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The Trials

 

The Trials:[
**]A Football Science Fiction[
**]Football Series #1

 

Copyright 2015 Abdul

Published by Abdul at Shakespir

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Enough of your nonsense
People with families
Blatant Plagiarist
They’re coming for you
Ghost
Staining the floor
You used to run
The last name
Some trophies
Blood-stained golf balls
Football is all

About author
Another Book by Author

Connect

 

 

Dedication

To my parents

 

 

Enough of your nonsense

“FIFA is corrupt. Everybody knows that,” Harry was telling Naomi.

Jamal kept his gaze on the screen where the last atomic bomb was being telecasted before its destruction. His skin tingled at the menacing sight of that gigantic capsule inside its vast chamber, his tongue tasting cake and coconut as he chewed on his finger nails. Inside the enclosed Accra Sports Stadium, silence eased itself like a brooding monster. It was hard to keep a stable mind on the event unfolding before him, and more than once, he found himself believing this was a ruse. He counted, in his mind, the blinking points on the red clock as if they were a death note to this world, believing that the presence of every president and prime minister in Ghana’s capital was the single excuse the perpetrators needed to pull the film from their eyes. And when it did, oh, how doomed they truly were.

Harry and Naomi continued to prattle about FIFA and the Football Series, and Jamal muttered Qur’anic verses to himself. At zero, he felt the bubble in his chest rise to his throat, choking out the words as a net of white fire crawled over the giant surface of man’s cruellest invention. Then there was a ball of fire, and the stadium trembled to the bellowing sound that tasted like war on his tongue. Jamal suppressed a shiver and swallowed hard on a nail. The venue echoed with gasps from the collective release of fifty thousand breaths. Men and women from every nation jumped to their feet in cheer as the red fire roared on and on, the tremor falling till it was a whisper in his ear.

“Alhamdulillah,” he whispered as a breath of cold wind tickled him, and Jamal finally gave himself permission to relax, and feel safe. On the screen, the once terrible weapon now lay in its own waste of a disintegrating mound, pieces of metal strewn about the still enclosed chamber.

“I mean, it is not even funny. However—”

“However, JM is scared as shit. Don’t make him piss on himself,” Naomi said.

Jamal turned to look at his Nigerian colleague, her thin braids held behind an oval face. Her face was turned away from him but he saw the mock in her large eyes.

“I wasn’t scared,” Jamal protested, dabbing his face with a tissue, “I was only…quiet.”

Harry joined Naomi in laughing, and Jamal ignored them and turned to the podium where the president of Football Incorporated was preparing to give his speech. The place fell to silence as his massive frame was splashed against the screens. His thick black lips formed a fat line across his face.

“We did it,” he declared, fisting the air to the joy of a roaring public. Jamal smiled as he watched his boss; silver-suited, a wavering length of black pompadour glistening in the glaring lights, and a dark, smooth face hardened by clenched jaws.

“Boy, that is a pose fit for the Time magazine cover,” Harry said. Jamal agreed.

Looking down from their position in the special box reserved for employers of Football Incorporated, Jamal scanned through the diplomatic corps till he found his target: the President of America had his arms wrapped around the shoulders of his North Korean counterpart.

“That one will steal the show tomorrow morning,” he said, holding up a slice of cake for Naomi. She declined.

“It’s over,” Mr. Tulasi began his speech, his voice hard and heavy as it sailed through the crowd. “Those days of destruction; those sleepless nights when fire and death celebrated on the altar of our violent thirst for power; such years when bleak mornings were replaced by afternoons of rampaging artillery launchers, and the scorching sun sat up in our skies like…sat up in a desolate sky like it was itself a bomb waiting to drop…such a day, such a drear day when mothers prayed they never had babies, when boys wished their fathers never lived; such months, ladies and gentlemen and people of a peaceful world, such years of suffering and endless heartaches and a world where hunger was a companion in every child’s belly, every crying child, every dying child whose toys lay in the ruins of hospitals and nurseries and playing fields decimated till they were a single giant pit, like the dreams of a full moon splintering and sinking, till it echoed back to us the words of forgotten love…people, my brothers and sisters, I stand before you as a proud son of Ghana, a man of Africa and a citizen of a truly free world and I declare to you this with all my heart: it’s over.”

The last words came like a feather touch, and the emotions swept through the vast audience as throats screamed in triumph and hands clapped with gladness. The screens showed pursed lips and rolling tears. They displayed wise heads nodding with belief, and faces too stunned to express joy at the magnitude of such a historic day. It was a proud moment for all of mankind and a smack in the face for all those that ever lost faith in God’s own viceroy. Man had his failings, but even in the darkest pits of his sins, he was bound by his own fate to ensure his survival and development. This night was testament to said truth.

Jamal was glad in his heart as he bit into his cake. The smile on his face though disappeared when he tasted nuts in the slice. Spitting it out, he rinsed his mouth with a glass of water.

“Underneath the surface, there is something lurking, always,” Harry said in tease. Jamal ignored him and fished out every bit of nut from the cake. Then he stuffed the remainder into a plastic container.

“Goodness, Jamal, what are you doing,” Harry said.

“I am ending world hunger a slice at a time, Harry. You know how many tonnes of food are wasted each year?”

“1.3 billion tonnes, according to the last statistics,” Naomi said.

“Thank you, Naomi. Plus, the fewer things we discard, the less filth we produce. Accra will do with a lot of this thinking and—”

Naomi hushed Jamal before he could finish, and they turned their attention back to where Mr. Tulasi was still basking in his glories. A number of children had made it to the podium already, each of them holding a rope in their hands. At the end of each rope was a flag representing the world’s countries.

“Like they say,” Mr. Tulasi continued, “when you take away a child’s toy because it is harmful, you give him something in return to play with. You offer him something better, a toy that will make him grow and be a better person, a better adult, an even better parent. And so today, after years of planning and organisation, the time has come to replace the militaries with two teams of 13. Football—”

Jamal giggled into his hand as a murmur ran through the audience. “At least he didn’t say football is like an old woman’s hair,” Harry said beside him.

“Two teams of 11, forgive me,” the president continued, wiping a hand over his silky hair. A ruby shimmered from his thumb. “The excitement… it gets to you.” The crowd laughed.

“And even though the trials had already started around the world, the day has finally come for the inauguration of the new toy with which we will advance healthy competitions. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Football Series.”

Each child pulled at their flags, and a huge curtain was unfolded to reveal a golden plaque with black signatures beneath the Great Declaration. The claps were louder this time, and on one screen, a video was playing explaining the nature of the Series. It was an intercontinental competition with each continent selecting their representatives for the World Series to be held in Dubai. With time, it promised to surpass FIFA’s World Cup as the world’s largest football festival.

Jamal’s wandering eyes met Jasmine’s, his boss’s wife. He snapped his gaze from hers and found the Prime Minister of Israel and the Palestinian President locked at the elbows. Their flags were tied into two knots between them. He couldn’t look from these two men without realising their pose was, perhaps, the single-most relevant gesture that epitomised the spirit of the Football Series. They were two countries locked in conflict, backed and pilloried by religious and political forces for years. In North Korea and America, there were contrasting philosophies peppered with notions of superiority and self-worth. They were an east and west affair, two arms wrestling each other to grasp at more than victory for the perceived victims of their campaigns.

Israel and Palestine were neighbours at war, children at war, and a long history of suffering and atrocities that not even posterity could rectify. But here they were with the past already behind them and their flags before them, their gazes looking on with pride at that declaration that meant more than peace. It was friendship immortalised in the black scribblings of a golden tablet.

Jamal was distracted in his thoughts by a scuffle among the crowd. When he turned, he found a group of black-suited officers struggling with a man dressed in his underpants.

“Jesus Christ, it’s him again,” Harry said, scratching his chin.

Jamal recognised the man they called Romanov; an activist from Kosovo who never shied from his criticisms of Football Inc. Had the company being incorporated in the United States, Jamal would have taken this to be another Russia-America rivalry that survived the peace pact enough to spill into football.

“I wonder why Boss hasn’t sued him for his defamations,” Jamal said.

“Boss enjoys being misunderstood,” Naomi said, to which Jamal and Harry agreed.

The commotion continued until Ghana’s President John took to the mic. “Please, let the gentleman through,” he said, gathering himself in layers of sparkling threads of golden Kente. “Tonight is a night when everyone gets to have their voices heard. I’m sure he is not against peace.”

There were nods around him from the visiting presidents.

Having been given the all-clear, the man raised his placard for the world to see. Football replaces the nukes. It doesn’t stop the war. A very odd consideration, Jamal thought. A smile crept up Harry’s face as the Kosovar climbed the podium.

Naomi too had seen his smile. “You seem amused,” she said. “Are you sure you and your folk at Security do not have him tapped?”

Harry’s eyes blinked behind his glasses. “And I thought I was the paranoid one. We work on the premises of FI’s offices, Naomi. Besides, what is not funny about captain underpants?” The Nigerian took her time to turn from Harry.

“I will not thank you for this opportunity,” the activist announced as murmurs rose among the spectators. “I will not thank you because, being in a free world, this is the least we should expect of others: the platform to air our thoughts. On the other hand, I will thank you for disposing of the weapons, or these people, oh, these people, they would have shot me a hundred times over.”

Jamal laughed with the crowd.

“You all know I do not trust these people who claim to have ended suffering. It is not that I do not believe in football. God, I used to play sock balls from Kosovo to Moscow until some people came and broke the place all up.” He paused to hear responses. None came.

“I guess what I am saying is why are the Indians now spending billions to build stadia for a sport they never were interested in before? Why is football more popular than dragons in Beijing? I will tell you what is happening.”

He looked about, silent, his eyes scanning as if looking for one person among the gathering mass of people from every corner of the earth. Jamal already knew his words before he said them, and the crowd muttered them with him: “The New World Order.”

He was left stunned for a while, and he stood there watching at the murmuring crowd not sure whether to be excited or angered. Four dark spots marked his left chin, and the deep green in his eyes stared on for more than a while before he gathered his wits again.

“It’s the same old sayings, always,” Jamal said, flexing his right hand.

“You think he should say something else,” Harry asked without looking at Jamal.

“I think he should stop making things up,” Jamal replied. “And what is wrong if the Koreans now play ball? Is it not better than those diplomatic wars they’ve been going on about? It is not FI’s job to manufacture drugs. We are giving people a real chance at hope.”

“Corrupt as they are, FIFA already claims to be doing that, and there is a lot of evidence to suggest they are,” Harry protested.

“Yes, they are doing that alright,” Naomi countered. “I mean, when you claim to be a charity and take away millions of taxes, you can build up a billion dollar reserve, sign shoddy deals, and squeeze 100-page reports into a few objectionable paragraphs. FI, on the other hand, is offering 20% of its revenues to the World Hunger Programme, which is more than any profit-seeking organisation can boast of. Frankly, I am not paid enough to teach you your company’s job.”

“Thou art so kind, your Grace.” Harry teased.

On the podium, the Russian was still counting allegations on his bare toes.

“…and why is nothing being said about the missing Lakazor? I tell you this: Football is not his salvation to the world. They are making weapons far worse than man has ever known.” The mumblings began to drown him but he wasn’t to be denied. “Yes, you can shout and scream, but I will say the things no one will say. Take any newspaper and the open to the last page – and only God knows why they put that on the last page – but take it and check and you will see some mysterious deaths, always sports related, always talking about too much iron, steel in the heart, zombies controlled by some mysterious forces. This man is creating a world where his company controls everything, from the glasses we wear, to the drugs we use, to the fertilizer we use to grow our foods. Now, a man—”

The American president rose to his feet and the man fell quiet as if the words had been plucked from his throat.

“I believe we have had enough of your nonsense, Romanov.” The man opened his mouth to speak but the president gestured, and the guards were there to carry the Russian away.

“We are gathered here on this historic day to reward a great man, an honourable man who has given us and our descendants a true chance at peace. Too many nights and days have been spent in our pretences and neglects while the poor and vulnerable suffered. Now, we have this. We have this thing that has eluded us all these years, and boy, how relieved it leaves me.”

“For the records, Football Inc. has no dealings in the things being mentioned: not fertilizer, not glasses, and certainly not drugs. It has been confirmed, and when I say it has been confirmed, trust me, it has.”

“Now, I call upon President John of the Republic of Ghana to do us the favour of honouring this great man with the Nobel Prize.”

Jamal was on his feet like everyone else, and he showed appreciation for the man who hand-picked him for this position five years ago. The roof of the stadium peeled open to show a resplendent night sky, a plump moon hanging over all like the caring cheeks of a proud mother. Fireworks peppered the silvery expanse with dazzling colours, and as Jamal stopped clapping to flex his right wrist, his gaze found his boss’s wife exchanging words with the American First Lady. Jamal’s eyes lingered, his mind suddenly taken by a whirl of thoughts until Harry caught him in a huge embrace and a kiss that was a pint too wet on his face.

