At the end of today’s volleyball practice, Mira was overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness.
It was a feeling she detested, a feeling that left a bad taste in her mouth, a feeling that made her feel like someone was shaking their head in disapproval over her shoulder.
The squeak of volleyball shoes against the polish gym floors had always reminded Mira of good friends and good fun, but today, as her new teammates jogged to the exit of the gym, she just felt alienated by the sound. It was too loud, sharp against her ears as she made her way towards the exit as well, involuntarily replaying the speech their coach gave them before declaring the end of today’s practice.
“Connecting is essential. Connecting in volleyball is the key to good defence and the start of an offensive play. If you can’t connect—”
You can’t win.
Mira hated how she remembered, with the utmost clarity, that the coach’s eyes had passed over Kori and her as she finished the speech. Mira didn’t like to think the coach had directed the entire speech towards the two of them, after all, the other freshers were getting used to playing with their seniors as well. It wasn’t like Mira and Kori were obviously clashing. It wasn’t like their clash was so bad it could affect their team dynamics. Nope. Not one bit.
No, Mira wasn’t worried at all.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kori walk towards their captain. When they began talking, Mira instantly averted her gaze, zipping up her bag with more care and interest than usual.
How should she even approach this? How should she begin solving this problem? Could she approach a person like she would do a mathematical equation? Move the pieces around, add, subtract values to cancel out unnecessary numbers until you were left with the simplest form? Or was that over-complicated? Should she just approach this like any other problem on the volleyball court? That in the face of a high, cold 3-person block wall, the key was to stay calm, stay smart, and hit the ball with her classic determined optimism.
Her captain put a hand on Mira’s shoulder as she left the gym for the locker room as well, the same smile of encouragement given after Mira and Kori argued on the court for the first time. Mira blinked, and smiled as best as she could back. The captain glanced towards Kori’s figure before she left, leaving Mira with a new sense of determination.
Mira cleared her throat. She waited for a reaction from Kori, who perhaps didn’t end up hearing it, because the the other girl just proceeded with picking up stray balls from around the court, then putting them into the square volleyabll cart.
Mira shuffled her feet, feeling awkward. Picking up a stray ball near her, she cleared her throat louder once more. “Kori!” she called, grabbing Kori’s attention, who snapped towards with an eyebrow raised. Mira served the ball she was holding over to Kori, who caught it with ease.
“Thanks,” she said coldly. She turned away quickly, tossing the ball into the cart behind her.
Mira breathed through her nose, trying not to let that get to her. From her observation of the way Kori interacted with the other girls, it seemed like that Kori was naturally cold to everyone she met. It just seemed like part of her personality. “You’re staying behind?” Mira asked, clasping her hands behind her back.
Kori, in the middle of bending down to get another ball, paused before straightening up to face Mira. “Yeah, I want to work on my serve,” she explained, spinning the ball in her hand.
“Oh.” Mira was hoping they could walk to the subway station together, talk, get to know each other better, bond or something. She supposed she wasn’t going to get another shot like this though, which was probably what drove her to blurt out, “Mind if I join you?”
Kori seemed to be just as surprise as Mira, and there was an awkward, one second long pause where they just stared at each across the volleyball court.
Mira couldn’t blame Kori for hesitating though. Since the two of them didn’t get on particularly well on-court, their interactions off-court was close to zero. Kori was probably surprised that Mira would actively seek out time together.
“Um, go ahead,” Kori finally said with a shrug. Mira was expecting her to turn away again, but her eyes widened when Kori continued to speak. “Do you—“ she glanced to a side, breaking eye contact “want to receive or work on your serve as well?”
Mira let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding, feeling like something heavy was starting to lift off her chest. “I’ll receive first!” she exclaimed, shrugging off the jacket she had put on only moments ago. “Though I might have to ask you for some tips on jump serves.” She grinned. “I’m still having trouble perfecting mine.”
Kori nodded. “Sure.” She slapped the volleyball down to the floor a couple of times as Mira jogged over to the other side of the net.
“You ready?” Kori asked and Mira lowered herself to the basic volleyball stance.
She slapped her thighs twice. “Kori, nice serve!” she called as a response and watched Kori crack the first smile in all of their interactions.
With enough effort and practice, Mira knew they could connect in time.
By: Eugenia Lo