My Name Is Colin

…and I hate sports.

When I was eleven I joined the school hurling team. Hurling is an ancient Irish sport in which men chase a ball around a field with sticks. I only joined the team because my teacher was also the manager and they were a boy short. He asked me and I said yes. Outside of playing my Commodore 64 and listening to my mother’s record collection that consisted of the Carpenters, Bread and Barbra Streisand’s and Barry Gibb’s Guilty, I was doing little else in the evenings. I hate sports.
My teacher, and now hurling manager, was a stocky pleasant man with a large grey beard, short limbs and was the same height as we were when not sitting on a large old wooden chair behind his desk in class. We called it Grogan‘s throne, though, not to his face.
We played twice a week and I was decidedly dreadful. I was a fullback, so my main function was to prevent the other team scoring, along with the goal keeper. Mark, our goal keeper, and I delighted in our over-the-top double act shows of disbelief and disgust when they did score, which was often. We became good friends and over a period of time, learned how to blame everyone else on the team for our incompetence. Mark was tall, skinny and very charming with over-styled spiky blonde hair that sat upon his long face. He was obsessed with American wrestling; Hulk Hogan was his hero and it was quite often that he would turn on me and place me in a headlock if girls were around.

In March, over the St. Patrick’s day holiday Grogan told us that it was tradition for the school team to travel down to the country to play the team of the school he attended as a young boy. Indeed this had been going on for years. We would don Dublin jerseys, travel to a small town of about 1200 people on a peninsula stretching deep into the Atlantic ocean in County Kerry and play the opposing team. It would be a three day trip and we discovered that the girl’s team was going too. Due to puberty being earlier in some and late in others, this news created both positive and negative excitement. We would also get the honor in marching in the town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
A few days before the trip, in the most off-handed way Grogan explained that we would be playing Gaelic football and not hurling, which I had still not managed to master. No one else cared but to me it was another sport I had no clue about. For a week I practiced on the field across from my house bewildering the neighbors with my inept control of the ball. Playing football to me was like trying to describe a dream–I could never quite grasp it and I always looked ridiculous trying to do so. I asked anyone I could, who I thought might know what the rules of Gaelic football were.
“The same as hurling, sorta.”
“Like hurling but different”
“Do you play hurling? Well it’s in and around the same thing there or there abouts.”

No help. I’ll just wing it.

The plan was that we all get the bus down to Kerry and stay with the family of a player from the opposing team, returning two nights later. Friday morning I stood outside the school with my bag waiting for everyone to turn up. Mark arrived bright eyed wearing his Sunday best, strutting down the street with his hair gelled up like a rock formation on his head. He stank of aftershave and breakfast cereal. How could someone so bad at sports be so confident? At least I had the dignity to not make eye contact with anyone. I said hello and kept my distance. With so many girls around I was likely to end up in a neck brace.

We boarded the bus and began our 6-hour journey to the small town at the very bottom of Ireland. I joined in singing, ate crisps and drank gallons of coke until the roof of my mouth was raw and my voice was hoarse. Somewhere between Mitchelstown and Mallow a girl called Michelle wanted to “get off” with me. I was more than happy to and we innocently kissed each other until we arrived in the town.

Upon arrival we met the families we would be staying with. Everyone on the bus stayed with a family that lived in the town itself, except me. I ended up on a farm up in the mountains a good hour away. I was horrified by this. A tall curly haired woman introduced herself as Maeve. She wore a cardigan and long skirt and even though she smiled a lot I was pretty sure she had no emotions what so ever stored inside.

“Are you Colm?”
“Colin”
“Nice to meet you Colm, you’re staying with me.”

We took a long journey through beautiful countryside while she grilled me for information regarding my parents, their jobs and my eating habits. We arrived at a small house surrounded by broken tractors parts, half made fences and frozen car tracks. Being up in a mountain, it was constantly cold and windy.

I was greeted inside by Seamus, Maeve’s son. Seamus was a ginger-haired, heavily freckled lump of a child. He had pale blue eyes, pink–almost red–skin, freckles on his lips and very large protruding teeth set low in the face, like a middle aged man. Unlike me, he was huge, almost 12 and played on the opposing team. Seamus took it upon himself to immediately start berating me for being from Dublin.

