Setting: Early morning; the blue-pink hues of dawn still linger on in the sky as the young soccer players trudge along the dusty path to their practice field. Leading the march is their captain, Kojiro Hyuga, with young Takeshi Sawada obediently at his heels. Not far behind is the teamís goalkeeper, Ken Wakashimazu, his face shadowed under the brim of his hat. The remainder of the players lag a few feet, but scoot ahead nervously as a long wooden stick jabs them in the back. Their coach, Kozo Kira, pushes the boys forward with a kendo stick while balancing a half-empty bottle of sake under his arm.
Kira: Lazy little runts--whatís the matter with you?! Takes a long swig from the bottle. Youíll never be champions!
The lagging players let out a communal groan, then yelp as the raggedy man swipes at their heads.
Kira: Quit slacking off!
The players scatter, assembling themselves on the field in their respective positions. Kira watches with a scowl as the last of his charges settles into place, then seats himself on the dirt just inside the fence, sucking on the near-drained bottle like a pacifier.
Hyuga: ( planting one foot firmly in the ball) So you allíve finally decided to show up!
Takeshi: Weíre here, Hyuga san. Ready when you are!
Hyuga: (scanning the area with scornful eyes) Weíll see about that, Takeshi.
Player # 1: Man ...I canít believe weíve got practice again this morning! Iím still trying to make up sleep from yesterday.
Player # 2: (stifles a yawn) Donít let our captain hear you say that! Heíll rip off your head and kick it right in the goal!
Player # 1: (nodding wisely) Hai, hai.
Kira: (opens his mouth to speak, but lets out a loud belch. Flushes bright red as the team bursts into laughter) Hey!! No talking during practice!!!
Hyuga: (smiling tensely, a small vein popping out in his forehead) Are you finished?
Team: Hai, Captain!!
Hyuga: (prepares to pass the ball) Then letís get moving!
Hyuga passes the ball to Takeshi and runs down the right side of the field. His teammates give him dazed looks and step out of the way as he dashes to receive the next pass.
Takeshi: (grins) Iku yo, Hyuga san! (lets out a battle cry and sends the ball careening toward his captain) Go for the goal!
Hyuga: (leaps to receive the ball) Nice pass, Takeshi!
Hyuga grits his teeth as two defenders near him, then springs forward, rushing past them toward the goal. Wakashimazu frowns and adopts a defensive stance.
Hyuga: (raising his leg to shoot) Donít disappoint me!
Hyuga heaves the ball toward the left corner of the goal, past his blank-faced teammates. Wakashimazu stands stunned for a moment, then dives for the save. The ball bounces off his wrist and rolls away from the net.
Wakashimazu: (rising slowly and wiping off his chin) Shimatta. . .
Hyuga: (silently watching as Wakashimazu retrieves the ball) . . .Not a bad save.
Wakashimazu: (hangs his head in shame) . . .
Hyuga: (turns away sharply) Well, whatís the matter with all of you?! Itís the duty of the defensive line to keep the ball away from the goal. I never shouldíve been allowed to get this far!!
Player # 3: We could never stop you, Captain...
Player # 4: (nods, smiling weakly) Yeah! Youíre so much stronger than us!
Assorted murmurs of assent scatter across the field; Takeshi laughs nervously and turns to his captain.
Hyuga: (kicks up a clod of dirt with his toe) I see.
Hyuga: (clenches his hands into fists) You arenít good enough for Meiwa!!
Kira: (takes a swig of sake, amused) You said it, Kojiro chan! (Hoots)
Hyuga turns and stares at Kira for a full minute, his eyes twitching. Kira shuts up.
Hyuga: (irritated) Try again!
The players mumble vague apologies, returning to their former positions. Hyuga takes the ball from Wakashimazu and sets it in the center of the field.
Hyuga: Ready, Takeshi?
Takeshi: ( rubs his eyes, then smiles brightly) Ready, Hyuga san!
Hyuga taps the ball to Takeshi, who receives it clumsily.
Takeshi: (sweat beading on his forehead) Hyuga san! Sore! (Passes the ball)
Hyuga stops the ball with his foot; Takeshi and the rest of the team skid to a halt. Kira takes another swig and finds the bottle empty.
Kira: (sticking his arm through a hole in the fence and rummaging around in the bushes) Donít worry, Iíve got another one!
Takeshi: (blinks innocently) Whatís the matter, Hyuga san?
Hyuga: (kicks the ball aside. Lowers his voice) Iíve had about enough of this.
Takeshi: (blinks again) Ee?
Hyuga: I said Iíve HAD ENOUGH!!!!
The rest of the team jumps, startled. Kira happily slurps away, oblivious to what is going on.
Takeshi: (paling) Hyuga san. . .
