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Red Here Red There Red Everywhere
It was fifth grade, and the school year in the Cupertino Union School District was just weeks from ending. Excitement was buzzing in the air. The students were having fun and making the end of elementary school memorable.
All of the fifth grade teachers from Lincoln Elementary let out their classes about fifteen minutes before school ended for some free play. My classmates cheered and hurried outside, eager to conserve their time for fun.
At least, all of them besides me.
As most people know about me, I am not the typical student who indulges in physical activity. The only types of vigorous activity I performed were P. E., which I was forced to do, and Taekwon-Do. As a result, my idea for “free play” was usually reading books, writing stories, solving long and complicated algebraic equations, and stargazing. Whenever there was free play at school, I would always become tired after two rounds of going up the stairs and down the slide.
Today, I had an exception though, and it was the same exception I had most other days during fifth grade.
I sometimes played basketball. Though I was not very good at that sport, basketball was the only professional sport I followed, along with the slight exception of football and soccer. Playing basketball does drain me of all my energy, but at least I have fun, if you call running down the court with no motives, rarely ever being passed the ball, and missing most of the shots you shoot fun.
So earlier that day, when my friend Mihir invited me to play basketball with his friends who play like pro class professionals, I kindly accepted. I walked to the court, wondering if I was going to be picked last today. I was usually picked last anyways, so I was not too worried. However, it would have seemed wonderful if I had ever been picked early on.
I came in line just as they were taking count. I noticed that I was the smallest, scrawniest boy on the court. One of the big kids who was enormous for his age walked up to me.
“You’re lucky you arrived quickly. We were about to make teams.” After glaring at me, he returned back to where he was standing.
Well, he’s not picking me first, definitely, I thought to myself. I just hope the others do.
Thinking about this did not change my luck, though. After the captains were chosen and the drafting began, I was yet again picked last. A small frown was slightly evident on my face as I trudged to the team I was eventually selected in. Meanwhile, the other fifth graders never noticed. They rarely noticed. The last thing they were concerned about was missing a free throw.
All I wanted to do was prove to them that I am good at basketball. I was dedicated to practice it. I watched all the professional games played by the Warriors and the Lakers. Everyday, I always thought why I couldn’t be like them.
The game started as the ball was thrown into the air. The tallest people from each team jumped with it, attempting to tip the ball to their own side. Our teammate was no match for the other player. The ball was knocked to the other side and the point guard started dribbling as soon as his fingers made contact with the ball.
Suddenly, the basketball court turned from a mild tropical storm to a category five hurricane. The experienced players ran to their positions shouting, “Here! I’m open! Pass the ball!” Several seconds later, the ball was intercepted by our team.
I was just standing shocked about how fast they moved.
My senses finally kicked in, and I ran to the position in which I make most of my shots. It was the corner of the key. “Give me the ball!” My team’s point guard glanced toward me for a fraction of a second, then looked away. They rarely noticed.
I stomped my feet loudly. We missed the shot.
“I was completely open,” I whispered to myself. “Why couldn’t they have given me the ball just for once?” I was very angry as I trudged to the other side of the court.
Ten minutes passed as the ball went back and forth. The points on the imaginary scoreboard went into double digits.
Mihir dribbled the ball across the court. Two strong opponents were headed toward him. Mihir frantically looked around for help.
It was there and then that I knew I had to help him. I ran to his side and shouted.
Mihir glanced at me and took the chance. The basketball pummeled at me. I caught it and dribbled to my lucky spot.
I shot. The ball arched through the air in a perfect parabola.
I cheered out loud! We were back in the lead! However, I would never know that day, but I had distinguished myself as a target.
The other team had apparently pronounced that I was a danger to their advantages of the game. They decided that I must be eliminated at all costs.
To tell the truth, I had no idea why they suspected me as an obstacle, as most of them knew that I was a failure at all sports.
After the shot, I was charging to the other side at full speed, when one of the bigger opponents blocked my path.
I flew backwards from where I was standing. I turned around to support my fall with my hands, but it was too late.
I landed straight on my face. After a small moment, I passed out.
I woke up to find the faces of the players on the court just staring at me. I might have only passed out for a few seconds, but I did not feel any pain. My friends helped me up.
I told the others to continue the game without me before I began the long and tiring walk to the bathroom. I kept thinking about why they were staring at my face.
I went inside the bathroom and stared in shock at the mirror. There was dark red blood all over my face. There was red here, red there, red everywhere. A long, disturbing gash ran from the top of my forehead to my philtrum.
I started unraveling as many rolls of paper that I could, drenched them in water, and tried to wipe the blood of my face with them. I couldn’t just come out in the public like this.
The blood kept flowing.
I decided to stop thinking about it. The bell rang, and the people outside rushed to the drop-off and pick-up zone. I embarrassedly walked out too.
Fortunately, my mom was waiting in the parking lot. I hurried and tried to stuff all my belongings into the old Honda as quickly as I could and slammed the door shut, hoping that nobody would notice my horrible visage.
“What happened to you!” my mom screamed.
“I f-fell on t-the basketball c-court,” I responded softly.
“What! How many times have I told you to be careful! Can’t you just see where you are going?...” My mom kept rambling on in our home language, Marathi.
I cowered into one corner of the car, hoping that the shadows blocked my ruined face. Both of us were silent the rest of the car drive.
Later, as I rested in my bed, I went over what happened during school. I just had to get hurt. I just had to saturate the surface of my face with blood.
I turned over and began to cry. I still could see the faint tint of red around my eyes, but that was the least of my worries.
The pain had started, but it was not only coming from the physical injury, but from what other people would think of me. For the first time in my life, the people on the court would actually notice me.
Obviously, they would not notice me the way I wanted them to notice me.
Thinking back to that day, the moment seemed like one of the most terrible days I have ever had. It had all started when I was invited to play basketball with other people who also liked playing basketball.
That day had a long, lasting impression. I started playing basketball rarely, and whenever there were big people on the court, which there usually were, I would kindly abandon the game. I eventually stopped going to the blacktop. I convinced myself that basketball was not for me; after all, I was strong in other subjects.
If only I could have proved the rough and tough guys wrong that day, I would have been a completely different person, but I probably wouldn’t have liked it. They would have pestered me, and I would have never been left alone.
In some ways, that gash did wonderful things to me. I would remember that moment for the rest of my life along with how it shaped me to become who I am today.