THE BEGINNING OF VICTORY;
Karamo High School, in its forty-plus years of supposed sporting excellence, had never won a single game of rugby since they began taking part in the competition. And because of the low standards the school team set and continued to fail to achieve, no one expected much from today’s game. In fact, no one expected anything at all. All the teachers were in the staff room, and the coach had managed to conceal himself splendidly behind a pair of bulky seniors. The students had long realised their chanting was not helping matters in any way and had resorted to bemoaning the sad state of their team in carrying voices. The game itself was catastrophic. The longest time Karamo retained possession was fifteen seconds, and that unfortunate player was duly rewarded for his troubles.
At halftime, Karamo had nothing to show for their presence in the pitch except thoroughly demoralized players with several bruises, and a deficit of twenty-eight points. Omondi, the team captain was busy thinking of what to say to his team when he noticed a small student-probably a first year-racing towards them. The boy came to a halt five feet away and signalled for the captain to make the rest of the approach. One could never be too safe when dealing with angry rugby players. Pausing only to employ a few well-chosen swear words and praying to God for patience, Omondi trudged forward.
“What do you want?” he barked, smiling inwardly as he saw the boy shudder.
“I want to play,” the boy answered simply.
“This is not the time for recruitment. And even if it was, you are too small to make the team. Now if you will excuse me, we have a game to play.” He turned and began walking away, wondering why anyone with half a brain would want to play for Karamo.
“You mean you have a game to lose?”
Omondi turned around so fast he nearly lost his footing. “What did you-“
A whistle sounded nearby, and Omondi swallowed his diatribe. He turned back and began heading back to the team, but the boy ran out and stood ahead of him again.
“Look, let’s be honest. The chances of winning this game are nil. I just want to play, that’s all. It probably won’t make a difference, and you don’t have anything to lose.”
When retelling the story later, Omondi would refer to his decision as a stroke of brilliance, and he would cite intuition as his inspiration. But at the time, all he had wanted was to completely remove all ideas of rugby from the boy’s head.
“What’s your name?” he asked as he threw the boy an old kit that was still two sizes larger.
“Right, Victor. Five minutes, then you’re out. I’m not about to be responsible for your death.”
But five minutes later, none of the Karamo players had gotten so much of a whiff of the ball. Instead they received a generous amount of ground shattering tackles, and a few truly spectacular hand offs. The better players managed the occasional collision, but limped away from the encounters more determined to avoid contact than ever before. Omondi, in a rare display of dexterity, succeeded in getting hold of the ball once, but the excitement of possession was too much for him, and he ended up turning the ball over.
Then it happened. One second the ball was floating lazily from one of their players to the next, the next, it was gone, and in its place there was a tiny figure sprinting away like a possessed felon. It was a full five seconds before anyone realised what was happening, and by the time they did, Victor was well into the other half, the ball tucked safely under his arm. Someone snapped back to reality and raced after the boy, but by the time he got to him, Victor was in the air. His dive was a thing of beauty. And just like that, Karamo recorded their first try that season.
The roars that erupted around the pitch were deafening. It was almost impossible to understand how such a small crowd of hitherto unenthused students could make such noise. Omondi was so stunned he could barely string together a sentence, so he merely clapped the boy on the back. They missed the resultant conversion kick, but the atmosphere was suddenly palpable with excitement. Teachers slowly crept into the vicinity, and the team coach was suddenly telling anybody who cared to listen that the young man had been his secret weapon all along.
The team itself seemed revitalised, and that made a good job of covering up their inexperience. Now, rather than cringe away, they strode into tackles and fought like never before for possession. By unspoken consent, they solidified their back line and pulled down any player that attempted to breach it. Even so, it was not until the dying seconds of the game that they regained possession. The team centre got hold of the ball, and it was almost comical to see him looking around for Victor. He offloaded the ball to the boy, and the whole pitch went wild.
Victor wasted no time. He danced around the first player to approach him and accelerated past the second, causing the noise level around the pitch to increase to dangerous levels. Two more sidesteps saw him past the twenty-two yard line, and then he had only the full back to beat. He could see players closing out of the corner of his eye, but he knew they could never catch up to him. He saw the full back move left and right in anticipation, and was suddenly aware of his own pumping heart. Concentrate on the footwork, he told himself. He made a step towards the right of the full back, then one towards the left. He saw him stumble…then regain his balance…
He closed his eyes as he felt himself lifted off the ground by his feet. He was airborne for what seemed like an eternity, then the ground rushed up, and all the air was rushed from his lungs as he bottom made contact. Reality crashed around him moments later. The try line was inches away…a whistle sounded, and he knew he had not made it. But that was forgotten almost instantly. Suddenly, he was in the air again, this time being carried by a flock of people, and his hand was being shaken by those who could reach it. At that moment, anyone walking in would have sworn it was Karamo High School that had won that match.
Celebrations went on late into the night, and Victor found himself a hero in everyone’s eyes. That day became historic for the school, and the story told and retold so often that it soon became a religion of its own. For many, it mattered little that they had lost that day. That single game became the beginning of victory.
THE BEGINNING OF VICTORY;