My heart is pounding like a house beat as I run onto the street pitch as the substitute for the injured Dynamites player. I know that this is my big chance to show everybody I’m good enough to play in the rest of the Streetskillz tournament.
“Loosen up,” I whisper to myself as the game starts and Chippa plays the ball up field, “just pretend you’re dancing to jazz.”
Rose takes a pass from Chippa and crosses it into the box.
“One, two, three, four…” I whisper, remembering the rhythm of the dance the Professor had taught me.
I make it into the box in time, but my header goes wide of the goal.
“Ha!” a voice shouts, “and you thought he could beat me in a skills challenge?”
I turn to see Khaya jeering from the sidelines.
“This kid couldn’t even beat me at dominoes, let alone soccer,” Khaya shouts.
My confidence leaves me like air from a punctured tyre. The game continues and I have a few more good shots on goal, but they keep going just wide. Why isn’t the Professor’s advice working?
I’m about to give up when I hear familiar music playing from the sidelines. It’s the Professor’s jazz. I look across and see the old man holding his radio and smiling. He nods to me and does a few dance steps. I grin back. Ronaldo barks madly from the sidelines, spurring me on.
“Why’s that old fool playing his ancient music here?” Khaya asks.
The Leopards’ players jeer and laugh at the Professor, but he just smiles serenely.
From then on, everything just seems to go right for me. Chippa taps a short ball into the box and I’m right there to follow through – I strike it confidently into the goal!
Soon after the restart, Rose takes a corner kick and I head it easily past the keeper for another goal! I’m ecstatic! Not only have I scored my first ever goal in a match, but I’m onto a possible hat trick!
A third ball goes home just in time! The whistle blows and the Dynamites players crowd around, cheering and hugging me. Beating the Aces means we’re through to the final against the Leopards!
I look on as the scoreboard is updated. There, tied for top place with Khaya “Young Star” and Chippa “Masterpiece”, is my name. I still don’t have a nickname, but for the first time I don’t really mind that much.
“Don’t cry too much when I beat you,” Khaya hisses as he and the other Leopards players leave the street soccer arena.
But I’m way too busy thinking about something else to let Khaya bother me. I know I’ve played better than ever before, but was one good performance enough for Chippa to give me back a permanent place on the team?
Image: Glenn Harper, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0
WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you were Nathi, what would you say to Chippa to convince him that this wasn’t just a once-off performance?