The soccer field has some patches of short, wild green grass, which grows during the rainy season. Robert announces that they are going to play one-touch soccer.

“Let’s take positions now, guys,” says Khathu.

The one-touch starts with one of the older boys kicking the ball to Ndiafhi who kicks it on to another older boy, who then kicks it on to the next one.

“Bring the ball!” shouts one near the goal.

“Here, have it, Teacher!” one of the older boys says. Lutendo laughs at the name.

After a few minutes of shouting, running and passing, the ball comes hurtling towards Lutendo who tries to kick it but misses. He just stares as the ball flies past him to the other end of the field.

“Hee vhannani! Hey men!” he shouts.

All the boys laugh and some even imitate him: “Hee vhannani!”

One boy runs to fetch the ball and the one-touch starts again. Lutendo fights to get the ball. He limps as fast as he can across the field but he’s too slow.

“Please, guys,” he pants, “give me a mercy opportunity.” He leans down, out of breath.

“No mercy! You must run faster if you want to catch the ball,” says one of the boys and the others burst into laughter.

When Lutendo raises his head, drenched in sweat, he sees all the boys looking at him and laughing. Some are even jeering at him.

“I am tired, guys,” he says. “Ndiafhi was granted a mercy opportunity and I should also get one. That’s only fair.”

“You must run faster,” repeats the boy. “We all run faster if we want to catch up with the one who has the ball.”

In frustration, Lutendo falls to the ground. Tears prick his eyes as he wraps his arms around his legs. The others stop playing football and crowd around him, laughing. Even his two friends, Ndiafhi and Lawrence, laugh.

Lutendo thinks about Precious and what she said: ‘Didn’t our mothers warn us about going anywhere far away from home?’ Maybe she was right.

“You are a sissy,” says one of the boys.

Lutendo rubs the tears off his cheeks with his arm; tries to be brave.

“Hey guys! The sun is high and it’s very hot now,” announces one of the older boys. “How about we go to have a dip in Mayayada?”

All the boys are excited about the news of swimming and they run down the footpath which leads to Mayayada. Even Ndiafhi and Lawrence leave Lutendo alone, in the centre of an empty soccer field.

After a few minutes, Lutendo decides to walk home. He sets off – but stops when he hears shouting coming from the dam. That sounds like fear, not fun, he thinks, turns and starts to hurriedly limp down towards the noise.

When he gets closer, he sees why they are shouting. Near the centre of the water a boy is clinging tightly onto the branch of a dead tree, which has remained like a skeleton in the dam. Only his shoulders, arms and head are above the brown, dirty water. His eyes are wide with fear.

“We told him not to go to the middle of the dam,” says one of the boys. “Now he can’t stand, and he is tired, and so he can’t swim back! Plus he says his leg is caught in the branches.”

“We were against the idea from the start,” adds Khathu.

Teacher steps forward, full of energy and determination. “It’s bad, guys,” he speaks. “The more he panics the more tired he gets and he won’t be able to come back. He’s swallowing water, look. Let’s rescue him. I can dive into the water and swim there and get back with him. Let us all get in and help …”

He strips off his clothes and heads for the water but Khathu runs after him and holds him back.

“Ni a penga kaniare you crazy?”

“I am not crazy. What if he drowns?”

“What if we all drown rescuing him?!”

Then the boy screams from the dam. “Something has my leg!”

All of the boys fall silent.

Lutendo knows they are thinking about the rumour that went round the village a year ago. It told of how a stranger had thrown three baby crocodiles in the dam, one male and two females. The man had come from the far north and disappeared, heading south after he did that. Nobody knew why he did it; and nobody has seen a crocodile in the dam … but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there … under the water … maybe …

Lutendo can’t bear to see the boy struggling like that. He turns, and as fast as he can, starts to run back up the hill towards the village. He has to get help!

***

Tell us what you think: Are the big boys being cowards? What should they do?