Saturday, September 29, 2018



“Galamoo!” the freckled, red haired sports teacher roared across the astro-turf, sending flecks of spit in my direction.
I glanced at him nonchalantly, marvelling at how the Australian sports teacher always seemed to withstand mid-winter clad merely in shorts and a T-shirt. Under my wind-cheater, I was wearing two T-shirts, a thermal singlet and was still trembling with cold.
“Galamoo!” the teacher roared again and this time a small globule of spit landed upon my hand. “You’re playing on Saturday.”
I shuddered. Saturday sport, played against other schools, was compulsory at my school. If picked for the team, then no excuse save the recurrence of an arcane and hitherto extinct biblical disease could extricate one from this most holy obligation. The problem was, Greek school was also on Saturday. It was for this reason that a standing order had been issued to all students of Greek descent at our school by their parents: Do what you have to do, feign illness, or general incompetence, but whatever you do, do NOT get picked for Saturday sport.
            The more athletic among us chafed at their manifest skills being subordinated to the rites of hellenisation. More often than not, since feigning incompetence was beneath their dignity, they would allow themselves to be picked, and revel in having been reprieved of a Saturday morning of utter boredom, this, in their estimation, being more than deserving of an ear pull by their incensed parents. They would arrive at school on Monday, eager to regale us with tales of their weekend triumphs on the soccer field.
            I, on the hand, did not have to feign incompetence, for nature had blessed me with complete unco-ordination. Ever since that fateful day in year 5 when the soccer ball came hurtling towards me and I reached out and caught it, I was banned from the field and relegated, like those of my ilk to train for hockey, with an outsize hockey stick borrowed from my aunt, which, while regulation size and shape when she trained in the sixties, was definitely antiquated three decades later.
            Unlike my peers, though it would have been playground suicide to admit it, I loved going to Greek school. During that month, we were discussing Venizelos’ rise to power with a particularly inspiring history teacher with a lisp and I did not want to miss out. In order to make doubly sure that I would not get picked for Saturday matches, I took up the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, rehearsals for which took place, coincidentally, at the same time as after school hockey training. Thus for three years, I managed to evade training altogether, that is, until a brief break in rehearsals interposed itself into my otherwise foolproof routine. Now I stood on the astro-turf, pondering at how fake grass was symptomatic of a fake society, creating abominations in approximation and parody of the Sports-hating Creator.
            “I can’t come on Saturday, sir,” I responded.
            “Whaaaaaat?” screeched the teacher. Shoving his jaw under my chin, he barked:
“Why not?”
“I have Greek school on Saturdays.”
“Oh, you have Greek school on Saturdays,” the teacher crowed, placing his hands on
his hips and strutting around me in an effeminate manner. “Everybody, Galamoo has
Greek school on Saturdays.”
“My name is Kalimniou, sir.”
“Shut up Galamoo.”
“Yes sir. So sorry sir but I won’t be coming. And anyway, why would you pick me?
I’m hopeless at this.”
A hush fell over the field. Striding towards me, he glared at me with his slanted, yellowing eyes, with the intensity of a Beelzebub about to roast the souls of the damned in hell.
            “Listen here Galamoo,” he snarled. “I don’t give a fig about your Greek school or
whatever wog ‘commitments’ you reckon you have. I don’t give a stuff whether you
are the most uncoordinated no-hoper to ever blight my hockey pitch in my entire time
here. If you are not here, Saturday morning, with your retarded hockey stick, bright
and early you will be suspended. Period. Do you understand?”
“Sir, that’s not fair, you’re being racist and discriminatory….”

