Princess of Hearts | Teen Ink

Princess of Hearts

August 30, 2011
By M-star BRONZE, Kalamazoo, Michigan
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M-star BRONZE, Kalamazoo, Michigan
4 articles 3 photos 39 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Won't you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you."- Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Author's note: From the first word to the final line, always remember- whatever your game, play with your heart.

It wasn’t long until the airplane landed. A young girl with silky, black hair and fair skin shifted in her seat. She titled her head, waking from her sleep. The sun glistened through the window, giving her hair a brownish tint. The flight attendant came on and announced that they’d land in Dhaka, Bangladesh in a few minutes. The girl shifted in her seat. She took a look out the window and let out a huge breath. She had already left her beloved home of America. From this point onwards, it was a whole new game.

Meanwhile in Dhaka, two older boys with black hair scurried outside their house. The taller boy quickly pulled out his keys from his pocket. He opened his door and got in. He leaned over and unlocked the other boy’s door. He got in the car as well.

The boy in the driver seat started the car. The roads seemed full of traffic today. Both boys exchanged nervous looks. The boy driving tried to look ahead. The light was green but the cars weren’t moving. He wondered what the problem was. They needed to get going.

“Her plane lands in five minutes,” the boy in the passenger seat said.

“We’ll make it,” the driver said, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

The young girl walked out of the plane after her flight landed. She walked into the airport. She scanned the area. Everything in Bangladesh seemed so diverse from America. The girl soon found her bag. She swung it around her and continued walking.

As she neared the exit of the airport, the girl looked around some more. A puzzled expression appeared on her face. She looked past the crowds of people. None of them were the two she was looking for. The girl looked up at the clock. Her brothers were supposed to be there five minutes ago to pick her up. Evidently, they were a no show. The girl continued walking. She walked straight out of the exit.

A few minutes after she left, the two boys raced into the airport. They looked in opposite directions. Neither one could see their sister. They both got worried. The shorter boy glanced up at the clock. It was already 3:00.

“Oh no, we’re late for tennis practice,” he said to his brother.

“That’s right.” The taller boy was in a predicament. He turned back to his brother. “Well, let’s go then.”

“What about Raima?”

“Well, she has an IQ of 170. I’m sure she can find her way home.”

The girl walked down the long streets. The weight of her bag pressed down on her shoulders. She stopped for a moment, and then continued walking. Finally, she came to a stop. A large school campus stood in front of her. The sign in front of her read Naviin Academy. This school was the reason she was here. The girl stood there for a moment, hesitant on whether she should go in or not. She decided yes.

As the girl walked farther, she noticed other students walking in the opposite direction. Most of them stared at her as she walked past. She ignored them. School hours were over. Everybody was headed home. The girl was about to enter the school when an unfamiliar sound caught her attention. She turned around and followed the sound.

It led her to a large tennis court. The girl went in further. There were five boys on the court. They all wore the same clothing. A match was going on, in doubles. One boy sat in the umpire’s position. He looked a little younger compared to the other boys. He watched their game, while calling out some words and phrases. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

The girl watched them play. She recalled when she was little, her dad used to talk about tennis all the time. However, the girl never had an interest for it. She much rather preferred more intellectual fixations, such as computer engineering. She never had an interest for sports in general.

Still, for some unknown reason, she wanted to witness a tennis match first hand. These boys looked like they knew their stuff. The girl slowly walked onto the court. The boys were much to focused on their game to pay any attention. Then the umpire noticed the girl. He looked directly at her. The others soon stopped playing and looked at her, too. The girl felt a slight bit uncomfortable.

“You there, this is a closed practice,” a boy with raven black hair called out. The girl didn’t say a word back. “What’s your name?” the boy asked. She didn’t answer. He stepped closer to her. “Hey, did you not hear?”

The girl just looked at him. She didn’t say anything. She then glanced at all the other boys. All eyes were on her. The girl felt a sharp sense come over her.

“You look familiar,” the boy continued. “Are you that prodigy from America? What’s your name?”

The girl took a deep breath. “Raima Rahman,” she finally said.

“Ah, so you are the prodigy.”

It was true. Raima happened to be a computer prodigy. Ever since she was little, she has had an exceptional skill for computers and their diverse software. Raima also happened to have a photographic memory. She could remember anything necessary at the appropriate times. Raima had an IQ of 170 and it was increasing, according to a recent IQ test she took in America.

Just then, the two boys from the airport stepped into the court. They were laughing on their way. Then, they spotted Raima. Both of them froze. Raima gave them a sharp glare. She crossed her arms. They both ran over to her.

“Raima, what are you doing here?” the taller boy asked.

“You two never showed up at the airport,” Raima replied.

“Well, we did but we didn’t see you,” the shorter boy said.

Raima’s older brothers were both on the tennis team. The taller and older one was Zarif Rahman. The shorter and younger one was Imran Rahman. They are both 3nd years at Naviin Academy. They were also the one’s in charge of Raima’s pick-up.

The boy who asked Raima for her name studied her features. He looked back at Zarif and Imran. They had a strong resemblance. The boy stepped back. He went and stood by his teammates. They all started approaching, too. They started talking. The boy noticed that Raima was staring at his tennis racket.

“Don’t even bother,” he said to her. “This team is strictly male.”

“Don’t worry,” Raima said back. “Tennis is not my ace game.”

“Do you even know how to play?”

The boy walked over to the bench. He picked up a racket. He held it out to Raima. She hesitated on taking it. She didn’t have time for this nonsense. She was here in Bangladesh for a reason. Tennis was not it. Still, the boy insisted she show him.

“Come one, take the racket. If you’re so smart, you should have no trouble adapting.”

“Not interested,” Raima told him.

Raima started walking away. The boy saw a tennis ball at his feet. He bent down and picked it up. He glanced back at his teammates. His devilish smile said it all. The rest of the team knew that smile. Nobody said anything. The boy gripped the ball tightly. Then he threw it straight at Raima.

Raima’s keen senses picked up. As the ball was about to hit her, she extended out her hand and caught the ball. All the team members gasped. Raima was still facing the opposite direction. She squeezed the ball tightly. Then, she threw it back on the ground.

“Like I said, I’m not interested.”

From a distance, a very tall boy with brownish-black hair heard the noise. He wore the same exact uniform as the boys playing tennis. He turned his attention to the tennis court. He slowly walked over. A look of disappointment covered his face.

The first thing he noticed was Raima. He immediately knew it was her. He had heard a lot of talk about the 13-year-old computer prodigy from America coming to attend Naviin. For the past week, it was the biggest news on campus. The teachers spoke of her immensely. Their tennis coach talked a lot about Raima, too. She was friends with Raima’s father and thus, knew a lot about her.

Back on the court, the boy felt his body on fire. He would not let a little squirt like Raima make a fool out of him. The other boys looked at each other. None of them said anything. They knew their teammate. He was extremely hotheaded and aggressive. They didn’t wish to acquire any injuries. The quarrel was interrupted by the sound of footsteps.

“That’s enough!” a deep voice said.

The tall boy from before was not happy. He stepped onto the court, approaching his teammates. He walked confidently. All the other boys seemed a bit frightened. They all had lined up in a row. The tall boy seemed to have a sudden control over them. Even, the boy who threw the tennis ball seemed bothered.

“Captain Malik!” the team said in unison.

Malik Chowdhury was the captain of the tennis team at Naviin Academy. He is a 3rd year. Malik is incredibly skilled at the game. He is a nationally ranked tennis player. He is always very quiet, though. Malik could also be an intimidating captain. The other players followed his every command.

Malik stared at his teammates. They could tell he was upset. He then eyed Raima. She looked back up at him. She didn’t move. Malik’s stare sent chills rushing through Raima’s body. He could be intimidating, even at first glance. Malik turned back to his teammates, particularly one of them.

“Kazim, what’s going on here?” he asked.

“Nothing captain,” Kazim muttered.

Kazim Khan’s ego was just fierce as his tennis skills. He is also a 3rd year. Kazim is one of the team’s double players. However, sometimes he could take his anger out of the court. This has put him into some sticky situations in the past, all resulting in him getting in trouble with Malik. Kazim is extremely arrogant and sometimes picked on younger kids. He is a boy who knows how to make his points crystal clear, the hard way.
“10 laps around the court,” Malik ordered.

“What for?” Kazim hollered.

“What have I told you about abusing the tennis equipment?”

“But I…”

“Care to make it 20 laps?”

Kazim didn’t argue anymore. Even he knew what kind of power Malik had. He was very strict with his tennis rules, even for a third year. Unwillingly, Kazim started running. The others watched him run off. They started chuckling until Malik silenced them.

Raima watched the entire scene. She had a lot of mixed thoughts about the captain. But it was what it was. Raima picked up her bag, gripping it hard. She started walking out of the tennis court. Her brothers saw her go. The entire team stared in awe. None of them said a word. The umpire boy seemed very surprised.

“Do you need a ride home?” Zarif asked.

“Don’t bother,” Raima said, still walking.

Malik looked over his shoulder. He watched closely as Raima left. Heavy thoughts rushed through his mind. For some peculiar reason, he felt a sudden potential within Raima. He knew that she didn’t come to Naviin Academy for tennis. But still, he felt she could be of some use to the team. He still wasn’t sure how or even why. Better wait and see.

Raima focused on the actual reason she was here. She walked around to the back of the school. Beside the large garden, there was a medium sized, white building. Raima walked up to it. She knocked on the door. There was no answer. She slowly twisted the knob. The door opened and she quietly walked in.

The room was much more enormous on the inside. Raima looked around. There were many computers in the room, along with special software. Raima had heard of most of them. They had them in America. But she hadn’t seen as many of them all in one place before.

“Is anyone here?” Raima asked loudly.

Suddenly, three young students walked into the room from the hallway. Two of them were boys, one with dark brown hair, the other black hair. The third was a girl with black hair. They all looked at Raima with a surprised look. The girl seemed happy to see her.

“Is this the Naviin Academy Computer Club?” Raima asked.

“Yes, this is the place,” the girl said. She held out her hand. “My name is Maysa Noor. You must be Raima Rahman.”

“That’s right.”

“We’ve been expecting you,” the dark brown haired boy said. “I’m Arsh Huq.”

“We’ve heard all about you. I’m Ibrahim Qureshi,” the black haired one said.

Raima greeted them. This club was the prime reason she was here. Raima’s father told her that the Naviin Academy Computer Club was highly skilled in their respective category. Personally, she didn’t see what was so special about them. They had an enormous work room, yes, but that was it.

“We know you’re here to join the club,” Maysa went on. “But you’ll have to take it up with our captain.”

Suddenly, a thin girl who kept her wavy brown hair in a ponytail emerged from the hallway. She walked with a cocky pride. The girl looked somewhat familiar. Raima couldn’t exactly put her finger on it. The girl eyed Raima. A smirk appeared on her face.

“Mimi, this is Raima Rahman,” Maysa said walking over to the captain.

“Ah, the virtual genius from America,” Mimi acknowledged.

There it was again. The tone of her voice sounded familiar to Raima. The way she walked looked familiar too. There was something about Mimi’s cocky personality that stuck out to Raima. But she had not heard of her nor seen her before. She was sure of that.

“Judging from that look, you must have met Malik Chowdhury,” Arsh said.

Malik! Raima had heard that name before. It was the name of the captain of the tennis team. He was the one who came in and made Kazim run laps. He was the one that all the players feared. He also walked with a sudden cocky attitude and strong posture. Raima looked back at Mimi. The two of them looked similar to one another.

“Is he your brother?” Raima asked Mimi.

“No, my cousin,” Mimi replied. “Our only common feature is our surnames.”

Mimi Chowdhury didn’t realize how much she and Malik were alike. She always spent her time fixing computers and developing software. She hated sports. Mimi and Malik were both captains but they hardly ever crossed paths. Mimi preferred to spend her time with intellectual matters. She is a 1st year at Naviin. However, the two have very similar leadership skills. There was a reason they were the captains of their teams. Strong leaders ran in the family.

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud beeping noise. The five of them turned to one of the computers. A small window appeared with a red exclamation point. Ibrahim ran over to the computer. He read the message. It said: unable to install software.

“What software?” Raima asked.

“We’re trying to create an advanced profiler for the school, to label each and every student,” Ibrahim explained. “But I can’t get the starter software to install properly.”

Raima stared at the screen. She read the message again. She looked down at the set of wires connected to the computer. She reached for the keyboard and typed in a special code with her right hand. In seconds, another message popped up. This time, it read: software installed. The club stared in astonishment.

