Sukab dribbles the ball. Sukab dribbles the ball upon a manicured green field. He guides the ball gracefully, with the skill of a player in the Italian Seria A. Sukab – Sukab from Indonesia – dribbles the ball, caresses the ball, heads the ball, guiding the ball along the field, the great empty expanse without end, endlessly guiding it towards the horizon.
Sukab dribbles the ball. He guides the ball and his long hair, tied back in a pony-tail in the style of Claudio Caniggia – flows in the wind coming from the empty planes. His uniform is entirely white. His shoes and socks are also white. He has no sponsor, has no position and isn’t the member of any team. On the back of his shirt his name is written: SUKAB, with the number 0 beneath it. Sukab dribbles the ball along the savannah with the speed of an Australian horse.
Sukab dribbles the ball. He’s faster than Ruud Gullit, faster than Roberto Baggio, and faster than Diego Armando Maradona who ran past five English defenders in that legendary event in the 1986 World Cup. His speed is a mixture between that of Ryan Giggs and Jairzinho, a mixture of the precision of Michel Platini and Eric Cantona and a mixture of the skill of Johan Cruyff and Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele. Sukab dribbles the ball enchantingly.
“Sukab! Sukab! Where are you going?”
“I’m heading towards goal. I want to make a goal and score!”
“But where is the goal, Sukab?”
“At the end of the Earth!”
Sukab dribbles the ball. Sukab dribbles the ball along an empty grass field with the speed of a racehorse, looking for the goal protected by the greatest goalkeeper on earth. He’s scored thousands of goals, beaten thousands of goalkeepers and defenders, run around thousands of players of the skills of Franco Baresi, but Sukab still feels unsatisfied. He needs to beat the greatest goalkeeper on earth. He wants to be beat the greatest goalkeeper and score the most beautiful goal ever. And so, he runs towards that goal; chasing the last remaining goal – even if it is at the end of the Earth.
Sukab dribbles the ball. Sukab dribbles the ball through an empty field, along toll roads, across suspension bridges, with touches of great subtlety making the sound of ck-ck-ck along the main roads beneath the gaze of the video cameras that follow him for days, weeks and months follow him. One day, he saw a world-class footballer waiting for him to pass by the side of the road: he passed the ball to him and he sent it back in an incomparable one-two. Marco van Basten headed it back to him. Zico passed it to him with his knee and George Best, even though he was rather old, was still able to pass it to him while doing some acrobatics in the air.
Sukab dribbles the ball. Sukab dribbles the ball while waving to his fans in every city that he passes through. As a sign of respect, each city prepares their best team to try and stop him. But, who is able to stop the great Sukab? It’s as if the ball is stuck to his feet. He can move it so easily to his knee, shoulder and then to his head, only to let it drop back down to his feet again. Sukab, Sukab, the great Sukab. How can he be stopped? A sliding tackle from Basile Boli himself is not even able to stop him.
Sukab dribbles the ball. People wait for him along the side of the road: cheering his name, waving flags in support.
“Don’t stop, Sukab! Don’t ever stop! You’re our only hope!”
Sukab dribbles the ball in search of the goal at the end of the Earth.
“Keeper? Keeper? Where are you? I’m looking for you!”
But, there are no more keepers that are able to stop his strikes. Not Walter Zenga, not Gordon Banks and not the crazy Rene Higuita. The goal itself moves further and further away from Sukab. The goal disappears, vanishes and ceases to exist in this world. But, Sukab continues to dribble the ball with grace. Crowds gather to watch Sukab’s journey on television as recorded from the cameras on the helicopters. The helicopters fly all over the place in order to get a better angle on Sukab’s dribbling.
Sukab, a football player with the number 0 on his back and not belonging to any team, arrives at a beach. In the sunset, he dribbles the ball in between the tourists who are enjoying watching the sun sink into the horizon. Sukab kicks the ball towards the sea and then jumps, chasing after it. The tourists are taken aback: a football player, wearing a white uniform with the number 0n on his back, dribbles the ball upon the waves, as if he is surfing upon the foam which becomes a golden orange in the sunset.
Sukab dribbles the ball upon the endless expanse of the sea. The helicopter continues to follow him. The reporter in the helicopter continues his commentary.
