Nostalgia had always left me with a mystifying melancholy, and every time I was asked to recall that gusty August afternoon that same feeling persisted.
As an eight-year old, football was something my coach forced me to participate in. I was told that I had sharper reflexes than most of classmates possessed, which made me ponder if it was a boon or a bane. Reluctantly, I was thrust upon the duties of keeping goal during the match against our neighbouring school. We had played them several times that year and beat them convincingly in quite a few matches. But the stakes were tremendously high for this match, all Independence Day cup matches were. Our school boasted a repertoire of hosting and winning the tournament seven years in a row now, and we were on the verge of eclipsing the record set by our rivals quite a few decades ago. The match kicked off midst sunny conditions and beautiful clear skies. The mountains draped the clouds like a warm sweater in the background. I was left with minuscule work at the posts; the defence was shaping up to be very effective. We dominated much of the first half but hadn’t got a chance to score as yet. A soft drizzle surprised us, and then morphed into a sharp shower making it impossible to grip the turf.
Deep into the second period, our coach instructed me to ask for the ball and kick it deep into enemy territory. Our forwards were tall and had a good chance of heading them at goal. I called for the ball and took a stride to get set to kick it. The pitch was muddy by then and the small drains acted as speed bumps on the otherwise smooth surface. The ball took an evil bounce and sailed over my foot as I swung it ferociously. My heart sank along with the realization that the next second was going to be disastrous. The white orb trickled into the bottom corner of the net and screams of joy erupted from the opposing stands. My legs gave way in the embarrassment of the moment and I fell heavily in the muck. In the distance I could hear the faint whistle amidst the roar of celebration. Time was up. We had lost and I was to blame for it.
I sat there in the dirt, the horror shadowed me. The rain felt cold against my skin but I didn’t care. The trauma was such that tears refused to flow from my eyes. A soft, reassuring pat greeted me on my shoulders. I looked up and saw a sympathetic grin etched across my coach’s face. He pulled me up and explained that it happened to the best of us. I wasn’t listening and eyes peered down at my feet; I feared my team-mates for what they would say. We had lost because I couldn’t kick; we had lost because of me.
I still have haunting nightmares from that afternoon. Playing football in the rains always took me back to that unfaithful day where the sky was glum and the rain was piercingly hurtful. We have laughs over the incident now, but at the back of my head, the guilt never died.