Time in Paradise
by Suhayl Saadi
In Loving Memory
of Claire Dawar (1953-2001)
The snow wis comin doon hard
an fast, an the pitch resembled a Christmas
cake. Mid-March in Paradise, wi the heatin aff.
Nae play the day. It matched the darkness ae
his mood. Studs hittin turf: a silly boy’s
dream. It wis no jist the apprentices in Aamir’s
Under-21 Squad; hauf the nineteen year-aulds
in the city huid the same fantasy. Slip the
hoops ower yer heid an ye wur in the Furst Elivin,
the rap ae studs oan concrete, singin up through
the tunnel… Aamir Donovan Khan. Fields
of Athenry. Sweet music. The snowflakes made
his skin tingle.
He shoved his honds intae
the cauld skins ae his jaikit poakets an moved
faster doon the trackside, felt the freezin,
still air burn through his chubes. Nae booze,
nae fags, nae clubbin. Days an nights ae runnin
aroon oval tracks. Sivin years, a slave tae
the gym, aimin fur an invisible goal-mooth.
An Irish middle name, Muslim goalposts. His
da huid always been Celtic daft an an admirer
ae that black-haired minstrel fae Maryhill.
Ae swirlin, psychedelic music.
Oan guid days, Aamir wuid
climb the metalwork, right tae the tap ae the
floodlight stand, close his eyes, leap aff an
Ach. He huid tae collect Saraid
fae hur work. The easy genius ae the Walfrid
Lounge. He glanced at his watch. Ten minutes,
extra time. Okay. As he wis walkin past the
dugoots, he saw an auld man sittin oan the Manager’s
bench. Aamir paused. The man smiled. He huid
oan a light-blue woollen greatcoat and a black
workman’s cap an scarf. Bags-an-rocks
fur a face. But he sat erect an his neck wis
a slab ae marble. Aamir joined him. The snow
fell in great sheets across pitch an stands,
an ye cuidnae see the flags up oan the roof,
but doon in the dugoot, it wis quite warm.
The auld guy extended his hond.
His skin wis unexpectedly smooth.
Nae matches this side ae Easter.
Aamir let his breath oot. The steam vanished
intae the curtain ae snow.
Ah saw you
oan the Green, th’othur day.
He thought he’d been alane.
agile, son, an your dribblin an ball-control
are getting there. But you need tae work oan
need to grapple wi them, throa’le them
doon oan the green grass. Bury them in the mud.
Headin, shootin, timin, disguise. Naebdy’s
any guid at that ony mair. In ma day, it wis
Malachy’s words rolled like gravel fae
deep in his throat.
Sixty-a-day, Aamir thought.
An nae burds.
They distract ye.
Aamir looked at his watch. Still okay.
no spottit ye afore, Mister.
been here, Aamir. Watchin iviry tackle, since
ye wur ten years auld.
Aamir shifted oan the bench.
yer da bring ye tae practice.
Aamir laughed, cynically.
In ma da’s
dream, Ah’m an ingineer!
Malachy shook his heid.
say whit they feel.
Aamir’s faither huid brought him tae matches
since before he cuid remember. Aw the seasons.
The Auld Jungle, stondin room only. The blisterin
wind billowin his da’s dark coat, the
harsh rub ae the wool aginst his face. Iviry
week, the same wee, scuffed dimple in the concrete.
The swell an pulse, the wordless embrace, ae
the crowd. The turns ae the game, reflected
in restless light fae thur faces. Back in the
auld country, in the burnin fields ae Punjab,
his da huid wielded a cricket-bat. But here
in Glesga, he’d just sold sweeties an
hennaed his hair. Aamir splayed oot his lang
legs, proaped his elbows oan the quads an palmed
Jist a dream,
The auld man touched the peak ae his cap.
blood beneath this turf.
Aamir looked up. Malachy’s eyes wur shot
through wi red streaks. The pupils huid swollen
till thur wis hardly ony blue left.
Men rose fae the waste-boats ae the west, an
went tae war. Soajers’ soangs. The dead
ae the fields. The rush ae the Brake Clubs,
the close battles wi the Night Men. We cleaned
the sewers an built the tunnels an wi the siller
we made, we suppered the poor weans ae the East
End. An above deathly mine shafts, we prayed
fitba. Goad! Did we play! Wee Grit Patsy, Napoleon
McMenemy, Alec the Icicle, Trooper Joe, Big
Jimmy McGrory an Greetin Malky wi his twa feet.
