Auni dances swiftly from side to side as she dribbles the basketball with her right hand. Her dark eyes, framed by a magenta head scarf, are trained on Maddy’s lightly sweating upper-brow. Every so often Auni glances toward Mariam and Aasma who are flailing their limbs by the edge of the court. Auni breathes deeply and bounces the ball toward Mariam just as Syahirah leaps in.
“Sya Sya I’m open,” Maddy yells.
Syahirah knocks the ball from Mariam’s grasp in a flash of turquoise and gold. Mariam fumbles through a sea of cotton and attempts to chase after the ball, but she’s too far away. Syahirah grabs the ball with both hands and chest passes it, hard and fast, towards Maddy. Out of habit, Maddy does not dribble. Instead she plants her feet and pivots towards Jeb.
Standing in the corner of the court, Jeb has a clear shot for a three-pointer. He feels his sweat-saturated toes sliding in his Birkenstocks and marvels at how deftly the girls are able to move when thick layers of cotton cocoon their bodies. While Maddy is dressed more casually, in navy shorts and a plain white t-shirt, the arms, legs and head of every other woman on the court is obscured by colourful garments that trace patterns through the wind as they run.
Receiving the ball, Jeb inhales through his nose as he bounces it by his waist. With his plastic bags of dirty laundry cheering him on from the side-line, Jeb feels like Michael Jordan in Space Jam. Maddy yells something incoherent as she jostles with Aasma, who is readying herself to catch the rebound.
“Shoot Jeb,” Syahirah cries.
And with that, the Jeb from Davoren Park is gone. Forgotten is the tomato sauce-stained Adidas top that is in dire need of a dry clean. Forgotten is the humidity that clings to his skin in a constant clammy sheen.
Jeb, a red-faced man with a backwards trucker cap, sees every woman on the court for what they are. His equals. Basketballers, netballers, athletes and scholars gliding together in perfect harmony. Each dressed in the way that feels most natural, these women do not hide behind their hijabs or scarfs.
The woman and her abiding cotton move as one.
Propelled by Jeb’s momentum, the ball sails toward the hoop. Rubber kisses the wind and moulds gently into the backboard.
Auni, Maddy, Mariam, Aasma, Syahirah and Jeb stare toward the ring and hold their breath as the world continues to rotate beneath their feet.
Words by Nina Phillips
Photography by Tom Little