“Congratulations,” he declared, ruffling Jamal.

“Yeah, we did it, Harry,” he replied, hugging Naomi in turn.

His right pocket vibrated. Jamal disentangled himself and pulled out his smartphone to read a mail notification. In the background, there was his wife, Hajia Mariam, daughter of Alhaji Maikudi of Kano, bespangled in her red smile and nose ring. Her hijab was a wondrous shade of purple that flowed over her shoulders and was synched at her left ear with a sparkling squirrel brooch.

“Ah, Hajia, when is she coming,” Naomi asked, stealing a glance.

Jamal smiled and shrugged, his eyes scanning the jubilant crowd. “She’ll come.”

 

People with families

Daru scanned the stadium with wide eyes, his breath a pinpoint in his chest. About him were vague shadows he could not put a face on. Their calls and screams tugged at his eardrums like nettles. He tried to turn around with the ball, but it wandered off as if possessed by a mind of its own.

Daru chased after it with feet suddenly heavier than they were, and it was all he could do to halt his tripping over the inflated ball. He managed to gather it under control and turned around looking for a friend among the shadows looming about him. He found the wind on his face, its taste gritty between his teeth. He winced, brought his arm up to ward off the swirling dirt and probed further through the veiling dust with the ball.

Daru could barely see now. Blood pounded in his ears and all up his torso, he felt the cold tickle of sweat. He didn’t see it before the guy barged into him and he collapsed to the ground. The breath left him in a sudden puff as dust motes gathered about his vision.

He snapped his eyes shut and when he opened them, he realised the world was no longer a blur. Everything seemed in its rightful order; the many distinguishable faces of the chanting crowd, the banners of The Trials splayed over the VIP section, his friends and foes on the pitch, even the trail of dirt as the ball receded from his sight.

His reverie was punctured by a rough jostling of his collar, and he turned to find Archibald’s mean countenance glaring at him. He had a round face and his brows deepened in a scowl that turned his face into a terrible mask.

“You pass the ball or you get out,” he screamed into Daru’s face, spitting gum and sweat. Archibald sprinted away, and as Daru rearranged his jersey, a voice reached him above all the noise.

“Take your place. Schneller, schneller, take your place, Daru.” Daru looked to where the sound came from and saw Coach Hansen with his arms across his chest. He remembered his position. Hug the touch line. Hug the touch line.

He was still trotting back when the stadium erupted again to celebrate the next score. The look on Archibald when he turned to face him made Daru cold.

“That was smart, Daru,” he said with a rueful laugh, spitting and clapping and chewing. “You were way offside and we were defending a corner. Very smart, child, fucking smart.”

“Leave the boy alone,” Ike said in a guttural tone.

“And why should—”

“I said leave him alone.” Ike’s square jaws were clenched, his chest bursting through the sweat-stained red jersey. Archibald mumbled as he turned away, his evil stare lingering as Daru hurried to his position on the left wing. The wind filled his oversized jersey, his mouth dry as paint.

“Super, you are doing great, Daru,” his coach said as he took his place. “Just pass the ball and all will be fine. You want to shit, it’s fine. We all want to shit. Just pass the ball and we can go take a piss. Alles klar?”

Daru was no fool. Nothing was going well. He was here to make it into the African Team for the new intercontinental competitions. It would be the realisation of a dream, a dream carried to the grave, a dream nurtured in his heart since he became old enough to feel the responsibilities placed on his young shoulders. And somehow, he was making an easy mess of it.

He needed to get better or it would be back on the streets changing car tyres for him again. The ball was supposed to be his to caress and do as he pleased. All his friends knew how good he was. Pursing his lips, he took in deep breaths of the calm wind to steady his heart.

When the referee blew his whistle, Daru rushed down the line to intercept a lobbed pass. Then the whistle came again and he looked up at the scoreboard: 90+3 minutes. His hand came to his mouth as an announcement blared through the speakers. He stooped where he was standing, unable to bring himself to follow the players back into the dressing room.

Daru looked down at the disfigured number 10 on his flappy red shorts, at the black socks that ended in a thick roll on his thighs, and at the Adidas boots whose lines were lost in a hundred patchworks. He sniffed and strolled to the bench.

There was nothing to remember about the match, he realised as he tried to recollect events. He had come on at 85 minutes to make his mark. In all that time, all he’d done was earn the wrath of Archibald, the player supposedly loved even by Mr. Tulasi at FI. Looking up at the single roofed section of the stadium, he saw a lone figure among the multitude of yellow plastic chairs scribbling and flexing his left wrist. Even this far out, Daru could sense the air of confidence that wafted about him. If only he had a piece of it.

Footsteps made his stomach knot, and it was only by his grunt that he knew it was Coach Hansen. The German’s long face held a squint against the bursting sunrays that turned his hair into gold. He wore Adidas track suits with FI emblazoned over his right breast, his sun glasses resting over his yellow hair.

“Ja, thought I would find you here,” he said as he took a seat by Daru. Daru turned away and wiped his face.

“Hmm, you are sad because Archibald yelled at you? Is that it?”

Daru hung his head and watched his swinging legs. “You know I could be good if you gave me more time,” he said, swallowing a lump.

“Really?”

Daru’s head snapped toward the man’s acne-peppered face.

“You said you could be good. Now, that is disappointing to hear,” he said, blinking deep blue eyes at Daru.

Daru swallowed spit. “Yes, I might disappoint you when you put me on the wings instead of where I deserve.”

“And where is it that you deserve, Daru?”

“You know where I deserve, coach.”

“Lieber Gott, do I? I have never seen you play before. I saw you train once and thought you had a very, very good first touch. Oh, that flick you made the other day, it reminded me of Del Piero against Fiorentina. I saw it and I thought, hmmm, this is a player with terrific control, impressive technique. Only one thing was missing: passing.”

“That is not true,” Daru said through his teeth. “I can pass. You know I can pass.”

Hansen pouted his lips and made a dance with his head as if he was saying yes and no at the same time. He looked like a duck from Duisburg, or Augsburg.

“Ja, you can pass,” he continued, checking his wrist watch, “I remember that. I mean, a forty yard pass that landed straight at the boot of the player…that was incredible. Do it three times and it wasn’t a fluke. But your colleagues were just metres from you, Daru. You couldn’t give a two metre pass.”

“Of course I can.”

“Ja klar, you refused to give two metre passes.”

Daru looked away.

“You are 16, Daru, the youngest and most inexperienced. In a perfect world, you should be in an Ausbildungs… an academy where you will learn to develop. Here, there is a harvest, and the bigger boys, some of them with families to take care of—”

“What do you know about people with families,” Daru cut him. “What do you know about families, coach? Do you know—” Daru bit back the words and looked away.

“I do not know much, but I know a man must kneel before he can rise. And you are not even a man yet. See that man over there,” he said, pointing to the man Daru had seen. “They call him Jamal, Jamal Appah or Appy or something like that. He used to collect scraps on a dump site. Today he works with the company that will put FIFA out of business. He started as a driver, then an assistant, and now he is profiling players for the World Series in Dubai. It is going to be the biggest event in world football.

“There are two more trials. Just try and pass the ball, two yards, and impress them. When you make it, they will give you new boots, and a Lamborghini, and a house looking over the beach.”

He checked his watch and jumped to his long feet. “Man! Got to go, Daru,” he said, pinching Daru on his shoulder. Daru watched him go, his Adidas feet leaving small dimples on the red earth. At a point, he turned to Daru and asked him, “Do you want coffee? I am going to get some coffee.”

Daru shook his head. “We don’t even drink coffee in Ghana.”

Hansen smiled through beer-stained teeth. “Not correct. That is not correct.”

Daru remained on the bench for a while longer till he was certain everybody had left the dressing room. When he finally got there, the stench from the room knocked the breath out of him. The floor was littered with dirty jerseys and broken cans of energy drinks. There were toffee wrappers he knew came from Ike, the big Nigerian, and a voodoo doll from the Angolan they called Ade. And, lying beneath a pile of tissue papers, Daru found a white boot with light green Diadora stripes he recognised as Archibald’s.

The studs were a perfect length, and its overwhelming smell of newness suppressed any stench from the pile of mess from which he had picked it. There was only one pair, and he imagined the big bully had dropped it accidentally in his haste to go grab his girl. Daru thought of the girl; red cheeks and fluttering eyes, high bosoms and high heels, kinky skirts and bare calves, and he felt his heart jump. He turned to the white board where the players had made a dirty picture over the coach’s triangulation. Picking a red pen from the board, Daru smiled as he recalled Coach Hansen’s words. A man must kneel before he can rise.

He made the first mark before the gate flung open, and Daru turned to find Archibald standing at the door. He was dressed in blue Sark Jeans and a pair of white converse sneakers. Golden speed lines streaked his Mohawk to match his ear phones. He looked from the boot to the pen and scowled.

Daru swallowed hard as the boot fell from his hand. Sweat sprang up his brows. A hot bubble floated behind his chest as he stepped back.

“I-I wasn’t doing anything,” he croaked, dropping the red ink. “I was going to shit.”

 

Blatant plagiarist

Jamal was swiping a pattern over his glass desk when a shock wave surged through his fingers. He yelped and jerked his hand off.

“Hey,” he called out to Naomi and Harry who were playing a FIFA game on his console. “It happened again, guys. Are you sure it’s only me?”

“Huh, what did you say? I can’t quite hear you from up the charts,” Naomi mocked him. She could afford to after giving him many rounds of ass-whooping on the video game.

“Blatant plagiarist,” he said, throwing a furled paper that cuffed neatly around the ear.

“Paperless factory, Jamal. Paperless factory,” Harry said, seriousness laced with his light-hearted warning.

Jamal waved the comment away. “But I’m serious, guys. It’s been doing this on and off for some time. How do shockwaves pass through this? I mean, it’s only glass for Dumsor’s sake.”

Naomi giggled. “Trust me, my little step child, there is no problem. It’s all in your mind, in your heart, in how much you want it.”

Jamal was not listening to her jokes. He flexed his wrist and looked down at the screen taking shape on his desk, searching for any sign of malfunction. There was nothing but a system of blue lines with a space to enter his password. FI hovered in the background like a waiting shadow, Mr. Tulasi’s face lodged at the top right corner of the screen. Jamal reached out tentatively with a finger, drawing it back as soon as he felt the warm glass.

Nothing.

He punched his password using the on screen keyboard. His last project was still on standby and, pressing the project button, the figure grew before him with its 3d features in scary detail. There was a part of him that felt uncomfortable whenever an unreal person stared him in the eyes, twitched its nose as if it smelt his breath and, with that one they called Daru, winked at him with childish mischief.

“Hey, what do you think about this one, Naomi,” he called.

“Which one,” she asked.

“Ike, the Nigerian titan,” Jamal answered. “They say he was released by Enugu Rangers many months ago but he doesn’t look like he has lost any of his touch.” Jamal swiped the space button to reveal any pattern over his last games.

“He has put up the same level of performance he did during the pre—God, are you listening, Naomi?”

“Nope, I am not, JM,” the Nigerian answered as she led a two-v-one attack. Jamal reached out and pressed a button under his seat and the TV screen went blank.

“Chineke,” the lady exclaimed, punching her controller.

“Jamal, Jamal what—”

“He’s missed it,” the commentator announced, cutting short Naomi’s question before she could ever press pause.

“That was not cool, JM. I was winning.”

“No, you were not, my lady,” Harry objected. “You had Torres in attack for Chrissakes!”

“As I was saying, Ike has not run a kilometre more or less since the pre-trials—”

“Wait, there were pre-trials?” Harry asked.

Naomi nodded as they both came to stand before the projected Nigerian. “Some of the players were even invited for the trials,” she said.

Jamal saw Harry shake his head, and though the Brit said nothing, he knew what went on in his mind. It wasn’t fair to give people false hopes while others were almost assured of selection.

“Ike doesn’t seem to me to be the kind with much intelligence,” Jamal went on, “but there is a bit of efficiency about his play. See, he never goes into a tackle without winning it. He is powerful in the air and almost unmovable on the ground. A sort of titan, if you would.”

“Football’s Imaro,” Naomi said.

Jamal frowned. “Who’s Imaro?”

“Oh, he’s the African Conan, apparently. Sword and Soul, you know, like Sword and Sorcery…”

Jamal shook his head. “No, I don’t know him. Anyway, when Ike sets his eyes on his marker, he makes Gentile-vs.-Maradona look like Frozen in the land of Mordor. You know of the ring, don’t you?”

Maybe they didn’t, he realised. Harry had his hand on his chin and a curious stare in his eyes. By his side, Naomi’s eyes followed the specialised highlight and the infographic that matched the player’s efforts.

