I don’t know how to explain this perfectly, I wish I could, but I have never been especially good at speaking and writing English literature. Strangely, the feeling of not been able to fully describe this state of mine intensifies the pleasure it gives. I could choose to call it a dream come true, but if I did, then I would be guilty of insincerity, because I have never dreamed it before – frankly, I have never dreamed this big in my entire life.
Some few weeks back, I was just one very reserved and easy going student in my small ordinary Department in the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University. Although, then very few of my class mates knew my name. I couldn’t blame them, because to them, I was just another nerd in the class, in fact I was more like a drawback to them because ever since our one hundred level days, I never participated in most of the activities they, in conjunction with the Class Governor organized. But now, whenever I walk past any group of at least two students in my entire school, I would distinctly hear one of them saying with enthusiasm, “Hey see him, before he walks away, that is Damil”, then I would feel faces turning hastily towards my direction. On several occasion, these burrowing stares would not desert me until I am completely off their sights. Sometimes, particularly ladies walking with their boyfriends would take the pain to say an exaggerated ‘hi’ and some would add ‘congratulations’, and I found it an herculean task to be delivered from the deep smile that would be imprinted in my fragile heart while I let my face and lips express a casual proud ‘thanks’. Who would believe what suddenly happened to me? Who could? If it was written in a story some thirty years ago, people would have smiled and commented ‘Nice Story’ and ‘lol’ but no one would really have believed that something such as this could actually happen in our eighty four year old Nigeria.
It started five months ago, precisely the 9th day of February – just four days to Valentine. I was feeling extremely sick at the love atmosphere in my hostel room that Tuesday afternoon, far gone were those days when only ladies talked this much about the Love day, now guys were incessantly talking and planning what they intended doing. And since, Valentine had become a very great day of celebration, most of the guys in my room couldn’t help talking about it, the good reason behind this being that they all had their girlfriends to talk about, and that automatically eluded me from their discussion. I walked out of the room before I died of boredom. The next room appeared quiet and I entered to get relief.
Bamidee was the only one in the quiet room and even he was preparing to go out. Seeing his sport bag and track suit, I guessed he was going to the Sports complex.
“’Zup man?” he said as soon as I entered, simultaneously displaying a beautiful set of snow white artificial teeth – the teeth job was the trend now, although the ear job, nose job and feet job were still invoke too. The teeth job surgery had become very rampant and I considered it stupid because any sane observer would still get to know that the fixed teeth are too good to be yours. In fact, all the new ‘this job, that job’ thingy to the body is nauseating, meanwhile most average Nigerians have already turned their entire body into something else in their desire for fashion, as it has always been.
Bamidee talked me into going to the football field with him, and he even offered me his spare boots when I grinned that I didn’t bring mine from home.
“I would like to see you play football, Damil”, Bamidee said on our way to the field, after I had told him I was not completely bad at football, even though I knew that he doubted that, I could read his mind saying, ‘Is there really anything you are not completely bad at?’
The Sport complex would have been a thirty minutes walk from Fajuyi Hall, and maybe half of that time if we boarded the free Rollder; the new automobile device that looks like a car with an open roof, it glides along the road, it’s route is usually attached to the road side, used in administrative environment and for short distances only. But it took just ten in Bamidee’s Toyota Bacriba IV, 2040 edition. It felt too cold for me, because the air conditioner in it dispensed more breeze than the cool air conditioners of the local commercial transport which I was used to.
I watched the game for about forty minutes before the coach finally invited me to substitute an injured player. I wanted to refuse the offer to play at first, because it appeared that I was going to be the most fragile player on the pitch. But considering the sacrifice Bamidee made towards my coming there, I scurried towards the vacant position on the field.
All the other players stared at me repulsively, as if I carried a sack of excreta. I hated their demoralizing gazes. As much as I loved football, being exceptionally good at anything had never been my forte, the opposite was. So I told myself that there was no way I would show off on this pitch. It was only after two minutes of my play did I realize that I had so quickly broken my own words.
