“Oh my God! What’s going on?” Ace cried out, his eyes staring into the bag, his heart pounding.
“What’s wrong? Give me the stuff, man. The game is about to start,” Scara said, his arm stretched. He was smiling innocently.
“I … i … it’s not here!” Ace’s voice was quivering.
“What? Come on, man, you’re kidding, right?” Stix glared at Ace.
Ace shook his head, his hands and lips trembling.
“No, man! But you said you brought more stuff, mos?” Scara’s forehead was wrinkled.
“I did … but … they have stolen everything. Oh my God! Bra Themba is going to…”Ace paused, swallowing saliva. “He is going to kill me.”
“What! Who could do that? Surely, those thieves don’t know Bra Themba. He will kill them,” Scara said, shaking his head.
“You’re right, bro. Hai! Mfo. Just give back our money. I don’t know what we’re going to say to our friends. They will be so disappointed.”
Ace gave back the money and Stix and Scara left, pretending to be heartbroken. Ace slumped down on the floor. He leaned against the wall. He felt like the world had just shattered and he was floating in outer space.
Then, slowly, he grew calmer. His mind told him to go and question the other players he found sitting on the bench. He headed towards them.
“Guys, who searched my bag?” he started, trying hard to hide the worry in his eyes.
The three boys stared at him with dropped lips. “What?” One of them asked.
“Guys … I’m telling you. You better bring back that stuff, otherwise Bra Themba will kill you. I’m telling you, guys,” he warned them.
The three boys glared at him. Then they all stood up and walked away, confused. “We don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” one of them said and the others agreed.
Ace felt his heart sinking. He looked around under the bench. He didn’t even notice Pele, who approached and stood next to him silently.
“Ace,” Pele said finally.
“Coach!” Ace was startled.
“What’s wrong? What are you looking for?”
“Eh … I … I was just…” he stuttered. “Just looking for my lucky coin, coach,” he blurted out.
“Come on, not you, too? Don’t tell me you believe that nonsense,” Pele smiled and put his arm around Ace’s shoulder. “Let’s go. The game is about to start. Today I want you to give me a goal before half time, man. We’ll be playing against the most attacking team. We just need to score first and let them come to us. That way we will counter them…”
Ace didn’t hear anything further. He was deeply buried in his thoughts, wondering what Bra Themba was going to say when he learned he had lost all his stuff. Was Bra Themba going to do what he did to that boy he saw, the day he arrived? The thought of the muscle man froze Ace’s blood in his veins. He couldn’t go back to Bra Themba’s house without money. Otherwise that would be his funeral. But where would he get so much money? Suddenly a thought came to him: Scara’s money. He wished he could get his hands on it.
Finally, the game started. Ace was a shadow of himself. The irritated coach substituted him with Scara before half time.
“What’s wrong with you, monna? It’s like your mind is not even here. What’s bothering you?” Pele fumed, as Ace plonked himself on the bench. Ace didn’t even utter a single word. He burst out into tears.
“Hee banna! What’s wrong now?” Ace opened a greater flood of tears. “No, this is too much. Just go home, boy. I don’t need this now. I’ve got a team to coach. Go!” he yelled, pointing the way.
Ace walked slowly home. He needed to speak to someone; he dialled Thabo’s number. The phone rang but he quickly dropped it when he heard Thabo’s voice. His heart told him Thabo wasn’t the right person to discuss this matter with. There was no way that he could tell Thabo that he was selling drugs. Ace dialled Naledi’s number.
“Naledi … I need to see you. Please baby. I need to see you,” he said, breathing hard.
“What’s wrong, Ace? Shouldn’t you be playing now?”
“Please babes. I need you right now. Please!” He was crying.
“OK, come to my house. I’m alone. My mother went to my grandmother’s place. She will only be home tomorrow,” Naledi told him. She was emotional too.
“I’m on my way.” He dropped the call and dashed to Naledi’s place.
Ace tapped at the front door, his eyes fixed on Bra Themba’s house, praying that he wouldn’t see him. Naledi opened the door. Ace felt his heart jumping inside him when he met her glowing face. She was looking beautiful in her blue cropped jeans and red T-shirt. For a moment, he forgot about his problems and just adored the beauty of that girl.
“Ace,” Naledi started, her shining eyes narrowed. “Come in. You look like a mess.”
“What happened?” she asked as they sat on the couch, next to each other. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the ground? I thought today’s game was very important to you.” Her forehead was wrinkled. She stroked back her hair with the palm of her hand.
Ace held her hand and squeezed it. He stared into her eyes silently, then forced a smile. He then tried to speak but nothing came out. He cleared his throat, trying to be strong.
“I wasn’t feeling well. The coach said I can go,” he explained, avoiding eye contact.
“Oh no. What’s wrong?” Naledi was really worried. She put her hand on his forehead. “You don’t have a temperature.”
“It was just a headache. I’m fine now,” he said and gave a sheepish smile.
Naledi sat back on the sofa and sighed. “OK, but you sounded desperate on the phone. I was so scared.”
“I was just disappointed. That’s all.” It was as if there were needles in his heart and he wanted to weep, but he knew that wasn’t possible. That would definitely worry Naledi more and force him to tell her the truth.
“So, is the coach still taking you to those trials? The ones you told me about yesterday?”
Ace couldn’t stop his tears any longer. He buried his face in his hands, on Naledi’s lap. Naledi stroked his shaven head gently.
“Oh my God! What’s wrong now?” She went to the bathroom and returned with a tissue. Ace took it and blew his nose. Then Naledi brought him a glass of water. “Here. Drink this.”
Ace took the glass of water and gulped it down. He then sighed deeply, wiping the tears off his face, his eyes shut. “He is going to kill me, Naledi. I’m scared!” The words just came out.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Bra Themba. He made me sell drugs for him, Naledi. I hated it. But I had no choice. Now the stuff is lost. He is going to kill me, I’m telling you!”
Naledi was shocked. She stared at Ace silently, not knowing whether she should chase him away or comfort him. “So … you’re also doing drugs?”
“No, no, no. I’m not, baby! I was just selling them for Bra Themba. I had no choice, Naledi. Believe me,” he said quickly.
Naledi gave a deep sigh. “Then go, Ace. Go and tell Bra Themba the truth. He won’t kill you. He is your uncle, right? He will understand.”
“He is not my relative. He just wanted to use me to push his drugs. That man doesn’t care about anyone but himself.” Ace was trembling with both fear and anger.
“But there is no other way, Ace. Running away is not a solution. Face him and tell the truth. He might forgive you,” she insisted.
Ace thought about what Naledi said. She was right, he realised. He decided to go home, at once. He was really terrified.
Ace knocked on the door but as soon as he entered the sitting room, he regretted listening to Naledi.
Tell us: Is Naledi mistaken about the kind of person Bra Themba is? Is he likely to be forgiving?