“Wow that was amazing!” Maysa exclaimed.

Raima shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

Raima had seen enough. She gripped her bag tight and headed for the door. Maysa ran back into the hallway. She came back holding a plastic package with a sweater inside, the colors being white, red, and green. She looked at all the club members. They all nodded. Mimi just shrugged. Just as Raima was about to leave, Maysa stopped her. She held out the package.

“Here,” she said.

Raima examined it the package. “What is it?”

Mimi smiled. “You didn’t think the tennis team was the only one with special uniforms around here, did you?”

Raima realized what this meant. She was a part of the club. She knew she should be happy about that. It was why she was here. But for some reason, Raima wasn’t impressed. Honestly, it wasn’t her decision to come to Bangladesh. Her home was America.

Evidently, the team wanted her on it. Raima underestimated what the club knew about her. In fact, most of the kids at Naviin Academy knew of Raima’s skills. Raima looked back at them. She took the jacket from Maysa’s hands and headed out.

Raima continued walking. She passed the tennis court again. The team was practicing. Raima saw her brothers. She was surprised. She never knew they played tennis. However, there was a lot she didn’t know about them. She hadn’t been in communication with them for practically thirteen years.

Raima stopped walking for a moment and adjusted the straps of her bag. As she walked, she took one last look at the tennis team. Malik spotted her. Raima felt his eyes lock on her. Malik turned back to his team. Raima shook her head miserably and continued walking home. As she left, Malik gazed back.

Thirteen years ago, Annisa Rahman was given an once-in-a-lifetime offer. The professors of Harvard University in the United States asked her to teach at the school. After much consideration on the matter, involving many individual factors, Annisa decided to take the offer. She headed off to America, leaving behind her beloved home and her entire family in Bangladesh. It was a hard sacrifice but she made it.

Annisa was still pregnant with Raima at the time. Raima was born about a month after her mother arrived in America. She grew up there. Raima took after her mother’s expertise. She grew up to love computers just as much as Annisa.

Even as a child, Raima was able to grasp information very quickly. She had much knowledge at a very young age. Raima’s high IQ was later revealed to her and her mother. Raima used her intelligence to make it through life, having interest in nothing else but computers. It was always her prime focus. Since Annisa wasn’t home most of the time, Raima usually went through life as a loner, to which she didn’t show any signs of regret. But being so alone for all those years resulted in her not opening up to others, being slightly more cold and cocky. Raima only cared for herself and her mother.

With every passing minute, Raima began to miss the U.S. more and more. Finally, she stopped in front of a maroon house. It was somewhat large. She walked up the steps to find that the door was unlocked. So, she went inside.

Raima carefully looked around the house. It didn’t seem as if anyone was home. Well of course, Zarif and Imran were at tennis practice. The only other person that lived in the house was their father. Raima glanced at all the pictures in the house. She was surprised that a lot of them were of her, some from when she was a baby, to her child years. There were a few pictures of her that seemed recent. The majority of the pictures, however, were of Zarif and Imran. Before today, Raima had no strong connection with either of them.

There was one picture that stuck out amongst the rest. It was a picture of the five of them. Zarif and Imran looked about nine or ten years old at the time. Her father carried Raima in his arms. She guessed she was about 6 at the time, so it must have been seven years ago. Their mother stood next to their father in the picture. Raima remembered when and where that picture was taken. A few years ago, her father and brothers visited her and her mother in America. It was a short visit, though. Raima’s memories of it were incredibly vague.

As she walked further in the house, Raima saw that it was much larger than it looked. The backyard was enormous. Raima guessed that her father must have owned atleast 3 acres of property. She walked outside. A few feet away, there was a small temple-like structure. She walked towards it.

The small temple looked very traditional. Raima noticed someone was there. It was her father, Zaim Rahman. He was praying. Despite his actual age, he looked young for a father. Zaim finished his prayers. Just as he looked up, he saw Raima.

“Oh Raima,” Zaim said in surprised tone. “How have you been? How’s your mother?” Raima didn’t answer. “I assume your brothers are at tennis practice. Did you see the team?” She nodded. “Well what did you think of them?”

Raima watched her father get up. He rubbed his hands together. Raima looked all around. Their house was in the midst of nature. A forest surrounded it. Raima was never fond of that setting. She clutched her bag. She didn’t feel welcoming.

“Tell me, what is the real reason you brought me here?” Raima finally asked.

“For the computer club of course,” Zaim replied.

“At that school, no you didn’t.”

Zaim took a long look at his daughter. She evidently caught on to things quickly. He remembered Annisa was like that. Zaim and Annisa were former classmates at Naviin Academy. Annisa was incredibly sharp and always caught on to everyone’s last words. She had always dreamed of bigger things. Raima had become just like that.

“Fine,” Zaim began. “Despite the fact that Naviin’s computer club is the best, it’s not why you’re here. I brought you for the other reason the school is so well known, the tennis team. I figured you could give it a try.”

Raima couldn’t believe her ears. When her mother first gave her the news, she was not happy. The only reason Raima went through with the move was because her mother told her Naviin Academy was known for their extraordinary computer club. Raima would do anything to excel in the computer engineering world. It was her dream.

Raima grew up watching her mother. She had been inside Harvard many times. She had seen her mother’s classroom. She had seen her mother’s skills. In thirteen years, all of Annisa’s hard work had paid off. Now, she was a wealthy computer engineer. Raima wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. All of that changed the moment she set foot in Bangladesh. And now, she finds out the reason she came here isn’t even the real reason.

Raima didn’t argue with the fact that the computer club was bad. They had numerous advanced technologies. They had awards. They were obviously recognized. However, she could easily surpass them. But tennis was an entirely different story. She wasn’t here for that. Now, the truth revealed she is supposed to be.

Zaim went on to explain how good the tennis team was. Raima listened quietly, holding her patience. She had a lot of words inside of her but she kept them bottled up. Zaim told Raima that the tennis team had won many tournaments. He also mentioned their professional captain, Malik Chowdhury. Raima had already seen enough of him. She had gotten her impression. Still, she didn’t find most of this a surprise. Her father was a very famous tennis player in his time. His skills were legendary.

“That’s a lie,” Raima said, shocking her father. “Tell me you that didn’t really bring me here from The States for tennis, of all things.”

“Your mother once told me something very fascinating,” Zaim said. “You played tennis with your friends and you single handedly beat all of them. That’s no coincidence so I brought you here to perfect your skills.”

“My skills pertain to computer engineering, not tennis,” Raima countered. “I intend to be like mother.”

“But I just thought…”

“Well you thought wrong.”

Raima turned around. She walked back towards the house. Zaim called after her. She didn’t respond. He stood there, watching his daughter. She had turned out to be much different that he expected. Of course, it was thirteen years later. Still, he hadn’t anticipated this. He thought she would be ecstatic about tennis, like him and the boys.

Annisa always described Raima as a determined youth. That was exactly what they called him when he was young. Zaim wanted all three of his kids to take after him in the tennis line. He just thought Raima would understand this. But obviously, she was just like her mother. She wanted something bigger in life, something intellectual. Raima obviously wanted nothing to do with athletics, especially tennis.

“Wait Raima,” Zaim called once more. “Can I atleast get you something while you’re here?”

Raima gave him a sharp look. “Yeah, you can get me a plane ticket back to America.”

The sun shone in Raima’s pathway as she walked through town. She needed to be alone, get away from everything and everyone. Back in America, to calm her frustrations, Raima would take long walks around the local park. It was much different in Bangladesh. There were lots of people gathered in the same area. In America, people usually did things separately.

Raima had gotten up early in the morning. She left the house before her father or brothers even woke up. Raima didn’t care how they would react to that. Chances were they wouldn’t react at all. Raima had no clue why her father would even think bringing her back was a good idea. She was perfectly fine in America.

No matter how much she tried to shake it off, the thought kept coming back. Her father said he wanted her to take up tennis. Raima never had an interest for it. When she played her friends in America, they were just joking around. It was just a match for fun. Raima never wanted to play professionally. And by the looks of it, the tennis team seemed to not want her on the team. Raima had a feeling she knew why, too.

As Raima walked past, a young boy with sleek black hair watched her go. He was the same boy who played umpire in the previous tennis match. His gaze was locked in her direction. For a moment, he wondered what she was doing walking the streets alone. From the way she stood up to Kazim yesterday, the boy felt she was special.

The boy followed Raima. He wanted to know her. All he really knew was her name and that wasn’t enough. The boy didn’t know what to think of Raima exactly. He knew what his teammates would say. But in this case, their opinions didn’t matter to him. He was friends with both Zarif and Imran. They were very good people. Their sister must be the same.

Raima stopped walking. Suddenly, she felt a bit tired. She spotted a large, shady tree. She went and sat underneath it. As a child, Raima used to love climbing trees. As she grew, she quit the habit. Now a day, she just liked to sit underneath one. The feeling was tranquil.

Raima leaned back against the tree. She looked up at the sky for a moment. The white clouds made an archway for the shimmering sun. The rays came down right in Raima’s direction. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment.

This took her back to her childhood years. Ever since she was four, Annisa used to take Raima to the park every day in America. As she grew older, this stopped. Raima went on by herself. She still loved the park. She grew up there. It was her personal playground.

Whenever she went, Raima found herself in a somber mood. She saw lots of kids playing in the park. They were with their parents, their family. It made Raima sad to think she didn’t actually have a real family. But she had to face the facts. When Annisa first gave Raima the news about going to Bangladesh, there was a flicker of hope inside of her. She thought maybe they could become a family again.

But that was up until she knew she was the only one going. And now, there was this whole tennis dilemma. Raima knew exactly what she wanted to be. She knew what she was going to do with her life. She was going to work hard to become a successful computer engineer like Annisa. She didn’t need tennis. She didn’t want tennis. When Raima opened her eyes, she saw a pair of black shoes. She slowly lifted her eyes to see the umpire boy.

“Hi,” the boy said in a friendly tone. “You know, what you did on the court yesterday was really surprising. Kazim can be a real jerk but you really showed him.”

Raima stared at the boy for a moment. “And you are?”

“Oh my apologies, my name is Rafi Zaman.”

At 13-years-old, Rafi is the youngest member of the tennis team. He is a 1st year at Naviin Academy. In fact, he is the first 1st year in all of Naviin history to ever become a regular on the team. The other members sometimes joked around with Rafi because he was the youngest. Even so, Rafi always thought of them as older brothers.

Ever since Rafi’s dad died, his mother had completely broken down. She usually didn’t go out in public anymore. She just stayed home. Rafi was very young at the time, too. As he grew, he couldn’t take the sadness. He spent his days outside his house, playing tennis, the very game his father loved.

Then one day, Rafi met Malik and talked to him about joining the tennis team. Rafi had to prove himself and he did. He was an extraordinary tennis player. He had come very far in the tennis world. However, there were still players who didn’t take him seriously because of his age. With his own confidence and Malik’s guidance, Rafi learned to get past all that and look on the bright side of life’s troubles. Rafi loved watching his teammates play tennis as much as he loved playing himself. He usually portrayed the umpire in matches for his teammates, singles or doubles. The team was his family.

“Your name is Raima, isn’t it?” Rafi asked. “Raima Rahman?”

“That’s correct.”

“So you’re sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”

They both became quiet for a moment. Raima rested her head back against the tree. Rafi sat down on the grass next to her. He had the feeling that she didn’t want to converse at the moment. That was fine with him.

Raima continued to stare at the sky. Rafi soon joined in. The truth was Raima hadn’t talked to someone like Rafi in years. In America, she mostly went on it alone. The last time she remembered hanging out with her friends was when they played tennis. It was her first time playing and from where she stood, her last time.

“So how do you like Bangladesh so far?” Rafi asked, breaking the ice. “I heard you came all the way from The United States of America.”

Raima shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“You don’t like it, do you?”

His comment caught Raima’s attention. Ultimately, she was lying. She honestly didn’t like it but saying the truth would be rude. Rafi had immediately caught on to that. No one Raima had met before could do that. She savored people’s feelings with her calm, disguisable tone. At that moment, something told Raima that Rafi was different, in a good way.

“So how long are you staying?” Rafi went on.

“Not long,” Raima replied.

Rafi was disappointed to hear that. He had hoped that Raima would like staying in Bangladesh. However, he couldn’t tell how she felt or what she felt. He supposed he would feel the same way if he was in her position. Traveling halfway across the world could be a frightening experience, especially if it was to an unfamiliar environment.

