***

"Anong club ang sinalihan mo?"

"Hm? Badminton!"

"Whoa, then, did you see Risa?"

"Yeah! Third year na siya ngayon at grabe ang aura niya."

Pagkatapos ng class ay halos club ang usapan ng mga taong nakakasalubong ko. I walked towards the locker room that I requested to our adviser yesterday. Luckily, the room of the former basketball team was still vacant.

Pagpasok ko ay nagpalit agad ako ng uniform at tinignan ko ang application form ng tatlo.

Hmm . . . a center, forward and guard, huh? Not bad. And all of them have experience so I could utilize them more.

Dumiretso ako sa court at kahit nakapunta na ako rito ay namangha pa rin ako sa laki nito. The gym was partitioned into different courts and the basketball court was located at the easternmost side.

"You're late," I said when I saw Cord.

"Aren't you too strict?"

Binato ko sa kanya ang hawak kong bola pero nasalo niya rin 'yon gamit ang kanang kamay niya.

"You look good in a uniform," I teased and he looked embarrassed.

"Yeah because you planned this well," he said and I just gave him a smirk. As if I would waste his talent.

Nakita ko namang papasok sina Hyder at Yusef kaya naman kumuha ulit ako ng bola.

"Yo—!"

I threw the ball at their direction but Yusef anticipated it and he crouched, causing the ball to hit Hyder's face.

"What the fuck?!"

"Ah. Sorry," I said halfheartedly, "pero bakit hindi pa kayo nagpapalit?"

Hyder looked like some kind of a gangster because of his intimidating features, muscular built, height and buzz cut. On the other hand, Yusef looked like a mischievous kid with that grin pasted on his face.

Tinuro ni Cord ang locker room at hinintay ko naman silang makapagpalit. Wala pang limang minuto ay nakabalik na sila at saglit akong napangiti dahil mas bagay sa kanila ang suot nila ngayon. The jerseys seemed natural to them. As expected from basketball players.

"I want to see your abilities," I said and their expressions instantly changed.

Out of the three, only Hyder played as a starter for their previous teams. Cord didn’t get the regular spot while Yusef quit during his second year in high school. I kind of knew the story because I was watching their game, together with my brother, when that incident happened on the court.

“With just the three of us?” tanong naman ni Cord.

I contacted the previous basketball players of the team and all of them turned down my invitation to return. Mukhang nawalan na talaga sila ng ganang maglaro dahil sa sunud-sunod na pagkatalo nila pati na rin sa poor performance na ipinakita nila last conference.

I already posted flyers and posters for tryouts but I doubt people would look at it. I suck at designing and layouting.

“Whoa, ang tangkad mo,” biglang sabi ni Yusef kay Cord. “What’s your height?”

“Ah, 6’5’’, I think,” sagot naman niya.

“Saang team ka naging center?” Hyder asked and I could see the uneasiness on his expression.

“He didn’t get to play,” sagot ko kaya napatingin sila sa akin. “The coach didn’t see his potential and he’s too timid to voice his desire.”

“Oh. Mukhang magkakilala na kayo,” Hyder commented and I smirked at him.

“Of course. And I bet he could block both of your shots since his defensive abilities are top-tier.”

Pagkasabi ko no’n ay biglang tumingin sina Hyder at Yusef kay Cord nang masama at kumunot naman ang noo niya sa akin.

“Stop provoking them,” he complained but the two were already dribbling their own balls toward Cord.

“Heh~ let’s see if that’s really true,” sabi ni Hyder.

“It’s been a while since I played basketball with a huge player. This is definitely exciting,” dagdag naman ni Yusef.

Cord’s expression was a mix of ‘what the hell is going on’, ‘Sena, this is your fault’ and ‘I’ve had enough’, and that was what I was waiting for.

“Come,” he said and just like those two, I felt an overwhelming pressure from him.

Hindi ko naitago ang pagngiti ko nang makita ko ‘yon. Cord looked timid and unconfident outside the court but once he set his foot on it, his presence could be felt easily, especially inside the paint. With his imposing height and skills, the defensive capabilities and plays of the team would definitely increase.

Hyder simpered at Cord’s challenge and started dribbling the ball. He’s faster and more agile than Cord so he has a lot of options on how to score and contest Cord’s defense. However . . .

“Hah! I—!”

Hyder evaded Cord’s defense in front of him by faking a jump shot and with his quickness and long limbs, he did a euro-step. But before he could even see the basket, Cord’s hand was already blocking the view and when he let go of the ball, it was swatted easily.

The ball bounced to the court and they looked each other intensely, as if they just played in a real match. I could see the annoyance in Hyder’s face and a sense of pride in Cord’s stance.

“Denied,” Yusef teased and Hyder shifted his attention to him, along with his deathly glare.

“You shrimp!” tawag niya at si Yusef naman ang tumingin nang masama sa kanya.

He wasn’t denying that, I see. Mas matangkad ako kaysa sa kanya pero mukhang naaasar pa rin siya tuwing pinapamukha sa kanya ang height niya.

“Hmp. Learn from me, baldie,” he countered and he slid his clothband from his elbow down to his wrist.

Well, for a guard, height isn’t a major problem. For them to shine on the court, they have to be quick and versatile. They are considered as floor generals since they orchestrate the movement of the ball, as well as their teammates’ positions.

Yusef dribbled the ball, changed its tempo and attacked Cord’s defense. With his speed, he escaped Cord’s defense and attempted a layup behind him but Cord’s athleticism prevented it. He block the shot even though it was behind him. However, Yusef was still quicker than him.

“Heh! Sorry!” he beamed as he jumped to get the rebound when the ball from Cord’s block hit the backboard.

