That whole week the squad at the Academy trained hard for the match on Saturday. At the end of each day Dumi and his new friends collapsed on the grass exhausted and chatted about the teams they wanted to play for one day, and how they wished they had an ice cold beer. But Mandla didn’t join them. After the last session each day, he just packed up his sports bag and disappeared. Up to that mansion, thought Dumi, where they probably had every cooldrink and type of beer under the sun, and cold and hot showers. He probably had a masseur to rub his aching muscles. Then he thought of how Mandla had been the one to help him out of tricky situation on the field, and how Mandla had been the one to help him up when he was tackled hard from behind and fell with his head in the dirt. He felt a twinge of guilt that he had told his new friends that Mandla was arrogant and thought himself too good for them. He had told them that Mandla lived in a mansion and that his daddy knew the scout and owned a BMW. And the other guys had looked at Mandla differently, and hadn’t asked him to join them after sessions. Dumi hadn’t meant for them to ignore Mandla, it had just happened that way.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” that’s what Shorty always said. But here it was either Dumi or Mandla who would get into the Academy. Why pretend to like each other? One of them was going to be dropped. I’ll try once more, thought Dumi, at the end of the week. “Don’t you want to join us? Some of us are going to KFC when we finish up.” He asked Mandla.
“I’ve got to work,” Mandla said, like a stuck record.
“It’s Friday. Who works on a Friday night? Take a break. Or are we boring? I bet this can’t compare to DSTV and a sauna”. Dumi couldn’t help himself. Mandla frowned and shook his head. Then he turned and walked away. Dumi watched him. No BMW this time. Maybe his daddy was meeting him around the corner.
Dumi went back to join his new friends. They were bouncing a beer between them around the back of the cloakrooms when the coach came around the corner to see how ‘his boys’ were doing. Dumi quickly stashed the bottle in his bag. His friend, Andile, was just talking about Mandla. He had his back to the coach and didn’t see him. “Hey, I bet he’s got a personal trainer,” Andile was saying. “No wonder he’s so fit, and the best player. It’s amazing what money can buy. If we had that kind of treatment…”
“You’re wrong!” the coach had a look of disgust on his face. “What do you really know about Mandla? Have you ever taken the time to talk to him?” And when they hesitated “No, I didn’t think so…” And then he stormed off. The guys burst out laughing.
“Maybe Mandla’s daddy is paying our coach too.”
When Vusi came to pick Dumi up he had lost his appetite for KFC. “Let’s just go home,” he said.
“Waz up with you?” Vusi asked.
“Nothing,” Said Dumi. “Just a long week. I’m tired.”