Drop #18: Air Ball

I started smoking again because I moved apartments and the new one has a perfect smoking balcony I just can’t waste. It looks out over the playground of a school where most of the students are Chinese, and yesterday, while I was out there, about fifteen eight-year-old boys and girls in navy blue sweat pants and sky blue tops had gym class on the fenced off basketball court. They took turns shooting free throws: a daunting task for weak little arms and legs. Some cheated, sneaking well past the free throw line, but still missed. Balls struggled to hit the net, even the rim, let alone go through. Only one boy did well, showing good technique in hitting two of four.

Their teacher, a thin Chinese man in his thirties, fetched each miss and returned the ball to the next in line, but took a few shots himself from various spots on the court while doing so. He missed badly too, every time; in fact, most were air balls.

I finished my smoke but stayed out on the balcony, watching. I found it soothing, smiling here and there at a particularly wayward, if enthusiastic attempt.

Class ended and the kids got in line to go back indoors. A woman who had been standing near the gate met the teacher as he led them out; he stopped to talk to her, asking another adult to take over his duties. The kids went ahead, leaving him alone with the woman, perhaps another teacher. He hugged two basketballs against his chest as they stood close together and talked. He looked happy to see her.

But soon the mood changed. Of course I couldn’t hear anything from the balcony, but it was obvious things had suddenly become strained. She put a hand on his shoulder to say something final, paused briefly, then left, walking away quickly without looking back.

He stayed, motionless for few seconds before throwing one ball, then other hard against the fence. He dropped to one knee resting head in hand, remaining like that for more than a minute; then got up to solemnly fetch the balls that had rolled to opposite ends of the court.

 By E.M. Vireo

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About EM Vireo
flooding the world with fiction

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