry egg-shell, you don’t even know what it is for the first moment. Your world’s been your—no, it’s smaller than your team and the other team. It’s been the ball and the green beneath it, and the electric sense of other presences moving around you, and then they give you this shining golden small thing and you have to look at it like what does this stand for, are they giving me this instead of the victory. And you do think for a second that no, no way, that cannot even be a trade before you finally come to your senses and smile and reach out for it.
You looked at Highbury, when you first came here, almost the same way. You’d forgotten about that—because Highbury is home now, because home is not surprising and startling and perhaps shocking—till now, after you’ve jogged onto the pitch a few steps and turned and found Robert still stuck at the edge. His mouth is closed but his eyes are wide, wide open and drinking it all in, and you go back to him meaning to laugh, make some joke but by the time you’re there, it’s as if you’ve walked into that past to that moment. And so you have to stand there, and maybe eventually your arm goes around his shoulders just as a sort of, well, what you do when you can’t say anything. You did the same thing at the Euro final.
* * *
Juventus suits David fine, it seems, and Thierry will admit to a moment or two of looking in the mirror and wondering why, and a moment somewhere when he was frustrated about something else but careless enough to let that spill over when he felt bitter. But it’s easy to forget that time now, when he knows for sure (he thinks) that this is the place and that patience will repay—is repaying him, that as long as he works that it will all come. It’s so easy again.
But that was just a year ago, and so when Robert walks into the dressing-room after watching his first English match with that frozen look, Thierry remembers enough to go over and sit with him on it.
“That is crazy. That’s ridiculous. Somebody will break my leg the moment I go out there,” Robert says.
“No, it’s just English. No, your leg will be fine. No, you can run faster and turn quicker,” Thierry says.
And then when he starts playing, and halfway through the first-halves of the matches Thierry is looking for the pass and instead sees a graying, exhausted face:
“I know how you do this. When were you born again?”
“Arsène knows how fast it goes here. Believe me, he includes it in the training. And you’re not old. Look at Vieira. He’s embarrassing you…Robert…Robert…no, no, if you want to get back at me for that, you’ll have to catch up first.”
They do both know Patrick, in some ways. And Arsenal has a large squad, with a spectrum of ages and experience and personalities. And Thierry came a year earlier, already has other friends. But instead of shaking out to their respective age brackets, hobbies, mentalities, what-have-you, there’s a signing day where they’re at the same table together and Robert suddenly says, “Bobby.”
“What?” Thierry looks around, peers through the sloppy line wending towards them.
Something flashes white from behind the dark strands that now curtain off the tops of Robert’s cheeks. “Call me Bobby. ‘Robert’ makes me remember your tender age.”
“Bobby.” It rolls right off Thierry’s tongue, rich with half-hearted annoyance.
“You do know Patrick’s younger than me, don’t you?” Robert finishes his signature and rises, his eyes emerging from his hair into the rest of Creation. He looks like a person now, and not so much a phantom, a shadowy thing occasionally drifting near Thierry.
Thierry frowns, some vague memory stirring. But it muddies the waters in doing so, ruining the image he’s trying to recall, and in the end he just has to think that once upon a time Rob-Bobby wasn’t so dark. But then again, he didn’t know Bobby before Arsenal, so what does he really know? What is he really remembering? “Of course. He doesn’t play up next to me, though.”
“Bad form for the captain to collapse at halftime,” Bobby snorts. He nods at the next person in line and reaches out for the shirt they’re clutching; his hair swings back, shading him from Thierry’s view. “I’m going to be starving when this is over. Where are you going after this?”
“You know,” Thierry says casually, thoughtlessly. Truthfully, though.
* * *
You think it might be there again, shyly shaping itself between the two of you, but you’re not as young as he says you are, and though you and David have long since made truce and moved on, David’s still there at every Les Bleus meeting just in case you forgot the last time you made a few assumptions about the constancy of man. And also he still is a little strange to you. You thought for a while there at the beginning that—
--but he’s been growing his hair longer and longer, and you have dug out your old photos so you can compare and know that yes, he used to look at the world clear-eyed and brazen and unshielded as well. You’ve shaved your head, but you know by now how to slide mirrors across your eyes when you have to, let the world reflect on itself and not on you. So you do wonder, when he’s talking and jogging alongside you, with handfuls of strands waving and falling between you.
You talk so much that you wish it only depended on that, but talk only can carry so much before the words crumple in on themselves. And you wish that you could know everything by the way he chases you on the pitch, the way he can cut away and back and then come up ahead of you just where you need him, but you know even that can fade. Even that can fool a man, give him reassurance about something that does not exist.
* * *
“You never speak English,” Thierry says in French. It’s a conscious switch; unlike with the others he always feels the slip from one tongue to the other with Bobby.
“I do. I just ordered our coffees.” Also in French.
Yes, Thierry knows. He just saw it and heard it, heard the fuzzing of the consonants and the half-suppressed lilt and the awkwardness of the pauses. But, he wants to say, if they’d gone to the café Bobby likes, the one with the French waiter. But when they’re giving interviews, but when they’re on the streets of downtown London, but—
“Only when you absolutely have to.” Thierry wishes he could stop thinking right here, just turn off his mind. He knows where he’s going, unfortunately.
Bobby frowns, his bangs throwing a swath of shadow over both eyes and half his face including most of his mouth. His words seem to slink out of the dark, puzzled and dazed by the unaccustomed lightness of the room. “I want to be clear when I say something, and not get in trouble for what I don’t mean, and not have to repeat myself. With French I know exactly what I’m putting in words.”
