The next day Ace woke up with a terrible headache. He felt like his head was splitting into two halves and his body was heavy, as if his bones were made of iron. As soon as he opened his eyes, his guts started boiling. He jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom and vomited. Then he shuffled his way back to bed, sweating.
“That’s the consequence of mixing whisky and drugs, sonny. Next time drink water before you sleep,” Bra Themba said, sitting on the sofa, eating leftovers. “Go and brush your teeth and come join me.”
“No … Bra Themba … I need to sleep. I think I’m sick.” Ace turned and ran back to the bathroom where he threw up again.
Bra Themba burst out with laughter. “Listen to me, sonny. I know what I’m talking about. Brush your teeth and eat. I’ve got two cold beers in the fridge. That will deal with your babalas. Otherwise you’ll feel sick the whole day. I’m telling you.”
Ace did as Bra Themba ordered. He forced the food down his throat even though he felt like throwing up every time he swallowed. Bra Themba then gave him a cold bottle of beer. Ace sank the first glass at once. He started feeling better.
After drinking the two bottles of beer, Ace gained strength, felt ready to face the day.
Then he heard a girl singing, and immediately knew that it was the one he saw yesterday. Quickly, Ace stood up and went outside and saw her next door in the yard, washing clothes. His heart skipped a beat.
“Hi!” Ace started, his voice nervous.
The beautiful girl stopped singing and stared at him with a frown; her eyes narrowed. “Er …hello,” she replied and went back to her washing.
“My name is Ace. What’s yours?”
“Hee batho! Why do you want to know my name?” she mumbled, busy washing.
“The thing is … is that … yesterday when I saw you … my heart raced.” He cast his eyes down, not believing that he had actually said that.
The girl laughed and clicked her tongue.
“I’m serious – I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl like you before. Please, let me take you out. I would love to get to know you,” he continued with a smile.
Naledi stopped and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “I don’t have time for junkies. Please leave me alone.”
“What! Me? I’m not a junky. I don’t even touch drugs. I swear. Please, don’t judge me over nothing. I’m begging you.”
“My mother is home. I can’t–”
“Naledi!” a woman’s voice interrupted her from the house.
“Finish your washing and go buy me some beer, man. This babalas is killing me. Where is that fool called Scara?”
“I don’t know, Ma. Don’t worry, I’m just about to finish,” she said and paused, walking towards Ace. She gave him her cellphone number.
“Thanks! I’ll call you, Naledi,” Ace said with a smile, punching the air while staring after her as she went to the house.
“Come, let’s go to the tavern,” Bra Themba said, standing on the threshold of the backdoor.
“But, I haven’t bathed yet, Bra Themba,” Ace said, walking towards him.
“Don’t worry. You look fine. Anyway, there is a shower there.”
Ace couldn’t believe what was happening. It was nine o’clock and already they were heading for the tavern. Was Bra Themba trying to turn him into an alcoholic within a week?
“Ace monna, remember my promise?” Bra Themba started when they were on the way, driving.
“Yes. You said you’ll help me with money,” Ace answered.
“Yes, and that’s what I will do. Here, take this,” he said, and handed Ace a bundle of money.
Ace counted it. “Joo! Bra Themba, so much money? What is it for?” Ace asked, his eyes bulging.
“That’s nothing, sonny. If you can do what I want you to do well, I’ll make you rich,” Bra Themba responded, smiling.
“You just gave me R500 for doing nothing, Bra Themba. How can I say no to you? I’ll do anything you want me to do.” He was excited.
“Good! Listen, I just want you to sell something for me. Don’t worry. You don’t have to walk around the streets as if you’re selling tomatoes.” He paused, smiling. Ace giggled. “My customers will come to you. Do you think you can do that?”
Ace thought for a second. He knew that what Bra Themba was asking him to sell would probably be illegal. It was the only way to explain why he bribed him with so much money.
Should he agree to risk his future and work for Bra Themba? Ace asked himself, remembering Thabo’s words. Thabo was right. Bra Themba couldn’t be trusted. He behaved like a criminal. Ace’s heart told him to say no, but he had no courage for it. He did not want to disappoint Bra Themba. Not after what that man had done for him, bringing him to Tembisa and welcoming him at his house as if he was his own son.
“OK, I’ll do it.” He swallowed, not believing what he just said.
“Good. I’ll give you the stuff when we arrive at the tavern. Just promise me one thing, though. Promise me you won’t take drugs anymore. Or else we will have problems,” Bra Themba looked serious.
“I won’t, Bra Themba. I swear,” Ace said and shook his head.
They came to a halt in front of the tavern and entered. Bra Themba introduced Ace to the two women who were behind the counter.
“Ace will be spending more time here at the tavern. He will be doing Jonny’s work,” Bra Themba told the women. The two women frowned at Ace, as if they were feeling sorry for him. “Ace … come. Let’s go to my office.”
He followed Bra Themba to the spacious room. He couldn’t believe the man actually owned this tavern. “Sit, sonny. Let’s get down to business,” Bra Themba said, pulling aside a picture frame on the wall, revealing a safe.
Ace scanned the room. There was a smart desk and a chair plus two black leather couches. The decorative potted plants in one corner made it all look very professional.
“This is the stuff I want you to sell.” Bra Themba’s hand came out of the safe with a brown package. He unwrapped it, revealing many small transparent plastic packets of white powder. He picked one up and threw it into Ace’s lap.
Ace couldn’t believe his eyes. Bra Themba wanted him to sell hard drugs. Was that what he was brought to Tembisa for? If he had known that, Ace wouldn’t have come. He knew he was going to end up in prison one day. That’s what his teachers said at school: drugs dealers belong in jail. ‘They kill innocent people’ – he remembered his teacher’s words, fear striking him.
All I want is to be a professional soccer player. Not this, he told himself, heartsore.
He wondered if Naledi would still give him a chance if she found out that he was selling drugs. No, she wouldn’t. And there was no way that he was going to lose his chance with Naledi. She mustn’t find out about it until he could escape this life.
Ace told himself that he would work for Bra Themba until he made enough money to rent his own place. Maybe he would have joined one of the professional teams by then. For now, he had no choice but to please Bra Themba, he told himself, otherwise he wouldn’t have a place to stay.
Tell us: Is there a way out of this for Ace, or does he have to do what Bra Themba says?