It has been a few days since he had completed meiosis. Sperman was now an official ‘spermatocyte’ - one floor down from the B-floor.
Drops of sweat dripped down his face and he was flushed crimson from all the stress.
He slowly carried himself out from the gym and leaned on the rails of the balcony. His towel was wet with his cytoplasmic sweat oozing out. Isn’t this what the Sertolis had wanted? To lose the required amount of cytoplasm as a measure of trimming away the unwanted stuff inside him.
He whistled his way back to gym and continued his workout. After about half an hour, his watch beeped a short high-frequency tone, indicating the completion of his daily requirement. He helped himself to a cup of green tea and walked back to his room.
He missed Adler. Though they had known each other for less than a couple of weeks, his reverberating laughter and snarky jokes had added life and colour to this place. He even missed the pale faced, faithful Sertoli. It had been a long time since he had arrived at the door with a monologue of instructions or advice to be carried about.
He slowly turned his door-knob only to find a fluttering note pinned on his desk.
Swimming lessons from tomorrow. Take the aisle next to the Sertoli’s office on the ground floor. Reach the pool 15 minutes earlier for some warm-up. Necessary accessories will be provided at the location.
The next day, Sperman reached the pool exactly on time and was greeted with no less of a shocker. It wasn’t hundreds. It wasn’t thousands. The place was swarming with around 80-300 million spermatocytes. Sperman was shell-shocked.
It was a gala. No, it was much more than a gala. It was a Kumbh-mela! A loudspeaker roared to life and the chitter chatter gradually died down.
“Dear spermatocytes! Hearty congratulations from all of us here in Vas-deferens for reaching the final stage after some pretty intense weeks. This is the final necessity that you all should be trained in, to become a fully functional and capable sperm. Swimming! I can assure you that all of you here have some intuitive sense of what to do when put in water. This lesson would just be a wake up call to that long-forgotten intuition residing inside each of you. Due to the expected large numbers, we would do this in batches, of which you will be informed of in your respective rooms. For today, please collect your dress and other requirements from the counters near you. Thank you and see you all soon!”
The crowd, against all the laws of physics, disintegrated smoothly to their respective rooms after collecting their package. Sperman threw himself on his bed and went through the things in the package. It had a swimsuit, a cap, swimming goggles and a manual on some preliminary exercises.
It was a fair deal. Sperman liked the idea of swimming. He doesn't have to hit the gym, now that he could burn those extra cytoplasm by swimming. Plus, he gets to go out and have a splash without much strain! He couldn’t have asked for more.
Two days later, his swimming sessions brought Sperman back to his senses. His back ached. His hip hurt. His knees gave a weird tingle. He couldn’t lift his arms up. Worst of all, everyone in his group seemed to be better at this than him. The coach had to spend an extra half hour with him, to help him with the complex slithering movements. Apparently, that’s the way to wade through water. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Sperman had to go through the three long hours all alone, which he thought was the norm, except that everyone else seemed to know each other pretty well.
So after spending half a day with intense physical and mental stress, he went for a deep slumber as soon as his head hit the bed.
Barely an hour into sleep, he woke up with a start. He was drenched in sweat and was breathing hard. He rubbed his eyes and swallowed in his surroundings. He was still in bed but was dreaming about something. He couldn’t really put a finger on his emotions - he wasn’t sad but was anxious about something. He could feel his heart thumping hard against his chest.
Why was he anxious? He tried to organise his thoughts but couldn’t. Streams of words, events and occurrences flitted across his mind without arranging themselves into a coherent piece. It was something to do with the swimming lessons today. Some important event that starts with an ‘R’. Dejected and tired, he threw himself back into his pillow.
The next day dawned and was in every way, beautiful. But, rarely would it seem so to someone who is trying to solve a cipher posed by their own mastermind. What starts with an ‘R’ that would make someone this anxious?
He ate his prescribed breakfast silently, still deep in thought. He was no longer the round and cellular Sperman who entered the institute some time back. He had thinned down and his legs had become long and flagellate, more suited to swimming. His room was sparkly clean. His luggage was cleared as he wasn’t supposed to possess or carry anything that is even remotely useless.
There was something else that was bothering him too. In his initial workout phase, he was given a daily sample of a liquid solution called enzymes. They are supposed to help you dissolve something at sometime - no details of which were provided. The collection of these different enzymes were bundled into a package called acrosome, which now sat safely in his desk. But, what is it? Why was he provided that? How, when and where was he supposed to use it? And, now this ‘R’ business. Somehow, his intuition sensed that all of this was connected. He just couldn’t figure out how.
