|I was about to reach the finishing point. The last few seconds seemed unending. By now, the crowd was roaring. I was in the lead. I had to run the last lap in 10 seconds. I kept running, compelled by an unknown force and there! I had reached the finishing point! I felt like an exploded flashlight. I had set a new record in the 200 meters race for women in the 2000 Olympics. I had made it!
My victory had been possible only because of a bet. umair, my classmate, had challenged me to it five years ago, when I was in class nine.
I tried to recall those days. That day in the stadium….
"Ahan? Muskaan you think you can do it?" Umair had said with a laugh.
"yes I jolly well can!" I had replied.
"okay then it's a bet!" Umair had said in a challenging tone. And I had accepted the challenge.
Umair had always wanted to win over me. But poor guy, I had not once given him a chance. I had never accepted defeat in my life, and was determined never to. I had always managed to score A grades in all the subjects. I was pretty good at athletics, too. I was the fastest runner in the school. I loved challenges. Someone had to throw a challenge at me, and I would accept it and win it, too!
Once after winning the championship trophy at the annual athletic meet at school, I had expressed my wish to participate in the Olympics and become the fastest female athlete in the world. As soon as Umair came to know of it, he started teasing me. Finally, it had ended in the bet.
After class 10, I had left secondary school and moved to Switzerland. I had completed senior school from there. That was how I could train well and participate in the Olympics. And there I was….
When I came out of the maze of memories, I found myself on the victory-stand. I stood tall, with the silver and bronze medallists beside me. I bowed a little as the chief guest placed the ribbon with gold medal round my neck. I had worshipped this medal for the past seven years. I proudly looked up at the crowd, savoring the moment, as cameras clicked. I could hear the crowd going wild. I wished my parents were alive to see this moment.
I got down the victory-stand and advanced towards the exit with my coach. I was overwhelmed by the adulation from the crowd. Everyone was congratulating me on my big success. I thought of Umair all the time. He ought to have witnessed this moment. Umair and I had been in touch with each other through email. He was still in Dubai, the place I had spent the happiest and the most precious years of my life. I was planning to fly there on Friday. It was already Tuesday.
I reached my hotel room and flopped on my bed. I didn't know when I dozed off. I woke up the next day feeling refreshed. I felt like calling Umair, just to know his reaction. I knew he would have known of my victory through the television, 'coz I was the toast of the athletic world. Also, I knew my pictures would definitely be splashed across Khaleej Times. Umair was sure to have seen the papers.
I opened my diary for Umair's number. There it was on the first page --- 9714-736431. I dialed the number only to be told that Umair no longer lived there. "how mean!" I thought. He had not bothered to inform me about it. I thought of sending him an email. I mean, I had waited to win this bet for so long and now that I had won it, I had to tease Umair. I had to throw his words back at him. Just then the phone rang,
"Hello!" I said
"Hi!" it was Umair!!!
"Oh what a pleasant surprise! But I don't want to talk to you."
Umair, you nut," I said with mock anger. "Your telephone number has changed and you haven't had the decency to inform me."
" Sorry, Muskaan!" he said, "Actually, you see, I didn't think you'd ever need my number, 'coz you'd never call."
What do you mean, I'd never call?" I protested. "I tried calling you just now…."
"Oh! Thanx, Mus, but why??"
"Hey listen… did you watch the news?
"Humph…fine. Did you read today's newspaper?"
Nothing! Okay, I'm hanging up."
"Why so soon? It's been such a long time."
"I gotta go."
"Muskaan!! I did watch the news, and I also read today's newspaper….hearty congrats!"
"You knew it?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Then why did you lie???"
"Just kidding yaar!"
"You'll never change!!"
"Hey, but listen, Muskaan, I need a party for it!"
"Yeah sure. I'll be coming over to Dubai this Friday, and hey! You gotta give me a treat, I won the bet, right?"
"Sure, Mus, I'll come over to the airport to receive you. What time is the flight?"
"Thanks, Umair! It's the Emirates flight, arriving at seven in the morning."
"See you then. And hey! congrats once again!"
"Thanx!"I said and hung up.
Friday arrived and I was packed and ready to leave. At the airport,. I bought a smart watch for Umair from the duty free shop, and got into the plane.
After what seemed like ages, the plane landed, and I was in Dubai.
At the airport, a small boy came up to me with an autograph book. This was the first time someone had asked me for an autograph. After signing my name I asked him, "Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, you are Muskaan, the fastest female runner in the world."
