By Raza Hasnain Naqvi
Jari was a champion. He had remained so for the past two years in his college. Nobody could challenge his speed and strength. He had trained hard to be a champion. Yet, something was not right. He had a competitor now and this competitor was getting attention. His name was Ateeb.
“Why are they paying attention to him?” asked Jari. He was having dinner at home with his sister Haya.
“Because he must be good, that’s why,” replied Haya.
“But I am the fastest runner in inter-college races for the past two years. I am the 100 metres champion. There is nobody who can challenge me.”
“And yet, there seems to be a challenger now,” said Haya.
Jari nodded his head, while sipping the corn soup. “He might be good, but I am not comfortable, to tell you the truth. You know that I like to be open about anything I discuss with you.”
“Yes. But if you are not comfortable, then it means there is a shadow of doubt about something in your mind.”
“Maybe. I also don’t understand it. Because I know I am better than Ateeb. I practice daily and hard. Yet this thought took root in my mind that I have been challenged now.”
Haya listened to her brother and took a sip of water. She had finished her dinner. Jari was eating slowly. She could sense that this issue was troubling him.
“You have the annual inter-college race next month isn’t it?” asked Haya.
“Yes. On 5th December. That’s why I have been going to the stadium every morning this month. I see Ateeb there. He smiles at me, but I don’t respond.”
“You’ve seen him run?”
“Yes. He has a slow start, but he picks up speed soon enough.”
“And you think he is a threat?”
“No. Of course not,” Jari said quickly.
Haya knew by the tone of his voice that Jari was giving importance to Ateeb. She hadn’t seen his brother behave this way before. Usually, he wouldn’t care about anyone else on the athletic track. He would concentrate on his training and on race day, he would simply run his race, win it and then go and collect his gold medal. This time it was different.
“I want that Gold Medal again. I want to hear everyone shouting my name when I step on the race track. And I want to hear the words from the mike: And Jari wins the race. He makes a hat-trick. He remains the undisputed 100 metre inter-college champion!”
“And what if you lose?” Haya asked slowly, knowing that it was not the right question, but she could still ask it.
Jari looked up from his dinner plate. He put the spoon down and stared at Haya for 10 seconds. Then he pushed the chair back, got up and started pacing the room. Haya kept looking at him.
“I won’t lose,” said Jari.
“What if you do?”
“I WON’T LOSE,” shouted Jari and glared at Haya.
“Well, if you want to get angry and not talk about it, it’s ok,” said Haya and started clearing the table.
Jari recognized his mistake. “I am sorry. I don’t know why I shouted. Perhaps the thought that I wouldn’t get the Gold Medal this year was too much for me.”
“But Jari you can’t change who you are because of a piece of shining metal. What you are inside is more important than a Gold Medal,” said Haya.
Jari turned back from the window and looked at his sister. She was a year older to him and she was the one person who understood him well enough. And what she said made sense to him most of the time.
“It’s about pride. I like the way people admire me in the college. If I don’t win, I stop being a champion and they stop treating me like one.”
Haya looked at Jari. She wished she could say something that would put him at ease. She just shook her head and went to her room.
Jari reached the stadium at 6 am. Some athletes were already there doing warm-up exercises. His coach hadn’t come yet. He started doing some stretching exercises.
Jari looked back and saw Ateeb. He was smiling. Jari nodded his head wondering why Ateeb was there.
“I just came to pay my regards to you. I have heard a lot about you from my friends.”
Jari glanced at him and carried on with his exercises.
“I have learnt a lot from you Jari. I see you practicing daily and have noted that the kind of exercises you do are very good to be a good runner. I have started doing those same exercises myself and it has helped me a lot.”
Jari stopped exercising. He stared at Ateeb for a few seconds. Ateeb felt a bit uncomfortable.
“Well, I am happy that my exercises have helped you,” said Jari.
“I hope you don’t mind that I am using your exercises in my routine. I have managed to better my time also in the 100 metre as a result.”
“To be honest, I do mind that you are doing my exercises. But, on second thoughts, I feel that it is good of you to be honest with me. And I am fine with it now. I can see that you are running well. After a long time, I see someone who can run.”
Ateeb smiled. “It feels great to be encouraged by a person of your caliber. I know I am not a bad runner, but now because of whatever effort I have put in and watching you, I have become a better runner. My parents will be very happy.”
“I am sure they’ll be happy to see you do well. But, honestly, you’ll have to run really hard to beat me Ateeb,” said Jari with a smile.
“I’ll do my best. I won’t try to beat you or anything. That is not my focus. All I’ll do is put in my best performance and hope for the best. I really need that scholarship.”
“Scholarship?” asked Jari.
“Yes. The coach and the college Principal have promised me that if I win the race they’ll give me a full sports scholarship for three years.”
