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Little Felipe’s pass from midfield was weighted perfectly. The old leather football bumped across the ground kicking up dust and arrived, miraculously, right at Juan’s feet. Juan nudged the ball with his right foot and pushed off with his left, darting sideways. The manoeuvre took Carlos – who was two years older than Juan and by popular opinion by far the best footballer in the school – completely by surprise. He thrust out a muscled leg in a vain attempt to catch Juan as he glided past, but Juan was already well out of reach and only had the goalie to beat. The goalkeeper spotted the danger and rushed forward to close the angle. He seemed to come at Juan incredibly quickly, almost blotting out any view of the goal behind him. But Juan kept his nerve, glanced down, brought back his leg and blasted the ball as hard as he could. He could not have timed it better. The ball shot from his foot, like an exocet missile, passed right through the goalie’s legs and buried itself in the corner of the old, tattered net suspended behind the goal. Juan did not even have time to celebrate – his team mates were all around him and soon he was face down in the dust with all of them on top of him in a great pile laughing and shouting. Even though Juan was at the bottom of the pile, and his face was in the dust, he had a big grin on his face. It was the first time he had smiled for a long time.
“Juan!” It was his mother’s voice. She had left the door of the old Ford Fairlane open and marched across the sun-parched park to where the boys were playing.
“Juan!” She called again. She was cross. Juan wanted to stay and bask a little while longer in his glory, but there was no escape. He gave a little wave to the others, grabbed his school bag and trotted off to meet his mother.
“You are a mess!” She said. She licked the end of her fingers and tried to wipe the dust from his face – a habit that particularly annoyed Juan and one which had no noticeable affect but to smear the dust into lines of sweat and dirt. He tried to lean away from his mother’s hands, but she was much too strong, and repeated the manoeuvre until she had convinced herself that it was indeed making things worse rather than better.
“Come on then.” She said. “We’re late – you were supposed to meet me at the school... and I find you here, playing football. Get in there.”
Juan hung his head as he got into the back of the dusty old Ford. It was a hot afternoon and even though all the windows were down, the car was baking. It smelt of hot plastic, sweat and his mother’s perfume. As soon as he sat down, the back of his legs stuck to the seat. His mother started the engine and the car rolled away from the park and onto the road that would take them out of San Rafael.
“Why can’t I play football with my friends?”
Juan spotted his mother’s blue eyes in the mirror as they glanced back at him in the rear seat. They were an odd mixture of anger and sadness.
“We have explained to you many times, Juan, it is OK to have friends , it is OK to play football... but you must not get too close...”
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