Rafi had known Zarif and Imran for a long time. They were good friends, despite the fact that they were two years older than him. When Rafi first heard they had a sister, he was surprised. He honestly took the announcement as a shocker. Then, he felt pleased to know their sister was his age. He was excited to meet Raima. He was still glad he did but he wished he could do something to make her feel more welcome.

“Hey I have an idea,” Rafi said, getting Raima’s attention. “How about we play some tennis tomorrow, at the Rahman Gardens? It was named in honor of your father.”

“Thanks but no thanks,” Raima said, getting up. “I’m not a fan of tennis.”

“Oh come on, you’ll like it.”

Raima appreciated what Rafi was trying to do. He was just being friendly. He just wanted to make her feel at home. Raima had to admit, it was nice that he cared. Ever since she arrived, she felt lonelier than she ever had. Rafi was the first real person she didn’t actually mind talking to. At last, she decided to take him up on his offer.

“And if we play, I presume you’ll be the umpire?” Raima asked.

Rafi smiled. “I can do both.”

Raima was wrong. Her father and brothers were worried. When she returned home, there was no one in the house. Raima used the key her father gave her to get in. On the table, someone had left a meal for her. Raima took it up to her room. She finished her food there.

A couple of minutes later, her father burst into her room. He looked relieved. He told Raima how worried he was. He, Zarif, and Imran had spent the entire Saturday afternoon searching for her. They looked all over the city. Zaim returned home every hour just in case Raima had come back. He said he was scared to death. He thought she ran away.

Once her brothers returned, Raima told them where she had been; by force of course. She told them about her encounter with Rafi. She told them how she was going to play tennis with him tomorrow. The three of them looked happy to hear that. Imran whispered something into Zarif’s ear. They both cracked a smile. Imran let out a slight laugh.

“Rafi Zaman, you say,” Zaim acknowledged. “He’s a good boy.”

“You’re really going to play him?” Imran asked.

Raima nodded. “Why not?”

Zarif smiled. “Good answer.”

The next day, Raima followed the directions Rafi had given her. The Rahman Tennis Garden was enormous. It was a lovely sight. Flowers covered the bushes. There was a large, green field in the garden, too. Lot of younger kids ran and played in the field.

Then, Raima saw the actual tennis courts. She made her way up the long steps. There wasn’t anybody else playing in the court. Raima took that as a relief. She looked around the area. There wasn’t anybody there. Rafi was nowhere in sight. Raima was starting to think he wasn’t going to show up. Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She whipped around and saw Rafi.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked. “You look a little jumpy.”

“Didn’t anybody ever tell you not to sneak up on people?” Raima snapped.

“My bad,” Rafi said sincerely. “Now come, on let’s play.”

For a moment, Raima just stood there. Rafi continued to walk ahead. He didn’t hear any footsteps behind him. He looked back. Raima didn’t move an inch.

“Are you coming?”

Raima nodded and followed Rafi. The court seemed even larger. Raima looked around. It was definitely clean. Rafi set his tennis stuff down. He pulled out his racquet. Raima did the same. She set her bag down on one of the benches. She then pulled out her own racquet. Her father sent it as a 10th birthday present. She never thought she’d actually use it.

Raima and Rafi both stepped on the court. Raima felt her pulse rushing. She hadn’t played tennis in years. She had a feeling she would lose. Still, she wanted to play.

“Heads or tails?” Rafi asked, pulling out a coin from his pocket.

Raima thought for a second. “Heads.”

Rafi flipped his coin and smiled. “Heads, you serve.”

Meanwhile, Zarif went outside the get the mail. He opened the mailbox. There was a cluster of letters inside, more than usual. He pulled them all out. He was surprised to see there was so many. One happened to be Imran’s phone bill. Zarif’s eyes widened at amount.

Just then, Imran came outside. He was full of energy, as always. Imran froze at the sight of the look on Zarif’s face. He stared at the mail in his hands. Imran knew that look. It wasn’t the happy kind of look. He guessed it had something to do with him.

“What is it?” Imran asked, making sure.

Before Zarif could answer, the two boys heard footsteps. They both turned to see the tennis team walking in their direction. Malik was in the front of course. He always walked with purpose. Kazim was the exact opposite of that. He walked with a competitive look on his face. Even on the weekends, he thought about beating somebody at tennis.

The rest of the team was there, too. Next to Malik was Saad Hussain, a fellow 3rd year at Naviin Academy. He had incredibly silky, brown hair and fair skin. The two of them shared a resemblance. Saad and Malik were good friends. A match between them would be the match of Naviin. Saad is rather quiet but very caring. He played tennis based on strategy. Saad has much knowledge on tennis players worldwide. He was also amazingly lucky, in all ways.

Also a valuable addition to the team was Emir Islam. With his black hair and sweet smile, he is an all-rounder, friendly and kind to everyone. He is a 2nd year at Naviin Academy. Emir had just recently begun to crack out of his shell and become more social. His family wasn’t really connected. Ever since he was a child, he grew up in a harsh environment. His parents were always arguing for some reason. As a result, Emir has grown up to be very indecisive. He usually stayed over at his best friend’s house.

Speaking of his best friend, the final member of the team was Usama Muhammad. He is also 2nd year at Naviin Academy. With his curly black hair and perfect skin, Usama is an impulsive flirt but can also be incredibly sweet. He likes to imitate his teammates just to be funny. He has a solid reason for playing tennis. Usama’s parents never approved of his hobby. They always thought of sports as a total waste of time. Usama plays in hopes of someday proving to his parents wrong.

Zarif greeted the team warmly. “Hey guys, what’s up?”

“We went to get Rafi so all of us could hang out,” Saad started. “But he wasn’t there.”

“So we came here so we all could look for him,” Emir finished.

The brothers looked at each other. Both of them had the same thought. They both knew exactly where Rafi was. They knew what he was doing. The entire team’s confused looks told them they needed to clarify.

“There’s no need to look for him,” Imran said. “He’s at the Rahman Tennis Garden.”

“Who’s he playing with?” Usama asked.

“Raima,” Zarif answered.

“That’s interesting,” Kazim said in a charming voice. He turned to Malik.

“Let’s go,” Malik said, as if reading Kazim’s mind.

The boys made it just in time. Raima gripped the tennis ball hard. Her palms were already sweaty. She didn’t feel nervous. She couldn’t explain the feeling exactly. Raima couldn’t remember the last time she felt like that.

Raima looked up at Rafi. He flashed a smile. Raima looked back at the ball. The other tennis players watched from behind the fence. Neither Raima nor Rafi noticed them. They paid close attention. They were all anxious to see Raima’s skills in action.

Raima took in a deep breath. She slowly threw the tennis ball high up in the air. She concentrated on it. A sharp look appeared in her eyes. Raima jumped up and smacked her racket against the ball. It went flying up in the sky. It followed a formation similar to a heart. Then, it flew straight pass Rafi at an exceedingly fast pace. The ball landed inside the court.

“Whoa, no way,” Imran said.

“Ditto,” Usama added.

Rafi looked at the ball. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. He had missed the shot. Rafi had no idea that Raima was that good. She said she had never played against a professional, or close. He picked the ball up and turned to Raima.

“15-0,” he said. “You wanna play best of three?”

“Works for me,” Raima replied.

Raima set up the next shot. She threw the ball up into the air. She hit it as hard as he could. The ball went flying to the other side of the court. Rafi managed to hit it. He smiled proudly. Raima stopped it with her racket and hit it back. Rafi was caught off guard for a moment. The ball landed past him again. He looked at it. Impossible, he thought.


Raima took the next shot. Her confidence increased. She used the same shot. The ball went flying. Rafi was very close to getting it that time but he couldn’t. The ball landed on the ground.


Rafi knew he had to get his game up. He wasn’t going easy. He wasn’t letting Raima win. She was actually doing it on her own. Raima tossed the ball up and swung. She watched it go. It went fast, again. It landed on Rafi’s said. He couldn’t believe it. It was game. Raima won the first set, 4-0.

“Did you guys see that?” Saad exclaimed. He turned to Zarif and Imran. “You guys didn’t tell us your sister was that good.”

“Because we didn’t know,” Zarif replied. They really didn’t.

Raima and Rafi moved on. The second set was on its way. Rafi intended not to lose. He now knew that Raima was a strong player. He also knew what speed to play at. There was only one move that could help him. It was his signature move: the Z Twister.

Rafi threw the ball in the air. He sharply twisted his arm and hit it. The ball went spinning. Raima couldn’t block it that time. It landed behind her, inside the line. Rafi smiled happily.

“Didn’t I mention I was good?” Rafi joked. “That’s 0-15.”

Rafi took the ball in his hands again. He threw it up in the air, using the move he just used. His Z Twister never failed him. He sent the ball right to Raima. It went straight past her, landing on the ground. That made it 0-30. This time, things were opposite. The odds were in Rafi’s favor.

Rafi took his shot. His special shot was incredible. It was nearly impossible to beat. But Raima was able to send it back this time. She made the score 15-30. Raima did the same thing again, gaining her a point. The score became 30-30.

Rafi shot again. Raima took the ball. She hit it hard. Rafi concentrated on its form. At the perfect moment, he hit it and it landed on Raima’s side, 30-40. Rafi did the exact same move. This time it landed in front of her. Rafi always played with twists.

“That’s our boy,” Kazim said proudly.

And because Rafi hit it, it was game. He won 4-2. Now, Raima and Rafi had each won a game. Raima won the first. Rafi won the second. It was all on this last set.

Raima took the ball in her hands. She tossed it up. She gave it a hard hit. It went over to Rafi’s side. He stopped it with his racket. He sent it right back. It landed on the ground. The first point had been given; 0-15, Rafi.

Raima grabbed the ball again. She shot it to Rafi. He sent it back to her. With confidence, Raima swung back. It landed on Rafi’s side. That was a new one. The game was 15-15, Raima.

“Not bad,” Rafi admitted.

Raima hit it again. It went flying. It landed on the ground. It was now 30-15, Raima. She knew she had to keep this up. Rafi waited for her next shot. He also had to step it up. Raima shot hard. Rafi reached out for it and swung back. It landed on Raima’s side. That made the score 30-30, Rafi.

“30 all,” Rafi called out.

“Not for long,” Raima said back.

She hit it hard. Rafi hit it back to her. Raima swung again. This was very different. They kept at it. Then, Raima hit it extremely hard, a little bit too hard. Her racket went flying in the air. Rafi sent the ball back. Raima realized it was about to hit the ground. She jumped up and grasped the racket. She then lowered down and hit and under-hand serve. It landed on Rafi’s side. The game score 40-30. Raima knew what she had to do. Rafi made it a deuce next time at 40-40. Then Raima scored making a match point.

Raima concentrated. One wrong move and it was all over. She threw the ball up. She used the move she used in the very first game. The ball went straight in the air, making a heart formation. It went straight at Rafi. It rose higher. Rafi tried to reach out to grab it but it was too late. The ball landed on the ground while he was still in midair.


None of the regulars could believe what had just happened. Zarif and Imran never knew their sister had this kind of strength. They all had seen Rafi play. For a 1st year, he was extremely good. They couldn’t believe he lost. The score of the third and final set turned out being 5-3, Raima with 5 points and Rafi with 3 points. Ultimately, Raima won the match because she had won two sets out of the three.

Rafi couldn’t believe it himself. Raima was the most surprised. She had never thought she’d be able to pull off the win. Rafi picked up his tennis ball and smiled. All that mattered was that he tried his best. He looked over at Raima. She looked satisfied, not nostalgic. Rafi was glad. That was the other thing that mattered. It was what he was going for. Rafi and Raima shook hands, just because. That’s when the others revealed themselves.

“Nice game you two,” Saad complimented.

Rafi blushed. Raima glanced at him and flashed the team a puzzled look. They had no idea that the team was there. That was the thing with tennis. They always got caught up in the action on the court. Then again, that was a good thing. It meant you didn’t doze off.

“Wow Raima!” Imran exclaimed. “Dad’s going to be so proud of you.”

“When were you going to tell us about your special talent?” Zarif asked.

Kazim crossed his arms. “It was good for a freshman.”

“Ever thought of joining the team?” Rafi asked, to the shock of all his teammates.

Raima eyed Malik. He didn’t move a muscle. He just stared at her with his sharp eyes. Raima didn’t know what he was thinking. It was difficult to tell. She hoped he didn’t get offended by Rafi’s suggestion.

