The tension is mounting as the Streetskillz team huddles around Mr. Naidoo on the indoor soccer pitch.
“I know you boys haven’t had much chance to practice together,” Mr. Naidoo says, “but I believe in throwing you in the deep end.”
I look across to where our opponents, The Brazillionaires, are warming up. They’re a team from Observatory in Cape Town and are flamboyantly dressed with shirts emblazoned with the Brazilian flag and white pants with colourful ties.
Since leaving Nails and Shorty at the taxi rank that morning, I haven’t stopped thinking about the letter from my father. I’ve taken it out and looked at m y father’s neat handwriting on the envelope more than once. But it seemed too important to just open it at school, and when the bell had rung I’d had to rush to pack my things to be on time for the Streetskillz bus.
“They look more like gymnasts than soccer players,” Henry whispers, nodding toward the Brazillionaires.
Our opponents are doing handstands and cartwheels and spinning around on the ground with astonishing rhythm.
“It’s called Capoeira,” Khaya says with a smirk. “It’s a martial art from Brazil. But I wouldn’t expect a homeless kid to know that.”
“Leave him alone,” I hiss.
I’m starting to feel a little uneasy. I’ve played against some tough teams before, but never against martial artists.
Our team takes its place on the field and the ref blows his whistle for the start. Immediately I find myself trying to defend against a muscular midfielder with braids who tries to make a run down through the centre of the field.¬†As I reach him I slide in for a tackle, but the braided Brazillionaire smoothly jumps and flips the ball into the air and over my legs. The midfielder crosses a long ball to his striker who leaps high into the air and effortlessly slams the ball home into the net with a perfect bicycle kick.
The Brazillionaires shout in triumph and run to hug the striker who kisses his hand, lifts it up to the ceiling and then touches it to his heart.
The restart is better with Khaya powering through the Brazillionaire midfield toward their goal. I run into the box and call for the ball, but Khaya ignores me and tries to take a long-range shot. It sails over the goal.
“I was open!” I shout in frustration, but Khaya ignores me.
The game continues and I pull off a good tackle on a Brazillionaire defender to take the ball forward. Khaya runs into the box and calls for the ball, but there’s no way I’m going to give him that satisfaction. I try to look for an angle to shoot, but a defender tackles me and I lose the ball.
“Dammit Nathi!” Mr. Naidoo shouts from the sidelines. “You and Khaya are messing up the game!”
I throw up my hands in frustration. It’s my first real game for Streetskillz and already the coach is angry with me. But what am I supposed to do? Khaya is being such an idiot!
WHAT DO YOU THINK: Khaya and Nathi obviously have a problem playing together. How is this going to be solved?