Rows an rows ae iron men, 2-3-5. Fightin the
Bears an the Thistles an the Edinburgh Greens.
An archin ower it aw, the Big Boss Maley. The
Boss an the Brother dreamed this place in a
wake, an it became real.
the history, Mister… ah mean Malachy.
Paradise gates, Lisbon Lions an aw that. The
smell ae siller. It’s a great weight oan
ma shooders. Aw my life, Ah’ve wantit
my girlfriend, y’know, she works in the
Malachy nodded. Aamir felt dizzy.
But Ah mean,
even when Ah’m wi hur, aw Ah’m thinkin
aboot is the next match, the trials, stretchin
masel, ma breith, ma bones, till Ah’m
He glanced aroon, a wee bit embarrassed. He’d
nivir talked like this afore. No tae his faither,
no tae Saraid, no even tae the bathroom mirror.
Mibbee he wis too fit. Mibbee he’d pushed
himsel ower the edge.
The snowfall wis so dense, Aamir cuid no longer
see the Jungle terraces opposite. Haufway across,
the pitch vanished intae a wall ae white.
Malachy slipped his cap up at an angle an danced
the tip ae his finger ower his right temple.
He almost whispert.
A red scar swung fae his foreheid tae the siller
threads ae his temple. They buttons, the broad,
flip-up collar. Airforce. The real thing. Aamir
shivered, an hugged his chest. His watch wis
deid. He wis meant tae tak hur oot. Saturday
movies. Immortality - hur version. Some love-story.
Kisses an hugs an sair airms fae the blades
ae hur nails. Happy music. Lies. And yet…
This dugoot wis deceptive. The plastic wis turnin
the temperature ae his bum, doon. But somehin
held him. Mibbee it wis the snow. After aw,
he wuidnae be able tae see his way tae the Walfrid
lounge, no through this avalanche. Even the
hawks who watched iviry blade ae grass, even
they huid escaped inside. Six inches, already.
It huidnae snowed like this since…
The auld man goat up an crossed
the trackside. He produced a baw like none Aamir
huid ivir seen. Dirty-brown an scuffed like
an auld, auld face, an Malachy tossed it effortlessly
up intae the air an began tae heid it, an then
tae do a keepie-uppie sequence. Jesus! He wis
troopin aroon the pitch in ancient, clumpy,
leather fitba boots.
whit ye doin?! he caw’d oot, but Malachy
wis deif, or mibbee jist strynge.
Aamir followed, glancin tae
left an right, certain that someone wuid emerge
an toss them both oot ae Paradise. But naebdy
cuid see them, oot there in the centre circle.
Thur wis nuhin else. Jist him an the auld guy
an the heavy baw. An the sky withoot border.
Aamir wis surprised at Malachy’s
agility, coat-an-aw. Christ, if he cuidnae keep
pace wi this auld-timer, how in Goad’s
name wuid he be able tae run wi the cosmo bhoys.
He wis kickin a baw aroon in shin-pad snow:
madness, yet he jist huid tae dribble, an be
tackled an charged, an tae dive an leap an lob
an volley. Malachy moved like lightnin oan ice.
At times, the auld man’s boots wur circlin
above his ane heid. Back-kicks, high kicks,
illegal stuff. Sixty-a-day? Nae waye. An noo
he wis singin withoot openin his mooth. Auld
soangs, deid soangs. The stinkin, sweet breiths
ae Rosie O’Grady fae the wynds an the
lanes an the whisperin, Janefield murmur ae
scratch elivins, an the roupin howls ae prison
ships an coaffin ships an drinkin shoaps. Deid-speckled
ears waftin in the wattered breeze ae Lough
Swilly, Dun na nGall. Foreign stanes. The soangs
ae his faithers, soangs ae the fields ae the
five rivers in the place whur it nivir snowed.
Punjab. The golden sun, the greenin earth, the
sky, burned white.
Mibbee he wis an escaped nutter.
Ye saw those guys. Oot fur a day, tae see the
Bhoys! They wuid scream things like, Left, left,
left! the whole match lang. Aamir sloughed aff
his jaiket. He wis gettin a real high fae dancin
aroon in this sea ae white. The blood wis racin
aroon his boadie, he cuid feel it burn the sides
ae his airms an legs, he cuid hear it tank through
the leaves ae his brain. An noo iviry move wis
near-perfect, the positionin, the coordination,
the timin seemed tae sing fae his muscles. His
da huid told him thur wuid be a moment when
ivirythin wuid come thegethur, aw the years
ae practice wuid rise like a pyramid fae the
hard, winter earth an he, the pitch an the baw
wuid become, wan. The same skin. His da’s
gravestone wis cut fae white Italian marble.
