AS at 3 am that day – and before reporters came to flood Planetario Hotels and bumped into Tai VeShadd at 7 am – the higher-ups had begun taking full care of the kid’s mess.
But VeShadd never even knew anything.
It was about three in the early hours of that day and a crescent moon shone over Quitalia’s capital city of Mailora.
The national minister of sports was in a private meeting with the nation’s president when he got a phone call.
It had been a habit for Sayid, a retired professor of physical and health education, to make work related demands to the president for every bit of success he achieved in his position.
And Professor Sayid had set out early that morning to strike when the iron was hot.
He wanted to seize the opportunity of the last night great win to make new demands for his portfolio.
Sayid knew the president wouldn’t deny him an audience now, even when he hadn’t got a fixed appointment with the president.
The sixty-something-year-old minister was sure the gleeful mood the national team had placed Quitalia in, would suffice to grant him the president’s eager attention.
And it was just as expected.
For the president was really pleased with the minister for the previous night’s spectacular win. And he ticked off everything the sports minister demanded.
Sayid was just about to end his talk with the president that early hours of dawn, when his personal assistant tipped in and handed him his mobile phone.
The old man had got an important call.
With the look on the face of his personal assistant, Sayid could tell the call was probably more urgent than whatever he was doing at the moment.
He trusted that his PA wouldn’t be so dumb and clueless to interrupt him while he was in a meeting with the president, after all.
With the beeping phone in the sports minister’s hesitant hand now, the president decided to help the old man out of the awkwardness.
He wrapped up the talk within a moment and dismissed the anxious retired professor.
Sayid walked out of the presidential office with brisk steps and picked up the call the moment he was out.
The minister spoke first. ‘Yes, what is it, Alhi?’
‘It’s me, sir,’ the caller replied. ‘The national coach, sir.’
Sayid was simply impatient. ‘Yes I know it’s you. What is it? You’re calling me in the middle of the night… I mean…’
He glanced at his wristwatch. ‘This is about three in the morning for God’s sake! What is it exactly?’
Alhi’s breathing was pretty noisy when he spoke. ‘We have a serious problem, sir. Erm… I can’t explain it on phone, sir. But I’m at your office right now.’
Sayid could hear the national coach’s voice tremble as he spoke.
And the sports minister could tell there was really a major problem with the national team, the Desert Camels of Quitalia.
Yet the problem was one he just couldn’t guess out.
Sayid took a deep breath and paused for a second.
‘I’m on my way,’ he said at last, in a low, humble voice.
At that time, VeShadd was sitting alone at the swimming pool at the five-star hotel.
The young dude’s intention was to miss the practice for the morning, unknown to him that it’d later be canceled.
For the players had stayed up late into midnight, partying hard over the spectacular win of that opening match.
VeShadd sat at the pool with a downcast gaze. He was lost in thought.
He’d confided in Coach Alhi about what happened in his hotel suite before midnight. And which was turning his hotel room into a crime scene.
A hand suddenly tapped him from behind. And it was the tap he felt on his shoulder that brought him back to his environment.
‘Hey, Vee; what’s up?’ the voice called. ‘Guess you’re surprised the practice this morning was cancelled?’
VeShadd turned around. It was Staka. His best friend on the team.
Staka didn’t wait for VeShadd’s response. ‘I wasn’t surprised anyway,’ he continued, ‘I know it would be cancelled. We slept late yesterday due to the party, you know…’
Staka tapped his friend, taking a seat beside him in the instance. ‘Oh that reminds me! You weren’t at the party yesterday night. I searched for you all night.’
It was right at that moment Staka gave VeShadd a careful look, and he noticed his friend’s look of disinterest and low spirits.
‘Hey, are you alright?’ he asked. ‘You look like you will soon tear up. What’s the problem?’
VeShadd was as quiet and still as a deserted house.
Staka didn’t wait for his friend to respond yet again – before he popped in with words of motivation.
‘It’s the first World Cup for both of us. I was dazed when I scored the first goal yesterday night…
‘But, man, my goal can’t even dare compare with that crazy one you made at the 89th minute last night! It was a real bullet shot!