“Zoom in on his heart rate, would you, Jamal,” she said. Ike smiled as if he’d heard.

Jamal did.

It was Harry who spoke this time. “God, do you see what I see?”

The two nodded. There was a constant surge in his heartbeat midway through each half, regardless of whether they were in possession or not. It was echoed in all the games.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking, Jamal,” Naomi asked.

“That he is controlling his heart rate,” Harry asked.

They both turned to look at Harry who seemed lost in his admiration of the towering Nigerian. If Jamal hadn’t known him long enough, he would have believed the Brit actually discerned something from what he was looking at.

“You can’t control your heart rate to this level of perfection, not even with practice. It is a not a chip to be distance-controlled,” Naomi said, but her eyes said she too was curious about the scene before them.

“You do know that these data are stubborn for their inaccuracy without our own gears doing the measurement,” Jamal said quickly.

“Not exactly, Jamal,” Harry offered. “All the gears have kind of the same core. Besides, the variations are accounted for as soon as they hit the servers. It’s… you know I can’t talk about this.”

Naomi snorted. Jamal nodded, understanding every bit of that information. It was above his pay grade. He was not privy to the information despite being there when the company began. He was there two years before Harry, before Naomi, before Jonas, and he had been stuck on the twentieth floor while many others climbed the rank.

“Then, it could be a problem with our system,” Jamal said finally, flexing his right wrist. “You remember the auto-predict debacle?”

Naomi smiled, telling Jamal she remembered. Harry was not buying any of that. “I do remember that as well, but trust me, Mr. Tulasi saw to this software himself. When he picks something, you know it is perfect. No shitting around.”

They laughed at a joke Jamal knew was more than half true. It was said Mr. Tulasi was so obsessed with perfection that when he sat down to take a shit, he would wiggle his buttocks to make sure it spread evenly in the water hole. The thought gave him an idea for a new post on his secret blog: Football is Shit.

“Anyway, he is an interesting one. Forward his files up top,” Naomi said.

“What is this with all these coded messages,” Jamal asked, keying in the message. “You speak of one like he is a character on a video game.”

“Maybe they are,” Harry said as he threw a black coat over his shoulders. “Maybe we all are puppets in the grand plans of an unseen force and somebody somewhere is punching his keys hard and fast. The marketing, the entertainment, the news…they are all arranged to draw a certain effect from us. It’s a scary—”

He stopped talking and looked from Jamal to Naomi. “What,” he asked, baffled.

“Nothing,” Naomi said, slipping into her own jacket, “I am just waiting for you to finish so I could prescribe some pills for your paranoia. You sound a lot like that Kosovar.”

Jamal chortled as Naomi decided to take her leave. “Good night y’all,” she shouted and already, Jamal could hear her headphones bashing to Stonebwoy’s Baafira tune.

When they were alone, Harry continued where he’d left off.

“The way you are scrutinizing every detail, it’s like you are building a what-do-you-call-it, Galacticos, if you’d mind my plagiarist vocabulary.”

“More like the Naked Peacocks,” Jamal teased.

“Not funny,” Harry said, arranging his hair so the parting was visible on the left. “Leeds United has done great things in the past, and certainly with more heart than the bloody money-oiled Devils. Anyway, I have got to go. Will probably sleep here tonight.”

“Can’t say I am surprised. They need to start charging you rent real quick.”

Harry stopped buttoning his jacket and gave Jamal a stern look. “Can you believe what they are discussing? They want to put a fee on garage parking now. What, is this how you encourage public transport? I mean that is…”

He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial level as he looked at the closing screen on Jamal’s workspace.

“I mean, that is bloody nuts! Who gives them these ideas, for Chrissakes?”

“They have a department for that. Cost-cutting, or along those lines, they call it.”

“I mean, nothing goes in or out of the building, and nobody is allowed to come to work with a bag or anything. I would say they are actually encouraging us to sleep here and work our hearts out.”

“It isn’t my headache. That discussion is above my paygrade, remember,” Jamal said, leading the way as they left his office.

“Yes, it is easier for you to say that now. But you do remember that saying: First they came for the socialist—”

“Then they came for our football,” he offered his own version. “Look, whatever, Harry. I am going to the hotel to have me a good night’s sleep and dream about my wife.”

Harry went left to join the elevator that went upward while Jamal took the ones to the right.

“West Wing, ground floor,” he gave the order, and the elevator began its winding course from the East Wing. He used the time to face the mirror and arrange his suit. Brushing a hand over his wavy hair down his sideburns, he pressed his little goatee backward to leave it flat under his chin.

“Yeah, who said observing Sunnah isn’t cool” he muttered, then opened up the top buttons of his white shirt.

A minute later, the elevator opened into a vast but empty lobby of the company building. Sofas were set up in a formation that promised both comfort as well as an open atmosphere for their occupants. Their colours followed the pattern of the national flags standing erect outside the glass wall, all of them towered by the mast that carried Ghana’s flag. Man-height aquaria dazzled with the dispersed light points, a range of African and Oriental artefacts hanging next to their western decorations.

“Sleep well, Jamal,” the virtual security hailed over the speakers as a circlet of green light hovered about him to inspect him.

“I’m tempted to say, you too, Maame,” he said to the female voice, “but I don’t trust Harry up there alone.”

The voice chuckled. “I like your suit by the way. Your swag is tight.”

“What, you’re flirting with me? Hey, Harry, you better stop that before you give me nightmares.”

Stepping through the sliding glass-doors, he was met by the dour smell of grass and endless sights of expansive architecture that made up North Legon. Jamal recalled how much these lands used to be just another middle class estate bordered at the north by a certain Zongo community. Now, five years after the War, it has spawned into a territory large enough to form its own city. The slum had been left to grow as well, and Jamal could see their dimmed lights across the Highway that separated the two regions.

Jamal followed an avenue of trees separating the busy road from the patterned neighbourhood of North Legon. The plants were cuddled close enough to form shadows despite the glaring streetlights, and it was from these shadows that he heard the whimpering sounds.

He froze and peered through the still trees. The wind was quiet, and for a while, all he heard were the darting cars on the asphalt beyond. Then it came again, and he detected too the hoarse voice making hushing calls. He looked about him at the silent homes, regretting immediately for not using the company car. His hotel was another half an hour’s walk from where he stood. Pulling out his phone, he punched in 191 and waited.

His heart slammed at the next shriek from the bushes. A wave of blue light swirled in the dense shadows, disappearing just as he saw an image stagger out of the trees.

It was a lady stripped to her underclothes. Her eyes were wild, her bloodied face sparkling under the light like a ghost waking at the scene of her murder.

“Please, help me,” she croaked, spitting blood as she stretched out a hand to Jamal. Jamal retreated, blinking, his lips reciting Qur’anic verses he never knew he’d memorised. Then the lady’s arm fell, and she fell and hit her face against the hard pedestrian walkway.

From the phone, a voice answered his call in a scratchy rhythm but he could not hear a thing. There was a man in the shadows, and he was coming to meet Jamal.

 

They’re coming for you

The phone fell from his hand, the staccato that had been the voice disappearing as it hit the ground. The man’s face became clearer as he stepped into the light. A deep scar ran across his wide face. His walk was strange, almost gracious but for the death stare in his eyes that made Jamal feel like he was under the scrutiny of a jetfighter’s crosshairs. The street light flickered and cast gloomy shadows on the man’s dominating physique. He pulled out an ignited cigarette and sucked hard, releasing a ball of smoke.

“They’re coming for you,” he said, his tone like an electric shock to Jamal’s spine. The light died, shrouding him in partial darkness.

Jamal turned and saw the three men running toward him. Sparing the man a moment’s frightful look, he took to his heels and lunged into the trees.

Headlights blazed into his face as he stood with his heart in his throat. Frantic vehicles flew past from both sides of the Highway. Behind him, the three men inched closer to him with impossible strides. It was like they were standing upright and running at the same time. Turning to the traffic, he saw a gap and jumped onto the road. He was late, and the blasting horn stabbed his ears before the car crashed into him.

“Herh, Zongo boy, you want to kill yourself, eh. I no get insurance give you oh,” the driver said, flying past. Jamal laboured to his feet and found himself in no man’s lane. Lorries wheezed around him with their blaring sounds and buffeting winds, disorienting him for a moment. When he felt a searing pain in his shoulder and a red light fired past him, Jamal wasted no time in hurling himself out of the street, evading a Mercedes van by a hair’s breath. He tumbled down the down the high slopes that separated the slums from the Highway.

Pain shot through his ribs and shoulder as he came to a halt in a shrub. Jamal had never been to this place before, and the darkness spread before him like a haunting ghost. It took another blast of their gun to remind him he was in just another slum, and the only thing he needed to know was that there were many corners and many gutters. Another gunshot flew past him, a beam of red light ending in a little explosion not far ahead. More shots were fired, and Jamal laboured over a metal fence and into the slum proper.

Cursing voices followed every blast of their guns as Jamal turned one corner after the next. Hurdling a chicken coup, he muffled a scream as the aluminium roof brazed his shin. A shot into the pen sent fowls a-cackling, and the deep night that had been the slum came to life one light bulb after another. Barking dogs joined the fray of taunts toward imagined police personnel and armed robbers. Nobody came out.

Jamal just about came to a halt at the lip of a gutter. He flailed his arms to keep his balance, and then ducked at the next shots. He turned east and delved deeper into the darker parts, ignoring the taunts of a group of teenagers smoking weed on a raised tomb. He followed the bend to the left and saw the short wall too late. He fell awkwardly, twisting his ankle. Jamal screamed.

He wasn’t up on his feet when a dog jumped onto him, clamping its jaws on his left arm. Pain lanced up his wrist as teeth sank into his flesh. Poking the hound in the eyes, he managed to free himself enough to climb back to his feet. The dog grabbed his leg before he could wobble away, and he fell back onto his face. There was a sudden explosion of sound, and Jamal saw red fire zip through the dog’s belly. The animal whimpered and fell to the ground, and Jamal pulled his bare foot from the jaws and limped away, rounding a stationary vehicle with a broken windshield.

The next turn brought him to a kraal, and he jumped in with the cattle and crawled under the feeding trough. Soon, his pursuers reached the pen and screeched to a halt. Jamal watched their silhouetted forms against the pitch blackness. They scanned through the stiff cattle for a while before taking off again.

Jamal’s breaths were heavy. Sweat tickled his back and face. As he tried to come out, he heard the shuffling feet of the men. He sunk back into hiding and watched them with wide eyes, his heart frantic in his throat.

There was nothing familiar about them, but he hoped they hadn’t recognized him. He watched them and did his best to glean their features in the meagre light but a sudden spray of urine blurred his vision. Jamal pursed his lips and sank into more shit as a bull screamed into the night and mounted a cow. The men cursed and exchanged words that reached Jamal in whispers.

They abandoned their chase and started off. A while later, with nothing to be heard of their footfalls, Jamal tried to come out of hiding. He knocked his head hard on collapsed into cow dung. Darkness took him.

Ghost

“What happened to your face,” Frosty asked as he reached out to touch him.

Daru pulled away. “It’s nothing,” he said, “I fell.”

Frosty lifted his brow in appraisal, raising a pair of blue raindrop tattoos in the process. “Is it nothing or you fell?”

Daru shrugged and massaged his temple. He feigned a wince and turned to catch a glimpse of Leti and the fat man they called Azay playing cards on a sofa against the wall to his left. Sitting beside the lady was a young boy not unlike Daru in age. He was engrossed with an old smartphone that was held together with black tapes.

Behind Daru, disco lights shimmered through the glass wall in rhythm to the throbbing sound of music. Frosty was still watching him when he turned, a huge cigar burning between his lips. Daru shifted on his feet and averted the man’s scarred face. His eyes lingered on the white lines across a great slab of ebony wood that served as his table, pieces of rolled up papers lying next to them.

“You know how we do this, Daru,” Frosty said as he turned to pour himself a red drink. Daru swallowed spit at the smell and bowed his head. “I already helped you for free, you know. How many minutes did you get? How many?”

“Five,” Daru mumbled.

“Did they fucking cut your tongue, boy?”

Daru suppressed a shiver. “Five, five minutes,” he said, stepping back.

“Five minutes. Five minutes plus added time, you mean.” Daru nodded, and Frosty made his way to the great black chair behind his desk. It had spikes along its sides and a high roof that covered him like a black cloud. Its armrests were frozen lionesses, and a set of controls were hidden under each arm like triggers. Frosty took a mouthful of his drink and eased himself into his throne proper, blowing a whip of smoke.

“How old are you, Daru,” Frosty asked.

“Seven-seventeen.”

