The twinge in my leg intensifies as I hobble down the sideline.
I’ve no choice but to step off the pitch, yet again. Because my calf has gotten twingy, yet again. Because I didn’t warm up like I know I should have, yet again.
I pant heavily and curse under my breath. And it is not until later, on reflection, that I know what it means.
A chance to pause
To see what exists beyond the pitch
As I reach the corner flag, atop a small ridge, I have a bird’s eye view.
The first thing I notice is the cow.
Grazing lazily, tail swinging, a metronome keeping time with the breeze. Her indifference fuels me, most likely mocking my seriousness.
Relax, Boss. This too shall pass. We all need to take care of our calfs.
I imagine her saying, in Cow.
A woman tends rows of greens, steady labor and strong back. Oblivious to it all: the rancor of football, the just-off-the-pitch just-off-pitch karaoke singer belting out a Vietnamese standard next door, the six boys giving their all next to her on the makeshift badminton court. Oblivious, because. She has work to do.
It’s not your typical badminton court. Sure, it’s defined by a net, but it sits atop dirt patches, slightly off-level, bordered by farmland, draining into the dark waters of Tay Ho. In the middle of a city of millions.
I straddle the sideline, hobbling slightly and testing the calf, watching the gentle arc of the shuttle, hearing the boys share the score and bark directions (I assume) to switch sides, when one of them looks up and sees me.
Halllloooo! he shouts
Hello! I respond with a smile and a wave
Two of his friends join.
Halllloooo! they offer.
I wave again.
It’s meeeeee! the first boy yells again.
Yes, I see you!
And, just as quickly as begun, the conversation ends. The game, the friends hold more interest than this random, hobbled foreigner.
And the limits of language, as they do, impose their will on our dialogue.
But we all smile
And the pain in my calf seems to have let up a bit.