x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

It's all in the game

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said in a dancing voice. "Have you seen my shuttlecock?"

Whoosh. What was that? I turn my head swiftly, but I cannot see anything other than the dusty building with blue tinted windows that don't even reflect my likeness anymore. Wow. Someone ought to wash those windows. Maybe I should write it in the dust. Whoosh. There it was again. A tiny white something just flew by me- I'm sure of it. I look up; maybe someone is playing tricks on me from above. I remember how I used to like those little balloons in all colours of the rainbow. We would fill them up with water and launch them at unsuspected tourists wandering below the balcony of my home. Of course we would duck, but I never could resist popping up to take a peek and ensure I'd hit the target. Good times.

But nothing here. I heard no muffled laughter, didn't see any kind of movement that would betray foul play. Then a young Filipino man skipped around the corner. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said in a dancing voice,"have you seen my shuttlecock?" My brain scrambled to connect the dots. "Or actually two of them," he said. The question mark hovering above my face must have been in bright neon and the boy started laughing. "Never mind," he giggled. "I think I see them."

My eyes followed him take three steps towards the kerb where he crouched, picked up a small object from the rubble and wiped off the dirt. When he found the second one, he proudly showed it to me. I finally understood what had happened in the past couple of minutes. "Yes, ma'am," the young man said. "Mine have real feathers. It's better than plastic, you know." He beckoned me to follow him around the corner and there, between the lamppost and a hook on the building, four boys had stretched a net and were playing badminton on the pavement.

The competitiveness was dripping off their sweaty faces. "Nice try with the sliced drop shot," the little one in the far left corner of the makeshift court said. "Too bad it was out." His rallying partner looked down at his racket and found one of his strings broken. "Time out," he murmured. "Anyone has any extra string?" The shuttle-fetching boy walked over to a big sporting bag and pulled out metres of string. Once the racket was fixed, everyone assumed their positions. "Everybody ready?"

And- whack. Whoosh. Whack. Whoosh. Whack. Whoosh. Thud-