“Boy, don’t lie to me. I carried you. God, I carried you at my back when you were little and you pissed—”

Frosty broke down with laughter till tears spilled from his eyes. “One time, you know,” he went on, “one time I was out with my moms and pops and we met Daru and his mother. Jacob, his brother… you know, Jay is not a momma’s boy. So, Jay was not with them, and little Daru was at his mama’s back, and, and, she had a basket on her head too. You know, a basket, a very big one. But me, I loved Daru, you know. He was such a beautiful child, even now look at him… wink now for us, come on, smile. Come on, smile for us now. Leti, come, Leti, make him smile.”

Daru felt her cold presence before Leti reached him. She bent down before him and lifted his chin so he was staring into her large fluttering eyes. Her high cheeks relaxed in a smile that made a part of Daru throb hard inside his chest. Her blue-black hair was woven in a way that resembled a bird in flight, her stiff-collared coat dappled with purple and sparkling stones. When she spoke, her breath was dizzying, and it tickled his nostrils till he was stiff in more than his spine.

“This is one fine boy with bright brown eyes, Frost,” she said, leaning into him. Daru felt the heat in his cheeks as he fought to turn away. Leti traced a finger along his jaws. A chilly tickle ran through him till he shuddered, and Daru barely managed to pull away, his heart hard in his breast as the smile escaped his lips.

“God, Frost, this boy is not even 13.”

“I’m 16,” Daru snapped back, his hands locked in front of him. He will be 16 when the sun rose tomorrow.

Azay snorted. “Nothing like a woman bringing the truth out of you,” he said as he played a two man game all by himself. Daru did not see it till he felt the lash on his arm. He screamed and jumped back. Frosty was sitting in his chair with his feet up on the table and a long whip whirling in his hand. Blue light dazzled about his dark shades, a hard line marking his jaws.

“Don’t ever lie to me again, Daru.” Daru nodded and looked down.

“What was that? What? I didn’t quite hear you, boy.”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Frosty,” Daru said, his hand burning from the whip.

“So what happened when you—” Azay’s question ended with a chilling look from the man with the whip. Frosty stood from his chair and came to stand between Daru and the table.

“Look at me, look at me,” he said. Daru raised his gaze till he found Frosty’s face. He was hardly a big man when he came to stand before him, though his chest looked well-toned beneath the darkness under his jacket. His left eye brow had three slits through them, his semi-dread locks ebellished with glittering blues and greys.

“You know why I help you, and you also know this would not be necessary if you made up your mind. Now, tell me, how is she.”

Daru gritted his teeth. “She is fine,” he said without looking up. He had been only a child when they were together, but Daru knew the story between Frosty and his brother. They were inseparable all their lives, and it was this that Frosty sought to maintain with Daru. Frosty was good to him but Daru did not wish to be involved in all that they were doing. Nobody says anything about it, but Daru knew better. He knew Frosty’s table was not a chalk factory, and knew also that the stain under the table was no Rosé.

Looking at the sofa, he saw Azay with his blue-streaked hair and Nike boots. Leti wore the largest watch he’d ever seen on a lady, and behind her, the boy was engrossed with a game on his smartphone. His ears were stuffed with light green Beats headphones, his shirt emblazoned with, Lakazor, in tribute to a certain smart boy who disappeared. Gold shone from his baseball cap and large shoes.

Frosty brought his mind back. “I know you like what you see, Daru—”

Daru shook his head. He managed with the little he had from changing tyres by the street. All he wanted from Frosty was another chance at the Trials, and all the troubles would be over.

Frosty cuffed him on the ear. “You will not soil your hands but will eat of the loaf it buys, eh?”

“You know, there is a match in the new stadium in Dansoman tomorrow,” Frosty said after a few puffs of smoke. “I’ll get you in one of the teams and you will do as the captain tells you. Is that possible, or is your face too hurt to play?”

Daru nodded. “I can—”

The words choked in his throat as Azay sprang to his feet with a gun in hand. The wall shattered behind Daru, showering him with pieces of glass as the blasting music was punctured by screams and gun shots. He protected his head with one hand and scrambled to the chair behind the great table.

Frosty’s shadow was sprayed on the wall facing Daru, and he saw the man draw two guns from inside his long jacket. Fire blazed from them as he stood between Azay and Leti, his wordless roar rising beyond the sound of artillery. Behind the sofa, the boy had his ears plugged and his eyes on the fire fight between his boss and the attackers. His eyes found Daru’s when he turned, and they remained locked on Daru as his fingers danced over the phone.

A screeching sound blasted through the nightclub, and Daru cowered to the ground, his hands over his ears. A moment later it was gone, and only the screams of fleeing people could be heard. Frosty and his companions were still standing in their positions, their guns bellowing smoke.

“Daru, Daru. Anybody fucking seen Daru?” Frosty thundered. Daru came out trembling, his throat burning with the smell of gun powder. He saw Frosty’s chest peppered with gunshot holes and realised he had been wearing a bullet proof vest all along. Save where one of the lenses had cracked into a web of blue lights, he looked as calm as his name. The others didn’t look like they were injured either.

It was the wall behind Frosty’s chair that piqued Daru’s attention. There was no sign of gunshots on it, nor was there any wreckage on the great mahogany table before it. When he looked down, he saw spent cartridges scattered about Frosty and his companions.

He was still watching with surprise when Frosty ruffled his shoulders, and he realised the man had been speaking to him. “Are you deaf, boy, eh?” Daru swallowed and shook his head, his eyes wide.

“Be there tomorrow at 2pm. Do you hear me?” Daru nodded, still watching all the mess with a stupefied expression. “Well, go… go now. There are more of them coming, you know.”

Daru was going through the dance floor when Frosty stopped him and nodded to the wall on his right. Turning, he saw a door that had not been there before. He asked no questions as he slipped into the night.

A part of Zongo was experiencing its share of Dumsor that night but Daru knew his birthplace like the lines on his palm. A few cut-corners and hurdled-gutters later, he was staring with surprise at the lighted windows of their chamber and hall apartment. It was past midnight when he went to see Frosty.

Dark thoughts plagued his mind as he burst through the room and found Naana and his niece huddled together in the sitting room. He didn’t need to be told the Abigail had had nightmares of her own. The little girl though was in his arms before he could speak. Daru grabbed her and held her close to his chest.

She smelt of talcum powder and crayons and a hundred other drugs. He squeezed her tight and inhaled more, feeling the memories of the night fade out of his mind. The old woman shook her head in response to his unspoken words, her face solemn.

Abigail peeled herself from him and looked him in the eyes with her square head and high cheeks.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said as if reading his mind.

“Are you sure,” he said, winking. She giggled to reveal the few teeth on her gums, and then blinked both eyes in a bid to mimic him. Abigail pushed herself down before he could say anything. She guided him to a cluttered table in the bedroom where her latest cardboard drawing was spread before an old computer.

“Who is this,” she asked, pointing to a girl.

Daru smiled at the girl with her square face and pointy braids. And then his finger traced the length of her arms to where they were cut at the wrists.

“That is my beautiful Abigail,” he whispered, tickling her.

His niece giggled and pointed to an old woman with her brown teeth and grey hair. Her walking stick was in one hand, a bowl of cola nuts in another.

“Old, troublesome, Naana,” Daru said in a conspiratorial tone.

The child nodded knowingly. Then she pointed to a boy in his football vests. He had a rag over his head with large round eyes and a screaming mouth. She eyed him with the corner of her eyes, her face all naughty and pretty.

Daru laughed and tried to tickle her but she escaped this time. “Ghost,” he told her, as quiet as the thoughts that came to him.

The last one, the little girl wouldn’t ask. She stood with her elbow on Daru’s thigh and stared at the man with his square, faceless head. His giant wings covered them all, the stars and moon hanging over his shoulders.

Daru pursed his lips as a familiar ache returned to his heart. He gritted his teeth and carried his niece to bed, settling in close beside her. The little girl wrapped her stumps around his neck as he sang her songs her mother never bothered to sing. He sang her songs his brother should have sang had he lived to see her birth. Daru kissed her fair skin and rubbed a hand over the bald patches between her pointy braids. He sang her many songs as his voice faltered and her breath grew steady, thinking all the while of the gift he would get her for her sixth birthday the coming morning. He couldn’t make up his mind till sleep took him. Daru dreamt of the Series.

Staining the floor

It was halftime, and the coach was speaking about a hole on the opposition’s right flank while Daru was sitting on the ground massaging his bandaged feet. The pink colour had now been replaced with dirt and sweat, a bruise on his left shin staining it with blood. Daru wiped sweat from his face and looked about at the strangers that were his teammates, wondering what their true names and ages were.

In each of their eyes, some jaundiced, others squinting, and still some others wild with an unknown memory, Daru saw more than just dreams and aspirations of big cars and great mansions. He saw desperation, and debt, and a straw keeping them afloat with the promise of even more suffering. Among these strangers, he saw himself mirrored 10 times and more. He felt home.

His phone vibrated inside his bag that moment, and Daru excused himself from the team despite the sneering looks he got from some people. A girl from the crowd waved at him. He couldn’t hear what she said, but he winked at her, and she turned away with a smirk on her face.

Flipping the phone open, he heard Naana’s frantic breath on the other side. His chest tightened.

“Hello, Naana. Is everything fine? What is—”

“Daru, Daru, you have to come quick. Abigail, Abigail is—”

The line went dead.

He stood there staring unseeingly into the crowd until a massive roar brought his mind around. Pulling the phone back, he dialled the old woman’s number again and waited for connection. He heard a female’s voice that wasn’t Naana’s, telling him he had no call credit. He called again, and the same response greeted his ear.

Daru was shaking when he rushed to the assistant coach.

“Heh boy, who gave you permission to use your phone,” he asked Daru.

Daru swallowed spit. “Please, please, sir, I am sorry. I…I have an emergency. Can I please borrow your phone? Please—”

The man’s puffy cheeks rippled as he chuckled, his yellow eyes pinched into little buttons.

“This boy, you are not serious at all. You think because Mr. Frosty brought you so you can fool around, eh? Better—”

“Please, coach, my niece…she is dying. I have to call back. Please.”

The man watched him as if he didn’t believe him. “Eheh? Are you sure it is not some girl, eh? I saw you winking at the girls.” He handed a Nokia 1100 to Daru, telling him he had only a minute.

“It’s locked sir. There is a password,” Daru said.

“It’s 2,” he began, then thought against it and snatched the phone from Daru. Checking that nobody was watching behind him, he unlocked the phone and gave it back.

Daru punched the number as he walked away from the man. “Hello, hello, Naana?”

“Daru…Daru, where are you? Are you home? Are you at the door? Wait, let me open—”

“No, Naana, I’m still in Dansoman. What is wrong with Abigail?”

“Ah, Daru! Your niece is sick. We need to get her to the hospital this time.”

Daru stood there with a trembling hand over his mouth. A dusty wind rose before him and engulfed the world in all manner of reds. People were walking onto the pitch as a section of the crowd chanted.

“Have you…have you called the ambulance?” He felt stupid the moment the words left his mouth and Naana told him exactly that.

“Ah, Daru. What kind of question is that? Stop whatever you are doing and get here.”

She cut the line.

Daru stood there listening to the silence on the other end and for a while, he felt himself in a dream. The people on the pitch had no faces. They seemed to be one and the same with the pitch, with the walking wind, and, to some part of his mind, he felt this was a cruel joke. A blast of whistle sliced through this dream and he felt the hot sun on his face.

When he turned, the coach was standing behind him with a smile on his face. Giving the man his phone, he pleaded with him to be released. “There…there is an emergency. Please, I…I have to go.”

The coach, a round figure in a red polo shirt, pulled on his giant whiskers and shook his bald head. “I can’t just substitute you like that, Jojo,” he said. “They want to see you play for 55 minutes and—”

“We are winning, coach, and I’ve scored two already. You said it yourself. They are as loose as a basket by the river.”

The coach shook his head. “You have to speak to—”

Daru turned away to find the game had already began. On the opposite end where the fence had been broken, Frosty was flanked by two guys he didn’t recognised. Hugging the by-line, he ran to where the man was standing with his hands in the pockets of his leather jackets.

“The game has started, Jojo,” Frosty said, smiling to show sparkling gold in his teeth. Daru wiped a sleeve over his face.

“A call came, Frosty—” Frosty’s frown took the words from his lips. “Mr. Frosty… sorry. Naana called. Abigail is sick again. Please, I have to go.”

Frosty shook his head and wagged a gloved finger. “You are here to play for 55 minutes, Daru, and already you have lost five minutes walking about—”

“But Abigail—”

“She wouldn’t be in this if you had accepted to let her live with me, you know.” Frosty smiled again.

Daru felt the rage within him. His heaving chest weighed a tonne on his shoulders. He pursed his lips and pointed a trembling finger at his dead brother’s friend. “I’m leaving, Frosty. I’m leaving this place. You can keep everything, but I’m leaving.”

