Oscar called me.
In tears. Blubbering and apologetic. Said he was suicidal. Said he got stupidly drunk at the Zebra Club on Saturday – the day lots of curious straights come with their wives to ogle the freaks – and he was boasting to two reporters that he knew me. That I was a special friend. My goals against Sunderland had been broadcast almost hourly on the Nilemwian news channels. When the reporters wouldn’t believe him he showed them his iPhone with all the intimate cross-dressing photos of me. That’s the last he remembers. Next thing the photos are global – even the USA!
I didn’t have time for Oscar’s weary laments. I had other things on my mind. I was in a car with Al, my agent driving straight to the City ground where the PR woman wrote me a statement I had to learn for the Press Conference she had arranged.
Press conference? My body froze with fear!
The statement said that I was dressing up just for fun. That it was a fancy dress party of some sort for charity. I had to memorise the statement and the answers to some of the questions I might be asked at the Press Conference. She told me not to worry. That the press conference would be only ten to fifteen minutes long. That Melchester City had already released a press release saying the sort of stuff I had in my statement.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll be there if things get overheated.”
“But I won’t be there,” said Al. “Got a few things to arrange.”
The Press conference was a nightmare I’ll never forget. I just wasn’t prepared for it.
A blinding electric flash exploded onto my face the moment I entered the crowded press conference room. I put up a protective hand the way prisoners do when they’re being led into court. The picture in the morning newspapers served only to make me look more guilty. The manager and the PR woman led me, shaking and scared to a seat on the dais. I was dressed in a dark blue suit and knitted blue tie. PR had tried to make me look masculine. My hair – my long spiralling locks – chopped mercilessly, that morning, into short back and shorter sides. Someone had even suggested a tattoo.
I sat. Obviously looking scared. Looking eleven.
I watched the waiting reporters – the dogs of loud rumour, chewing pencils and sharing continual slander, waiting to stuff the ears of men with false reports.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” said PR and there was immediate silence. “We feel it appropriate that today’s session last no longer than fifteen minutes. The club has already issued a comprehensive statement and there is little further…”
But her voice was drowned by coarse laughter and snippets of scatology. Someone had obviously cracked a joke. The faces of the assembled journalists were harsh and shrewd. I felt desolate. Questions were being pumped at me – I thought I would need only to make a brief statement but I was assaulted by voices shouting ruthlessly in my direction.
“Gentlemen, please,” begged PR. But she had lost control. Another persistent series of flashes. Noisy, harsh, unforgiving interrogation. I wanted to run. Escape. Anywhere.
“Tiko? Were you and Oscar Azzini lovers?”
Less of a press conference. More a French Revolutionary Tribunal. A reign of error. All because I dressed in women’s clothes!
Is it true you was once a rent boy?
Tiko! Did you take part in gay orgies?
What kinda parties Tiko? Leather or lace?
Tiko, where do you go for your kicks here in the UK?
Tiko? Is it easier to find boyfriends now you’re famous?
Do you wear a jock strap when you’re playing?
Loud hooting laughter.
Or panties Tiko?
Cackles, chortles, chuckles. Ha ha! All in good sport!
The manager put an arm around my shoulder. Surely, I thought, he will put a stop to this. But the questions kept coming.
I started to cry.