Author: Guede Mazaka
“Oh,” Deco says. “It’s you.”
He’s not wearing a shirt and his tie is a strangled limp snake hanging from his hand as he props himself up against the doorway. Even then he lists, his eyes unfocused and flickering and his skin looking distinctly gritty with dried sweat and the dust that’s matted to it and God knows what else. His hair is a mess. His bare feet with their brown smears are an affront to the fine carpeting of the hotel room. He needs a shave.
And where the hell is Rijkaard? José wonders as he puts out his hand, touches a shoulder so unappealingly sticky that he doesn’t even want to wipe it off on his suit once he’s pushed by. He ignores the cursing and the protests behind him. He doesn’t care what the hell they say; he’s always cared what they do and…and right now he just sighs.
The bedsheets are off the bed, sprawled pathetically around the table and the chairs. José spots the cord to the desk phone trailing off and walks over to haul it up till he gets the phone itself from behind the desk. He sets it back into the cradle so at least the phone bill isn’t ridiculous.
“I was talking to somebody!”
On the desk is a messy pile of handbills. The glossy, shameless kind; José closes his eyes as he sweeps them off into the wastebasket. Their sharp edges do something to scrape the grime off his hand, but as he lifts it to press its back against the migraine thundering into his forehead, he still feels as if he’s in need of a bottle of disinfectant. This whole room is evidence enough of some plague, some systematic disease that rots from within.
“What are you doing?” Deco asks. He stumbles as he comes after José, his feet tangling in a sheet, and the resulting fall makes José grimace as a coach, as a friend, as a man.
“Shut up.” José walks around him to close the door. Contrary to what they say in the press, he has never, in his whole life, taught a player how to fall. He will show them how to set themselves up, he will teach them to be clever, he will enlighten them to the inevitable, intrinsic impurity of the game—this is man’s match, not heaven’s—but he does not tutor them in the ways of disgrace. That they do themselves, if they are truly bent upon that route.
Deco clambers back to his feet, eyes narrowed, stance cagey, crouching. He looks laughably threatening, with that smear of half-dried spit on his chin. “Did Jaciera call you?”
“This is London. I live here now,” José says pointedly. He means: you are making a fool of yourself and you aren’t even hiding it. He means: this is my city, my realm and I know everything that happens here. He means: I know you still, no matter where we are.
He means: say one more idiotic thing and I will send your ass flying back to Porto as a lesson to Shevchenko on how to kick.
It’s worse than José had thought, the infection. Because Deco throws up his head and laughs in José’s face. A full, deep laugh that shakes his shoulders and the hand he puts up to his mouth more to draw attention to the mocking way it curves up rather than as any gesture to politeness.
“What, coach? Are you here to scold me now?” Deco’s poor feet trip him up again as he giggles and he almost topples to the bed. His balance hangs so carefully, José’s never been more tempted. Not even in his younger days, when he was on the field learning to rely on what he was good at and to not care about the skills and abilities others had so abundantly. “I don’t have to listen to you any more, you dull bastard.”
José looks at him. Just looks at him. There are plenty of words that could be said to that, and there are plenty of words that are rising to be said to that—but there are times when the usefulness of words is long past. And this is one of them, and José Mourinho is not a man to waste effort where he sees no return.
His hand is still dirty. He lifts it, turns it back and forth, and then does it enough honor to give it a sharp nod as he walks past Deco for the third time in ten minutes. His shoulder strikes the other man and pivots him like a door as José passes. It won’t be something Deco, a proud man, will appreciate. Good.
When José washes his hand, he does so behind a shut door. It’s a good hotel, he’ll give Deco that much credit: the door is thick enough to muffle whatever shit Deco is spewing at it. Then to absorb the blow of whatever Deco’s thrown at it. José just concentrates on the tinkle of the water hitting the drain.
“Mmm fucking mmph dick mmmooow Benítez,” manages to make it through the door.
José counts to sixteen. Not the usual number, but then, the gift that sets Deco above the others José has seen is his unconventionality. Pity that it’s so often allied to thoughtlessness and a raging temper—that had been something José had spent many sleepless nights on. Many.