“Yes, I know,” Thierry says. Obedient to the sympathy he can’t help having with Bobby. Irritated because he wants to say: but we’re in England and it is English here. But I’m in England. But I’m in England and I don’t know where you want to be, when you always speak French. But I’m sitting here and looking at you and all I have is your veil and your French words and I’m not sure where you are right now.
He hates the word ‘but’ now, too.
* * *
You’re angry with him, when you finally sort through your thoughts and find the fear underlying them. Angry that he would go forward and then back, angry that you might find another promise broken and you don’t have other countries to run to anymore, you think (Spain, Spain, she tempts but deep down you like the dance, not the dancer). You’re getting older, you’re getting tired of uncertainty. You don’t want to have to learn how to change again.
So you’re angry with yourself, too. You never wanted to throw a curtain around yourself, wrap out the rest of the world, but you think you’re doing it now and you think you’re doing it because you have to. You never looked back till now and you aren’t quite yet, but maybe your head is turning, just a little. And maybe it feels like that shadow that you know is following close to your heels is starting to bleed, just a little, to run before you as well.
* * *
“Where’s Le Bob? I thought you two had only three hips between you,” David says.
And Thierry says: “David. Hello. How are you.”
David stares back for a while, the breeze whistling down past them through the tunnel. Then his eyes wince, his mouth twists hard like it never did when they were young, elastic, healable, and he holds out a hand. “Sorry, Titi. Hello yourself, welcome back to France, now let’s go grab some water bottles before the others stick us with the leaky ones again.”
“You’re not so different,” Thierry says after a moment, laughing. Awkward, mouth quirked and quirking the sound, but he means the arm he slings over David’s shoulders. Water past them, and the past is gone but they haven’t been left with nothing, it seems.
“Neither are you, no matter what you think.” David’s still quick to smile, quicker to suggest bad ideas. They have a good talk between them, catching up on what can be caught up with and pushing aside what gets in their way.
* * *
But it wasn’t the same in the first place, you learn right then. Playing next to David again, feeling the old connection hum back to life, you suddenly know that you knew the ball was coming but that you didn’t see him coming, that the silhouette swooping into the edge of your vision hadn’t necessarily had a specific shape back then. Because now it does. And it’s jarring to raise your head and see David.
* * *
Bobby never wastes words. “You’re avoiding me.”
Well, Thierry doesn’t either when he doesn’t want to. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
Though maybe when he’s angry he speaks too fast, phrases things so they come from the wrong places and views. Which makes him more irritated, makes him wonder if he even knows himself anymore, to be making such slips instead of saying what he really wants—he blows his breath out through his nose, hard and fast, and nearly walks into the wall. His palm does hit it, and he knows that Bobby is staring at him, and that just makes the words even harder to find.
“I can’t--talk to—” You, but Thierry can’t even see who’s there. And suddenly he’s had enough, and he just turns and—but of course Robert’s a professional athlete and has eyes besides, and isn’t going to stand still while Thierry comes at him like that.
Robert flinches back, and Thierry has to calm himself down. He makes his shoulders loosen and tries to wave Bobby back with a half-stiff wrist.
“No, no, come—no, just come here. Just for a second. I just need…to…”
And finally, Thierry can put up his hands and push the hair out of Bobby’s face, and he does remember these eyes. He does, even though he knows he wasn’t looking for them back then, the last time they ever saw the unshuttered light of day.
They look at him, wide and dark and slowly filling with incredulity. “This is it?” Bobby says.
“No,” Thierry snaps, too quick. He grimaces and starts to pull his hands down, but Bobby reaches up to hold them in place. A few strands drift down across Bobby’s nose and Thierry absently sweeps them out of the way. “No, it’s not. There’s—but at least I can see you, even if I don’t know where—don’t know who—even if this is it. If this is where it stops.”
They’re standing in the half-shade thrown by the building, one side of Thierry cold and the other burning up now. He can smell the pitch from here, crushed-grass scent sharp on the breeze, and also the fumes from recently-running cars. He’s finished with Les Bleus for the week (for a quarter of the year) but they’re not yet back to London and Arsenal, not yet anywhere. And Bobby takes him by the hands and pulls them all the way into the sun, the white light slanting over the film of sweat on Bobby’s brow, the high ridge of his nose and the little creases in his lip, and kisses him.
* * *
You actually buy him a headband at some point. It’s a bad joke, too full of serious meanings, but he turns it in his hands as if memorizing the lines of it.
“Couldn’t you see me?” he asks.
“I wasn’t sure—”
“Didn’t you know?”
“I—” you say. And “I—” and there was a time when I didn’t, I know there was and I don’t remember how I lived that time and I don’t know how it’ll be when I no longer know, but I know that time will come. And you raise your hands.
He looks at you, through four years of calendar-time and countless units of however living-time is counted, and through David for you and at least a few for him, and not the least through thick locks of hair. Looks at you.
“I’m being silly,” you admit.
“No.” He shoves the headband somewhere and takes your hands. “No.”
“We know. I’ll know, too,” he says, and you know looking at him that he means it, and that whatever happens later, that will never change. And perhaps this is how you can somehow impress this into time, so it will last in some way. And for now, you simply are it.
* * *
“I’m not cutting my hair,” Bobby says firmly.
Thierry shrugs, tries to crush his smile. “I like it this way, actually. Now that it’s just hair.”
Bobby’s eyebrow quirks. He bounces the ball on his toes, waiting.
“You look…softer,” Thierry finally says.
Thierry’s already lifting his foot, feeling his legs tense up before the explosion. “Talk to me about it when you get up to my speed.”
If he wanted to, Bobby could. But instead he wings a pass to Thierry, and it’s as good as a reply. The shadows are creeping up on them with the hours, but the ball in the air is still bright.
* * *
Tu es là