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Emma Pierce is a runner-up in the 2010 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.
Chengati, an only child, lived with his ill mother, Juvala, in the deep, dark secret of South Africa, the slums. His father was no longer alive. He lived in a small, sheltered hut with an corrugated iron roof; four mud walls were all they have to protect them from the ‘night devils’ as his Mother called them (the drunks who passed that way every night). He and his mother slept on a worn out stained mattress that they had found in a nearby rubbish tip.
It was one Thursday afternoon that Chengati and his dearest friend Sam were playing their favourite game, football! Sam and Chengi always played football on Thursday afternoons but this was a special one to remember. It was the day before the World Cup was due to start in South Africa so they were even more enthusiastic about playing their game. The main stadium was only two miles from where Chengi and Sam lived and they were very excited. Like always Chengati won without even trying too hard. He had a natural talent for playing and had a hope and big dream that one day he could be a part of the World Cup.
Sadly for Chengi his mother did not approve of the game and never let him go out to play it other than on those Thursday nights. She said it was a ‘proper man’s game’ always in the same patronising way. She said it is not for little boys. This particular Thursday Chengati had had enough of his mother’s comments. He was upset and ran away as fast as he could and as far as he could. He was out in the cold, heavy rain in the dark, clutching his most treasured possession, his football. He was now lost and it felt like a long way from home.
The reason this football was so important to him was that it had belonged to his father. He had also grown up loving the game and taught Chengi everything he knew about the game. They would play for hours together. He had sadly died a few years before but Chengi remembered everything about him. Maybe this was the reason that Chengi’s mother could not stand to see him play the game, it was too painful for her to remember what she has lost.
He died from an awful but accidental attack. His father had a lot of friends who were most definitely the wrong sort of people to mix with. These friends had owed a lot of money to a man who would do anything to settle his accounts. He did not like to wait! They borrowed money to pay for football training a long time ago and were slowly getting the money back. The money lender became very impatient and came to hunt them down. Unfortunately Chengi’s father, Chuanga, got caught in the middle of it all and died for his friends. Chengi’s mother never mentioned it and their relationship had suffered since because of this. He felt she had shut him out and buried all memories of his father.
As he contemplated his loss, he slowly pulled himself up and made his way home. There was now a beautiful orange sunrise, all the birds were singing as they awoke. The giraffes were stretching their elegant long necks up into the morning heat. Chengi suddenly realised what a beautiful place he lived in, like he had never seen it before. Many times he had walked along this road with his friend Sam playing hop scotch. He laughed out loud as he thought of the memories making him feel warm inside, despite being wet and tired. As he walked past the local football pitch, he felt at peace and at home as he yawned, looking down at his precious football that he had snatched from his mother’s arms before he ran away.
Just then Chengi heard a sudden loud noise of tyres screeching coming towards him on the dusty road. He hid behind a bush, terrified and peeped round it to see who it was. The car stopped, or was it a car, it was huge! The doors opened slowly and he could hear laughter. Not the laughter of evil mad men (as his mother would say) but fun, relaxed, happy laughter. A load of large, smart looking men got out. Chengi moved out slowly from the bush as curiosity tugged at him inside. He would come back tomorrow to see if the enormous vehicle was still there and to find out who the men were. He felt he had to get home right now to see how his mother was.
As he started to walk home to a life he had never asked for, he suddenly had a thought! “Maybe it was a World Cup Team!” He shrieked with delight and ran all the way home.
Juvala swung her arms around him with such love that he had never felt from her before and he knew she had missed him. He didn’t dare tell her what he had seen on the road as it would change her mood straight away. He kept quiet and the next morning he would take Sam back there with him and tell his Mother they were off to play in the near by water.
It was morning at last! He and Sam started sprinting back to the football pitch. But when they got there he was so disappointed to find the vehicle had gone and there was no sign of anyone. They started to walk away in despair and Chengi thought he had imagined it all. Suddenly, they heard the same tyre sound and an opening of doors and the same cries of laughter. They both watched in amazement as they saw the players go onto the pitch. It was the South African World Cup Team having a practise session with their coach. They were showing off their skills and Chengi wished he could be one of them. He began to imagine it…..he got passed the ball, sprinted down the pitch, everyone in the stadium cheered him on as he took a shot towards the goal and he scored! He and his team mates had won the World Cup!
Chengi came back to reality and took Sam nearer to the pitch. They sneaked onto one corner and started to knock the football around. They suddenly realised that everyone was staring at them with astonishment. Chengi grabbed his ball and started to run away in embarrassment. He was half way up the alley when the football coach called him back. Chengi was terrified that he was going to be told off .
He was not told off but asked to come and have a practise with the team. He couldn’t believe it, this was the happiest day of his life! Sam sat on the edge and watched his best friend, he was so happy for him.
After a few minutes the coach told Chengi that he had a great deal of potential and should come and have some proper training for free.
The boys raced back home with so much excitement that they couldn’t even feel their feet touching the ground. They were panting madly and grinning from ear to ear s they approached the hut called home. But then Chengi stopped in his tracks and gasped in horror. He felt like he had run into a wall. He saw his mother lying on the mattress looking very ill indeed. His smile disappeared and he fell to his knees next to her. She whispered to him, “Chengi, I am not well.”
He knew she would not live much longer despite her trying to convince him she would. He couldn’t help but cry.
He decided not to tell her about the football training. He knew he would need to stay by her side now and help her through this as much as he could. At least he knew he had been complimented by world class footballers and hopefully his father was looking down on him and knew Chengi’s secret too.