“Chelsea msaaah Benítez.”
The pattern of Deco’s anger, however, is all too predictable. Like most—José knows his own as well, and counts an additional ten seconds off. It used to be fifty-six, but he’s worked on himself to greater success. Then he opens the door. Sharply but not roughly, a controlled quickness that does not set the hinges to screeching or his hand to any great effort to keep the knob from knocking into the wall.
Deco blinks, startled. He’s kicked over a chair and on the floor at José’s feet are the shattered remains of the desk-phone. “Liverpool made you look like a bunch of drunken mechanics,” José says.
“You would watch Liverpool. They cheat better than you,” Deco snaps back.
José looks at him. Then he goes back in the bathroom and straightens his tie. After Deco throws something else at the door, José opens it again. “You still look like a drunken mechanic,” he says. “I don’t speak to disgraces.”
The red that suffuses Deco’s face is not the royal wine of the Blaugrana, but the bright low-class shade of that lousy neurotic Spaniard’s team. “I scored a goal!” Deco screeches.
“And what did you do after that?” José raises his eyebrows. Then he shakes his head and pulls his suit-jacket straight on his shoulders. “‘I scored a goal’…my children say that and jump up and down so much that if they were playing a real game, they would have missed the kick-off. But they are only children and only playing, so that’s fine.”
“Get out of my bathroom.” Deco takes a step towards José.
As always, it merely takes the right look to stop him. The vast majority of people in this world are spineless, José has found. They only act aggressive when they are allowed to, when they think that they will meet nothing that can hurt them. And the most difficult part of José’s job is finding those few who are not like that, and those slightly greater few who can be trained out of it. He cherishes them. He does love them, for what mountains they end up moving merely to have him nod and pass them into the starting line-up.
“I’m not used to being disappointed by you,” José tells Deco as he walks towards the door. Shouldering him aside again, marking him as inconsequential. “I wish I hadn’t watched.”
There’s a sharp breath just as Deco goes from in front to behind him, but José doesn’t look back. No matter how it might hurt him, he always tries never to look back: that is the measure of what courage he possesses, he believes.
“Liverpool were better.” José shakes his head and does briefly wonder if this is some sort of sideways vengeance Rafa Benítez has managed to arrange for him. Its labyrinthine quality would suit that fool, who knots himself up in his plotting so much that it is a wonder he ever manages to make his way to and from home in a timely manner. “They played better than Barcelona. They played better than you. Deco, Liverpool.”
Something snatches at his sleeve; José shakes off the hand. But he has to pause to open the door and Deco tries again, fumbling, smelling unclean and steeped in it, hand on José’s arm like mud sucking at a foot. “Wait—”
José yanks his arm away, hard enough to leave a faint red mark visible on Deco’s palm when he turns it up, still reaching. When José glowers at it, the hand falls—better. But then Deco puts his other hand on the door to keep it shut—worse. He snatches that hand away from José’s sharp smack and cradles it to his chest, looking wounded.
“Is that how you thought you’d convince the ref?” José snorts. “They’re men. They might bow to reputations, to money, to fear, but children don’t have any of those.”
“I’m not a—”
“I can smell the alcohol on you. Go rinse your mouth at least, damn it. I refuse to speak to a wreck—I talk to men, like the referees.” Then José turns away, hands in his pockets. He doesn’t give Deco his back; he gives him his shoulder, so that the other man might know José knows where he is but is making a choice not to see.
After a moment, Deco stumbles slowly away. He runs into the bed at some point—José hears the headboard rattle—and then into the bathroom door so it thunks into the wall. José sighs and checks his watch. He does not like waiting, he prefers to make others wait because he knows the power of human insecurity over a man’s mind, but…he cannot leave this.
He will not stand, anyway. One of the chairs is still properly on its legs, so he claims that one for himself. At first he crosses his legs at the knee, but he doesn’t like the angles at which the arms force his knees and so he uncrosses them. But that is too rigid, too unattainable, and he is thinking about crossing his legs at the ankle when something in the bathroom clatters, followed by a sharp retching sound.
