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 More Precious

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: More Precious   Sun Apr 30, 2017 9:11 am

Chapter 1

 

Timothy Clarence Gleub (TC to his friends) was daydreaming. He was propped two metres up on a ladder, leaning precariously against the framework of his father’s bush-house. The term bush-house was his father’s. It was more a pergola like frame for supporting his prolific Chinese gooseberry vine. It was this very same important vine that Tim should have been pruning, instead of pondering his personal moral principles or life values. He was thinking about his friends from church. The guys were among his best friends, and the girls, well the girls were his focus of thought. They were the distraction that had his mind wondering all over the place.   

TC would try to tell you that he was an extrovert. Didn’t he love joking, performing silly skits and being an ideas person? But that was with his ‘mates’; and it was a mask. It was a mask obscuring a person who was always weighing his motives, being reflective… sometimes torturing himself with unrealistic expectations. He didn’t really talk to girls… he didn’t know what to say. To describe him as shy was an understatement. He was socially inept. What really irked TC was that he had been trapped by his own silly jealousy and infatuation with one of the girls from the group into this weird camping trip, or trek – ‘a horse riding adventure’ is how Phil had facetiously described it. It wasn’t as if he would actually get the nerve to have a conversation, but there was always that tenuous hope, some fleeting possibility, of friendship.

It had all started with six of the girls convincing Zeke, the youth pastor, to organise a horse ride in the Snowy Mountains area. Well, it appealed to Zeke and his new wife Judith, both of whom were obviously born when biblical names were in vogue, so it was organised for the end of the summer break, before most of their studies resumed for the year. The church leadership thought it unwise that the young pastor go alone, so he rang a few of the guys and talked them into going along. Phil told TC and he immediately thought of Shari and how much he liked her. He also knew that Phil and Col were keen on her and to miss out on the seven or eight days of this shared holiday was painful to his jealous nature. Though this was something he might admit to himself, it remained behind the mask. The problem was, TC was not keen on horses. He was torn. He reflected that it was fortuitous that the trip clashed with a two day cricket grand final. He wouldn’t have to decide whether or not to put up with the challenge horse riding provided, if the option wasn’t available. If he went, it couldn’t be ‘just to be there’, horse riding was non-negotiable.

The fact that he had hoped and expected to play in the final with the local team was, ultimately, good news. His teammates would have felt let down if TC had skipped, as they were all focused on winning the title, and TC was a key member of their bowling attack. Of course it all hinged on whether they had won the semi-final against the Saints.  They were playing the semi the weekend after he had initially been asked to go on the trek. Compliantly, he said he would go if he wasn’t playing cricket, but he had been sure that they would win through to the final. That had been last weekend. His mind cast back. How did he remember it? No he couldn’t go over the torturous details. He would imagine how it should have been

 

                                                -----------------------------------------

The second day of the final promised much with TC’s side having posted a competitive one hundred and ninety one runs. It could have been considerably less but for a sound thirty seven not out from TC at the tail end of the innings. He had grinned wryly at his captain who had been instrumental in dropping him down the batting order. However, he stopped short of suggesting that he would have been better suited higher up the batting list. The change had been made under the pretence that he was being ‘saved’ for his bowling. It was ironic then, he thought, that he would have had to bowl straight after batting if his innings hadn’t lasted as long as it did. Because they had made it to the end of the day it would mean a week’s interval before bowling.

 

TC had shaken his mind clear of the ruminating clutter as he walked steadily to his mark, shiny red new ball in hand. That was all in the past. Now he was readying himself to open the bowling attack. A light south easterly breeze had been forecast, but at that moment it was very still, with the chill barely removed by the watery sunshine. TC stood nervously at the end of his sixteen pace run-up. The batsman was just glancing around at the field, having scribed his batting position on the artificial grass. He spread his feet, tapped the ground with his bat and looked up from his relaxed, confident stance. The umpire lowered his arm and with a quiet voice said, “Play.”

TC strode in purposefully, intent on line and length. His steps gathered pace and he leapt into his delivery stride. The first ball arced just outside the off and was played tentatively back up the pitch. The second ball was left. The third was noticeably quicker, and the surprised batter managed to dead bat the rising seamer away from his body. A few voices murmured encouragement from the field as TC walked back to his mark. He launched into his fourth delivery. The speeding, spearing ball went right through the grimly defending batter and almost shaved the top of off stump and thwacked into the keeper’s gloves. More banter and encouragement followed as the ball was passed back to TC. He examined the red leather projectile. It didn’t have any noticeable scuffs so he couldn’t favour a side to shine. The fifth ball was a fast Yorker that the batsman just dug out at his feet. Now there were cheers of appreciation with the banter.

