The Man in the Middle
“Give him a break.” I’d say to myself as I looked across the court at my teammate. Between points, the players would take short glances across the sand towards the Andaman Sea at the red volleyball shaped celestial object sinking into the horizon. Unlike the sun, the man in the middle wasn’t sinking and fading away into the sand beneath his feet, as his court presence was constant and reliable for the duration of the game. This was because he never moved from the center position in front of the net, which is usually reserved for a tall athletic player. He wasn’t a distraction but rather a memorable point for the players to focus on, bringing fear into the minds of the opposing team as he stood often so still he looked like a suntanned statue built in nearby Saladan. He just didn’t look the part. He was wearing a football jersey after all. For him to be there, on the beach volleyball sand was like seeing a pig trying to swim. He looked like he should be sitting in a beach chair with a beer in hand, watching his children play in the lapping waves. He was, though, a calming figure that didn’t move his feet any more than to catch his balance and to prevent himself from falling. After a few points were played it was more and more evident that he was flexible and agile enough to be a strong competitor showing us his two left feet didn’t prevent him from making great sets.
Mentally, I was asking him to rotate (“Stop being a permanent setter…”) and adapt to us foreigners trying to take over the game and win. Perhaps we should have trusted his presence, as it was his land, his beach, his court. Others would have thought the same, I imagine, but even if one spoke out against his style of play, the words would have most likely been misunderstood or maybe he wouldn’t have even tried to understand. After all, he knew what he was doing. He knew how to play the game – using his hands while jumping no higher than a small toad. In volleyball, this inability may prove to be a major hindrance, but not with this man – it was his advantage and his strength. With six players equally rotating around the court like clockwork as points traded sides, the man in the middle refused to move from the center position, sitting tight and attempting to appear larger than he was. This was his hidden strategic move to scare our opponents. It worked. Using his cat-quick hands (see picture) and his court-sense, he helped our team to victory and the man in the middle was as happy as we were to watch the sun gravitate beneath the silver blue ocean horizon.