La’Torie Woodberry was awarded the Dawson Prize in Essay in the 2015 Prison Writing Contest.

In my country, crying won’t do you any good. The rivers run rapidly with the tears of three million people in poverty. Hundreds of children from troubled homes and orphans abandoned at birth roam the streets of Tanzania day and night! It’s been years since the death of Mandela and not much has improved in South Africa. The economy is on a steady decline. Jobs are scarce. Even those who are lucky enough to find work wonder how they will survive off the scraps that three dollars per hour can buy! My sister and I are street children: no home, no mother, no father, just the streets of South Africa. This is my story of survival. I’m sure there are many similar ones, but mine is unique.


Chapter One: No Day at the Beach

I hate it when it rains! Monsoon season lasts about a month and two weeks, so when the streets are sloppy with mud and silent from the absence of tourists, my sister and I tuck ourselves away in this underground sewer, abandoned since the late 1960s, when South Africa installed the new state-to-state sewage system. This cement tunnel has become our home for the past three years, I try to occupy my time in the tunnel by writing. Sitting directly under the steel-grated screen above allows the pale moonlight to illuminate words I write in my notebook.

See that skinny girl sitting there with the sad face and stomach full of worms? That’s my little sister Tiffanee. Tomorrow she turns ten years old. I stop my writing for a second to study her as she sits Indian-style, scratching games of tic-tac-toe into the cement with a sharp rock. Her black-and-white polka-dot dress hides her scrawny legs until her knees. She has no idea that for her tenth birthday I plan to take her into town tomorrow and buy her a pair of sandals to protect her bare feet.

My name is TyJee, which means tiger in Tanzanian. My sister and I have been stuck in our tunnel for the last two days. Every day our survival depends on how well we do at getting supplies and shelter. My sister is very sad most days, but today she’s sadder than most. She doesn’t think the rain will let up enough for us to go scavenge for supplies. She hates being stuck in the tunnel. Tiffanee tells me that this place is like a cement coffin keeping us bored to death. She’d much rather stay on the beach, where we race up and down the sandy shores stealing from tourists as they tan in the sun. The beach isn’t safe when monsoon season brings the heavy rains. You could get washed away by the high tides or arrested by the coastal police. Either way the dangers are too great to risk sleeping on the shore!

Days before the monsoon brought nonstop rain, I had been out collecting cans to earn enough money to buy candles, canned corn, tortillas, and a few cans of sardines. I knew that these supplies would keep us from hunger and darkness at night. Since my mother was murdered, my sister and I have struggled every day just to survive. Dreams of clean clothes, a warm bed, and a hot meal motivate my every thought. Although I have none of these three things I dream of, one day I know I will own a home with a big fluffy bed and enough food to feed Tiffanee and me until we pop! Tiffanee is two years younger than me, but both of us are older than our age. Our eyes tell the story of our exhausting experience with the struggle of life!

“TyJee, TyJee,” called my sister. “Quit scribbling in your notepad and tell me a story!”

“A story of what?” I asked, irritated by her interruption.

“Something of America the free land,” whined Tiffanee.

“Ok!” I sighed as I shut my notebook, and began telling her a story about the free land of America, where everything is free! “In America,” I said, “there are free homes, free food, and free schools. America gives you freedom to choose your jobs.”

Tiffanee likes when I tell her stories; she says it allows her mind to escape the prison of poverty, letting her thoughts run free from this five-by-five-foot tunnel. Far from fears of starving in South Africa, I tell her these stories as long as it makes her feel better. I don’t like the stories because I know they are nothing but stories. The truth is I know nothing about America besides the little I learned in school. I left primary school at the end of second grade. I was seven years old. Tiffanee would have just been beginning her first year when my mother was murdered. I did not know much about manhood, but I knew enough to know I was the man in charge. I’ve learnt a lot living on the streets of South Africa. Every friendly faced tourist is not to be trusted. The one time I made the mistake of trusting someone to watch my sister while I dived for clams, I came out of the water to realize the pale-faced pervert had run off with Tiffanee. It took a knife wound in my side and a day of searching to learn from that experience. Ever since then my mind has been strictly focused on our safety and making sure we don’t starve. Sometimes my mind wonders, thinking thoughts that I know my knowledge is limited in. I ask myself, is there a God? If so, does he really reward the good and punish the bad? If God does reward the good and punish the bad, I wonder how he feels about me. Sometimes I’m very much a mixture of both!