Oh God! It felt good. I WAS famous now! Many more youngsters flocked around me with autograph
books. Now this is gonna be a problem, I thought. I moved out of the crowd
as quickly as possible. All eyes were on me. But mine searched for Umair.
Since I couldn't spot him, I began to wheel my luggage out.
"Hello!" said a
voice at the entrance. Thinking he was one of those autograph-hunters, I
pretended to ignore him.
"Muskaan, welcome to Dubai!" he said.
"Umair?!" I said, staring at him.
"Yeah! Have you forgotten me so soon?" he said with a grin. "Okay, let me
introduce myself. I'm Umair. We were in the same school.... "
"Oh! shut up, Umair, and help me with my luggage."
"Ha, ha ! I was just joking, yaar!"
"You've changed a lot!"
"I know. Everybody says so."
"Here we are," he said, and parked the car.
We got into his smartly decorated flat. I freshened up as he ordered
breakfast from a restaurant.
After breakfast we sat down for a chat.
"So you won the bet, eh?" he said with a smile.
"Yeah, I told you I would." I retorted. "You know I never accept defeat."
"Don't I know it? But haven't you ever lost?"
"No way! I've never lost. The word defeat isn't there in my dictionary!"
We chatted long about the good old days. "Hey, Umair! I had better leave. I
have to go to my aunt's place.
"Okay, I'll drop you there," he said.
We reached my aunt's house soon. I got down from the car and bid him
goodbye. "Take it easy now, and I'll see you in the evening," said Umair.
"We'll plan something interesting."
My aunt embraced me with delight. I was happy to be back in Dubai.
In the evening, over a cup of tea, I began thinking about Umair. He had
changed so much! He looked better than before. Really different from 'the old
freckled snoot' as we used to call him. He looked tall, handsome and
I smiled. My attitude towards him had changed, too. I think I had
begun to really like him, not so much as a good friend, but as someone who
aroused in me a feeling of love.
Just then, the doorbell rang. It was Umair.
"Hi!" he said.
"Just came to take you for an outing," he said.
"Okay, but lemme tell aunt first."
Umair chatted with my aunt, as I got ready.
In the car I asked him, "Where are we heading to, Umair?"
"Hmm ... let's go to City Center," he said. We did some shopping and had
ice-cream. When we returned home, I remembered the watch I had bought
for him. I invited him in, and went to my room to fetch the watch.
"I bought this for you from Australia," I said, as I handed him the box.
"Oh! thanx," he said. "Actually, you know, I should've given you a gift, 'coz
you won the bet, right?"
"And I haven't forgotten it," he said, taking out a small pouch from his
pocket. "I bought it for you long back."
I opened the pouch while he unpacked the gift I had given him. It contained
a gold chain. "It's so beautiful! How come your choice is so good ?" I said,
"Hey, this watch is broken!" he said.
"What? Broken?" I snatched the watch from him.
He laughed. "I was joking, yaar! It's very good. "Thanx again."
My aunt asked him to stay over for dinner. He left after midnight.
The next morning, the ringing of the phone woke me up.
"Hi! It's me, Umair."
"So early in the morning? Hey, you woke me up."
"Yeah, I know." Umair said, "But I wanted to invite you over to my place this
evening. I want to tell you something extremely important."
"All right, I'll come."
"Bye!" said Umair, I'll pick you up at six."
I'm sure he wants to propose to me, I thought. My answer would, of course,
be positive. He was successful and witty. I liked his company. And it was
time I settled down.
In the evening, as we entered his house, a girl almost my age, greeted me.
I sat down and asked impatiently, "So what's the important thing you wanted
to tell me?"
"Muskaan, first let me introduce you to Nadia, a very, special friend."
"Hi!" she said.
"C'mon, Umair, I'm growing impatient. Tell me...."
"Okay, okay, the thing is, Nadia and I are to be engaged soon." I was taken
aback. All my dreams were shattered. But I tried to keep a fake smile on my
face. I congratulated Umair and Nadia and said: "Why didn't you tell me about
Nadia before? I would've bought something for her. Anyways, Nadia,
congrats. So when is the engagement?"
"Next week," said Nadia. "And we want you to attend the ceremony. I mean,
imagine having a celebrity on the occasion!"
"Of course, she will," said Umair. "She's my best friend."
At last, I had accepted defeat.