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Half Girlfriend(6)
Chetan Bhagat

‘What the...’ R screamed. Too late.The rival team took the ball, passed it to the other end and scored a basket.

R cursed herself, inaudible to anyone tise. She then signalled to three of her teammates to cover specific opponents and jogged across die court.When she went past me, I saw her sweaty, flushed face from up close. We made eye contact for nanoseconds, perhaps only in my imagination. But in those nanoseconds something happened to my heart.

No, I wouldn’t say I fell in love with her. I wouldn’t even say I felt attracted to her. But I felt something deep inside, strong enough for my heart to say, You have to talk to this girl at least once in your life.

‘Babes, cover her. I said cover’ R screamed. Her state of mind was as far from mine as possible. She passed the ball to her teammate, who missed scoring a basket again.

‘What are you guys doing?’ she shouted in perfect English. I felt nervous; how would I ever speak to her? Her face was grimy, dust sticking to her left cheek and forehead. Yet, it was one of the most beautiful faces I had seen in my entire life. Sometimes it is hard to explain why you find a person beautiful. Was it her narrow face, perfectly in line with her slender body? Was it her flawless skin and complexion, which had turned from cream to pink to red? Or was it not about her looks at all? Was it her passion, her being totally immersed in the game? I didn’t know.

Of course, I never actually thought it would lead to anything. She seemed too posh to even give me a second glance.

Destiny, however, had other plans. For why else, in the seventh minute of the first half, would the college team captain overthrow the ball outside the court, where it hit my head as I stood on the sidelines? Why would I grab the ball in reflex? More than anything, why would R come to collect it?

‘Ball, please,’ she said, panting. I felt paralysed.

‘I said ball, please,’ she said. I held on to the ball for an extra half second. I wanted to look at her a bit longer. I wanted to take a snapshot of her sweaty face and store it in my mind’s camera for life.

I threw the ball at her. She caught it with ease and looked at me. She could tell from my throw that I knew the game.

‘Change your point shooter,’ I said. For some reason, I had managed to speak in correct English this time.

‘What?’ she said. She surveyed me from top to bottom. I now wished I had worn better clothes. I had not changed out of my interview shirt and pants, both of which the tailor back home had stitched too loose for me. I looked out of place on the basketball court. With my folder of certificates, I resembled a hero from those Hindi films of the seventies—the one who could not find a job. I have a Bihar state team T-shirt, I wanted to tell her. Of course, in the middle of a game, and as a first conversation, this was a terrible idea.

‘Your shooter is useless,’ I said.

The referee whistled to commence the game. She turned away and forgot about me faster than her throw reached her team member. ‘Here, pass it to me,’ R shouted as she reached the opposition basket.

Her point shooter held the ball and looked around, confused.

‘I said here’ R screamed so loudly that pigeons flew off the trees in the lawns.The point shooter passed the ball, R caught it and took a shot from well beyond the three-point line.

Whoosh! 'The ball went through the basket. The crowd cheered. They already had a soft spot for R anyway.

The referee announced a break at the ten-minute mark. The college team led 12-5. R huddled with her team, figuring out their strategy for the next half. As her team meeting ended, she wiped her face and neck with a towel.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I forgot I had my own trial in less than an hour. I only wanted to figure out a way to talk to her a bit more. Maybe I could tell her she played well. I wondered how to tell her about my state-level game without coming across as a show-off. And, more than anything, how would I go beyond five words of English?

She caught me staring. I wanted to kill myself. She continued to jgnli directly at me, the towel still around her neck.Then she walked up to me. A shiver ran down my spine.

I didn’t mean to stare, I wanted to tell her. I wondered if she would scream at me like she had done during the match.

Flunks,’ R said.

She had walked across the court, to thank me?

She was breathing hard. My eyes were glued to hers.

Look away, Madhav, I scolded myself and turned away.

'That was a good tip,’ she said to my left profile.

'Welcome... You...are...good,’ I said. Uttering each word was like hitting a brick.

'Any other suggestions for the second half? We’re losing.’

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