A short story
By Robert Priest
(First published in This Magazine, 1979)
When Jany Singh was born in 1992 in Nipigon, Ontario, she seemed to be quite a normal baby. It wasn't until the age of two that she first showed signs of the amazing talents which were soon to make her very famous.
This happened at the supper table during the Stanley Cup Finals of 1994, after Jany had just been given her first knife and fork to eat with. When her father sat down to eat, she put one of her peas on the edge of the plate, and, pulling back the blade of her knife, let it go in such a way that it thwacked the pea and sent it shooting through the air to strike struck her father right on the end of his nose. Jany and her mother let out a delighted laugh, and after his surprise, so did her father.
When they returned to eating, Jany took another pea and likewise hit her mother right on the tip of the nose. When her father laughed, Jany quickly shot a third pea right into his mouth and shouted, "She Scores!"
A lot of parents might have punished such a daughter, but Jany's parents were progressive and realized immediately that their little girl had quite a gift. They decided to encourage her. Soon after, they bought Jany her first pair of ice skates.
If they had been amazed at her accuracy with peas, they were absolutely astonished at how quickly she learned to skate. The next day they bought her a tiny hockey stick and puck of her own and told her to play all she wanted. By the time that winter was over, Jany had learned to handle a puck in a smooth and skillful fashion. She could skate at incredible speed and stop in a great flurry of flakes or turn on a dime.
In all other ways Jany continued to be a normal little girl, and, because she lived in a fairly secluded northern area, her early years were not interrupted by the constant press attention which she was to get later. As time went by, though, and Jany got better and better, her parents realized that the rest of the world was going to find out about her sooner or later.
"I'm going to revolutionize hockey!" she told them.
ON her fourth birthday they bought Jany a pair of little shoulder pads, a helmet, some knee pads and gloves, and took her in an airplane to a faraway city called Sudbury to watch the Peewees playing the final game of the play-offs. Jany did her best not to snort when she watched the boys playing. "They're just not in my league," she told her parents, "I'm one of the greats of all time."
That year they tried to find a team for Jany to play hockey on, but all the hockey organizations refused.
"You've got to be kidding! A four year old girl" - She'd get slaughtered out there!"
"No I wouldn't," shouted Jany, " I'd be too fast for them. You just don't know how good I am."
But even though Jany would then skate around the ice for them and put on an incredible display of high speed whirligigs, accurate slap-shooting and some of the fanciest back skating anyone has ever seen, the teams all turned her down. "It's entirely out of the question" they would say, "We can't have a four year old girl playing against eight year old boys"
And so it might have continued but for a little streak of luck which fell Jany's way. At one such demonstration she was spotted by a woman from the TSN. That evening on The News there was a little clip of Jany skating at breakneck speed and shooting ten pucks one after right other through a hole in a board hardly bigger than the puck itself.
"AMAZING," the announcer said with a laugh. Then he asked Jany how she did it.
"It's all concentration," answered Jany very seriously, "Concentration and confidence."
The next week another network came to see her and soon the news of little Jany's hockey skills spread far and wide.. "It's all concentration, " she would say, and children all across North America listened and were delighted. She became so popular that when the hockey organizations continued to refuse her the right to play, adults and children wrote letters to the government and created such a furor about the unfairness that they were forced to give in, and when Jany was only four and a half, she played her first Peewee game.
At the beginning of the game the announcers joked about how little Jany was, and about the fact that she was just a girl; but when Jany began to score goal after goal with complete precision, they were quickly won over and admitted that they had never seen such a talented child. She seemed to skate circles around the boys, many of whom got a little peeved and began to throw their sticks and gloves down in anger every time she scored. Some of them even began to cry.
There was an interview with Jany after the game. She was sucking away on a lollipop and she looked right into the camera and said, "I'm going to revolutionize hockey."
Still, many people would not take Jany seriously, and so when it was proposed that she be moved up to a bigger league, there was a great deal of opposition and hubbub about four year olds not being strong enough. Once again the children of North America began to send in letters. When this did no good, the adults began to beep their horns and form caucuses and lobbies on her behalf. Soon Jany was moved up to the Midget League and then the Bantam and then the Senior and then. . before anyone knew it, Jany was playing at the OHA level with fully grown men almost ten times her size, giant angry men with great big muscles. But so great was Jany's speed, so agile was she, that she was never in any danger of being injured, for she could skate all around and in between them, deaking under their legs, stick handling around their ankles and zooming by to score like a little NHL rocket.
Needless to say, her team-the Nipigon Lakers-won the championship that year by a wide margin. Not only did Jany get the trophies for the most goals and most assists, but she also won the trophy for most gentlemanly conduct, an award which was changed to most lady-like conduct in her honor. As she accepted the trophies, Jany said, "Thanks very much to my Mommy and Daddy who have helped me so much. Next year the NHL."
