The first day at the Academy was tough. When Dumi arrived late, Mandla was already out on the field with the other guys doing press-ups, and running short lengths up and down, up and down. He waved and Mandla waved back. They did their laps, and came back to do their push-ups and sit-ups before running onto the field to play a game. At half time Mandla stood a little apart from the others, drinking from his water bottle. After the game Dumi started chatting to some of the other guys in the cloakroom, laughing and joking about the training. “Hey, we killed you guys with our passes. That cross boy made things difficult!” Mandla didn’t join in. He packed up his things in his sport’s bag, splashed his face with water and left the room. Dumi wondered if the black Beamer was going to pick him up again. He also wondered where that Beamer went.
‘You should try to be friends with him,” Dumi’s mother said when he had told them at supper about Mandla. “Maybe he’s shy.”
“I don’t think so,” Dumi snorted, “He looks arrogant like he’s better than us. Someone picked him up in a black Beamer from our first practise.”
“Sometimes things aren’t as you think.” His mother cautioned. “Invite him out. Get to know him.”
Dumi thought of his mom’s words as he went to find his brother, Vusi, outside. Vusi had come pick him up from the Academy on his way home from work. They were going to swing by KFC to get themselves a Streetwise and a Coke. He had deserved it. He practised so hard all week. Maybe his mom was right. Maybe he should invite Mandla along. Perhaps he was just waiting to be asked to join in. Yes, Dumi would be the bigger man. So when he walked over to Mandla to ask him, he felt good about himself. ‘You wanna lift home? We’re going past KFC. Come and join us.”
“Thanks. But I can’t.” Said Mandla. “I’ve got to work.”
“But it’s Friday. School’s over for the week. Hey, do your homework on Monday morning that’s what I do.”
“No really, I can’t. Sorry.”
“Suit yourself,” that’s what Dumi wanted to say, but he just nodded. “OK, then, see you Monday.” But when he was inside Vusi’s clapped out Toyota Cressida he had another idea. “Just pull over here,” he said as they drove around the corner. “I want to see where he goes.”
“You want me to follow him? Are you crazy?” Vusi whistled in disbelief. But when the black Beamer drove past he put his foot down. Soon they were cruising just a few cars behind the BMW, following it along main road and into the posh part of Wynberg. “Hey I thought soccer players were chosen for the Academy because they were from poor backgrounds. Isn’t it what it says on their pamphlets?” Vusi shook his head as he turned left into a road lined with trees. All the houses around here had huge walls surrounding them and gates with buzzers. No one from the street could ever just go up and knock on a door.
“That’s what I thought,” said Dumi. “It doesn’t make sense. And I could swear that Beamer belongs to the soccer scout. I saw him driving a black one just like that – same series.”
“You think it’s rigged? But why? Are they using Mandla to win matches?”
“I don’t know. All I know he’s a hot player, the best I’ve seen. I don’t know why they didn’t choose him immediately. Why are they torturing me, making me wait to see who will be chosen.” Vusi swung around a corner. The BMW had slowed down and was turning into a driveway on the left.
“Stop. Wait here!” Dumi told his brother. “Don’t let him see us.” Dumi thought the scout might just drop Mandla off. But the big electronic gate opened and the Beamer drove right through and parked outside the house. It was a huge house. As Vusi cruised by, Dumi saw green lawns, a pool, a satellite dish. It was double storey house with a separate quarters for the domestic worker.
“I knew it,” said Dumi as they headed back to Khayelitsha in Vusi’s skorrokorro. ‘He is arrogant. He’s rich. The soccer scout is probably best friends with his daddy. His daddy probably owns a soccer team.”