Morphing after midnight

October 22, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

In Brazil it’s not hard to find people who like to play soccer. Recently I came across a group of fanatics at Don Camillo Restaurant along Copacabana Beach, but they weren’t customers. They are the waiters.

At work the waiters never stop talking about soccer, whether commenting about the latest round of the Brasileiro national championship, or the outlook for the 2014 World Cup that Brazil will host. But every Monday after closing up at midnight, the waiters grab their gym bags and board a bus to the Aterro do Flamengo soccer field in the south of Rio. They morph into what they really want to be – soccer players.

The best player in the group is Jonas Aguiar, 37, who nearly turned pro at 18 but was frustrated by a thigh injury. Aguiar is the team’s organizer; it was he who found a sponsor for their team jerseys in restaurant customer Mr. Ayrton, director of the Botafogo first division club. Although the waiters began playing with the Botafogo name on their shirts, they soon made up their own name combining Botafogo, which means “fire spitter”, with their restaurant’s name, Don Camillo. They now call themselves Don Fogo, or Mr. Fire.

As I was visiting them, Aguiar proudly announced that his son had just been recruited by the AABB indoor soccer team. “Maybe he’ll be the one to fulfill my dream,” he said.

With three wins and one draw, Mr. Fire team has yet to lose a game. Another waiter, Luis Rodrigues, confessed as he served red wine to a diner, that nobody on their team is a fan of Botafogo. After saying that, he immediately asked me to keep it a secret, so that Mr. Ayrton wouldn’t find out.

When the last customer left the restaurant they quickly cleaned up the tables and changed their clothes. Suddenly they began calling each other by their soccer nicknames.

One of them yelled, “Finish the accounts later, Jabulani.” (Jabulani is the name for the official ball used in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.)

From another corner of the restaurant came the cry, “Give me a hand here, Taffarel!” (Taffarel was Brazil’s goalkeeper in the 1994 World Cup.)

Meanwhile, Aguiar prepared the snack they would eat on the field during halftime. They looked like children overjoyed with life as they walked to the bus stop. In spite of their fatigue from a long day’s work, they couldn’t wait to enter the field and play another match together as the Mr. Fire club, the undefeated leaders.

As they arrived at the field and suited up, they continued joking. One of the waiters, who was wearing a jersey from Vasco da Gama, one of the worst clubs in the last national championship, was their target. “This year Vasco’s going down!” yelled one of them as the others chuckled.

As they began to play I could tell that several of them could have played professionally. They played as a well-organized squad and after the first 20 minutes they were already up 4-0. At halftime, between a bite of chicken and a gulp of water, they discussed their strategy for the second half.

Aguiar warned them all, “They’re going to give it everything they’ve got in the second half. We have to watch our defense.”

Rodrigo countered with, “They’re already dead,” but Aguiar was right. The rivals scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the waiters woke up and finished them off with a final score of 6 to 3.

Exhausted, Aguiar and his teammates celebrated another victory, but no longer spoke just about soccer. The first to leave said, “It’s 3:30 am, and I have to work early.” And they all left towards their homes, hoping that next Monday would come around fast.

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