Chapter 9:

Racing Heart, Racing Mind

Where The Sky Meets The Land

The white feathered shuttle was sent flying back and forth, getting hit on the rackets of respective sides. One missed hit on one side, and it would be the victory of the one on the opposite side. It was a common sense for most sports, either played singly, doubly, or in team.

It was the basic in a badminton game too, together with on-court rules regarding the lines, boxes, position of players, and the match points. Nobu-san has taught me all those for the whole remaining week before the sport festival was officially launched. Time surely revolved much faster that I've anticipated from the day I initiated my first day of training. I did hope the period felt shortened, but I've never thought I would really perceive its realism.

My second day of training with Nobu-san seemed strangely lonely without Sora. Due to our different involvement, he trained with the field race club, reassuring me that he would be unharmed, safe and sound. I could not block him from determining since I noticed he didn't fall asleep within the period he practiced. I wasn't assuming - Even he said that, in excitement.

He believed he was recovering from his narcolepsy. It could even be that he believed he has healed completely from it. I've periodically reminded him to refer back to his doctor for confirming the news, and if it was the actual truth, I would celebrate it merrily with him.


Nobu-san's penetrating voice echoed across the air particles surrounding us, shaking me a little too much. I gasped as the response and missed the shuttle aiming towards me. It dropped right onto my head with a light tap. My countenance displayed my bewilderment, thus cracking Nobu-san's giggly laugh.

"You were daydreaming!" Then he fanned himself upon the dripping sweat he was coated in. "Just what has been in your mind, Riku?"

"I, uh," Basically I was caught red handed. It would create misunderstanding if I disclosed to him what I've been reminiscing in my head. That precious smile which I subconsciously longed for danced in my sight, which was there was none to begin with. "I'm sorry, Nobu-san!"

"Hey, don't apologize!" In my bow, I heard Nobu-san's rapid steps getting closer and louder to my sense. He was running from his side to mine. "Maybe you're tired. You're flushed."

Even my breathing agreed to Nobu-san, which then dragged me onto the ground. It was Saturday, obviously a weekend but the sport festival was two days away. Nobu-san offered to be my opponent and trained together. As a newbie in badminton, putting aside those moments of playing without any rules, I concurred to him and found a substitute place in replacement to the school gym - The school back yard.

Its space consumed the widest area in the school. No fence enveloping us, no boulder which enabled ditching the class – All right, that was a bad example. The boundary-less this back yard possessed profited us as the ones forgetting to apply permission to facilitate the school gym on weekend.

"How was Sora, Riku?"

We were resting ourselves by lying on the bare ground. We should be sitting upright, however most of my energy has impoverished. and I refused to walk to find a more suitable lounge. Both of us threw our view to the plain vast sky above us, gladdening ourselves into the alleviating breeze blowing out of nowhere.

"He's doing great. It does seem like the exercise provides him the best moment for staying alive," I replied jokingly.

For the entire two weeks of practices, I've never witnessed Sora nodding off in the class. The buoyance shone brighter, and his smile widened. He even accosted our classmates whenever we happened to bump into them, neglecting the issue occurred to us last time. As if nothing affected our bond, Sora treated everyone evenly.

It somehow triggered my dissatisfaction. I didn't know why. I preferred to be able to have him all by myself. I didn't want anyone else to act all cosy and affable with him. Only I knew about his problem, only I could handle him fittingly. Only I by his side when he cried his heart out of unutterable frustration.

"I'll go rooting for both of you," Nobu-san patted on my shoulder, transferring some endorsement to me. "Feel free to come over for a game next time. It could be the last year for the existence of badminton club."

"I feel sad for leaving like this, Nobu-san," Probably we could sign up as new members in our third year. Nobu-san's perseverance taught me not to take people's heart lightly and appreciate everything we had even the smallest gift.

Nobu-san was guessing right. Once we've stopped, I could feel my lethargy dispersing away with the wind. I might sound as overreact, but this was the most strenuous day through this week of training. Despite the short period we had, I could proudly claim myself ameliorating in skill and speed. Room for improvement was still available, but at least I could compete with my upcoming rival with this level.

We bid each other goodbyes and parted ways. Nobu-san left the school first, alone, meanwhile I made my way to the track field in the front area. Metres from afar, I could spot a running figure speeding up from a starting point to the finishing line. Who knew how long he has been there. I motioned my wave at him once he slowed down his running on the finishing line. After praising efforts of each other's, accompanied by drenching sweat and grumbling stomach, we walked back home together, and I could see his smile again.

At last, the destined days of the sport festival have arrived two days later.

Our academically lessons were shortened to halves, allowing the other halves for sport events. Sora's game would be on Monday, the first day, while mine would be on Thursday. I groaned figuring out that I would have to wait for another three days until I could ease the discomfort in me. Well, I would just use those three days to practice then.

