“Watch out man,” the goalkeeper screamed at Anirudh. Anirudh tried to stop the Lake Club’s star striker, but fumbled and allowed the guy to score. The Cape Hill Club conceded their first goal.
“What the hell am I doing here” Anirudh thought. It was a Saturday and it had started normally. He looked forward to his game of chess with his friend Steve at the Cape Hill Club, where he was a member. He was convinced that the only exercise he needed was of the mental variety. His wife Christy and daughter Jodie had accompanied him.
“Hello my darlings!” Horace, who was the club’s President, stood at the entrance and greeted them. Anirudh observed that his tie knot was poorly done and his trousers looked crumpled. “Very uncharacteristic of Horace who is always so dapper,” he thought.
Horace turned to Christy and said, “We have a problem, dear.” He looked worried.
“What is it?” she asked.
“You know the football match today we have with the neighboring Green Lake Club. A player fell sick and we don’t have a replacement,” he explained.
“What happens now?” she enquired, her voice sharing his concern.
“It is a matter of pride. The match must go on. We need one able-bodied man to just fill the position on the field,” he explained.
Anirudh coughed and looked the other way. This conversation was not sounding right. He looked forward to his game of chess. “Excuse me. I need to go. I guess Steve must be waiting for me.”
Horace stared at him. “Why don’t you fill in? You seem healthy enough.”
Anirudh almost choked. “Me, football? You must be joking. I would suffer a heart attack on the field, “he said and laughed. Nobody shared his jest.
“You don’t have to do anything honey. You just have to complete the quorum.” It was Christy pleading with him now.
Anirudh groaned. “No honey, please don’t make me do this.”
“Please darling,” implored Christy, in her irresistible voice.
“Please papa.” It was Jodie now.
“We really need you,” said Horace.
“What are you doing man?” Mike his captain screamed at him. Anirudh was still wondering over the proceedings of the morning and didn’t even realize that the other team scored again. Mike was glaring at him. The first half ended with the Cape Hills trailing by 2 goals.
During half time, Mike told Anirudh that his wife wanted to see him.
He ambled out to meet her.
Christy had a stern expression on her face.
“What do you think you are doing,” she asked.
“I told you so…”Anirudh started in a feeble voice.
She cut him off. “No one expects you to be a champion. But at least try,” she said.
“I am trying. I have never done this before,” he tried explaining.
“What’s this?” she had taken a piece of paper out of her hand bag and was holding it under his nose.
“Where did you get this?” he exclaimed.
She walked out without replying.
He joined his teammates. “I have a suggestion,” he told Mike.
Mike raised his eyebrows.
“Could I play in the mid-field?” Anirudh asked.
The other players started laughing. Mike raised his hand to silence them. “I will give you 10 minutes,” he answered.
The second half resumed. Mike got the ball and passed it to Anirudh who balanced it deftly and dodging three of the mid-fielders of the Lakers, passed it back to Mike who had by now reached outside the D. He made no mistake with the finish. The score read 2-1.
Anirudh ran back to his position. He was tired. He was not used to this. True, he had been the captain of his high school football team and that was the certificate his wife had flashed under his nose. But that had been such a long time ago.
The rival team built up a swift attack. Anirudh fell back to support his team’s defence. Making a spectacular tackle, he took possession of the ball and lobbed it skillfully into the opposition penalty area, where it found Mike who scored again. The score was leveled 2-2. The cheerleaders of the Hills who had been subdued so far, exploded into a frenetic bout of jumping and waving.
The two teams matched each other move for move. There were hardly a few seconds left now. Anirudh’s legs felt like stone and his heart was in his throat. He latched on to a loose ball in the mid-field. His body said he couldn’t do it. But his heart said he had to. For the woman he loved.
He drew upon hidden reserves of energy he didn’t know he possessed. He dribbled and feinted, drawing circles around the Lakes defence. They panicked and brought him down in a foul tackle. His leg was badly bruised and cut. The referee whistled a penalty.
Mike wanted Anirudh to take the penalty, but Anirudh wanted the captain to go for his hat trick. He did not waste the opportunity. The Cape Hills won 3-2.
Anirudh wobbled out of the field. Christy met him outside the dressing room. Her eyes were red. She went up to him and hugged him.
“I am sorry I put you through this. You are hurt,” she whispered in his ears.
“Yes, I am. But I feel alive and healthy after a long time,” he responded, stroking her golden tresses.
“I didn’t know that I had married Miss 007 who rummages through other people’s certificates,” he bantered.
“Don’t forget that we are talking about my husband here,” she replied.
“That doesn’t exonerate you from charges of breach of privacy and confidence,” he insisted.
“Confidence?” she enquired.
“You set it up with Horace and Mike, didn’t you,” he answered.
She flashed a mischievous smiled.
“You need to bribe me to not press charges,” he said in a conspiratorial tone.
She sealed his lips with a passionate kiss.
Anirudh closed his eyes and enjoyed her bribe.
Word Count: 997