Frosty’s clenched jaws froze him in his steps. The man ambled toward Daru and rested his face on his shoulder.

“You dare leave before your time, Daru, and you will regret ever knowing me.”

Daru’s earlobe was cold when Frosty lifted his face, and he didn’t know how or when he signalled for the referee. All he saw was the ball at his bandaged feet, the dusty wind warming his shoulder. He hoofed the ball beyond the goal keeper and over the fence, hoping it would buy him some time. Then they threw another ball onto the pitch and the game was back on.

Daru stared wide-eyed at the tackles, at the tangle of feet and swirling dust, and he found the ball at his feet again. He looked down at the inflated. Perspiration splotched the sandy earth and raised a crown of dirt. He wriggled his toes through the bandage. His heart thudded in his chest till it was not fear he felt again.

“What is he waiting for,” someone screamed.

What was I waiting for? Daru was waiting for time to fly past. He was waiting for the world to rush to its end, and for fate to change its course so that his brother would be here taking these burdens. They were too heavy for Daru. His shoulders were sore, his heart a painful throb in his breast.

As his gaze wandered, he saw Frosty again in the crowd, his smile frozen on that black face, two cool suns plastered against his shades. Daru felt not fear in his beating heart. He felt anger, and bitter, and he prayed in his heart that the attack had left a death mark on Frosty and his accomplice. He prayed the wind would choke him and take the life from him. But Frosty was still whole, and grinning, and chuckling with men in suits at a joke about him, about his dead brother, about his sick niece.

And so, when Daru stepped into play, he let his mind play a song he imagined the world would chant once he made it into the Football Series. He hummed his song through huffed breaths and danced to the rhythm of falling shoulders and flailing arms. It was a song to the dead, and living men feared ghosts.

“Daru, Daru, oh Daru the Ghost,” the crowd chanted.

Daru’s mind went beyond the clouds till there was nothing but void. He saw everything like the ticking seconds of a clock’s arm, winking, swinging, and pulsing with a dying breath. The world was now quiet in this place he found himself, and his spin took him past his marker seemingly made of wafting smoke. His cut back sent half a team sliding and leaving signatures across the red earth. He allowed the momentum to take him around the corner. He faked a pass, his arm rising. A boot blocked his path. The ball passed under. Daru hurdled and lingered in possession. Step-overs. Dolphin-dribbles. Knee-touches and more step-overs. Seconds flew, minutes hurried, and Daru was one with the element.

Sweat tickled him on like rudders against a red ocean. Nothing would stand in his way, he thought, and then he saw them form the barricade before him. When he looked back at Frosty, the man held one gloved finger up.

Right, that’s right.

Daru dragged the ball back as he hopped on one foot, then spun away from a lung that looked to skewer him. Then, sidestepping their clumsy challenges, Daru barged through their ranks and smashed a shot past a faithless keeper.

He evaded his celebrating friends and ran to the assistant coach. The man offered him his bag, and when he inspected it, he found the hefty envelope buried underneath a pile of changing clothes. Frosty was already leaving the ground with a pall of dust trailing his black Porsche.

Daru sprinted through the gates till he reached a taxi parked by the main road. “Madina, Madina Zongo,” he said between breaths.

The driver looked Daru up and down and shook his head. “You are going to make my car dirty, boy.” He sped away before Daru could tell him of his emergency.

He continued his hunt along the stretch of a potholed street, mingling with hawkers and pedestrians. When he found a taxi stuck in traffic, Daru slipped into the front seat and pushed a few Cedi notes into the driver’s laps before he could complain.

“Where to, boss?”

“Zongo, Madina Zongo. Behind the public toilet after the big green mosque. There is a wakye—”

“Okay, okay, we go to Zongo Junction, and you give me directions, eh?”

Daru nodded and cursed at the stagnant traffic. He pulled his head out of the window and screamed at a lady stalling at a green light. She gave him a middle finger. Daru punched the dashboard of the car, frothing. The driver’s death stare smothered his anger.

As they restarted the journey though, he remembered they didn’t have any more IV fluids at home. He had used the last of them during her last episode a month ago.

He turned sharply to the driver. “First, first, we go to the pharmacy, please, pharmacy first. Do you know any pharmacy around?”

The driver nodded without looking at him. “Yes, around—”

“Please take me there, quick.” He added another note, and the driver made a turn in a non-designated place, sending them both rocking and bouncing over bumpy terrain. Minutes later, they pulled up before LexLane pharmacy. Daru sprinted through its doors and found a long, winding queue leading to the counters. He rushed through the crowd of people, pleading for his dying niece.

“Ah, see how he is staining the floor with blood and all,” a man said, kissing his teeth. “We all have sick people at home,” another added, but Daru was already before the counter.

“What is it,” a young lady in white coats asked him.

Daru pulled out an old prescription from his bag and pushed it to her. She glanced at it for all of a second and returned it to him.

“I’m sorry, but this prescription is out of date.”

“Please, please, madam, I know, I know, but I can’t have another prescription, now. Doctors are on strike, please.”

The lady shook her head and called to the next client.

Daru’s face was cold with tears and sweat as he looked at the ladies behind the counters. None of them looked human any longer. They were monsters dressed like angels with fiery horns shooting from their disfigured heads. How could they not see his niece was going to die?

A nudge brought him about and he saw himself outside the pharmacy. A security guard was standing before him reading the prescription slip.

“Oh, I can get this for you. It’s easy, koraa. How much will you pay?”

“How many do you have,” Daru said, wiping the tears from his face. Relief wriggled through his breast.

“Well, I mean—”

“Give me ten bags, I’ll pay,” he said, pulling the money from his bag. The security man stopped him.

“Not here, boy. Do you want me to lose my job?”

He got the drugs for Daru in a corner away from the premises, and Daru paid him and jumped in with the driver. A little beyond Libya Quarters bus stop, the driver stared at the wide gutter before him and decided he didn’t want to risk it after all.

Daru hopped out of the car and dashed through the alleyways, taking sharp turns and hurdling small walls with skills acquired over his sixteen year life. He span around children streaming from their gateless homes and leapt over a collapsed soakaway. He dipped and then pulled away from biting tree branches and swinging windows. He didn’t see the goats stray into his path in time though, nor did he envision the woman carrying a bucket of water.

The woman screamed and backpedalled while Daru swivelled on his heels. Then he slipped and felt the ground crash into his back, his arms groping without success for the life-saving fluids. The sky seemed to open that moment as he watched the sailing fluids land with a splash into swift drainage, and it emptied its cold rain in a sudden torrent over Daru.

Daru staggered to his feet, his bones shivering from more than the cold taste of salt water. Somebody was screaming at him now, cursing him and hailing doom over his household. But Daru had no household. He had only a niece; a sick niece in her last moments of this cruel, cold world.

He turned to plead for her assistance, to beg her to show him how to get an IV fluid. Maybe she knew of a resident Imam who would exorcise the demons plaguing his niece’s life. Maybe she knew of a pastor ordained by God, or a priest in red robes and white markings on his face.

There was a crowd; a young man in his neat suits and perfect haircut, a boy and a girl in coffee school uniforms singing the national pledge, an albino child standing next to a woman decked in burqa. He found the bucket sitting there like an idol. Behind it, a woman was jumping about like a frightened frog, her long, blue dress faded and wet in patches. She was gesticulating with one hand. Her other hand was holding a plump transparent bag with blue writings. And she was screaming.

“Herh, Dalu or whatever they call you, you will pay for my water today. Do you know how many hours I spent at the well today, eh? You think—”

Daru snatched the last drip from her hand and bolted, but the woman grabbed his shirt and a piece of his neck’s skin. He flung a fisted arm at her and sped away, her insults and curses hard on his back. He reached home limping and bloodied to find his niece sprawled in Naana’s arms.

“The box, get the box, Naana,” he said as he collected the little girl and settled her on the bed.

“Did you call the ambulance?”

“The box, Naana,” he screamed.

Daru turned to his niece and caressed her fair face. Her breaths were shallow, her eyes looking beyond him. “Stay with me, Abigail, please.”

Naana returned with the package. She hung the drip on its pole as Daru found a vein on Abigail’s arm, his fingers trembling. He connected the tube to the catheter and watched the liquid flow.

And then he prayed.

Daru’s heart burnt with more than the fear of losing her. He knew losing her would mean losing any reason to live. It was her life that kept him breathing, kept him away from danger. Many days he had contemplated joining Frosty and his gang but he knew a life with them would put his niece into more harm than good.

He touched the black spots under her eyes and touched his own. The connection he had with her went beyond having the same birthday. They connected deeper than the ties that bound them to his brother. A part of his heart came alive whenever he was by her side. He didn’t know what would happen to him should something touch her, his sunshine, the only one who called him Ghost, the only one who was his link to his brother and family on the other side.

And so when her eyes peeled open and she smiled, the tear that fell was hot with gladness and praise for a God he’d grown to mistrust. That part of his heart beat anew, firmer than before, and Daru kissed the sunshine in his life. Naana was beside herself with joy, and each of them tried to comfort the other and failed.

“I’m six today,” she whispered. “Did you buy me crayons?”

“I’ll buy you crayons,” he said. “I promise.” It was an honest promise, and it didn’t matter that he’d forgotten his bag in the taxi. All he knew was somebody had given him another lease on life. It will be fine.

You used to run

Jamal spat out a finger nail as he watched the back of the police officers exiting the door. Snippets of birdsong wafted through an opened window, and a hurrying breeze threw the curtains into mad disarray. The president of Football Inc. was standing by the window and staring outside. It was the first time he was meeting Mr. Tulasi since he earned his contract five years ago, but with the doctor standing by the president’s side, it brought Jamal more worry than pride.

“How is she taking it,” Naomi said by his side.

Jamal was confused for a while until she mentioned his wife.

“Oh, God, no, Naomi. Don’t tell her. She is going to be too worried. Besides, I’m fine.” Jamal was surprised it was the truth, for he really felt fine. He didn’t know what treatment they had administered to him but hardly felt any aches in his body.

“Fine, if you say so,” Naomi said as she rose from the bed. “Call me if you need anything.”

Jamal nodded. “Sure thing. And thank you for finding my phone. I have a lot of secrets on it,” he said, meaning all of it.

Naomi smiled and squeezed him on the shoulder. “Take care of yourself,” she said before she left. A moment later, the doctor hurried through the door without looking at Jamal. When the door closed, he turned to find the President of Football Inc. watching him.

A stray beam of sunlight spread over his firm, clean-shaven face. His silver suit shone under the watchful sun, and one shoe sparkled as he stood there with half of himself untouched by the light. A man and his other half, he appeared to Jamal.

“We are all on trial, Jamal Appiah,” he said suddenly, wiping a hand over his hair. “Many people do not understand what it is we have brought to the world, and I dare say there are some within the company that do not understand either, meaning we are on trial in their eyes, in the eyes of society that still sees us in the same light as FIFA and the mining companies that pollute their waters. But you understand, Jamal Appiah, and I have seen your works in profiling the players which confirms my trust in you.”

Jamal felt pride swell in his chest. He looked down, embarrassed by the ill feelings he’d had about his position inside the job. Mr. Tulasi himself had hand-picked him when FI was starting, having seen his post on another blog that he has since been forced to shut down. As he raised his head, he was distracted by a news item on the TV showing protests at a football stadium in Vietnam. A woman was carrying a deformed child in her arms, crying into the camera for answers. The TV suddenly went off and Jamal found himself blinking at a blank screen. He understood how his friends had felt the other day.

“It is for this reason I wish that we would stay together, Jamal Appiah,” his boss continued, and Jamal turned to see him standing with a sunny hallo about his features. “You and I; Ghanaians who suffered to reach where we are, we have to show the world the great things that our dreams bring to the masses, and we have to stick together, regardless of the jury, regardless of the verdicts from shallow-minded critics and the media. We have to make it to the finish line despite the thorns and thirst along the way, which is why I ask you this: Do you recall anything else about last night?”

Jamal sighed and cast his mind to the night before. He recalled nothing beyond what he’d given out in his report: that he’d seen the murdered girl before, after all. She had been at one of the staff parties. Her plea for help rang in his ears again. As for his pursuers and the other man, he had even less to offer. There had been another thing that he’d seen but didn’t mention. The streetlight had begun to flicker only when the murderer stepped out of the shrub. He’d left it out of his report for he worried they might think him unwell. But Jamal knew what he saw, and he knew it was only that single lamp that had been affected by the man’s presence. That, and the colour of his eyes that dimmed like headlights.

“No,” Jamal said, shaking his head. “I don’t even remember how I ended up in the chopper with Harry and the others.”

His boss turned his face again to the window, and as the wind rushed through the curtains, the laps of his suit opened to reveal a silky white shirt and a chain rested against his chest. A healed scar popped just underneath the collar. His boss’s temple rippled, a finger wagging behind him.

