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Open Features: At The Soccer

Marianne Hall brings us another story featuring that extraordinary character, Petronella.

Petronella never missed a game of soccer. Willem played goalkeeper for Wits his old university. She maintained she knew more about the game than anyone else. Take the
matter of “off-sides” for example. Why they bothered to have a referee on the field when she was around was anyone’s guess.

The stadium was packed. It was the final game between Wits and Sundowns. Petronella sat at the edge of her seat, eyes peering over her brown horn-rimmed glasses as she watched every move.

“Off-side!” she screamed, shooting out of her seat and waving both hands in the air.

The referee, who was blowing his whistle, stopped halfway, turned in her direction and gave her a withering look.

“Sit down!” The command came from a short thickset bullock of a man, a beercan in his hand. He jerked her back into her seat.

“Keep your hands off me!'' yelled Petronella, swinging round ready for action.

“Lady, I paid for this seat and want to f…..g well see the game.”

“So what!” exploded Petronella.

“Eff off, woman,” interjected his friend, exhaling cigarette smoke into her face.

Petronella had just opened her mouth to retort when a cloud of CO2 entered the cavity and made its way down into her lungs. She coughed, then wheezed, then sneezed. She could not get her breath and felt as if she were choking.

Someone grabbed her around the waist and gripped her firmly. Now she really could not breathe and started going blue in the face. The hold was released and an enterprising
person hit her hard on the back so that she doubled over and her glasses fell off her nose so that now she could not see. The tears were running down her cheeks as her breath came in gasps and snot and mucous trickled from her nose. Someone thrust a pile of tissues into her hand and she blew and blew and wiped and wiped. She was handed her glasses and put them on and, slightly restored, the gasping stopped.

Petronella took a deep breath.

“It’s your fault,” she screamed, pointing an accusing finger at the man with the cigarette.”

“Me?” The man feigned amazement.

“Yes, you. You blew smoke into my face. I’ve a good mind to lay a charge against you.”

“For what?” He was clearly amused.

“For assault,” said Petronella firmly. She fumbled around in her handbag and found a piece of paper and a pencil.

“I want your name,” she insisted.

“Captain van Staden of the South African Police,” answered the man. “Here, I’ll write it down for you.” He took the paper from her.

Petronella hesitated. A captain in the police, she thought. She would not have a “kat-se-kans” against this man. He probably knew all the angles. She grabbed the paper.

“Never mind,” she said. “I think I feel better now.”

As she turned around she saw that the players were all grouped around someone on the field who had obviously been hurt. As they separated she saw to her horror that it was
Willem lying on the ground.

“Willem, my kind!” she hollered, hopping down the stand. “What have they done to you my little boy?”

She was to learn later that Willem had been distracted by her antics on the stand. Two players, rushing forward intent on getting a goal missed the ball but connected with two small balls neatly tucked between his legs. He simply buckled over and was out!

The referee would not allow her on the field.

“He’s my own flesh and blood,” she screamed. “What he feels, I feel.”

“I doubt it,” answered the referee, winking at the other players.

She was not allowed into the dressing room, either.

“Men only,” said the steward, barring the way.

“There’s nothing you’ve got, that I haven’t seen,” screamed Petronella.

“Lady, you’ll never see anything I’ve got. I’ll make sure of that.” He slammed the door in her face.

Stella arrived. She was in the middle of a Tupperware demonstration when the call came came through.

“How on earth can someone get so badly hurt, particularly there?” she asked. She wondered if this would affect her sex life, perhaps make Willem sterile, something to
look forward to. Stella was a Sagittarian and had a very optimistic outlook. Think of all the money they would save on contraceptives!

She threw Willem’s gear on to the front seat of the car so that Petronella had to sit at the back. They followed the ambulance to the hospital.

“Wait here,” ordered Stella. “There’s nothing you can do.”

With that she marched off with the Sister.

Dejectedly Petronella sank into one of the chairs in the waiting room. An elderly man, dressed in a Madiba shirt, a brown pair of trousers and shining black shoes was sprawled comfortably in a chair and was just on the point of dozing off. Someone, Petronella decided, had to be told of the anguish she has been through.

She dragged herself out of the low-lying chair, walked across to him and nudged him on the arm. He awoke with a start and then gave her a wide Afro-Colgate grin. Encouraged, Petronella perched on the chair next to him and was off. Rat-a-tat-tat…. in a loud voice and with much gesturing she told him all about what had happened at the soccer.

The smile on his face never wavered. He had the most beautiful white teeth and Petronella was hypnotized by them. Now and then he would give a friendly nod, and greatly encouraged, she raved on and on. She forgot about Willem and told him of the time her drains were blocked and when the dog went on heat. The man continued smiling. She carried on, complaining about her bunions and how difficult it was to find shoes. She was in the middle of telling him about her cat aborting it’s kittens when the doors to the emergency room swung open and a doctor appeared followed by a young black woman very smartly dressed in a red suit. The man next to her got up quickly. The doctor came over and spoke to him and he turned enquiringly to the woman.

“My father does not speak English, doctor,” she said. “He comes from Zaire.”

Stella wondered what had caused the glazed look in Petronella’s eye. Maybe, she’s going blind, she mused optimistically.

Little did she know that Petronella was deep in thought, wondering what type of ballbags she should knit for Willem.


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