Chapter Two: No Time for Play

The sun beamed bright, burning light upon my face, waking me from my sleep in the morning. I kicked my sister awake on my way out of the tunnel. After taking a leak outside I came back to collect the empty corn and sardine cans. Tiffanee was still barely awake.

“Wake up, birthday girl!” I shouted! “You turn 10 today, that’s 10 less years I have to deal with you,” I said, smiling.

As Tiffanee stood on her feet I hugged her and kissed her forehead. “Come on,” I said, “the sun is up, it should be dry enough to scavenge soon.”

As we left the tunnel I took the used cans and piled them into a plastic bag. I was still about 10 cents short of the money I needed to buy the sandals, so I figured I’d bring the empty cans to get a start on collecting this morning. As we climbed up the hill to the road that leads to town, I could tell Tiffanee was not happy on her birthday. She constantly slacked, walking slowly behind me.

“Come on Tiff, catch up!” I called back to her.

The road was unusually quiet that morning. Although it was early, people would ordinarily be coming and going this way and that! Off in the distance I could see a crowd of people gathering in one spot. Thinking there might be something worth scavenging, I began to run.

“Come on Tiffanee!” I called as I began to sprint.

My bare feet pounded the asphalt until I reached a pile of rubble. I stopped abruptly and began to examine the heap of tin, timber, and tangled wire that had once been a shack of some kind. Seeing at least five other kids sifting through the rummage, I began to pick out the aluminum and copper wire. Just as I had picked a decent amount of aluminum and copper, another kid shoved me away from the pile! When I turned to see who had shoved me I realized it was none other than Kewamee. Kewamee was a tall, lean, muscled kid who was not a normal street kid. He lived with his uncle Ronnie “Razor Otto,” a legendary kickboxer from Tanzania. Kewamee began living with his uncle when his mother died of malaria. Ever since Kewamee had begun kickboxing, he always picked fights. Today Kewamee’s dark skin was sweating from the sun’s heat. His height alone was awkward for the age of 12.

“Don’t touch me again!” I shouted. Then Kewamee kicked my legs from under me with one quick sweeping move!

Anger exploded in me as I fell down beside the pile of rubble. By this time, my sister Tiffanee had made it to the pile. Seeing that a fight was about to start, she screamed, “Stop, TyJee!” But it was too late, by then I was already on my feet, fist clenched in anger. Kewamee and I began to circle each other as a group of kids watched the wind from a lighting-fast kick come whistling above my head. Before I realized what I was doing, I charged Kewamee, tackling him to the ground. After I pounded several sharp punches into Kewamee’s face, blood began to run from his nose. Noticing his own blood, Kewamee head-butted me, causing my nose to explode with blood and intense pain! Kewamee kneed me in the stomach and quickly switched the position of the fight, placing me on the bottom! Blows began to rain down on my face, causing my back to bounce off the ground.

“Get up! Get up, TyJee!” screamed Tiffanee.

Hearing her cry, I clasped my hands around Kewamee’s back, bringing him close, chest to chest, to me. I bit him like a wild dog on his neck and turned him over. Now it was my turn to head-butt, and I did so repeatedly until blood ran rapidly from both our faces.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” cheered the kids crowding around the chaos!

“Kewamee!” a loud voice called, causing both him and me to look up. Seeing that it was Kewamee’s uncle Razor, we both rose to our feet. “Cut this nonsense out!” ordered Razor.

Kewamee and I never took our eyes off each other as I gathered my aluminum and copper.

