After Ross Gay. After Eusébio.
Everything had burned. And then: a game, an aria.
And what a party we had, out on the Liberdade with thousands we didn’t know we loved, didn’t know loved us back, didn’t know we needed, didn’t know were always there.
And how we needed those throngs, car horns, horns of all shapes and sizes and pitches, unaware children, too-aware men, roving and confused in their elation. All of us: immovable and unstoppable, unbroken.
You and me: sweetness in our ears, honey on our bread, glorious views in every direction, comfortable and secure; contained in madness.
Me and you: alone out here, so far away, so close to the water we could swim back, we could try, we could sink and live on the currents, live on whales’ bubbles and giant turtles. We could go anywhere, you say. What about the moon? Of course, you say. I believe you. What about Alaska? Of course, you say. I believe you. What about Vermont? Of course, you say. You love Vermont. We could teach at a school that makes their students work for food. We can live on a mountain. We can kayak up river, down river, doesn’t matter. You say we can do anything. I believe you. I believe you when I miss fried chicken, good fried chicken, and you say we can move back to Chicago. And I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know how to say it. I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here, on the Liberdade, with you forever. I want to feel your dress against the noise. I want to hold your hand as we look up at Marques de Pombal.
Keep it together. Keep it locked down. Keep your eyes on the cops, standing on the curb, watching, texting. Keep your eyes on their waists. Keep your eyes forward, don’t ask for trouble. Don’t give them a reason. Remember where you are. Remember their handsome faces. Feel confused and lost and out in space, floating, waiting for an asteroid.
Show me the way home. Show me to bed and close my eyes. Let them call for their Champions. Let them dance for history and civilization. Let the traffic jam. Let the horns plead for stillness. We’ll thank them later, if they noticed our faces and noticed something off, something ancient, something pressing and solid, something tragic and stone. If they noticed, we’ll thank them.
Thank you, gold-headed Quaresma, your permanent tears and your delicate toes.
Thank you, Pepe.
Thank you, Rui Patricio.
Thank you, William.
Thank you, Mario.
Thank you, Mautinho.
Thank you, Nani. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you, manufactured Ronaldo, your bronze, your adamantine thighs, your mortal knees, your Achilles smile.
Thank you, braided Eder.
Thank you, dread-headed Renato, Dread-Headed Ambassador of the World. Thank you, thank you. Thank you from Kenwood to Morgan Park, South Shore to K-Town. Thank you, thank you. Thank you from 63rd to 111th and the whole world in between and beyond.
Forgive me, coaches. Forgive my disappointments. Forgive those late nights and stiff legs. Forgive those missed shots, passes, instructions, tackles, breaths, practices. I’m better now. It’s a long story. I hope you forgive me.
And thank you, Dad and Mom, for asking if I was okay, if everything was alright, if I needed help, if that was smoke you smelled, if I needed a ride, if this was the last time, if this was a fluke, if this was something bigger, if I still wanted to play, if the game still mattered, if anything mattered at all. I’m better now. You know the story. I hope you forgive me.
And forgive me, Brother Mike, for knowing you were indestructible, knowing I could never match your speed, knowing I was watching a train dribble the ball up the right wing, knowing I was watching a bomb drop off that right foot, that right foot everyone knew and feared. Forgive me for taking your power for granted. I’m better now. I could tell you the story. I hope you forgive me. And thank you.
All these final acts. All this unfazed breeze.
Thank you, Lisbon, your river and your hills, your tiles and your bacalhau, your diaspora and your kings, your poets, your cobblestone, your midnights, your sunrises, your hangover, your never-ending blue drapes. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to appropriate you in ways I won’t let you appropriate me. It’s a long story. I hope you forgive me.
Gabe Bump is from South Side, Chicago. He currently lives in Florence, Massachusetts. He misses Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Public League basketball.