“Tselensa 11” by Nii Moi Thompson.

Earlier at dusk, 6:01 pm: The scenario is still vivid; me limping around the naked, flaming coal-pot; being flung backwards by the goal-keeper of Tselensa 11 and sitting flat on embers to the glory of God. With a broken limb and a pair of freshly burnt buttocks, I hobbled home to find that Odartey, my cousin had ground the corn and done the dishes. I had traded mutilation for normal house chores.

Our ancient soccer boots were a pair of gaping alligators basking in the sun, ready to snap with their masculine jaws; except they snapped at our exposed toes whenever they kicked the Tselensa ball. We swore the large, dotted orifices in our soccer socks could breathe, and the card-board we had cut from Agbe mother’s cardboard boxes were not enough to shield our shins from studs.

Much earlier, about 4:10 pm: I dribbled past the opposing midfield territory, using skilful taps and body manoeuvre. I was slimy. I approached the defense .Our supporting attacker was already in a vantage position inside the 18 yard box, clearly on-side, screaming his lungs out for a pass. I was relishing the cheers from the stands, so I held on to the ball…perhaps a minute much too late. For out of Abyss emerged Tsina, the hulking central defender of our opponents, who sank his studs into my shin without remorse, rendering me motionless on the gravelled pitch for a minute or two. I gained consciousness later, and as I was being whisked away in the arms of our local masseur, I noticed a brawl had broken out between the coaches and seeped down to the players. The match had come to an unhappy end for both sides.

The skipper’s band hung covetously around my arm- a mere strip of red cloth- as I warmed up before the game in our own half, stretching, doing the high knees, calf walk, sideways and backwards running, taking long, menacing breaths. I used to play the right-wing forward, but for egoistic motives I managed to cow our coach into playing me as a center forward. I spotted Tsina, the towering, hulking defender of Tsitsi stars mouthing menacing words at me with not-too-friendly hand gestures. I made out the words, “I will break your leg”…or so! I shrugged. The coin was tossed, and one drunken, toothless referee blasted his whistle for the start of the match.

Much more early 7:00 am: I remember the morning of that day. Mother had asked me to do the dishes, husk a whole sac of corn and soak them before grinding them into flour at the corn-miller at dusk. However, as skipper of Tselensa 11, I could not afford to miss the match against our arch-rivals, Tsitsi Stars. I had longed to demonstrate my dribbling prowess this day. I bribed Odartey with my brick game and made him swear to sort me out. I pulled my jersey from the dry line, glued the jersey number we had cut from paper on it and dashed to Borla Park!

 

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