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Machote leans his elbows onto the bar and nudges his small glass of brandy a little further towards the red, plastic box of serviettes. He looks at the serviettes with rheumy eyes as though trying to decide whether or not to take one.

“I thought cricket was knocking wooden balls through hoops,” he says.

“No,” you reply patiently. “That’s croquet.” It is surprising how many Spaniards think the same.

“Then it’s that game that’s like baseball,” he nods slowly, tentatively. He shifts his weight a little on the barstool and turns his unshaven face towards the sunlight streaming in through the finger-smudged glass doors. The air-conditioning unit groans and rattles above the window, dripping water into the street.

“Not as such,” you say. “Not really like baseball at all.”

Machote frowns at his glass, brandy yielding little pleasure these days. He sniffs and takes one of your cigarettes without asking. “I’m stopping smoking,” he says. He rubs a grimy hand over his chin. It is an unforgiving, red rash of raw skin.

“You’ve shaved off your beard,” you say.

He shakes his head and turns away now from the sunlight. “I lost it,” he says, “in a bet. I bet it against a glass of brandy and lost.” He tries to smile but his face is unable to produce the gesture. Maybe it’s not his face but something unrelenting, deeper inside. “I bet my beard that Spain would lose this morning,” he said. “And, of course, they didn’t.”

“You see, the difference between cricket and baseball…,” you begin, but Machote interrupts sadly.

“I don’t know how you play baseball either,” he says.

So, where to start? What to tell him?

“The game starts in the morning and goes on till half past six in the evening. They stop for lunch and tea. If it’s an International it lasts for five days.”

“That’s bollocks!” he says, reaching for another of your cigarettes, which he slips behind his ear for later. He looks up at the television. Japanese cartoons and a news flash flickering across the bottom of the screen. Artillery fire across the Cashmere border between India and Pakistan.

“They’re dangerous bastards,” grunts Beef Tea from further down the bar, flicking his newspaper, annoyed at being taken half way across the world and into a situation he doesn’t understand. And then, “Give me a beef tea.” Suddenly he stops, glances at the clock and rectifies quickly, “No time…., better make it a Nesquik.” A boiled sweet is placed strategically into the corner of one of his hollow cheeks.

And you wonder what he could possibly have to do that was so pressing.

 “Imagine football lasting for five days,” Machote grins into the brandy you are going to have to buy for him, “You’d die of boredom.”

“You sometimes do in cricket,” you admit.

“That game with hoops?” Beef Tea pipes up, uninvited, from behind you, top lip curled away from the scalding surface of his hot chocolate. He’d have been quicker having a luke-warm beef tea.

“That’s croquet,” Machote informs him knowledgably.

Beef Tea stands, or rather sits, corrected.

“Is it?” he says, more interested now in savouring his sweet, milky drink than entering into a discussion with the likes of Machote. Or, you fear, you. He begins to stir the hot chocolate rhythmically, his bony hand stiff, the movement made by the flexing of his wrist alone.

“Look,” you say to Machote, “Do you want me to tell you about cricket or not?”

Machote looks up at you as though seeing you for the first time. “Not really, no,” he says. “Fuck that!”

So you are left alone with your memories of Sobers, Kanhai, Gibbs, Hall, Hunte, Butcher and you think what wonderful names they had: Garfield, Rohan, Wesley, Lance, Conrad, Basil Fitzpatrick… No wonder that with a simple name like Paul you had been such a useless opening bat. Mind you, at that time, the English team had been made up of pretty common names, all things considered: Geoff Boycott, Kens Barrington and Higgs, Ted Dexter, Jim Parks, Fred Titmus. Maybe Paul was too posh for the times. Strange. It’s like the Colombians in bullfighting. They always have weird names too, names like Washington Rodríguez, Wellington López, Emerson Gutierrez, whereas the Spaniards are called José, Miguel or Julián. You think of sharing this with Machote, but only for a moment. He is smoking seriously, like someone who is not sure when they will get the chance to smoke again. Then suddenly he looks back towards you, takes the cigarette from his mouth and holds it between his thumb and his forefinger, the end cupped in his hand. He looks at you, his face sad and apologetic.

“So what do they use the hoops for?” he says. 

16 May 2010
Keywords: Laughing Fish (2)
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