Maya landed awkwardly and tumbled across the wooden surface. Facedown, numbness and pain grappling throughout her thin body, Maya felt the floor’s increasing vibrations. She rolled gingerly onto her back. Two sprinting teammates, excitement and hope plastering their faces, quickly reached for her.
The official held one arm upward, indicating a foul, and the other extended toward the guilty opponent pacing beneath the goal. Maya’s eyes spotted the scoreboard just as two points were added to the home side, evening the score. The hard foul had prevented her from seeing her desperate shot fall through the basket.
I almost waited too late thought Maya, noticing one lonely second remaining on the game clock. Her heart pounded wildly.
Maya hobbled toward the foul line. All four teammates escorted her with high fives, hard hugs, and rear-end slaps of encouragement.
Breathe deep, Maya, calm down, she told herself.
Maya looked toward the bench. Bubbling anticipation overwhelmed the other girls. Several bounced repeatedly into the air. Others raised both arms in victory, as if Maya had already sank the foul shot and the first girls' region title in school history was theirs.
I know, I know. I want it too.
The passionate, standing crowd took Maya’s focus. The home fans, clad mostly in green, clapped and grinned and pumped their fists in praise. Those in blue either covered their eyes in despair or mouthed insults at the officials through hate-warped faces.
A frantically waving girl standing beside the coach finally got Maya’s attention. Maya locked eyes with Gabi, who quickly began conversing with her hands. “Calm down and concentrate,” she signed three consecutive times. “I know Sis,” signed Maya in reply. “I know.”
Maya wiped her sweaty hands on her shorts. “One shot,” indicated the official as the players lined up. Maya began to position her feet at the foul line, but the official tossed her the basketball before she was ready.
Wait mister…deep breath…get back to my routine.
Maya’s eyes met the glare of an opponent. The burly girl subtly mouthed three foul and awful words.
She knows I read lips. Ahh, concentrate Maya, get her out of your head.
Pain from Maya’s shoulder and elbow made itself known. Maya grimaced and rubbed the aches. She sighed and peered toward the goal. The rim seemed small and distant.
One shot wins it…Oh don’t miss, don’t miss.
Suddenly, without warning, all four opponents ran from the court. The official pointed toward the opposing coach, who was signaling a time-out.
He is messing with my mind…wants me to think about it even more.
Maya jogged to the bench with her teammates. She sat and found a small towel to dry her sweaty hands and face. The other girls patted her back and rubbed her head. Each touch seemed to hasten her already rushing heartbeat.
Don’t let them down Maya, don’t let them down.
Coach knelt in the huddle giving instruction and encouragement. Gabi squatted beside him rapidly relaying the translated words. Maya’s mind suffocated under a dozen stares. Her feet fidgeted, feeling the vibrations of the yearning crowd.
It was all too much. Maya held up both hands to silence Gabi and Coach. She hated to voice and she hated to be disrespectful, but it was time for both. “No more. Me and the goal. Just me and the goal,” Maya voiced loudly, hoping it sounded clear but not ugly. Coach’s eyes widened. Hesitantly, he nodded, grinned and patted her knee.
Maya lowered her head and closed her eyes. She searched for peace and strength. When Gabi finally tugged Maya’s elbow, indicating the time-out was over, Maya smacked her clinched right fist, thumb up, into her open left palm. Gabi grinned and signed “Amen” right back.
Maya walked with purpose from the huddle.
She kept her head down until she reached the foul line.
She set her feet and found her balance before the official passed her the ball.
Deep breath…three dribbles…she raised her eyes to the target.
Knees bent…elbow locked beneath the ball…she raised her body in one fluid motion.
Maya’s right arm stretched high into the air, her wrist flicked forward, rolling the ball smoothly off her fingertips.
As the ball reached the peak of its arc toward the rim, Maya closed her eyes.
All is now beyond my control.
For a split second, in silent darkness, Maya sensed the riveted crowd’s stillness. But a sudden rumbling swiftly rolled beneath her feet, and the thunderous, joyous tremors simply shook her to her knees.
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