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You never liked basketball.
Yet there you were, standing in the shaded corner of a broken down court, barely visible white lines sketched on worn down black asphalt taunting you with memories. Your head overflowed with the sounds of dribbling and shouting, and the overpowering smell of sweating boys who played as if you were a talent scout. But in reality, you were only a girl.
Lost in your memories, you watched them pass the ball down the court. There was a swoosh, a victory dance, and of course the shouts of success and rough pats on the back. There was no tension there; just a group of mismatched boys dressed in only faded tee shirts and jeans despite the patches of snow on the ground.
You shivered; they might not feel the cold, but the wind nipped at the back of your neck, forming goose pimples and making your long hair dance around your face. If you had looked up, you might have seen the foreboding clouds on the horizon. Maybe you would have run for cover as common sense called for, but the game would have gone on as it always did. There was a strange air about the court, as if nothing from the outside could touch it. The players and the spectators were drawn into the game, immersed in the (more often than not) good natured battle between friends and enemies. The court was its own world, protected from the outside by nothing other than the spirit of the lost boys (and you, the girl) who spent their time there. It could snow, rain, or sleet, but none of it would reach you as you stood on the sidelines. You had faith in the magic of the game.
The chain-link fence surrounding the court was sharp and rusted, large holes apparent where troublesome teens with good intentions had snuck in late at night, avoiding the locked gate. No measures had been taken to repair them, and it was unlikely that any ever would. No one cared. It was all about the match, the team, the good time. It was what you liked best about watching them play.
There were no nets, just bare and lonely hoops. The boys would make the swooshing sound themselves, and were often embarrassed when the ball bounced off the ring at the last second. They had spoken too soon. Yet they were not laughed at, but laughed with. You chuckled too, and were invited to join the game, but you refused as you always did, tugging at the left leg of your jeans to make sure the plastic that took the place of a real leg was hidden.
¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬You glanced down at me, half asleep with my thumb in my mouth, and smiled. Silently, you hoped that I might someday have what you never could.
I was only five, and short for my age. The top of my head just barely reached your waist, and when I touched my hand to yours, you could bend your fingers over the top of mine. The players seemed like giants to me, and my neck hurt from looking up so much. The ball was intimidating; it had come close to hitting me a few too many times for my liking.
I wore my pajamas and a winter coat; the sun was still rising, and I wasn’t used to being up this early. Sitting down with my head leaning against your real leg (you didn’t like it when I touched the other one), I viewed everything through half-lidded eyes. Feet rushed past me, and I cowered away, rotating my small body so that I was now propped up against the back of your calf, facing the outside instead of the players.
Reaching out, I touched the metal of the fence, and my fingers came back coated in flecks of reddish brown. I was sitting right in front of a small hole in the barrier, just large enough for a child my age to crawl through. It was tempting, but the sharp, rusted spikes that had been left when the gap was created persuaded me to stay where I was. To you the fence barred the outside from us, but I just felt caged in.
A few blades of dry, yellowed grass stuck up out of the pavement a few feet away. I was about to reach out, the ever-curious tendency for my age taking over yet again, but before I could so much as uncurl my fingers, it was stomped out by a basketball player. Dejected, I slumped down and pouted.
The asphalt was rough and wet against my knees, and it turned my formerly pink pajamas an ugly shade of gray. Mama would not be happy.
I wondered again why you had bothered to take me with you. My cheeks were red and my lips were chapped. It was cold. Above us, the clouds looked ready to burst, and when I stuck my tongue out, it caught the first snowflake of the impending storm.