Argentina Versus France
“Argentina is going to play France,” the mother said.
The father did not look up.
“Will you call him?”
“He does not want to talk to us,” the father said.
Argentina was going to play France, and the people of Argentina were going to pour their hearts out for Argentina, and the people of France were going to pour their hearts out for France, and somehow their boy was going to say that his heart was something that could only pour out to himself, just as he had when he’d left their town, saying that all he saw around him there was death. They wanted to call him up and say, can you imagine the people of Argentina today, can you imagine the people of France, just as they did at every World Cup, dreaming of the places and the people. They were not American, so they did not see those places as foreign the way Americans did. They saw them as places and people they could’ve been, at least the poor countries, and they all wanted the poor countries to win when they faced a rich country, but even so they respected the hearts of the people in the rich countries, since there was space for them to come out too.
They would not say that they did not care that Argentina was going to play France. They would still watch the game on their television. But they would not feel the way they wanted to feel.
The way they wanted to feel was that they knew the world. They knew Argentina and they knew France. That was what the game did for them. They both tried to live in a way that knew those places the rest of the time too, but the game made it easy. It made it effortless. But how could you know the world when you did not know your own son? They did not see the death he saw all around him in their town. If there was a time when they could’ve seen it, they did not remember it. Was it an American death? Their boy had grown up here. Maybe that was what was needed to see it.
“Do you think he will watch the game?” the mother said. She already knew that he would not. He hadn’t been able to watch the crowds when he had been home, even on television. He said that he couldn’t stop thinking about all of them.
They are just people, the mother and father had said. They are going to watch the game and then they are going to go home.
They could not get at what made the boy dissatisfied about that.
Who did he want to be, they thought. Did he want to have a world that was bigger than that of the World Cup? How did you do that? Where could you go?
He had told them that he had to go back to his little room in the city. Where he did not have a television. He had not said to them that he felt their lives were small, but they wanted to say to him – it is the World Cup, and it is a time when we feel big. It is a time when we can all feel big.
“Maybe he will watch it,” the mother said. “Maybe he will go to someone’s house and watch it. Or one of the places where they are showing the game.”
It was nice to think that he would watch it. It was nice to think that they could call him up afterwards and say: The game! Imagine the hearts today of the people of Argentina! Imagine the hearts of the people of France! They were places that the mother and father could not imagine anymore that they would ever go to, but they could go there when the boy’s heart went with them. They were not far from the people of Argentina and France then.
And the boy had been a great one to go to those places with, before he had started to feel this way. He would go quietly, but he would go. Suddenly in his quietude he would say something to make them realize that he was thinking very hard about Argentina and France, as the homes of the people he shared the world with.
He had told them that he couldn’t share it like this anymore. But they didn’t understand. What could he be sharing with anybody in his little room? What did he expect to find? The whole world was waking up to the thought of Argentina versus France. It would be one thing if he said that the problem was America. They could understand that. They could talk about their own problems here. But the distance the boy felt from their town was the same distance that he felt from them, and it was a lonely
and heartbroken feeling to be put in with America like that. They were the three who had come here together after all. Their girl had been born here. But they were the three who had started the adventure together.
“If I knew that he would watch it, I would feel better,” the mother said. “I would say, okay, he was unhappy here but it is because our town is small and he is young and the city is big. But what is bigger than Argentina against France?”
“There is something,” the father said.
The mother did not know if she wanted to hear what that thing
was. She had not been expecting an answer.
“He wants to see if he can get there on his own.”
“He has already been there now for a while.”
“Not the city. I don’t mean the city. He wants to see if he can go
to the place of Argentina against France. To that thing we feel when we
see Argentina versus France, when we see the people and we see that for everything else they are still the people with whom we are alive. Do you know how it is when you are watching the game and you feel very close to the people of Argentina and to the people of France? He is trying to do that by himself, without the game.”