“Are you doing drugs, Jamal Appiah?” Jamal’s head snapped at the question. He opened his mouth but couldn’t find the words to speak.

“No, why…? No, I do not do drugs.” Even as he said so, he felt the pang of worry jab him like burning spikes. He became aware of his hand under the covers and wondered if his constant flexing of it had appeared to other people as an addict’s cravings. It had started bothering him only three months ago, and he’d assumed it to be a result of his writing, his secret writing. Jamal pulled the covers further up to his chest, his hanging leg weighing him down.

“The doctor found residues,” Mr. Tulasi said in a flat voice. Jamal’s heart flipped.

“What residues,” he asked. “It’s been…I’ve been out of Ghana for a long time. Maybe the change in foods…” The words failed him, and he was reminded once again of his dislike for hospitals. They always managed to pull up some illness from somewhere to make you sicker than you really were.

“You used to run.”

He did. But that was before he joined FI and became comfortable with the treadmill and all those electronic gadgets.

“You think I use drugs to run? How did you even know about that? I never –”

“Am I sensing something of a secret with my Ghanaian brother?”

Before he could object, his boss’s cell rang with a single beep.

“Yes, Michael O’Connor,” he said, his eyes not leaving Jamal’s. There was silence as he listened, and then he nodded and ended his call.

“There is a cocktail party tonight,” he said to Jamal, “can you make it?” The sudden change in his tone was not a surprise, but Jamal couldn’t bring himself to speak. When he pointed to his leg, Mr. Tulasi nodded and decided to leave. Then he turned again and said, “Forget what we talked about. I trust you.” He left before Jamal could speak.

A wave of relief washed over him as the doors closed shut, and Jamal heaved a great sigh and settled into his bed. He held his hands to his face and felt cold sweat on his forehead. As his hand came down, he realised there was no pain in his left arm where he’d been bitten by the dog. He prodded the bandaged wound with his finger but felt nothing.

Jamal regarded the hospital ward with more cynical thoughts now. The walls were a sickening blend of gold polish and lacquered wood, the chandelier hanging above him with a million diamond shards. The 32 inch flat screen on the wall was turned on again, its rim stark and silvery beside the ruby-favoured aquarium. So much waste on a sick man, he thought as he heaved himself from the bed.

An alarm went off and a nurse rushed through the door.

“Is there a problem, Mr Appiah,” she asked.

Jamal ignored her. He searched through the wardrobe for a shirt and a pair of trousers.

“It’s not safe for you to leave, sir. Your ankle needs to heal.”

Jamal stopped and stared down, and he seemed to see the white cast around his leg for the first time. He looked around till he found a knife he’d used for lunch earlier. The nurse stepped back and spoke into her shoulder while Jamal dug the knife into the cast several times. The white stuff broke off just as a team of nurses streamed through the door.

“Please, sir, it is important that you relax,” one of them said. “Your ankle–”

Jamal flexed the wounded leg. He remembered how much pain he’d felt but the sight of them scattered those thoughts. Grinning, he stood on the leg and spread out his arms, just because he felt like it.

“My ankle is fine, as you can see.”

He left the nurses and picked up a bowl of grape fruits and a can of yoghurt from his bedside table. “My insurance paid for it,” he said to the stares that greeted him. One of the younger nurses harrumphed.

“Actually, the bowl—”

Jamal poured the fruits into his shirt and flung the bowl over the bed. Turning to a young doctor with rimless glasses and thick pink lips, he said, “A responsible citizen will pay the tax on that gift in your pocket. Your country needs every penny, even if you are trying to save lives.” The man pushed the envelope into his pocket amid stares.

Outside, he hopped into a waiting BMW seven series and gave the driver the address to Ace Apartments. Half an hour later, he was staring through the window at the crouching slums on the left side of the large highway while the plush North Legon homes towered into the sky many yards away to the right.

Two different parts of the same coin, he thought, each distinctly true in their depiction of the country he had grown to love, despite. It was the two sides that played like a couple in a dance, the same dance; two hands holding a mast with the flag of Ghana bristling in the sea wind. He wondered why such places would be allowed to flourish side by side but came to a realisation that startled him.

It was the children on the slum side of the street that told him; the punctured balls under their arms, the stares on their hungry faces looking across the highway and toward the homes that rose beyond an over-grown barricade of imported trees. It was a dream he saw in their eyes, a dream society had nurtured by creating such homes that lived and looked up to their richer, noisier neighbours. It was society’s way of showing the rich what could happen to them if things went awry, of telling them that the evils, the rots of their country, were within an arm’s length, that it was close enough to control and manage. Keep the hungry fed on dreams and the rich sated on fear. In a world where death and sickness were the only certainties, such reconciled fates helped maintain the status quo.

It was this imposed balance that the Football Series sought to unsettle. They would bypass the corrupt football associations that were protected by FIFA and create competitions which would give people a true chance at success in their chosen sports. The intercontinental games were only a grand event; a money cow for the cynical mind. The true sports that would direct true nation building would be felt at the grassroots in the lives of villagers and slum-dwellers. No longer would talent be sacrificed on the altar of no-chance, nor would a child’s dream be dashed by the forced choice between education and life.

In this stark contrast between citizens and the promise of greater hopes, Jamal saw the perfect points for his next blog. He withdrew his recovered phone from his right pocket. It was notched at the side from where it hit the ground. Before he could enter the details of his email address though, he was distracted by an all caps headline in the news feed.

ROBOTS CITED IN ACCRA.

Jamal clicked the video to play and saw an amateur footage of three men rushing through traffic in pursuit of another man. A sinking feel burrowed into his gut right from the first second as he watched the men with their stiff strides and unbending shoulders even as they turned and changed direction. The red in their eyes dimmed and brightened, their faces bearing no sign of exhaustion or strain. At 1:52, a Daewoo Tico crushed into one of them, hurling him a few yards away. The man rose from his fall and dusted his suits. Then he pointed a gun at the car and a red laser fired into the vehicle. The driver jumped out as the Tico burst into a ball of red flames.

Jamal knew he had seen they were his pursuers.

The last name

This was it, Daru thought to himself as Coach Hansen issued his usual half-time team talk. With only 45 minutes of the trials to go, Daru could hardly concentrate on the German’s words. His breast was tight with anticipation.

He thought of the opportunity this contract would provide in getting proper health care for his niece’s strange illness, and smiled through the uncertainty in his heart. He knew he would be given his chance, as Frosty had promised, but he hoped it would be more than the five minutes he’d had to contend with in the last two matches.

Looking about, he realised only few of the players were listening to the German. Weeks ago, it was possible to hear a pinprick when the trainer cleared his throat to begin his speech. Now, on the final day, many of them had lost their reverence for the man for whatever reason, and Coach Hansen was left to the few desperate ones like Daru.

As he listened to the coach talk on and on about tactics he’d never understood, Daru caught snippets of the discussions on the other side. People were praying to gods they had known since they were children. There was the mention of one on a crucifix, of another extolled from high minarets, and of many spirits who were long dead but were not ghosts. He closed his eyes and let their words fill his mind till there was no space for his own thoughts.

It was a trick he’d stumbled upon many years back. Sometimes, he realised he was able to shut out the world like it didn’t exist. It took him to places where he could be alone, safe, and quiet. As he allowed himself deep into the depths of their prayers, he found a place where there were only mumblings and a constant buzz of many throats. Soon, even those disappeared and Daru was left in a place with nothing but void, the very air pulsed with his heartbeat.

The quietude was deep, like the still, unseen depths of a calabash of Hausa porridge. Daru smiled at the perceived taste of spice on millet, for a vision of food was a tiding of good things. He let himself wallow in the embrace of such silence till he felt a push on his shoulder. His eyes burst open to find Ike.

“You are on,” he thought he heard the big man say. He blinked a few times to clear his head but Ike had already given him his back. As Daru turned around, he realised everybody was looking at him. He turned even further, the words returning to his ears in bits and pieces until he saw Archibald. His scowl was a terrible feat of nature, and Daru wondered how people saw him to be the handsome one among them.

“You pass the ball or I’ll have your leg, boy.” Archibald’s words were clear as day, and Daru finally realised he hadn’t imagined Ike’s words. He looked away from Archibald to find Hansen exchanging words with his assistant. The assistant beckoned when their eyes met, and Daru walked over to them with butterflies in his tummy.

Archibald’s cold stare followed him as he made it to where the coaches stood. There was a moment’s fright when his eyes met the coach’s, and he wondered if this wasn’t a prank. That passed, and another fear settled into his belly. He recalled their opponents, the Sedro Swans, and how big they were. Thinking on it, he remembered seeing blood streaks on Ike’s forehead. If they could do that to big Ike, what would be left of him once they rammed into him? He felt colder than the fear Archibald had evoked.

The coach was speaking to him, but Daru’s mind was already outside, on the pitch, at the mercy of those mean people who seemed to be playing an American version of the sport. Daru shuddered and hoped he would be given his usual five minutes again. They were going to break him.

Break him.

The words ripped his heart apart as he saw his brother’s body again. Broken, bloodied; he was laid in his hospital bed like a crashed puppet. His limbs hung from his body as he stared about with quick darting eyes.

Daru knew better than to believe in the rubbish they’d said about his brother. His brother never did drugs. He was a pure soul that suffered a fatal death on his way to securing a future for the family. And now Daru was on such a course. There was no way he was going to fail, not to Archibald’s callousness, not to his coach’s inept tactics. Daru ground his teeth and tasted bile in his mouth. The tingling it brought to his skin was a familiar one, and Daru let himself remember his reason for being here.

This was the last trial in the Football Series. It was a dream he needed to fulfil, to see come to life as if a fresh flower blooming over his brother’s grave. Daru clenched his teeth and watched Coach Hansen. He heard nothing of his speech, only his voice that seemed to be the sound of the vehicle smashing into his brother, or the horn his brother never heard, or the gasping breaths of the onlookers.

The next he saw, they were walking onto the pitch and the stadium was like a thousand crickets at conference. Beyond them, the sun’s golden arc was sinking into a clouded horizon. Daru stood at the by-line as the official raised his board. He looked up and saw his number.

“Tea or coffee,” he heard it said behind him. When he turned, he found Hansen smiling at him. Daru smiled. “Hausa koko,” he replied, relaxing.

Daru was already on the ball at the first whistle. He hurdled the first Swan and laid it off to Ike. “Good boy, good boy,” the big man said, spinning away with minimal effort and laying a short one to Bakari. Daru followed the line of midfield. He signalled Jean from the far end. The striker sent in a long ball toward Daru. He feigned a jump and stepped back from his leaping opponent. The fella missed it and Daru received it with a kiss of his boot. He stepped over twice and peeled away from his marker. Then he rolled the ball along the grass behind the defence. It missed the stretching keeper and defenders, and trickled out of touch just beyond the striker.

Jean gave him a thumb’s up. Daru nodded and ran back into position.

Time flew with Daru playing his part. He did what was required: chase after the ball, pass it short, and make a run for it. Daru was not enjoying it. He felt himself chaffed against his restraints. He longed to be freed but more importantly, he needed to make enough of an impact to cancel his two previous attempts. Even the crowd look disinterested.

The camera seemed to have a mind of its own that moment, and Daru took it as a sign when he saw his name spread out against the screen. He descended deep into midfield and took the ball from Lua Lua. He could hear the grunt of his coach from the side line.

Daru trotted down the left. He exchanged passes with Waheed and did a leg over and then a shoulder fall. The sighs in the crowd said things were changing. Daru ignored calls from his colleagues. He put the ball through the next man-s legs and did a spin to avoid another.

The crowd cheered. Daru grinned. Good, he thought, very good.

The weariness was sweet in his legs as he danced through tackles. He sashayed to the song from the crowd who continued to cheer his every turn. Every spin. Every touch. Daru strolled with a smile on his face. The world held a singular relevance to him now as he wavered, and flipped, and did a dance that was reminiscent of Awudu Issaka.

With his heart hard in his chest, Daru came face-to-face with the largest Swan on the field. The man’s eyes flickered in a way that stunned Daru, and he gawked at the big man till they barged into him and stole the ball. The tongue lashing sailed over his ears as the play moved away from him.

Daru’s stare was on the giant Swan. Something about him reminded him of his dead brother. It was strange, for his brother was not as big, nor did he have such a big head and great jaws. Yet, what he saw in his eyes was a mirror image of the big brother he’d seen in the throes of death. As the Swan walked past him, Daru held out a hand to block him. The man shrugged Daru to the ground.

“You try that again, I’m going to kill you,” the big man said, staring down at Daru with no emption in his eyes.

