WHAT? Abhishek thought, standing under the shade of a little tree, in the hope of protecting himself from the blazing sun. He looks at his faculty house captain and gives his best 'confused' look to her.
"Yeah! Go on. We want everyone to try out to pick out the best ones." She said in an isn't-it-obvious tone and motioned him to join others in the lateral line standing just behind the starting line drawn by the white chalk powder on the soil covered hard ground.
He wondered, what makes her think I could survive this, leave alone qualify to represent my house! Or maybe I have a hidden super-power that only she knows, maybe I am a superhero!
The whistle jolted him out of his day-dream as he saw everyone else take off, leaving him covered with soil dust. He took off rather clumsily, but with a determined will to give his best. And he did. He ran like he never did before. He could feel his feet leaving behind the ground like the speed of light. He kept running and running, until he realized that he was the only one running. He stopped as he was already out of breath. He caught up with his breath, put his hands on his hips, and looks around. He felt good by the after effects of the adrenaline rush and the testosterone secreted that was going waste by his lifestyle that included only watching TV and playing video-games. He looked back from where he had started just to see how much distance he had covered, and to feel good.
He wasn't sure if he saw it correct. So he looked at where the finish was. And then again he looked at where he had started. From where he was standing, they looked equidistant !!
Exasperated and with all his adrenaline high now faded because of a disappointing performance, he just left the track and went back to stand under some tree away from his house students. He sat on the ground, and started fooling around with the little stones and twigs by pretending to play Hockey, or chasing ants sometimes with his finger or the twigs.
"Abhishek, you have some water left in your bottle?"
Abhishek looked up to see the house sports captain Chetan all covered with sweat looking at him.
He took his bottle, shook it and felt some water moving inside it.
Chetan grabbed the bottle with one hand like he usually did, as Abhishek had always observed, while he watched him gulp down water greedily by pouring it from above into his mouth.
"Thanks buddy." And Abhishek saw him jog back, the champion athlete of their house, and of their school.
Abhishek never really had any particular interest in sports or athletics. In fact in games period when he was younger, they used to have race among the boys of the class and he always came last in that. He didn't mind that, it never bothered him. In fact he never cared to put enough effort in running. He never pushed himself to win, even participation was like a punishment for him. But today, when pitched against everyone else in his house (some 15 boys in total), he felt inadequate, he felt weak when he couldn't even finish the distance of 100 meters. He wasn't fat, he was just so weak! He could now feel his weakness, his fragility in this world where he could be so easily defeated, or destroyed as he would have liked to put it.
News of bombings and terrorist attacks always disturbed him and his blood used to curdle within his veins and he always swore if he got one chance to face them, he would want to shoot them all, send them a message to stop their atrocities because he will be there to stop them. But how can he, when he can't even finish a 100 metres on foot?!
With a tired mind and a sad heart, he slept early that day. He opened his eyes and saw the roof of his room. He slowly sat up and looked around in semi-darkness. He flung his bedsheet aside, walked up to his window, moved away the curtains and looked out. It was still dark. He looked at his table clock beside his bed, it was 5:43 AM. His alarm would ring at 7 AM, he had more than an hour more to sleep. But today he just couldn't get himself to go back to that bed.
He dressed up in his track suit, and sneakers, and quietly left the house. He walked out into the street outside his house, he felt he was ready now. At a distance across the children's playground, he saw the milkman on his bicycle leaving one house and pedaling towards the next house. He started running in the same direction as the milkman and tried to keep up with him. For a minute he was at par with him and even overtook him a few times but finally Abhishek had to stop. He was gasping for air, exhausted by all the effort, all the excessive bursts of energy he demanded from his body. He held on to his knees and stood there, sweating, panting heavily and smiling. In his mind he knew it had begun.