The participants were gathered on one corner of the track field, separated as girls and boys. I saw Sora's quiver, taking it as being nervous which was he should feel so as a first timer. I sat with Nobu-san in the seats, as close as I could to get the best view of the competition. We were just lucky that I've arrived early and I could book seats for us.

My pounding heart enthralled upon listening to the announcement declaring the running competition would begin with male participants first. A vote was picked, and the second years would be competing first.

"There he is," Nobu-san nudged at me, while his other hand excitedly pointing into a course from our seats.

Sora saw us waving at him, flailing his arm, too, in between exhilaration and irresolution. It might be that he hoped for the competition to end fast too, just like me as one guy with the least enthusiasm over sports.

The participants readied themselves behind the white starting line. Sora's anxiety became clearer on his facial, triggering my curiosity. What has he been thinking? He seemed fine during our class, hence he should stay so for the sake of his performance. He was already setting his position when our eyes collided.

He was telling me something. He wanted me to know something. His eyes portrayed a bewilderment, and I tended to sense negativity upon that expression. That something which I couldn't figure out kept on lingering in my mind as I frantically recalled everything, literally everything, to relate to it.

A teacher by the starting line hoisted his whistle. Sora was the one competing at the moment, yet my pounding heart fundamentally choked me.

"On your mark!"

The high pitched whistle echoed across the track field, alerting everyone that the race has kicked off. All the participants sprinted concurrently straightaway to the finishing line. The fact that Sora was leading and leaving the others behind him definitely stammered me. I never discovered his fast feet beforehand, which was a development for him too.

I was proud of him like a doting father. My tears welled up, threatening to trickle. Nobu-san non-stop shouted for Sora's name to inspirit him as a contestant there. I joined him eventually.

"So Class 2A is speeding up to the finishing line, while Class 2F follows from behind. Oh! Class 2B and 2E are getting closer to Class 2F, declining the idea to give up the bronze medal! Meanwhile, Class 2A is still on the lead!"

The resonating cheers by spectators around us deafened me from listening to the event commentator, but it never tarnish my insistence to root for my precious friend. A few meters away from the finishing line, somehow the representative of Class 2F was decreasing the gap between them.

Sora must have noticed that. Nevertheless, his speed depleted which aided in to Class 2F's twisted victory. For some reason, I sensed a peculiar forcefulness observed from one point.

"Oh, no! What happened to Class 2A? He's slowing down!"

Was Sora practicing too much that his stamina has controvertibly drained before the actual competition? Nobu-san beside me ceased from shouting out Sora's name, and I turned to him gaping in perplex.

Finally. Indeed, finally! The worst came at the worst time. Instead of running to the finishing line as fast as he should, Sora stumbled and rolled forward towards the line, right beneath the ribbon. This favoured Class 2F right behind him to hit the ribbon and end his race. Instead of announcing whoever won the gold medal, the commentator demanded for emergency unit to check on Sora, lying flat on the end of 100 m track field.

"Sora!!!" both of us shrieked and rose from our seats in unison. We witnessed how he rolled over, bumping hard into the track. The impact from rapid running brought basically a disaster to him. Even from our spots, I could see blood trickled across his face down to the chin and temple, and he stayed put until the emergency unit came.

My pulsating heart accelerated, this time wasn't because of a running competition. I couldn't stop imagining our first encounter which introduced me to his disorder. The symptom he had always hit him at the most unsuitable time. Two weeks of practicing diligently, I never saw him falling asleep in class or running. Why did it come to him, of all time of consciousness with the most arduous movement?

Nobu-san and I left our seats and dashed towards the scene. We couldn't get closer to Sora due to crowd encircling them, definitely getting aroused upon the dramatic accident. We tiptoed over the crowd to, at least, catch a glance of Sora. He has passed out believably due to the crash, plus the dripping blood has not prevented itself from oozing too.

"Let me pass! Let me pass!!" In the midst of forlorn crowd who mostly did nothing but collecting material for rumours, I shoved myself to slip in between them.

I must get Sora in my arms! I must hold him! I manageably penetrated through the disrupting audience and seized Sora into my embrace. I heard no soft snores escaped from his nasal, like how he usually did. His face turned pallid like a corpse due to the blood lost, and his flaccid limbs told me that it wasn't just a nap this time.

He fainted. Because of the head injury.

"Sora! Sora! Please wake up!!" Yet it was to no avail. Sora wouldn't wake up just as normally for I couldn't predict how long it would take.

Incensed rage and massive disappointment jumbled in me. I couldn't blame anyone in this case. Or maybe, I should be the one who was at fault.

"Someone called the hospital! Hurry up!!" I screamed frantically amidst the crowd.

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