There’s an excited hum coming from the crowd packed into the stands at the Streetskillz arena. The smell of fast food fills the air. The qualifiers for the national street soccer championships are a big deal on the street soccer circuit, and people have travelled from all over the country to attend.
As I lace up my boots I’m concentrating on mentally preparing myself for the game, trying to remember everything that Reinecker has taught me.
“Killed anyone lately?” a voice says from the doorway of the change-room.
I look up to see Khaya standing with his bag slung over his shoulder.
My eyes are drawn to his bandaged hand. Khaya holds it up.
“It’s just sprained,” he says, “you didn’t try hard enough to break it.”
I feel so bad and I want to apologise to my friend, but I just can’t find the words.
“Oh, so you’re going to ignore me now too?” Khaya says, “I should have expected that.”
“Look,” I say, as I turn towards the taller boy, “I need to do what’s best for me OK. With Reinecker’s help I can become a pro.”
Khaya stares at me.
“You know, the funny thing is that I used to be the idiot around here. You helped me to see that. And now you’re the one acting like a complete moron.”
I get up and walk towards the door. It’s so typical that Khaya doesn’t understand.
“I want to be a pro,” I say coldly, “and worrying about what people think of me isn’t going to get me there.”
Khaya shrugs and shakes his head.
I walk out towards the pitch where Reinecker is standing talking to a mean-looking red-haired boy that I don’t recognise. Which is strange, because he’s wearing a Streetskillz uniform.
“Nathi, this is Harris,” Reinecker says. “He’s going to be playing in Henry’s place.”
I feel a pang of guilt as I look across to where Henry is sitting slumped on one of the benches.
“I’ve taught Harris too,” Reinecker says meaningfully.
The red-haired boy grins evilly as he bounces up and down on the spot, shaking out his arms. I try to smile, but somehow I just can’t seem to generate much enthusiasm for my new teammate. I find myself thinking that things felt much better when Henry, Khaya and I were about to begin a game, all psyched up to work as a unit.
“Snap out of it Nathi,” Reinecker barks, “we need to discuss the game plan.”
I stare at the German standing in front of me.
“Your first opponents are the Dragons,” Reinecker begins.
“That’s OK,” I say with a grin, my confidence seeping back. “We’ve played them before, I know how to deal with Tong. We…”
“You will deal with them how I tell you to deal with them,” Reinecker menacingly interrupts.
“What do you mean?”
Reinecker stares me down.
“I’m talking about the killer instinct, Nathi. I want you to take Tong out.”