“It’s okay,” Raima said. “Like I said, tennis isn’t my ace game.”

Raima grabbed her bag. She didn’t bother to put the racquet inside. She started walking out of the court. She didn’t turn back. All of the players watched her go. A sad look appeared on Rafi’s face. Malik didn’t do anything but watch her go.

That night, Raima sat out on the backyard. She gazed up at the stars. They were so bright tonight. She had already finished her dinner. Zaim was overjoyed to hear about Raima’s day. He couldn’t be happier to hear she actually played tennis. Raima didn’t tell her family but she actually enjoyed the experience. Still, there was something inside her that told her it wasn’t what she was supposed to be doing, that it was the wrong move.

Raima looked at her racquet. A long time ago, she told herself she would never use it. Now, look what happened. She came to Bangladesh and everything changed, including herself. Raima realized she hadn’t been on the computer once since she arrived. Her life was turning upside down. All the promises she made to herself about who she was and who she wanted to be were fading away. All her life, Raima wanted nothing more than to be a computer engineer. She came here to join the computer club and instead she found tennis.

Raima picked up her racquet. She gripped it tightly. She looked ahead. There was a tennis court right in her backyard. Raima hesitated for a moment. It was already dark. She should be going to bed. But she couldn’t do it. She walked over to the court. She had no idea what she was doing. She didn’t even have an opponent. She couldn’t play by herself.

Raima started to head back in. Suddenly, she heard strange noises. The leaves of the trees and all the surrounding bushes started rustling. Raima looked back to see. There was nothing there but she still heard the noise. It increased.

Raima heard footsteps from one side of the forest. A chilly sense went down her body. She didn’t move at all. Then, Raima saw an eerie figure in the trees. She couldn’t tell who or what it was. She could just make out the sharp, glowing yes. Malik stepped out of the darkness. Raima let out a heavy breath.

“Relax,” Malik said. “I won’t bite.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Raima asked quietly, making sure no one heard.

Malik slowly approached Raima. He looked at the tennis court. Then he fixed his gaze on her racquet. Raima felt her body temperature drop. Malik’s hawk-like eyes were staring at her directly. He was the hawk. She was the prey.

“I want to talk to you about your match against Rafi,” Malik said.

“What about it?”

“Your skills would be of some use to us. I want you to consider joining our team.”

“But I thought it was strictly male.” Raima put air quotes around strictly.

“Who’s the captain here?” Malik countered.

Yup, Raima definitely knew what to think of Naviin Academy’s ever so strong tennis captain. She couldn’t believe Malik had asked her to join. She could just imagine what most of the other players would say. A lot different thoughts filled Raima’s mind. She didn’t know which one to go with.

This reminded her of her mother. The professors at Harvard had given her a proposal just like this one. Malik sounded like he meant this was a once in a lifetime shot. If there was anything Raima learned from her mother, it was that once in a lifetime meant no second chances. It was truly once in a lifetime, emphasis on the once.

“I already told you, I’m not interested in tennis,” Raima said, heading in.

“You seemed pretty interested in it today,” Malik said, stopping her in her tracks.

Raima stopped walking. Her eyes glowed with anger. Malik somehow understood this. Either way, he wasn’t one to force another. He just needed to know the truth. Malik always made decisions with his team. However, some things were singularly reserved.

“Listen,” Malik began. “We have a huge tournament coming up. I’m not going to force you to play but after school Tuesday, the team is going to have an intervention. If you come, then you play and if you don’t, you don’t. It’s your choice.”

“I have computer club then,” Raima said.

“Life is all about perseverance,” Malik told her. “But one must be willing to persevere.” And with that, he disappeared into the darkness.

Raima’s life was about computers. It always had been. It always will be. Her ultimate goal had always been to follow her mother’s footsteps. She focused on that. It was the reason she was here, even though her father said otherwise.

Raima stared through the window of the computer club. The tennis court was fully visible. None of the players were there yet. Raima wondered what was taking them so long. She returned to her computer. She was working on the profiler. At first, it seemed like a piece of cake. But Raima soon realized it was much harder than it looked.

Maysa came into the room. “Is something wrong Raima?” she asked.

“No,” Raima replied.

Maysa walked over to the computer. She looked at Raima’s progress. Then, the others walked in. They all turned to Raima. Mimi was very impressed to see all the work Raima had finished. She never thought anyone could get it done faster than her. Then there was Raima, the 13-year-old computer prodigy.

Mimi hadn’t been able to get that much work done yet. She hadn’t even gotten much sleep. This was because of the family feud. The Chowdhury family was very wealthy. However, a long time ago, there was a falling out between her father and Malik’s father. Mimi’s father was the older sibling. After the death of their parents, Malik’s father claimed that Mimi’s father inherited the majority of the money they left behind for the two of them. Mimi’s father argued against this. The feud was never resolved.

This incident happened about five years ago. Up to this day, the two families haven’t spoken once. Mimi never talked to Malik either. They both attended the same school but they never crossed paths. Both of them were the leaders of their respective teams. Everyone knew they were related, the computer club, the tennis team, everyone, but no one dared to mention anything about it. If Mimi and Malik ever came face to face, there would be trouble.

“Alright come on Raima,” Mimi said, noticing her pale expression. “What’s troubling you?”

“Nothing,” Raima said, staring out the window. “I’m fine.”

Mimi followed her gaze. She saw the tennis court. It was the only part of the school she had never been to. She had no intentions of it. The tennis team slowly made their way onto the court. Mimi heard Raima let out a sigh. She connected the dots on her own.

“Well go,” Mimi said.

Raima was shocked. “Huh?”

“If the tennis team wants something from you, best not keep them waiting.”

Raima made her way to the tennis court. She was still surprised Mimi had caught on so quickly. At first, Raima shook off the idea but Mimi insisted. So finally, Raima decided to go. The others told her she could finish the profiler later. Plus, Raima was interested to hear what the team was talking about. She wanted to know more about their tournament. Maybe, just maybe, she could play for them. There was still a lot more to go.

All the tennis players gathered. Each one of them knew this meeting was going to be different. They had been practicing for this tournament for months. Now the time had finally come. They had made it into the finals. This match was especially important for a reason in particular. They would not lose.

All eyes turned to Raima as she entered the court. A broad smile spread across Rafi’s face. The other regulars seemed somewhat surprised. Zarif and Imran both had a feeling Raima would come. Malik showed no signs of happiness, as usual. He just looked at Raima. But his gaze was different this time. It was looked calm. He looked calm.

Raima stood aside from all the others. She still wasn’t fully sure what she was doing. She wasn’t even supposed to be here. She should be back with the club. She should be making the profiler. Instead, she was on a tennis court.

“As you know everyone, the Khan Tournament is in less than one month,” Malik said. “I will not allow last time’s events repeat themselves.”

Raima was confused. She didn’t understand what Malik meant. He seemed to hold it strongly, though. Raima looked at the other tennis players. Saad noticed Raima’s confused expression. He pulled her aside from the team and explained what happened. The others were listening to Malik and thus, didn’t notice.

The Khan Tournament is a legendary tennis competition in Bangladesh. This was the first time that the current Naviin tennis team was playing. However, the real challenge began at the finals of another tournament. It happened a few months ago. The team was up against the great Taraka Academy. Their tennis team was one of the best in the country, just as Naviin, but even more.

Naviin had progressed beautifully through the entire tournament. They were all tremendous tennis players. Malik had become just as good as their previous captain, who graduated the previous year. The entire team did well throughout the whole event. They even did well in the first few matches against Taraka.

However, soon the team began to fall apart. No one knew how or why. It just happened. They started getting frustrated with one another. It didn’t work. This gave Taraka a huge advantage. Malik played the tiebreaker but without his full focus on the court, he couldn’t win it. Malik told himself he would make up for his mistake at the Khan Tournament. They would be up against Taraka again. However, this time, the ending would be different.

“We’ve worked to our fullest,” Malik continued when Saad and Raima came back. “And this time, we will beat Taraka. Besides, we have our secret weapon.”

The boys all looked at one another. They exchanged puzzled looks. They all turned their attention back to Malik. Raima felt her throat go dry. Her stomach suddenly started to ache. She put her hand over it, masking the feeling. This was it. This was the big announcement. She had no idea how the team would take the news.

“Who’s our secret weapon?” Emir asked.

“Raima,” Malik answered.

No one said a word. They all looked at Raima. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head but not because she was surprised. Raima swallowed her breath. She felt like getting out of here. However, there was no turning back now. It was her choice.

“You’re insane Malik,” Kazim said. “She can’t play with us, she’s a girl!”

“Dude, you have eyes,” Usama said.

“You saw her play against Rafi,” Saad added.

“Have you all lost it?” Kazim hollered. “One lucky win doesn’t prove anything! We’ve worked our butts off practicing for this!”

Zarif was appalled. “Kazim…”

“Calm down,” Imran added.

Kazim couldn’t calm down. He couldn’t believe his ears. All the others thought it was a good idea. He didn’t care how good Raima was. She wasn’t ready to play in the big leagues. The Khan Tournament was important to him. He couldn’t afford losing.

Kazim is the son of the director of the Khan Tournament, Jibril Khan, hence the name. His father had already seen the team lose once. Kazim was so sure they would win this time. If they added Raima to the team, their chances of victory could be eliminated. It was too much of a risk. Kazim wasn’t willing to take it. He wouldn’t lose his own tournament.

Rafi couldn’t take it anymore. “Kazim, shut up!” he blurted.

Kazim was taken aback by his tone. “What on Earth? What’s gotten into you Rafi?”

“Stop, that’s quite enough, both of you,” Malik said, ending their dispute. “Now Kazim, I appreciate your help but I do not need it. This decision must be for the good of the team.”

“No, that’s fine,” Raima said.

This caught everybody’s attention. Raima started walking out. She wasn’t one to fret over this. Raima understood what Kazim was feeling. He wanted something more than anything. She had that feeling many times in the past. She got it.

“Kazim wants to win the tournament to please his father,” Raima continued. “If having a girl on the team will mess up his chances, I won’t intrude.”

Kazim was caught off guard. “How did you know that?”

“I do my research.”

Raima was almost gone. The others told Malik to do something. He told them it was Raima’s choice. Whatever she felt comfortable with, that’s what she would do. They then nudged Kazim. He didn’t respond.

Mixed emotions ran through Kazim’s mind. He had no idea Raima knew that. He had never told anyone the true reason he wanted to win. His teammates knew his father was the director of the tournament. They knew he wanted to win. They just didn’t know why. Kazim was amazed. This girl…she was… remarkable.

“Wait!” Kazim called after Raima. She stopped and looked back. “On second thought maybe you can play for us.”

“Are you sure a girl won’t ruin your chances of victory?” Raima asked.

“I’m sure.”

Everyone else agreed. Raima’s skills would prove very useful to them. She was their secret weapon. If she just practiced a little more for the next month, she would be invincible. Their team would be invincible. They would win the Khan Tournament.

Malik went over to the bench. He unzipped his backpack and pulled out the team’s official red and green tennis jacket. He always thought of having Raima on the team. At first glance, he knew it wouldn’t be easy but it wasn’t impossible. He knew he could do it and he did. Malik had the jacket specially made for a girl’s comfort. As he handed it to Raima, the others smiled.

“From now onwards, you’ll play with us,” Malik said to Raima. “For the next month, we’ll all work our hardest to win the Khan Tournament.” He turned to the team. “Isn’t that right everyone?”

“Yeah!” the team shouted in unison.

Raima stared at the jacket in her hands. She felt pleased and relieved. She honestly didn’t think it would be this easy. She definitely didn’t think the team wouldn’t accept her so quickly. It was a good sign that they did. All that mattered now was their preparation.

However, Raima knew this wouldn’t make things easier for her. It would only add to her complicated life. It would intensify her academic and personal life. This tournament meant everything to the boys. Raima knew they were counting on her. She was their secret weapon. One mistake could jeopardize their entire victory. At that moment, Raima made a vow. She would practice hard for the next month. She wasn’t going to let her team down.

On the other side of town, two tennis players made their way to their court. They went and stood next to a third boy. He had the word captain stitched across his jacket. He watched his team play. His arms were crossed. He had a sharp look in his eyes. The boy didn’t look happy. He then saw the other two boys approaching.

“What the news?” he asked them.

“It seems that Naviin Academy has a new tennis player,” one of the boys said.

“And the shocking part is that the player is a girl,” the other one added.

