IT was about 7 am early that morning. At the reception lobby of the Planetario Hotels filled with a surging crowd of reporters.
Kansi dashed along the vast hotel lobby with the rival journalists. He held his notepad and a pen in one hand and pulled his cameraman with the other hand.
The probable controversial story he was assigned to sniff out – whoever it was really about in the national football team – would certainly fetch him his long desired promotion on his job.
As Kansi pushed through the other reporters, with his cameraman in his firm grip, the young man raised his gaze.
And who he saw coming ahead was Tai VeShadd.
The national team’s captain and hero.
It was the very fibre of motivation the reporter needed to push behind the rest of his obstructions.
With all the force the desperate young man could muster, Kansi brushed his rivals aside in a gallant sweep.
He skidded forward with a giant slide and found himself stuck to a standing foot.
He was excited he reached first. He was thrilled he arrived.
He let out a deep breath. ‘Ah… my promotion is solved now!’
Kansi raised himself slowly to face his sure aid towards his desired promotion.
But, standing up, the young man’s gaze was faced squarely with a gladiator looking bouncer.
Kansi stepped back and looked around.
He could see a line of security operatives with hefty arms spread apart like the barricading Great Wall of China.
The security operatives of the executive hotel had immediately received a stern order from the management to block off the media’s intrusion into the hotel premises.
And the strict directive had come to the hotel management from the World Union.
When Tai VeShadd was heading back from the swimming pool where he sat all night – and he took the reception lobby route, he didn’t know the hotel was littered already with reporters.
Meeting a surging crowd of reporters at the hotel reception desperate to cover a news story, VeShadd had wondered if it was his own crime that had just blown its cover.
He shuddering in dread.
Confused about what to do with the reporters, the young, successful footballer tried to pull out of the peopled hotel reception.
Kansi shot his gaze past the great wall of men in front of him and shouted out a loud question at Tai VeShadd.
‘Can you tell us what’s going on with the national team?!’
VeShadd saw himself halt in his slow steps.
And then, dozens of other voices picked up the query in several variations.
‘Yes, you’re the team captain… what is going on with the players?!’
‘Are you the one that started the brawl between the players and the sport minister’s men yesterday night?!’
‘What is your view; tell us!’
‘Don’t evade the question – tell us!!’
VeShadd slowly turned around, a grateful feeling of escape oozing from his belly.
He raised his hand to still the crowd and then folded his arms across his chest.
He smiled before he replied.
‘The rumour is absolutely incorrect and there is no element of truth in it.’
His face went a little earnest.
‘And, please, for the sake of the good of our dear country and the entire international community – especially at this time when football unites the whole world…’
He clamped his hands together in earnest.
‘I want to implore every citizen of the world, to not believe every rumour against our hardworking footballers. It is my humble request.’
He gave a polite nod of acknowledgement. ‘Thank you,’ he finished.
A pin drop silence descended on the entire place.
VeShadd bowed his head and slowly pulled his heavy self out of the reception lobby. Suppressing the lingering tendency to break down there shivering.
The beautiful nineteen-year-old Beya Ja’nil lay unconscious in Tai VeShadd’s hotel suite.
It was half past seven that hectic day.
A huge helicopter swooped in with a maddening speed towards the Planetario Hotels skyscraper. And its giant blades tore through the morning sky with a deafening noise.
The huge iron eagle hovered above the magnificent tower and it descended on its spacious helipad.
A large medical team led by Quitalia’s best neurosurgeon jumped down from the landed chopper within a moment.
The skilled medical team was here on the order of the powerful World Union.
And large biomedical equipment was hurriedly moved into the executive Suite 701.
The heavily guarded and protected crime scene had been until midnight Tai VeShadd’s room.
The Quitalian national team’s chief doctor had earlier attended to the unconscious, bleeding young lady with a prompt first aid treatment.
But that wouldn’t be enough, obviously.
So, the medical officer had gone on to make more urgent demands that seemed grossly impossible for the situation.
The doctor had demanded that the patient be transferred to a teaching hospital and have a CT scan of her brain done, to examine if there was an injury to the brain.
And she was to get surgery as fast as possible if there the condition called for it.
The medical chief had related the urgent situation to the chief coach.
But the necessary already proved impossible for the situation.
Especially when the higher-ups wished to conceal the incident to cover up Tai VeShadd’s crime.
The World Union had jumped into action the moment it received information about the medical situation at Suite 701.
Alhi’s phone beeped.
It was the powerful Karen Liu calling.
The caller had gone straight to her point, without bothering with the routine of pleasantries.
‘A chopper will land on the hotel roof in a few minutes. The equipment as well as the medical experts you need to save the situation will be there…
‘The team’s going to simply turn your hotel suite into an operating room. Treat them well. The World Union sent them.’
Alhi trembled at the length the World Union can go to cover up VeShadd’s crime. He staggered where he stood.
‘All… all right, ma’am,’ he stuttered. ‘Th… thank you, ma’am.’
And within only a few minutes the World Union’s messenger dogs swept in.
And they made a crime scene an underworld operating room.
VeShadd decided to quickly get himself together. As Quitalia’s second match at the group stage of the World Cup raced near with every passing day.
The Quitalian Desert Camels had started to train hard, to create another tremendous win before the eyes of the world.
Like the great big one of that remarkable opening match of days before.
VeShadd had found a dank, dark little shelter in some deserted recesses of his mind. And there he tossed his worrisome concerns about the Beya incident.
Well, it felt undemanding to believe Coach Alhi had handled everything.
It felt absolutely easy to not bother with the details of how the girl was eventually taken care of.
The young dude simply tiptoed out of an unsettling responsibility. Simply because it was easier to, after all.
Simply because that was stress-free.
VeShadd buried himself in more and more practice on the training pitch as the team prepared for their next match. The sportsman practiced more than everyone on the team.
VeShadd’s teammates had thought their captain was training so hard so as to be able to coordinate the match well from his post.
They also reasoned that since their ace goalkeeper usually combined keeping and striking, it’d require even the most rigorous training for that magical performance he was known for.
But then, what the teammates as well as the chief coach didn’t know was that VeShadd was simply fighting a shadow.
And he trained hard for days until he broke down exhausted.
Yet he tried so hard to continue training regardless. And he was banned by the chief coach from the training pitch for the time being.
With the compulsory relief from training with the team, VeShadd was inadvertently given more than enough time to be beside himself. And face what sticks to him like a dark shadow.
And equally reminisce on every footstep that had led him down the road to the glooming hiding cave he found himself today.
VeShadd lay sprawled out on the marble tiled floor of the VIP Gym, in the luxurious Planetario Hotels where the Quitalian national team was logged.
The young sportsman had just finished exercising his muscles and he was tired.
He knew he couldn’t afford to just sit idle without exercising just because he was banned from training on the pitch.
He’d got to keep on working his muscles to keep fit at least, while the next match drew near.
He wandered in thought where he lay on the marble floor. And he felt to hide farther inside a cave as a burden of responsibility for Beya hovered over him.
He rolled up into a bundle and suddenly felt his dark shadow snuggled up close to him.
He used to call it by many little names.
It was a habit. It was a weakness. Or even a flaw.
But today, it felt so much like a parasite… a haunting shadow.
And the long underestimated and indulged weakness for Tai VeShadd was his temper.
Yet that temper – as common and excusable as the habit had always seemed to VeShadd – it was the time bomb that could raze down all he had ever built.
But it didn’t start that day.
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