Bribery, Corruption, Oh My.
“Rafa, what do you want?” I hissed as soon as I hit ‘answer’ on my phone. I hadn’t meant for my tone to come out in such a negative way but I couldn’t quite help it. Not with all of these cameras and strangers whizzing around me, my co-workers trying to sport unfazed facial expressions but they were failing just as much as I was.
The FIFA offices were buzzing as they had never been before. You might think, oh Women’s World Cup. So many other competitions and qualifiers going on, it’s just the media wanting to get a glimpse into the offices of those helping with all of these events.
Scandal was much more tantalizing and intriguing than talking about the opening to the Women’s World Cup, even with all of the drama that already surrounded it. You had bribery, corruption and a dozen other words that spelled fines, jail time and firing and that was much more entertaining than anyone kicking around a ball.
Because everyone was waiting for this moment. For the big ship that was FIFA to wreck in a fiery manner that created beautiful images of victorious fireworks for everyone to enjoy because let’s face it everyone hated FIFA.
Specifically Sep Blatter, my boss. And though he was ladders and levels above me in the FIFA headquarters hierarchy, he was still my boss. My boss whose most cherished possession was about to be kicked on its ass.
I had enough of a hard time trying to maneuver through parking with so many camera men and news station reporters set up wherever they could find space and now I was listening to the fast clacking of my heels as they met the marble floors. I didn’t bother using the elevator to get to my office, instead opting to take the steps and nearly run to the safety of my office.
I had nearly forgotten Rafinha was on the phone. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
What a stupid question. I knew Rafa wasn’t clueless to what was going on here in Switzerland. It was all over the news and him being a footballer, I was sure he was notified in some way either by teammates, agents or managers. It was all that anyone could talk about and unfortunately I was here to sit in the middle of the firestorm. “Do you think I’m okay?”
“Could you relax for a second?” It was him that was hissing this time and I closed my eyes, immediately regretting my attitude. “I’m sorry, okay? It’s just…a lot is going on right now.” I closed the door behind me to my office and leaned against it for support.
“I’m fucked, Rafa.”
“No you’re not.”
“I am! They’re going to get rid of everyone. There’s no way they’re not and I’m probably going to be the first to go. I’m so low on the totem pole they wouldn’t even care about getting rid of me. They’d just find some young girl on the streets to replace me and do my job just as well.”
“You’re amazing at what you do,” he tried to reason in that soothing tone that usually did calm me down but not so much today. I was dealing with way more than missing keys or a bowl of cereal with no milk to accompany it.
“Am I? If I’m so amazing at my job, would I be dating you?”
Again I felt that soft internal pang of regret and it only intensified as my boyfriend sat silent on the other end of the line. I winced with my eyes shut again. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re absolutely right. We shouldn’t be.”
And the truth of the matter was that we shouldn’t have. I was a FIFA employee and though it wasn’t etched out into bold print and a contract I signed with my blood, the unspoken rule was there…
No dating the athletes.
Or managers if Pep Guardiola was up your alley.
But still, I had managed to cross that boundary, break that unspoken rule and now I felt as if I was standing at the edge of a pit ready to be thrown in for sacrifice because God forbid someone do some digging into the personal lives of FIFA employees and find all of my airline tickets to Barcelona, Spain. That would only be another scandal for my boss to deal with.
Public Affairs. That was the department I worked in.
If that wasn’t the worst fucking division to be in right now right after legal affairs I wasn’t sure who else could sit second atop of the table.
“This is my livelihood, Rafa. My job. I came to Zürich just for this and if I lose this opportunity…”
“You can come here,” he quickly suggested but I immediately responded with a silent shake of my head. “You could work for the club!”
“You’re being unrealistic. I surely wouldn’t get hired working in sport after all of this goes down. They’re probably blacklisting my name right now. I have to go.”
“Okay. I love you?” It came out as more of a question than a statement and I could tell it was not from a place of questioning his love for me but questioning if this was the right moment to say it to me. My emotions were already out of whack and the normal salutation he gave me didn’t seem so serene and normal as it usually did.
I guess that was a good enough answer to his question because he didn’t combat anything or force me into repeating it back in that jovial tone I usually did. Rafinha instead decided just to hang up the phone.
I dropped the device to my desk and looked out the window, seeing the many white flashes of cameras going off as they took every picture imaginable of the front of our building. My mind couldn’t help but wander to the thought of them possibly taking photos of me instead.