“Well then, it’s time we pay our little friends at Naviin a visit,” the captain said, looking up at the sky. We are so winning the Khan Tournament.

From the director’s window, Malik watched his team play. They were progressing well, Raima especially. For the past month, they had all been practicing to their fullest. They had been playing to their hearts’ content. They would surely win this year, especially with their little surprise. Taraka Academy wouldn’t see it coming.

The door opened. Malik turned to it. A woman with long black hair stepped in. It was the coach of the tennis team; Raneem Akhtar. For the past month, she had been on a special trip to Bangkok. Raneem was fairly young for a tennis coach. Nevertheless, she was a tennis expert. She was a close friend of Zaim Rahman. Raneem was the first to inform the boys about Raima’s arrival to Naviin Academy.

“Coach Akhtar, you’re back,” Malik said. “How was the trip?”

“Oh it was great Malik,” Raneem replied. She peeked out the window and went to her desk. “I see Raima has arrived.”

“I have to admit coach; at first I didn’t know Zaim bhai had a daughter, just two sons.”

“They’ve gone a long while without contact.”

That was what bothered Malik. Raima said she didn’t have an interest for tennis. Although she had never played, her talent came naturally. Malik knew she was skilled with computers. She had much mental intelligence. But her tennis talent was something he was not aware of. She was so brilliant without any experience.

“Raima’s skills are incredible yet she’s never played,” Malik said.

“Just like her father,” Raneem connected. “He was a natural as well as a miracle worker.”

“But Zarif and Imran… it took them time to become the players they are.”

“Not everyone is alike Malik. Perhaps Raima did not take after her older brothers but instead her father, without even knowing it. ”

That was probably the only possibility. Malik still didn’t understand. He had to practice for years to become the professional he is now. The rest of the team had to practice. Raima had surpassed all that with one shot. Malik supposed that’s what prodigy’s were made of.

“By the way Malik, have you told the team about your injury?”

Malik’s eyes shot up. “No, I haven’t. I believe I’ve healed.”

Raima swung her racquet once more. The tennis ball flew up into the air, making a heart shape. It flew on to Kazim’s side of the court. It landed with a loud sound. Kazim looked both surprised and amazed. Raima was pleased with the shot. Their game was over.

“Looks like you have some work to do, bhaiya.” Raima flashed him a sassy smile.

“Not bad,” Kazim told her. “I’ll give you that.”

Then, Malik came on the court. He had a very serious look on his face. The team stopped playing. They all gathered around their captain. Raima’s pleasant mood vanished. She could tell something was troubling Malik.

Raima also noticed something strange about Malik. For a split second, he stopped walking. He brought his hand to his stomach. Malik’s gaze met Raima’s. Her eyes became large. She turned away. Something definitely wasn’t right.

“Alright, the tournament is this Saturday,” Malik said. He turned to Raima. “Make sure you make your shots fast Raima, fast and unpredictable.”

“Fine,” Raima replied.

She couldn’t believe a month had already past. She had been working hard. Ever since the team declared her their secret weapon, she knew she had to step up her game. For the past month, it had been a bit difficult. She had to balance tennis practice with computer club meets. Both were equally important to her now, not just one.

“Well, well, well,” a voice said.

The entire team turned around. Three boys approached them. The one in the front had a very smug smile on his face. The other two tailed behind him like servants to a king. The Naviin boys knew exactly who he was. They all despised him. His tennis jacket, with the captain stitching was unmistakable. Raima looked at him with a puzzled look.

“What are you doing here Faris?” Malik asked. He felt his blood boil.

“What Malik? A friend can’t come by to say hello?”

Yes a friend could but this boy was the farthest thing from a friend. His name is Faris Hassan. He’s the captain of the Taraka Academy tennis team. He was callously cocky and seemingly selfish. Faris and Malik had a fierce rivalry. Malik’s first ever loss in tennis had been to Faris in their previous competition. Malik took the loss the hardest, not just the whole tournament but his personal loss. However, Faris couldn’t have been more pleased. Ever since that, he had his heart set on beating Malik at any and all tennis competitions.

Malik’s dream was for his team to become the number one tennis team in the country. That’s why Malik had been working so hard to win. He wanted nothing more than for them to be the best. He wanted them to be champions like no other. That was the same thing Faris wanted. The common pursuit was what drove their rivalry.

“So I hear you have a new player,” Faris said. He walked over to Raima. “And this must be our new friend. A little scrawny to play tennis, aren’t you?”

Raima looked up at him. “And you are?”

Faris laughed. “Cute.” He looked back at Malik. “Don’t worry; you already lost it when you allowed first years to join the team, so a girl isn’t any step up.”

Rafi burned with anger. He never liked Faris either. Faris noticed this and smiled slyly. He always provoked the players of his rival team. He was nothing like what he portrayed to the media. He used his looks, his flashy black hair and shiny white teeth to appeal to all audiences, especially the ladies. On camera, he was exceedingly popular. However, off camera, he was a vile boy who lived to win and only to win.

There was another reason the Naviin team, especially Malik, didn’t like Faris. His tennis skills were not only good but also brutal. He used his tactics to physically injure his opponents. Malik had experienced this. He had also seen Faris do it to others. One time, he had broken one boy’s leg with his tennis racquet. Malik couldn’t bear to see that. He could never like someone who used tennis to hurt others.

“Faris, you and your acquaintances have no business here,” Malik said. “Leave our court.”

“Fine, we’ll leave.”

Faris started walking. The two boys with him, Safi Reza and Tamim Ullah started walking too. Then, Faris stopped and so did they. There on the ground rested a large basket of tennis balls. Faris kicked the basket over with his leg. The tennis balls splattered all over the court.

“Why you!” Rafi shouted.
At that moment, his anger went to the extreme. He couldn’t hold it in anymore. Rafi ran straight towards Faris. He made his hand into a fist. He went for a clear shot. Faris quickly turned around. He extended out his fist and punched Rafi straight in the stomach.

All of the tennis players reacted. Rafi’s eyes went blank for a moment. He went flying in the air. He landed on the ground with a thud. The Naviin players gasped. A terrified look appeared on Raima’s face. It was the first time she felt actual fear.

Rafi tried to get up but he couldn’t. His body had taken a big blow from hat one shot. He looked up and winced. He brought his hands to his stomach. He tried to push himself up but he just couldn’t do it.

The others rushed beside him. They helped him get back up. Malik’s anger towards Faris burned greater. Faris was still smiling. It made Malik really want to knock him out.

“What a fool,” Faris muttered.

Malik walked up to him. “Get out now!”

“Fine,” Faris said. “I’ll save the real pain for you in the Khan Tournament.” And with that, he, Safi, and Tamim left.

Malik turned back to his team. The others had helped Rafi get up on his feet. He still looked sore. He shook himself off. Rafi balanced himself on the ground. He was still a little wobbly. He looked like his head was still spinning. This worried Malik.

“Rafi, are you alright?” Malik asked.

“I’m fine,” Rafi replied.

“If you’re not feeling up to it, I can substitute you for the tournament.”

“No. I can assure you, I’ll be able to play.”

Malik nodded. He knew Rafi. The young boy was a fighter. Malik knew Rafi’s skills. He wouldn’t have allowed him to join the team if he wasn’t good. Despite the fact that he was a first year, Rafi had wicked skills. He could also recover fast and bounce back just as quick.

However, Malik didn’t want to push him. Even though Rafi said he was fine, he didn’t look like it. One’s body did not lie. Malik didn’t want him to play and end up in a much worse condition. That kind of sacrifice wasn’t worth it.

It reminded Malik of the question Coach Akhtar had asked him earlier. She asked if he had told the others about his injury. About a month ago, Malik had injured himself playing tennis. He was playing a match against his personal trainer. Malik wanted to perfect one of his under-hand serves. The tennis ball came at a low altitude. Malik dove for it. He managed to return it but something went wrong.

He ended up crashing into the ground. Thankfully, his body didn’t take much of blow. At the time, he didn’t feel any pain. However, the results of that match later began to reveal themselves. Malik found his stomach hurting in his subsequent tennis matches. It got worse the more he played.

The doctor informed him that his body had taken a hit. His ribcage had become severely sore. It would show anytime he did anything extremely physical; tennis. The doctor advised Malik to stop playing tennis for a while. He told him not to risk further injury. Malik did as he instructed.

Later on, he started playing again and the pain came back. This time, the doctor told him he should stop playing tennis for good. This put Malik in a large predicament. He didn’t tell the team. He didn’t want them to think he was broken. Tennis was Malik’s life. He couldn’t stop playing, especially because of the Khan Tournament. The doctors had started to mend him. He was starting to heal. But even so, they advised him not to play. Malik just couldn’t obey that command.

Rafi refusing to give up playing tennis brought back all those memories for Malik. He understood why the doctors said what they said. At the time, everyone was worried. His parents, his trainer, they all told him to stop playing. Now, he was saying the same to Rafi. Malik appreciated Rafi’s determination. He knew what it felt like. Suddenly, a slight bit of pain came. Malik ignored it. He put his hand on his stomach but took it off.

Raima watched him do that. Now she knew something was wrong. Malik turned his gaze towards her. Raima’s eyes became wide and she turned away. She was still in shock from what Rafi had done. She actually wasn’t sure herself if he could play. He seemed like he was content on doing so. Raima understood that tennis was a much tougher game than she thought. Faris had put those words into action for her. She wasn’t sure how the Khan Tournament would go now. It seemed as if for the team, things had already started crashing down.

The Khan Tournament was three days away.

Raima walked through the doors of the computer club. She was surprised to find nobody there. She hadn’t talked to them about tennis yet. They didn’t know she was on the team. There was a lot going on. Yesterday’s harsh event on the tennis court was all Raima could think about. Rafi had played non-stop that week but Raima was still worried.

She started working. The profiler was almost finished. Raima had only a little portion of work left. She would finish that right now. Raima turned on the computer and got straight to work. The special software she had installed was working perfectly.

Raima stared organizing all the files. It didn’t take long for her. In the profiler, the names were supposed to be alphabetical by year. Raima had to move and drag a lot of information. Luckily, the internet speeds at Naviin were very fast.

Raima finished the profiler in no time. She leaned back in her chair. She was surprised at all the information she learned. The club would be happy to know it was finished. The school could finally start using it. It would make things so much easier. Raima saved the project and closed out of it. Then, something surprised her.

Another window popped up. It was Malik’s tennis profile. Raima wasn’t surprised by it. Malik was nationally ranked. That was impressive. Raima read further. One portion shocked her. It said that Malik had stopped playing tennis for a while. Raima noticed it was only for a few weeks. He then picked back up.

There was one link at the bottom of his profile. Raima clicked on it. It was mainly statistics. However, it said something very surprising. There was a section titled ‘Malik’s Injury’. It explained how Malik had weakened his stomach. He stopped playing tennis for a while afterwards.

That’s when the light bulb turned on. Raima thought back to the incident on the tennis court. She recalled that Malik looked different that day. He looked rather tired or sore. She remembered him bringing his hands to his stomach. The reason he was doing that was due to his injury. Raima assumed Malik hadn’t told his teammates about it. The way he looked at her seemed to be a look of alarm.

Suddenly, the door opened. The computer club came inside. Raima closed out of Malik’s profile. She turned to them. Their expressions surprised her. They didn’t look happy.

“When were you going to tell us that you joined the tennis team?” Maysa asked.

Raima had no idea how they figured it out. They weren’t supposed to know. She had been to all the club meetings. She had made sure they didn’t see her go to the court. It wasn’t that Raima was keeping it a secret. She just didn’t feel it was the right time to tell them.

“You belong with computer engineering Raima,” Arsh said. “Not tennis.”

“The tennis team isn’t bad,” Raima told them.

“No on the outside they’re good,” Ibrahim countered. “They’re intelligent boys. But on the inside, they’re all professional athletes. They only care about tennis, nothing else.”

Raima knew what they were saying. They were basically implying that the boys weren’t smart. They put aside their academics for athletics. Raima wasn’t so sure about that. She had been with them for over a month now. They seemed to really care about all of their work. They cared about each other, too, immediately rushing to Rafi’s side. They were all like brothers.

“Do you really want to play tennis?” Mimi finally asked.

“I don’t know,” Raima replied. “It’s not bad game.”

“Did my cousin get you all hyped for their big Khan Tournament?”

“Not exactly.”

Mimi’s expression told her that wasn’t the answer she was hoping to hear. Raima was afraid of that. She knew that Mimi and Malik were total opposites. One went after intelligence and recognition. The other went after empathy and victory. One only dealt with intellectual matters. The other played with heart. Raima couldn’t deal with this now. She started walking towards the door.

