The Prophecy: A World Cup short story
One of the men shifted from foot to foot, wanting to say something; anything. One of the men, standing just behind him, nodded to himself once or twice; then he smiled, stooped to fiddle with his shoelaces, and drew himself upright again. The third man stood silent, and quite still. They had come here to receive food, but they had not come here to eat. No: they were here because of the prophecy.
Hours passed, and the first man could contain himself no longer. He simply had to talk, and so he turned to address the smiling man.
“Is the prophecy true?” asked England. “Is it true what they say about this magic plant? That he who can bear it without pain is the Chosen One?”
“I don’t know”, said Spain. “I haven’t been here before.” Both of the men turned to the still, silent man at the back of the queue. “Is it true?” they asked him in unison.
Brazil looked at them and smiled back, although somewhat thinly. He had long since grown too polite for contempt. “It is true”, he said simply.
“How do you know?” asked England.
“I have been here every four years since the beginning of the prophecy”, said Brazil.
“Every four years!” said England.
“Normally there are others here”, said Brazil. “But they are not with us tonight.”
He looked at Spain. For the first time in a while he felt something – he knew not what – move suddenly in his gut.
“You”, he said to Spain. “I have not seen you before. Yet you smile, as if you know what we do not.”
Just then the door of the kitchen creaked open.
“Hush!” ordered Spain. “The plant is here!”
The three men turned. Accompanied by the steady buzz of a vuvuzela, a plump chef waddled from the kitchen, clutching between his tongs a furiously glowing potato baked hard as a rhino’s hide. Two words in small square print were burned deep into its side; England leaned forward, and read them out loud.
“TOURNAMENT FAVOURITE”, he said.
“Behold the potato of truth!” announced the chef. “All of you here today have been summoned as those most hyped to win the World Cup. He who can stand to bear it the longest shall surely triumph. So states the potato, and its heat reveals all that is in the hearts of men!”
England put out his hands. But as the potato drew closer he feared it more and more; and he was right to do so. It pressed and hissed against the flesh of his palms, and it felt as if he were clutching the sun itself.
“Mercy!” he wailed, “would that I had worn oven gloves!”, and after a few flustered moments he returned the potato to the chef.
Brazil put out his hands. He took the potato in his hand, and stroked it softly, as if it were a wounded bird. He walked up to the window of the café, where he saw the dusk drawing into towards the glass. For a moment, he thought he saw three faces glaring in at him. Germany? Italy? Argentina? Is that you? he wondered. But he looked again at the gloom and saw only the fading tails of fireflies. A mere trick of the light, he thought to himself. Soon, though, the potato began to singe even him, and he passed it back to the chef.
The chef then presented the potato to Spain, who put out his hands – and then allowed the potato to drop past them towards the floor. Whilst everyone else had been looking away, he had slipped off his shoes and socks, and he caught the scalding tuber upon his bare skin. There he juggled it twice on his left instep, then twice on his right, twice on his instep, then twice on his right, again and again, the other men gasping in awe as it hopped gently between his feet, slapping out the same hypnotic rhythm as it went. Tiki-taka! Tiki-taka! Tiki-taka!
This went on for some moments, or some hours; no-one knew how long. Finally Spain, growing bored, balanced the potato on his left ankle, raising it back towards the chef’s waiting tongs. “My goodness”, said Brazil in wonder, as England gulped. “I think that I will be seeing you every four years from now on.”
“Yes”, said Spain. “But before that, everyone will see me on July 11th.”
Picture: Getty ImagesTagged in: Argentina, Brazil, england, germany, Italy, spain
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