Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Ultimate Position

By Ekadh Ranganathan, age 13, Mumbai, Maharashtra

 

You know what I hate more than losing? – Coming in second place. Think about it. You’ve almost beat the best of your opponents yet you barely get any credit for it. Sure, you may get a medal or a certificate but it doesn’t benefit your reputation. You’ll just be that guy who lost in the finals. You don’t have much personality or identity. The first and the last are popular for their places in the competition, but what about the other people in that lineup who did their best to win? – Completely forgotten. The frustration is too much and the worst part is that you know you have the potential to beat many behind you, but you couldn’t overtake one guy, just one more. And the old consolation speech from the host about how you tried your best and that’s the most important thing… blah, blah, blah… that makes us feel worse. It doesn’t cheer us up. In fact, the translation to that speech is: Sorry, you’re not good enough.

But, as the baseball player Pete Rose said, “If someone is as gracious as to give me a second chance, I won’t need a third.” I had one chance to redeem myself – to get rid of my second place jinx – the May 21st table tennis tournament. Table tennis is the one sport where I can rise to the occasion.

The Table Tennis Tournament

It was one of those perfect May days without a cloud in the sky. For once, the weather was inspiring. But it didn’t matter anyway, since the tournament would be held indoors. I took one last glimpse of the sunrise through the small balcony of my high-rise apartment, and headed indoors, where a crowded dining room full of proud faces awaited my arrival. My mom, as usual, was the first to strike up a conversation.

“Win or lose today, you’ll still be my favorite!” she chirped excitedly.

“Since I’m an only child, that doesn’t encourage me much,” I retorted. (I felt a little bad having said that, but I felt a little insulted.)

“Everyone listen up!” said dad. “I shall be making a toast to my son’s win in today’s tournament.”

“To his win!” everybody toasted in agreement.

To be honest, I felt quite a lot of pressure because of this, so I left to my room, picked up the racket and started practicing my shots. After all, practice makes perfect. I felt that I had a chance to beat everyone, be first for a change. But it wouldn’t be easy. My arch enemy, Pascal Plymouth (or as I like to call him Double P), would be taking part in the competition, and he is tough to beat. And according to my calculations, my chances of winning were 1/20, which was slim. I’d have to play well to be that one.

A heard a familiar whistle followed by my name. It was Dad telling me that the time had come to leave. We took the slowest lift with the cheesy music down to the car park where a dusty wrecked Fiat 1100 was anxiously waiting for our arrival. Dad got into the driver’s seat and with crossed fingers, started up the engine. A series of chugs finally faded when the noise of a 1.1 liter petrol engine whirred into life. We got moving at a rate of 10 kph, which in the old Fiat’s standard, is great. But just to give you an idea of what a bad condition the car is in, you have to be in it. I mean, the fuel consumption meter is always on empty, the air conditioning doesn’t work, the radio just gives you an endless buzz when you turn it on, the speedometer shows the correct reading only for 5 minutes, the gearbox is on the dashboard of the car and doesn’t shift into 4th gear, and the handbrake doesn’t work. The only functional piece (sort of) is the engine. It was an ominous start to the day that lay ahead.

And the car was the least of my problems. Nervousness was taking over my conscious mind. I was terrified of what would happen when I got there. Would people criticize me when I played? Could I lose to a younger boy? How could I play when 50 heartless parents are staring me down? Well, it was too late to back out.

The car came to a stop at a seemingly old building that hung a banner saying, ‘Welcome to the 12th annual Elliot’s club table tennis tournament!’ We got out of the car and headed inside the building. A man kindly guided us to the 1st floor where the tournament was being held. As I walked inside, the smell of camphor was evident. A large crowd was watching a match taking place between a tall freckled boy and a chubby oval-headed boy. It was pretty intense. We took a seat to watch the action. In the end though, Mr. Oval-head clinched victory as the next contenders were called to the table.

“The next two contenders are Ekadh and Birt!”

Ekadh? That was my name. But…but I hadn’t practiced. How do I go out there in the middle? I reluctantly stepped out to meet my fate. We volleyed a few shots. He wasn’t a bad player, but I found that I could easily beat him. And so I did. Every shot he tried to smash, I blocked. Every shot I smashed, he couldn’t take. So the result was 11- 4.

I watched the others and noticed that Pascal was clearing each round. He was pounding player after player, but I thought I could do the same. And I did. I noticed each player’s weakness and adjusted according to that. Even I was clearing every round as easily as he was. As I kept moving up rounds, the opponents got harder and harder to beat. Nevertheless, I somehow kept my winning streak until I learnt who my opponent was in the final. Yep, you guessed it right, it was Pascal.

As I neared the table, the nervousness was rushing through my veins as a cold shiver went down my spine. But I had to concentrate. This was the moment where I could redeem myself from the second place jinx. Enough said, let’s play. The first few rounds went equally, and before you know it, the score was tied at 10 – 10. That means deuce. Two points my way and I could win. Or he could. It was Pascal’s serve, and I picked it up easily. But he sliced it fine over the net and it landed just on the edge. Even with Usain Bolt speed, I wouldn’t have been able to take that. Point Pascal. I battled hard for the next one, and sure enough, we were back at deuce. I served, he volleyed it back. Luckily, it was easy to smash, so I put all my power into my shot. Advantage Ekadh. I was a point away from winning. I used my special serve. He countered it, or so I thought. The ball hit the edge of the net. For an amazingly long time, it was balanced on the net. But finally, it fell, on his side of the court. I had done it. I had beaten Pascal. But most of all, I had come in first.

But you know what I hate more than coming second? Winning. I mean, who wants the fame and honor and all that stuff anyway? It doesn’t let you go anywhere without somebody asking you about how many hours you practice or if you’re going to play at state level and whether you can beat Pascal again…blah, blah, blah. There is too much pressure and absolutely no privacy. Instantly after winning, my mom sent messages to everyone on the globe about my win. I don’t need the attention. I just need to be normal, unnoticed. And it’s not that I don’t feel happy about being first, but I’m saying that every position has its own charm and that is undeniable. After all, you can’t be everything.