“Don’t steal the Lamb, I know you dubs, you’ll steal anything like,” he screamed in his lilting Kerry accent pointing to an actual lamb in a bin in the kitchen. I briefly thought his horse-like mouth would spring towards me and eat my face. It didn’t, he just laughed hysterically.

Maeve explained that they were keeping a close eye on the lamb because it had been ill so they put it in a large bin lined with a black bag. This, of course, was explained to me in the manner that I was being talked down off a ledge; being a Dub I might just go mad at the farming way of life. Did you hear about the kid from Dublin, they’d say. He went mad and tried to eat the house, they’d say. He couldn’t handle the farming way of life, they’d say. He even stole a lamb, they’d say. You don’t say, they’d say. He did, and he fucked a tractor too.

“What if it escapes from the bin?” I said.
“And go where?” Maeve replied nodding to the frozen mountains surrounding us.

I was then introduced to Desmond, Maeve’s white-haired husband. He seemed a lot older and for the next three days would say little or nothing and just sit in his chair beside an open fire. How he could sit so close and not burst into flames was beyond me.
Seamus maintained the anti-Dublin rhetoric with multiple references to Kerry beating Dublin in the 1985 final. I had no clue what he was talking about but I expressed some false shame and knowing head nods.

“You don’t have a Dublin accent,” Maeve said accusingly, as if I was not from Dublin at all. Desmond slowly nodded with closed eyes in silent agreement as he continued to slowly roast before what now looked like the gates of hell.
“You all have accents,” I heard myself say, not knowing what I really meant.

Silence.
Seamus leaned in and fixed his eyes on me for a few seconds before suddenly slapping my shoulder.
“Oh he’s a Dub alright!!” he roared before reducing himself to fits of laughter.
Maeve hit him on the arm, indicating for him to behave while Desmond chuckled as he packed his pipe.

‘I want to go home,’ I thought rubbing my arm.

Night dropped like a hammer and the silence made every floorboard and door creak feel like the end of the world. The family sat around the fire and watched some television before turning it off at 10 and retiring to bed.

“Alright Colm, let me show you where you and Seamus are sleeping,” Maeve said. I gave up correcting her. Besides, I was more concerned with the phrase “you and Seamus.”

Climbing an old wood staircase, we entered a small room that overlooked the courtyard. It had a short oak wardrobe and a single bed. This couldn’t be right.
“You and Seamus are sharing the bed” she said. It was not up for discussion.
“It’s an early start tomorrow so get a good night’s sleep.”

I looked at her, Seamus, the short oak wardrobe, and the bed and waited for the laughter to come. It didn’t. I was going to propose sleeping on the floor but I suddenly realized that two legs of the bed had been cut short to keep it level due to the slant in the floor, not that there was much room to sleep there anyway.

Before I knew it Maeve was gone and Seamus had stripped down bollock naked and grabbed the side near the window.

“This is my side,” he shouted, jumping in with gutso.

How was this not bothering him? I kept my clothes on and lay down on the furthest point of the opposite end and balanced before the drop to the uneven floor. ‘Don’t touch me’ I kept thinking. I was shocked at how soon he fell asleep. I lay awake most of the night, catching at best an hour of sleep.

The following morning Seamus and I were driven to the town where we would all meet at the club house and get to know the locals before the day’s events. Michelle was making calls from the town’s payphone just outside the front door and she ignored me as I passed her. Inside, the adults huddled together in clouds of cigarette smoke as the rest of us ate crisps and drank coke. Mark seemed highly disturbed.
“How is your house?” he asked.
“I don’t like it, I’m up the mountains and they seem a bit weird. Last night…erm…I had to sleep…” Before I could explain Mark exploded.
“There’s been a mistake,” he said “You’re meant to be staying with me”. He was all smiles but his eyes looked anxious.
“Really?” I was relieved. I wanted to tell him about the lamb and Seamus sleeping naked and Desmond’s apparent immunity to fire and the whole accent fiasco but I wouldn’t have to now. I listened as Mark explained everything.
“They keep asking where the other one is. They had another bed made for you and everything.”
My own bed! Oh the joy.