The mother was scared to hear it. Why would he want to do that by himself when they had the game together? They were a family, and they were from one of the poor countries themselves, and if they did not have the World Cup, she did not know what they had. They were already lost in America. They were already on their own when it came to being a spirit on earth, to being more than their weekly earnings and paycheck. The mother secretly believed that America would never be great at soccer because it did not believe in being great at anything that it was not already great at from the start. The people were too sure in their belief that they were already at the top at birth. Still, they were here, and they had a life here. But if they could not be a family together during the World Cup, during the time when the world was in charge, not America, when the language of the story of the world did not have to be the language of America in order for the story to count, then she just did not know when they could feel like a family again.
A man wasn’t supposed to do that by himself, she thought. It was too much for one person. At least if she knew that he was watching the game today, then she would know that he was still aiming for something familiar. She imagined him walking through the empty streets of the city, while the whole world was inside with the game. The father understood, she thought, insofar as he thought that it was just a stage. But what if it was
not a stage? You could not disconnect yourself in a country where there was so much disconnection. You had to soak up the moments of connection, like it was water in a desert. But here the boy was, saying that he could not watch the game because all he could think about was everybody’s lives, and when he got that way, all he could do was go outside and walk.
In her sorrow she wondered what he expected to find out there. It was the same old America that had to be told about the beauty of the
“It is America,” she said. “Back home he would not go off to the
city like this. He would be here to watch the game with us. He would understand about Argentina against France.”
“I don’t know,” the father said. “I don’t know if it is America. Maybe back home he would be here with us, but I don’t know.”
The mother knew that she was grasping, but it felt good to blame the one country that she felt would never win the World Cup, that it felt good to watch go out each time because of the way it won at everything else.
“Anyway it doesn’t matter,” the father said. “We are here. He grew up here. We have to remember that he is not disregarding Argentina against France. I don’t understand how, but he is looking for something that is in those countries too when he goes out and walks through the city. It is there during the World Cup and it is there the rest of the time too. A young man has to look, I suppose. I am like you. I am scared of what he will find. I am scared because for me it is easy – turn on the game and watch the beauty
of the players’ motion. Watch the beauty of their hearts in action. I know there will be goals. Each of those goals will be my heart in action. That is how I can go to Argentina and France. But he goes inside himself.”
The mother felt that she was going to cry. “We had always gone together,” she said. “He is going where he can only go by himself. We used to go together and we would find the whole world there. Even America. But I don’t want to go without him. I don’t want to go if it is without the boy.”
“No,” the father said. “It is not right. We have to watch the game. We have to believe that he will come back to it. He will go all over the world in his mind, but he will come back to a thing like the way they are kicking the ball on the grass in Argentina and in France. And in our country. And in America too. Somehow we have to believe it. He will see that it is still these simple little things. Maybe it is America. Maybe it is America that makes him reach for something way up in the sky, away from us and away from everything. I don’t know. But he will come back to it.”
The mother still believed that none of this would have happened if they still lived in a country that loved soccer. That breathed soccer. Where the people knew where to look for beauty – amongst themselves, amongst each other, not somewhere far and above and out. Those were their people. If the boy had grown up among them, he would know that he did not have to carry the weight of what he was looking for by himself.
She thought she would cry at the sight of the teamwork of both countries. It made her think of the boy. He had never wanted anything for himself. He had never been occupied with the things that boys were occupied with. But he had always cared about the game. He had always watched it in a way that took in the world.
“We have to watch it,” the father said. “Because he will come back. Right now soccer is not enough for him. He needs something more direct. He needs to see Argentina and France in the faces of the people. I don’t mean the people from those places. I mean the thing in their faces that is in those places too. That is how I understand it at least. That is what I think he was trying to tell us. He did not hate the crowds at the game. But he needed to see them one by one. I don’t know how long he will need to do that. But we have to believe that he will come back to it. And we have to believe that when he does, he may say, what about Argentina versus France? What about that game? We have to be ready for it. We have to be ready to tell him all about it.”
And as she had known somewhere inside her that she would do all along, the mother turned on the game.