“Just know that you can only have one thing,” Mimi said in a bitter voice. “The sooner you choose the better. Let us know when you’ve made your choice.”

Raima thought long and hard that night. Mimi had made it clear earlier that she could only go on with one thing; computer club or tennis team. Raima didn’t know what to do in this case. She just continued flipping through the TV channels. That was how she got her ideas in America. However, it was a little difficult to do because she wasn’t familiar with most of the channels and shows in Bangladesh. Plus, there was nothing inspirational on.

Zarif and Imran watched their sister. They thought the same thing. Then, the phone rang. Their father went over. He looked at the caller ID. It read Annisa. Zaim took the phone. He immediately knew it was for Raima. He handed it over to her.

“Hi mom,” she said as she went upstairs to her room.

“How’s it going in Bangladesh?” Annisa asked.

“Fine, I guess. You know the real reason dad called me here was to join the tennis team at Naviin.”

“Yes, you’re father told me earlier that you joined. So do you like it?”

“I suppose.”

Raima never thought she would she would admit to joining a tennis team. Even more, she never thought she would admit to liking it. She never had an interest for it until she came here. Her friends back in America seemed to like it though. They would go on and on about the US Open. Raima had watched some matches. She didn’t find them interesting though. It did take time to adapt to new things. Even when she first came to Bangladesh, she disliked tennis. As she played more and more with team and practiced on her own, she became fond of it.

“Anyway Raima, I have some urgent news for you,” Annisa said. “The professors at the computer engineering department at Harvard have created the new software you suggested.”

“Really, they have?”

“Yes but they want you to come back to America and test it with them.”

That really got Raima’s attention. In America, another thing Raima did to keep herself occupied was write and create on the computers. Raima wrote stories all the time. Sometimes, she created characters for her stories. She used various genuine computer animation programs. Raima got inspired by anime, the Japanese art of animation. One of her friends was Japanese and she got her interested in anime.

Two months before she left for Bangladesh, Raima gave the computer engineering professors at Harvard an ingenious idea. She told them she had a theory and showed them her idea. It was to create a brand new, original animator. It would make anyone’s ideas come out exactly how they imagined. Through a special, appealing headphone set, the animator would connect with one’s inner thoughts. The character would appear exactly how the creator saw it in their imagination. Whatever the creator wanted, the animator would do it. It would also start a new generation for the animation/anime industry worldwide.

“Do they have to test it now?” Raima asked.

“They would like to. It’s an honor dear, for someone your age to work with them. Although with your intellect, they believe it’s an honor for them.”

“I understand.”

Raima and her mother said goodbye. On one hand, Raima was glad to hear the news. However, there was a problem. Mimi and the computer club were already angry with her for not telling them she joined the tennis team. Not to mention, the Khan Tournament was on Saturday. The team would be incredibly upset if she went back and didn’t play. She didn’t want to disappoint them.

Raima had longed for Harvard’s professors to turn her animator idea into a reality. Now they had finally done it. Raima wanted to see it more than anything. At the same time, she didn’t want to let the team down. They all had been practicing so hard. Confused and conflicted, Raima fell back on her bed, thinking until she fell asleep.

“Where is she?” Zarif asked.

The tennis team waited patiently on the tennis court. Raima had told them to meet at the court at 6:00 p.m. It was already 6:10 and she still wasn’t there. They all searched around. Malik glanced at his watch. Time was ticking.

Then, they heard footsteps. The computer club made their way on to the court. Raima had told them to meet at the tennis court, too. At first, they were surprised to why they would have to go there. They decided to go anyway. It seemed vital.

Everybody was shocked. The tennis players were especially surprised to see the computer club on their court. These two teams were the reason Naviin Academy were so well known. All of the members knew each other on both teams, despite the slight age differences. However, they hardly ever crossed paths, mainly because of the Mimi/Malik dispute. But they also pursued different interests. Mimi and Malik gave each other a sharp glare.

“What are you doing here?” Malik asked his cousin.

“Raima called us here,” Mimi replied.

Right then, Raima stepped inside the court. She froze at the sight of her teams. They all looked at her. Giving them the news would be hard, for both teams, the tennis team especially. Raima clutched both team jackets in her hand.

“Have you made your decision yet?” Mimi asked.

“I have,” Raima replied.

“Whatever decision it is, it must involve tennis,” Malik guessed. “The Khan Tournament is two days away.”

“Actually, I’m not playing. I have to return to America.”

Malik looked like someone had dropped a bomb on his house. The other tennis players reacted strongly as well. All the emotion completely drained away from Rafi’s face. Zarif and Imran switched concerned looks. The computer club also reacted. They were most concerned about the second part of Raima’s announcement; her returning to America.

“What do you mean you’re not playing?” Kazim asked harshly.

“I have to help the computer professors at Harvard University test my animator,” Raima explained.

“You mean you’re leaving just like that?” Maysa asked.

Raima didn’t know how to answer that. She couldn’t explain everything to them. There was too much to say. She couldn’t express it in words. Raima thought she was making the right decision. But the sad looks from the teams questioned her judgment.

“You must be out of your mind!” Kazim shouted. “The Khan Tournament is an honor!”

Zarif rested a hand on Kazim’s shoulders. “Calm down.”

A small part of Raima felt bad about her decision. This was not how she imagined her stay would be. It was just like a roller coaster. Just when you were at the top, everything dropped down. It was bad enough from the beginning. Then after joining the tennis team, the clouds began to clear up. Now, the sky had only become darker. Raima handed the jackets to Malik and Mimi. They were perfectly wrapped like when the two captains gave them to her.

“Good luck in the tournament,” she said to the tennis team.

Raima left without looking back.

The birds chirped sweetly. A sugary aroma filled the air. Pedestrians strode down the sidewalks. Children happily played in the park without a care in the world. Cars filled the busy streets.

Raima laid on the green grass. She stared up into the sky. There wasn’t a single cloud in sight. It was nothing but blue. Raima saw invisible flashes of her life up there. They were no use now. They didn’t help. Her life was passing by and along with that came all of its troubles. Raima never thought she’d be in a predicament like this.

Meanwhile, Rafi had just finished his guitar lesson. He walked out of the studio, which was incredibly close to the park. Rafi stared into the sky for a moment. He continued walking home. He stopped at the sight of Raima in the park.

Rafi ran his hands through his hair. So many thoughts rushed through his head. Raima’s surprise announcement yesterday broke his heart. He was honestly looking forward to seeing her play professionally. He also wanted her to see him play in the tournament. Rafi had been sure the team was going to win with Raima playing. After thinking it over, he walked down the grass hill to where Raima was. He laid down on the grass beside her.

“I guess you’re actually leaving then, huh?” Rafi asked. Raima turned her head and faced him, still lying on the grass, and nodded. “So when is your flight?”

“Tomorrow at noon,” Raima replied.

Rafi noticed the confusion in Raima’s eyes. He sensed something was bothering her. He didn’t know what to tell her. Truthfully, he didn’t know if there was anything left to say. Rafi understood that computer engineering was important to Raima. He also knew that she liked tennis. He noticed that when she played, she played with an entirely different spirit. She was so determined and jubilant.

“Raima, is something wrong?” Rafi asked.

“No, not really,” she replied. Rafi lifted an eyebrow. Raima could see the sarcasm on his face. “It’s just that all my life I’ve wanted to be a computer engineer like my mother. Then, I came here.”

Rafi understood this feeling. One’s personal confusion was difficult to explain to others. They would never understand but Rafi was different. He felt the same emotions Raima was feeling when his father died. He was caught in between two opposing thoughts. One part of him just wanted to hide inside his shell forever. He didn’t see any point of going out and living a life when most of your soul had already died. The other part of him didn’t want to let his father’s death keep him down. His time wasn’t up yet. Rafi didn’t know which voice to listen to.

“I think this will help,” Rafi said to Raima.

He looked at his guitar case. Raima looked at it, too. Rafi sat up and pulled out his guitar. Slowly, he began playing. The soft tune was so sweet. Raima had never heard anything like it before. Suddenly, time stopped. Rafi played on. The more he played, the more he got into it. The melody got sweeter by the second.

This was Rafi’s favorite tune. He called it The Tune of Faith. He had composed the music himself. It was different than most guitar songs he heard. It was a softer melody. He played it for his guitar teacher to get his opinion. After he did, his guitar teacher asked for an encore. He said he loved it. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.

The tune flowed through Raima’s mind. She pictured herself as a little girl again, without a single care in the world. It was the only time in her life she was actually happy. In America, Raima had heard many guitarists play. None of their music sounded like Rafi’s tune.

“The Tune of Faith always helps me when I don’t know what to do,” Rafi said after he finished playing.

He told Raima he had to get home. Then he started walking up the hill. Raima stared at the grass for a moment. She looked over her shoulders at Rafi. Surprisingly, he stopped walking. He turned back to Raima.

“Oh and one more thing,” he said with a bright smile. “We’re your family, too.”

The day had finally come, the day of the Khan Tournament.

The airport was extremely busy. Many people were going. Still there were a lot of people coming to Bangladesh. A group of younger boys ran past. They were dressed like little tennis players.

Raima knew where they were going. She knew what they were so excited about. It only brought back sorrowful memories for her. She gripped her bag tightly. Just a month ago, she was standing on the same ground, coming to Bangladesh. Now here she was again, leaving it.

Raima stopped walking for a moment. She went and stood next to the large glass windows of the airport. She stared out the window at her plane. Raima knew this was a prestigious opportunity. She had always hoped to work with Harvard’s professors. It was her dream school. She would be a shoe in. But the decision felt so wrong.

Memories of the past month flowed through her mind. They went back to all the times she had with the team. The night Malik mysterious showed up in her backyard stood out. Raima couldn’t get his line out of her head. Life is all about perseverance but one must be willing to persevere. What Mimi said also stuck out. Just know that you can only have one thing.

However, none of those were what reached her heart the most. It was the Tune of Faith, the beautiful melody Rafi played. She couldn’t shake it off. Rafi’s words rushed through her mind. We’re your family too. Raima unzipped her bag and pulled out her tennis racquet. She looked back at the plane and sighed.

The Naviin tennis team waited outside the court. They all had suffered a great loss without Raima. However, none of them seemed to show it. On the inside, they all knew how they felt. Rafi had told Raima everything he could. He still wasn’t sure of his feelings. Zarif and Imran missed their sister but they pulled themselves together. Malik’s only intentions now were to win the tournament. They all decided it was best to move forward.

A loud noise in the sky caught their attention. They all looked up. A large plane flew high in the sky, farther away from them. The players could barely make out the large red and blue letters; AA, American Airlines.

They all sighed. That was really it. Raima was gone. They were on opposite ends once again. She was on a different path than them.

“Come on guys,” Rafi said spiritedly. “We’ve worked hard for this tournament. We can’t just sit around, feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Malik was surprised by Rafi’s fiery determination. “Rafi…”

“Raima is off following her dreams. I think it’s about time we start following ours.”

They all agreed. The team entered the tennis court. They set their equipment down on the bench. There was still one problem, Emir wasn’t there. Malik looked very worried. Coincidently, Emir walked on to the court at that moment. He had his equipment but looked terrible. His eyes and nose were red and puffy. His face looked pale. He was dressed in tight, warm jackets.

“I’m sorry guys,” he said in a raspy voice that was almost gone.

“Emir, what are you wearing?” Malik asked. “What happened?”

“Allergies,” Emir said between coughs.

This was not good, not good at all. Emir was in no condition to play. Not that he could anyway. The rules clearly stated a player couldn’t play if that said player was ill. The entire team became worried. This was a major problem for them. It gave Taraka Academy an even larger advantage. And Raima was no longer with them either. Nonetheless, they couldn’t worry about that now. The two teams went up for the opening confrontation.

“So where’s your secret weapon?” Faris asked Malik arrogantly, looking around. “Has she quit already?”

Malik paid no attention to his comment. Apparently, Faris was expecting that he would say nothing. He just said it to irritate Malik. The two shook hands. It was the official rule. Captains must shake hands before the start of the competition. Of course, it was a fake handshake. The feeling was false. Both boys’ smiles were artificial.

The players then left the court except for four. The first part of the competition was doubles. For Naviin, the first players were Saad and Kazim. The two boys they were up against, Zaytun Begum and Naji Nagari, had extremely smug smiles on their faces, just like their captain. Saad and Kazim were determined to beat these two jokers, Kazim especially. He looked to the sidelines and saw his father.