Hyuga: (eyes blazing) Iím tired of dealing with nothing but lazy, whiny babies!!! Iíve worked hard to pull Meiwa out of its ditch...Iím your captain, and you have to obey me!!
Team: (gasps) But. . .Captain. . .
Hyuga: I have the right to kick you all off the team if I want to, you know that?!
Takeshi: (eyes filling with tears) Sonna. . .
Hyuga takes a deep breath, shaking with rage. Several of his teammates let out muffled whimpers, and Kira lowers his bottle after the fifth slug, confused.
Hyuga: (turns toTakeshi, who wipes his cheeks hastily) . . . Takeshi.
Takeshi: (eagerly) Hai!
Hyuga: (smiles tenderly) Stop crying. Iím not going to kick anyone off the team.
Hyuga: (nods) . . .Iím going to quit.
Silence. The bottle slips from Kiraís hand and he curses as clear liquid seeps into the dusty ground.
Hyuga: (turns away slowly) I canít stay here any longer.
Player # 1: Captain. . .
Meiwa watches stricken as their captain quietly walks off the practice field, averting their gazes. Kira says nothing when the boy passes him, and within seconds he is gone.
Takeshi: (sniffling) Hyuga san. . .
Player # 2: (in a stage whisper) So you think heís ever gonna come back?
Player # 1: He has to. He canít afford to go to another school, and he canít quit playing soccer for good. . .
Player # 2: (sighs) Our captain. . . he has such a bad temper.
Takeshi: (whips around to face them) You shut up! Itís our fault this happened--itís all our fault!!!
Player # 2: Takeshi. . .
Takeshi: We let Hyuga san down because we were weak! We donít deserve such a good captain!
Player # 1: (stares at the ground) But . . . we. . . we couldnít help it, could we? Soccer isnít the only thing we have to worry about! Weíve got school, and chores, and. . . we just got tired, Takeshi!
Player # 3: It canít be helped!
Takeshi: (scowling darkly) Weíre all weak!!! (Folds his arms across his chest) How can you stand here and make excuses after all thatís happened? Why donít you listen?!
Takeshi: You donít know anything about dedication! (Wipes his eyes defiantly) Hyuga san doesnít only have to worry about the team, but he gives his all every single day! Sure, heís hard on us--but heís harder on himself than anybody!
Player # 4: Takeshi. . .
Player # 3: (turns to face the direction in which Hyuga left) He really is gone, isnít he?
Takeshi: He isnít only our captain. He works hard for everyone he cares about. . . not only himself! We owe it to him to do the same!
Player # 1: Itís too late now. . .
Takeshi: (tenses) It is not!!! This isnít what our captain wants! He wants Meiwa to be the best team in all Japan--in the whole world!!
Takeshi picks up the abandoned ball and hugs it to him. Tears shining in his eyes, he turns his face to the morning sun.
Takeshi: I wonít let you down, Hyuga san. . . Iíll bring Meiwa to the top and make you proud! (Faces the rest of the team) Are you with me?!
Team: (nervously) . . HAI!!!
Player # 1: ( whispers behind his hand) Do you really think itíd be okay to have a little kid as a captain?
Player # 2: If the coach agrees, I guess itís okay.
Takeshi: ( sets the ball on the ground in front of him) Are you ready?
Takeshi: (grins happily) Then letís practice!
The players run to their positions, ready to receive the ball. Takeshi laughs and readies himself for the pass. However, as he is about to kick, a voice calls out.
Voice: Stop right there!
Takeshi: (freezes) Sono koe wa. . .
The players turn to face the figure before them, their jaws simultaneously dropping.
Takeshi: (overjoyed) Hyuga san!!!
Takeshi rushes to his captain and flings his arms around him in a bear hug. Hyuga is taken aback, but relaxes, resting his hand on top of his young friendís head.
Takeshi: (tightens the embrace) Hyuga san, you came back!
Hyuga: (holding back tears) You are strong, Takeshi! (Turns to the rest of the team) Youíre strong, Meiwa!!!
Silence. The players exchange confused looks.
Hyuga: I knew you wouldnít let me down, team. Iím very proud of you.
Team: . . .
Hyuga: (gently separating himself from Takeshi) We can do this, everyone. We will win! With our dedication, nothing will stand in the way of victory! Nothing! Right?
Takeshi: (laughs and punches the air with his index finger) Right!
Hyuga: (gazes meaningfully at the others)
Team: (raising their arms in a cheer) RIGHT!!!
Hyuga: Then letís get started!
Hyuga picks up the ball and sets it in front of him. He passes it to Takeshi, who, in turn sends it flying back. Hyuga makes his way down the field with the others in pursuit; several attempt to steal the ball but fail. Hyuga nears the goal, smiling truimphantly.
Hyuga: (breathless) Thatís it, team! Thatís the way! (Prepares to shoot) Kurae!!!