“We should ask Grogan if we can get you to switch to my place,” Mark said, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the nicotine cloud of laughter and deep booming voices.

Mark explained the situation again, the whole mix up. He was always charming, my mother especially loved him, but at this moment it was a performance that would have shamed the greatest of Shakespearean actors. Hands on shoulders, fake laughing, smiles a plenty. It was something to be seen. When Mark was like this, he could get anybody to do anything. But not this time.
“No way lads, I can’t do that. The game is only a few hours away, besides they never came to me about it.” Grogan was stern and final about it.
“You can’t be serious!” Mark pleaded, towering over him. He looked desperate. His mood suddenly soured.
“Mark, I’ll look into it. For now just focus on the match okay!” Grogan was not backing down.
Mark’s face was red with fury. He stormed out of the clubhouse leaving me alone with the men and their cigarettes. I found him outside, head in hands sitting on the short wall that separated the car park from a large ancient graveyard. It was raining so faintly you could barely notice.

“Don’t worry about it Mark, it’s just one more night.”
Mark just shook his head. I had never seen him so upset. We sat for a few minutes on the wall listening to the boisterous laughter inside the clubhouse. The rain picked up a bit but Mark wasn’t moving. Something wasn’t right.
“Is that true what you said about the mistake?”
He shook his head again.
“Then why did you say that?”
He pulled his hands away from his face. It was back to its pale color but his eyes were bloodshot.
“They’re awful,” he said. “They hate me.”
“Why?”
“When they brought me to the house, we all sat down for dinner. Nobody really said anything to me, they barley speak. Then they brought the food out in bowls and one was filled with all these carrots. When they passed me the bowl I told them I don’t eat carrots and the man shouted, ‘What do think this is? A fucking hotel?’ ”
Mark buried his head in his hands again. “They hate me,” he mumbled through his fingers.
“It’s just one more night Mark.” I decided to tell him about the farm I was staying at. He seemed somewhat relieved. He even laughed about naked Seamus.
“We have to beat them today, I mean really beat them. Like 20 goals to nothing or something,” Mark said, his mood now elevated by our shared misfortune.
“Yeah,” I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster with one hours sleep. I just wanted to go home. 

Everyone piled out of the clubhouse and cursed the rain before we were all taken to a waiting coach.
As part of the trip, much to our surprise before the match was to be brought out to Valencia Island’s weather station to watch the launch of a weather balloon. Mark sulked through the whole thing but I was utterly amazed. It was explained in great detail the height it would rise to and how the balloon would grow far bigger because of air pressure. Once it left the ground I stood for as long as I could keeping my eye on it as it disappeared into the dark morning’s overcast sky. I was last back on the bus. Amazing.
Upon returning to the town, the local St. Patrick’s day parade was just beginning. We changed into our Dublin kit and walked through the town waving at nobody in particular. Mark’s mood had picked up a little with all the attention he was getting. I knew I was safe from any sudden wrestling moves because the parade was passing too fast down the main street for him to have enough time to impress anybody. It was short, fun and most of all took my mind off the previous night and the inescapable fact that I had to play a match in which I knew little of the rules and had close to zero skill. The parade fizzled out, most of the locals hit the pubs but a sizable amount made their way to the pitch to watch the match.

The changing room smelled like every other one I’d ever been in, damp earth-like musk with a tinge of deep heat spray. We donned our boots and stood around Grogan as he told us what to do. I couldn’t understand a word of it. All I had to do was help Mark keep the ball out of our end of the pitch. If we failed we had our theatrics. We walked out to the field to see the other team at the far end kicking a ball around warming up. They really looked like they knew what they were doing. The ground was waterlogged and it was hard to walk through it, let alone run. There was a sizable crowd all cheering on the local team.

I took up position as the right back and chatted with Mark in the rain waiting for the game to begin. The game had been under way for a few minutes before we even noticed. Unlike sports on the television, there was no discernible structure or plan. A large group of eleven- year-olds formed a swarm around the ball and followed it around the pitch as managers and the crowd shouted at us. It was absolute chaos. Suddenly a player from the opposite team broke from the scrum of frantic kicking legs and charged towards our goal. The crowd went crazy as me and Mark looked at each other panicked. It was just the two of us and this guy was getting bigger by the second.