“Viewers at home, Sukab has arrived at the coast. The tourists initially thought he was just an acrobat looking for some tips. But, suddenly he did something unexpected. He kicked the ball and then jumped and chased after the ball. His body is so light, that when his foot touched the ball, he was able to propel himself forward some hundreds of meets, while doing summersaults. When the ball arrived, he was able to kick it further again, and again catch up to it. Ladies and gentlemen, it was truly amazing. You wouldn’t be able to believe it, if you hadn’t seen it for yourselves on your television screens. Watch it in slow-mo replay if you don’t believe it.”
And so, upon television screens there were unbelievable scenes: Sukab dribbled the ball across the sea while being followed by dolphins. He ran as if he were flying and now and then he would pass the ball to the dolphins. The live-broadcast became an instant hit. 3 billion people throughout the world were no longer at war, weren’t going to the toilet, weren’t going to the disco, and those who didn’t have a broken television were watching Sukab – the player from no team, with the number 0 on his back – dribbling the ball across the ocean and passing it to the dolphins now and then. The helicopter descended in order to get a close up. Sukab’s face was shining.
Sukab was still dribbling the ball. He had passed across the seven seas and seven nights had already passed. Where would he run to? He would continue running throughout the night. He sped across the desert beneath the moonlight. In a desert storm he continued to dribble the ball. When he had already dribbled around the world, he just did it again. Sukab ran alone, in the solitariness, the silence and the emptiness. There were no more goals. There were no more fields. There were no more supporters cheering.
Sukab dribbled the ball amongst the ruins of civilisation. The cities that he passed through had become smoking ruins and the wind brought the stench of gunpowder. Sukab dribbled the ball through battle zones and amongst the explosions and thundering of bazookas which would suddenly become silent as soon as Sukab was spotted dribbling the ball between sprawled out corpses – perhaps some people were still hiding alive between them – but then he would head back towards a forest.
Sukab dribbled the ball. He dribbled the ball and tears welled in his eyes. The helicopter still loyally followed him. His white uniform became splattered with the blood of slaughtered innocent victims.
Sukab screamed. He continued to dribble the ball from city to city; dribbling through fog, dribbling through dreams, dribbling through darkness.
“Stop Sukab! There are no more goals on this earth. Civilisation has collapsed! There is nothing left but ruins!”
Sukab dribbles the ball. Once or twice a tiger could be seen accompanying him on his journey. At another moment, Michael Jordan could be seen doing a slam dunk, while a Javanese dancer was performing Bedaya Ketawang, at another time he was accompanied by Luciano Pavarotti singing in La Traviata. Sukab dribbled the ball viciously, as in the moments leading up to an attacker scoring a goal.
But, there were no more goals for Sukab. There were no more goals for us. On the television screen, Sukab was the last attraction of football. The helicopter ascended and descended as it recorded Sukab’s journey. It was the longest ever live recording. As they approached the North Pole, it became a little shakey.
Sukab dribbled the ball along the white expanse where everything was white, white, white, white, white. The helicopter lost sight of Sukab amongst the whiteness: he was dressed entirely in white and couldn’t be seen against the entirely white landscape. The ball could also no longer be seen. TV screens showed nothing but whiteness. Sukab, Sukab, Sukab – where are you?
Sukab, the football player who represents no team, with the number 0 on his back, continued to dribble the ball. He was preparing to kick the ball into the gaping hole in the ozone layer.
Jakarta 11 April, 1994
Only memories remain of the glory of Sukab’s dribbling
*Seno Gumira Ajidarma (author) is one of Indonesia’s most prominent and respected authors, having published dozens of books over the past 30 years. His most famous books include Saksi Mata, Jazz, Parfum dan Insiden and Penembak Misterius. He has received numerous prestigious literary awards such as the SEA Write Award (1997) and the Khatulistiwa Award in 2004 and 2005. Andy Fuller (translator) studied the works of Seno Gumira Ajidarma for his PhD (2010, University of Tasmania). He has translated the poems of Afrizal Malna (Anxiety Myths, Lontar, 2013) and the short stories of Budi Darma (The Conversation, Lontar, forthcoming).