BY EDWARD DRAKE
IMAGE BY PAUL QUINN
Everybody has a fault, a flaw that lingers throughout their life,
a weakness that they wish they could change.
This is mine.
I cycle home, my usual everyday exercise, seven miles home at a steady pace. With all my work gear in the rucksack hanging on my shoulders, the layers to stave off the cold, and the poor, rusted condition of my bike, it is still gruelling and I arrive at my flat covered in sweat. Reaching into my pocket I find my set of keys, a bunch of over ten, four needed just to get into my home. I enter the block, carrying the keys in my mouth whilst my hands lift the bike up the stairs. I hurry, knowing I need to get in, have a shower and something to eat before going out again in fifteen minutes.
Walking up the stairs I pass one of my neighbours, Mrs Grainger, who is struggling with her shopping. I offer my help but she declines. Leaving my bike at the top of the stairs, against the door to my flat, I quickly head back down and help Mrs Grainger. I carry her bags for her and help with her keys for the locks. As she catches her breath on her sofa I help put her shopping away in the fridge and cupboards, having assisted her before many times and knowing my way around her kitchen.
After finishing I pace back up the stairs, my legs weary already and I begin to dread football that night. Entering my flat I throw my sweat soaked clothes into the washing machine that begins to thunder to life as I jump in the shower. The hot water cleanses and refreshes me, but most importantly it makes me ready for the next lot of exercise. Drying off I pull on my shinpads, socks and the dark green shorts and shirt of Forest Green FC.
In the living room my mobile phone rings and I see it is my sister calling. I know she has been going through some tough times as of late, yet another boyfriend treating her wrong. I answer and we talk, going over her problems and I try to give her a shoulder to cry on, despite being over a hundred miles away. When she says goodbye, feeling better, I check the clock and see I am running late already. Grabbing my bag, filled with a bottle of water, an energy drink and footie boots with moulded studs, I head out.
Fifteen minutes down the road I reach my destination, Power League, a five-a-side football centre. As I near I receive a text message on my mobile from the others telling me we are on pitch five so I skip the reception and head out to the caged pitches. Inside is a five-a-side pitch, made of synthetic grass and tiny rubber infill, surrounded by a low wooden wall in front of a fence that rose up to form a cage.
I find pitch five and enter through the gate, locking it behind me. The rest of my team is there, already warming up, but I see that there are only six of us, five to start with one as substitute. We are not the best team in the league, but we can put in a strong performance against any team we face.
They greet me and I pay my share for the pitch hire and ref costs before stretching and then beginning a light job to loosen and warm up my muscles. Our opposition appear and after a few minutes the ref appears and whistles for the game to begin. I feel good, up for the game and we begin well, taking an early 3-0 lead. I score two of the goals, both using what we call the Arsenal technique, two of us play the build-up before I burst forward onto a through ball with only their keeper in my way.
I have always been quick, having sprinted for my school and county when I was young. In my childhood and teenage years I was always hyperactive, running around, playing sports and basically always active. It helped in my adult years, my pace still quick and remaining active through my football and cycling. As I entered my twenties I found that this hyper-activeness came at a cost.
The first half continued and thankfully I felt no signs of my problem arising so I pushed on, playing my normal fast and hard tackling game. I am not a dirty player, but I was taught to be a defender by my older brother and father, their motto; ‘if you don’t get the ball at least stop the player.’ Perhaps it is an aspect of our Scottish heritage.
We finished the half 4-1 up and chastised our keeper for letting in a soft goal. I down my energy drink, knowing it will help stave off any ill effects that may rise, despite not feeling that anything is wrong. However, one of our players, Tommy, has to go off with an injury, meaning that we now had no sub. I know as long as I keep calm and do not over-exert myself I should be okay.
The second half begins and it is more of a struggle than the first but we still come out on top 5-3. I clash with one of their players, a huge brute who looked like he would be more at home on a rugby pitch, who smashed into the youngest of our team, Chris, crushing him against the wooden wall behind. It angered me, but I concentrated on the game and avenged Chris later in my own hard challenge. It earned me a booking, but it stopped him picking on Chris. Still, we were the ones to come away with the three points which is always welcome.