The mason huid said it wuid wash away in the
cauld rain, that black granite wis mair sensible,
but Aamir huidnae listened. His maa mindit the
shoap, while he made sure the grass aroon the
grave wis cut an seedit tae international pitch
standard. Nae weeds, nae cancers. An it wis
odd, but in the year-an-a-hauf since the winter’s
day when his da huid been buriet, othur fowk
huid caught oan, an the white graveslab huid
become a trend, so that noo, in the Cathcart
Muslim graveyard, thur wur three lang rows ae
white an green. Wan day, Aamir wuid carry a
cùach across the hoops ae the cemetery.
Wan day, beneath the big sky, he wuid rest the
siller ower his faither’s hairt an wuid
pray tae the gods an angels ae Paradise.
Nae wurds, nae soun, nae smell.
But a fire burned in iviry cell ae Aamir’s
boady, iviry inch ae skin an muscle an bone
wis in contact wi the air an the groon an the
rhythm which they wur kickin oot. Wan-oan-wan.
His da’s last breith. You’re the
best, son! Ah love ye. Goad be wi ye. The stink
ae cancer. Nae time. An noo, through the fawin
snow, Aamir thought he cuid make oot the wood,
though it looked mair like white tape. Nae nets,
but in a wordless place, Aamir knew exactly
whur the pyramid hovered. Malachy wis dancin
like big Packie Bonner. Twinty yards oot, an
still nae officials. Freedom! Aamir bounced
an liftit the baw an balanced it oan the tip
ae his trainer as though it wis jist air an
skin. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Up in the air, a
world flyin, perfect, roon an roon aw the way,
nae deficiencies, nae cancers, nae deith. Wan
step back, swing the spine an then a full volley,
wi the strength ae six hundred cryin, bleedin
nights, compressed, focussed, directed. Sixty
thoosand screamin Hail! Hail! Wan ae us! But
he forgoat that trainers wur lighter than fitba
boots, an he wheeled backwards through the white
sky an banged his heid. The snow covered him.
The last thing Aamir Donovan saw wis the baw
sailin through the freezin air, passin the dark
figure midway between the goalposts.
A face, above him.
The mooth wis movin.
Aamir blinked, twice. Saraid wis chantin his
name, ower an ower. Rud streaks, an the pupils,
big as the night sky. Movement wis pain. He
wis oan a stretcher oan the flaer inside. Someone
huid rolled up a coat beneath his heid. Fussin.
Ah’m fine, he said, but the words came
oot like music.
Hur hands wur saft oan his brow. The bandage
throbbed an itched an blocked oot hauf ae his
vision. Nae filum the night! But laughter wis
pain. He flopped back, an waited fur the ambulance.
Saraid’s lang, black
hair swung crazily aroon hur shooders. It wis
gae strynge, seein the corridors ae Celtic Park
fae a horizontal position. His lover, silhouetted
aginst the hard stane wa’s ae Paradise.
Things glidin past; lights, signs an the gold-and-silver
frames ae photographs, fadin back as he went
oan, fae colour tae monochrome tae grainy. Disembodied
voices. Noo an then, a familiar face. The notes
ae a soang, risin intae a raag, ae gold, green
an white. Aamir knew that he cuid nivir walk
Oot oan the pitch, when the
snow at last huid ceased tae faw, a groundsman
traced his gloved fingers aroon a crescentic
groove in the turf, right in the centre ae the
goal-line. The gash went straight doon, through
the neatly-ordered catenaccio blades ae grass,
the bone-deep sand, the golden threads ae aulder
pitches, right doon tae the dark-red earth ae
Far away, across the city,
a man dressed in a light-blue greatcoat removed
his cap an knelt before a white marble slab.
He remained there a few minutes, his heid bent
as though in prayer, an then he rose an walked
slowly away through the snow.
The author wishes to thank Shami
Ahmed, Jim Craig, Paul Cuddihy, Adam Dawar,
John Fallon, Gerry Loose, Sam Mirza, Nadia Mirza-Saadi
and Professor Willy Maley.