Maski ako ay nagulat sa pagtalon ni Yusef. The way he fought for that rebound was comparable to a center and his jumping ability was high level.

Napatigil naman kaming lahat nang makarinig kami ng ingay mula sa ibang courts at mukhang isa-isa nang nagsipasukan ang iba pang teams.  Ang iba ay napatingin pa sa amin dahil kami ang unang gumamit ng court at dahil na rin bigla na lang nagkaroon ulit ng basketball team . . . though we’re not a team yet since there are only three of them.

Nakita ko naman si Tanya na nakatingin sa akin at mukhang natandaan niya ako dahil sa ginawa ko noong tryout nila. Hmp. She’s still not worth it to be called as a Queen.

“Whoa! It’s really you!” Pagkarinig ko pa lang ng boses na ‘yon ay napakunot na agad ang noo ko. “Nashaaa!” he called while running towards our court.

“Goddamnit,” I cursed, hoping that Arcel would accidentally plopped to the floor.

“Nasha—!”

Napatigil naman siya sa pagtakbo papunta sa akin dahil sa bolang pumagitan sa aming dalawa. The impact of the ball was enough to silence the whole court.

“Ah. Sorry,” biglang sabi ni Cord habang nakataas ang kamay at nakatingin kay Arcel. “Nadulas.”

Nagbago naman ang expression ni Arcel. He looked like he was about to enter a tennis match with those intense eyes and cunning smile.

“I see,” he said while looking at Cord. “Sinusundan mo pa rin si Nasha.”

“Not this time, though,” sabi ko naman. “I was actually the one who recruited him.”

“Ehh?!” Halos manlaki naman ang mga mata ni Arcel sa sinabi ko at ‘di ko na malaman kung ano ang expression niya. Lumapit siya lalo sa akin at kumunot naman ang noo ko. “Bakit? Pinagpalit mo na ba a—”

“Who’s that? Kakilala mo, Coach?” Yusef asked, cutting off Arcel’s absurd words. Lumingon naman ako kay Yusef at itong Arcel na ‘to ay tumabi sa akin.

“Her boyfrie—”

“An annoying acquaintance,” sabi ko naman.

“A-acquaintance lang?!”

“Arcel! What the hell are you doing there?!”

Pare-pareho naman kaming napatingin sa tennis court side dahil sa pagsigaw ng coach nila. He was the one who led the tennis team to their third consecutive championship and now that Arcel is in his team, I bet the fourth one would be an easy target.

“Pero, Coach, ngayon ko na lang ulit nakita s—”

“Ha?!” he roared as he smashed that tennis ball to the other side of the court.

Natahimik ulit kaming lahat at parang bola ng basketball o volleyball ang tinira niya dahil sa lakas ng tunog no’n sa court. Hindi na rin nakapagsalita si Arcel at agad siyang bumalik sa side nila kaya nakahinga ako nang maluwag pero panandalian lang ‘yon dahil bigla akong kinilabutan. Pagtingin ko, nakatingin nang masama sa akin si Tanya.

Oh, God, why am I surrounded with troublesome people?

Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako sa mga nangyari at muli kong tinignan ang players ko. Mukhang na-disorient din sila dahil sa pagdating ng ibang players pero hindi ko rin sila masisisi dahil mararamdaman mo talaga ang pagiging ‘team’ nila unlike sa amin.

I really need to scout and recruit more players.

“I guess you all have the basic skills to be in my team,” sabi ko sa tatlo kong players at iba-iba naman ang naging reaksyon nila.

“Basic?!” singhal ni Hyder at tinaasan ko naman siya ng kilay.

“Yeah, basic,” sagot ko. “Cord, your defense might work with simpletons like Hyder but you need to step up your game. Yusef easily evaded you and he’s not even that fast.”

“Well . . .”

“Simpleton?!”

“Not that fast?!”

Hindi ko alam kung maiinis o matatawa na lang ba ako dahil lahat sila ay nag-react sa sinabi ko. Totoo naman lahat ‘yon. To reach the top, I need them to be able to play high-level basketball. If only there are more players—

“Sena! Sena! Sena!”

Muli na naman akong mapatigil nang marinig ko ang pangalan ko pero paglingon ko ay hindi ko inaasahan ang nangyari.

“Oh my God, Sena! Long time no see! I miss you!” she greeted while we were both on the floor after she lunged at me.

“Damn it, Amary, ang bigat mo!” reklamo ko sabay tulak sa kanya.

“Grabe ka, ‘yon kaagad ang bungad mo?”

Tss. Totoo naman kasi. Lalo na sa chest area.

“Bakit ba ang dami mong bwisita? Sino naman ang isang ‘to?” Hyder chimed in while glaring at Amary.

“Bwisita?” sabay ngiti ni Amary at pareho kaming napaatras ni Cord. Uh-oh.

Bigla niyang kinuha mula sa akin ang bola at mabilis na ibinato sa direksyon ni Hyder. With that kind of speed, he couldn’t dodge it and the ball ended up hitting his face. Yikes. That was the second time this day.

“Oh, sorry, it slipped,” nakangiti pa rin niyang sabi at mukhang natauhan si Hyder sa ginawa niya. “I’m Amary, by the way, and I brought some potential players for your team.”

Pagkasabi niya no’n ay doon ko lang napansin na may nakasunod pala sa kanyang apat na lalaki na mukhang nagulat din sa pagbato niya kay Hyder. Nagkatinginan naman kami ng isa sa kanila at mukhang lalo siyang nagulat nang makita niya ako ro’n.

“You . . .” he said while pointing at me. “You’re a volleyball player, right?”

“I see. You still remember me, Jumping Ace,” sabi ko naman at naging seryoso bigla ang atmosphere sa pagitan naming lahat.

Now this is turning into an interesting team.



***