Sunday 1 December 2013

The Stench of Failure

I was lucky to have Kira as a friend, I guess. She was an incredibly nice girl but had a bit of a temper on her, and a tendency to show off, which boys seemed to like. Kira was fairly short for our age. Her hair was long and always tied back into a ponytail that was swished from side to side when she walked. She had a perfect tan and sharp features. She always waltzed through the corridor like a model on New York Fashion Week.

Kira and I were in deep conversation as we swung on our favourite place in the playground - the swings. As the conversation branched into sports, I mentioned FOBISSEA. I was about to dive into my exciting news so I could gloat about my success, but she shot ahead.

“Oh yeah!” Kira exclaimed as her face lit up and she put her feet down to slow down the swing and look me in the eye. I sighed in exasperation, Kira would never stand anyone better than her, even in the smallest occasions. in her eyes, she was the best- the winner, the ultimate champion. “Mr. Smith asked if I wanted to go to FOBISSEA. I said no. I mean I’m too young. I don’t know anyone on the team apart from Ayla. I mean, like, yeah,” she exclaimed breathlessly. Pretending nothing happened, she continued swinging to and fro.

From the way Kira talked about her being asked to participate in FOBISSEA, I could tell that Ayla had told her that she had seen me at the prior meeting. I hung my head in shame. I had thought I was first choice for the team - I was a sporty person, after all. To this day, I still don’t know if Kira was telling the truth.

“Hey, Kira, sorry I’ve got to go to practice or I’ll be late or something... Um, bye...” I said to Kira, and walked away to practice, not bothering to turn around and hear her response. All I could do was second guess myself. The stench of failure was wavering behind me, and there was nothing I could to get rid of it.

At t-ball practice, I watched carefully as the rest of my ‘team’ hit the ball around. Nothing was making sense to me at this point, after watching the practice for half an hour. I was hot, bothered and lost in thoughts when I heard Mr. Smith call my name.

I looked up at Coach Smith, “Hey, Jo Yie! Why don’t you have a go?” Coach beamed as he passed me the bat from the next girl in line. He was a tall Scottish guy, muscular with an off-centered nose he could no longer feel. In Scotland, he played rugby and football professionally. He was bald, with a strong accent, barely understandable. He was a nice guy, who absolutely hated losing, which made it hard to coach our school, since we were the underdogs.

Palms sweaty, I aligned myself at home base and looked around pretending to find a ‘space’ to hit the ball into. As I swung my bat back, I looked around once more. “Come on Jo Yie,” Coach Smith said with a glimmer in his eyes. I hit the ball and ran, with absolutely no direction, like a mad chicken. I stopped abruptly as I realised that the ball I had hit was rolling over into the distance.

“Uh, Jo Yie, you have to put the bat down before you run. Why don’t you give it another go?” Coach Smith said, still beaming brightly. I walked back dragging the oversized bat behind me, red in the face as everyone groaned at my lack of skills. I looked up and aimed for first base and immediately recognized the girl. I figured it was Ayla - the same perfect tan, the same attitude and the same way she put her hands on her hips. She tied her hair in a ponytail, and tucked her hair behind her ears whenever she caught a glance at the boy on 2nd base.

I re-aligned myself back at home base. The adrenaline that had overwhelmed me on my first attempt had now died down and I felt a lot calmer as I tried again. What were the key points again? Feet parallel, arms up. As I started to swing my bat backwards, I snatched a glance at her and her penetrating glare made me feel like a bait getting ready for the sharks. I hit the ball, dropped the bat and ran with a vague idea of where I was supposed to go.

Once I reached first base, I started to smile broadly, excited that I might have actually done it on my second go. I then became aware that the game play had stopped once again. Coach Smith looked up with a fake smile plastered on his pale face, “You can’t throw the bat. You might hurt someone”

A few months later, I’m miles away from home on an unfamiliar pitch, in an unfamiliar country. My team has decided that I should be the first batter up. Even Ayla agreed, we needed to start the game with a bang. I don’t know what she meant, but I was almost certain that she was trying to make me look like a fool, the large smirk on her face made it fairly obvious.

As our team took our places on the line of plastic chairs under a white canopy, Mr. Smith gave us all an encouraging wink from his place on the pitch between second and third base. His face said it all- it was the look that just said Today is not a day for losing.

A loud voice broke my inner thoughts, as I heard the referee shout, “Batter up!” I looked down at my fingers and prayed one last time, hoping not to start the game on a sour note. I walked slowly up to the plate, knees knocking, teeth chattering even in the extreme heat. The referee passed me the longest and heaviest bat I had ever held. I felt the pressure as the rest of my teammates cheered me on and aligned my feet with the tee.

I looked up once more, at the unfamiliar faces, looking for an open space in the field. I immediately saw it, a small opening between two girls close to first base. I wasn’t the same girl from two months ago, the apprehension that had me trembling was now replaced with mighty power. Mind racing, I felt my arms swing up behind my head, eyes focused on the ball, hit it, and ran. I ran so fast, terrified of what my teammates might say.

I stopped suddenly realizing I was on second base. I smiled at Coach who was sitting behind me. The smile on his face and the feeling in my heart was worth a million dollars. That moment doesn’t mean much to me now, but It was my first time I had ever gotten to second base in one hit. Back under the white canopy, everybody was celebrating, my stomach had butterflies and I felt like a superstar with all the high fives I got after.

That day, my team didn’t win, in fact we didn’t even come close. We were fifth or sixth. But it didn’t matter, we were all so excited and Coach Smith was really proud of us. It didn’t matter for once. Then I realised why Coach hated losing. The humiliation, the disappointment and the anger. He hated seeing the disappointment in our eyes, he hated having to give half-hearted pats. He liked seeing the smiles, the glory and the medals. That day, we all found out what true happiness was- when you achieve something, when you get farther than you ever did before.

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