“Come on, Tiffanee,” I said as I began to walk away. Tiffanee and I kept walking into town. The whole time people stared at my bloody, bruised face. Finally, when we got to the scrapper’s shed, I unloaded my pile of aluminum onto the scales. After weighing my aluminum, Denny, the metal merchant, paid me two dollars. The amount after weighing my copper was a couple dollars more! After being paid, Tiffanee and I left the scrapper’s shed and stopped by the bayside boutique. The store was so expensive; everything was priced to tourist standards. The sandals Tiffanee picked out cost three dollars. I spent more on the sandals then I had planned but I was proud to see how happy she was to have them. As we walked, Tiffanee kept looking down, admiring her pretty pink sandals.

Before going to the beach like I had promised, Tiffanee and I stopped by a fruit stand where I stole six apples and two oranges. As I tried to grab some bananas, the big fat woman behind the fruit stand saw me and started screaming “Thief! Thief!” This caused Tiffanee and me to run! We blazed through the busy market place and parted the weeds as we ran towards the beach. Surprisingly there were several dozen people on the beach. Some even swam in the shallow water. I guess the slight glimmer of sunshine gave the tourists some hope! Tiffanee and I walked along the beach, eating the fruit for breakfast. My eyes were on the lookout for those families who played in the water while leaving their belongings on the beach. As we walked, about midway along the shore I spotted a red-and-white striped umbrella. Under it was a pile of stuff. I could see a purse, a big bag of potato chips, and other treasures left unattended. I sprang into action, telling Tiffanee to take the few apples we had left. Then I ran to the umbrella and loaded the stuff inside the purse. There was a camera, a clock radio, a basket of food, and a billfold. After grabbing the load, I told Tiffanee we had to leave the beach at once! Usually Tiffanee would argue when I told her we had to leave the beach, but today she did as she was told! We left the beach and walked to town. Once we reached the electronics shop I sold the clock radio for five dollars. We ate the potato chips and sandwiches from the picnic basket. I looked into the billfold and found two twenty-dollar bills and some papers with people’s names I couldn’t pronounce. I took the money and tossed the billfold. Then Tiffanee and I headed to buy some more supplies for the night. I stopped by a roadside vendor, where I brought two ice-cream cones, chocolate for me and two scoops of vanilla and strawberry for Tiffanee. We snapped pictures with the Polaroid camera and instantly our smiles were captured in the photos.

Tiffanee studied the pictures for a moment, saying, “Look how messed up your face is, TyJee. We must take another one once your face is not swollen.” After taking a glance at the photo, I had to agree!

“Hey, I’m still smiling,” I said jokingly. After we ate our ice cream, I stopped by the canned food vendor. There I bought more candles, matches, paper, another pen, potted meat, pork and beans, bread, bottled water, and a few candy bars. I loaded all our supplies into the basket, and brought them back to the tunnel.


Chapter Three: A Trying Time

The next day Tiffanee and I were going to get a much-needed new set of clothes. I had worn holes in the dirty khaki shorts and sleeveless t-shirt I wore, and Tiffanee needed a new dress, so we headed into town. At the clothing store, Tiffanee picked out a pink summer dress to match her sandals perfectly. I selected a pair of camouflage shorts and a black V-neck shirt.

“You should get some shoes,” said Tiffanee.

I thought about it seriously, but I knew that the amount of money I wanted to spend was far from the money I could afford to spend! I looked down at my feet and stared at the sores and scrapes that covered both feet. I slipped the boat shoes on my feet, just to feel the snug comfort of the canvas-colored cloth on my feet. The soles of my feet felt so protected that I didn’t want to take the shoes off. So I didn’t!

After we paid for the outfits I strolled out of the store with the shoes on my feet. No one even noticed. Then as we walked back through town I heard a voice hollering my name. I started to run, figuring it was the store clerk coming to reclaim the shoes. When I look back it was none other than Kewamee and his uncle Razor!

“Let’s go,” said Tiffanee.

“No,” I told her as my body tensed up. “I’m not running from nobody,” I said out loud as I stopped and turned to face Kewamee, who was now coming directly towards me. As Kewamee approached to within arm’s length, I dropped the bags and balled up my fist.

“I didn’t come to fight,” said Kewamee.

“What do you want then?” I asked.

“My uncle invites you to our kickboxing club to train with us,” he said.

