“Don’t worry about him,” I say to Henry, “Khaya picks on everyone.”
Henry gives me a shy smile and begins to change into his new Streetskillz street soccer kit.
Khaya has always given me a hard time, but I can only imagine the kind of things that Khaya’s going to say to Henry. He may look like a wreck but Mr. Naidoo had said that Henry had played in the Homeless World Cup. That’s pretty impressive.
I hold out my hand as Henry finishes dressing.
Henry looks up at me with big, blue eyes and shakes my hand.
“Come on,” I say nervously, “let’s go and play our first game together.”
We walk out of the changeroom and down through the Streetskillz facility to an indoor soccer pitch. All of the parents are sitting waiting in anticipation in the fronts two rows of the stands that surround the pitch. I notice two men higher up in the stands staring at me. I look away quickly, feeling a little overwhelmed. They must be one of the other boy’s family, or maybe even just soccer fans interested in the new Streetskillz players, I reason to myself, and then push them out of my mind as I start to think about the game we’re about to play.
Henry and I jog over to where the Streetskillz team is huddled on the pitch.
“Right,” Mr. Naidoo says when we arrive, “this game is going to be an introduction to the kind of games that you’ll be playing in the future. The street soccer league that our Streetskillz team is going to be participating in is very competitive. Each of the teams has developed their own unique style of play. Your challenge is going to be to do discover yours.”
I look around at my teammates faces and I’m suddenly nervous. These are players that have been handpicked by Mr. Naidoo to play on his team. I’ve only ever played in one small tournament in Du Noon; this league has fiercely competitive teams from all over the Western Cape.
“Your first opponents,” Mr. Naidoo announces, “are the Iron Maidens, an all-girl team from Worcester.”
“An all-girl team?” Khaya scoffs, “I thought this was supposed to be an introduction, not a walk-over.”
Some of the other Streetskillz team members laugh.
Mr. Naidoo shakes his head. “Don’t underestimate the Maidens. They’re a tough bunch of girls and they have an interesting style of play. They’ve thrashed plenty of boys’ teams before.
Khaya laughs as everybody begins to warm up.
“They’ve obviously never played against someone like me then,” he says.
Khaya throws me a menacing look as the Iron Maidens take to the pitch in grey and yellow kit. All of the girls are tall and they glare at us fiercely as they begin to warm up. They’re all definitely beautiful, with strong, athletic bodies, but they also look mean. One of them, a tall blonde, sees me looking at her and draws a finger across her throat, then points at me.
I gulp. Somehow this doesn’t look like it’s going to be as easy as Khaya thinks.