“Run out and tackle him!” Mark shouted, pointing to the oncoming player with a shaky hand.

“You run out and tackle him!” I said defensively.
“I’m the goalkeeper for fuck sake!”
“Fine, I’ll do it then, Jesus.”

I proceeded to run through the sodden pitch and towards the lone player. I had only gone a few feet when I got a good look at him. This isn’t happening! I turned to Mark and my face told him before any words met his ears.

“It’s Seamus, that’s the guy I told you about!”

The shouting crowds were drowned out due to the sound of the rain. Mark shouted back even louder to compensate for the increasing downpour.

“That’s him? Really? You have to sleep in a bed with that guy?”

“Keep your fucking voice down Mark you fucking arsehole, shut the fuck up, shut your fucking mouth!” I screamed turning to the crowd to see if they heard. They hadn’t. There were a few strange looks and odd glances but they had brought them from the pub earlier.

I turned and ran directly at Seamus. His orange main slicked back with rain left his freckled face exposed and determined. A grimace pulled his mouth back showing his gravestone sized teeth. There was no stopping this guy. He was charging at me like a ginger freight train. He had his clothes on, but all I could see was him running at me bollock naked. We made eye contact and he turned slightly to charge at me. Was he smiling? Before contact I jumped out of the way to avoid all bodily contact landing face down. Wiping the mud from my face I turned to see Mark come out of the goal then run back, out, back, out and back again. Seamus dropped the ball to his foot and blasted it straight at Mark’s head. It was an easy save but Mark ducked on the spot, allowing the ball to hit the back of the net. The crowd erupted and Seamus ran back to his team for celebrations, giving me only a sideways glace and a smile as he passed. There was no way Mark and I could pass this off as anyone else’s fault but our own. No amateur dramatics was gonna help us now. The rest of our team just stood and stared at us. What the fuck was that?

This scenario repeated itself in various forms throughout the game until the final whistle blew and although I don’t remember the score I did hear my manager say that it was the biggest loss his side had accrued in the history of the school.

The whole team showered and dressed in silence. Grogan told us we played well but were beaten by the better team and all that stuff you tell losers. It was clear to everyone that my inability to tackle and actually run away from Seamus along with Marks panic attacks lead to an embarrassing defeat. Mark done his hair up with copious amounts of hair gel and I used the aftershave he stole from his father. Everyone spilled out without saying a word to either of us, muttering under their breaths as they left. Alone, Mark and I packed our bags and just sat their in the changing room together.

“They’re giving us food down the pub. I won’t need to eat diner tonight,” said Mark.
“We should head down, they’ll be giving out medals and all that,” I said.
“Lets just hang here for a bit.”
I nodded and settled back on the bench and we listened to the crowds dissipate outside.

On our way to the pub we discovered that the girls team had won. I couldn’t figure if this was good or bad. Would it embarrass me further that the girls won or would it be a welcome distraction? We passed Michelle on the street, she was smiling and chatting excitedly with one of the other girls off her team. I said hello but they ignored us and walked by.
The pub was a cold grey stone building just off the main street with sport banners and Guinness signs hanging outside. Once stepping inside it was hard to find a place to stand without bumping into anybody. Speeches were made, pints were raised, our girls and their boys all got medals. We drank coke and ate crisps and tried to entertain ourselves while the grown ups slowly got hammered. Mark and I kept to ourselves. Maeve arrived and drove Seamus and me back in the car. He wore his medal all the way home chattering about the game.
“You can put them with all the others,” Maeve said at one point. Yeah, you do that Seamus. I envisioned a six-foot gold pile of medals out the back of the house and him lazily throwing his latest on top of it. Maybe someday he would melt it down into a crown and staff and walk about the town or make gold-lined underwear like the underwear he didn’t wear in bed with me. Cheater. He does it on purpose. What kind of eleven-and-a- half- year-old sleeps bollock naked in a bed? Michelle probably fancied him, that’s why she never said hello.