It all left him when he blinked, and there wasn’t his brother on that face again. All he saw was an angry man from Cameroon with frothing lips. Daru climbed to his feet and ran into position. His coach stared at him in a way that was worse than a spank. Even Ike didn’t watch him with kind eyes. He knew he was done in their eyes, yet he still believed there was a chance of redeeming himself.

The ball was hoofed up field from defence, and two players jumping for a header sent it to his direction. Daru reached it and flicked it over a sliding tackle. He followed it with a 360-degree spin to avoid the next marker. He pulled away, the wind crawling up his torso as his large jersey flapped behind him. Daru swept past his markers like a breeze. He hurdled their tackles and took sharp turns that his opponents couldn’t match. Then he was facing the large man again.

The big man had his shoulders slumped, his hands fisted as the sweat trickled down his face. His jersey hugged him like a second skin, his massive frame pulsing with each breath he pulled. Daru shuffled the ball between his feet and flicked it over his own shoulder. It sailed over all six and a half feet frame of the giant whose arms were stretched to grab a piece of him.

Daru avoided his arm and kept his eyes on the floating ball. He watched it spin in the air, watched the green stain of grass disappear into a blur, and saw the trajectory dip under the darkening sky. Daru slanted his frame and allowed the ball to fall over his shoulder. Then he connected with a full volley of his left boot, and the ball whistled past a despairing keeper.

He felt the throb of the stadium in his bones as the crowd roared with celebration. His colleagues swarmed him till he could hardly draw a breath. Up on the screen, an image of him winking was spread out for all to see. Daru knew everybody had seen it. Minutes later, the referee blew his whistle to end the three-game trials.

Hansen hugged him tight. “Good tricks, Daru,” he said into Daru’s ear.

Daru grinned as he looked around for his niece. He found her in the old woman’s arms not many seats above the bench. She waved at him and held one eye open while she winked the other. Daru laughed and winked back. Then he turned to the screen where the names of successful players were being spelt out.

The twenty-first person was Ishak, a lanky fellow with braids in his hair. He saw Changa’s name too, and then Quainoo, and Luis. The last name flashed across the screen. It wasn’t Daru.

Some trophies

Daru stood gazing at the names on the screen. There had to be another one. There had to be the 26th name there or it would make no sense. He’d done his part. Anybody with half an eye could have seen that. Even the crowd chanted his name.

He spun about and looked to the players. Many groups from both teams were gathered in conference. They had exchanged jerseys and were talking as if it wasn’t just moments before when they had been at each other’s throats. This whole thing looked rigged to Daru.

Daru found a reporter interviewing one of the players. She had the unmissable vest of Football Inc. Daru sprinted toward them, wiping sweat with the sleeve of his shirt.

“What is this,” he demanded.

“One moment,” the woman said, returning to her guest.

“What is this,” Daru repeated. “Why is my name not on the list? Is this some kind of joke, huh? You wanted the best 25 players from Africa and you pull this stupid joke on us?”

Daru finished before he realised he had been screaming. Eyes were trained on him when he looked around, and then he saw himself splashed against the giant screen of the stadium, his cheeks an ugly smear. He spat despite the dryness in his mouth.

“Who’s in charge,” he screamed, turning to the onlookers. “Who’s in charge? I want to see the one who leads this unjust treatment.” Someone pulled at him and Daru turned to find Hansen.

He slipped out of the German’s grasp. “This… coach, this is a farce.”

Hansen touched his own brows. “C’mon, Daru, let’s get you out of here.” He made to catch him again but Daru jerked his arm away.

“You saw it, coach. You saw what I did and you know what I can do. Why are they denying me this? Why didn’t they tell us some people were not eligible at all, so I wouldn’t bother to come? Why? Do you know…” He faltered, hot tears streaming down his cheeks. “Do you know how I got the chance? Do you know how I paid for these boots? God, how could they be this mean?!”

“Bitte, let somebody take the camera off,” Hansen was saying as he managed to grab Daru. “Let’s get out of here, Daru.” His breath tickled Daru on his neck. It stank of coffee, black coffee. Daru fought and wriggled himself free, pushing the German to the ground. A group of men in black suits came toward them as he was making it to the stairs. There were three of them, all of them built like bulls. They walked with stiff, mechanical grace, and he half believed they were not men at all. They blocked Daru’s path.

“Is there a problem?”

Daru wiped his mouth. Of course there was a problem. “Y-yes, yes … I want to see who is in charge. Mr. Tulasi or whatever he is called. I-I want answers.”

“Sorry, child, you can’t see him,” one of them said in a flat tone.

“Why, why can’t I see him?”

He shrugged giant shoulders. “You are not a part of the selected team. You were not good enough.”

Daru’s lips trembled. “Wh-why… but that is not true… that is not true…” He turned to his coach and found a crowd behind them. “Tell them, please, tell them, coach… it is not true. I deserve to be on the team. Please, coach…”

The words deserted him as a blur engulfed his vision. His chest felt like a warm furnace was taking fire, each thudding breath like a rod stirring said flames. The strength left his limbs as he was marshalled away with his head bowed. The giant lights of the stadium cast his forlorn shadow in front of him as he descended into the tunnel, and then into the room that held the same stink from the first day.

Hansen knelt before Daru. “Listen to me, Daru,” he said.

Daru wiped a hand across his face as the tears continued to fall. “Why, why did they do this to me? Did I deserve this? Why?”

“No, Daru, you didn’t deserve disappointment,” Hansen said, his eyes looking away from Daru. “Sometimes, it is the things we miss that make us better people. So long as life remains, hope is only a corner away. Being on the team…being on the team might not make as happy as you think.”

Daru snapped his head to regard his coach. The German’s hair was a tangle of mess over his shoulders, his tracksuit all crumpled up. Acne dotted his face like seeds on a damp earth.

“How… how could you say such a thing, coach? How could not making the team be a good thing? My niece…” the words wouldn’t come. A part of him shivered at the thought of more sleepless nights. Springing to his feet, he saw the girl at the entrance.

The breath left him.

She was wearing a long dress that was synched at her waist with a double buckle. Little holes dotted the thin fabric from frequent washes, but the smile on her made everything around her new. Daru fell to his knees and she ran on bandy legs and into his arms. He held her tight and fumbled to clean the tears.

“Why are you crying?” Her mumbled words tickled in his ear, and he felt the stab in his heart. There was more than a sick girl’s tone in her voice. He heard his brother’s voice. It was like a thin vein holding two bones together.

Daru sniffed and cleaned his face as she pulled away from him. For the first time, he realised her braids were not what they used to be. The old woman had managed to tie the few strands of her hair into three weaves that formed a triangle on his niece’s head. She had always wanted ones that stood erect on her head. It made her tall, she always said. Tonight, it hid her baldness and reminded him of stupid football tactics.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

She smiled with him and reached out with the stump of her right hand to clean his face. “It will be fine, Ghost,” she said. “They are not good for you.”

Daru inhaled and forced himself to smile. Those were his brother’s words whenever things didn’t go well. It will be fine.

“And who is good enough for me,” he said, tickling her ribs. Abigail screamed as she collapsed into his arms. “And who is good enough for me, huh?” He cuddled her, and they rolled through sweat-stained laundry. She jumped to her feet and ran rings around Coach Hansen. Daru chased after her with his shirt pulled over his head. He sang a ghostly song and danced his ghostly steps as his niece screamed and struggled out the door.

Daru turned to watch the stadium again when they were outside. Its silver casing was streaked with colours from all of Africa. He watched as the faces of the successful were shown for all to see one last time. It stung him really deep, for it was a reminder of his failure. It reminded him of the dreams he’d had that were now shattered, of the hope he’d had of making his dead brother proud that would never be fulfilled. He recalled those nights when Abigail was so sick she couldn’t sleep, the pain that felt like a wound in his lungs, the shadow that hounded his waking mind.

Daru gave the stadium his back and raised his niece over his head. Then he put an arm across Naana’s shoulders and they started the long journey back home. Even in the pain and guilt that burdened him, Daru knew there were some trophies that no contract could afford.

Family, he thought, as the Jaguars and Lamborghinis and Ferraris whistled past. Family survives all heartaches.

Blood-stained golf balls

2-1, the scoreboard read with a quarter of an hour still to play in the exhibition match. A long ball from Kotoko’s defensive third was met by a Phobian at the halfway line.

Jamal followed the game with a half-heart. He pulled out his phone and checked a message on one of his blog posts awaiting moderation again. GC wrote: How is your wrist? Does the dung still smell? There was a laughing emoticon with teddy bears and flowers beside the comment. It was the third comment he’d received from the same GC since his rescue, and Jamal was far from settled. Swiping his screen, he watched the video of the three men again.

Websites had sprung up since the events many nights ago. While some were dedicated to memes and ridiculous vines, there were others that sent chills down his spine with their words of doom. They spoke of the 21st century zombie with the mind of a computer and a dead heart. The scariest detail he saw, as he squinted at the video, was that the laser shots came from the tips of their fingers on not a gun. The only positive in it was that none of them had captured his face.

Jamal had notified the police about the video and they had asked him to keep it to himself. Their initial assessment was that the videos had been doctored with people trying to scare the populace, and that they were certain the perpetrators were going to be found out soon. He believed none of that.

Jamal flexed his wrist again out of habit, more troubled that the stiffness had actually eased as he left the comment on his blog unapproved.

“So, what is the excuse,” Harry poked into his thoughts.

Jamal sighed. “What do you mean,” he asked the Briton, turning off the phone. The ball was lost in a tangle of legs as men from Kotoko and Hearts of Oak fumbled for a touch. Scrambling. Kicking. Falling. Throwing.

“You don’t think the kid deserved to be selected?”

Jamal shook his head. “He didn’t, Harry. He was good, but not good enough.”

Harry sat up as if he had been waiting for just the right time, but Jamal was distracted by the Kotoko coach who continued to scream for his players to get out of their defensive lines. It was like tickling a snail out of his shell.

“Oh, come off it, Jamal. That boy beat everyone on that field at least twice.”

“There were three different games, Harry. He failed in all, including the third.”

“What?” Harry was incredulous. “He was the best player on the final day. I know the kid is a Ghanaian, but you can still be fair without being bias. This self-righteousness is a sin against the innocent child.”

Jamal massaged his temple as he regarded Harry. He had never been interested in the Football Series until he saw that kid they called Daru. All the time they had been together, the only football Harry talked about was Leeds United.

“Daru is still a child, Harry,” he said. “He danced about with the ball and all, but that is not what we are after. We are looking for hard men to play a man’s game. I am not even going to talk about his illegal papers on his age and the school he doesn’t attend, Harry, for you have seen this yourself. Besides, see how he bawled at the end of game as if he owed somebody anything. How would he make us look when he crumbles like that at the World Series in Dubai?”

“Oh, don’t give me that crap about age cheating. It was days before his 16th birthday for Chrissakes. And, what has his education got to do with anything. Who even puts that in a footballer’s qualification these days? He cried, and so what? Did you not cry when you called me nights ago? What you guys did was unfair.”

“Come on, Harry, stop these accusations.”

Harry shook his head. “There is nothing accusing in accepting that we all cry. Daru has a family to take care of. This was his chance and you chose to disqualify him for some stupid document requirements. Just so we are clear, Jamal, the next time you call, I’m going to record it in case you decide to weep about murderers pursuing you.”

Jamal frowned. Nobody but the police and Mr. Tulasi knew about the identity of his pursuers. “What do you mean?”

“Just forget it,” Harry said, scratching his chin.

Jamal shook his head. “What do you mean I called you,” he asked.

“Don’t worry, Jamal. It is okay to blame it on trauma!” Harry laughed. “You, you are incorrigible, Jamal. Damn, I should have recorded that call. But I got you a chopper ride out of the slum. You must be a celebrity among them now. You owe—”

A roar drowned Harry’s words but Jamal found himself back in Zongo. He recalled the stink of the cattle kraal. He even saw the dog’s bowels, and his whimpers echoed glumly in his ear. But Jamal didn’t recall making any call. But for Naomi, he’d actually believed his phone was lost and destroyed after it fell on the street. As he made to pull out his mobile again, he saw a boy dressed in the rainbow colours of Accra Hearts of Oak standing next to him. He had his lower lip between his teeth and a short diagonal mark through the front of his neat haircut. A beautiful boy, Jamal thought of him. The boy withdrew a coin and was extending it to Jamal when it flew out of his hand and stuck to his leg.

Jamal pulled the coin from his leg. It came off stuck to another object; a round, flat metal that was notched at the edges and cold to his touch. A magnet, he thought, blinking.

Then the people were rising and Jamal rose with the crowd and saw a Phobian running with the ball, his rainbow jersey streaked with mud. Jamal recognised him as Sani, one of the recruits for the Series. His teeth were bared. Jamal felt a hand on his shoulder. The Phobian swerved a Kotoko man and hurdled another tackle.

