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– he had been playing soccer with his pals and would never

have made it in time.

From that moment El and I were friends. We spent the

whole of the autumn and winter together, and because we

were past the age when revolution and suicide seem

unbearably alluring, we had absolutely nothing to do. We

looked for danger the way people go looking for sex, and

hung about at night in the city’s backstreets, getting to

know the vagrants, the skinheads and prostitutes. The

moon was all around, making us look like ghostly lunatics.

The glinting tracks of the railroad were beautiful. We

walked out on to the early river ice, waiting for it to crack.

Really it was sex, only without the involvement of women,

whom I had now developed a penchant for mistreating.

Our interest in the arts wilted. Politics never had interested

us – we would turn up at demonstrations as gourmets of

derision. We were against people, which had consequences.

After El came back from a prestigious tournament in the

Czech Republic, where he won a famous victory, he

dumped sport as if he had just been waiting for this first

major win, this first high-profile achievement, to split. He’d

had enough.

“Sport is just the same crap as boozing, the same bollocks…”

El sank his teeth into a chunk of boiled mutton and

scorching ratatouille.