Just that he hadn’t liked the face when that man had gestured.
He was standing in the platoon. That was what they called the neatly formed group at the school. They stood there, each boy motionless in the unforgiving sun (even though it was already November), looking at their teacher as he announced the names of the victors.
The jerseys that each one wore were sparkling in the sunlight. On the lush green outfield where the four groups of teenager boys stood. Green, Yellow, Red and Blue- each one varied, each one similar. He was tall. That was the only reason he stood in the front row of his group. Ben Thompson was a grand sprinter. But he never knew humility was a virtue.
As the garrulous microphone had spurt out his name for the fourth time, he had gone to collect his Gold medal again.
Thompson turned, and he could see his eyes. Thompson must have seen the envy in them; only that he didn’t exist.
He promptly raised his middle finger out of his fist, flashed it to the Boy, and dismantled his fist before any of the teachers saw it.
The boy scarcely knew what that meant. Just that he didn’t like the look on his face. That was last year. Today he was waiting with his body arched and back humped, next to the Ben Thompson; so close he fancied he could smell the sweat of the boy.
“Ben Thompson looks like he is preparing for the Olympics” was what they said when he set ablaze the tracks every year.
That moment of despair; of doubt…that man was just too fast to be defeated. His mind had to be shut down.
Before he did that, he heard the cue. His feet took to the tracks as if they had a mind of their own. The first sensation he felt was a few seconds later, when he suddenly realized he was running. Locks of hair swirled in the hot wind that hit his face, and they formed pointed structures to tickle him around his temples.
He looked straight. The ribbon wasn’t there.
Beyond the realm of his immediate sight, he saw the congregation that didn’t have a face. They were a unit.
Did he see surprise in their face?
He was way ahead of Ben Thompson. He didn’t see anyone else. He just knew.
The first round was over before he realized he was losing breath. He was ahead. Yet. Strides.
His pace slacked. He pushed himself harder. His pace slacked. He pushed again. Harder. Slack. Harder.
He would fall down.
He didn’t want to breathe through his mouth. He had to.
Any moment could be his last now. His legs had isolated him almost abruptly. They seemed to be shaking on their own, without any orders from his will.
Perspiration was salty. From every pore of his body it appeared, and then seemed to direct itself like a stream his taste buds. But he wasn’t opening his mouth, was he?
He should give up.
But he hadn’t like the face.
There was the ribbon. Being laid. That was far. Very far. Farther than his treacherous legs would carry him. Ben Thompson hadn’t crossed him. Yet.
Fifty metres maximum…yet to go. That was nothing.
It was. A lot. The longest Fifty metres he had ever known.
He should sit.
The grass! It looked at him. It invited his with gleaming greenery. It was wet. Was he hallucinating? Why was he not faster than this? That is the speed of a snail.
He felt that he heard the sound of heavy breathing. Beyond his shoulders. It was from another man. Ben Thompson was coming.
He staggered on the track. His tall, lanky frame must have cut an amusing picture, with its careen movement on the thin track.
He hadn’t liked the face.
He pushed. Today wasn’t a day he was losing. His legs isolated him. His tummy promised it would burst under the pressure of the heaviest breathing he had ever done. His lungs had been complaining. His heart was in his ears.
The ribbon was within reach.
He shut his eyes.
Ben Thompson was not in the realm of his hindsight.
But they said he was preparing for the Olympics…
Ben Thompson may have a great middle finger. He wasn’t winning this one.
The boy leapt for the ribbon. His dive was longer than he had imagined.
The next sensation he felt was his chest crashing in the mud with grass on it.
He felt the ribbon in his hand. He almost felt the red colour on it. He didn’t raise his face to see Ben Thompson. Or anything else. It was just him and the ribbon.
“How much time did I take?” he asked a volunteer several minutes later. He was still lying in the grass grasping for breath.
“No one keeps records of qualifying events. You qualified with Ben. Now gear up for the main event next week.
The boy ignored the awe in the voice. He knew his legs wouldn’t allow him to walk for another week. There was no way he would be seen running in the final event.
“But how much time do you think I must have taken?” “Less than a minute”
Ben Thompson, by the way didn’t go to the Olympics. He died of dengue in the subsequent year.
RIP friend. Apart from that Less Than A Minute, you were the best!