The next few weeks felt like hell. They were hell. Every day I dreaded walking into my office, spending more and more time waiting in my car as I watched the busy bees float around me. The media attention had died down in the sense they didn’t all parade around the headquarters just waiting for one of us to slip and say something out of order, as if we weren’t well-trained to handle media pressure. There would be the occasional visits but they were all met with ‘no comment’ and a subsequent press release to address what the latest news was of the day.
Today’s news was me.
And yes, granted I wasn’t splashed on the front of the ESPN FC site or some other major network of information, I felt like I was. My eyes burned from being so dry after having cried all that I could and though I could mask those red eyes behind my prescription eye glasses, my parents could tell something was off.
My mother had insisted on coming to visit for dinner knowing all that had been going on with work, or at least what she was told through media sources because she didn’t dare ask me about it. Not like I would really know much anyway. She had cooked her infamous apple pie for dessert but all I had done was poke at the crust while her and my father ate away, cautiously sneaking glances at their suddenly quiet daughter.
“Are you okay, sweet pea?” My father asked.
I don’t know if it was because of that soft tone he would use with me like when I was younger and bothered by something but whatever it was, it got me to speak up now. “I got fired today.” It was a blunt admission, sugarcoated by nothing but blurted out as if I had just revealed I went grocery shopping today or something miniscule.
A firing wasn’t miniscule.
It was major.
So I wasn’t surprised at all when my mother gasped and her hand raised to her chest before breaking out into full-on Mom Defense mode. “They can’t do that! They can’t just fire you for their wrongdoing. You weren’t the one accepting bribes.”
I immediately held up my hand to stop her protests. Not only were they useless but they were wrong. “That’s not why I was fired.”
I should have been more careful. I should have known that from then on I was going to be carefully watched like a felon who was treading on thin ice. I never actively hid my relationship with Rafinha. I mean, aside from making sure we didn’t make any appearances in public together, it wasn’t as if anyone knew who I was. I wasn’t that important in the sports world but my inability to hide was what now had me caught up.
I didn’t know if I had left evidence behind like my phone atop of my desk when Rafinha called or a photo or some other memento but my boss had confronted me about my relationship and left with nowhere to hide, I confessed.
Maybe she didn’t even know. Her confrontation didn’t have a direct topic but more of a probe like a mother does when she suspects her child is up to something but can’t quite figure out what. I cracked this time.
“I’m going to grab some air.”
Neither of them protested when I removed the napkin from my lap to the table, eased my chair back and got up to head out of my front door. I didn’t think it had really hit me that I was free from my title with FIFA. If it had I would have been freaking out by now on what my future held because I couldn’t afford to be without a job for long.
I sat with my thoughts for a moment, listening and watching as cars drove down my street until I felt a vibration in my pocket. I grabbed my phone and saw his name.
I had only text him the news, ignoring his subsequent calls and pleas that I return his messages so as he went the FaceTime route this time, I decided to answer.
“Yes, Rafinha?” My tone was defeated but he didn’t dare to bother me on it. He had a slight frown on his face as he watched me. That was the funny thing about Rafa, or at least a thought that made me slightly laugh internally as I thought about it. Most people spent much of their FaceTime calls staring at themselves instead of the person on the other side, me included, but Rafa always seemed to pay more attention to me.
“How’s dinner with the parents?”
“I just told them.” I looked down to my exposed ankle, a small bug crawling against my skin but I didn’t bother to bat it away. I don’t know if it was out of sheer laziness or sadness but if it managed to get a taste of my blood, congrats to it.
His frown grew more prominent. “I’m sorry.”
“Well hey, maybe this means you’ll have time to come visit me soon? I could always use your company here…”
“I don’t know. I should probably save my money and start looking for a new job. Who knows? Maybe I’ll move to Turin or something. I’ve always liked it there.”
“A bit drastic don’t you think?”
I began playing with the bracelet on my arm before I responded, “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Y/N…” Rafa sighed before continuing. “Look just come here. I’ll help you with the job search. I could probably even be a reference for you when you apply to work at one of those dessert shops.”
I knew he meant it as a joke, his smile beginning to break apart as I let my lips form into a toothless grin. “You? As a reference for me? You don’t even have any solid qualifications or jobs.”
“Well I do know Lionel Messi. That’s gotta be a resume all on its own right?”
gif credit to barca-fleki66