Polo is about passion, dedication and courage. And it has something for everyone, a lesson that will stay with that person forever. This one stayed with me. The Polo Diaries are inspired by true stories, such as this one, told as it happened, one sunny morning on a green polo field...
His eyes are shielded by the dark goggles. He looks like a knight, all covered in armour. I can’t see his eyes. I can’t see if he’s looking at me right now. But the tone of his voice leaves no doubt.
His mallet comes down, pointing at me. A rider has no free hands to point at anything.
“You take it!”
No, no, no. I cringe inside. No, please, Jonny, no. I plead silently, hoping he can read my thoughts. I say nothing. My eyes are shielded by my own dark goggles. He can’t see them either. Thank God he can’t read the terror I’m hiding.
“Roxana.” His shout comes back. “You take it, I said.”
He’s the captain of our team. I should do what he says.
“Spot or thirty?” The umpire asks again, and this time hedemands an answer.
You can’t let an umpire ask this too many times, otherwise he might just decide that there will be no penalty at all, and the unbelievable luck that landed on our team will just disappear. If I am to take the penalty, I should answer. But my mouth is frozen and nothing comes out.
“Spot or thirty?” The shout comes back one last time.
“Thirty.” Jonny answers for me.
This means he’s choosing to have the ball placed at the thirty-yard line in front of the goalpost, instead of on the spot where the foul occurred. It’s an easy shot from the thirty- yard line. Undefended. All one needs to do is get the horse in a slow canter, circle wide, then come to the ball, stay relaxed, look at it, at the ball, really look at it, swing, and hit. And score. All the rest doesn’t matter at all if one doesn’t score.
And we need this goal. We desperately need it. The score is equal and there are about two minutes left in the game. The clock has been stopped as we prepare to take the penalty, but it will start running again as soon as the ball is touched. If we score now, we have a very big chance of winning this game.
“You take it,” Jonny shouts again. “You can do it. You’ve done it before.”
I shake my head. No, no, no! I’ve done it before on the training field with him. I’ve done it countless times, more times than I can remember. But I can’t do it now. Now it matters, now it will make the difference between winning and losing the game. I just can’t do it now. My right hand is shaking as I hold the mallet. I don’t trust myself to do this.
“Roxana.” Jonny brings his pony close to me. Why can’t he call me Rosanna like all Argentines do?
“This is the game we play. You have to do these things. Don’t be afraid.”
“I will miss. What happens if I miss?” I whisper. He’s now close enough to hear me.
“Come on, whites!” shouts the umpire.
The ball is on the thirty-yard penalty spot. The riders of the other team are behind the goal, lined up on both sides of it as they should be, leaving it open, undefended. It’s going to be an easy penalty.
“One minute,” Jonny shouts back. And then he turns again to me. “You will do it. Trust yourself. You can do it. You’ll do it. Just like you’ve done it with me on the training field. I know you can. And if you fail, no pasa nada.”
“No, I can’t. Please, Jonny, I just can’t.” I cringe.
“Take the penalty now or you lose it, whites!” the umpire shouts mercilessly, oblivious to my little drama.
I take a last look into Jonny’s dark glasses and shake my head, while a tear comes out hidden by my own glasses.
“Number 2, you do it!” Jonny shouts without looking back.
He’s still looking at me. I don’t see his eyes but I can read his frustration. The hours he spent training with me on that field, the countless penalties I took, the many times I scored. It was all meant so that I can use it now. In a game. When it matters. Now, when I’m bailing out like the little coward that I am.
But in my heart I am relieved. The other player, number 2, he’ll do it. He’s a much better player than I am. He has a better chance to score. We all have a better chance to win this game if he takes it.
I don’t even see it when it happens. I’m still looking at Jonny’s dark goggles, trying to guess how upset he is with me. But I hear the shout of the umpire, “Hit in, blacks!” And I know this means my teammate, the number 2, the much better player than me, has just missed, and we’re now not likely to win the game.
“See? No pasa nada. We all miss sometimes,” Jonny tells me, moving his horse off to go and take his position for the hit-in by the other team.
Maybe he’s not upset with me, then, I think.
But the bitter taste in my mouth stays with me for the rest of the day. It tells me I had a chance to score and I didn’t trust myself enough to take it.