Chicago was a vibrant city, full of exotic nightlife, interesting culture, and many other hidden mysteries. We, however, were under lockdown, gulag style, confined in our flat cinderblock rooms as the competition dragged on. If we had lost, we could at least roam the city at day. But no. We were an academic juggernaut. We pushed lesser minds around the room, laughing at their claims of intellectual superiority. Even I, the trouble-maker had been in on some of the action, answering questions like they were mere multiple choice for five-year old children
And thus, we were sealed in at Lake Forest College during portions of the day. It was enough to make me attempt to throw one of our matches, if only I could find someone dishonest enough to bribe me. Even the game of mafia had grown boring and stale, like the day old oatmeal we were provided each breakfast. Our only sources of entertainment were picking on fellow contestants, watching Clean get genuinely exploited by having his sneakers cleaned for seven dollars, and idly speculating on strange topics.
I had suggested that we break out, commando style, in the dead of the night, under cover of darkness, and sneak from tree to tree, avoiding puddles and mud, to the L Station next to the college and journey downtown to see the real Chicago. The Chicago we were seeing was nothing but a flat suburban enclave that could have been inserted anywhere in the world. My ideas however, fell on inflexible and deaf ears. Ms. Savant would rather commit seppuku than dishonor herself, the team, the school, and anything else that could possibly be dishonored. The others were like scared Holstein cows; immobile and resistant to any type of change.
The days dragged on in a meaningless blur of rote facts, simple equations, ugly meals, and an omnipresent grey. The weather over this period – indeed, over the whole period had been horrid. The sun had not winked forth once, and a constant drizzle fogged the air between trees. The chill even seeped through the poorly mortared bricks of our cinderblock rooms, and roughly assaulted the feeble radiators. It was under these grim conditions that an impromptu council of war was being held by the team in our room.
“I can’t take it anymore!” The Egyptian muttered as he paced between notes and dirty laundry in the rear of the room while the rest of us watched him in silence. “This trip is more like a punishment than anything. I’ve got to do something.”
“There’s nothing to do.” Aristotle the Fro responded listlessly. “We’ve been through this before. And besides. It’s starting to rain again, and not just that spit.”
This stymied him for a second until he heard Ms. Savant coughing again.
“What did you say you had when we left? TB?”
“No.” She responded indignantly, tossing her hair past her copy of Dante’s Inferno. “It’s pneumonia.”
“Doesn’t matter. I bet we’re getting it.” He said bleakly. “I would know. I feel like crap.”
“I’m on antibiotics.” She said indignantly, again with the hair flip.
“But you’re not getting better.” He said slowly, “And we spend all day with you, every day. It’s only logical. I would know. My Dad’s a Doctor.”
“I might be.”
“No, he’s right.” Hush noted which made everyone stare in his direction evilly, which he responded to by putting up his hands in self-defense. “Alright, alright. I’m just saying.”
“Well, if I’m going to be sick; or even if I’m not, I’m going to have some goddam fun for once at this stupid competition.” The Egyptian ranted. “I’m going outside.”
“What are you going to do outside?” Aristotle and Inteligente asked, almost simultaneously. “It’s raining. It’s wet. It’s cold. And it’s dark.”
His round face suddenly lit up into a genuine smile.
“I’m going mudsliding. Anyone in?”
Above the torrential babble of words that followed this proclamation, I clearly echoed my assent. Immediately, I began to rummage through my duffle for my most despised T-shirt, and other clothes that I could cast easily aside once the action had ceased.