“Dorji looked at the clock that had just stopped a while ago. His heart raced at an incredible speed. As he took his position, he heard a thunderous roar from the crowd.
“Two shot!” shouted the referee, as he passed the ball to Dorji.
He looked at the basket, took a deep breath and performed what was kind of a ritual for him before he made a free throw; he threw the ball forward with a backspin and wiped off the sweat off his forehead with both hands as the ball slowly bounced back to him. He could feel some kind of pressure mount on his shoulders but he shook it off. He looked at the basket again and as he raised the ball above his head, he felt every eye on the court fall on him. Everyone held in their breath as he let the ball fly......
The crowd roared again, way louder this time, as Dorji made the first of the two free throws. The referee passed the ball to Dorji again as he shouted, “One shot!”
This time around he felt the pressure on his shoulders increase two folds, and why wouldn’t it? After all it was the deciding shot of the game with only about five seconds of overtime remaining. If he missed the shot they would have to play another overtime period and that was something he knew his teammates could afford. They were too tired after playing hard during the regular time and an even more intense period of overtime with such a strong team.
He performed his ritual and as he looked up at the basket to shoot he smiled. He knew it was going to go in, he knew he was going to make it.
“Prrrr!!!!!” The ball went in. But the opposite team wasted no time and passed the ball quickly to their sharp shooter. He threw the ball towards the basket with just about a second or two remaining but to no avail. They won the match! They won the whole tournament!!!”
“Hahahaha! You watching that movie again? Was that the third or the fourth time?” Chophel’s father asked, as he walked into the living room with his suitcase in one hand and a Kabney in the other.
“Third time this week,” said Chophel closing down the VLC player as the credits started rolling, “I can’t get enough of it.”
“You know it’s just a movie.”
“Yes, I know. But it’s my favourite movie. I never get bored of it, especially the last scene. Every time I watch it, I feel as if I am the taking the shot.” Chophel said, his eyes looking upwards as if looking at the ten feet high hoop.
“Hahahahaha! Is that so? What about other movies? Do you feel like you are the hero of those movies too?” his dad asked mockingly. Chophel didn’t answer. He simply stood up from his chair and walked towards his father, who was now seated on the sofa with his legs on the small stool in front of the sofa. Chophel sat next to his father and placed a hand on his father’s lap as if he was going to say something but he didn’t make any eye contact. He didn’t say anything.
“Is there something you want to say? Come on, you know you can speak to me freely about anything.”
“Actually, there is this one thing,” Chophel hesitated for a while.
“Well, what is it? I hope it’s not about a girl. I already told you that you are too young for such stuff right now.” his father joked.
“Awww, no appa.” His cheeks started reddening. “I think I know what I want for my thirteenth birthday, that’s all.” he continued, “I want to start playing basketball and become a great player like Dorji in the movie. And I want you to teach me how to play, because I know you also played basketball when you were younger. I saw some old photos of you during your school days.”
“That’s it? Thank god. I thought you were going to ask for a girlfriend or something like that. Anyways that is what I had always planned to do. I was waiting for you to show some interest.” his father said, as he placed his hand on Chophel’s head and rubbed his hair gently. “But your birthday is three months from now and before that you have your exams. So for now, just concentrate on your studies and if your results are good enough I’ll even put up a hoop in our backyard, alright?”
“You are the best! I’ll go and tell mom about it.” Chophel hugged his father and headed to the backyard.
“And one more thing Bu, stop watching that movie for now. Even I have seen it twice or thrice with you.” Mr. Sonam shouted as Chophel disappeared from his sight.
The game was moving at a high pace. You could tell both the teams were giving in their best and had no intention whatsoever to give up. As the end to the second quarter approached, it was a short boy who had the ball. He dribbled the ball with such quickness the defender could not react in time, which gave him an opening to pass the ball. As soon as his team mate received the ball everyone in the stands stood up and shouted, “SHOOOOOOTTTT!!!!” He looked up to shoot but the defender was quick and jumped in front of him with his hands stretched high. One bounce to the left side and he was free. He let the ball fly as soon as he could but he was confident with his shot. The ball went in off the backboard as the buzzer beeped to signal the end of the first half.
“Guys take it easy out there; it’s just the first half. We still have two more quarters to play.”
“We know that captain,” both of them said in unison.
“Plus they are going to pick the school team after the house tournaments are over. So me and Dawa need to put in everything we got to make it into the school team” Chophel said looking at the shorter guy.
“Yeah, and you know how Chophel is,” Dawa said as he drank some water, “he will still be shooting and scoring like that even if we were to play another game right after this one. I don’t know what his parents feed him.”
“I just happen to have a lot of stamina; it has got nothing to do with what I eat.”
“Alright, you two. That’s enough for now. Keep your heads in the game. We’ll easily win this game if you two keep on playing like always,” the captain said, “Let’s make it to the finals guys.”
