One showery afternoon many years ago in Blantyre, I joined my two Kanjedza Primary School classmates on a journey to a nearby opaque beer tavern.
At about 12 years old, we usually were ‘illegal immigrants’ in the tavern. But where there is a will, there surely is a way. Our attraction was a mini soccer game that was more readily available in taverns than places suitable for children my age.
I was so good at the game I earned myself a name. Every time I stepped up to play, people would bet on me. I hated it because sometimes it meant playing long hours, ‘forced’ by older guys who enjoyed winning their bets via my skill.
Actually, a few days earlier, I had ‘miraculously’ escaped a severe beating from one of the tavern regulars called Phanza, a colloquial name for a muscular man. Phanza was a monster.
On the day I had annoyed Phanza, I had won about 20 consecutive games. There was not even a chance to go to the loo as Phanza kept betting on my skill, discouraging me from anything other than staying on the table.
It was now getting late and I knew I had to get home at once. In my naught of youth, I decided to give Phanza a big lesson. Locked in 3-3 draw with an opponent, in a game on which Phanza had staked almost all his day’s ‘earnings’, I deliberately let the last ball run past my goalkeeper.
Somehow, Phanza read my disobedience and if it were not for a certain man to plead my case, I would have been crushed like a flea. This is why it had taken me three long days before returning to the tavern.
By whatever coincidence, on my return to the tavern, I met the guy I had gifted a win. We locked again in another 3-3 draw and he was determined to show the crowd his win had been no fluke. I, too, was unwavering in my effort to demonstrate my superiority.
We fought for bragging rights. The supporters were on the edge of their toes.
One good shot from my striker was met by an equally distinguished save from my opponent’s keeper, sending the ball spiralling high up above the heads of onlookers.
My opponent and I watched the greasy globule bounce on the dirty tavern floor and towards Phanza’s chikalo [a big plastic cup in which the opaque beer was served] which he had put between his legs. Seated on a bench, he had placed the chikalo between his legs.
Now, annoying Phanza the savage once may be an incident. Twice would be a habit to pay for.
Almost immediately, Phanza lifted his chikalo for a sip. I considered myself dead. I watched Phanza take a very long sip from leaving less than a quarter. He stood up and rubbed his hands, his face contorted into a lemon.
I felt rivulets of sweat make it down my armpits and thighs, wetting the thick khakhi school shirt and shorts I was in.
But later I gathered Phanza’s grimaces were about nothing other than the course particles of the brew. Moments later, he cleared his throat and bid farewell.
Safe moments later, one supporter poured the contents of the chikalo on to the floor to recover the ball. There was none. It was now safe to joke that Phanza had swallowed it.
You see, sometimes we fear what we should not. Some problems are just perceived because of our situation or state of awareness.
Your ball in this hard life might not even have landed in Phanza’s chikalo after all! n