A very slight smudge from the jamming bat had TC polishing up the unblemished side. Holding the seam vertically, he surged to the bowling crease. The ball nudged almost imperceptibly away and caught a thick edge which flew low between second and third slips down to the fielder at third man. The batsmen scuttled through for a single. TC retrieved his sweater from the umpire, disappointed that the last ball had been scored off.

Trav, the bowler at the other end, also bowled well, but occasional loose balls were dealt with. As the afternoon began to warm up a little, the pattern continued; TC bowled a miserly line and with little luck. A dropped catch in slips, a failed L.B.W. appeal and several near misses were as close as he came to snaring a wicket. Trav was not so precise and after five overs and twenty odd runs, he was replaced. By the time TC had bowled eight overs only six runs had been scored from his bowling, but the other side were none out for forty three.

TC was reluctant to give up the ball because he was still beating the bat, although he conceded that a bit of a rest would make him sharper in a second spell. The replacement, Johnny Mac, took a wicket from his fifth ball and Jason, the captain, claimed vindication for his bowling change to all who would listen as they gathered around backslapping and waiting for the next man in. TC felt a little aggrieved as the wicket ball had been a miscued long hop that was caught at mid wicket. That batsman was furious at himself after so patiently building an innings to have it all spoilt by a rush of blood. TC watched him leave still muttering self complaints.

He marvelled at the serendipitous nature of the game; all his effort seemingly spent for nothing. Still a wicket was a wicket, and this was a team game. Unfortunately, runs came easily after that and the opposition hit the hundred with only one wicket down. Jason brought on some more bowling changes and came on himself bowling his leg spinners.

In his second over he dismissed the number three batter, catching a ball in front of his face that might have killed him if he hadn’t caught it. With two down and their opener starting to score more freely, victory for TC’s team seemed to be slipping away; especially since the captain felt his one wicket earned him several more overs.

At afternoon tea they stood around glumly considering the prospect of being easily beaten after such a successful year. The Saints were two down for one hundred and fifty two. They had eight wickets left and only forty seven runs to make.

As they walked back onto the ground, TC felt the steady breeze that had come up. Jason threw the ball to him.

“Do your best,” he called, “We need a breakthrough.”

TC thought that was an understatement, they needed a rout. He limbered up, bowling a few to Trav at mid on, stretching and then jogging on the spot. The batsmen were also going through a routine of preparation while he studied the ball and rubbed it hard against his trouser leg to buff up the lingering shine. The breeze was just in the right quarter for his out swinger and he figured that if he ever required it, now was the time.

            TC charged in. Normally he would test for movement before altering his line. Instead, he aimed at middle and leg hoping that the ball would curve in the air. With a grunt he let fly. About half way down the ball deviated off course as if drawn by a magnet. Even though it was a quick bowl, it almost appeared to be in slow motion. The number four batsman followed the swing, being drawn into the shot as it veered farther and farther to the off. By the time he realised what he was doing it was too late. Awkwardly reaching about twenty centimetres outside off stump, he nicked the ball toward first slip. The keeper lunged across and caught it before rolling theatrically in front of the other fielders. TC was jubilant inside but refrained from being too boisterous in his appeal.

            The team reacted as if doused with a refreshing splash of water, they gathered around, spurring each other on with renewed hope. The next three deliveries swung hugely and each time the batter followed it, precariously close to catching an edge. The opener, who by now had well over fifty runs, wandered down and spoke to his new batting partner. TC assumed that the logical advice would be to leave the outswinger. Going on this assumption he held the ball cross seam hoping to bowl a fast shooter. TC paused on his mark then started his run up, steadily accelerating to an explosive pivot at the end. The momentum caused him to lurch off balance as he saw that the batsman had realised, too late, that the ball was hurtling toward his stumps. There was a loud clatter of wooden stumps and bails as the middle peg tumbled end over end. A roar of triumph accompanied the impact as TC’s team recognised there was still hope.

            Jubilation soon subsided, however, as the opener they called Whitey blazed away at Trav’s bowling. When TC bowled at him he defended stubbornly. Two outswingers were allowed to pass; a zipping effort ball was fended off and the remaining three were safely negotiated. Whitey, the more aggressive of the two, was desperate to get to the other end and face Trav’s replacement. On the third ball a nudge to the leg gave him strike. The next two balls were hit to the fence for four; one a slog to mid wicket and the second a strong cover drive. On the last ball Whitey cleverly farmed the strike.

