“Move,” Luntu squeezes beside me as the fire dies. The others are already buried in a deep sleep. Bonga keeps tossing and turning, mumbling something I can’t hear. He must be having nightmares again. I move to the side as Luntu slides in closer to me, covering us with the big cardboard at our feet.
I wonder if Mandla will ever catch me now. I sigh as the memory disappears into a pile of other abandoned memories. I hope he never finds me. I hold Luntu’s cold hand, and fall asleep.
In the morning we follow Simon down the street to a deserted park. He gathers old newspaper and stuffs them into a plastic bag.
Fetta stands with his hands shoved deep into the ripped pockets of his dirt-streaked jacket. He is still wearing his black beanie. He rolls it up to the top of his head. He looks like what Simon calls a skhothane only he doesn’t have any money. Simon wants to be a skhothane, when he makes enough money one day.
Simon wraps the plastic in a bigger plastic bag and then puts some earth in to make it heavier. Only then do I realise that it is a plastic ball. He throws it in the air and catches it again with both hands, testing it. Bonga looks excited too. He stands next to Simon, his own hands shoved in his pockets.
“Yenzo, you in?” Simon says excitedly as he rolls up his brown shorts, showing off his skinny thighs. I stand up, nodding enthusiastically, even though I haven’t yet figured out how this game will work. Fetta helps Bonga prop up some old bottles as goalposts.
“Luntu?” Simon asks, but even he doesn’t sound hopeful. Luntu squints her eyes at the sun. She shakes her head, no. We aren’t very disappointed. We expected it. She cracks half a smile. It’s enough.
Fetta decides that I am too weak to be running around. He makes me a goalie, with him in the opposite goal. He rubs his hands together, swaying from side to side, trying to intimidate me. I chuckle, spreading my legs far apart as I balance both my hands on either side of my thighs. Bonga shakes his head. He runs a hand through his unruly mop of hair that has braided itself into what looks like dreadlocks.
“Pass!” Bonga shouts at Simon, who is still doing freestyle kicks, showing off his skills. I hate to admit that he is actually good. I stare at him, amazed. Fetta doesn’t seem surprised.
“I’ll be the next Thabo Matlaba,” Simon cheers for himself as he continues to twirl the ball on his one foot, proceeding to knock it with his head and then back to his foot. He drops it and swoops it with the other. He is good.
Bonga hogs Simon who dribbles the ball further from him, all the while Fetta and I keep swaying side to side, waiting. I mimic Fetta and rub my hands together and it only adds to the excitement. Luntu wants to laugh.
Bonga gets a hold of the ball, kicking it away from Simon who runs after him. Bonga isn’t as bad as I would have assumed, but Simon upstages him.
Simon gets the ball back in a few seconds, kicking it closer to me. Bonga runs after him, intercepting him as I stretch out my hands to catch the ball.
The sun skims the top of our foreheads. Luntu shields her face with her hand, watching bemusedly. I am looking at Luntu when the ball flies above my head and I am already too late as I dive for it. It slips through my hands, earning me an angry glare from Bonga, who seems to be losing to Simon. I don’t like it when Bonga is mad at me.
The game continues and Bonga has no luck. I think it’s because Simon is faster and he targets his goals at me. It’s not fair. I am clueless. I don’t even know the rules.
At the end of the game Bonga has scored one goal from Fetta, and Simon six. I feel a little better that Fetta is as bad at this as I am.
The game ends far too quickly. We didn’t even go to penalties. Simon’s ball is as exhausted as we are. It splits, returning to the pile of rubbish it previously was.
I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand.
“You’re really bad at soccer,” I laugh at Bonga, who nods shyly at me as we head back to our crib.
“I’m good at other things,” he says proudly, rubbing his bushy eyebrows as we turn right into Twist Street.
“Like what?” I ask, as we fall behind. We walk slower than the others, mindless of their chattering. It is mostly Fetta and Simon who are talking. Luntu bites her bottom lip as she follows behind them.
“I played other sports,” he smiles.
We turn into Plein Street, dodging the familiar pile of rubbish that looks like it grows on the edge of the streets every day like it has seeds buried deep into the ground.
It’s an obvious guess, I think to myself as he explains the sport to me. I would like to be the queen, I think as he describes the moves – to be able to move in any direction I desired. I could be in a beautiful side of Joburg right now if I were the queen. Maybe even Pretoria – Simon says it’s beautiful there.
By the time we reach our street I still haven’t understood clearly how the game works. I only know that there are queens and kings and bishops and castles and that Bonga is a full-blown nerd.
“Back where I come from, it used to be an important sport. I won the championships at my school.” He is grinning now.
“Where do you come from?” I ask, slowing down. His eyes hide from mine and he is quiet for a while. The others don’t notice that we have stopped. A whisper of pain dances across his eyes.
“I thought you were from around here?” I probe him.
“Come on, let’s go.” He walks ahead. I struggle to catch up.
* * * * *
Tell us: What do you think of the relationship between Yenzokuhle and Bonga?