Well, that caused another big furor because people said, "No! Next year-kindergarten!" You see, Jany was going to be five and it was now time for her to go to school and learn how to read and write. This time it looked as if Jany's career would indeed be interrupted, but once again she surprised everyone. With her salary as an OHA defencewoman she hired herself a private tutor and learned to read and write within a few months.
"It's all concentration," she told them when they asked her. "You just have to completely focus your attention and be determined. It's easy! I like reading. I like it a lot."
It was during the first game of the NHL season that Jany invented her most famous and innovative goal scoring technique. She was barreling down the ice with the puck on her stick when two defencemen came rushing at her at full speed. For a second it looked as though Jany would be seriously injured, but suddenly, when they were almost upon her, she doubled her speed and with a great WHOOP did a complete lateral somersault right over their heads, landing on the ice behind them and breaking away to score a goal on a very astonished net minder.
Needless to say, hockey fans went wild. A photograph of her upside down and laughing high over the men's heads was on front pages everywhere, and afterwards became a world famous poster. They wanted to know about her in England. They were curious about her in Africa. She was asked to visit India. In short, she was an international sensation.
That year the Sudbury Nicks broke every record in the books and Jany scored a record 310 goals, fourteen of them in one game. And of course, when it came time to pick out the members of the All Star Team to play against the USSR in the World Cup Championship, Jany was a first-string choice.
Unfortunately, that was when Jany came down with the mumps. She had the mumps for three weeks. During that time the Canadian team managed to fight their way through the series, barely scraping by, winning by here a goal and there a goal as Jany recovered. She was just about ready to put her skates back on when she came down with the measles. "Aaaaaaah, the measles," the world said, "Just when we need her the most."
And so the Canadians struggled for the World Cup with out her, battling it out man on man to a series of ten nerve wracking unbreakable ties. It was only moments before the final game that her doctor gave her a final worried check-up and said to her mother and father, "Well, she really is all better. I can't see any reason why she can't play." That was the game of the century for most television viewers, and the last game of hockey that Jany would ever play. It went like this.
After the anthems had been played and the first period bell had gone off, the puck was dropped and Jany scored right from the face-off with an amazing ricochet shot. The crowd was still cheering when the puck was dropped for the second face-off, and Jany repeated her miracle, bouncing the puck from a different place. This time, a Soviet official came out and examined the puck with a magnifying glass. When he was satisfied that it was indeed just an ordinary puck, there was a third face-off and again Jany scored immediately. And then again, again and again, ricochet after ricochet, goal after goal, with incredible precision from many different angles.
There had never been anything like it in the history of hockey. TWANG! BOINK! SLAM! BANG! Goal after goal, and Jany giggling at center ice and saying in her loudest voice to the watchful crowd, "Okay, this time off the far wall."
After the first period, it was 150 to 0 for the Canadians and people all around the world were tuning in. In the second period Jany did not take any face-offs, but waited to steal the puck from an opposing player before zooming off in wild zigzags down the ice, in between legs, somersaulting over heads and scoring out of wild spins that set the puck bouncing sometimes off ten different places, including the scoreboard, and at one point, some few inches over the Soviet premier's astonished head.
The final score was an unprecedented 1,001 to 4, and the whole crowd, Soviet and Canadian, went wild with glee to think that such a little girl could even exist.
Later that night, Jany was interviewed in the same room where the world weight-lifting championships were being held. As she talked, television viewers could see huge men lifting weights behind her.
"It's all concentration," she told them, "It's all determination and a kind of joy."
"What's next for you, then?" the interviewer asked her. "Well, it certainly won't be hockey any more," Jany said."Hockey is becoming too easy for me. I want to try some thing else."
"Like what?" asked the astonished interviewer, as the world looked on.
The champion weightlifter took one more try at the bar bell behind Jany and struggled uselessly to lift it as she answered. "I don't know. I want to continue my education. I'd like to try and find a cure for measles." After the interview, Jany was left alone in the room. Just her and that huge unliftable barbell. Checking first to make sure no one was looking, she walked up to it, grabbed it tight and tried to lift it. She struggled and strained and huffed and puffed, but had no more success than the strongest man in the world.
Then she tried something different. She loosened her grip so that she was hardly touching the bar and began to concentrate with all her might. Still it didn't move.
Now she became determined, and a kind of joy entered her as the barbell began to rise slowly. She had never felt anything so heavy. It felt as though it must weigh as much as the whole earth, as, with a great smile, she lifted it up over her head, and then gently put it back down.
The Milton Acorn Memorial People's Poetry Award, 1989
Special Choice Award, Children's Book Centre, 1993
Socan Airplay Award, 1994
Chalmer's Award, Theatre for Young Audiences, 1998
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