            TC framed a strategy in his mind. The first three balls were outswingers, then a fast effort ball which almost got through. TC steeled himself for the next ball. As he walked back he ran a finger around his collar tugging at his sweat soaked shirt. He gripped the ball, fingers splayed, across the seam. Turning, he took his customary pause on his mark and noticed the keeper and slips, who had recognised his signal, edging closer. Steaming in, he made as if to put everything into another fast ball. With all his strength he rolled his fingers over the ball and catapulted it outside the line of the off stump. The spinning ball gripped and the huge off cutter jagged and kicked back into the unsuspecting opener. Instinctively, he fended the rising projectile away from his chest. The clunk of the ball high on the willow blade signalled the start of its slow loop back up the pitch into TC’s grasping hands.

            Five down and only twenty runs to get. The new batsman was clean bowled next ball with an effort delivery that moved back marginally off the upright seam.

Now the Saints were six down with twenty runs to make. Both sides were tense and the game tightened up. After eking out several runs, a mix up between the two batsmen almost caused a run out. Jason, the spin bowler, had one caught on the boundary. TC was half way through his sixth over of the second spell when he bowled a fast rising first delivery. Miss-timing the attempted pull shot the batsman lobbed the ball up to the mid on fielder who took an easy catch. With two wickets in hand they only had to make seven runs. The next two balls were fast and out swinging, each one edging near the stumps. Harry came on to bowl at the other end. He bowled quite well and only had four runs scored off his six balls. TC fronted up to what he thought would be the last over. They only had three runs to get with two wickets remaining.

Taking a deep breath, TC ran in rhythmically again. The ball was too scuffed to move much in the air so he concentrated on bowling fast cutters. Lots of groans and gasps followed each false stroke and each near miss. The last ball of the over to the new batsman was a fast Yorker which knocked the middle stump back and the hapless tailender trudged back to the pavilion.

Only one wicket to get and still three runs short. TC was sitting on a six wicket haul with the possibility of seven but hoped the last would fall in Harry’s over because his muscles were tightening. A possible four on the third ball was blocked painfully by the back of the silly mid on, and they were still only three short. On the last ball an attempted sweep shot from the tail ender caught the edge and flew high to fine leg where TC was waiting. He ran in feeling his legs cramping, he lunged for the catch and got it to hand as he fell to the ground. But as his elbows hit the ground the ball jolted out. It bobbled up. He stretched, and just clasped it in his extended fingers. The cries of jubilation turned to screams. The batsmen, who had turned for the third run, slumped. TC was swamped by celebrating team mates. He was hoisted up, the hero…

                                    ----------------------------------------------------

That was how he now dreamt it had happened! Putting a more fanciful and dramatic spin onto the story. Wishful thinking… a phrase that probably summed up his life till now. Some of the events were true. In reality, he bowled quite well, took four wickets and was unlucky not to take more. The previous week he had batted for ten minutes to be two not out and genuinely felt he should have batted earlier. The problem was, he had dropped that vital final catch and he did get some stick for that.

The catch replayed in his mind:

His elbows hit the ground the ball jolted out. The cries of jubilation turned to groans. The batsmen turned for the third run. TC scrambled after the ball and hurled it in shattering the stumps in a line ball decision. The umpire deemed the batsman safe and the two batters ran off the ground shouting joyously. His team mates moaned. So near and yet so far; his bowling had been impeccable, it had kept them in the game, but there was no triumph. No one congratulated him for his effort. Almost to a man their postures and positions bespoke despair.

Filled with disappointment TC collapsed to his knees. He dwelt on what could have been. He had taken four wickets and would have been the hero. But, he was sure; all everyone would remember was the dropped catch that lost the match. He had failed.

Why did good things only happen in the fantasy version? Surely in reality he could hold the catch and become the hero? Maybe he could try again and dream up a hundred runs, slogging the ball to all parts of the ground? But that dropped catch kept interfering with his more glorious fabrications. How could he have done things differently?

TC was still aloft the ladder, frozen in another daydream. ‘So, it had been his choice to become a member of the impending ‘riding adventure’, but somehow he knew that he had been impelled to make the decision by his fixation with Shari. Here he was now, a week later, bemoaning the fact that, not only was he missing his beloved cricket—he’d had a phone call to play in the firsts nonetheless, but he was now committing himself to riding a horse! And past experience with horse riding had scarred him and left him with an acute aversion to riding the beasts.