One of the biggest men on the field, who they called Augustus ran into me when I got the first pass, and before my mind reminded me of my resolution, I had quickly tipped the ball in the appealing space between his two legs. He grunted and tried obstructing me from overtaking him and getting the ball spinning ahead of him, but he was slower that a snail, because he’d already let me race past before he realized what was happening.
“Amazing!” Someone shouted among the other players, but the shout I savoured in my mind most was one that said, “Jesus!” and when I turned, it was the coach himself.
Ben J wasn’t going to spare me for disgracing his friend on the field, he rammed into me like an angered bull in the sheep skin of wanting to tackle mildly and defend, but his mistake was miraculously revealed; he limped on the left leg – the limp was very imperceptible, but I just noticed it in that instant that he added more pressure on the right leg while he ran.
I lobbed the ball over him in a rather too cheap manner, but he could have reached it if he stretched further by a hair’s breadth. People on and around the field snickered loudly. Ben J got balance and raced after me whilst I thought I had gone past. His coming the second time wasn’t friendly at all, and I was only lucky to notice him approaching before he got to me. I kept tipping the ball towards left, so we raced all the way after the ball to the line that demarcated the field from throw-in, by then, he was inaudibly panting vigorously. I slowed, and when he thought he had caught up with me, I passed the ball to Sheba.
“You are dead meat” He grunted. That was the expression that had replaced the common ‘God punish you’ people say some thirty years ago. So I smiled and muttered, ‘God forbid.’
Before the end of that match, the coach had had his fill at watching me play, he reeled forth and back with laughter as I dribbled, passed and displayed skills on the pitch, thus I had become an enemy to many of the other players, but I did not care since I wasn’t planning to play football again (with or without them) after that day.
Bamidee kept disturbing me every day after that to go to the pitch with him, but my NO remained unmoved, he even told me that the Coach himself wanted to see me, but I turned deaf ears to that too, until the next Sunday evening after the 12 hour Valentine’s Eve programme was finally over in school. The bald, stout Coach himself turned up at my hostel door and appealed that I attended the next Tuesday’s training.
I went constantly to their trainings and they soon formally recruited me as one of them. In less than four weeks, we had won three local competition cup and we became more popular in the state.
On the 13th of March, Coach Kesh came to my room with another Coach who I later got to know was in charge of registering nigerian players to represent the country at the FIFA world cup. Filling forms and submitting passport is all I can remember doing before a call came in two weeks after that I was admitted for screening.
I passed the screening examination and found myself among about three hundred other young footballers like myself hoping to be chosen to be among the representatives at the World Cup level. The Nigerian Football Assosiation (NFA) had instructed the Coach to pick just about fifteen players among us to join the standing Super Eagles team in the World Cup.
Perhaps, the difference between myself and the 299 other aspirants was that I didn’t care about any of the fuss. They talked soo much about ‘getting there’ like the guys in my room in school would talk about girls. My thoughts rather was basically how to make everything right, for I was missing more classes and tests everyday and my GP was crying bitterly for attention by the day; although it wasn’t as if I had ever been a brilliant student though. My parents too were very much unaware of my football career and many times when I was in Maiduguri and Garafa State, they had the notion that I was on my cosy bed in campus.
What we did when we met anywhere we met; myself and the other aspirants, was just practice practice practice while our supervisors took records of our daily performances. Everyday, at least four people were eliminated.
When the final list of the accepted fifteen came on board, I was in about to write PSY301 test that morning and so I was skimming very hungrily, trying soo hard to swallow every detail I had failed to read while at the training camp. A call came in from Coach Keshi.
“Congrats son, you are now in the Super Eagles team”
I shouted like a roaring lion, the excitement I never knew was inside me busted helplessly and my class mates thought I was mad.
“Now pack your stuffs, you’ll be travelling to camp next tomorrow. Damil, I’m soo proud of you -”
When Coach cut the call, my excited shatter continued shamelessly among those that were seriously preparing for the same test, one thing I did not understand was that, these pupils have read nights and days before today, and at the eleventh hour to the test, they were still reading like crazy, unlike my lazy self.