A short story of two badminton players of opposite sex.
Rohan's first day at the club badminton court packed more within it than what was apparent, along with doubts about him getting a chance to play. When he entered the court, he saw a girl, Priyanka, apparently his age sitting on the referee's seat, waiting for anyone to come and match her. After some warm-up and hesitation, Rohan ended up playing against her. She was a jock, or so it seemed, but she was putting in a good fight. She finished him with 21-19, but he was not at all saddened by being defeated by a girl, after all she had played unexpectedly well. They played for some more time and when they were finally exhausted stopped. When Rohan was packing up his things to leave the club, Priyanka came to him, and simply, without a pinch of reluctance, asked him if he could give her company for some snacks,
"Hmm..." he was taking too long to arrive at his answer.
"I'll pay for you too. Fine?" she said jokingly, and her accompanied smile defeated Rohan.
What could have he said then? He had always shied away from girls and hence was so reluctant then. While he was just processing the situation, she appraised his hesitation correctly and asked,
"Any problem with non-veg?"
"No, not at all." he could have told her that he was a chicken-maniac, but again he didn't.
"By the way, my name is Priyanka, and do I have to ask for yours?" She sure had a way with Rohan.
The city lights were dazzling in Rohan's eyes, while he was looking at the street lights come and pass by. He was sitting at the back seat, and his new found friend was taking him to her favourite food stall. Sitting on the back seat when a girl was driving wasn't a new thing for him, and nor was he a male chauvinist. The stall was crowded, but even amidst the crowd the staller waved his hand to greet Priyanka.
She ordered two chicken rolls for both of them, came back to him and said,
Rohan was taken aback when he understood her latest words. Money wasn't a problem to him, but he disliked people who did not respect their own words. With some suppressed temper, he put his hands inside his pocket, groped for the wallet with discontent.
Surely Priyanka's senses worked faster than did Rohan's, she understood what he was thinking and immediately said, "Take it easy! That's not the cost of one roll, that's my balance with the stall guy. Remind me once when we leave."
Wind swept his face which he felt like a slap. He was wrong then, she wasn't refraining from her words.
"But if you want to repay, we can come here tomorrow. I can eat this roll every day and that's how much I like it." She continued and he nodded.
She had more confidence in speaking with opposite sex than he did. She had just asked him out, not exactly, but that too when they were mere acquaintances.
So they played the next day also, and this time he won with 21-18. They were competitive, and at par with each other. As planned they went to the same stall, almost at the same time to eat the same roll. Not to forget, even that day he was on the back seat.
After they had eaten he put his hand inside his pocket to take out the wallet, to deliver upto his words. But as soon as his hand reached the bottom of his pocket, his face drained its colours. He had forgotten to bring his wallet with him, would not he be refraining from his words today? And with all the courage he could muster, he told her. She laughed and asked the staller to deduct the bill from the previous day's balance.
"You don't speak much, do you?" she asked with a smile, the invincible one.
He was blushing, and then their eyes met, and they laughed. He still wasn't answering her question, because he didn't know what could have been an apt response.
"When we'll be good friends I will help you smash away your shyness."
"Thanks a lot."
The trend continued, continued and continued, until they were good friends. There was an upcoming Badminton Championship, and both of them were eyeing the title separately and together, in their respective categories and mixed doubles. They planned to work even harder, because eventually Rohan had left off enough shyness to accept Priyanka's working-together plan when she came up with it.
A month passed and the day of the qualifying matches was there. Both of them won all their matches with flying colours. They both reached the quarter finals without seeing each other's matches because of their not helpable match timings, except for their mixed doubles. And it was these events which made him realise that his life without her was not very much more than a silent movie.
Both of them were later knocked out in the semi-finals, but their mixed doubles team astonishingly and hopefully made it to the finals.
"I will be clinching a title for the first time in my life, if we win." he said with trembling excitement.
"It is not about winning mate." She said very feebly, so feebly that the words drowned in Rohan's excitement.