He recalled the docile, doe eyed, medium sized bay that had lured him into a false sense of security at the riding school. It had been a few years ago. TC had been fifteen when he tried riding for the first time. The bay—it wasn’t a particularly big horse—had a proclivity for fences, trees and buildings and was determined to scrape him off at every opportunity. A confident instructor told him to reign in the mare more aggressively. What had transpired was an uncontrolled charge down the hill and an embarrassing unsaddling over the head of the braking horse into a muddy ditch’.

                       

 

“Hey!” the call shook TC out of his dream world. He almost lost his balance. His dad stood watching him. “You haven’t done much. I need you to prune all those fruiting canes about six or seven leaves past the fruit so it’ll fatten the fruit.”

“I know, I know Dad,” grumbled TC. He’d been told a half a dozen times how to cut the ‘sacred bough’ and he chafed that he’d made himself a target for a reprimand. He busied himself cutting away the new fuzzy, curling, green shoots for the next half hour and didn’t stop until another call interrupted him.

“Hey! You’ll kill yourself up there. Get down!” His dad sounded agitated. TC had clambered onto the top of the frame and was balancing precariously on a crossbeam using the thin, flimsy branches to steady himself.

“I’m okay Dad. It’s a lot easier this way than moving the ladder every few minutes.”

“You’re crazy. That frame is not as strong as it looks.”

“What’s all the shouting about Dear?” It was his mum, Amanda. She stepped up beside Carl, her husband and clasped his arm affectionately, as she looked up at TC.

“I’m making a tea Tim, you coming down?”

“Not yet Mum; in a few minutes, thanks.”

“All right, well the kettle will be hot. Be careful won’t you?” she looked up with a slight frown of concern on her face.

“Always Mum,” TC replied brightly before wobbling unsteadily and giving himself a fright.

His parents turned and headed off for their afternoon cuppa. He heard the fading conversation.

“The kid’s crazy. He’ll hurt himself,” his dad complained.

“If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black then I don’t know what is. How many times have I seen you standing on top of that thing like some tight rope walker…”

TC only imagined the rest of the discussion. He smiled to himself at the quaint sayings his mother would use. He tried to mentally compile a list of the most frequent ones; ‘People in glass houses…’ she would say, or, ‘sticks and stones’…. He chuckled softly. She often didn’t finish them, just expecting you to complete the verbal cloze in your head. He told himself he must compile a list with Sam and Brad, his brothers, and they could read them at some family celebration.

 

            It was almost an hour later that he clambered down, dripping wet and feeling the sting in his eyes from his salty perspiration. The job was finished, but it took longer than the few minutes he’d prophesied.  It was a very warm, humid, early March Friday and he was dehydrated by the heat and exertions of the last few hours. In a few days they would be leaving and he still hadn’t packed. Also, he still had to help out with shopping for supplies and packing a trailer at Zeke and Jude’s place.

            Refreshed at first by a large glass of chilled homemade lemon drink, TC sat with his parents briefly and had some afternoon tea. His brothers Brad and Sam came in and started ribbing him about horse riding, so TC, in no mood for a verbal stoush, left for his shower.

             As the almost scalding water relieved the ache in his muscles, TC’s mind drifted again. If he’d held that catch he’d have been the hero. They would have been playing tomorrow. He remembered how Charlie and Trav had dropped around and apologised for the way everyone had zeroed in on the dropped catch.

“The fact is that we wouldn’t have been in the game if it hadn’t been for your bowling,” Charlie confessed.

“Yeah, it was really great,” added Trav.

By the time they had finished massaging his ego TC felt as if they had won the game. That was until the true purpose of their visit came out. They asked him again to front up for the firsts in their final. There was still time to fit him into the team. ‘Not possible,’ he had responded. He was going horse riding. He grinned when he remembered the expression on their faces.

            His thoughts somehow flipped to the previous Sunday. Pastor Pete had talked about ‘running the race’ and ‘laying aside every weight’. The words that stuck with him were that ‘Christians were free to live life to the full, but you know you’re not running the race when those around you, who know you, don’t know that you’re even running or who you follow.’ That was what prompted TC to tell his cricket mates that he was camping with his church friends. That surprised them.

He smiled again. It felt good to take that small step. He realised that cricket had been a weight. Now it could be a part of the race. His reflections spiralled around to speculate about the horse-riding camp. They were all his friends, but now he knew his interests were focussing on Shari. Was it foolhardy to imagine she might be interested in him too?
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