15 seconds.

He entered the box and struck the ball low and hard. It crawled along the carpet of grass. The keeper stretched. Touched it. The crowd was jumping. The post rattled. A thousand oohs. And then it trickled beyond the line and the despair turned to palpable joy.

It was an amazing scene that greeted his eyes. Jamal was left in awe as Ghana’s two most decorated teams, rivals in hate and glory, exchanged handshakes and jerseys. A lot had changed since the War had ended, and though this was only a friendly match, the sight of them, the cheer splashed on their faces as they accepted the crowd’s adulation, was a mark rich in its depiction of the true human heart.

When he turned, the objects were no longer in his hand and the boy had disappeared. He touched his leg to the metal chair but felt no pull on it. Harry too was gone, and Jamal followed a section of the crowd to exit the VIP section with a mind to call his wife in London. As he descended the stairs, he was greeted by a flurry of human activity through the tunnel that led to the dressing rooms. There was a sense of dread about them, and they cut forlorn figures as they bustled with their duties.

Jamal hesitated till a team of security guards came through speaking on their walky-talkies.

“What is going on,” he asked a man in orange steward vests.

“He died. The guy died just like that. I can’t believe it.”

Jamal felt a hole in his stomach. Another team of stewards had formed a ring to ward off onlookers. Among them, he made out the Red Cross vests of the medics. He flashed his ID as he walked past the stewards. Still a way off, he saw the blood stain on the green carpet.

“Turn off the cameras, somebody,” one man announced. His lips were a thin line, and his brows were ruffled. His armpits were wet with sweat as he brushed a hand over his face.

The next guard who stopped him would not let him pass despite showing his credentials. Jamal stooped where he was and peeped through the legs of the personnel forming the ring.

His eyes bulged at the sight. He was dead, the steward had said. Jamal saw as much from the flat line on the monitor that indicated his heart rate and the pool of blood about him. But the man’s limbs continued to jerk even as they strapped him and stuffed him inside a black bag. His jaws opened and closed as if he was uttering a word. As the medics pulled the zipper, he saw the dead man’s eyes roll in their sockets like blood-stained golf balls.

It was Sani, the player who scored the leveller.

Football is all

With half the world’s press corps already in attendance, Jamal had expected the atmosphere in the conference room to be taut as a strained rope. It surprised him how much at ease everyone was. A moment’s silence had been dutifully observed, and the questions had quickly diverted to other matters; matters that should have little importance the morning after Sani’s passing.

“I believe there is still the chance to reach even more people,” Mr. Tulasi said. “As is already known, we have made progress in the Samba Series and they are just about finishing with the 25 men. The next, obviously, is the Asian Series.”

“Is it true that some countries are at pains to agree to the name, Dragon Ball, citing fears of China becoming a power in the game at their expense?”

Mr. Tulasi wiped a hand over his hair and answered. “These are just rumours. I can confirm to you that, as organisers of the intercontinental competition, Asia is as important to its development as the Europeans and Africans. They get to produce 25 players, of which 15 will always be on the field—”

“You mean eleven,” the reporter said, smiling.

“Of course, of course, eleven. Eleven from the 25 will be available for each game, with the required number of substitutes and stuff like that. Dragons are not invited.”

The reporters laughed.

His boss tucked the silvered laps of his suit. His jaws were pristine in the flash lights, his eyes a shade brighter.

Checking his phone, Jamal scrolled through the news bits. There were riots at the site where a new stadium was being set up in Tonga. ‘Football is the new Dragon’, went the headline in a translated Chinese news article.

He had received no more messages from GC. It made him jittery, though he had an unexplained feeling the person sending him those comments was not one of his pursuers. Whoever that person was though, Jamal was certain they were involved in his saving.

He shook his head as he looked beyond the reporters. A South African lady from Press Undone got the nod. She wore a red long sleeve shirt with a turtle neck. A Peace-labelled band was on her right wrist. She cleared her throat.

“My name is Stephan, and my question regards Lakazor.”

Murmurs rose at the name. Jamal had heard it many times in the past few months, though it is said he died nearly six years ago. Some reports said he was Mr. Tulasi’s son with another woman, leading to ridiculous rumours that Jasmine, his wife, was involved in his death. The strangest part was there was never a picture of him or his family. Nobody knew what he looked like or where he came from, but everybody knew he was young and clever. Too clever to still live, Jamal imagined.

“I do not believe we should be burdening his family anymore,” the boss said.

The reporter fumbled with her mic as she drew a strand of hair behind her ear. “Yes, I understand, but—”

The voices drowned her words. “But I think,” she said louder, and the silence returned. “I think even they would love to hear your response to some alle—some suggestions about the war.”

Mr. Tulasi narrowed his eyes. The reporter held the mic with another hand. Sweat dripped from her hair, and her face seemed strained.

“It says that Lakazor was the one who, who brought the….” Stephan’s voice trailed. Jamal craned his neck, as did everybody else in the building. For a while, it seemed she had lost her courage along with her voice.

“What, what did you say,” Mr. Tulasi, said. “Nobody can hear you. Look, push the mic closer to your lips.”

Laughter erupted in the crowd. Jamal saw his lips curling at the beginning of a smile. It had been so long a time he’d seen his Boss show anger or humour on his face that it looked as if a mask had been planted on his face.

“They say Lakazor…Lakazor ended the war.”

Silence.

Jamal’s breath was tight in his chest. All eyes turned to the president of Football Incorporated who seemed unfazed by it all. The smile had all but disappeared to be replaced with a blank stare that evoked no emotion or worry.

Striking a hand over his pompadour, he asked, “How did the 16 year old Lakazor Andani end the war when he never went to war? Bluetooth?”

It was as if the crowd was waiting for an excuse to breathe. As they roared on with laughter though, Jamal perceived a question beneath that layer of allegation as he turned back to the South African reporter.

“It, it isn-t clear yet,” she replied to more laughter, and Mr. Tulasi took this turn to set the records straight.

“Look, there are many things I will let pass; things that wouldn’t bother me if people took away from me but this, this legacy of bringing salvation to the world…I will not let anybody take it from me, not a journalist, and certainly not a boy with a stutter and…Listen, if anybody will tell me what he looks like, I will build a plaque of him to be worshipped, but do not put the burden of proof on the shoulders of a tomb. That, Stephanie Maimane, is the height of unprofessionalism.”

Clapping hands drowned all other thoughts Jamal had, but he saw that Stephanie was still on her feet. Jamal pulled his finger from his mouth and waited, hoping it was what he was thinking. She had a smile on her face.

“How, how…” The applause went on for a while. “How did you end the war?”

This was it, Jamal thought, excitement wriggling within his chest. He looked around for Harry but couldn’t see him. He hadn’t seen him since the death. Naomi had gone to visit her family in Nigeria the day he was rescued as well. He hoped they were both here to hear the truth from the horse’s own mouth.

Mr. Tulasi stood from his chair, smiling a perfect line across his jet black lips that made Jamal’s heart flip. The President of Football Inc. gestured, and behind him, a pair of curtains was unfurled to reveal the letters against a black board.

“The Football Series,” he announced with gusto, officially inaugurating the multi-million dollar Academy where the African Team will be making their preparations. Jamal shook his head and walked out of the room as the reporters continued to clap behind him.

It was an old story; a vague answer to an old question. Everybody knew there were deaths. The last war ravaged major parts of the world, each continent hit by more than its fair share of sufferings and massacre. In some way, Jamal had believed it to be Allah’s way of warning us of our deeds and neglect. He had thought it a bloody reminder that humanity could just as get wiped away by our own warfare as by a turn of the clouds, and when it happened, there would be nothing but desolation fanning the landscape that was once home.

But then, the war had ended, just like that. Presidents had come together to draft a resolution to destroy their nukes and give peace a chance. At the centre of all negotiations, of all conferences, from the UN councils to the various parliaments, Mr. Tulasi had been as active as a hummingbird, spreading news of a new world, of lasting peace and development that would last till Allah Himself said, enough, let’s all come home.

Nobody knew exactly how a business man from Ghana managed to convince the world’s leaders to part with their most beloved inventions; inventions that were gathered using billions of tax payers’ American Dollars and Saudi Riyals, in exchange for a game between two eleven player teams. All he knew was: it just happened.

Jamal stepped onto the lush green of the new pitch and found a young boy doing his practices on an empty compound. He had been included after Sani’s death, and he looked like one with a bit between his teeth. One man’s death brings hope to another, he thought to himself as he drew his mobile phone out to make a post on his blog.

Football is the dream that burns in a youngster’s life. In many ways, it is life itself. A loss on one team is joy on the other team. The miseries that accompany painful defeats and life-threatening tackles are forgotten the very moment the foot touches the inflated leather again. In one way, football is more than life so as to be death. It is the constant that still comes as a stranger, surprises us, pleases us, and tells us of the hope we can achieve before our lives end.

Football is the world’s hope, the burning torch in the darkness of suffering, of poverty, of pain and broken dreams. The surging emotions that dance within our breasts sweep away such things into the walls of a forgotten memory. They break said walls into a paste of mortar and history and a form the Launchpad from which to leap into our futures. They make a bed for us, clothe us in warm pieces of defiance and will to ward off the chills of regret. And when the days come, and the sun sets to be replaced by night, the tingling feelings at our toes dissolve into a pit so deep we would hope not to see it. Yet we do behold it, that tongue of flame fuelled by unfathomed passions, and we feel it as it leaps into the pitch blackness and shrouds the gaping clouds. It roils as it encloses around us, this passion, this great vision of our culminating efforts in making better lives for our own, and the scent of it douses our aches with the sweat of our blessed efforts, and we know, even as our souls leave our bodies, that football is the dream of realising a dream. Football is all.

#Footballis

 

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About Author

A Ghanaian living in Germany, I draw inspiration from my faith and write fantasy stories sprinkled with African imaginations. I lived for a year in Italy where I managed to grasp more than a few phrases before moving to Germany’s oldest university, Johannes Gutenberg University, to pursue an MSc in International Economics and Public Policy. Unlike many authors who were writing before they could walk, I did not start writing until long after my first degree in Ghana. And this was while trying to edit ‘Above the Law 360°’.

 

Since then, I have written and abandoned about a dozen blogs and novel ideas before finally settling on Faith, Football, and Fantasy.

 

My writing goal is to see the fabled Anansi riding behind Daenerys Stormborn in the skies of the old Ghana Empire, or Mali Empire, or whatever fictional universe a wandering mind can dream of.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Book by Author

Luckster: A Game of Life and Mama

 

At the foot of the Olden Mountains wreathed with ancient clouds, a bushy-haired village boy watches as a silver axe rents his father’s life to pieces. Since that night when panic and gore settled on the humble homes of Sharkney, the 7 year old avid climber became his mother’s sole protector, traversing the vast lands of Empire to make a living and find the cure for her ailing heart.

Now, 17, Aldyn has wagered his life for the Heartstone to save his mama, but events bring him face-to-face with his father’s killer in the city of Kestabal. Aldyn’s thirst for vengeance and the twisting knots of fate lead to him being declared a fugitive after escaping a death sentence, and his journey becomes blighted by betrayal and strange visions of a man imprisoned by the mythical monsters called Deryndons.

Struggling for his life in the dark city of Lodim many leagues from home, Aldyn has worries greater than the ten-storey drop of the alchemist’s tower when he hears the Vultures are arming in ways never seen before. If he is to save his mother and the girl he conveniently calls sister, he will have to survive mercenaries and the mythical beasts that ride the high winds.

As the first novella in the Mama’s Boy Series, this fantasy/action adventure short story presents a fictionalised narrative of the true struggles of brave young men and women as they suffer to make a better life for their families.

 

Available here.

 

Connect with Abdul.

I really appreciate you reading my book! Here are my social media coordinates:

 

Friend me on Facebook

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The Trials

The atomic bombs have been destroyed in the wake of a massive war that destroyed too many lives. To sustain peace and foster healthy competitions, Football Incorporated has introduced an intercontinental competition that brings together each continent's best players in a Football Series. For 15 year old Daru, being selected for the African Team will mean more than a dream come true. It would put food on the table and buy the drugs his sick niece needs so badly for her strange ailment. For Jamal Appiah, his work with Football Inc. should not allow him to keep a football blog. However, when he is chased in the night by a group of strange, inhuman characters after witnessing a murder, he starts receiving messages on his blog from a stranger who might know more about him than he would like. The comments lead to doubts, and the death of a footballer at an exhibition match raises more doubts, or not. Set in a re-imagined section of Ghana's capital, Accra, The Trials is the first novella of the Football Series. It tells a story of a boy struggling with a family he had no hand in creating, and a world where nothing is what it seems.

  • Author: Abdul
  • Published: 2015-10-06 16:20:08
  • Words: 22064
The Trials The Trials