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Stories. 
Fifteen Love
by Debashish Majumdar

When Lalramthanga was a kid, his dad exceeded in ball games. It was only when Lala became a teenager that his father hung up his football boots, tossed his table tennis racquet aside and presented his tennis racket to his son. Ofcourse, his dad did not give up ball games altogether. He decided to play indoor basketball. He bought a large waste paper basket and would toss in paper balls into it. Now that became easy. So he hung the basket upon the wall. It was his puppy Romeo who challenged him and beat Lala’s dad hollow. Romeo would snatch the paper balls in his mouth, leap in the air and pocket the crumpled paper in the basket!

It was Lala’s friend Janet who was an ardent sports fan. Yet tennis was a new game to her. She encouraged Lala to play the game just for fun. She would accompany Lala to the tennis court where the poor lad would be smashed by his opponents.

Janet was very encouraging. She would call out in the top of her voice: “ C’mon Lala. Love seems to be your favorite score.”

Lala would blush. He worked hard upon the bouncy, pacy courts of Aizawl.

After each game, Janet would squeeze Lala’s chubby cheeks like an orange: “ Cheer up, pal. It took me years to score my first marks in Math.”

This bit of news cheered up Lala. It boosted his morale. Lala took the game very seriously. He practised hard. Lala played better and better.

Janet was overjoyed.

It was then the big school tennis tournament was announced.

Tony came from Shillong and joined Lala’s school. His dad was in the army. He was a tennis star. What’s more, Tony was tall, fair and handsome. And Lala made a hawk-like discovery. He had an eye for Janet. After practice sessions, Tony and Janet would talk about books. And pop singers and bands. Lala’s cheeks flushed with anger and jealousy. He was determined to make a mince meat of Tony on the tennis court.

The first round: Lala was playing Eddie from Manipur. Lala glanced at the stands.

Janet was sitting next to Tony who was chattering away like a well fed monkey.

Janet hardly noticed Lala’s game. Lala had raced to a 6-1,6-0 victory. He raised his arms in victory. Janet was worried.

“ Lala,” she wiped a gentle tear, “ Don’t surrender. Put your arms down and play.”

“ I have won!” cried out Lala helplessly. Tony looked the other way.

“ Can we take a walk up the hills?” Lala requested Janet.

“ Wait!” she said,” Tony is playing next.”

Lala slumped upon a chair next to Janet.

The match began : Tony versus Ronnie.

“ Wow, isn’t he handsome?” asked Janet and drew in a deep breath.

Tony smashed the tennis ball out of court.

“ What a great shot!” shrieked Janet.” Keep it up, Tony.”

“ Tony has lost the point,” pointed out Lala quietly.

“ Oh, did he?” said Janet sadly, “ Please tell me when to clap, okay?”

“ Well if Tony plays me, “ Lala asked Janet worriedly,” Whom will you support?”

“ The referee, you silly goose.” Smiled Janet,” At fifteen you sound like a dumb porcupine.”

At that moment, Tony served and the referee called out : fault.

Janet stared angrily at the referee.

Tony served again. The ball had crossed the opponent’s inner line.

The referee called out: double fault

“ Hey,” Janet bounced out of the seat like a ball. She grabbed at the referee.

“ Stop blaming my friend Tony. It was not his fault at all. He has only served the ball!”

Lala intervened and he handled an embarrassing situation very well.

“ Janet, making faults is a part of tennis,” taught Lala.

“ Oh I see…oops,” Janet pulled out a scented hanky from her handbag and plugged her mouth,” I must apologise to the referee.”

The game continued. Janet was busy licking an ice-cream. She cheered and clapped her hands at the wrong timings. She was happy when the game got over.

“ Hey,” she closed her eyes,” Who won?”

Tony had won by the skin of his teeth. He patted his opponent Ronnie.

“ Well played…it was not quite your day today.”

Janet introduced Tony to Lala once again. They smiled at each other.

“ Tony is a very talented photographer,” she told Lala.

“ Lala is a wonderful guitarist,” said Janet to Tony.

***

For the next match, Lala decided to bring in Romeo as a spectator. Lala was a bit scared to lose. He feared that a loss would make Janet hop for Tony. He had to win …to keep Janet alive with him.

Romeo cheered for his master by wagging his tail and flicking his tongue. Then Lala decided to toss the ball over his opponent’s head. As soon as the ball swirled in the air, Romeo jumped onto the court, leapt up and took the ball in the mouth. He landed straight on the referee’s lap. The referee froze. He was really scared of dogs! Janet shoved away Romeo and the game began again.

Lala played very well in the school tennis tournament to reach the finals. Janet was so happy that she patted Lala’s cheeks. Guess what? The other boy to reach the title round was Tony.

“ Will you cheer for me or Tony?” asked Lala insecurely.

On the final day, Janet stuck out her long right hand and shook hands with Lala. Her left palm was anchored firmly into Tony’s.

“ Wish you equal luck,” Janet looked bewildered,” I’ll pray for a draw.”

“ Someone has to win,” said Tony.

“ Someone has to lose,” said Lala locking its horns.

“ Take it easy,” pleaded Janet ,” I want none to be hurt…mentally or physically.”

***

The Janet rivals took up the challenge. They brandished tennis racquets like charged knights in King Arthur’s Court. When Lala was hot, Tony kept his cool. While Tony warmed on his toes, Lala threw about his arms. Both pairs of eyes hovered to where Janet was standing and cheering.

“ Hey …this ain’t a boxing match!” Janet reminded them loudly.

The clash of the titans began.

Lala forced a smash straight into Tony’s chest. Then another shot whistled past his right ear. Lala looked at Janet. She was admiring her friend’s latest ear-rings.

Now Tony played a sizzling backhand drive past Lala which bounced on Janet’s head! It woke up Janet. She cheered loudly.

The referee made a mistake with a line call. Tony wrapped up the first set 6-4.

“ Hey…who’s winning?” Janet asked curiously.

“ The referee’s winning,” Lala snorted back.

Lala was a set down in the Finals. And half of Janet was behind Tony.

Lala dived like a scuba champ at everything!

R…r…r…r…i…p !

His shorts had given way. His underpants were exposed. The crowd laughed as Lala rushed to the changing room.

Lala returned to play a few sterling shots. He won the second set 7-5.

The final set. The winner takes all.

As Janet and Romeo cheered, dark clouds gathered above their heads. Rains came down heavily. Play was held up.

The referee announced the score: 1-1, 30-30.

“ Great!” said Janet, “ let’s keep it that way…50-50!”

The rains came back. Play was washed out. Tony and Lala were declared joint champions.

“ You have more to learn, less to argue,” Janet scolded Lala,” The match did end in a draw, didn’t it?”

Tony smiled. Janet held Tony’s camera in her hands.

“ Who clicks?” asked Lala fearing the worst. “ Me and you, Janet?”

“ I click!” winked Janet ,” Tony and Lala get together …quick!”

“ Ok guys…love –love and 50-50,” she dabbed lipstick on her lips and smiled.

Tony and Lala understood Janet’s keeping of tennis scores … atlast! 

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

19-Jan-2009
 
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