You can’t always win, but…

The hall erupted in applause.

“Tahniah to everyone who got in! For the rest of you, jangan sedih-sedih. Next year, can try again, okay?” said Mrs Sim, the state team’s badminton coach, beaming proudly.

She glanced over her shoulder, then walked towards Cynthia and patted her back. “You did well, Cynthia. Don’t be so disappointed.”

“No, Coach Sim. Y-you don’t understand. I’ve been training so hard for this one thing, and then I messed up so much today. You know, it says a lot about the kind of person I am.” Tears began to form in her small, slightly swollen, dark brown eyes.

“Haiya, don’t say that. You could have done better. Yes. But I know you put in a lot of effort and I’m very glad you tried, okay? Maybe the pressure got to you today, hmm?” Mrs Sim consoled her. She took out a piece of tissue from her pocket and handed it to Cynthia.

“Don’t cry lah, girl. Life’s like this. Even though we do our best, sometimes it’s not enough.”

Shortly after, Mrs Sim left Cynthia to talk to her other students. Cynthia looked around the hall and miserably watched her teammates excitedly celebrate their results. She was happy for them but, at the same time, she couldn’t bear to watch. She quickly chucked her things into her bag and left the hall, puffy- eyed.


“So, how was training today? Did anything exciting happen?” asked Cynthia’s mum, Janice, as she placed a bowl of pongteh on the dinner table. “I was in a good mood, so I made your favourite pongteh today. You’re just the same as Grandpa.”

“That’s nice. Thanks, Mummy,” Cynthia said unenthusiastically.

Her mum looked slightly taken aback by her daughter’s half-hearted response. She didn’t say anything and went back into the kitchen.

Cynthia was contemplating how much she should let her mum know. She fidgeted with the broccoli on her plate. How is mum going to react? Is she going to talk to Coach Sim about it? Am I going to get lectured? Will I have extra badminton classes? I’m a disappointment.

“Why so masam suddenly?” said a grey-haired man who took a seat at the dinner table, sudoku book in hand.

Cynthia broke out of her trance, her mood swiftly changing. The corners of her thin lips curved into a forced smile.

“Hi, Grandpa. I just got home from training. Just tired. That’s all.”

“How was it? Wasn’t your selection today? How did my little badminton champ do?” Cynthia’s grandfather queried excitedly.

Cynthia hesitated. As she was concocting her answer, the kitchen lights suddenly dimmed and her mum walked out of the kitchen, cautiously carrying a small, frosted cake with one big lighted candle placed right in the middle.

“Congrats, dear Cynthia, Congrats, dear Cynthia, Cynthia’s taking part in her first big competition, Congrats, dear Cynthia!”

Mum and Grandpa sang in unison to the tune of “Happy Birthday”, big smiles plastered on their faces.

Cynthia felt horrible. She put on another fake smile.

“We knew you got in and decided to surprise you!” exclaimed Grandpa. “So, we bought a cake and all, and created a song. Do you like it?”

“It was all Grandpa’s idea,” mum claimed.

“Dad, we haven’t asked Cyn whether she actually – ”

“Of course, she did! She’s my granddaughter,” Grandpa interrupted.

All the lights were back on. Mum and Grandpa both looked at Cynthia, waiting for an answer.

Cynthia’s tummy started to churn.

“I … I … I got in. Y-yup, I got in!” Cynthia claimed, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible.

“See, what did I say? You don’t know how proud I am, Cyn. You deserve that spot,” said Grandpa, grinning crookedly and exposing his dentures.

After dinner, Cynthia’s tummy felt even worse. She skipped the cake and headed straight to her room. She lay down on her bed and started sobbing.

“I didn’t do anything to deserve a place. Serves me right for not getting in. I’m a big phoney … a liar.”

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from ‘Champ’ by Annabel Elisha Rajah. It is part of a series of short stories – Secret & Lies: A Young Writer’s Anthology. Priced at RM31.90, the book is available at BookXcess. Royalties from the sale of the book will be channelled to Thrive Well’s (formerly SOLS Health) community centres.

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