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You can read part 1 here.

He hi-fived his coach as he put his rifle back. ‘I never thought you’d do it. All your shots are above 10. You are a genius!’ He smiled and punched his coach on his arm. ‘Of course, I am. That’s why I couldn’t even qualify to the final eight two years ago! ‘ He gave a wry smile and walked up to the change room not waiting for an answer.

These days, that is after the Olympics debacle, it’s a given that you saw him at the range right from five in the morning. He wakes up, brushes his teeth and heads straight to the range. No one would know when he ate or slept. And no one would know when he’d  get back home from the range. His coach would come in at nine in the morning and be back home for lunch. But, not him. His eyes were set on the target. Always. And, the target was an Olympic medal. A gold one at that.

The only way he de-stressed himself was by reading. If he was not at the range, you could find him at his library. He read everything he could lay his hands on; and he made sure he laid hands on good books.

He was six feet tall and had a pretty built frame. His unkept hair and half shaved face added a bit of a ruggedness to his looks; that is, an endearing kind of ruggedness. Once a non-stop chatterbox, now it was a miracle if he uttered even ten words a day. There was just one thing missing about him though – his smile. His mesmerizing lop-sided grin was in the verge of vanishing completely.

As he came out of his change room, his mum was waiting for him with lunch.

‘Have your lunch and get back to your next session, beta!’

He nodded. She was looking at his childhood picture which was hanging there. A young sweet face with that lop-sided grin. She wondered where that smile of his has gone. She wondered when it will ever come back. She wondered if it will ever come back. She tried to make small talk with him.

‘Rinku chachi’s son Hemant is getting married next week. I hope you remember that.’

One curt nod again.

‘Take off at least three days from your range and come with us. You need a break too!’

He nodded. Then added, ‘Can’t take off three days and all, ma. I’ll attend the wedding but will return on the same day. I need to practice for the national games to be held in Hyderabad next month.’

She tch tched but let go of it. With just a tiny ray of hope given that he was talking a little bit, she chose to take the plunge.

‘You are also of Hemant’s age. While he is getting married next week, you don’t seem to be thinking about it all. You’re not even interested in life outside the range. Don’t you think you need to unwind a little and take it easy? You know nothing but your range and rifle. Do you even have any plans of getting married?’

He gave her one sharp look. It was not that he was angry with her. It was just that the answer was a no to all her questions and he didn’t want to break her heart by saying that. All what she said was true. He hadn’t had a single crush in his life; except for, of course the rifle and the range. He’d had female friends but all of them have been his mentors and coaches. He did not have any plans of getting married. The love of his life had always been his range and rifle; and so it shall be for the rest of his life.

Or so he thought. Little did he know that all his convictions were going to be shattered to pieces in the next one month.

*******

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