The tennis ball bounces, once, in front of me. I draw my racket back, anticipating the satisfying thump, the reverberation down the length of my arm, but my head is turned by a figure behind MindReader, and I miss it.
It’s a woman in a hijab sitting in a wheelchair. She’s holding a cup of coffee – polystyrene, cheap instant, no doubt, in her lap – in both hands. She’s wearing fashionably oversized glasses and Converse trainers.
“Decided that was too much effort?” my father says to me. I’m on his team, had called ‘mine’ seconds before I abandoned the shot.
I am still staring at the woman, being assaulted by memories from years before. She is sitting how I sat, when I was in such a position. On the literal sidelines of life. Her elbows are resting on her hip bones as she sits, and I remember doing similar things when my arms hurt too much to lift themselves, let alone a cup of coffee. I am reminded of so many occasions when I was she: at MindReader’s sister’s wedding, seven months after glandular fever, when I attended only 25 minutes of a wedding and spent the rest of the day lying down, alone, in an empty hotel nearby. Or that time, four months after glandular fever when MindReader carried me outside and laid me amongst the summer flowers for five minutes, to feel the sun on my skin. Or maybe that time, years after, during my first relapse where I lay down in the disabled toilet after my second legal exam. And all the other times, too: when I was present, but not A1. Having to have regular breaks when shopping. Lying down in the back of the car on the way back from a party. Having a nosebleed in the work toilets during the first year of my training contract; trying to hide the bruises that appeared after my first 12-hour mediation. Or the ambulance ride, the meningitis tests, the AIDS clinics, HIV after HIV after HIV test because my symptoms fit so well. They’re all there, these memories, living in my mind and my body.
“Sorry,” I call.
“You’re alright aren’t you?” MadFather says to me. He saw, I guess, the worst of it, says underneath my eyes went punch-black some afternoons in the early days which I have no memory of; January and February and March of that year all erased as if it was nighttime for three months straight. His words are imbued with the memories, too. I don’t tell him I am looking at the woman in the wheelchair, thinking how lucky I am to have been there and now here, my body arcing in the air as I serve to MindReader after a normal working day, fuelled by too much coffee and not enough sleep.
“Yeah just couldn’t be arsed to get that,” I joke.
“Never mind,” Dad says. “There’s always the next shot.”
As I tilt my head back to serve, watching the ball rise in the air, I can’t help but look behind it and to the woman in the wheelchair. She’s looking at me, her eyes tracking the ball. I let it come down and it bounces in front of me. She smiles, gestures to her friend. Together, they laugh at me, and my crap serving, and I can’t help but throw a smile their way, which they return.