This story is by Claude Bornel and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
James Baker couldn’t count how many times he’d heard people say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. But the ups and downs of his journalistic career had proven such statement could be wrong.
Three days ago, he covered the USA’s president visit to London and finished the event a hair from being fired. Broadcasting live from the Parliament Square, he said something wrong and the White House asked for his head. His editor was close to chopping it off, serving it on a silver tray, but had to pull back the ax.
The newscast wanted a Londoner’s perspective about England playing the World Cup semifinals. Baker was the only choice available.
Lightning had struck again in the same spot, but Baker wasn’t excited about it this time.
The episode made him question if he should put up with people looking at him strangely and talking behind his back, or going in another direction with his career was a better move. Those thoughts crossed his mind while he was inside an English pub, microphone in hands, staring at the multitude of people gathered, doubting himself about where to start.
The noise of the crowd was quite disorienting for Baker’s ears. He credited such unbearable acoustics to the lower wooden ceilings and large main hall. The area was far from being full, but the journalist was already annoyed with the overlapping chatting in the background. Somewhere in the room, someone was playing a vuvuzela, and it drove Baker crazy.
“Where do you want to start,” the cameraman said, carrying his equipment on the left shoulder and his tripod in the right hand.
Baker pointed to an open spot by a glass block window, under a lowered chandelier, near one of the corners of the room. They established their foothold there, in between a 75 inch TV mounted on the wall and a table with a family wearing official England soccer jerseys. They talked to each other and looked over the items on the menu.
The customers in the pub had come from their jobs in the city. Baker noticed most of the gents wearing long sleeve button shirts tucked in black or any other dark color pants. For every ten men there, the journalist estimated two or three ladies, dressed in jeans or more casual clothing. Despite the attire, they weren’t less passionate about the event.
“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…,” someone started and a choir followed.
From where he stood, the journalist walked counterclockwise around the pub, bumping into people holding their pints of beer, having to apologize many times. He randomly asked people about their expectations for the game. The answers he collected were pretty much standard for the ambiance and the circumstance: “England is going to win” or “it will be 3×0 for us” or “it’s our time.” After hearing the same answers with small variants, Baker had to remind himself he was there to keep his job—having a beer himself was inappropriate.
Frustrated with the material he had gathered, Baker went back to his foothold and saw again the family at the table again, now with drinks and plates of food in front of them. The family stood out from the crowd, but not because of their dinner.
“Excuse me,” Baker said, with no camera or microphone on, approaching the couple and the two children. “I’m James Baker with NBC. “Can I ask why you brought your family to the pub to watch a game?”
The family man cleaned his mouth and stood up, pulling down the jersey that rolled up over his belly. “They said the Anchor had the best fish and chips.”
“I noticed you are the only ones wearing English jerseys,” Baker said.
“We’re on vacation,” the man replied. “We’re from Brazil, but we live in the US.”
“Why are you wearing England jerseys, then,” Baker said.
“It’s our way to show respect to the house we entered,” the man said. “Also, we like soccer and we know what this game means to the English people.”
“I don’t follow soccer,” the journalist admitted. “But I heard they can be champions again after 52 years, right?”
“Right, but there is more to that.”
Baker scratched the back of his head, trying to decipher the enigma posed by his fellow American while the chanting in the background became louder and more consistent.
“Like the US now, England has been a divided country for the past two years after the Brexit,” the man said. “Yes, if they win this game tonight, they will be in the final. But, most important, this team is helping to bring the English people together again.”
The chant intensified when the TV showed the players lined up, singing the national anthem. Baker witnessed the people in the pub with their right hands on their chests.
They intoned the anthem with the same passion and devotion as if their team could hear them yelling from the bleachers. They clapped and shouted in the end like they were in the stadium.
“I was a journalist in Brazil,” the man said. “I know what you’re going through now.”
Baker raised his eyebrows and opened his eyes wide. “Did you quit?”
“Sort of,” the man said. “News never sleeps, but I was tired of missing my children growing up.”
Baker didn’t have a family of his own but could relate somehow to what his fellow American said. Where the Brexit brought division, the English team gave hope that something good was yet to come. And where the man’s career became a burden, his wife and children were the answer. Baker looked at himself and knew he had to do something about where his own life was going. Even if it meant having uncertainty as of his guiding line.
“Could you repeat those words in front of the camera,” Baker requested and the man agreed.
The journalist quickly positioned himself with his microphone, his cameraman right behind him. He asked his questions and the man gladly answered, almost as if they were friends having a normal conversation. Baker was focused on the interview when the loudest of the shouts he had heard so far exploded in unison behind him and made him jump.
“England just scored a goal,” the man said.
Baker thanked the man and went to capture the moment. In his mind, the angle of the story now should be more than a simple soccer game.
“There were eleven Croatian bombers, eleven Croatian bombers in the air,” the whole pub sang together. “And the RAF from England shot one down (shot one down).”
Later that same night, the journalist saw the reactions of the fans changing inside the Anchor. The voices celebrating their team’s triumph, way before the game was over, choked on their beers when Croatia tied the game. Baker still heard them singing their own rendition of the World War II chant, the vuvuzela making the irritating sound, and the nation represented in that pub keeping their hopes high.
The extra time came and also the heartbreak when Mario Mandzukic scored the second goal to Croatia.
Every second was precious. But the main room of the pub become less crowded as the game was getting closer to the end. Baker identified one of the guys who was cheering the whole game. The journalist saw that the guy still believed in a miracle as he kept singing until the referee blew the final whistle.
“You did great. You made us proud,” the guy said, looking at the TV, holding an empty mug on his hand, tears rolling down his face.
The image of that guy’s desolation was still in Baker’s mind while he was going home. Inside the Tube, the journalist found the Jubilee line on the map located on the top of the car. In three more stops, he saw he would hop off at the Finchley Road station. Baker was relieved after turning in the story. He liked his editor’s reaction to the material, especially the link between the Brexit and the end of the World Cup dream. But Baker liked his editor’s surprise reaction, even more, when he said it was his last story, that he was quitting the job.
When his station arrived, the journalist minded the gap before leaving the train, walked along the platform and went up the staircase. He touched his train pass on the machine and the ticket gate opened. Baker turned right on the street and stopped on the red sign two blocks away from home.
On the ground, he observed the words “look right” near the sidewalk where he was. The sidewalk on the other side also had two words, “look left.” But what captured Baker’s attention was the fact that both sentences on the asphalt had arrows pointing in the same direction. He looked at the sky and grinned, wondering what mattered the most: the side or the perspective.