Maxine won the point and worked hard for the game, in the blistering, hot and dry climate. The sun baked her skin and the heat rose up from the asphalt and hit her sweaty face with such force she recoiled.
At drinks she sat in the shade on the wooden bench and gulped water, parched from the high summer heat; her youth and fitness the only elements sustaining her as she played in the dog day conditions, in an inland city where drought conditions prevailed.
During the warm barmy nights she played badminton, partnered with her buddy they played together harmoniously, alternating their positions after each game. One close to the net and Maxine at the back. She hit the shuttlecock deep into their opponent’s court and recovered placing herself square in the middle to meet the long high returns.
Maxine loved the physicality of movement, reaching, stretching and twisting, using and pushing her body’s limits. Supple and flexible her grace was light and easy, her movements loose and rhythmic as she deftly flicked the shuttlecock sideways, skimming the net and moving centre to meet its return, if at all it arrived.
She was young and awakening. She knew he noticed her. She noticed him. She was awkward though, awkward and shy. He was not much better, despite his good looks and talent on the court. They liked one another. The physical distance between them was minimal, however it was intangible, not easily defined and even more, not easily closed, there in the gym. She sensed they both longed for one another, yet were unable to push through the unspoken barriers and be together in conversation, in spirit and more….he was in the paper, winning a chess competition. She saw it, she saw him and carefully cut it out and kept it in her drawer.
She drifted away from the badminton club, a gradual withdrawal from the sport, from him and all that may have been. She grieved the loss of what she never quite had and what she so longed for. She kept his photo and often took it out. She studied every detail in the carefully folded photo which was all that remained of a love which never bloomed.
Time passed, school ended and she graduated. The long, lazy days of summer arrived and with this came a new chapter. A new beginning where she left the past, where she left him and he became a bittersweet memory; a mutual longing not realised.
Unexpectedly she met someone else. There were no obstacles. They were free to talk and to get to know one another. The summer unfolded. Neither had plans, in the hot and dry city. Work did not demand their time, energy nor their presence. They packed bags and headed north. It was fruit picking season and they picked bananas and harvested sugar cane at Tully and Innisfail, in North Queensland. When not working they swam at Mission Beach and Bingal Bay.
They blew their wages on white water rafting in the Tully River, traversing the inky landscape of surprise and intrigue while riding the rapids. She savoured the journey and when returning to her hometown, she too savoured his memory filing it in the back of her mind, revisiting it occasionally. The longing for him slowly diminished and the photo she so carefully preserved eventually disappeared, as she moved houses and cities for work.
She often thought about those days, the gym, the badminton and him. Yet it passed; the moment passed and she paused briefly before continuing her journey, not dissimilar to riding the rapids.