Sitting alone in his room later that night, Kabaza decided that Whirlwind had a point. Maybe people would let it go if he appeared to show some effort. With this in mind, Kabaza picked up the phone and called Mada, the girl he had met at the bus stop.

Another month passed. Kabaza’s challenge was now even more popular. He had been seen on three occasions, each time with a different girl. It all came to nothing, however. It seemed to Kabaza that all the women wanted was the fame and the prospect of being joint owner of the marriage fund. The public did not know that however. As a result, the chants continued, now even louder than before. The banners kept coming up too. The fans had become very creative. Some banners read, “we said you should settle down, not become a womaniser” while others even went as far as asking if Kabaza was infertile.

Needless to say, all this affected Kabaza a great deal. There were a few boos around the stadium every time he touched the ball. The club’s officials tried to address the situation, to no avail. At a particular home match, when Kabaza scored, all the club’s fans in the stadium stood up as if to give him a standing ovation. Instead, banners were unfurled and they all had one word on them, “ukwatire,” meaning “you should marry.”

Kabaza lost his temper. Instead of celebrating, he ran straight into the stand and a fight broke out. The referee had to stop play for ten minutes while Kabaza’s teammates tried to stop the fight between Kabaza and his own fans. Later on, play resumed after the unruly fans were ejected from the stadium and Kabaza red-carded. Furious, Kabaza stormed off to the dressing room.

When Kabaza got home that evening, only his uncle was in the living room. Most likely by design, Kabaza, thought. He had hardly finished greeting him when his uncle spoke. “While I may not have seen what happened, if what your coach told me is anything to go by, what you did was very disappointing and inexcusable. I raised you better than that. Keep in mind that a lot of people look up to you, including your little cousins. Aku and George adore you.”

Kabaza’s face fell. He knew his uncle was right. “I am sorry, uncle. I just lost my temper. It was a moment of madness, one which will not happen again.”

“Remember when I said that this could be a long-term distraction? It seems I was right. Evidently, it is gravely affecting not only your performance but also your temperament.”

“I know, uncle. I really do not know what to do. I tried to do what you told me to do. But, it seems that most of these girls just want me so that they too can be famous, or because they think I have money-making potential.”

His uncle looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is usually more than one solution to a problem. And, sometimes it helps to go back to where the problem originated because it might give you an idea on how to tackle it.” He stood up from his chair. “Your aunt says your supper is in the oven. And if you really want to see just how big a fool you made of yourself, I am sure you will be on the late-night news.” With that, Kabaza’s uncle went to bed, a satisfied smile on his face.

Kabaza sat alone in the living room, thinking about what his uncle had said. He was subtly trying to tell Kabaza something. He was about to go and eat when it suddenly dawned on him. He knew what had to be done. He picked up his phone and made two quick calls.

The following evening, there was a special guest on Sportstime. Malizeni Mangochi was pleased to introduce the fans’ one-time favourite, Lawrence “Kabaza” Mofolo.

“Very glad to have you here again, Kabaza,” Malizeni Mangochi began. “I must say, I was very surprised to get a phone call from you last night, requesting to be here. Quite frankly, I am surprised that you wanted to appear on television at all, considering recent events.”

Kabaza’s voice was calm. “Actually, Malizeni, it is because of recent events that I have decided to come here and clear the air.”

“Then let’s start with yesterday,” Malizeni Mangochi pounced. “You fought with supporters from your own team and you were subsequently given a red card. What happened?”

“Yes, about that. I would sincerely like to apologise to all the fans of the club especially those who were watching the game yesterday. My behaviour was unbecoming of a player wearing our great club’s colours. I also apologise to football lovers everywhere. I let personal issues perpetuated by a few fans and media personalities get in the way of my professional duties. Once again, I apologise.”

Malizeni Mangochi ignored the remark about the media. “Now, it’s clear that you will miss the team’s next two matches; the league fixture on Wednesday night and the Kamkhwala Cup quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon. How does that feel? Won’t it affect your chances of being selected into the Malawi squad for the game against Botswana?”

“That is also something I would like to address. Over the past few months I have tried to do what I have always done; play football. To be in good shape for the tournament in Botswana as well as club matches. But it seems that the fans also want me to do something else to the extent that a marriage fund was set up courtesy of you, Malizeni. Now, I cannot in good conscience keep that money and not get married. Therefore, I have made a very painful decision.”

It is said that at that point, Malizeni Mangochi, everyone in the studio and everyone watching at home fell silent.

“I hereby announce my retirement from both club and international football. The fans have spoken and I have listened. Starting tomorrow, I shall start looking for a life partner, without any distractions. I thank everyone for the support they have given me during my career. But, I have decided to please the fans. Expect wedding invitations soon.”

As soon as he finished that statement, Kabaza stood up and left the room, dropping his lapel microphone on the studio floor. He did not look back and did not speak to anyone on his way home.

***

Tell us: What do you think of Kabaza’s decision to quit football? Would you give up something you loved because of the pressure?