Semi crossed and uncrossed his legs under the small desk. It was last period, which meant math class with Mr. Taliga. Semi liked geometry, but today he couldn’t focus on anything, much less trigonometric functions – today was rugby try-outs.
In their backyard next to Grandma’s outdoor kitchen, he and his older brother had trained for months among the loose cuttings. “Come on Semi,” Osea had said. “Run faster. Move your knees. You’re gonna have to be quick if you want to make the Sevens squad.”
But Osea underestimated him. Semi would run as fast as a darting bat if it only meant he’d have a chance to play for Natabua this term. Last term he hadn’t made it. He had come from his private school, prepared to be the best athlete by default, only to find the village boys not only faster, but more disciplined than him on the pitch. He’d eaten their dust and been out the first day of tryouts.
Since then he had returned to his roots, living with his grandmother and brother in the village while their parents worked in the city. He had eaten dalo and kokoda every day instead of McDonalds and cheap city fare, and could feel himself running on clean energy.
The bell rang, finally. Semi rushed out of the room and sprinted to the lockers, where the other boys were already pulling on their boots and hefting rugby balls in their hands.
“Looking to lose again?” asked an older boy, grinning at him through a gap in his teeth.
Semi said nothing. They knew him from last year’s tryouts, and that was okay. The element of surprise was always useful in Sevens.
The players trailed out onto the pitch in different colored jerseys, Semi in the maroon stripes of his old prep school. He could hear the others laughing at him behind his back – but then the ball was on the field and he was off, flying up the field, knocking players away from him like a bulldozing elephant as he sprinted towards his first try of the day.
The ball was down and so were the smiles of the others, who quickly evaluated whether it was a fluke or a misjudgment on their part. They seemed to decide the latter, going straight for him on the next play, but again he was too fast – he passed backward to a member of his side, and then they were both up the pitch, running their own play until the ball hit the dust once more.
The other boys stepped up their game and did their best to squelch Semi. It got harder and harder to make it past their defense, but he never gave up. At the end of the session, Coach called him over.
“You’ve been working,” he observed.
Semi just nodded.
“Okay,” said Coach. “Back again, same time tomorrow.”
Semi’s face was bright as he gathered his things and made his way home. That afternoon he would sit down with his grandmother and brother. They would drink black tea and eat cassava cake, and he would tell them of his success.
- 2 packages grated cassava (2 lbs total; can be found in the frozen sections of Asian/Latin grocery stores; common Filipino ingredient)
- ⅓ cup of honey or coconut sugar, or ½ c maple syrup (V) (can adjust sweetener level based on preference - this is mildly sweet)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- ½ cup coconut cream
- Mix everything together and pour into greased 9x9 pan, then bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until brown on top and chopstick comes out clean.
- Enjoy with afternoon or morning tea while discussing rugby, rugby players, or anything pigskin-ball-related. Maybe even go play some rugby. Just don't hurt yourself, cuz that game is intense. Sheesh.