Original Art by ModoGráfico

I’m at the food court of Orinokia Mall, the place to watch the World Cup in Guayana. They fired up the giant TV, so this is a big deal: Tunisia vs. England. The score is 1-1, 60 minutes in and no goals have been scored since that penalty during the first half.

Correction: It’s not a TV. It’s one of those electronic billboards they put on highways, extremely bright, designed to be visible even under direct sunlight. It’s right in the mall’s food court, so you can eat while going blind. It’s so over the top, it’s awesome.

We have McDonald’s on one side, Churromania on the other. Sushi, fried chicken, Italian and a bunch of others in between, but almost no one is eating. We’re here for the game.

The tables are half-empty, even the ones closer to the screen. A family brought Pepsi, plastic cups and cheese puffs of some brand I’ve never seen. I should do something like that. A burger here costs three minimum wages.

The tables are half-empty, even the ones closer to the screen.

Red team (England; I don’t know the name of the players, so bear with me) makes a lob pass, this is it! Offside, false alarm. The speakers are loud, but there’s too much reverberation to understand what the narrator is saying.

I’m doing my best to get in the World Cup mood, but this crowd is dead. No flags, no soccer t-shirts. I’m probably doing this wrong, I should have brought friends and at least root for one of the teams.

My neighbor Daniel, for example, is the perfect wingman for these things. He would have known the story of the players and coaches, results of previous games and even trivia about the stadiums. Needless to say, the guy is a machine for quinielas.

But he emigrated to Colombia.

Ajá! Fault. Direct free kick. Here’s the chance for the red team, white team’s gonna’ get so served.

I’m doing my best to get in the World Cup mood, but this crowd is dead.

He’s going for the hat trick. He’s going for it!

And…

Misses.

Photo: Carlos Hernández

You know who should be here? The old man I talked to earlier. He’s a friend of my parents visiting us from Ciudad Bolívar, and I asked him if he’s seen the World Cup.

“I’ve seen every single game, we need the distraction. You know how everything is, with the prices and all. Eso sí, it’s not like before, when we watched it with our güisquicito.”

Agreed, this is nothing like before.

Besides the huge-ass screen, there’s this Panini booth. The Panini World Cup album was a huge deal in Venezuela. I remember my brother and I trying to complete the Korea-Japan 2002 album, and miserably failing. My dad would do a round every Sunday and buy at least 4 packets of trading cards.

I asked about the price of the album, just out of curiosity.

Eight million bolivars, two million for a pack of trading cards. Forget about the dollar equivalent, look at it this way: You’d need to work for a month at minimum wage to afford just one pack. That’s assuming prices stay the same for a month, which they won’t.

You’d need to work for a month at minimum wage to afford just one pack.

No wonder the booth is empty. The saleswoman tells me that people do come often to buy, but I don’t believe her. I’ve been here the whole game and I think I’m the first person she’s talked to in over an hour.

We’re 90 minutes in, and we’re still 1-1. At this point, I’m rooting for the red team. Might be Stockholm syndrome, but looks like the reds are dominating despite what the marker says.

At 91′, there’s a corner kick. Last chance for my new guys.

Every player is cramped around the goal post, and the ball flies in from the corner. A red hits it with his head, another one is there to take the shot. He’s alone, the goalkeeper doesn’t see it and neither do I, it all happens in a split second.

Wham!

Right to the goal post, the ball didn’t even touch the floor. The crowd goes wild.

The one on the screen, at least.

Here, faint claps. A kid runs around shouting “gooooool”. His parents just look tired.

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