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Thar He Blows!

God, I used to hate those early morning matches! I never was a morning person to begin with; and I guess I never will be.

You would think, if just in the way of consideration of us coming all the way from where we did, league officials in Metro Manila would give us, at the very least, mid-morning matches. That was not always the case.

When we were scheduled to play early morning matches, it always meant – for everyone – getting up earlier than players from Metro Manila teams would for obvious reasons. We had more miles to cover. Granted, roads had become better in recent years; but since when did travel time to any destination in the big city become predictable?

Last season, the high school team had this early morning semi-final game against Marist School of Marikina scheduled at the Claret School in Quezon City. Since the early days, the boys had always been told to get up early and to make sure that they ate breakfast before leaving their homes for school. Who did that, anyway?

So, as was wont to happen every week in recent years, I would arrive at the convenience store in front of school to get some food and find everyone there either having breakfast or buying food and drinks to take along to the venue.

That morning, we were running a little late; so I told the few boys still left munching on breakfast at the convenience store to hurry up and come along. Obviously, I did not want us to be late for a semi-final.

In school, everyone packed into the rented van and we were soon on our way. The moment we drove past the school’s main gate onto the highway, as I did every week, I hushed the boys up for our traditional prayer for a safe trip.

Now, getting a team of high school boys to shut their traps sometimes needed expletives fired in rapid sequence like bullets off a machine gun. And then we prayed… Go figure.

The trip itself was uneventful – as it was most weeks. Until we were about five minutes away from the venue…

We had a player who we shall call Badong. That was not his real name. Wink.

Badong came late into the team – too late, in fact, to develop enough skills so he could break into the first team. In the old days, I would not even accept juniors late in the school year into my teams. What was the point?

But Badong was determined to stay; and since we were short on players, anyway, I thought there was no harm in him doing so. So he became a utility man, the sort to bring on late in the game when somebody was getting cramps or something. We also taught him goalkeeping basics because we only had one ‘keeper. Just in case…

That morning, Badong was among those boys still hastily munching breakfast at the convenience store when it was almost time to leave. As things would happen, our regular goalkeeper had a college entrance exam on the day and did not show up. Badong would be playing in a semi-final.

Approaching the venue, Badong suddenly spoke up. “Sir,” he called my attention, “nasusuka pô ako…”

“Hingî ka ng plastic bag…” was my reply. He sat directly behind me in the van.

Now count three seconds. One… two… three…

Have you ever seen a sperm whale blow a spout of water up into the ocean air?

That was how Badong’s breakfast ended up on the back of my head, on the van’s windows and even up on the roof. It even got as far as the van’s wind shield, which was remarkable because he was sitting two rows back.

I thanked God and all the saints that I had my cap on that morning. Ditto that I had brought a spare shirt along in anticipation of rain; although, who would have thought the rain would be inside the van?

Momentarily stunned, the boys soon broke out in gleeful laughter; and to pay him back, insults started to rain on Badong. I have seen many things in my lifetime; but few things could beat this in the yukky category.

“Si Sir eh!” Badong even tried to deflect the blame away from himself, “pinagmadalî ako sa pagkain.”

See? Even that was my fault.

I did not even dignify the claim with a retort. I just stripped off my soiled shirt and wiped myself with the dry parts of it. Fortunately, we were soon at the venue; and all of us who were “victims” raced each other to the nearest water fountain.

For the record, we lost the match; and, needless to say, all their goals came off goalkeeping errors. Nobody blamed Badong, of course. It was a big ask of him in the first place to stand between the sticks during a semi-final. That incident in the van earlier, it was probably nerves more than anything.

“Thar she blows!” That was what spotters in front of whaling ships in the old days shouted at the sight of tell-tale spouts of water coming from the oceans. The ships would then give chase to harpoon the whales and bring them on board for their oils.

Badong was one lucky dude that day because we did not have harpoons.

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