Being a top player in any team feels great; Jimmy Tom was one such player. Zimal, his 7s team, valued him as a vital player with vast experience, his position as a powerful winger, his great talent on the pitch and his age which evidenced as a brighter future ahead. He did not have friends within the team except Walter Fish, with whom he had attended Texam School for his General Education. They were both highly talented rugby players.
When the team was founded, they had no equipment, no dedicated training pitch, no uniforms and no rugby balls. Most of the time the team’s trainings were dependent on whether the pitch at Texam High school was in use by another team; many teams used it in turns. Nevertheless, Jimmy had a great jersey from his previous 7s team, fairly new shoes and a rugby ball that his dad had bought for him as a birthday present. He was a rugby player, felt so and lived a rugby player’s life.
Back in Texam School, everybody knew Jimmy as an introvert; he loved the books, rarely expressed himself during class time, but still he would never miss the schools games. That was his only place to relax after any day’s learning.
When one day, the team had to go for the Zoom Stars Tournament, famously known as ZooStat, Walter Fish informed the coach, Paul Moham, that he could not make it due to a health problem. The coach did not understand what to make of it – Walter had been in sound health the whole week, having attended all the training and was enthusiastically waiting for the day.
He did not come to see the coach on the eve of the tournament. The whole team would spend the evening together after training at Coach Paul’s place before leaving the next morning by bus to Cactus Spot Center, where the tournament was set to take place.
Walter just sent an email.
I am sorry I won’t be able to make it for the tournament. I am having chest pains and I have not seen a doctor to determine the cause. I wish the team all the best.
“What in heaven is this? Why now?” the coach fumed after reading the message.
He was all alone in the pitch; the rest of the team had not arrived.
I have to do something immediately, I need an urgent replacement. He thought.
After a few minutes pacing around the Texam High School pitch pondering his next move, not able to clearly figure out what to do or whom to bring in to replace Walter, he could see team members coming in. It was around 3pm, the training was to begin at 4pm. The coach expected a few players to come just a few minutes before the training began. He had always warned them that coming exactly when training was to begin was not proper; he had advised that they come earlier to orientate themselves, warm up a bit, and, yes, get ample time to change and get in the rugby mood.
“Hi Jimmy, do you have Charles’ number?” the coach asked Jimmy approaching him about 20 meters away.
“Yes, sir,” Jimmy replied moving closer.
“And it is…” the coach retorted edging closer to Jimmy.
Instead, Jimmy handed the coach his mobile phone with the number already displaying. The coach dialed the number using his own mobile phone and handed back Jimmy his phone thanking him.
From the look of things, Jimmy knew something was wrong. He knew it had to do with Walter’s absence since Walter had told him earlier that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He knew that the coach was cornered; he had not acted professionally, he was never prepared for such eventualities, he always dashed left and right when the deadline was beckoning, he had always missed some deadlines because of lack of preparedness. This was however so unlike him when it came to the actual training; he was exemplary on the rugby pitch.
“Sir, is there…” Jimmy started talking to the coach when the coach signaled him to zip-up.
The coach was on the phone.
More team members were coming in, it was around 3.30pm. Most of the team members arrived carrying bags, personal balls and some other paraphernalia. Some were looking agitated, some anxious for the training while others looked frail.
“Jimmy, that is not Charles’ number, it is his Dad’s. I want you to go and look for him,” the coach said facing a different direction, “I have no idea where, but make sure you come together with him.” He continued as he turned his head to look Jimmy in the eye.
“The rest of you, let’s converge and strategize,” the coach said gesturing the team to sit on the grass.
As usual, some never even heard him; some were having their headphones and earphones on. They had to relay the message to one another before everyone finally sat down. They sat visibly comfortable since the weather was not bad, it was summer and the sun was shining; not much though. They got themselves properly seated and gave rapt attention to the coach; neither murmuring nor movement.
“Team! That is who we are! The time has finally come for us to prove ourselves.” The coach said with a bit of buoyancy in his voice. It always came out that way anyway. He had a hoarse voice, low in key, but very articulate, sounding good.
“Unfortunately, Walter won’t be with us,” he continued, “he has sent me a message saying that he is not feeling well. I have therefore sent Jimmy to check on Charles as a replacement.”
