Thanks to a suggestion, I have decided to write a little bit more about my experiences living in a compound. I will write a series of short snippets of life in the Cement Siding compound. In the meantime, check out another snippet of my childhood below.
On this particular day, the stakes were high. Only two primary school teams would proceed to the next round of the tournament. For us, it came down to a dreadful match against Mahatshula Primary School. We scrambled onto the field, our bare feet slapping the hard earth. This time the surface was the least of our worries. The Mahatshula boys had boots, and any mis-timed contact with those could mean a painful leg for a week for our players. Most of them towered above us. Were we going to stand a chance with our tiny frames in oversized uniforms and bare feet? Against bigger boys with soccer boots? I was a bit apprehensive when the referee blew the whistle to start the match.
We were playing under a legacy. The red uniforms that we wore had been won by our older brothers, who had been at Cement Primary School in previous years. They had prevailed in circumstances like ours. They had no boots, no ideal turf to practice on, and they often played seemingly well-funded teams. But that was their spotlight. Stripped to bare feet, donning baggy uniforms, and playing on an unforgiving playing surface, they only had raw talent to show. And that was their pride. And that’s the legacy they left for us.
Tough match it was against Mahatshula. At one point, six Mahatshula players somehow managed to beat our offside trap (or perhaps they just sped past us). There, between our goal and the six players, stood our tiny goal keeper. He already had a nasty bump on his head from a previous encounter with a Mahatshula striker. I watched hopelessly from upfield. I felt deep anger inside. I watched the Mahatshula captain with so much detest when I realized how unfair everything was. That Mahatshula captain, strong and tall, wearing boots – I felt it was all unfair. They were the bad guys, and we were the good guys; the underdogs. We were supposed to prevail in this story, I thought. Our keeper slowly moved to the side, away from the middle of the goal posts, scared of the boot-powered shot that was coming. It was funny because you could tell he was running away. The shot finally came, albeit prematurely on Mahatshula’s part. Miraculously, it flew straight towards our keeper’s head, and bounced back into play. Obviously, luck favored the good guys. I believed once more.
I was playing center striker, one position that was never my own. I had been moved into the position because our captain had been red-carded. The odds were against us. That is until a teammate slipped a defense-splitting pass towards me. I tapped the ball a little bit forward and chased after it. Two defenders were panting on either side of me, and I knew I had no chance. Speed was not my strength. But I kept running. I could see the keeper coming out. As the four of us converged, I managed to tap the ball once more with the tip of my big toe. Then I braced myself for all those boots coming at me. I didn’t feel a thing. The ball rolled slowly forward, and I watched as it rolled past the line to hug the net. I got up and ran as fast as my legs would carry me. We had felled the giant.
And that was our pride. We never had the best sports gear, equipment or facilities. Many schools that we competed with did. But we relished every meeting, because every match was a statement for us. A statement that we did not need equipment to prove that we could also compete. And we absolutely loved the fact that we did it on bare feet. No shoes, no trimmed grass, no new balls – just raw talent and a desire to win.