I’m haunted by what happened on this patch of grass nearly a decade ago.
When I fly by there on my bike while out on a long training ride to the west of town I can’t help but think of what happened, but it doesn’t affect me that much. A pinch of memory, a flash, then it’s over.
But last night while watching the movie The Namesake on DVD with my wife, the way the Indian characters had been speaking in their sing-song accents, at a sudden turn the story tookit hit me all over again so strongly we had to pause it for a while.
I looked up and told my wife: I’m thinking of the hockey game.
It happened on a sunny Sunday in July, 2000.
We were about 10 minutes into a game of grass hockey when all of a sudden there was a stoppage in play for longer than the usual few seconds to retrieve the ball from the side bushes or let a player walk off an injury.
I remember not being too focused on what was going on at first. I recall swatting aimlessley at the grass with my stick, bending over to adjust my shoelaces, then standing up straight to look over to the far side of the field to see what was holding up play.
A few from our team were standing around near a player lying on the grass. I started to walk slowly over, feeling a bit annoyed that a game which up ’til then had been going really well was being held up for so long.
Approaching the other players I looked down at the figure lying flat on his back and got this sickening feeling.
It was our Indian team-mate, a newcomer who’d only recently moved to Hamburg to work at Airbus and whom I’d gotten to know during post-game drinks the last time out. A jovial man with a round, softly beared face, I remember how at one point he said to me in his Indian way: My gosh, you run around like a deer out there. You’re very fit, you know. Not like me – patting his stomach, smiling and raising his glass.
He was now lying there motionless. Utterly still. In a flash I remember thinking: what the hell are you idiots doing standing around like this doing nothing?
I knelt over him, put my face right close to his, and waited for any sign of breath. There was none.
This is what haunts me still: the sight of his lifeless eyes staring up at me as I looked into them from inches away.
Almost immediately I pinched his nose, cupped his jaw and started to give him mouth-to-mouth respiration.
After a few breaths I stopped to give his chest four or five thrusts with one hand over the other, hoping that was the proper way to do it. When you get your German driver’s license you have to take a course in first aid including CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and I was almost in a panic that I was either doing it wrong or not in a way that would do any good, especially since he wasn’t responding.
Someone else started alternating with the pressure pumps onto the chest while I did the mouth-to-mouth for as long as I could. I don’t know how long I lasted, but I started to feel sick to my stomach, rolled away and asked someone else to take over.
By now we could hear in the far distance the first siren wailings of the ambulance approaching.
I got up and stumbled away from the scene. I couldn’t stand to look at what was happening. That face, so close to mine. Those eyes, so lifeless.
I walked a few metres more toward the clubhouse, got to the centre of the field, collapsed to my knees, fell with my forehead on the ground, clenched my fists, clenched my jaw, tried to fight it, but I couldn’t help weeping, bawling like a fucking baby as I rubbed my hands over the spikey blades of grass.
The ambulance seemed to take forever to arrive and even longer to get our teammate onto the stretcher and on his way to hospital. All in vain, of course. Although they say he died the next day, I could tell he was probably dead before he hit the grass.
His family lived in Holland and that’s where they held the funeral, but I don’t think any of us made it. We sent flowers and a card. One of the things they said in thanking us is that he died doing what he loved best: playing hockey.
The sight of those eyes. It haunts me still.