“Kickboxing?” I repeated. “Nah man, I don’t think I have the time for kickboxing.”

“Suit yourself,” said Kewamee, “but the bouts bring 150 dollars in prize money, sometimes more!”

Hearing this, Tiffanee became excited and said “Try it, TyJee, try it!”

“I’ll think about it,” I told Kewamee, and he responded that if I wanted to start training I should come to the kickboxing gym the next day. Then he went his way and we went ours. The next day I took Tiffanee along with me to the public square. “Razor Otto Kickboxing Club” said the sign on the door. I took a deep breath and barged inside. As I looked around there were about 10 boys, well built, and by the looks of their moves, well trained. I stood there unnoticed, watching Razor Otto teach a tall Albino boy how to kick the big punching bag.

“Like this, Lima,” said Razor as he raised his leg and delivered a swift kick to the bag. Then the tall boy they call Lima began kicking the bag as he was instructed. When Razor laid eyes on me, he waved his hand, saying, “Come here.” “What is your name?” he asked.

“TyJee,” I responded.

“Oh, Tiger huh,” he said with a smile. “Let me see your fighting stance,” he commanded.

“What?” I asked.

“Show me how you fight!” shouted Razor.

I just looked at him, confused, and said, “Kewamee told me that you would show me how to fight.”

“Yes, yes,” said Razor. “That’s what we’re here to do. Now, punch!” he shouted.

I bawled up my fist and popped him in the mouth. It must have made him mad because he foot-swiped me onto the floor! When I got back to my feet, I saw Razor smiling. “This boy here,” he said, pointing to the tall Albino boy, “his name is Lima. Lima, this is TyJee the tiger. Y’all will be sparring partners.”

I punched and kicked the bag all that day until dark. Then Tiffanee and I walked back two miles across town to our tunnel. All that night, Tiffanee and I talked about what we would do with money I could earn from kickboxing. “We could move to America,” said Tiffanee excitedly. After we ate our potted meat sandwiches, I fell asleep, exhausted from a day of training. The next day at the Razor Otto kickboxing club, Lima and I exchanged leg kicks until his pale skin turned pink from the punishment.

“This guy can really bring the pain!” said Lima, as he rubbed his thighs to relieve the pain.

My shins were sore and my knuckles were bruised, but I felt great. My confidence was growing, giving me hope that I could become a big kickboxing star like Razor Otto! Day after day Tiffanee and I traveled the two-mile distance so that I could train at the gym. We were still scavengers from sunrise to sundown, but each day I stopped to take time to go train. Razor began to notice my skills and admired my discipline. He even offered to let me come stay with him and Kewamee. The only problem was that Razor would not allow my sister to live in the gym with us!

“I cannot afford to take care of three children. This place is only for fighters,” said Razor.

Of course I refused the offer to live alongside Razor Otto, if it required me to abandon my sister. So day after day, Tiffanee and I continued to struggle together.

One evening, about an hour before dark, Tiffanee and I walked back from the gym and decided to stop at the electronics vendor. I wanted to see if we could sell the camera. Our cash had gotten low and I hadn’t had much luck scavenging. The electronics vendor had closed shop early and our hopes of gaining some cash so we could eat were gone! Hunger hastened our steps as we strolled through town towards our tunnel. We passed several white faces along our way. In desperation for a meal, I asked a few passing tourists if they would be interested in buying the camera. A few people passed us by without paying any attention to my offer. Then this tall white man in a Hawaiian shirt that was unbuttoned, showing his hairy chest, stopped us, saying, “How much?”

Tiffanee and I paused and I began showing the man the camera. “It still has half a roll of film in it,” I said.

“How much to take a few pictures of you two together?” asked the man with skinny legs. A dollar per picture, I said, not knowing that this would turn out badly. “Okay,” said the white man. Then he led us to the beach, supposedly for the background of the photos. After a few pictures, the white man said, “Pull your shirts off and I pay extra.” I had no problem posing without a shirt; sometimes I went shirtless for days, but Tiffanee, who was just hitting puberty, did not like the proposition.

“How much extra?” I asked the man.

