Chapter 1:

Beginning of the End

The Future is Mine

Chilly air brushed up against Kiran’s extremities, making him go numb. With the weight of his backpack crushing his spine, Kiran descended the mountain. It was a narrow path that spiraled down the mountainside, overlooking suburbia. The clouds were plentiful and fluffy like cotton candy and the sky was a smooth blue. The air was heavy but clean to breathe and noise pollution was minimal.Bookmark here

Large oak trees overhung the path and served as a mini highway for small insects and animals, like squirrels to safely get across to the lower side of the mountain. Birds with all differing sized beaks, small quail-like mammals and rodents would always appear on the side of the path, right next to the bush and flora. The moment Kiran would walk past, they would immediately get disturbed and scurry away into the thick wilderness, completely out of sight.Bookmark here

Today marked the start of something exciting, but also scary, not just for Kiran, but for everyone in his year level. It was the start of the new year, the final year of their high school life. Emotions will be sky high as the inevitable final exams come running at them. For many students, these exams will forever shape their lives, whether they like it or not.Bookmark here

Ever since Kiran saw students playing tennis at the local club beside his school, his eye’s had been set on chasing the dream of becoming a professional tennis player. At the age of six, Kiran embarked on that journey, training almost every single day. At the start nothing but tennis was on his mind, but by the time he was thirteen, Kiran realized the importance of his education and decided to not throw it away, but to try and balance both things at the same time.Bookmark here

At fourteen, Kiran had mastered how to technically hit all shots perfectly in the game and had acquired eight distinct types of forehands. His serve had gone from a basic timed movement to the trophy position and then pronation, to something unique and almost artistic. He certainly was talented, but his real goals and targets seemed always just out of reach. He was currently ranked fifth in his state, but he needed to be ranked third by the end of the year to get accepted into the national junior team. Sure, it would only be two placements up from where he is now, but the difference in ability, fitness, experience, mentality, and psychological defense mechanisms was in an entirely different dimension.Bookmark here

Kiran’s parents were proud of their son’s achievements, but they were persistent in telling him to have other options to fall back on. Kiran sometimes felt like they never believed in him, since they constantly doubted his ability. But the worry that always lingered in Kiran’s mind, was that everything that he had ever achieved or worked towards could one day disappear in an instant, never to be seen or heard of again.Bookmark here

The sound of calming critters had dissipated as Kiran walked along the concrete of the front entrance to his school. Waiting patiently at the gate was his best friend, Samuel.Bookmark here

“You ready to hit the courts, Kiran?”Bookmark here

“You bet I am.” Samuel came running over, bumping into Kiran, and giving him a big hug around the chest. “I was thinking that we should do the butterfly drill again today, Samuel. After the practice match yesterday, I was struggling to hit through the ball and get depth on my forehand when I went hit cross court.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, that’s because you started to use too much of your arm, rather than transferring your body weight through the ball.”Bookmark here

“It’s almost like you can read my game like a book.”Bookmark here

“Well, if that were true, then I wouldn’t be on the cusp of failing English, would I now?”Bookmark here

Kiran got out his steel key and unlocked the padlock on the gate to the court. The court itself was slightly outdated and was a concrete surface. All the newer courts began to get plex-cushion, a rubbery material that gave the concrete courts a bit of more of a bounce. Kiran had played on it during the school break and noticed how much quicker he recovered after matches, since it was not as hard on his ligaments.Bookmark here

They began hitting strokes in the service box to begin with, getting a feel for the ball and going through the motions, to tune in their technique. There was only just over half an hour till school started, so there was no time for breaks; they were just going to smash out the session.Bookmark here

The butterfly drill was a physically taxing drill, involving constant movement and focus on changing the direction of the ball. Both players would initially start at the center line and the first player would hit the ball cross court and then the opposing player would hit the ball down the line. Then, after a while, they would change roles. It was a great exercise to warm themselves up for the rest of the day.Bookmark here

Time went by slowly as both Kiran and Samuel hit. Kiran’s style of play was much slower and more reserved compared to Samuel, who liked to flatten out the ball and slap it without regard to the height of the net when going down the line sometimes. Samuel’s style made it exceedingly difficult on Kiran, as he would have less time to prepare for each individual shot, especially when Samuel was the one going down the line off the cross court shot.Bookmark here

The sun rose out of nowhere, revealing itself in all its glory. The clouds parted ways and the heat and humidity finally set in, making the boys sweat like pigs. Sweat dripped from their foreheads and down their arms onto their grips, making them wet and slippery. Despite Kiran’s more measured approach to hitting each stroke than Samuel, he held the grip of the racquet harder, causing his racquet to sometimes slip out during pronation on serve or on a huge forehand. Only on one occasion had the racquet hit the ground and cracked, but it was bound to happen again.Bookmark here

“Hay, Kiran how about we call it for the moment? It’s the first day, we have an assembly to kick off the start of the new school year. I believe the teachers will be explaining the rundown for the year.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, no problems, I’m just about toast anyway.”Bookmark here