He had to wait three more days for the answer. He had arrived early to the pool, warmed up and started to practise his slithering swimming moves. Other spermatocytes were chatting and showing off their moves to anyone who turned their way. Sperman occupied his favorite corner, being careful not to be too far from others so that he could catch the ‘R’ word sometime.
The coach arrived and started the training session. Today was about speed and agility. They were grouped and timed and trained to be as fast as possible. And, that is exactly when Sperman had the revelation.
It was about a race. The other spermatocytes have been gossiping about a news bit that their Sertoli had told about. A race to the very end. A race to achieve the dream. A final race to the frontier, if you will.
His feet gave up and he almost drowned. In panic, he gulped in the pool water. Choking and covered in sweat, he concentrated hard on the lesson. He has to beat everyone else. He wanted his dreams to bear fruit. He cannot let all his efforts go waste just because of some last minute failed swimming lessons.
The next two hours went by quick and smooth for Sperman. He managed to wriggle into the top 10 spot in the race. Sperman reached a new high in the following swimming sessions. He managed to defeat all his batch members to gain the first spot - though only once. He could sense his confidence going up. But, his mind was not at rest.
He couldn’t take it any longer. He went to his room and pushed the red button. He waited for the classic brief knock on the door. There was none. He sat crouched on his bed, with his head rested between his knees and his eyes fixed on the door.
Ten minutes had passed. Still no response.
He began to doze off. Maybe his Sertoli retired, unable to deal with him. Maybe he was fired for his poor performance. He was awakened by a loud knock and a familiar, ‘Sir, can I come in?’
Sperman opened the door and nearly strangled Sertoli with a bone-breaking hug.
“Hey mate! Do you know how good it is to see you? To be able to get the word out from my mind and speak out loud to someone I know? Do you know how good speaking actually feels? Phew! Gosh, I’d missed the sound of my own voice!,” Sperman rattled on.
Sertoli, initially disarmed by the giant bear hug composed himself and gave a warm smile. “How can I be of help to you, Mr. Sperman?”
“Always straight to the point! Anyway, I have two questions. One - what is acrosome? And where and when do I use it? Second and the most important one - what is about this race everyone keeps rambling about?”
“Ah, I see you too are not immune to the words sailing through these floors. To answer both your questions in a not-so blaring way, you do realise you are going through all this intense workout and training for a reason, right? The initial days of repeated mitosis and the code-changing meiosis, everything culminates for a very important event in one’s history. And that event, as grand as it is, should not and could not be taken lightly. As you would have seen in the first swimming class, millions like you participate in that event. Each one trained and fit as you, But, at the end, only one - I repeat and emphasize this - only one receives the final prize. And, that Mr. Sperman is the race.”
Sperman swallowed in the humongous information and the pressure that was dumped on him. He struggled to get his thoughts arranged. He would be racing against a million spermatocytes? As good as he was with math, he couldn’t even begin to comprehend how bad the odds are of him winning the said prize. The prize for which he had been putting himself through all this gruelling time.
“Wow, Sertoli. That was just… I mean, I didn’t expect such competition… Like, aren’t the participants supposed to know this earlier? Like, how can you spring something like this now? Phew… wow, what am I gonna do?”
“Mr. Sperman, if I may, I know a great deal about you, Sir. I’ve seen you since you stepped in here. You might feel so insecure about yourself, which is quite natural for anyone to feel. But, do you realise what you’ve achieved in the last couple of sessions? You had emerged the best hard-working spermatocyte. Yes, there are no visible results for the work that you had put in. But, that doesn’t guarantee that it won’t help you in the long run. Trust me when I say, you are the talk in the Sertoli’s rooms. I, uh, always had faith in you, Sir. And, I will stand by it.”
Sperman’s eyes filled with tears. Unable to know what to do, he gave a small weak ‘Thanks’.
“Anytime Mr. Sperman! Also, I’m glad you called me, I wanted to say something to you too. Your swimming sessions are done. For the next few days, you could just do the usual workouts as before in the gym. And, I see your flagellar legs are a tad too fine for the race. So, I would say you would be ready to leave in a couple of days!”
“Wait, what? In - A - Couple - Of - Days??? Come again?”
“Yeah, I’ll let you calm down and recover from the shock. Also, the acrosome that you were talking about? Once you win the race and reach the prize, pour this solution all over her place. You would thank me later!,” Sertoli gave a rare wink and left.
“Wait, there is a her? Who is a her? Is the prize, a her? Pour this over her place - wouldn’t that make her mad? Um, hello… Sertoli, are you gone?,” Sperman yelled at an empty hallway.
Sperman knew he was on his own now. Two days passed by in a whiz.
The final day arrived. With just the acrosome, his long flagellar legs carried his slim taut body down the stairs.
What was the race about? What is the prize? You’ll have to wait to learn more! Until then, ciao!