The door to that isn’t entirely shut. It doesn’t take much of a turn for José to see Deco’s bare feet, one jammed into the wall and the other sprawled weakly on its side. That one moves sluggishly every once in a while, toes curling and uncurling, as things splash and flush and rattle. Then it stops, and all José hears is harsh loud breathing. He bends over, arms on his knees, and rubs his hands over his face once.
The foot against the wall turns first, sliding to plant its sole flat against the ground. Then its mate tries to join it, but slides on the ball beneath the big toe; twice Deco has to drag it back before he gets that leg up. His feet briefly point towards José as he walks to the sink, and then pivot away as the water begins to run.
José looks about the room, still rubbing his temple, and spots a bag crumpled against the wall where the front door would hide it when open. He gets up then, grimacing as his back twinges—he isn’t so young now, to be up and running around at late hours—and goes over to poke at that till he turns up a wrinkled shirt, a clean pair of briefs. No clean trousers; Deco will have to suffer through that on the flight home.
When he comes into the bathroom, Deco has just spilled his shaving kit all over the floor. Hair is plastered to his wet forehead, and more water drips off his chin and down his damp chest onto his trembling hands. The hair on the back of his head sticks out in soaked spikes in defiance of gravity.
“Sit,” José orders, and Deco shuffles without ever quite raising his head to sit on the toilet. He stares at the clothes José hands to him, and then when José bends down, lets out a surprised sort of exclamation.
Well, what? José Mourinho has never been too proud to get down on his knees in the mud, if that was how he could best see, could do. When he tells his players to get in there and stick themselves deep into it, he is not playing some know-nothing in an ivory tower. He never asks for what he would not do himself, were he able, and that is why the real ones, the ones good enough to keep, never look at him as if he were some stuck-up lord who knew nothing of them.
Deco uses the toilet’s water tank to steady himself as he stands. His trousers drop around his ankles in stiff, stained folds as José carefully picks up toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving cream. Razor. He steps out of the old briefs and into the new ones, but stands on his trousers as he pulls on the shirt. When José begins to get up, toothbrush and razor in hand, Deco tries to reach for the latter and looks startled when José bats his hand away.
“I need to shave,” he says.
“Yes, you do. You don’t even care about yourself anymore, so no wonder you don’t know what to do with the ball.” José hands him the shaving cream instead, and as Deco awkwardly sits back on the toilet lid, José takes off his overcoat and suit-jacket. He hangs them up on the back of the door before rolling up his sleeves.
He shaves Deco, one hand steadying the man’s chin, having to stretch clumsily every time he wants to rinse off the blade in the sink. The other man sits quietly, with his hands resting on either side of him, fingers curled over the side of the toilet. Occasionally, when José is washing the blade, he shoves at his bangs. José doesn’t bother looking at or into his eyes; anyone who believes those tell the truth about a man’s true state should be consigned to teaching nobody older than twelve.
Deco takes the toothbrush and toothpaste from José’s hand, and stands up and if he does not push, he does angle himself as if to go between José and the sink. “I can do that.”
“Fine.” José wipes the razor clean with some toilet paper and finishes packing Deco’s bag while the other man scrubs and gargles and spits. He doesn’t look when he puts out a hand to receive the brush and tube once Deco’s done with them; he dries the brush with a hand-towel before putting it away.
When the last of the foamy spit is swirling down the drain, Deco straightens and José catches him on the turn with the hand-towel, rubbing till a healthy red flush emerges from the man’s skin. He lays his other hand against Deco’s jaw to keep the man’s head from moving and Deco grabs his wrist.
“You weren’t the only disaster out there,” José says. “It doesn’t matter what you do in football—you play as a team. Win as a team, lose as a team…”
“…fuck up as a team. But where are your house visits to everybody else?” One black eye questions José, its curve gleaming and sharp.
José doesn’t even bother to roll his eyes. “Where is Rijkaard? Do I look like the manager of Barcelona to you? Do I even look like a Barcelona fan?”