“And yeah, Dawa I also happen to have the best coach.” Chophel said pointing into the crowed as they prepared to go in for the third quarter.
Mr. Sonam waved from the crowd. He never missed any of Chophel’s games from the time he started playing basketball.
The match ended with a win for Chophel and his team with a score line of 53-49. The head coach of the school team left as soon as the match finished. Dawa observed that he looked impressed and shared it with his team mates. Chophel, Dawa and the house captain stayed back for a while after the game to cool down.
“You guys will surely make it into the school team this year. But I don’t know if you guys will get to play any games. The coach always gives first team places to the senior team members.”
“If we make it into the team, that will be enough for me,” Dawa said, “And I think it’s fair to let the seniors get more playing time. After all this is the last time they will play high school basketball.”
“Yeah, I agree with Dawa on this. Plus it will be very exciting just to be in the school team and get to play basketball throughout the year.” Chophel looked really happy at the prospect of him and his best friend making it into the school team.
“Man, I just can’t believe how positive you guys are, which is a good thing. I love playing basketball but I can’t handle the idea of playing and practising the whole year.”
“We just love playing basketball,” they said in unison again.
“Anyways, I think my dad will be waiting outside the school. So I guess I’ll take leave,” Chophel said, “Come on Dawa we will drop you on our way home.”
“Yaya, I guess I also have to go now. The key to our house is with me so I guess my brother and sister are waiting on me. And by the way, the finals are this Saturday but it doesn’t mean that we will sit around idly for two days. We’ll practise after school hours, alright? Inform your parents about it.”
“Sure Caps!!!!” their voices echoed as headed for the school gate.
The sunlight crept into the cold room through the small gap between the blue curtains in Chophel’s room. And as the sunlight kissed Chophel’s eyelids he smiled without even opening his eyes. He took a deep breath and then slowly proceeded to open his eyes. As long as he could remember his parents always greeted him with broad smiles and a small cake on that particular day of the year. It was his birthday; his thirteenth birthday.
“Happy Birthday my dearest son,” his dad said, as he opened the curtain to reveal a rather warm December morning.
“Happy Birthday my bu,” said his mom and she placed a soft kiss on his forehead.
“Thank you so much appa and amma. You two are the best.”
Chophel was very excited because 1. It was his birthday, 2. It was winter and 3. His dad always kept his promise. He ran down the stairs and turned towards the living room. He knew what was coming his way next. For the past four years, Dawa was always next to wish him, that too face to face even though he lived about ten or twelve blocks away. He was wearing his usual playful smile.
“Happy Birthday buddy, today is your day so I am here at your service for the whole day.”
“You don’t have to serve me today.”
“You think I am doing this for free?” Dawa teased, “I am doing this because I am expecting the same treatment on my birthday.”
“But that’s not fair, dude. Your Birthday is during school time, which means I will end up doing all your homework. Again!”
“Well that is the general idea.”
“Now that is evil,” Mr. Sonam interrupted, “I feel sorry for you bu. But it sure is nice seeing you two keep your promises even if they are as dumb as this one.”
The boys just looked up at Mr. Sonam and smiled. Just then, Chophel’s mom called out from the kitchen, “Breakfast is ready boys! I don’t suppose you had your breakfast yet, right Dawa?”
“No aunty Wangmo, I came here as soon as I got up.”
“Then stay here for breakfast. I’ll call your mom and inform her that you are here.”
After breakfast the boys helped with the dishes cleaning the dining table. With all the work done for the morning, everyone got ready and headed out to prepare for the evening. Mr. Sonam dropped off the boys at Dawa’s house after which he and Mrs. Wangmo headed for the vegetable market.
Dawa went to his room for a change of clothes while his parents talked with Chophel about the day. They were good friends with Chophel’s parents and the two families celebrated almost every occasion together. Both sets of parents considered the boys their own and the boy loved it and considered each other as brothers. Dawa returned. His father offered them a ride to the town but they preferred walking.
Chophel and Dawa met up with their classmates in the town where they had decided celebrate Chophel’s birthday in the own way, although everyone was invited to the party in the evening. The small gang of twelve to fourteen year olds roamed the streets, hung out at a game parlour, roamed the streets again, ate lunch at their favourite restaurant at the tail end of the town and roamed the streets again, this time with ice-creams in their hands.
At around three in the evening the boys dispersed and went to their respective homes to get ready for the party. Chophel and Dawa also started walking back home.
“So what did you ask for your birthday gift?” Dawa inquired.
“A basketball,” Chophel sounded excited, “and appa even promised to put up a hoop in the backyard.”
“Wow that’s cool. Can I play too?”
“Do you even need to ask? Who else am I going to play with?”
When the boys reached Chophel’s house they were pleasantly surprised right off the bat. Mr. Sonam was putting up a basketball hoop in front of the garage.
“Awesome!” The boys shouted in unison as they ran towards the garage. They looked at each other.