We got back to the house and Desmond took one look at Seamus’s medal and gave a silent closed eye nod. Seamus was ecstatic. Y’done well boy! As Seamus and Desmond bonded over the medal by the gates of hell I checked on the lamb. It just sat there. I’d never seen a lamb before, well not in real life. I wanted it to act like a dog or a cat and scramble to get out but it didn’t. It just sat there at peace, accepting of its fate in the large bin. It would get better and eventually end up for dinner at the table a few feet away.
For the second time , night jumped upon the house when I wasn’t looking. Maeve cooked up a large dinner for my last night. Seamus continued to recount every moment of the match with ever more embellishment. Desmond never lost interest no matter how many times he heard it, like he never tired of piling more logs on the fire. I felt utterly uncomfortable with each retelling.
“…and this fella like, this fella right here right, he runs the opposite way,” Sheaus roared. Desmond closed his eyes and chuckled to himself.
“The rain was in my face,” I offered as my pathetic excuse.
“Not in the second half, it stopped like.”
“The wind was…”
“Wind, rain, for the love jaysus Colm do they play football indoors up in Dublin?”
“Mind that tongue Seamus, you we don’t like any bad language in this house,” Maeve shouted from the kitchen. Desmond nodded in agreement, throwing another log on his towering inferno. The rain outside picked up from a patter to a sharp stabbing at the window but inside it was burning hot.
“It’s Colin!”
“Sorry mam!” he screamed before turning impatiently to me, “What?”
“Get up and help your mother,” Desmond mumbled eyes closed laying back listening to the crackling fire. He left for the kitchen and then returned with Maeve carrying steaming bowls of food to the table. I looked at a large bowl of carrots and thought about Mark and the hotel he wasn’t staying in.

Over dinner we talked about the long bus trip back to Dublin in the morning, if I liked the town, which I did. It was really just a long street that ran all the way down to the sea and was filled with churches, pubs and small family run shops. I had enjoyed walking through it in the parade before the slaughter, but now that we were the joke of the town it seemed a somewhat embarrassing memory.

“Hard luck today Colm,” Desmond sighed as he reached the bowl of steaming carrots.
“Colin.” I said sulking. Maeve shot Seamus a look as she passed him the potatoes.
“Y’know Colm, with the weather and everything, I don’t know…I suppose its kinda hard to…” Seamus struggled to find the comforting words to ease my ego and make the last nights dinner palatable.
“Yeah, Colm…” Desmond chipped in, but he was lost too.

Silence.
“It’s Colin,” I said. Maeve just stared at me chewing a mouth full of pork chops.
“I’ve played that pitch a hundred times or more so I’m well used to it like…” Seamus said somewhat desperately staring at his mother staring at me.
“Colin,” I repeated slowly.
“What?” Desmond said.
“Colin. My name is Colin.”
“Is everything alright with you Colm?” inquired Maeve. She had a worried look on her face.
“My name is Colin, you all keep calling me Colm.” I was breathless for some reason, and shaking.
“But that’s what we said,” pleaded Maeve.
“No, you say Colm but its Colin.”
“Colm, yeah we know” agreed Seamus, albeit mistakenly.
The lamb, naked Seamus, being so far from the town, the embarrassment of losing, the weather balloon getting further away, the parade of losers, and the way the dark just appeared at the door without warning. Everything suddenly seemed so alien. I started banging my hands on the table.
“Colin, Colin, my name is COLIN.” I screamed then spelled it out “C.O.L.I.N.”

Silence, except for the rain on the window.
“I think it’s time for bed,” said Maeve, then she swiftly began collecting plates while Seamus cleared the table.

I buried my head in my hands. Desmond got up and walked to the fire. I could hear him in the silence. I could hear everything.

The last night anywhere is always the quietest. The house creaked and the wind occasionally picked up but besides this there was not a sound. I had been lying in bed for about an hour playing back all the days events. I could not stop thinking of the weather balloon. Were is it now? Would it be somewhere directly overhead or far off over the Atlantic? Perhaps lost deep within dark clouds or soaring high wrapped in stars.

“Seamus,” I whispered. Not a stir.
“Are you awake?”
Nothing.
“You’re a fucking bastard.”
I closed my eyes and slept like a baby.

2 thoughts on “My Name Is Colin

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