If only we’d come prepared, I thought when we came across the soccer field on the potato farm, seemingly by accident.
But I was the only one who hadn’t. As it turned out, the Costa Rican men I’d hiked with that day in the Prusia sector of Volcán Irazú National Park had been well aware our path would lie this way. They pulled out a jersey here, a football there, cleats from everywhere, and picked sides almost wordlessly. It was a ritual they’d undertaken hundreds of times since childhood.
I hesitated by the fence, but the one who’d invited me along that day made a quick gesture with his hand: in you go.
“Is she playing?” one guy asked my friend, quietly.“Claro, mae”, he replied, “of course.” I realize now that he truly wasn’t trying to score points: his automatic response came from a deeply pragmatic sense of fairness I would come to know quite well.
Amidst the exclamation points of my 20s, I felt the ground shifting that day. Amidst the had-I-only-knowns of my 40s, I can see that on that day, at least, I did know. That’s why I paid such close attention to the way he included me, throwing a foreign non-athlete among his oldest friends without a second thought.
Of course, there were limits. Had I known that 1.5 decades later, there would come a year like one long day, one endless disinfecting; that pickup soccer, lazy day trips, even friends would all be gone; that there would only be the slog of building a job out of sheer will while my student husband cleaned and parented and let me attempt it… had I known all of that, I might have understood it better. Understood why, in all the excitement and newness, all that really mattered were those words: “Claro, mae“. Of course she plays. Of course she tries.
I wasn’t much good, but I ran so hard that day, grinning through those thick Cartago mists. We played our hearts out, he and I. Still do.
Text by Katherine Stanley Obando. Photo by Pamela Fuster. Our Sunday series, Media Naranja, collects short love stories with a Costa Rican connection: romances or friendships or family relationships; love of humans, animals, things, places, concepts. To share your own ideas for stories to be featured in this space, write to us at [email protected].