Dawa pinched Chophel’s arm and said, “Same pinch, no returns,” and took off. Chophel followed slowly, holding his arm and rubbing it.
“But you were going to put it up in the backyard, weren’t you?”
“Well your mom is planning to do some gardening there. Plus we already have a paved space in front of the garage so it’s less expenditure.” Mr Sonam explained.
“Go get changed boys, most of the guests are already in the backyard,” Chophel’s mom shouted from the kitchen window, “And Dawa your mom dropped off your clothes here. They are in Chophel’s room so you don’t have to go home for now.”
Chophel woke up early that day; took a shower, changed into his track suit and put his school uniform in a bag. He rushed to Dawa’s house after a quick breakfast. It was a big day for the boys.
“Could you be any slower than this?” Dawa snapped as he continued stretching.
“Sorry bro, I was doing my assignments last night and it took quite some time.”
“Let’s hurry up now; we don’t want to be late for the selections. We have to make good first impressions.” And they took off.
They were the first ones at school that morning. Even the morning rays of the sun couldn’t beat the boys to the school. They started warming up and stretching for a while. Luckily Dawa brought his basketball with him so they did some shooting drills Mr.Sonam taught them when they started playing basketball, before playing some one-on-one. The other aspiring players started pouring in slowly and the one-on-one slowly turned into a game between seniors and juniors.
The coach finally arrived just as the boys started feeling weary. Most of them almost left thinking that the coach wouldn’t show up. But apparently the coach was watching the whole pickup game and had already made a draft list of the future school team players. Chophel and Dawa were the last ones the coach called out but they were happy. He announced the news as soon as he stepped on the court and then proceeded with what he wanted from the players and his aims, the school’s aims, for the academic year. He then let the boys do some basic passing and shooting drills.
There was another news for the boys as they were about to leave for their morning classes.
“You boys won’t be having classes after lunch today. I have discussed it already with the Principal and she has agreed to let you boys go out with me in the afternoon,” the coach announced in his commanding voice.
The select group of boys whispered to each other in excitement.
“I’ll give your name list to the principal so that she can inform the concerned teachers about today’s program for you lot,” the coach scanned through the list, “everyone should be inside the school bus before the bell rings at the end of lunch break. And don’t eat too much for lunch. You can disperse now.”
Chophel couldn’t concentrate at all in the class. He turned around and saw Dawa staring out of the window, smiling; just plain smiling. Chophel knew that Dawa was also thinking about the trip in the afternoon. They exchanged looks as the bell rang to signal the end of first period. And again at the end of second period.
They discussed the possibilities of what the coach had in store for the future school basketball team during the interval. Maybe the coach was taking them to the national stadium or to meet the national basketball team to inspire them like in movies, or maybe to choose their team uniform, or just to help him with some school work that needed the workforce of around 25 boys. The possibilities were many and the time left was only two classes, 50 minutes each.
Thirty minutes into the lunch break, the school bus was filled to the last seat with boys in their blue track suits with yellow strips by the side. The only unoccupied seats were filled in about five minutes by the coach, his assistant and of course the bus driver. It wasn’t just the boys who were excited about the trip; a pair of middle-aged eyes too glimmered with excitement, unnoticed, as the bus passed through the school gate.
“Do you know where the coach is taking us, Cap?” a well built, tall boy inquired.
“No idea bro. Plus I was the school team captain the previous year, so you don’t have to call me that.”
“Well, doesn’t that make you the prime candidate for the captain’s position?” Dawa asked nervously.
“That would have been the case if it were coach Rigzin, who was the head coach the previous year. I don’t know anything about the new head coach. No one does apparently.”
While all these dialogues were being exchanged, Chophel realised that he hadn’t seen the head coach this up close before. Suddenly he felt like he had seen the coach somewhere else before, but couldn’t pin point the when and the where.
“Do you know anything about the new coach?” Chophel inquired.
“Not much. But I did hear that he was to take the coaching job last year.”
“So, why didn’t he?”
“From what I heard, he had some personal business to take care of. The Principal wanted him to coach at any cost. After much deliberation, he convinced the Principal to let him off for a year and personally recommended coach Rigzin as the temporary head coach.”
“He must really be something if our Principal was after him like that.” Dawa pointed out.
“Yes, he must be. Plus I think he is going to make us work really hard too. If I remember correctly, he didn’t miss even one of our games last year after the mid-term.” shared one of the senior players.
“Yeah, and he was always writing down notes.” the previous captain added.
“So he was working on the team even before he took the job?” One of the fresh recruits though out loud.
“Looks like he means business,” Chophel concluded turning to Dawa, “and we need to show him that we do too.”
The remainder of the long bus ride was quieter, as the bus left the city and headed in the direction of the old town, which was nothing more than deserted buildings for the young team, who were born and raised in the new town or from entirely another town.
Little did the guys know what they were in for.