Together with their heavy backpacks on, they walked through the school grounds toward the back end of the school, where the undercover area was, right beside the oval. It was a public school, so the buildings and facilities were nothing to brag about, but there was something about the dilapidated buildings that made them feel special. Kiran felt like the buildings themselves harbored cherished memories of the past and by being a student, he felt that once it was his time to go, that he too would be part of that history which was stored in these very buildings. It was that feeling of togetherness which he shared with the school culture and his interpersonal relationships inside and outside of school that held his psyche together. Bookmark here

It wasn’t long until they arrived. Kiran was relieved that it wasn’t one of those embarrassing moments when they are the last ones to show up at the assembly and everyone looks over at them like strange aliens from a distant planet. This time they had actually managed to show up just as everyone else was, so Kiran had no reason to be socially anxious. Bookmark here

Jumping up and down on the spot, Amelia waved her hands to get the attention of Kiran and Samuel as they looked for a place to sit. Kiran quickly noticed Amelia making a mockery of herself, because the people around him diverted their attention off themselves and their pretentious friend groups. Kiran tapped Samuel on the shoulder and led the way to where Amelia was. They both sat right next to Amelia, wedged between a large group of gamers who wouldn’t stop rambling on about junk that they had seen online. Everyone sat all jumbled up in a square marked by the basketball court which was situated underneath the roof.Bookmark here

Amelia was frail, but she had the most gorgeous blue eyes and wavy blonde hair. Ever since she was very young, Amelia studied day in and day out to try and expand her repertoire of knowledge and problem-solving ability. It was her dream to one day become a doctor and perform lifesaving surgery on patients less fortunate than herself. Thanks to her diligence and hard work, Amelia’s intelligence was off the charts and on an entirely different hemisphere than anyone in the cohort. Bookmark here

Whenever Amelia would insert her own opinion into an English discussion in class, or answered difficult math problems, many students took it as her way of showing off. Because of this, many students who felt inferior or at competition with Amelia would often accuse her of being egotistical, selfish and liken her to being a teacher’s pet. Even for people who didn’t think that way about Amelia, it was often hard for Kiran to get through to her when he would try to just have a normal conversation, because she struggled to switch her mind between school and banter. However, hidden underneath her determination and seriousness was her nerdy and kind self, which was infectious on Kiran's being.Bookmark here

The last student finally arrived and awkwardly squeezed onto the basketball court. Everyone went quiet, as the principal stood center stage. She cleared her throat over the microphone, making all sorts of weird and disturbing sounds, before finally opening her mouth. All the students addressed her as Ms. Peterson, because she wasn’t married. She was sturdy, extremely self-conscious and really intimidating. Some students claimed that they could feel her presence from halfway across the school when she would occasionally go waltzing around from classroom to classroom, showing off her school to supervisors. Bookmark here

“Good morning students and staff, today marks the beginning of yet another splendid year of learning. But for everyone in this cohort, this will be your last year with us. In week twelve you will all begin your preliminary examinations which will serve as indicators and for some of you, wake up calls when it comes to the final exams. Bookmark here

For those of you looking to maximize your entry score for university, all the science and mathematics final exams will be worth fifty percent of your total marks. Every other subject exam will only be worth twenty five percent, so consider yourself lucky if that is you.Bookmark here

Another thing to remember is that parent-teacher interviews will be in week two. It is compulsory that everyone books a date with their teachers, as you and your parents will sit down and map out what the rest of the year will look like leading into your life outside of school. Bookmark here

Before I go, I just want to mention something important that a student told me last year after she had finished her final exams. She told me that there was no guarantee that she was going to perform how she wanted to on the exams, but if you study hard and devote as much time and effort into doing your best, then there is nothing more that can be done. So, now I go by the motto: only worry about the things that you can control, not the things that you can’t.”Bookmark here

Kiran really let that thought sink in for a good minute as teacher after teacher came up to make another pointless and irritating announcement. He remembered the deep conversation that he had with his parents not so long ago. Kiran’s parents noted that even if he tried his hardest and achieved his best, that maybe his best wouldn’t be enough and that because of that, that he should reconsider tennis. Bookmark here

Kiran’s parents were without a doubt supportive of his hard work and training that he did behind the scenes to perform as well as he did in tennis, but they believed in a more cautious option for his future. They didn’t believe in dreams, they believed in guarantees. They knew that tennis could either go somewhere or nowhere, whereas a university degree would almost always lend help in the future, regardless of whether he used it specifically for a job or not. Bookmark here

But Kiran didn’t want it one way or another, rather he wanted to juggle the difficulties of both school and tennis and come out on top. The risk was great, but the reward was even greater.Bookmark here

His mind was torn, and he knew that his relationship with his parents was about to be on the rocks. But regardless of the situation, Kiran knew that as long as he had the support of his friends and teachers that he could keep moving forward, regardless of what life throws at him. Staying strong was the best thing that he could do.Bookmark here

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