“Well, that’s quite a promise. And what happens if you don’t win the race?” asked Jari
“I’ll have to take admission in some other college that has lower fees. My family cannot afford to pay the full college tuition here. They are banking on me winning the race and getting that scholarship. So I am trying extra hard.”
Jari looked at Ateeb. Ateeb was not looking at him. His eyes had moved to a distant horizon beyond his shoulder. Jari thought he saw a hint of tears in Ateeb’s eyes, but he wasn’t sure.
“I should go now. I am sorry to have disturbed your practice. But it feels great to have met you finally. Thank you.” Ateeb then jogged away on the track, before Jari could say anything more.
Jari knew that he was better than Ateeb as a runner, both in terms of experience and skill. But, he also understood that what motivated his running was pride and name, while what was motivating Ateeb was something else. It was a desire to be with the best and then be the best.
Jari felt that Ateeb’s motivation was stronger, as winning would allow him to continue his studies and sports in a prestigious college. Winning for Jari would only mean being crowned Champion once again. Of course it would be a hat-trick and more name and fame for him, but compared to Ateeb’s motivation, it lacked the definite punch.
He discussed this meeting with Ateeb with his sister Haya at the dinner table that night.
“So, you met Ateeb. What do you think of him?” asked Haya, trying her best to hide her smile.
Jari nodded his head, while having tomato soup. “Ateeb surprised me. He is honest and he really wants to win the race for the scholarship.”
“He can’t beat you,” said Haya.
“Why don’t you let him win?” asked Haya, looking directly into his eyes.
Jari was taken aback. He kept looking at Haya.
The college stadium was full. Different track and field events were going on in the field. Athletes from six colleges, including his own, were doing their best to win medals. Whether in shotput, discuss throw, javelin throw, long jump, high jump or any of the other racing events – referees, game officials and athletes all were busy on the field.
Jari could see the rest of his fellow athletes in the race. They were assembling near the track. Ateeb was also there. He looked focused and completely engrossed in himself. Soon enough the call on the loudspeaker came for the athletes to line up for the finals of the 100 metre race. The eight athletes assumed their positions on the starting blocks of the 8-lane track. There was a roar in the crowd, as it was the most anticipated event of the sports meet.
Jari remembered again the timing of 10.61 secs. This was the official time that was registered in the inter-college sports meet record for 100 metres. This record had stood for the last 15 years and was yet to be broken. His own personal best was 11.02 secs.
Jari cleared his mind of all thoughts. Yet, try as he might, there was this one thought that refused to go away: ‘Why don’t you let him win?’ He shook his head and waited for the sound of the pistol shot.
The runners were ready on the blocks. The pistol fired. Jari was the first off the blocks. He picked up speed in the first few strides. He could feel his heart beating fast. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ateeb a stride behind him, two lanes away to his right. There were no other runners that he could see in his peripheral vision. He didn’t expect anyone to match his speed.
But Jari knew better. Five seconds into the race and fifty metres away from the finish line, he saw movement on his right side. Ateeb was inching ahead with all his might. With only 30 metres left, Jari pushed himself harder. The ribbon at the finish mark egged him on.
Jari was close, Ateeb was closer to the ribbon. Jari pushed himself one last time and the crowd erupted with shouts of joy. The race was over. Jari kept running. Ateeb had stopped on the track, breathing heavily. He was looking at the race board expectantly.
The results flashed. The runner in Lane 4 had won, while the runner in Lane 6 came a close second. The loudspeaker announced: “And Jari wins the race. He makes a hat-trick. He remains the undisputed 100 metre inter-college champion!”
Jari looked at the Lane 6 runner Ateeb, who was now sitting down on the track with his head bent low. Medals would be given on the podium in 15 mins. Jari saw the race timings and knew what to do.
Some minutes later, the commentator announced: “…The Silver medal goes to Ateeb …and Ladies and Gentlemen the winner of the Gold Medal with a new inter-college 100 metre record of 10.57 secs… JARI.” Jari stepped on the podium and the Chief Guest, who was accompanied by his College Principal and coach, presented the medal to Jari.
The commentator continued: “And as a special award for equaling the 15-year-old 100 metre record of 10.61 secs, silver medalist Ateeb has been granted full sports scholarship by his College management.”
Ateeb looked at Jari with disbelief. Jari looked at his Principal and Coach with a contented smile and nodded to them. This was better than winning the race.
© 2013 All rights reserved, BylineRaza.com
Raza likes to share snippets of his life observations and life experiences through his writings. When he is not writing blogposts or his next ebook, he is being a regular day guy with a 45-hr-a-week job. Besides his social media footprints, he can also be reached on his email: bylineraza[at]gmail.com