The crowd gathered in the stands had waned. Rain had dampened the field and pushed the semi-final over to the next day, but it couldn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm. Everyone was confident that India was half-way into the World Cup final. But Ranjit had mixed emotions, and not because he had eaten a mixed salad with his favourite chicken salami, coleslaw, and olives, but which also contained artichoke and beetroot. It was because the final was the same day as his date with Bhavna. She had shared her plan the night before. The uncharacteristic vivacity in her eyes lingered in his mind.
Difficult choices lay in wait. Should he refuse her offer of spending the weekend in a distant, quiet cabin by a lake with no television or cell reception? Should he forget about the tournament, the fanfare, the ecstasy of lifting that trophy? Most importantly: should he pray that India loses the semi-final? His eyes bulged in shock as the thought presented itself.
His uncle had closed shop on people’s behest, and Ranjit had decided to head to a sports bar. The pressure was too much to handle without liquid support.
Ranjit was surprised to see the place packed in the afternoon. It reminded him of the nation’s passion for cricket but also made him distraught because every moment that reduced his chances of spending quality time with his lover would be hurrahed. He was already drenched with sweat.
Frenzy and excitement heightened as the New Zealand innings ended. Ranjit used the short interval before the Indian openers marched out to stuff himself with food: his coping mechanism.
A few minutes later, many others were sweating just as profusely as him. The sudden eruption of silence was unsettling. It was rather like sound had been choked out of the room. Ranjit could hear his heartbeat, the glowing LED decoration on the walls and the soft hum of the air-conditioning. The sky became overcast over the stadium, but it couldn’t match the gloom in the room.
He could see the scales shifting in his favour. But it was a balance he didn’t want to upset. Each result was only possible at the expense of the other, a cruel trade-off.
But over the next couple of hours, the weight of the decision was eased off his shoulders. It wasn’t because of the teams’ performances. Amid the capricious game, the only constant was the image in his mind of a beautiful, smiling girl. His smile widened little by little as the game progressed.
During the same couple of hours, there were hits, misses, cheers, and boos. A hugely competitive and skill-filled rollercoaster of a game toyed with people’s emotions. Some ordered drinks to drown the tension, others drowned silently in their mental turbidity. The bartender refused to serve cocktails with kiwi fruit. It all built up to a nail-biting finish that caused even the staunchest atheists to pray to God.
But it wasn’t to be.
Ranjit was delighted that Team India had made the decision for him. It was disheartening to see his team lose out, though, and he did feel somewhat dejected.
Those feelings of dismay catapulted a few seconds later, for something happened in that little window.
Ranjit had voiced his elation.
For the second time that day, his eyes bulged in shock. It was not a cry of joy at the team’s defeat, but he knew no one would try to listen. People always have anger lurking within, and when a mob is presented with a target, there’s no escaping.
People circled around him. He heard the door click shut.
There were only hits, not misses. There were only boos, not cheers.
Fans bleed blue. He bled, and he was blue.
Yep, still hurts. Oh, time, you cruel bastard, make it go away.