This post has balls. A lot of balls.
Remember when I told you about my herpes infection, and that I had a festering wound on my lip, and that I was in so much pain that you should just wake me up when September ends? Well, I forgot to tell you about my balls.
One time a football was kicked into my face when I had another one of these infections, back in primary school. The result was a dark purple sore that made me feel as though I had no skin under my nose. That thing took the longest time to heal and I looked like a Martian. I had the self esteem of a toothpick because other kids would laugh at me.
But, as luck would have it, I was the one with the balls. In those days, owning a ball put you on a pedestal. A ball earned you respect (I feel like I’ve written these sentences before…)
There was almost always a football lying around the homestead when I was growing up. And every time I wasn’t doing homework or watching cartoons I would be found outside –chasing after my balls.
There were many of them, those balls. Some stayed longer than others. Some were big and some were small. One of them was torn to shreds by an evil neighborhood dog. Another was kicked so high up in the atmosphere that it burst and all the air came out before it landed. But out of all those balls, there were three in particular I’ll never forget.
Like the small green ball that was bought entirely because of my idealistic whims. One day I caught of wind of a player called Ronaldinho. I was completely arrested by his fluid footwork and net-finding technique and I had two of his posters stuck to my bedroom wall. Every time I’d go out to play I’d imagine I was Ronaldinho. I’d try –rather unsuccessfully- to dribble like him. I’d imitate his running stance, and, when no one was looking, I’d stick out my tongue because Ronaldinho did it every five seconds.
I didn’t have a ball at the time and I didn’t know how to juggle the ball with my feet. I wanted to know how to juggle, badly. Ronaldinho did it all the time and it was only right for me to learn how to do it. So I asked my folks if they could buy me a ball. And in so many words they said, “A ball for what and you don’t even like playing?”
I begged. I argued out my request: I want a ball only so I can practice my juggling. It doesn’t even have to be a big ball. Please. I’ll be a good boy…
This boy can now juggle up to five times.
Then there was the Jabulani. This one was a World Cup souvenir that BM brought home from one of his trips. It came along with a vuvuzela which, to this day, I’ve never known how to blow, much less finding an occasion to use it. The ball was painted like a South African flag and I remember it smelling like disinfectant. One time it got punctured, but not enough to render it useless. It could still roll on the ground if you gave it a nice push. Naturally, the ball became heavier and painful to head. It was this ball that would smash into my herpes wound.
He had a powerful leg and I was the goal keeper. His name was Junior.
The other ball was black and white. I remember it mostly because of the way it was stolen. The ball was made from what the label said to be genuine leather, and before it got worn out it was smooth as a baby’s buttocks. Everyone who touched it commented on what a fine ball it was. I’d often wonder about the people who made that ball, and I’d picture men in white coats weaving the leather by hand. Made by hand, hehe.
I was terribly proud to own such a ball. Until one fateful evening when we decided we would go on late into the night.
The pitch was right next to a tarmac road and it wasn’t well lit and it had no fence. Playing at night should have been a security concern but we didn’t give a rat’s ass. What kind of monster would want to harm a bunch of ball-playing kids anyway?
So while we were running around and shouting each other’s names, an older looking boy wandered into the field and asked to play. The game stopped and everyone pointed me and said, “Uliza mwenye ball.”
Oh the pressure.
Finally we let him join one of the teams. And the first time he got hold of the ball he turned towards the road and sent the ball flying to the other side. For a moment I didn’t know what was happening. It was dark. It took some time before my eyes adjusted.
“Woiwoiwoi,” someone shouted.
As it turned out, another boy was waiting to receive the ball across the road. He caught the ball and threw it in the back of a passing truck. Then he ran after the truck, scaled it, and hung on to it. I swear I’m not making this up. Meanwhile the first boy had disappeared and I never saw that ball again.
On Monday my lecturer was a no-show. We’re told that she won’t be around next week either, and that in her place there’ll be a substitute. After I heard this I relaxed a bit. I thought this sub was going to be like most of them, really, bored and in no mood to teach students who weren’t assigned to them in the first place.
I thought the sub would come in, say a few things about Communication Skills, and then hand over an assignment. I thought the sub would be so unfamiliar and detached that she wouldn’t even bother to tell us to put our phones away. I thought I’d get a chance to happily scroll through Instagram while the class went on.
