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Leon Saves the Day

A story of pure fiction.

The attack was over in seconds. The grimace turned into a relieved smile as Leon waited on the pitch to hit the first ball of his team’s innings. The wickets stood on either end of the rectangular-shaped patch. He would not let them be toppled, no matter the condition of his heart or how forcefully the ball was bowled.

Intense concentration replaced the searing pain in his chest. The attack came and went. Other times it went only after a minute or so. In that short space of time, his mind conjured up a picture of lying unconscious beside the stumps, but that never happened in reality.

Angina pectoris had been trying to drag the cricketer down since the time he was an embryo. He became so accustomed to nothing happening after or during the onslaught that he acted as if there was no agony. Suffering remained a secret, set aside until the game was won. He’d play until he dropped.

Leaning forward over the bat, gripped tightly in his fists, excitement surging and heart-pounding, Leon eyed, the small red projectile coming straight for him with the velocity of a rocket on its way to the moon. Unless stopped the wickets would go flying, he’d be knocked unconscious and his beloved team would lose the game.

He’d never missed, and he wasn’t going to miss this one. A smile spread over his face as bat and ball connected. His head swiveled to follow the sphere’s line of flight as it soared into the air. A cloud of dust blew in the wind near the tall eucalyptus trees, on the distant perimeter of the sports field, where the ball fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Cheers clamored, spectators stood up clapping, his heart leaped, bat raised high in a wave of acknowledgment. Once again the mighty man’s skill and power as a batter had saved the day.

The umpire’s arms went up, palms facing inwards, the scoreboard registered six more runs for KHS, and victory was assured.

The ability to yell was the only talent mama Muriel discerned at the future sportsman’s birth. The rest of him was weak; weak arms, legs, and eyes, a poor reward for her suffering, she thought. More than 8 hours of labour had passed since the kicking indicating the baby’s determination to enter the world, no matter how frail his body was.

She and her husband, being kind and generous saw the baby as a gift from the almighty and would take care of and love the feeble tot, feeding him, but restricting his movements with a protective wall, that frustrated him more each year as he grew up.

Soon the baby rebelled, howling to be let out of his cot, splattering and smearing porridge and vegetables over himself and his nanny. He considered these artistic creations, and the colours and shapes made him laugh. Mealtimes became a combination of shrieking, banging, and laughing. His parent’s fury added the finishing touch to a show of madness.

The paradoxical nature of anger combined with laughter and tears led the family to conclude that Leon was mentally disturbed and not fit to enter the regular government school attended by other children. He was sent to a convent for the first year of his schooling. Hopefully, the nun’s love and care would calm the child, who by this time was considered half beast.

“You can’t do it”, were the words most frequently directed at Leon, “you’re weak, you’ll hurt yourself”. Negative statements were more difficult to overcome than physical weaknesses. Watching his friends and brothers succeed in one sport after another brought Leon the determination to succeed in one sport.

He found that cricket required less physical effort than other sports. All he had to do was to wait in one place as a ball came in his direction, then hit it. Accuracy and patience were all that was required of him. Concentrating on these two characteristics until they became second nature he changed his tempestuous ways and calmed down.

The tension of watching and playing cricket replaced anger and resentment. He spent hours at the bowling and batting net his parents bought for him. He achieved high grades in all subjects but his talent for accuracy earned him the most renown among cricketers.

Krugersdorp High had a reputation as the top school in Transvaal. The highest number of academic distinctions went to KHS each less than 4 teams, the first team was the top team in the province, and being selected for it was considered a great honor. Each week the names of the players were displayed on the notice board in the central quadrangle where scholars came during intervals between classes to make purchases at the tuck shop and check to see who would be chosen for the first cricket team, the first rugby team, and so on. Some jumped for joy others walked away, heads bowed disconsolately, a weekly scene of disappointment for some and jubilation for others.

Leon was always chosen to captain the first cricket team. Nobody came even close to him when it came to playing cricket. The possibility of him causing the team to lose a game was unthinkable. Being aware of his congenital health defect, however always brought on an appeal to the cricket coach to appoint someone else. In his wisdom, Leon foresaw a bad situation taking place if ever the ailment got the better of him. He did not want to bear the guilt for bringing down the team.

Heart failure finally came. Even as he lay dying he held on to the cricket bat and struck out at the ball. It soared higher and further than ever before. KHS won the game and held onto its position as provincial champions.

The effort had cost Leon his life but the game was won. He was never one to let the team down. Had he released his grip on the bat and not struck out at the ball the game would have been lost but Leon would have been alive today. His last words echoed the consciousness of responsibility to his fellow man: “far too many people put their faith in me”.

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