“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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“Dangbeleshi” by Daniel Hanson Dzah.

‘Tell me, Kwaku. What exactly happened and what exactly did you see?’ the stout policeman in the black uniform and dusty black beret asked.
But father cut in before I could respond, ‘Oh boss, he is only ten. We have been here for hours and he has already told your men what happened. You have his statement. Isn’t that enough? Please…’

The policeman stroked his chin disbelievingly. His eyes dimmed slightly. When he spoke, it was with an air of reluctance. ‘Okay, you may leave. But we shall contact you if we need more information.’
‘Thank you,’ father said. He led me gently out of the Odorkor Police station to his Corrolla. His phone rang just as we sat down; It was mother. Her shrill voice sounded very worried, but father calmed her down. ‘We’re coming home,’ he informed. As he moved the car and made his way to the main Kaneshie road, I shut my eyes and replayed the scene again in my head.

 

 

It was all Opele’s fault. We had talked over this so many times. It was always us on the same team against Milo’s boys on the sandy sakora park behind Efo Avoka’s house. We had played together ever since we could ran on our two feet and for years, I always reminded him to pass the football like Xavi; Through the middle and on the ground. He was forced to play on his least favourite right-wing position today, but that was no excuse. If he had not lobbed the ball to me at such an odd angle, my overheard kick would not have been necessary. You see, I am left-footed, and Opele’s lob came through from my right side. I could have easily volleyed into the net, but my back faced the goalpost at that time. Gattusso, the chubby kid from Milo’s team was running towards me and I wasn’t about to risk challenging him to a header. So I made the smart choice; I leaped into the air and hit the ball with an overhead kick. I didn’t see where it headed immediately, but the groans from the boys were oddly loud.
‘You dierr! This small ball too dangbele!’ Opele yelled.
I wanted to shout sia! but Shamo, who was oldest amongst us commanded, ‘Hurry up and go for the ball! You are lucky Efo just left!’
Indeed I was lucky. You see, Efo has been our nemesis for years. I have lost count of the number of very fine footballs he has punctured because we over-kicked them into his house. Each time an unlucky kick landed a ball on his compound, the same sequence of events took place. His bald head would appear above his wall. He would scream insults and then throw the gouged ball at us. He taunted us; He scared us, and he seemed to like it that way. We grew cautious with our kicks over the years and when anyone shot into Efo’s house, it was agreed that the culprit was to get his parents to buy a new ball. I was lucky Efo was not home. I could retrieve the ball safely and continue with the game.

In a matter of seconds, I clambered over Efo’s wall. My two feet landed firmly into his backyard and I scanned around frantically for the ball. It took seconds to find the white leathery sphere. It was lodged in one of the branches of the many plantain trees Efo grew. I raced to it and reached for it with my hand, but my height let me down, for it was too high up the tree. The boys yelled my name. I yelled back, furious at their impatience. I scanned the backyard for some kind of stick to nudge the ball off the branch. There was nothing of the sort in sight so I decided to survey again. I sauntered all over the backyard, ignoring the boys’ calls and looking for anything that could help me. I instinctively decided to check behind the plantain tree; Perhaps Efo kept a stick for holding up the many drooping plantain branches.
There were about a dozen of these trees and I walked deeper into the thicket. Only faint rays of sunlight lighted my path but that was enough for my carefully planted footsteps. I scanned the dimly lit ground and sighed; Lying a few feet away was a long straight stick. I darted for it in relief but as my fingers wrapped around the thin wood, I sensed eyes staring at me. My heart skipped a beat. I froze to scan the atmosphere nervously. What I saw, would have left anyone petrified.
Positioned on the ground before me, silent and lifeless, were what appeared to human heads. Heads with mouths shut, with bulging eyes wide open and staring from nothingness. There were a number of them placed at different spots on the ground. The eyes did not move but they all stared at me from their sockets. A red cloth was draped over the wall in the background. White candles affixed upon white saucers with their flames blown out, stood in a circle on the ground before the red cloth. My jaw dropped to the floor and my heart threatened to burst. I instantly dropped the stick and run from the thicket, screaming all the way in fright. I clambered over the wall, out of breath and terrified beyond measure. I was panting and stuttering as I announced what I had seen. ‘H-heads! Hu-human heads!’

 

 

The events that took place afterwards remained very sketchy in my mind. I didn’t care; I was glad I was heading home. After four long hours with those mean policemen, I was exhausted. I just wanted to get home to mother. 

I had a very bad nightmare later that night. Efo Avoka was wielding a long stick and chasing me on his backyard. Seven heads sprouted out of his neck. All seven were yelling ‘GOAL!’ in unison. I screamed myself awake and mother held me in her arms. ‘It’s okay… It’s okay. Mummy is here,’ she softly said.