No último minuto (‘In the last minute’)

It’s a low roller, a humdrum centering shot, and I shout, “Leave it.” I close off the straight line of the ball and fall on it. I feel the ball in my arms and against my chest. I know our fans are going to scream and applaud, relieving their nervousness in that last attack of the game. I have the ball securely and firmly against my chest and, suddenly, I feel that emptiness in my body. I’m holding air. The ball is escaping and penetrating softly into the goal. The ball doesn’t even make it to the net; it just lies there slightly over the fatal line. And I grasp desperately to reach it, pulling at the ball there inside. But it’s too late; everybody’s already seen that it was a goal. The stadium explodes and I feel my own head bursting apart. I see and hear all of that: their team hugging each other, the buzz of the crowd, the fireworks, and our team running to confront the referee, in a useless attempt to have the goal disallowed. I hear and see all that, but it’s like everything is very far away, without any relation to me.

IN SLOW MOTION—Their left attacker, Canhotinho, is so far away from the ball that it looks impossible for him to reach it. Tião, our right defenseman, even stops after he gets beat in the race to the ball. He stands looking at it, from far away, with his hands on his hips. And Canhotinho runs. The pass was so deep that even in the video tape, already knowing what’s going to happen, you can’t convince yourself that he’s going to get there in time to touch the ball. Then it comes over me—that absurd feeling that everything can still turn out differently—that I’ll be able to correct my error. I want to yell louder to Lula or even come out of the goal myself, do something, whatever. But Lula waits an eternity to go after Canhotinho. And when he finally does go, he’s weak and lackadaisical. And the shot comes weakly, completely without any angle. The ball passes through a tiny space, between Lula’s foot and the end line. And I fall on it correctly, just like the textbooks diagram it, all my body protecting the ball. A ball that comes softly, in slow motion. I’m not letting that shot through; I can’t let it pass through.

I grab the ball; it’s secure in my arms and against my chest. We’re going to be the champions. They stop the tape just to show this: how calm I am with the ball. In that instant we’re already the champions of Brazil. But they set the tape rolling again, even slower than before. And the ball, as if it had a force of its own, slips through a tiny opening between my chest and arm. And it rolls, so slowly, weeping, and enters the goal. That’s when I give that ridiculous leap and pull in the ball again. The commentator says it looks like I was pulling the feathers from a chicken.

CHANNEL 3—It’s twenty-two minutes into the first period. My wife sits by my side and asks me to cut off the television and forget all about what happened. “Tomorrow is another day,” she says. Tomorrow’s another day, I think. I’m going to go out in the street and see my picture in all the newspapers lying on the benches: me preparing myself to defend against that shot; me with the ball in my hands; me with the ball lost and entering the goal. Me, responsible for the defeat. Me, the chicken plucker, if they don’t say what’s worse: that I had sold out.

At twenty-six minutes we made the first goal. We only need a tie, but even so, we make the first goal. I’m executing good defense and guaranteeing that our lead will hold up during the first period. If we win the championship, they might even put me on the national team. Because goalkeeping is also a matter of luck—to be in the news. You get to be popular, you’re always in the newspapers, and you end up selected for the team. Otherwise you could be catching bricks shot at you and they wouldn’t invite you.

The first period ended. In my interview with the on-field journalist, I say that if God is willing, we’ll hold onto the 1-0 score, and if it depends solely on me, we’re already the winners. Afterward, I descend the dressing room steps to the fans’ applause. I wave discreetly to the fans, who are screaming—a little early—“the champions, the champions.”

When the second half is beginning, my wife squeezes my hand and looks at me out of the corner of her eye. I tell her to go to bed. I don’t want anybody’s pity. Then she quietly leaves the room. A little later it’s the moment of the penalty kick. Mateus dribbles once and enters the area. Lula comes up and tackles from behind. Nobody’s going to argue with this penalty; it was clearly a foul. This is the worst time for me because in the club there won’t be any complaint against the referee, and it’s all put on me, the whole thing.

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