As I collected my bag and finished the bottle of water I heard my name called out from the pitch next to ours. It was Jonathan, a mate from work. He had watched my game and hurried over to the cage’s fence once the game ended. His team were short by one and would forfeit if they could not find a fifth player. I was tired, my legs weary and I knew the risk if I endured another fifty minutes. I asked if there was anyone else, from my team as well but all declined. There was no choice.
Hurrying over to Jonathan’s pitch, I pulled on one of their blue and white striped shirts and readied myself. I was covered in sweat from the first game, my knee cut and bleeding from the challenge with the one who hurt Chris, but I would carry on. At the back of my mind though my fear lurked, afraid that my problem would surface, overwhelm and take me.
We kicked off and I took it slow and easy to begin with. As the game went on though I could not help but be drawn in, my instincts taking over, the love of the battle taking over. Our foes were a lot tougher in this game, better skilled and more disciplined. They had three subs too, meaning that they could swap their tiring players for fresh ones whenever they wanted. We had no subs and struggled on, becoming ever more drained and taking knocks from our hard-hitting rivals.
By the end of the first half we were fortunate to be 3-2 up, and that was purely down to some impressive work by our keeper and last minute tackles by myself and Neil at the back. As we took on water at half-time it was then that I noticed my hands. Despite my best efforts I could not stop them tremoring. My stomach knotted as I knew that the shaking was the first sign. I then remembered that I had not eaten that evening, helping my neighbour, showering and speaking to my sister during my time at home. It was stupid of me. I should know better. I can barely play one game on an empty stomach, let alone two games and cycling to and from work. The copper taste came to my mouth, the foul taste of pennies.
The ref called for the second half to begin, and without a sub I could not abandon Jonathan’s team. I could not let him down. He does not know of my difficulties, no one does. I have kept them to myself for years, this secret staying buried deep inside. As the game began I knew I had to take it easy and just carry on, fighting off the rising darkness.
We continued to battle away, defending again and again and barely having a chance on goal ourselves. I feel it build behind my eyes. I feel it grow and spread at the back of my brain. The copper taste began to intensify. I must have asked the ref at least twenty times how long was left, annoying him endlessly, but I prayed that I could hold on. I breathed deeply, cold sweat spreading over me and I ran less and less. I still tackled hard, my instinct still driving me, but I could not sprint, knowing it would push me over the edge.
Finally the whistle went for full-time and I did not even know what the score was. I grabbed my bag and ran to the centre’s main building without speaking to anyone. They called for me, I could hear them, but I could not stop. I ran inside and headed straight for the changing rooms, barging everyone out of my way. My eyes had clouded in tunnel vision, but I knew where I was going. Entering the toilets I threw myself into a cubicle and locked the door behind me.
It then claimed me, taking hold of my entire body. It was like a lightning storm across my brain. Every muscle in my body cramped, a booming in my head deafening me and my eyes clamped shut as I fell onto the dirty, urine soaked floor. My jaw was clamped shut, blood pouring from my nose and ears as my body shook violently. Then the darkness rose and carried me into unconsciousness. My curse claimed me.
I awoke three hours later, lying in a hospital bed. I recognised the nurse, Maxine, nearby as the one who had treated me when this last happened. She filled in the blanks. Jonathan had followed me and my body shaking, pounding against the door led him on. Climbing over the cubicle wall he reached me and unlocked the door. An ambulance was called and to the hospital I went. Lastly, Maxine warned me to be more careful, my seizures becoming worse every time they took hold.
When my energy levels fall, through lack of food or over exertion, my body ceases up, overwhelmed by the strains placed upon it. It shuts itself down for my own protection. It horrifies me each and every time. Once it takes hold there is nothing I can do and I have absolutely no control. It leaves me a shaking, quivering mess, an absolute state and a broken shadow of myself.
I take precautions, eating right and not exuding myself too much, but sometimes it simply cannot be helped or avoided. I will not let it run my life for me though. For years I have fought it. For years have I have kept it a secret. For years I have endured alone, not wanting my curse to be a burden on others.
Copyright. Edward Drake. 2011