Everyone other than Harish was excited about the competition. Being an athlete, Harish knew everything about these sporting events. But, there was something that always stopped him when he had to participate in national events. His parents were proud when he was one of the most successful athletes in every state level competition. But, his earlier two national competitions were not at all impressive. His parents did not understand how to deal with the situation. Added to this, there was humongous pressure on him this time from his new coach who did not know much about Harish’s problem.

Ketan, Harish’s coach noticed that Harish did not look so excited an hour before his competition. This did not at all seem right to Ketan. Ketan searched around for Harish’s parents to check if his health was fine.

Ketan went to Harish’s father and asked, “Is everything alright with Harish? Are you people hiding some illness from me? He looks so pale and dull. He does not seem to be his usual self.”

Harish’s father, in a dismal tone, said, “This is his third attempt in a national event. I’m not sure if he will be allowed to participate again in national championships if he fails this one too. He has no stage fear. We don’t know what his problem is. He is good with his strategy and timing. But, when it comes to these national events he strongly believes that he cannot win it. In fact, if you look at him, he is said not because of tension or nervousness. He is frightened at the media backlash and your reaction after he loses the game. He is more worried about what the aftermath of the sporting events as he is certain of his failure. We are not sure about this problem. We’ve tried approaching many people but nobody has a clue as to what is wrong with him.”

Ketan listened intently and did not like what he was hearing. He wanted to immediately go to Harish and bash him and ask him to be a man and win this match. But, he realized that this problem seems to be complicated than that.

Ketan asked, “Do you think it has to do with something else? Did you try to talk to him? Is there anyone else involved? Like a girl. I hope you are getting it.”

Harish’s father said, “Thanks for listening to me. The earlier coaches were always angry on me whenever I told them that he had a problem with the national level championships. And, for your question, he has a few friends. And, they are always encouraging him. He has no girl friend as far as I know. He seems to be focused on his game and ambitions. We’ve talked with him earlier and tried to gauge the reasons behind this weird problem. But, we could not get anything out of him.”

Ketan thought about it and decided to talk to Harish’s friends. Ketan was pretty sure there was an external reference to this problem.

Most of Harish’s friends did not have much to contribute either.

Aslam said, “He had a secret girlfriend when he appeared for his first championship. Nobody knows about it. I saw them talking about the championship one day after everyone has left college. They talked in a corner so that no one would notice them. But, I had this habit of investigating secret lovers. So, I found them out.”

Ketan asked, “Do you know her? What happened to her? Are they still in love with each other?”

Aslam said, “I have not heard about her after that. In fact, she quit college the next week. We did not hear about her much after that. She did not have too many friends in the college. I’m not a close friend of Aslam either. So, I could not ask him anything. I could not make a sensation out of that news as that girl quit college. So, it continues to remain a secret.”

Ketan wondered if that short love story had something to do with this entire thing.

Ketan asked, “Can you tell me exactly what they discussed on that day?”

Aslam said, “Harish told Fatima that he will not win the race if she did not come to watch it. He promised on her that he would lose.”

Ketan felt a lump in his throat. He did not know how to deal with it. For a moment, he considered the option of getting Fatima to the race. But, the race was scheduled in thirty minutes. He was pretty sure he did not have the time to find out about her and get her here.

Ketan called up Harish’s friend, Hemant, and asked him to go to the college immediately and find out as much as possible about this girl. He asked Hemant to talk to as many people as possible regarding this girl. Ketan explained to Hemant completely about the entire short love story. He asked Hemant not to share the details with anyone.

Ketan knew for sure that this activity might help only in the future, and not for the day’s competition.

Ketan immediately came up with an idea. He called his friend, a sports celebrity who was supposed to be the chief guest for this event and had word with him.

The chief guest, a sports celebrity, came to the venue before his usual time.

Ketan called Harish to a room and started talking to him. Ketan said, “This is an important event for you. I’m sure you will not ruin it like your last two attempts. You have to give your best shot.”

Harish listened to his coach intently and acted as if he was motivated. He knew what he would do, finally, though.

Just then, Kabir, the chief guest walked into their room disgusted, Kabir said, “Hey Ketan, I’m not happy with these people. Look at the way they handle these events. It seems there is a technical problem and some of the participants have tested positive for drugs, they want to finish this tournament and then declare it as a mere state level championship.”

Ketan acted surprised and said, “Can they do it like that? You must be kidding. Nobody can change a tournament like that.”

Kabir said, “Trust me. The organizers can do anything at any moment. As soon as the tournament starts, they’ll update the news channel people saying that there has been some problem and that this tournament has been classified as a mere state level championship and it does not merit to be a national level championship. I’m not supposed to share the details with anyone. But, I came here to tell you because I wanted to tell your participant to chill and relax. Hey, Harish. You can step out if you want.”

For a moment, Harish felt glad that it was not a national tournament. Though he could not believe the story initially, he thought it must be true because the chief guest of the show said so.

Ketan said, “Harish, I would want you to participate. If not anything, we can use it as a rehearsal for the national event.”

Ketan could notice the sudden surge of motivation in Harish’s face.

After a few minutes, the tournament started.

To his parents surprise, Harish ran faster than everyone else and excelled by coming first in the race. His parents felt very happy.

Harish felt glad he won one more tournament. He was looking forward for the announcement that declared this event to be a mere state level championship. He did not see any such signs.

When the time came for the presentation of awards, Harish realized that Ketan cheated him with help of Kabir. He could not question Ketan because he could not tell his secret promise to anyone. For a moment, he was worried about Fatima. He imagined the death of his love, Fatima. Harish fainted a few seconds before he could receive his award.

Ketan sprinkled water on Harish’s face. Just then, Harish’s friend, Hemant, came running with Fatima beside him. Fatima congratulated Harish and told him that she saw the entire match in the stadium. Ketan felt glad Hemant got her in time.

Harish looked at Ketan and thanked him. Ketan thanked Kabir and Hemant.