(For Ben Davis, and every other Singaporean boy who dreams)
the country is your playpen, an infinite playground. Each gurgle is innocence. Each belch a delight.
you find affinity with rolling objects, pursue balls with bells in them, running back and forth over linoleum.
you name your football heroes by heart, and know exactly who you want to be when you grow up.
you step into an academy for the first time, and realise you’re still a kid that needs help to lace your boots tight.
you score your first hat trick, and it breaks open something in you. You dream of stadiums and spotlights, of weighted passes and sleight of foot tackles. The net bulges with a perfectly curled free kick.
your dreams are mixed with the smell of freshly mown grass and dirt while the school bell screams unfinished homework.
you see Arsenal play in the flesh, and one day, you tell yourself, one day…
your stamina on the field is stellar, but in the classroom, you’re always the middling dreamer.
you realise what being a midfielder really is in this country, it’s about having the lungs to run up and down between dreams and tuition centres.
your show-and-tell is juggling the ball for five minutes non-stop, until the class keels over from applause.
you’re the most valuable player in your age group, but your report book says, “Room for improvement.”
you leave your critics on the ground behind as you jink and run rings around everyone.
they’re already planning to send you to bigger fields. Somehow, this country is unable to grow beyond grass patches.
some say you could play in the Premier League, but you still need university, otherwise what will you do after thirty?
love catches your eye, but you’re too far ahead to slow down for the side-step and the doubling back to defend your heart.
a scout from the big boys arrives, and you step through the gates of a different country.
the letter of enlistment tackles you, and it feels like a prison sentence, a dream deferred, serving time for an uncommitted crime.
you run out of time to score. Recruited by the state, a rank filed away; your boots fall apart while other boots are polished. Now you can play at war. Fall in.
About the poem: On the eve of the 2018 World Cup final, news broke about a young Singaporean, Ben Davis, who had signed a professional contract with Fulham FC but was denied a deferment from National Service by MINDEF, who considered this a ‘personal pursuit,’ and noted that it was not an 'exceptional circumstance.’ Although, for the average male Singaporean, this is nothing short of a miracle.
Like what you read? See more poems by Marc Nair on his page.