I’ve been sleeping like a baby on this private jet. Which is to say, I’ve been waking up every hour or so and crying into the 500 thread count pillowcases. I’m AB, trapped in this crappy world where Steve Hofmeyr is the big brother I never had and Kevin Pietersen is still kak.
I wake up as the plane lands. Steve is standing over me, arms crossed. Whatever he’s waiting to spit out looks like it’s tasting sour in his mouth
“AB, there’s been a mistake. I made a mistake. We’re a day late. Before you get angry, remember that we’ve both been under a lot of stress this past week – and one of us was drunk all of that time, on alcohol – and it was really an honest mistake-”
“Steve, what are you talking about?”
“AB, when you told me that the game was being played at three in the morning, South African Time, I thought you had taken the International Date Line into consideration.”
“But Steve, we’re on the same side of the line. Aren’t we?” Steve looks at me and says quietly “Australia, New Zealand and South Polynesia have been at war with the Asian mainland for over three centuries. They’ve remained on the other side of the line for all that time.”
“Oh Steve, come on. Seriously? Does nothing in this stupid parallel universe make any sense?”
“AB, you missed the semi-final. That you didn’t want to watch anyway. I phoned Kevin and he said he’ll meet you in an hour. Is that still fine?”
Steve looks at me with an expression that I couldn’t decipher even if I had a degree in Egyptology. “You want to know what the final score was?”
“OK, Steve. Tell me the final score.”
He tells me
I am in Kevin’s hotel room with Steve. We’re waiting for him to finish a call. The place smells like a fire in an Axe deodorant factory.
Kevin stuffs his phone into his pocket and looks at me. I hope I’m never wearing the face he’s wearing now.
“I’m really sorry, Kevin.” And I mean it. He is an armature, stiff and hollow, that someone has draped some skin over. He nods, his neck creaking.
“You know I was the first European-African to captain South Africa, AB? And the first South African captain to reach the semi-final in almost forty years?” He is babbling, laying out his unbroken toys for me, desperate for a kind word.
“I really didn’t know those things, Kevin. And I’m really sorry.”
I’m suddenly exhausted. I’ve reached this far fuelled only by my anger at Kevin and Nursie’s penicillin injections. And both have worn off.
“AB, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, but I don’t know much. Years ago, when I was still a small boy in African Rhodesia, a strange man visited me one day on our farm. He said that he was my real daddy and that if I followed his instructions I could win a World Cup final. Until today, everything has happened just like he said. But today, I lost.”
“Who was this man, Kevin?” He’s a watch that has been wound too tightly. I don’t like the way he’s speeding up.
“One more thing, AB, he said that I should never, ever, ever talk to you or agree to meet you, and that I should avoid you always and forever. And then you phoned me two days ago-”
“-two days ago and I agree to meet with you because you threaten me with death by fire. And now I’ve lost and it’s all your fault and I should have listened to my real daddy.”
Steve has been moving towards Kevin as I’ve been backing away from him, and now he has his hand on Kevin’s chest, measuring out a stiff line between wrist and shoulder. “Kevin, we are sorry, but you need to stop threatening AB.”
We stand there in tableau for just seconds before a voice at the door cuts through the fug of Axe and curdled hope. “Boys, please let’s not fight.”
Kevin stops trying to push past Steve’s hand and yells “Daddy!”
We turn and look. And Steve looks back at Kevin. “Our manager is your father?”
The man takes off his hat and winks at us. “Hello, Steve.”
“Hello, Hansie” says Steve.
TO BE CONTINUED