“Ten dollars for you and twenty dollars for her to come outta that pretty pink dress.” Tiffanee’s facial expression showed that she didn’t feel comfortable. But knowing how badly we needed the money, she agreed. Tiffanee pulled the dress over her head, revealing her small breasts. The white man breathed heavily with excitement as he snapped several photos of us.

“Now kiss!” he commanded.

“No way,” I shouted, “this is my sister! I never kiss my sister man!”

“Well would you mind if I kissed her?” said the man.

“No, never! Enough of this man, you pay us now!” I screamed. Seeing that I had gotten angry, Tiffanee pulled her dress back on and stood against a tree. The white man continued to proposition us to pose for nude photos.

“Give me my money and my camera!” I shouted.

“Come on kid, kool out,” said the white man. “Just let me finish the roll of film and I’ll pay you for our little fun.”

“No fun! Give me the money now!” I ordered.

The white man looked at me with this wicked smile and said, “Sure kid, I’ll pay you as soon as I kiss your kid sister.” Then he started running towards Tiffanee, tackling her into the sand. As he struggled to pin her down, I ran towards them, then I jumped in the air, delivering a kick to the back of his head.

The white man tumbled over in the sand, saying, “Shit kid, I’m gonna kill you!” As the white man got to his feet, he stumbled towards me. I stood my ground and balled my fist tightly. When the white man came within range, I kicked those skinny legs multiple times! I kicked the right leg twice, then the left two times until he began to limp. I took him off his feet with a sweeping kick to his right shinbone. As he fell to his knees, I planted my feet firmly in the sand and swung two hard hooks with my fist. Blood began to run from his mouth, as I roundhouse-kicked him in the temple. The white man lay unconscious on the beach. I snatched the Polaroid camera off his neck and cash from his pockets.

“Let’s go, TyJee!” screamed Tiffanee. Then we both ran full speed back to our tunnel. That night I told Tiffanee that I was sorry.

“I failed us,” I said. “Tonight I allowed us to go hungry! I allowed that man to have fun taking our nude pictures. Never again!” I shouted. “Tonight we go without food but tomorrow we feast,” I said as I began counting the money. There was 82 dollars altogether that I snatched from the white man’s pocket!


Chapter 4: Food, Clothing, and Shelter

The day following my fight with the white man, Tiffanee and I went into town and ate tacos and ice cream, and I brought more supplies for later. Then we headed to the gym so I could continue my daily training. I told Tiffanee not to tell a soul what had happened, and she agreed. That night after training Razor asked two questions. The first was if I wanted to fight in the upcoming South Africa Championship Kickboxing Tournament; also known as the S.A.C.K. Tournament.

“The top prize is 150 dollars,” said Razor.

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

Then Razor asked if Tiffanee and I needed a ride home. At first I said no, then seeing the supplies we had to carry two miles, I reconsidered, saying “Maybe you could drive us halfway!” After training, Razor drove Tiffanee and me to the spot where we cut through the weeds towards our tunnel.

“Thanks a lot, Razor,” I said as Tiffanee and I hopped out of his pickup truck. Razor watched as we cut through the weeds, carrying our supplies. I told Tiffanee to walk slowly so as not to let Razor realize we lived in a tunnel. Soon we saw the taillights of the truck pass by and we walked into our tunnel. I could tell something was wrong as we entered the tunnel. Cigarettes butts were everywhere, the tunnel smelled of strong smoke, and I could hear the sound of voices coming from within.

“Get behind me,” I said to Tiffanee as I walked deeper into the tunnel. Two teenage boys were bent over, looking through the basket I snatched from the beach. When they heard me behind them, they both stood up and turned to face me.

“Give us food!” the first boy shouted. The second boy stood beside his partner silently. I did not know the first boy, but the second boy was a tan-skinned, skinny kid they called Silence, because he could not speak. Some tourist took out his tongue after tricking him into getting drunk on liquor. The boy they call Silence stepped towards me and I front-kicked him in the chest, slamming him against the wall of the tunnel. The other boy jumped in the battle, and he punched me in the back of my head. Then Silence pulled a switch blade and began swinging it wildly! I dodged and ducked the blade as Tiffanee and I backed out of the tunnel. The other boy, who was the tougher of the two, rushed towards me, taking the supplies from my hand. “Never come back here,” he said as he held the camera and the supplies. “This is our tunnel now!” said the boy standing at the entrance watching Tiffanee and me run off.