Saad and Kazim got off to a rough start. Their double play wasn’t so good. Zaytun and Naji got an early lead. The score was 30-40. Saad and Kazim knew they had to step it up. Saad looked back at Kazim.

“Use that special move of yours, okay,” he told him.

Kazim nodded. Zaytun served the ball. Saad moved to the side, revealing Kazim behind him. Kazim swung to the side in a fast motion. The ball went flying. It landed on the ground. Neither boy could return their shots. This made it 40-40. The umpire called out deuce. But neither Saad nor Kazim could block Taraka’s next two shots.

They lost 3-5. A frantic look appeared on Kazim’s face. He set down his racquet. His head was down. He lifted it and looked at his father again. His reaction surprised Kazim. He smiled happily. Jibril was actually really proud of his son. Kazim felt his father’s empathy for him and surprisingly, smiled back. The others were happy for him.

The next match was also a doubles. Zarif and Imran went. They were up against Safi and Tamim, the boys who had came with Faris to their court the other day. Zarif and Imran weren’t worried though. On the court, they were known as the R Pair. The two brothers performed incredibly well together. They’re moves contrasted well. Zarif had incredibly offense play and Imran had great defense. It was a perfect combination. All teams they had faced knew of their great skills. It had taken a while for Zarif and Imran to be where they were now with their tennis skills but it was worth it. They were a force to be reckoned with.

“So it’s the great R Pair,” Safi cackled.

“Let’s see your skills again,” Tamim dared.

Zarif served the ball high and fast. It went to the other side. Safi went to hit it but he missed. The umpire called out 15-love. Zarif and Imran smiled. The next shot made the score 30-love. Zarif and Imran gave each other high-fives. That was how good they were. Their opponents could barely return their shots.

To both Zarif and Imran’s surprise, Tamim sent back their next shot. Both brothers stared at the ball on the ground. Neither one could believe it. The score was now 30-15. This started a downhill streak as the brothers missed the next shot, too, putting the game at 30-30. Safi and Tamim became more satisfied.

Zarif and Imran decided it was time to kick things up a notch. They decided to show their true power. Zarif returned the Safi’s shot at an incredibly high shot. Tamim hit it back. Imran dove for the ball and made the point with a pristine under-hand serve. It was now 40-30. They performed the same routine again but with more power. They won the match 4-2.

It was Usama’s turn next. He had been waiting for this. He took his place on the court. Before the match started, he saw his parents in the stands. They both had hostile looks on their faces. This is exactly what Usama was playing for. This was his one chance. He had to show them that tennis was a worthy sport, not a wasteful pastime.

Usama got the lead. He made two points consecutively. Up in the stands, a slight look of surprise crossed his father’s face. However, Usama’s opponent, Ruhi Sarkar showed no signs of fret. He only smiled.

“That exactly what I expected,” Ruhi said.

“What?” Usama cried.

Ruhi made his next two shots perfectly. They came at Usama so fast. He couldn’t block any of them. He finally managed to make his next point after Ruhi made two consecutive shots, just as he started the match off doing. The score became 30-30. Then, Ruhi broke the score, making 30-40. Usama knew this was his last shot. If he missed, it was all over. He couldn’t prove his worth. As the ball came at him, he swung with all his might. He opened his eyed and they filled with tears. The ball was on the ground, on his side. It ended with a score of 2-4, with Naviin losing the match.

Usama went back to the team. He couldn’t believe he lost. His chances were over. No more proving the worth of tennis to his parents. No more proving his worth. He had his chance but he couldn’t do it. His teammates understood how he felt. Emir rested his hand on Usama’s shoulders and smiled. The kind gesture didn’t work.

“It’ll be okay,” Emir said.

“It’s over,” Usama sobbed. “I couldn’t show the true worth of tennis to my parents.”

Rafi grabbed his racquet and gripped it close to his heart. “Then allow me to show them.”

The boys of Taraka Academy were extremely satisfied, Faris especially. Rafi couldn’t stand them. Their snug smiles and arrogant attitudes sickened him. They played tennis only to win. Rafi bet that they didn’t even care about each other. Now his team wasn’t like that. When one person was down, they all felt the pain.

Rafi glanced up at Usama’s parents as he took his place on the court. This match was for his fellow teammate. Rafi loved tennis more than anything, too. Just like Malik, he despised those who used tennis to hurt others. Physical pain was one thing but emotional pain was a whole different story. Emotional pain stung much more. It would always stay within you no matter how much you tried to get it out. Rafi had personally experienced this.

Rafi served the ball. He used his ace move; the Z Twister. The ball went spiraling to the other side of the court. It landed on the ground. His opponent, Zaidan Zahir looked surprised.

“Wow!” Zaidan exclaimed.

Rafi smiled at the score; 15-love. He used the Z Twister again. It gave the same pleasing result; 30-love. Just as Rafi expected, his move never let him down. Zaidan didn’t look as surprised this time. Instead, he actually looked happy.

“Have to admit,” Faris acknowledged from the bench. “That first year Rafi Zaman is a real genius on the court.”

Rafi had to win this match. It was the only way to cheer up Usama. And perhaps if he did win, Usama’s parents would see that tennis wasn’t a joke. And also, the team would be one step closer to winning the tournament based on the outcome of this match. Rafi knew how much the team, especially Malik wanted this victory. He had to win this, for all of them.

“I have to win this for Usama,” Rafi said loudly. “I won’t let my teammate down.”

He took his next shot, same move, same results; 40-love. Just one more time and victory was his. Rafi took his final shot. He hit it harder than ever. The tennis ball spiraled out of control to the other side. Zaidan was too late to hit it. The ball landed on the ground, still spinning. And there you have it- game. The score turned out to a perfect 4-0, excellent for Naviin.

Rafi and Zaidan happily shook hands. Rafi then went back to his team. They all congratulated their youngest member, patting him on the back and messing up his hair. Rafi rested his hand on Usama’s shoulder and smiled. Usama looked up and returned the smile.

The entire crowd cheered. To the team’s surprise, especially Usama’s, his parents stood up and started clapping. They heard what Rafi said. Rafi pointed out their applause to his teammate. Usama looked up. His parents were actually clapping. Usama wiped away the sad tears from his eyes. His eyes filled up again but this time, they were tears of joy.

Raima looked up from the stands, revealing her smile. She had watched the entire tournament so far. That was what the team was about. She was happy to see the team doing so well. Her brothers’ offense/defense plays really surprised her. Raima remembered Rafi using his stellar Z Twister move in their match. It really was powerful. The tournament was a tie now. Both Naviin and Taraka had one had won two games. This last match would determine it all.

Malik knew the time had come. He grabbed his tennis racquet and headed onto the court. Faris did the same. The two captains shook hands. Malik could see straight past Faris’s plastic smile. They both took their places. The entire audience became instantly energized. The girls started screaming their names. Faris was the one to react back.

Malik took his first shot. He took no liberty of going slow. The ball sped to the other side, leaving behind a fiery trail of dust. Malik had no doubt it would make the point, which it did, 15-love. Faris seemed in no panic mood. Malik took his shot again, making the score 30-love. This was a good streak, until Faris made his move, scoring him a point, 30-15. The next couple of moves went back and forth. Malik made one, then Faris, then Malik again. Both tennis teams followed their captains’ every move. Malik and Faris both felt the heat of the competition. Currently, it was a deuce, 40-40.

Raima watched quietly from the stands. Things seemed to be going well but she thought too soon. Just as Malik made his next shot, his stomach made him flinch. He slightly bent down and felt it. There was definitely pain in it. The team stood up, each and every face stained with concern. Their coach, Raneem noticed the shocked looks.

“Oh no,” she said as the boys all turned to her. “Malik didn’t tell you, did he?”

“What?” Zarif asked.

“He injured his stomach in a tennis match. His doctor suggested for him to quit playing tennis but he refused.”

This caught all of their attentions. They all looked at Malik and realized that Raneem was right. Raima knew this was coming. She felt somewhat guilty for not telling the team once she found out when reading Malik’s tennis file. On the court, Malik forced himself to stand back up. Faris cracked a devilish smile, as if this was what he was waiting for, as if he knew.

“What’s the matter Malik?” he coed. “Giving up so easily?”

“Not a chance,” Malik grunted.

He didn’t let his pain stop him. He sent the ball flying across the court. Faris was too self-satisfied too notice its speed. It landed on the court, resulting in a match point. Malik flashed a faint smile. His pain reacted again as he took his next shot. The ball went straight to Faris and he sent it back perfectly. He intended to keep the match going back and forth, ultimately resulting in Malik becoming too weak to go on. Faris made the next point. That’s it, just a little more and you’ll be finished, he thought.

Malik concentrated. If Faris scored the next point, it was all over. He sent his shot high in the air. It swiftly landed on the ground. Faris didn’t even stand a chance stopping it. It landed way in front of him. That shot was known as Malik’s legendary Ace Drop. It never failed him. The game was at a deuce. Victory was so close. It was a risk, though. The Ace Drop required a high jump and long extension of the arm.

But Malik didn’t care. This win was everything. The team all noticed his weary face. His hand was still over his stomach. This win wasn’t worth it to them if they lost their captain. They all silently watched Malik set himself up for the worse mistake of his life. They didn’t want him to end up hospitalized or worse; never be able to play tennis again.

Zarif’s eyes became wide at the sight of Malik’s condition. “Malik…”

“Don’t sacrifice all your hard work for this one win, captain.” Saad hoped Malik would hear his words.

Faris knew Malik would break down if he tried. Raima had the uneasy feeling that something awful was about to happen. Malik kept reminding himself that their success was riding on top of his shoulders. The victory title was practically in his hands. He kept telling himself that. Just one more shot Malik, just one more.

He slowly raised his arm to throw the tennis ball up in the air. But just as soon as he did, his stomach pain let loose its real effect. Malik dropped the tennis ball. He fell straight to the ground, clutching his stomach, trying to masquerade his intense pain. The entire crowd gasped. The computer club, who had came to the match, stood up from their seats. All the color drained from Mimi’s face. Raima’s eyes widened.

“Malik!” the entire team cried as they ran to the aid of their captain.

He gestured with his hand for them to stay back. If any player stepped onto the court that was not playing, it would result in an immediate disqualification. Malik slowly started to rise. He knelt on the ground, trying to stand up on his two feet. Faris crossed across his chest. A satisfied look spread across his face.

Raima gripped her racquet, looking down at the scene that had unfolded on the court. She grabbed her stuff and started walking down the stairs. She stopped for a moment. The looks on her former teammates’ faces were priceless. The look on Malik’s face was unforgettable. Raima looked over at Faris, disgusted by his triumphant smile. She walked straight out of the court and headed outside. At the same moment, Kazim looked up to his side. He caught a glimpse of the princess that had showed up in their court a month ago. She was the prodigy that had seen past his barrier, the only one to ever do that.

Raima started to hit the tennis ball at the thick, slate wall. Each hit intensified. She felt stronger. Raima thought back to her first days in Bangladesh. She hated it. Now, she had to stay. That was the reason why she didn’t get on that plane. She had some unfinished business.

“That’s not happening,” Malik said strongly.

The team gathered around. The umpire had given them some horrific news. Due to Malik’s breakdown, the match had stopped at a 6-6 draw. That wasn’t enough to declare a winner. If Malik didn’t get back on court, Naviin would have to forfeit the match. There was no way Malik would let Taraka win by default. His teammates and coach still advised him to quit.

“We don’t have any substitute players registered,” Zarif reminded Malik.

“Well we do have one,” Kazim corrected.

The entire team gave him puzzled looks. Kazim led them outside. They told the umpire to give them five minutes, which was a rarity, but he allowed it. When they got out there, Kazim showed them who he was talking about. They all saw Raima hitting the tennis ball at the wall. They were all surprised to see she was still here and didn’t go back to America. Malik recalled that he and Kazim had gone to register Raima without the others knowing.

“I don’t know about this,” Zarif said in a fatherly manor.

He explained to them that Raima hadn’t practiced enough for this. Malik knew exactly what he meant by that. It was a risk. Even if Raima did play, she wouldn’t have gone up against Faris. The others soon realized it and thought it was a bad idea putting Raima in.

Then, the computer club showed up outside, much to the boys’ surprise. Maysa carried a laptop with her. They were all smiling. Malik realized he hadn’t seen Mimi smile in a long time. Mimi stood next to her cousin.