Miss Sub arrived a half hour late, and there was a bit of fluster on her face. Like she only found out she had a class five minutes before.
It was a high pitched voice. Her movements felt quickly calculated and this made her seem robotic. Her eyes were droopy and her brown flats made her walk soundlessly. She was a tiny woman, but there was something about the shape of her shoulders. They looked a bit more oblong than normal and my betting was that she hit the gym often.
After she had placed her files and things on the table, she leafed through a few pages and then looked up and said,
“Right. We’ll pick up from where you left off with your lecturer. I don’t allow the use of cell phones in my class so please put them away.”
I thought, I don’t allow you to arrive late either, lady.
In a flash, though, her confused face had seeped away and a stern one took over. She quickly soaked us in curriculum muck –talking fast, gesturing, head bobbing. You couldn’t miss the important points because her eyes widened every time she emphasized something.
Suddenly this tiny woman had become a rolling ball of energy and her tone varied and it was mighty hard not to pay attention. Every time you looked in her direction, her eyes caught yours, waiting for you to blink first, daring you to take out your phone.
There was something about her that made you think of Olivia Pope. Maybe it was the way her words came out sharp and authoritative. You could tell she was a hard worker and that she respected her job and that she took pride in being efficient. I imagined that she didn’t even flinch when she was told she’d have to be a sub. She’s a bloody gladiator for chrissakes.
I wondered how much joy she derived from this job. I wondered if teaching filled the holes in her life. Did she rise every day and see the day as another opportunity to mould young minds, or did she mutter a curse because she spent her days standing in front of bored students? And what was she like at home? Does she live alone? Does she end her days with a glass of red wine?
I imagined she started her days with a one hour workout before breakfast which she would slowly munch as she watched the morning news. Some days she’d be running late and she’d have to put her coffee in a flask. To go. She would get to the office –lanyard hanging from her neck, and look at her schedule. COM 243, room 401. Then she would let out a sigh, pick her books, and head to class. Off to mould some young minds.
Surely, what does this have to do with your balls, Michael?
Hang on. I’m on to something.
See, some weeks ago I was seated across Bett at Java. My bum was submerged into the comfortable booth and a tall glass of passion juice stood before me. The restaurant reverberated with kitchen hubbub and muffled table talk. Bett was wearing red polka dots, dreadlocks tied at the back. I wanted to tell her tying her hair like that really brings out her eyes but I was afraid she’d think I’m being unprofessional. Her brown notebook was open and we were outlining my brief: 1200 word stories to be submitted weekly. Deadline – Friday 5pm. No paragraphs starting with the word ‘see’.
I was apprehensive about this, naturally. I don’t even make the deadlines for this blog, so where the hell was I going to find 1200 words every week? The doubt must have shown on my face and Bett was like, “Don’t worry. For now we’ll just build a bank of stories as we see how you perform. So for the first month you’ll be on probation.”
The stories would eventually run on her blog: Craft it, where I’d have my own column called The Dusty Rug. And the maiden piece would be about just that, the rug in my room. Then we talked details. We shook hands. I finished my juice. And then I went home –wondering what the hell I’d got myself into.
But by and by I started to get the hang of it. I’d stay up late at night and drink boatloads of coffee and I’d write. It’s a sweet feeling, really. Gives me a whole sense of purpose and keeps me on my feet. And at the end of it all, when I’d finally send in my copy, I usually feel empty inside, not knowing what to do with my life. I’d be mentally exhausted but it’s a brilliant pain, a pleasant tiredness that justifies the sweat.
I bet Miss Sub up there knows all about it.
Some days are tough. Sometimes I look at the calendar with dread because I don’t want Friday to get here. Like last week. The story wasn’t coming together. I didn’t have the words in my head and I wanted to cry. I was certainly going to miss the deadline and Bett would be so disappointed that she’d put me out to pasture.
Thankfully, none of that happened. Instead, as Miss Sub was walking out, Bett texted and said that my probation –like September- had come to an end. October would be my first month as a columnist. And I must say, I can’t wait to put that on my Instagram bio.
But you still haven’t told us about the balls, you bastard.