My tormentor turned purple: “Ten laps around the oval now Galamoo and shut up if you want to avoid a detention every Saturday until the end of the year,” he howled. With that, he turned to the rest of the C grade team. “Hurry up and start dribbling. Unless you want to end up dribbling from your mouth like Galamoo over there.” With a sigh, they, almost as uncoordinated as I, reluctantly picked up their sticks and set to work.
Τι θα πει θα παίξεις το Σάββατο;” my father asked, trying to stifle a chortle that evening, as I relayed the days news. “Έχουν δει πώς παίζεις;”
“Όταν κάνεις τον κάργα, αυτά παθαίνεις,” my mother weighed in. “Ορίστε μας. Πάει
χαμένο το ελληνικό σχολείο.”

The next day, seething as I threw my books into my locker, I felt an arm on my shoulder. It was Bruce, a fellow hockey trainee, about as enthusiastic as I, about his chosen sport.
“What a drainer,” he offered. “I reckon it’s below the belt getting picked on for having to do wog things as a wog. I mean a wog is as a wog does, right? My pop was in Greece during the war. He hid out in the mountains with the Resistance and says the Greeks were the maddest of the mad wogs. That guy is getting too big for his boots. He is just sore because they don’t let him coach the proper teams. If I can do anything, let me know.”
It was his evocation of Australian soldiers hiding in the wilds of Greece that caused the seeds of an idea in my mind to germinate. Leaning over, I whispered in his ear: “Actually, Bruce, mate, I’ve been thinking…..If you can get the boys together…..”

Saturday came. I arrived at school bearing my aunt’s relic of a hockey stick, in full school uniform. “Galamoo!” bellowed the teacher, with the tunefulness of a drill serjeant. “Where the hell is your gear?”
“Gear, sir?” I affected complete incomprehension.
“Your sports gear, boofhead,” he replied.
“I didn’t know I needed it, sir. I’ve never actually played on Saturday, so I didn’t know
that I had to bring it.”
“Nice try Galamoo, but you’re not getting out of this one. Oh no! You can play in your
uniform and your school shoes. Now get out onto the field and play, you sneaky little
w…easel” He had caught himself just in time.

We all shifted into position. Unlike us, the members of the opposing team seemed enthusiastic. More than that, they actually appeared to know what to do with their hockey sticks. They huddled around their coach, discussing breakouts and game plans learnedly, and even executed stretches, emitting whoops of enthusiasm as they pranced around the field. We looked upon them, and their shin guards, with incredulity and awe.

The screech of the whistle broke our fascinated reverie, as they sprung into action. Seizing control of the ball, a few short passes saw them fling it into the goal. A short time later, another goal, then another and another….in rapid succession.

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” our teacher shrieked. “Move your bloody arses. Do something!” For no member of our team was moving. Instead, we stood there, tossing and catching our hockey sticks, oblivious to the action around us. Bruce was even whistling. At the outset, our opposing team had indulged in taunts and trash talk as they scored one goal after another. A good deal of hand and butt slapping had taken place on their part. Now, mystified, they looked at us, leisurely sauntering around the astro-turf, me, with my hockey stick held horizontally across my back, like a shepherd’s klitsa, and Franco, the aesthete among us, casually leaning towards the ground, to smell an imaginary synthetic flower. They then stared incredulously at their coach, who was observing us with his mouth open and began to exhibit signs of extreme mental distress.
            It was precisely at that moment that Bruce gave the signal: “Now!” With that, swinging our hockey sticks high above our heads and emitting Whitmanian barbaric ululations in chromatic unison, we charged directly at our opponents and scattered them from the field, our teacher pulling at his hair in disbelief. Ignoring his screams, cries and finally, desperate pleadings, we proceeded to solemnly form up in the middle of the field and shouldering our hockey sticks like rifles, began to chant, each one of us in various degrees of plausible pronunciation, according to our capability, though we had rehearsing all week:
“Say gnoreeze apo tin cop-sea...”

Next Saturday, I was back at the Greek school, studying the Treaty of Versailles. In the two years that followed until I completed high school, I would often afford our hockey teacher a most hearty greeting whenever I chanced to across him, but he would never return it, instead, changing direction, muttering to himself as he did so. I never trained again.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 29 September 2018