“That’s not true, it can’t be.”
The Professor shakes his head.
“I don’t blame him. He was a young man and your mother was pregnant with you. He was earning so little on the mines to send back home to her. She could barely make ends meet.”
“But he still cheated.”
My anger turns quickly to sadness at this realization.
“So they said,” says the Professor, “but it was never proven. What I do know for sure is that while he played, he was a great soccer player – and I see some of his talent in you.”
The Professor looks at me as if he’s examining me.
“I’ve come to offer to coach you, but I need to know you’re serious about soccer before we take this any further.”
I can’t stop myself laughing out loud. I don’t know how much more serious about soccer I could possibly be!
“I’m going to ask you one question and if you give me a good answer I’d like to offer my time to help to train you up to a higher standard.”
I feel my heart quicken and nerves tighten my tummy. This is like an exam at school!
“So,” says the Professor, “who do you think should be dropped from the South African soccer team?”
I know exactly what it feels like to be dropped and right now I don’t even want to think about doing that to someone else, but the Professor is my only chance of getting back on the team.
“It’s a hard one,” I say slowly, “but I think Teko hasn’t done enough to justify his position.”
The Professor looks at me for a long while and then nods, “That’s a good answer. We have a deal.”
He holds out his hand and as I shake it I feel my heart lift. With an ex-professional player as my coach I might be able to win back my place in the team!
The Professor and I agree on a time to meet the next day. Our practice ground will be the patch of open land that borders the fence that marks the edge of Du Noon. The government has been promising to build houses there for years, but so far the only sigh of habitation there is a family of stray cats.
My mom walks back in as the Professor is leaving.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” she says after the old man has shuffled out the door, “that’s fantastic news, Nathi!”
I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat. Despite the bad news earlier today, I’m actually feeling happy.
“And I’ve got even better news,” she says, “you know you said you wanted a job to earn some extra money in the holidays?”
“Well I’ve found you one for the World Cup!”
Being dropped and Rose laughing at me today are suddenly completely forgotten. Things are looking up.
“Where, ma, where’s this job?”
“At Ma Lettie’s,” my mom says, “and her daughter Rose works there too, so you’ll have company.”
My soaring heart crashes. Having a job at the shebeen would be great. I’ll be able to watch all the Streetskillz games right outside. But Rose working there too? I’ve never worked in a restaurant before – I’ll probably be so nervous I’ll drop plates and make a total fool of myself!
Image: Shine 2010 – World Cup Good News, CC-BY-2.0
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Did Nathi make the right team player decision for Bafana Bafana? If you were in his position whom would you drop?