“I think we can solve your little dilemma,” she said, flashing her cousin a smile.

“Come and look at this, guys,” Maysa said.

She opened her laptop and opened up a video file. All the boys huddled around her, sneaking a peak at the screen. At first, the image was a bit fuzzy. It was a hard to make out the skinny figure in the video. As the image cleared up, the boys saw it was Raima. She was practicing tennis.

In particular, one part of the video caught their attention. Raima was performing some kind of special move. She tossed the ball high up in the air and hit it. It flew high up in the air. They could make out the heart trail the ball left in the air. It landed on the ground, throwing some dust in the air. All of the boys were caught off guard by the sight of the move, even Malik. Rafi gasped. He knew that move. They all turned to him.

“Raima used that on our match at the garden,” Rafi told them. “It was the move she beat me with.”

At that moment, the boys realized Raima was their only shot. They all looked at each other, exchanging different looks. At a point, they all came to the same conclusion. Malik and Rafi took one more look at Raima hitting the tennis ball. Then, they all ran back into the court. As they did, Mimi caught Malik’s sleeve. He stopped and turned to her.

“By the way, nice job out there,” she said. Malik smiled and the two of them followed the others back inside the court.

For a moment, Raima stopped playing and looked at the gate. There was no one there. She continued hitting the ball again, even harder. For a split second, she nearly lost her breath. Raima was interrupted by a loud announcement.

“And due to the recent incident on the court, the final match will be restarted with Taraka’s Faris Hassan against Naviin’s Raima Rahman.”

The clouds in the sky surrounded the area with a blanket of darkness. The wind began to pick up. All around the tennis stadium, the tall trees swayed in the wind. Not a sound could be heard in the distance. Then, someone broke the silence.

The boys instantaneously turned their heads to the sound. Raima walked onto the court. Her eyes trailed the ground. The entire audience watched her as she made her way to her team. The Taraka team was surprised to see a girl on the court. Raima didn’t say a word when she approached them. Gripping her racquet, she looked up at Malik. He didn’t shake his strong expression. He just gestured his head to the tennis court and showed a slight grin.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Faris yelled to Malik from the court. “You’re making me go up against that little squirt?”

“She’s already a better tennis player than you’ll ever be!” Kazim shouted, surprising everybody and provoking Faris even further.

For some reason, Raima couldn’t get herself to move. It was as if her feet were super glued to the ground. She looked at Faris. His sinister eyes narrowed on her. Malik saw Raima’s concern. He rested his hand on her shoulder. She turned to him.

“You’ll do fine,” Malik told her. “Just remember to play with your heart.”

“Kick his butt for us,” Kazim added.

The others all flashed her smiles. Raima looked at Rafi. He nodded his head. Finally, she found the strength to go on court. As of course, the tradition was for the two players to shake hands. Raima went up. Faris gave her hand a tight squeeze.

“After this match, you’re going to wish you never set foot on a tennis court,” Faris said.

“You know, the one who talks the most walks the least,” Raima replied.

“You would know,” Faris countered.

Raima set up the first shot. She wasn’t going to use her signature move just yet. She hit the ball hard, using the surprise tactic Saad and Kazim had used in their match. It went straight past Faris and landed on the ground. The look on his face was unbelievable. The audience let out their surprising gasps. The tennis team smiled. Already, Raima had made the first point. The umpire called out 15-love. Saad and Kazim smiled.

“Did you see that?” Saad happily asked Kazim.

“That girl… is incredible,” Kazim exclaimed.

Faris grunted. “Lucky shot.”

Raima shook her head. “Luck had nothing to do with it.”

Faris hit Raima’s next ball back hard. It nearly bruised her knee before hitting the ground. Taraka had its first point now. The score was 15 all. Raima didn’t give up. She made the next two points. The first shot was with Zarif’s high, offense shot. The second was with Imran’s under-hand, defense serve. Her brothers grinned.

“That’s our sister,” Imran said happily.

Zarif agreed. “It sure is.”

Faris made the next point and the point after that, putting the score at a deuce; 40-40. The game went back and forth. All of Naviin’s players and Taraka’s players paid extra close attention. Raima had managed to keep up with Faris on her first time. She really was a prodigy. She made the next point using Usama’s fast serve, putting the score at a match point. Usama broke out into a bright smile at the sight of his special move. But then Faris brought it back to a deuce. Both of them hit their hardest. Faris’s shots had become much more brutal than before. Raima understood he possessed some intense power.

Raima shot the ball towards him. He hit it back hard. Raima sent it back. It went on like that. Faris was getting very frustrated. He wasn’t about to let a first year beat him, especially when that first year was a girl. The boys all noticed it. Faris’s anger was a bad sign.

Faris sent the ball back hard. It hit Raima’s arm, directly, knocking her racquet out of her hand. A look of disgust appeared on the Naviin players’ faces. Raima picked up her racquet. As she did, she felt slight pain in her arm.

Raima knew she couldn’t let a slight hit like that bring her down. Faris needed to be thought a lesson. She slowly set the ball up for her serve. It still wasn’t the right moment to use her ace move. But she knew other shots. She swiftly swung her arm, using Rafi’s Z Twister. The ball spiraled rapidly towards Faris. He swung but missed. Rafi grinned, proudly nodding his head. Raima brought the score back to a deuce. She still had a chance.

“No way,” Faris said in disbelief.

“Way,” Raima told him. “Remember the name Raima Rahman, okay.”

Raima knew what shot to use next. She tossed the ball high in the air. She jumped, completely lifting her body in the air. She extended her right arm out and hit the ball as hard as she could. The ball landed on the ground in front of Faris, just a few inches away from the net.
Everybody’s faces dropped. Raima came down and smiled.

Faris was incredibly shocked, so was the rest of the team, Malik especially. Raima had just perfectly performed his Ace Drop. He felt extremely faithful. They now had a good chance of winning because of Raima. The team knew what move she was going to use next.

Raima knew she had the win in her hands. Just one last shot. It was time. Just as Raima set her serve up, a strong sense of pain filled her right arm. Raima’s eyes went blurry. She dropped her racquet and ball on the ground. The racquet landed with a loud thud as it clashed against the hard cement.

Raima’s vision went dizzy and she collapsed to the ground. The entire arena’s mouths dropped. Faris’s smile was exceedingly surreptitious. The Naviin players all stood up and gasped. They shouted Raima’s name in unison.

A thick sheet of darkness surrounded Raima’s body. She opened her eyes to find not a single speck of light. She was still on the ground. Her arm hurt intensively. She couldn’t get up. The tennis court had vanished. The people were gone.

Raima touched her arm and let out a faint scream, shutting her eyes. She reopened them a moment later. There was nothing but darkness around her. The only thing she could see was shadows. She was completely alone.

Memories and voices passed through her mind. Raima was able to envision them perfectly. They were everything that happened to her since she arrived in Bangladesh. From her resentful attitude towards her family in the beginning to her conversation with her mother, to her practices with the computer club and the tennis team, everything flowed through her mind. Her undergoing change of heart was clearly visible.

Raima thought back to how much hated tennis. Then she played Rafi in the garden, her first official tennis match. She obviously possessed strong skills. Her father was so happy to hear about her win in tennis. But he was most happy to hear that she played. Raima remembered how encouraging Rafi had been the entire time, how much he cared. She thought back to what Malik said about perseverance. She knew how much this win meant to him.

He made a risk allowing Raima to join the team, as she wasn’t prepared. The fact that she was also a girl made her even more vulnerable to Faris’s impulsive acts and remarks. The tennis team took her in and helped her see the true meaning of tennis. After hearing Mimi’s words about only having one thing, Raima thought she should quit and stick to her true calling; computer engineering. It was her life-long dream. From spending time with the tennis team, Raima learned a very important lesson. Now, it was her turn to return the favor.

Raima realized she didn’t have to choose one thing, atleast not just yet, and maybe never. She could do both, play tennis and work to be a computer engineer. They were two opposing professions. It would be a challenge but Raima could do it, starting with winning the Khan Tournament. Her last memory was of her special move, the one that made the heart. Raima realized that move was a collision both her worlds. She now had a name for it; the Virtual Hearts.

To everyone’s surprise, including Faris, Raima got up from the ground. She picked up her racquet and tennis ball. Raima looked over at her team. Large smiles spread across their faces. She looked up in the stands and saw Mimi, Maysa, Arsh, and Ibrahim. They smiled at her, too. The entire audience started clapping, boosting her confidence, much to Faris’s displeasure.

“You’re bluffing,” Faris said. “You can’t play after a blow like that.”

“Oh yeah, watch me,” Raima said boldly. “This game is over.”

She served the ball high the air, jumped after it and hit her racquet hard against it. The ball flew higher into the sky, creating a strong heart trail in the air. It zoomed at Faris at an unthinkable speed, grinding with his racquet’s strong strings. Faris found it impossible to hold it back to a point where he couldn’t any longer. As he brought his racquet forward, the ball completely broke through the strings and landed on the ground.

“Game to Raima Rahman, 7-5,” the umpire called out. “Congratulations to Naviin Academy, winners of the Khan Tournament!”

At that moment, confetti, steamers, and balloons rained down from the arena. The entire audience broke out into applause; the computer club, Zaim, Raneem, everybody. The entire team jumped up from their seats and huddled together, wildly cheering, exclaiming their happiness. They ran to the court and lifted Raima high in the air, loudly praising her. Raima looked over at Malik and smiled. For the first time, he smiled back.

At sunset, the Naviin players accepted their medals and trophy. As tradition, they shook hands with the opposing team. All the players bowed at one another, another ending tradition. For the first time since the finals began, Faris didn’t have a smile on his face. His icy expression was a mix of jealously and guilt. Raima looked at him and imitated his sly smile. Faris angrily walked away, followed by the rest of his team.

The others went to the boy’s locker room to change. Usama made a joke about Raima joining them, to which the others laughed. Raima rolled her eyes, replying, “Not in a million years.” She just stood there for a moment. Then, the computer club approached her. They congratulated her on her win.
They also said how pleased they were with the finishing results of the profiler. Mimi pulled out the jacket Raima had returned and handed it back to her.

“We’d love for you to come back to the club,” Mimi said.

Raima took the jacket from her. “It’s a deal then.”

Zaim stood outside, watching Raima. That day, he couldn’t have been more proud of all three of his kids. He was most pleased that Raima had finally decided to give tennis a chance. She had pulled off an amazing win. It was the start of a whole new legacy. He only wished Annisa could have been here to witness it. She would have been just as proud. Raneem saw Zaim and walked over to him. He smiled at the sight of his old friend.

“I can see that my daughter is growing strong under the guidance of her new coach,” Zaim said.

“Oh it’s not me Zaim bhai,” Raneem corrected. “It’s all Raima.”

At the big banquet afterwards, Raima stood by the drinks. She sipped her ever-so-favorite mango lassi. The cool sensation of the sweet liquid running down her throat refreshed her. She then went outside. She looked down at the tennis court.

Raima heard footsteps behind her. She quickly whipped around. It was only the tennis team. They were all dressed in tuxedos, a new sight to Raima. Malik stepped forward and pulled out the team jacket, just like Mimi had done before. It was still perfectly wrapped in the plastic.

“It’s yours,” Malik said. “Take it.”

Raima still wasn’t sure if she should. She looked up at the others. They beamed at her. Rafi held up his thumb. Finally, Raima took it from Malik. She held it close to her heart.

“We owe you a big thank you Raima,” Rafi said. “If it wasn’t for you, we would’ve never won today. You gave up your dream for us.”

“It’s no big deal. Life’s all about perseverance,” Raima said, flashing Malik a smile.

“We’ll practice more tomorrow and soon will be invincible,” Malik declared. “But as for tonight, let’s enjoy the party.” They all started to make their way back inside.

Rafi turned back to Raima. “Coming?”

She told them to go on ahead, which they did. Raima then looked up at the sky. The moonlight shimmered. Just like that, she had a new heart for tennis. Raima sighed. This was only the start. Looking at the tennis court, she said her special catch phase in Bengali.

“Anek baki aache,” she said. It meant a lot more to go.

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This book has 1 comment.

on Sep. 8 2012 at 1:08 am
Vagabond SILVER, New Delhi, Other
8 articles 0 photos 107 comments

Favorite Quote:
Every end is a new beginning;
What a caterpillar calls an end the rest of the world calls a butterfly;
"Begining are normally sacary endings are normally sad,
it's in the middle which makes life worth living"