I glanced at my watch. Coach Singh was still answering a question from a reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald. The press conference should be over in a few more minutes. I looked around the room full of sports reporters covering the London Olympics. I stopped when my eyes met hers. She looked familiar. Who was she?
“We are quite confident that our champion boxer Sibi will win the Olympic gold. He is fully prepared and in excellent form. That is all we have time for today!” The coach turned to me and I nodded in agreement.
“That’s a wrap folks!”
We got up. The cameras clicked incessantly as we left the conference room.
I ran into Anwar Mubarak, the Egyptian I was going to face tomorrow in the finals. He was in great form too and a formidable opponent. I waved to him and smiled when I noticed the woman from the press meeting walking towards me.
“Excuse me. Can I talk to you for a few seconds?”
I recognized her now.
I couldn’t contain my surprise.
“Yes! I am glad that you remember me.”
“It’s been, what… ten years? Since we last met…”
“I live here in London. I am a reporter with The Guardian.”
“Oh! Believe me, I am not going to talk shop! I am just excited to see you after such a long time. Listen, do you have some time now? I would like to catch up with you.”
“Sure. I was heading back to my room and retire for the night. But, we can go to the bar and talk over a few drinks.”
I inhaled deeply. Here she was… the girl I had a crush on during high school. Beautiful as ever, maybe even more now than what I imagined her to be. The mild fragrance from her perfume hit my nostrils as she stood inches away from me. It brought back memories of how madly crazy I was about her back in the days.
We grabbed our drinks and settled down at a table at a relatively quiet corner of the bar. My phone rang. It was the coach.
“I am sorry. You’ll have to excuse me. I have to take this call!”
I excused myself and stepped out to take the call. I returned a minute later.
“Sorry. Singh is super pumped about all this. I hope I win the Olympic Gold!”
“You didn’t want to talk shop…” She reminded me.
“Yeah, sorry… Tell me about you. How have you been?”
“I am doing great. I’ve been in London the past couple of years…”
“No… Still looking for the right man.” She smiled.
“Oh, that’s a shame…” I said sipping my drink and looking at her dark black eyes.
She was quiet. I felt that familiar feeling of butterflies in my stomach.
We talked for thirty minutes about everything except what I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t muster the courage to tell her how much I loved her. We shook hands. She left.
I returned to my room. I closed the door behind me and banged my head lightly a couple of times and stood there cursing myself.
* * *
I stared at the Olympic Gold medal that was mine from yesterday’s fight. I had knocked out Anwar in the third round to grab the gold. I couldn’t believe it was being stripped away from me!
The morning newspapers lay in front of me. All of them carried the news about the doping scandal. They reported that high levels of the banned substance 4-hydroxytestosterone was found in my blood and urine samples taken before the fight.
The official letter from the Olympic Committee banning me from future fights lay on the table.
Coach Singh was furious.
“The damn bookies! They stoop to any level to influence the odds. That is why I called you yesterday after the press conference to warn you…”
I felt as if someone grabbed my heart inside my chest and crushed it into a million pieces when it dawned on me that the girl I loved from high school had spiked my drink.