Next day was their match. Their opponents were the defending champions, and were robust. When Rohan told Priyanka this fact, her evergreen face frowned, but she didn't enquire anything. This was something off the usual Priyanka he knew, but was justfied.
Rohan woke up the next morning with a very light mind. The morning drizzle helped him relax and relieve. He did justice to his morning duties, and when it was time, set off. He saw Priyanka in the court stranded, their opponents had arrived and were surrounded by many people. He approached them and wished them best luck.
"Is she your partner?" said the boy, Nitin, and he looked at Priyanka with an eerie gaze.
"Why are you looking at her as if she is something to eat?" Rohan thought and replied calmly,
"Yeah, she's a little nervous."
And he strode towards Priyanka. That guy was too glitzy.
The referee whistled and both the teams were on the court.
"Zero all. Game on." shouted the referee.
The game gradually gained momentum, and people started cheering the teams. It was difficult for Rohan to make out what the people were shouting, but when it was he heard people cheering 'Priyanka-Nitin-Priyanka-Nitin---'repeatedly. What's wrong with those people? And suddenly amidst the match, it struck him like a lightning bolt. His mind wasn't able to focus on the match, and he missed two shots until he regained himself. He asked the referee for a two minutes break, and dragged Priyanka with him to a corner.
"Is he your boyfriend or someone?" he blabbered. He was angry for no reason.
Priyanka took some time, sighed and said ,"He was."
"You never cared to tell me?"
"You never cared to ask. Rohan, perhaps this isn't the time for... "
He cut her off in mid sentence and carefully asked, "Why is it that he was your boyfriend?", stressing 'was' in particular.
"He left me for that girl, who's playing alongside."
In all those moments he was with Priyanka he had never asked her about her friends and never had she brought the topic, perhaps intentionally. Suddenly he remembered her words "...not about winning" and everything began making sense. Then he knew why the audience were shouting "...Nitin-Priyanka-Nit..." Then he knew why Priyanka was alone the first time he met her. And finally he knew how he, a super shy boy, managed to end up being her team mate.
That train of thoughts was stopped by a whistle by the referee, calling them back to resume their match. This match was important for Priyanka, and so it was now for Rohan.
With a heavy beating heart but no concentration issues with Rohan, the game resumed towards a new end. Fuelled by fury and a new will to be the victor, what seemed like an impending easy defeat for Rohan and Priyanka was turning into a competitive loss. The match progressed towards more adrenaline rush and uncertainty regarding the final winner.
There were smashes, tosses, drops and lifts accompanied by the audiences' cries and the action didn't seem to stop. Everyone was putting in a very good show, and finally Rohan and Priyanka were one point short of 21, the winning number, the magic figure.
Rohan served. Nitin received, lifted it high, and Priyanka shot it. The projected trajectory of the shuttle collided with the upper band of the net, so had Priyanka hit the shuttle and so had Nitin calculated. Assuming that the shuttle would hit the net, Nitin did not make any movement. The shuttle vertically hit the upper vertex of the net, and stood there for some microseconds. Those microseconds would decide the fate of the game. The shuttle could have fallen on Rohan and Priyanka's side and taken them some steps further away from victory, or it could have fallen on their opponent's side.
The shuttle chose the latter probability against the former.
Priyanka and Rohan, the new champions, had won a very interesting victory and will be making it to the next day's city newspaper. The cheering and overexcited crowd forced the previous trophy holders into oblivion, but that wasn't the point of winning for Priyanka and Rohan after all. This will happen to them as well if the fail to defend the title, but they knew surely that wasn't the time to appreciate their victory, but enjoy the just found light-mindedness.
After an hour or so the crowd left them to themselves, and they went to the fast food stall to eat chicken roll, after all it was the best time for Rohan to finish off his debts.
When they were done, Priyanka, armed with her invincible smile said,
"Rohan, please don't die of shyness when I say this. I like you."
Rohan being his usual self was running short of possible responses to Priyanka's latest manoeuvre. But he too felt the same, and yet again Priyanka appraised his hesitation correctly, like she did on their first meet.