For the Love of the Game (3)
By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa
There is intense awkwardness in Sibongile’s lounge as Njabulo Zulu gently places himself on the couch. The Njabulo Zulu on Sibongile’s couch! She’s starting to feel intimidated and even nervous. This guy is a superstar. He is a celebrated striker who has done wonders for both his team and the national team. He has been the leading goalscorer for the past three seasons, won the ‘Player of the Year’ award for two consecutive years, and has been the Man of the Match for countless games. Minus the arrogance and lack of discipline, he is one of the best players in the country.
“I don’t bite” he says with a smirk upon noticing Sibongile’s sudden awkward behaviour. “I’m hungry though” he adds and takes out his phone.
This angers Sibongile’s. Who does he think he is? A little voice whispers in her mind; ‘He’s Njabulo Zulu.’ She rolls her eyes at the thought before responding to her uninvited guest.
“You should’ve bought your own food”
“Why? Are you not eating?” Njabulo asks without moving his eyes from the phone.
“I had leftover pizza and it’s finished now.” Sibongile’s is still standing opposite the couch Njabulo is sitting on, looking uncomfortable.
Njabulo lifts his head quickly, wide eyed he exclaims; “Panic! Panic!”
“What’s with the drama dude?” Sibongile’s asks with sincere irritation.
Njabulo breaks into a loud laughter and says; “You’re so uptight! Sit down”
Sibongile’s slowly sits, not moving her eyes from the alien on her couch. “You shouldn’t have come here, it’s late.” She says softly.
“Chris was on my case about this book thing so it’s either we do it now or we don’t meet the deadline. You should know; I hate failing.” He winks and goes back to whatever he is busy with in his phone.
“Is your wife okay with you being here?”
Njabulo laughs but doesn’t respond. After a brief silence Sibongile clears her throat as a way to demand an answer. Why is she being so hostile? She also doesn’t know.
“I’m on company time. Everyone is at camp so I also had to be useful.” He looks at Sibongile; “So you’re really not giving me food? You’re such a bad host”
The door bell rings before Sibongile can respond. Reluctantly she answers and the security guard notifies her of a delivery from a seafood place called The Breeze.
“I didn’t order anything” Sibongile protests.
“Oh that’s mine” Njabulo interjects.
Sibongile takes a deep breath before telling the security guard to let them in. She doesn’t say anything to Njabulo until the food is delivered and paid for. A seafood platter with all sorts of food Sibongile would rather not eat is now spread out on her table. She decides she might as well begin her work seeing that the alien has made itself comfortable in her apartment. She gets her recording material ready as Njabulo digs into his food. He offers the food to her and she kindly declines.
The ball is now rolling. Sibongile asks a few questions about Njabulo’s experience in Cranes FC since joining the team three seasons ago. This gets him in a good mood and soon he is telling her stories about his grandfather.
“He was such a funny guy,” Njabulo recalls; “He would sit us down in his bedroom and tell us stories about his soccer career. We were restless kids and all we wanted was to go play outside but Mkhulu has other plans for us. He would tell us how big a star he was and how South Africans worshiped him. I was about six years old and didn’t believe him. I thought he was making up stories . We’d say he is ‘claiming’ because his son, my father, was the big star at that time.” He lets out a little laugh and then continues; “One day at the shop some taima called me ‘ntwana kaBrigadier’. I was confused; who the hell is Brigadier? The men in the shop went on to compliment this Brigadier for his outstanding clean passes and how excellent a midfielder he was. ‘He owned the game’ they said. My father’s nickname was The Rock, because of his amazing defense skills. So now who was this Brigadier? I didn’t ask the men, instead I went home and asked Mkhulu. He laughed. That man though. He laughed at me for a good fifteen minutes or so before telling me he was the Brigadier. I was shocked! So all the stories he was telling were true, I realized. From that point I started paying attention to his stories, he became my new role model. I knew I wasn’t good at dribbling like my father so I would suck as a defender, so being the future Brigadier became my goal.”
Sibongile notices how happy Njabulo is as he recalls his childhood memories. He seems to be reliving those days sitting on the old man’s floor listening to his stories of greatness.
“From future Brigadier, to being The Rock’s son and finally launching yourself in neither of their positions.” She says looking straight to a beaming Njabulo.
He grins and let’s out his tongue before saying; “Strange thing is that when I was six years old, those days listening to Mkhulu, I never thought I could play soccer. I was so tiny, the older kids used to play so rough that I’d be injured and be forced to leave the game. But being from a football family i had no choice but to play. My family didn’t love football,my family was football. We spoke, ate, breathed soccer. Only when our playing got organised and we had a coach did I think; ‘maybe I can do this.’ I was forcing the midfield position until my coach said I should attack and put me forward. I was ten then and since that day I’ve been The Bullet.”
Sibongile’s admiring smile is wiped off by a strange noise coming from Zitha’s bedroom. She rushes there followed by a limping Njabulo. She panics as they find a shaking Zitha with white foam coming out of her lips, blood from her nose, and strange noise from her mouth as though she is battling to scream. In a panic, Sibongile grabs Zitha’s head and force the pen she’s been holding through her mouth.
“It’s not fits. It’s drugs” Njabulo says calmly as he dials an emergency number.