Hyuga shoots. The ball whizzes past Wakashimazuís head and hits the net.
Player # 2: (gulps) He didnít move a muscle. . .
Hyuga: . . .
Wakashimazu: (pales, staring at the ball) . . . (blinks) . . .Kuso. . .(Collapses)
Takeshi: (screams) Wa!!! Wakashimazu san!!!!
Player # 4: Heís fainted!
Takeshi: Wakashimazu san! Are you all right?!
Hyuga: (curses) Wakashimazu. . . (Turns to Kira, enraged) Why are you sitting there like that?! Call a doctor!
Kira: (hiccups) . . . Nan da yo?!
Hyuga: Youíre the adult here! Help him!
Kira: (jumps to his feet) Wa. . .wa. . . what can I do? Kojiro, youíre the captain of this team--you handle it!!
Hyuga: (fumes as Kira disappears into the distance) Damn you. . . youíre just afraid heís going to beat you up again for touching him! You think I donít know why you never hit him when he makes a mistake?! (Curses again, turning back to the goal)
Takeshi: ( supporting Wakashimazu with one arm) Wakashimazu san, hang in there!
Wakashimazu: (eyes all swirly) . . .
Scene:mid-morning, the Meiwa infirmary. Reddish hints of sunlight peek through the curtains, and the chatter of cicadas hangs in the air. Ken Wakashimazu, lying on the cot near the window with Takeshi faithfully at his side, winces and begins to open his eyes. Takeshi and Hyuga exchange surprised looks when the goalkeeper sits up with a start and raises a hand to his forehead.
Wakashimazu: (flinching) . . . Wh. . . what. . .
Takeshi: (bending over to retrieve the fallen compress) Wakashimazu san, youíre awake!
Wakashimazu: (blinks) What happened?
Hyuga: ( sits down on the corner of the cot) You passed out during practice this morning. Donít you remember?
Wakashimazu: No. . . not really. I remember feeling dizzy. . .
Takeshi: Donít think about it too much, Wakashimazu san.
Wakashimazu: Sumimasen. . .
Silence. Hyuga and Takeshi avoid eye contact while Wakashimazu stares ahead with a tragic expression on his face.
Hyuga: (clears his throat) . . . Takeshi.
Takeshi: . . . Hai?
Hyuga: Where are the others?
Takeshi: Waiting outside. They wanted to come in, but I told them we needed quiet.
Hyuga: ( nods) All right. Go outside and tell them whatís going on . I want to talk to Wakashimazu alone.
Takeshi: Okay. (Gives Wakashimazu one last look and leaves)
Hyuga: (sighs, folding his arms) Wakashimazu, you arenít yourself today. You blew that last save, and you barly managed the first.
Wakashimazu: (lowers his eyes) Iím sorry, Captain.
Hyuga: (frowns) These practices are very important. If we donít improve ourselves every single day, we wonít have a prayer once we reach the championship. I know the younger players sometimes have trouble understanding this. . . but I never expected it from you.
Wakashimazu: It wonít happen again, I swear it.
Uncomfortable silence. Hyuga uncrosses his arms and bites his lower lip, thinking.
Hyuga: Oi, Wakashimazu.
Wakashimazu: (looks up, startled) . . . Hai?
Hyuga: Iíve been wondering. . . when was the last time you ate?
Wakashimazu: (confused) Tuesday, I think.
Hyuga: (smiles thinly) . . . And what day is it today, Wakashimazu? Do you know?
Wakashimazu: . . . I think. . .
Hyuga: (left eye twitching) Todayís Friday, Wakashimazu. Friday!
Wakashimazu: (blinks) Are you sure, Captain?
Hyuga: (shouting) Am I sure?!!! Do you think Iíd lie to you about something like this?! do you think it was just bad luck that you fainted this morning?! ( Seizes Wakashimazuís shoulders and shakes him) Why havenít you been eating?! No wonder youíre so damn skinny!!! Doesnít your mother ever cook?! (Releases Wakashimazu, sending him on his back on the cot)
Wakashimazu: (trembling) Captain. . . please. . .
Hyuga: Answer me!!!!
Wakashimazu: . . . I forgot.
Hyuga: (laughs sadistically) You forgot?
Wakashimazu: ( sits up, clenching his hands into fists) Yes, I forgot! What do you think Iíve been doing with my time?! Working all day and all night practicing soccer and karate. . . trying to keep my grades up. . . I canít waste a minute on something as unrewarding as eating! Of course Iím going to forget occasionally!!!! (Slams a fist into the wall) Dammit!!!
Hyuga: (eyes wide) . . . Thatís. . . thatís. . .
Wakashimazu: (glowers at him) Nani?!!!
Hyuga: (wipes off his forehead with the back of his hand and sighs) Now thatís dedication.
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