The coach was a bit uneasy due to the fact that there were substitutes within the team who were more than willing to take Walter’s part, but he was never willing to juggle with ZooStat tournament.
Charles was a professional, so to speak. He had an irreproachable background in rugby, a wide experience playing for high end teams and had once represented the State of Ohio in an interstate competition. Charles would be a pillar; he would be a sure resource.
“We have our subs in place, I don’t want you to feel any lesser, it is only that we have to keep the number in place,” the coach explained after sensing that a number of the players were giving him some uneasy look.
“But, sir, don’t you think that I should take Walter’s place and have Charles come in as a substitute,” Michael Zewan said feeling a bit tensed not knowing what the coach would say.
Michael was good as well. His body was well balanced. In fact most people used to contend that he would be better than Walter, only that he was never presented with opportunities. He had been kept at the bench almost the whole season. He performed very well every time he got an opportunity.
“No! I have every reason for this decision, trust me.”
The team trained for the day without catching a glimpse of Jimmy. He never showed up! That was not a big issue for the coach though. He had sent him! Jimmy had partaken of extensive training with the team the whole week and would still outperform most of the team members. His place was sealed.
What came to worry the coach was that even after 7pm Jimmy had not been seen. The coach called Jimmy’s phone but apparently it was off. The coach was verging on calling off the tournament due to frustration, but it was not his decision to make, a lot was at stake. This was a high ranking tournament bringing dignitaries from all over the State; it was also a platform for more lucrative sponsorships, leverage for amateur teams to go professional. It was only dependent on performance.
“I am going to…I don’t know what to do with…” the coach stammered but no comprehensible sentence came out of his mouth.
He called Charles’ father and got information that Charles was at home. Charles had been home for the better part of the evening. The coach had not informed Charles’ father why he was calling and therefore the father never said a thing about it to Charles.
Could you ask Charles to come over to my place. The coach asked Charles’ father rather humbly.
Instead, Charles’ dad just called loud and Charles came and picked the phone. He was asked by Coach Paul to go over to his place ready for the next day’s tournament. Charles obliged, packed a few of the things he would need and left for Coach Paul’s place. Yes, he could find his way; he had been there more than enough times.
The next day, the team left for the ZooStat tournament. Jimmy did not accompany them. He didn’t call either. Though Coach Paul was worried, he had to focus on the event, he had to assume everything for the moment and only look into it later. A call at Jimmy’s place went unanswered. Nobody called back.
The team ended up performing averagely at the tournament. Zimal 7s Team was able to get a few awards. The coach was not very much pleased, but alas, there was nothing he could do. The Zimal 7s team also got training scholarship for one player and a ticket to play in the next year’s tournament.
Back home, Paul went to Jimmy’s place. There seemed to be no one at home except the gardener.
“Hi, is Jimmy home?” the coach inquired.
“Oh, yeah, he is in his room, he is catching a nap. I checked him out; he didn’t look good to me. Seems like he took a little too much,” the gardener said comically.
“What happened?” the coach was more engrossed.
“You know young people, I am told he came home drunk and couldn’t tell between his room and the toilet. You know the rest, sir.”
“May I see…”
“Sure, go ahead!” the gardener interjected before he could finish his sentence.
Coach Paul found Jimmy splayed on his bed. His room had a bad stench; it was smelling puke. Jimmy raised his head on realizing that someone had stepped in. He saw that it was Coach Paul, his coach and a family friend too. He didn’t seem to care!
“Coach, you won or lost?”
The coach excused himself and took for the exit. He confirmed with the gardener if the parents too were home but none was home, they had left without leaving a word on where they had gone to or when they would be back.
“Sir, did he give you a sip of it? That room must be full of booottles, champagne and all,” the gardener said mockingly.
It was not Jimmy’s first time to disappoint. He had done it several times before, but the coach, after being implored by Jimmy’s parents always allowed him back into the team. Jimmy was pivotal, he was a super winger and his talent was unfathomable. All in all, the coach made a resolve: Talent alone is not enough, you need training and discipline.
Jimmy was fired when things were just getting better for the team. Coach Paul had connections with most of the teams within the state. He made sure that Jimmy never joined any 7s team except for some fledgling teams that never received any recognition.