Three loud bangs ring out outside our small corrugated iron house. My heart leaps into my throat and I rush outside in alarm to see what’s happening. But it’s not a gun, nor a gas canister exploding…it’s the Professor pulling up outside in his ancient, battered, backfiring car. As usual he’s sporting his trademark -¬†an old-fashioned hat perched at a jaunty angle on his head – and today he’s dressed in a light blue suit.
“Looking slick Nathi,” grins the Professor as he gets out and opens the front door for my mom, while I clamber into the back.
Even though the Streetskillz tournament finished two months ago, the Professor and I have continued training on the muddy patch of ground nearby Du Noon, as he’s helped me prepare for the start of the street soccer league.¬†
As the car pulls off we’re all talking over each other in excitement, and in what seems like no time at all, the Professor is driving into the parking lot of the sports facility in Milnerton where Mr. Naidoo trains the Streetskillz team. It’s a large dome-shaped building with a fountain in front.
The car stops and the Professor gets out and opens the car door for my mom.
“This looks very fancy,” she whispers as the three of us walk through the entrance.
“Nathi!” Mr. Naidoo says as he sees us, and hands me a pile of soccer kit topped with a brand new black soccer shirt. It has ‘Streetskillz’ written across its back in blood-red letters.
“Welcome to the team! Why don’t you get changed? I thought we’d have a little warm-up game before I talk to the parents.”
I can feel my heart begin to pound with excitement. A warm-up game? I didn’t realize I was going to have the chance to actually play tonight!
I feel a surge of pride as I step into the changeroom and pull on my new gear. It’s my first real soccer kit and I honestly feel like a real pro as I look at myself in the mirror.
“We’re here to play soccer, not to play dress-up,” says a familiar voice behind me.
Some of the other boys on the team laugh and I turn to see Khaya standing behind me, already dressed in the black Streetskillz kit.
I feel anger rise in my chest. I’m about to say something when there’s a commotion at the entrance to the changeroom and a boy stumbles into the room. He’s about my age but he’s quite short, has a shaved head and is wearing broken shoes and a dirty collection of rags.
“Hayi, who are you?” Khaya says with disgust. “We don’t allow beggars in here.”
A few of the guys laugh, but the boy just shrugs and smiles.
Mr. Naidoo enters the changeroom. He’s changed into a tracksuit and has a whistle around his neck.
“Ah, I see you’ve met Henry,” he says. “He’s going to be joining the team.”
“What?!” exclaims Khaya.
“Henry is a very good player. He played in the Homeless World Cup this year you know.”
Khaya, seeing the opportunity, suddenly smiles at the boy.
“Don’t worry Mr. Naidoo,” he says, “some of the boys have been teasing Henry, but I’ll look after him.”
Mr. Naidoo smiles. “Thank you, Khaya,” he says “Ok boys, let’s get out onto the field.”
Mr. Naidoo leaves the room and Khaya lets go of Henry and pushes him away.
“You need a wash.”
Khaya and the other boys leave the change room but I stay behind with Henry. Here’s someone who is going to have an even harder time with Khaya than I am.
WHAT DO YOU THINK: Have you ever helped a person less fortunate than you? What did you do for them?