He finishes with Deco’s face and takes a few swipes at the man’s neck, though by now the towel is getting too wet to be of much use. Deco still has his hand on José’s wrist, his grip insistent. “Frank doesn’t like to meddle in how we deal with things. He says that he shows us the end he wants and everybody finds their own way to it.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard from the mouths of your teammates,” José snorts. He watches Deco’s eye go opaque and then transparent again. He’s done with the towel, so he tosses it in the sink.
Without that in between, Deco sways forward. José puts the heel of his palm to the other man’s shoulder, catching both smooth linen and skin because Deco hasn’t buttoned it all the way up now. The skin feels clean, smooth, and Deco doesn’t let José turn him yet again. But José doesn’t let Deco complete the swing.
“Rijkaard is a successful manager, his record speaks to that. And anyway it is not my place to tell him how to run his team,” he says pointedly.
Deco’s snort means: yes, I’ve heard things myself. It means: I knew you’d say that. It means: you’re still the same.
It means: you bastard, if you’re still afraid of kissing, then I’ll put my mouth somewhere more dangerous.
José damn well is afraid of kissing, and he’s never going to work at ridding himself of that. It’s a good, useful fear; it tells him things about himself and about others far earlier than any other warning sign. He keeps pushing at Deco’s shoulder.
Deco drops to his knees, his hand pulling down José’s arm with it. He lets go once his head is level with José’s fly; his hands reappear to press José back into the sink, and José threads his hands through Deco’s hair and wrings the last drops of moisture from it. Not that Deco complains, or flinches.
He never did, and though it’s been years and probably will be years again, if ever again, he never will. That, José never taught him.
José doesn’t have to look now to see the way Deco’s mouth reshapes itself around his cock, the strain turning the lips white and the intent way Deco’s eyes never shut. So he doesn’t. His ass hurts where the marble edge digs in, his head is pounding and that grows worse every time Deco shoves him into the sink counter, but he stares straight ahead. The wall is plain, it gives him a model for how his mind should be. His hands never leave Deco’s hair, even when his body sags and his breath shortens for one hanging moment. Even when the chill of the air replaces the hot stroke of Deco’s tongue, and Deco moves his head to pillow it against José’s thigh, holding onto José’s knees as if he, safely on the ground, needed the support.
“Why am I not at Chelsea?” he asks, so softly that José could pretend not to hear, if he wished.
And he does ignore the why Paulo, why Ricardo, why fucking Hilario that never do make it out of Deco’s mouth, because Deco has his pride and will not stoop, even when on his knees, to admitting he can be compared to others. But what has been said, José does answer. He’s not afraid to—words are words, not actions.
“You’re a man, you make your bed and then you sleep in it. I do the same.” He takes his hands from Deco’s hair, giving them a little shake to remove the loose strands that have tangled in his fingers. “Why are you at Barça?”
The weight of Deco’s head lifts from José’s thigh. He’s looking at José, though José is checking his watch. “Because you can play there.”
“Do tricks, you mean,” José says dismissively. The words slice past him as he moves out from between the other man and the sink. They’ve said everything of importance and have moved on to nothings, hence he does not feel this deserves any more of his time. “What you did at Camp Nou is not what I would call playing.”
“Come to Anfield and see,” Deco retorts.
José sees to his clothing, then walks out the door. “I hope I don’t. I want to play Liverpool.”
“Because of two years ago?” comes at his back.
But José’s mind is already elsewhere, on the team that is actually his now and the players who he must care about. Shevchenko, for one: he may finally be coming along, slowly and slower. But the amount of work that must still be poured into him…it is not José Mourinho to shrink from a difficult task, and he does not think anyway that that is the real reason. The real reason is that he simply does not like Shevchenko, with his Italian manners so thickly overlying that José cannot see the man beneath them. Not even in the way he plays, not even then when with others, even with the miles and years in between, and in the middle of a disaster, José can still see…
That is the past, of course. The next time Deco calls in the middle of the night, José won’t answer because this is now, and Shevchenko is different, and José must still find a way, apparently. And he will, because that is how he looks at himself, and so that is how he is. That is José Mourinho.