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It would be months before I befriended Yuri Karamov. There were several reasons for this. Karamov was not only a Brommian, he was also a general troublemaker with a strong aversion to school authority.

He and his gang of dimwit farmers would insist on playing ball against the Arash of class 2E during the breaks, even though the Arash were a much stronger team. They had two or three more players to spare, in case of injury. But what the Brommian lacked in skill, they made up for with abundant fervour and arrogance. They played rough and dirty. Things almost always got heated on the football pitch and would escalate into a physical confrontation.

Yuri and a kid named Millin Ibranov were always in the middle of some sort of brawl. Mr Unjis, their homeroom teacher, had made them a target for his wrath. He swore time and time again that he would teach them a lesson. And he might have. Mr Unjis was not one to miss out on an opportunity to whoop the Brommian, but they were stubborn. They never learned. They always returned to the pitch eager for a rematch.

Yuri Karamov was one of the best players on the field, and he had the most vulgar vocabulary to show off to the Arash. The thought of befriending someone who called a classmate a sheep fucker, a cow piss drinker, and a dunga (which even I knew meant something vulgar in Brommin) across a sixteen meter wide football pitch—to the point where his shouts could be heard from inside the school—was unimaginable to my prudent self.

I witnessed these matches take place from my homeroom windows, situated on the east side of the building, overlooking the schoolyard, and beyond it the small, patchy, football pitch.

I was no expert on football, but I knew enough to know that what Yuri did was skilled. The way he dribbled passed the Arash players and took all the free kicks for his team, there was no other way of describing it. In those instances, he was cool. So unlike the boy who had only weeks prior been sitting drenched in the same car as me. His laughter echoed off the stone walls, and though he walked the hallways with the same bad posture, he seemed less pitiful than he'd been that stormy October morning.

I couldn't have explained to you what drew me to him. I just found him fascinating. Ever since that day, it seemed like I was always catching him around the corner. Always there, in my peripheral vision.

Buried in the folds of my subconscious was the awareness that I envied him. I didn't realise it then, but I do now. His easy-going manner, his abundant friends. The more I saw him play on the pitch, the longer my eyes lingered on him, and my reservations grew.

I didn't play outside with the rest of my classmates because of my debilitating asthma. The slightest exertion would constrict my bronchi and leave me gasping for air. I had my inhaler around my neck like a bell at all times, and several others in different classrooms around our school.

This was my biggest reason, and perhaps the most cementing why I couldn't befriend Karamov.

I had one friend in my class. Adriana, my cousin, whom I had grown up with, and who also happened to be my only neighbour. We did indoor activities on our breaks. Adriana was popular and was never short of friends, but she chose to stay inside with me. Sometimes a sick student recovering from a cold would join us, and we would ask Ms Gourdin to allow us to play board games. But mostly it was just us, alone by ourselves.

I was walking home from school one particular day when Adriana was absent. I dragged my feet toward the entrance, feeling weighed down by solitude. I had no friends and no one to ride home with. The only thing I had to look forward to when I got home was Eline's nagging.

It was by mere chance that my eyes caught sight of the football pitch. As if on command, my footsteps halted and redirected their path away from the entrance. The pitch was rarely ever empty of students—even after school. This was my chance to step inside it for the first time. As I walked over Yuri Karamov came to mind. A smile spread across my lips, and my footsteps quickened.

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