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andata e ritorno

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The phone rang while Armando was having coffee. "I'll be in Rome this weekend. There's a conference."

This was his cue to say he would look up the films. But what was in his head came out of his mouth. "It's the derby."

"Pardon?"

"The--" The professor wasn't a football fan, of course. "There's a match. On Sunday. A..." He hadn't been in years; he'd always been on assignment. Before he could think it through, he said, "Come with me."

The silence was startled. "Isn't it too cold for football," said Vittorio, after a moment.

Armando shrugged, in the emptiness of his flat. "It's the derby."

"Are you a tifoso," Vittorio said, and laughed.

Armando didn't wave banners; he didn't stand in the curva, or have season tickets (any more). He didn't say any of this, because he was thinking of the sky-blue scarf tucked in the back of his closet.

A long sigh. "Buy me a ticket," said Vittorio.

 

Armando was laziale like all good Romans, the holy mother and Alessandro Nesta bless their name and keep their ligaments. Vittorio deduced this within ten minutes of disembarking, when Armando asked him what he was staring at.

"Stoic," he said. "Working class -- weren't you? Strong. Not too intellectual. Oh, and a train lover. Therefore... Lazio."

Armando shrugged. There was nothing there that he would deny, though he thought the logic left something to be desired.

"Fascists," Vittorio said. "I'm rooting for Roma."

"They'll need you," Armando said, suppressing the twitch. "'Train lover'?"

"If you supported Roma," Vittorio said, "you would like sportscars."

It was Saturday; Vittorio's conference lasted all day long. Armando accompanied him to the faculty of economics and didn't see him again until the evening.

"Can't you cook?" said Vittorio in the trattoria, and to the waiter, "A bottle to share, thank you."

"Not particularly." Armando broke off a piece of bread. "You can't, either."

"I can fry mortadella," Vittorio said, so there. Armando refrained from sharing his thoughts on the cuisine of Bologna as represented by this particular specialty.

"I can't believe I never noticed this about you," Vittorio mused. At first Armando thought he meant cooking. "You practically lived in my house."

Armando usually said he wasn't a fan, and meant that he only caught the scores after the fact, in the Gazetta the next day. Clearly, to Vittorio, there were no such gradations. "It was the off season," Armando said. "Don't you like football, professor?"

Vittorio gave him a dirty look over the tops of his spectacles. "Why would I like football."

"How should I know," Armando said mildly, "if you don't talk about yourself."

The fish arrived. Vittorio took a bite. "I watched the World Cup final with Gino," he said. "It wasn't very interesting."

"It was a bad game." Until Italy won. "Tomorrow's will be interesting." Probably.

"Hmmm." Vittorio signaled to the waiter. "Another bottle, please."

 

They left at ten, after espresso (Vittorio) and cappucino (Armando) and pastries, two hours before the match. Pilgrims thronged the streets in red and gold and sky blue. In every square a phalanx of police stood with shields at the ready.

The stadium was half-full already. Smoke billowed above the curva, over the slow swoop of checkered flags. The chants, a constant low roar.

Vittorio adjusted his glasses. "Fascinating," he murmured.

Armando's pulse was pounding. The whistle blew.

The match got off to a slow start, so that he was able to pretend he had maintained some sense of detachment. It lasted until Lazio's misbegotten and misfiring striker, upon whom some 15 million euro had been lavished during the transfer market, found himself alone in front of the net and sent the ball flying over the bar. One arm flew up before he could help himself. He glanced to the side. Vittorio raised an eyebrow at him.

When just before the half the same unhappy player stumbled over a defender, found the luck that had abandoned him in October, and with a wild flail of the leg knocked the ball into the net, Armando forgot himself and roared.

He remembered Vittorio. The professor was watching him with a peculiar smile.

"You're just like a little kid," he said. Before Armando could protest -- "I know. It's the derby. Oh look," he said, brightening, pointing to the field, "I think Roma have a penalty."

In the end, it was a draw. Only due to the penalty the crooked referee awarded to his brother in corruption who paid him, Armando explained, very calmly, in the cafe.

"Mmm," said Vittorio. "It's a fascinating thing, isn't it. Tribalism."

"Write a monograph," Armando said, barbed, and Vittorio laughed at him.

Vittorio's mobile rang. He glanced at the screen and his mouth lifted.

"Pronto... Yes, hello. Sorry, I was at a football match." A pause, in which the disbelieving squawk was loud enough for Armando to hear. "Yes. Yes... I had a hankering to go, what can I say. Don't you know I love sport..." His pleasure was far too evident. "No, I have witnesses. Yes. All right. Next time. Ciao."

Vittorio tucked the mobile away. After a sip of coffee he said, "Gino's wondering if he should buy a football club, you know. It's quite the thing to do. For media kings."

He knew Vittorio was teasing him. It didn't help him control his face. Vittorio smirked at him. "I'll tell him he should ask you for advice. One fan to another."

"I'm staying out of it if he wants to run for office," he said. "One is enough."

"Gino?" Vittorio laughed again. "No. Gino doesn't like politics. Now, a triumphant return for his beloved older brother..."

Armando blanched.

"Don't worry," Vittorio said, still smiling. "Faust has too much... baggage. These days. Besides, he couldn't pretend to care about a football club if his life depended on it."

"For someone who stays out of politics, you seem to know a lot about it."

"I'm a good listener." Vittorio glanced at his watch. "The train leaves at eleven."

It was humming on the tracks when they got to the platform. "Well," Vittorio said. "It's been an interesting visit."

Armando said, "I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"Making you go."

"It was an experience," Vittorio said. He smiled. Said, to no one in particular, "I don't believe I've ever seen your face look like that."

He turned the smile on Armando. "Or perhaps once."

Vittorio kissed him on the cheek. He was so startled he didn't react. "Ciao."

"Ciao. Professor."

The train began to rumble.

Vittorio leaned out the window. His mouth moved. The train's heave swallowed the sound. His head withdrew.

Forza Roma.

The train pulled out of the station. Armando waited on the platform until it had gone from sight. He realized he was smiling.

He put his hands in his pockets and turned to go home.