‘But we still have a long way to go, you know. So you can’t afford to break down on just one goal.’
He looked into VeShadd’s eyes.
‘Let’s take this to the very end, Vee. Let’s seize that trophy called the World Cup,’ Staka finished as he patted him on the back.
VeShadd took a weak glance at Staka. ‘Can you let’s share your suite till this whole thing ends, please?’ he spoke for the first time.
Staka elbowed his friend. ‘Oh Vee… come on! I know you’re a scarecrow already; but sharing a room? I don’t know you can be this scared of sleeping alone!’
He gave him a brisk tap on the shoulder.
‘Well, no problem; you can come over. Just remind me to get you married as soon as we win the cup, huh! You sure need a pretty wife!’
Staka walked away, smiling to himself.
And VeShadd sunk back into his pool of worries.
‘Hey, Coach Alhi… what could be so urgent for you to leave the boys behind and come see me this early dawn, huh?’
It was Professor Sayid yelling out of anxiousness as he walked from his car into his office.
He turned the door key through the key hole and opened up his office, as he let the chief coach in.
Still pretty anxious, the old man raised the window blinds to let in fresh morning air, as he prepared himself to be hit by an oncoming shock.
The two men sat on a big comfy settee across the minister’s desk.
Sayid leaned forward where he sat facing Alhi. ‘So, what really happened?’ he queried impatiently.
‘Thank you, sir,’ Alhi replied; ‘it’s one of the boys. I don’t know exactly how it happened yesterday before midnight and I didn’t bother to ask the details…’
He went on. ‘He was still in shock when I met him and there was no way of getting any sensible information out of him.’
Alhi’s words weren’t as articulate as the sports minister wanted it to be. Whatever the forty-two-year-old chief coach was trying to say had only been mystified in a fog of anxieties.
Sayid came to Alhi’s rescue. ‘Okay, Alhi… calm down first. And tell me what exactly happened.’
Alhi breathed in and out; and then, he resumed. ‘In the early hours of this morning, Vee called me…’
Sayid couldn’t process who Vee was. He thought to ask, but decided to listen on.
Alhi went on. ‘He told me to come to his hotel suite and I went to him. I thought he wanted to discuss a strategy with me.
‘But on getting to his suite, I saw what shocked me to death, sir!
‘We can’t win the world cup, sir. In fact, we’re out of the games already. We’re totally out and all our efforts have come to naught, sir!’
Sayid was becoming more impatient. First, he didn’t know who this Vee Alhi was talking about was.
And now again, rather than say what exactly he saw at that Vee’s hotel room, this confused national coach was already prophesying doom for the national team.
Sayid knew getting angry at the moment would do no good. He decided to persevere in his patience.
‘Okay, what did you see in the hotel room?’ Sayid asked.
‘It was a girl, sir. Lying in a pool of her own blood! Right in Vee’s suite, sir!’
Sayid was perplexed. ‘Blood? A girl? What d’ you mean?’
The sports minister was already thrown off-balance and he could now understand why Alhi had been that dramatic.
The old man knew he’d got to know just who this Vee was.
He squinted. ‘Wait a second. Who is this Vee by the way?’
‘I didn’t know what to do,’ Alhi interposed. ‘So, I called the team doctor and they’re already taking care of the girl at the moment.’
Professor Sayid was getting irritated by now. And with the last strand of composure he had left, he asked with some assertiveness.
‘Alhi, who is this Vee? Huh?!’
And just about then, Alhi realised he’d really been carried away by this big incident.
‘Ah I’m so sorry, sir!’ he gasped, realising he hadn’t been responding accordingly.
The sports minister looked at the coach and shook his head in sympathy, understanding the possible weight of the incident on the coach.
‘Poor soul,’ he mused; ‘he’s overwhelmed by it already!’
Alhi spoke up. ‘It’s VeShadd, sir. The team’s captain.’
Professor Sayid staggered in his seat.
‘Wait a min… c’mon… you mean, Ve… VeShadd… the very same VeShadd?!’
The sports minister could only stutter.
And a warm stream of tear coursed down Alhi’s long face.
His voice came out in a weak, low moan.
‘Yes sir, our Tai VeShadd. What should we do?’
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