I wrote this following a dramatic Saturday night tennis match at the O2 between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, November 2014.
A Part of Me
The roar is deafening. The heat dense, hard to breathe. Eighteen thousand in the stands they said. This is nothing like television.
On one side the click, click of a camera on continuous – on the other the sickening smell of popcorn and the swilling amber of warm beer. The ball cracks through the court. Another roar. Flickering lights flash through the crowd. “No flash photography please.” No one listens. The umpire, from France, tries again, this time in French. “S’il vous plait.” Finally, silence
He stands waiting. Calm. No pressure. Bounces the ball once, twice, three, four times. Bends forward, draws back his body curving upwards and powers the racquet head down. Ace. Crowd erupts. Match point saved. Game on.
Stands start to breathe, leave their seats, make their way out. Stretch. Share the experience. Beer spills on concrete steps and someone slips.
I rummage in my bag. I need water. I am squashed on the right by the size of the camera clicker eating a sweet and sour. He shouldn’t. No food allowed they said. He doesn’t care about the smell. I want to assert myself and say you are stifling me with your smell. I can’t. It doesn’t matter anyway. They are ready.
The stands start to settle. Slowly the shifting subsides. I am in row K.
I make a note of that. No need to. It’s on my ticket. I’m near the gangway. I like that. It’s necessary for me. I can get out. Don’t feel trapped.
I have taken off my cardigan. Tied it round my waist and half sit on it. It’s big, soft, comforting, covers the hard edges of the seat. Makes me feel safe. It’s the first time I’ve been to an event like this alone.
I see her fingers, red, tired, swollen. I watch her wind the wool and hear the needles click. It’s hard for her with the arthritis. The light starts to fade and she puts it away for another day. I massage her hands. There’s no need to finish it I say. But she did. I take it with me everywhere. A part of her, a part of me.
Another roar – this time a crescendo. It’s reaching break point – the game, the stands, the endurance. Something is about to give.
Then it’s over.
Later in the cold I go to wrap it round me. It’s not there. I feel around the inside of my bag. I panic. It’s gone.
I lie awake imagining the trampling, the soaking of spilt liquid, the crushed paper bags, the scuffing soles of soiled feet. I see her hands that are long ago gone. I cry in the dark.
I phone them not believing. Blurred voices. Distant music. They put me on hold. Silence. Then they do have something that corresponds to my description. They want to know where I live.
The doorbell rings. I’m still asleep. They leave a card saying there is a part of me awaiting collection.