So I have a recovering ankle that was recently slightly fractured. And I’m supposed to keep it calm and avoid sports for another 5-7 weeks, I know. But when on the walk home from work a few days ago, those usual kids were once again kicking the ball around in my new neighborhood, I had to indulge. Per their request, of course.
After a few minutes of casually passing the ball around and discussing everyone’s favorite player and club (Barcelona and Chelsea were tied for most popular among the kids), they wanted to see what I was made out of. Yes, my ankle was still early in the recovery. But who can resist five kids yelling “your moves, your moves! Show us your moves!” I had to indulge a little bit.
So as to not let my friends down, I asked for the ball. In my work clothes and nice black loafers, I performed the standard move of making the ball go over your back by sticking it in between your feet and using your heel. It wasn’t my best performance, as the ball didn’t quite finish the rainbow over my head, but the kids still looked entertained. I juggled a few more times, and then – pointing to the dust all over my nice clothes – used the excuse of not being in proper attire to give the ball back. But I assured them I’d wear the right gear one time and we could play a real game.
“When? Now? There’s a park. Where is your house?”
Ok, yes, my house is really close by, but I wasn’t exactly thinking I would change now. I assured them, as I had told them the last time we met, that when my ankle got better in May, I would play with them more seriously, and show them what an Italiano can do.
I see this same group of kids every day on my walk home. Right there, at the first corner leading away from the main university road and into the residential neighborhood. Sometimes they’re just chatting, casually kicking the ball against the wall, sometimes they’re in the middle of a heated 4v4 game. One of them, probably seven years old, speaks flawless English, and is my main interlocutor. Although let’s be clear and reinforce the cliche’: the language of soccer is universal and I communicate just as well with the other kids in the group.
My soccer gang is usually just the first pleasant part of my PM commute. As I walk past the numerous pale houses, kids start popping up left and right – usually about 4-5 per trip – and, noticing I’m a big white ‘American,’ they begin:
It’s a choir of smiling younger kids practicing their favorite English word with the weird-looking stranger walking by. Even if they’re tucked in their house and I can’t even see them.
“Hello, teacher,” some yell out, vastly overestimating my role in their city. As they giggle, some even push farther:
“Hello! What’s your name?”
And of course, leave it to me to be laughed at by the young girls who, upon hearing my name in response, stretch their eyes wide open and put their hands over their mouths, in a state of confused amusement, probably thinking, “that’s a giiiiiiiiiiirl’s naaaaaaaaaame.”