The Game

(illustration: Andy Singer)

The kid loved basketball. He never had a basketball to speak of, but the school had plenty. The kid had a favorite. It was old, smooth, and had the feel of rough paper. It bounced as high as any of the new ones. The kid felt alive when it bounced back perfectly.

The kid knew the concrete playing field—all the broken spaces and the cracking cover of the court. The kid knew how to angle and fly by the arms and legs of others. All for that beautiful sound: swoosh.

On the court, the kid was calm and in control. On the court, the kid was happy.

Looking forward to school days put a target on the kid’s back. Enjoying the quiet of the library put a target on the kid’s back. Finishing homework put a target on the kid’s back. Not being dark enough put a target on the kid’s back. Writing clearly, knowing answers, being quiet, everything put a target on the kid’s back.

But on the court, the kid was free. The kid had skills that shamed them all. And one day the kid beat the best. One day, one hour, one game, the kid was king.

Lunch hour was almost over. All the white bread, crackers, and apple juice—over. The focus for the kid was the court. The court was broken in places, pieces here and there, grass growing through the concrete. Torn nets on the rims. The backboards, bruised metal, were older than anybody on the court.

The kid saw Sam waiting at the other side of the court. The teams were made over lunch, the kid on one, Sam on the other. It was a long rivalry, a heated rivalry, played out every day on the court. The kid and Sam were never on a team together. Never.

A penny was flipped and the kid’s team got the ball. The game began.

It was a whirl of arms and legs, of torn jeans and busted shoes, of dirty hands and long hair. The fouls were flying, hits on the head with elbows, slaps on the arms leaving red marks.

Sam got the ball, his team was on the lead, and Sam made a three shot. The kid was getting angry; had to focus, just needed two threes to get ahead.

It was a whirl of arms and legs, of torn jeans and busted shoes, of dirty hands and long hair. The fouls were flying, hits on the head with elbows, slaps on the arms leaving red marks.

The kid got the ball from the out and headed for the rim. Sam came out to the left and attacked, almost got the ball, but the kid passed it and his teammate made a shot. Now the kid felt a rumble. Sam had the ball and the kid watched. Sam’s wrist spun as he bounced the ball, a weakness. Sam ran for the rim, and the kid slid by and reached in, sliced the ball away from Sam and headed for the rim. Swoosh.

The call: five minutes left for recess.

Sam stood in the court dumbstruck. No one ever took the ball from him. His team had the out and the kid took it from Sam again, another slice and pass, a three shot made.

Time.

The kid walked away from the court.

 

Elena Cisneros is an MFA student at Hamline University in Saint Paul.

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