Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Afternoon


By Ashwin Eapen 
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I wasn't in the mood for an afternoon of Fine art classes. The first half was to involve learning to play the bongo drums, and the second, martial arts. I wasn't very good at either, but truth to be told, it was mostly laziness that made me decide to call in sick and sleep in the classroom. As I saw it, being in a karate fight while playing the drums, was not in my future.  If anyone questioned the authenticity of my excuses, I was confident that I could muster a pretty mean cough and an excellent sick patient look. After all, I did play lead role in the school play the previous year. 

The first half hour went smoothly with nobody suspecting my excuse and I having cozy nap in the empty classroom, dreaming of being BatmanLittle while later, I had to exit the bat cave as sounds of footsteps approached my fortress of solitudeThewere fast and had the background of heavy panting. I wonder if I was in trouble and would be summoned by the teacher to explain about this sudden sickness and have to exhibit my acting skills. As they got closer mustered the courage to sneak my head up to and find who it was?  

"Ashwin, where is everybody?"  

"Huh!! They have all gone to fine arts classes. I'm not keeping too well, so decided to stay in"  

It was Ajay, my friend who was a year senior to me. I was relieved that it wasn't any of my classmates as that meant clearly was not in trouble. But I wondered why was he here? 
"Where is Anthony?"  
"Well, he is in fine arts class I assume"  
"Ok all right. Since he is not here, why don't you come with me"  

Clearly, he hadn't heard that I was sick or he just knew that I was lying, either way I wasn't too worried about that at this point. 
"Where, why, what?"  
"We need a hockey goalkeeper, and Shenoy sir said if I couldn't find Anthony, then I was to call you"  
"Really, ok…I'll comeI replied with glee 
As I ran with him to the playground, I was excited about the prospect of being called up by Shenoy Sir to be the goalie. He had run the school's hockey program for several years, and had overseen our school's rise from being 'The Thrashed' to being the 'The Thrashers'. But then the closer I got to the ground, my doubts began. What team was I being goalie for and was it for the school team? I was only in 7th grade, wasn't I too young?  
And there at the hockey field see my super seniors standing around with their hockey sticks.  Suman, Umesh, Deepu, Rohit and the whole lot. These guys were my brother Ashok's batch mates. My apprehensions about what I had gotten into just increased ten fold 
'Ajay, what's going on? Why am I being brought here?  
'Well, Alex who was the substitute goalkeeper for the senior team decided that he wanted to concentrate on academics and quit being the goalkeeper. So you're being thought of replacing him in the team' 
'What??? Are you serious' I asked in disbelief 
As sheer panic rushed through my brain, there was also a slight sense of excitement. After all, Ashwin Eapen, Senior team substitute goalkeeper sounded quite good, even if it was just the substitute. My brother's friend Suman walks over to me, and asks  
'So, Are you ready for this? Think you can handle a few practice shots?'  
'Yeah! I think so'  Of course that was a complete lie. This was Suman who we're talking about. I didn't dream of stopping his shots. Suman for us juniors in schools was Carl Lewis, Maradona and possibly Sachin Tendulkar all combined in one, he could do it all. There were rumors among us kids, that he once single handily dribbled the ball all the way from one half to the other, wading and making the other team's superstars look ordinary, and nearly scoring the goal. I could never confirm this rumor, but we never cared. He was our hero, and playing against him was both exciting and intimidating. 
'All right. Suit up then.  The goalie's equipment is over there. Put it on and get ready'.  

As I slowly put on the bulk hockey equipment, I see him taking practice shots against a concrete wall.  All I could hear is the rhythmic whack of the hockey stick and the thud of the ball hitting the concrete wall. It felt like the ball was defying the laws of physics as it zipped at the speed of light and I could see cracks developing in the wall. I gulp, as I stand up and walk over to the goal posts, and wonder if this was a good idea after all. 7th grader tragically killed in hockey shootout, was not how I saw my life end. 
He looks up to me, and asks 'Ready?'  
'Yep, go for it'  I reply unconvincingly. 
He brings his stick up, and then in a split second brings it down. The stick makes contact with the ball I barely see it as it zips pasts me. My feet are rooted to the ground. Did that just happen? Holy Cow! 
 I look up to him and say 
'All right, all right, Suman. Lets do this again'  
Whack, and again the ball zips pasts me again. Over the next half hour I went through many  
'Al right, all right, come on'  
'This time is for sure'  
'All right, this is the last one you will get past me'  
'Pffft, I am just warming up, come one!'  

His shots and my lack of goal stopping were indiscriminate. The balls flew right, left, through my legs, in the side corner, over my shoulder and all possible combinations. My prospect of being the senior team's goalkeeper wasn't looking very promising. 
And just when I thought this was going nowhere, I caught a break. Suman, hits a shot where the ball instead of sticking to the ground went up in the air, and whacked me on the helmet. Yes, I finally did it! I finally stopped a goal! 
Suman rushed over to ask if I was ok, 

'Ashwin, are you ok? Do you need help to get up?'  
Why is he asking if I was OK? Wait a minute, what am I doing on the ground?  
'Dude, you fell to the ground as my shot hit you on the helmet'  
'Really? But the ball didn't go in right?'  
Suman cracked a smile and replied, 'No it didn't. Well done, dude. Ashok (my brother) will be proud'  
Over the next half hour, Suman gave me around fifty to sixty practice shots and while there were many that zipped past me, I stopped a good number, none of which required further use of my helmet. As the school bell rang, Suman came over to me. 
'Tell Ashok, you've been selected as substitute goalkeeper. Congrats dude. Also please don't tell your mom about the helmet hit'  
'No, of course not!!! And thank you'  

There it was, I had been selected to be the goalkeeper of the School's senior team. I couldn't believe my luck, my laziness had finally brought me some luck. Now I would get to skip classes to go for practice and inter-school tournaments. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my brother and my momMore importantlycould boast to my friends the next day. Laziness indeed does pay off.