I wince as I stretch my legs out on the bench of the Streetskillz change-room. My legs are still killing me.
“Here, use this,” Henry says as he hands me a jar of ointment with a picture of a tiger on it, “I got it from Mr. Li, he used to let me sleep at the back of his shop when it was cold outside.”
As I open the jar a terrible smell fills the room.
“Sho, you expect me to put this on my legs?”
Henry shrugs, “You need something to help you, or you’re going to collapse on the field.”
I grimace and nod. Henry is right. The practice is starting in five minutes and Reinecker is not going to be happy if I can’t even walk onto the pitch. I dip my hand into the foul-smelling ointment and rub it onto my legs. It makes my legs feel so cold that they burn, but when I pull myself to my feet it’s definitely easier to stand.
“Thanks Henry. Nice one.”
Henry’s small thin face breaks into a wide smile. “You were my first friend at Streetskillz. I don’t want you kicked out because you can’t run.”
I smile back as we walk toward the pitch. “Well I’m not in the clear yet. If Reinecker doesn’t let up a bit, none of us are going to be around much longer.”
As we jog out on the pitch my legs feel better and better. And by the time I’m warming up with the team I’m feeling happy that I’m actually going to get a chance to play today and not just run laps around the field.
Karl Reinecker enters the pitch and walks stiffly towards us. He’s dressed in a black tracksuit, his blonde hair is gelled back and he walks with his arms behind his back, like an army general.
A wave of nervousness washes over me. I really hope Reinecker’s in a better mood today.
“Your performance during practice was poor,” Reinecker begins, “but at least most of you got to the pitch on time.”
I notice that he purposefully lets his intense eyes rest on me for a few moments to drive his comment home.
“You have the qualifiers for the South African street soccer championships on Saturday and I need to make sure that you’re up to the challenge,” he continues gruffly. “So we’re going to play some little one-on-one tournaments tonight while the rest of the team critiques your tackling and shooting abilities.”
He calls out names of the teammates who will be paired up. I wait tensely for my name to be called.
“Nathi,” Reinecker calls eventually, “you’ll be playing against Henry.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Just when Khaya has stopped bullying Nathi, another bully enters his life. But this time it’s an adult. How do you think Nathi should deal with Reinecker?