“Where will we go?” asked Tiffanee.

“I don’t know,” I said as we walked. I began counting the money I had left. We had spent 35 dollars on food and supplies that day, leaving us with 42 dollars. For a second Tiffanee and I walked aimlessly through town. Then I got an idea. I thought if we walked back to the gym, Razor would allow us to stay there or maybe get us a room for the night. Twenty minutes and two miles later, we approached the gym. I could see the dim light shining from the inside. Razor’s truck wasn’t there but I knocked anyway. Kewamee answered the door but would not allow us to come in.

“My uncle would not be happy if I let you in the gym without him knowing,” said Kewamee. “We both could end up homeless,” he continued.

“Where did Razor go?” I asked.

“He went to visit a woman he has been dating in town.”

“When will he be back?” I asked.

“Early tomorrow morning,” said Kewamee. “I can give you blankets and a bowl of rice and beans, but I can’t help you more than that,” said Kewamee.

“Okay fine,” I said as I turned to my sister. “We must sleep here tonight, tomorrow I will find us another place, a better place,” I said. Tiffanee was scared, I could tell, but she still nodded her head yes in agreement. It was a windy sleepless night as my sister and I bundled under blankets in front of the gym. Daylight brought a bright sun that seemed to warm us. I was still waiting on Razor; I figured he would know what to do next. I honestly didn’t have a clue. Tiffanee and I had just been chased from the cement tunnel we’d called home for the last three years! Thoughts of homelessness and starvation started running through my mind. When Razor’s truck pulled up to the gym, I could see the confused look on his face.

“What is this,” he said as he hopped out of his truck and walked towards the gym.

“We need a place to stay,” I said.

“I’ve told you,” shouted Razor, “you cannot stay here!”

“I know I know,” I said. “But I need you to sign for a room for us. I have money to rent,” I pleaded.

“Come in here while we figure something out,” said Razor.

When we got inside I saw that Kewamee was busy cleaning. He was mopping the floor, and he remained silent as his uncle asked if he had allowed us to stay on the porch. Tiffanee and I tossed our blankets to Kewamee and began talking to Razor. I told him about the boys robbing us, I told him about the night my mother was murdered, I told him that ever since Tiffanee’s father killed our mother, I’d been doing the most I could to survive. Before I knew it, tears had begun to pour down my face.

“Don’t cry,” said Razor. “Crying will do you no good in this country! Crying is a coward’s reaction. You are the tiger of Tanzania and you’re no coward Life is hard! So we live harder! How much money do you have?” asked Razor.

“I’ve got about 40 dollars,” I said, knowing I needed to keep two dollars to feed Tiffanee and me that day. Razor loaded Tiffanee and me into his truck. He took us to the rooming house that was five miles outside of town. It was a green two-story building that held 10 rooms. The lady Mrs. Irene agreed to allow us to rent a room for 35 dollars per week. I paid for a week in advance.

“This is where you will be safe,” said Razor. “You will need to jog five miles from here to the gym every day if you plan to fight in the S.A.C.K Tournament.”

Later that day Tiffanee and I traveled to town to get some supplies. I brought bread and meat. I had need for candles now that we had lights. We finally had a place where we could be safe. After shopping for supplies I stopped by the gym. That day I trained harder than ever before! I did five rounds on the bags, six rounds on the mitts, and I stretched for an hour before I left the gym.


Chapter Five: Adjust and Overcome

Over the next couple of weeks Tiffanee and I adjusted to our new living arrangements. Mrs. Irene was a kind lady; she fed us sometimes and even offered to pay Tiffanee to clean the rooming house. While I was at the gym training, Tiffanee was back at the rooming house mopping the floor and helping Mrs. Irene run errands. Things were going smooth and I was set to fight in the S.A.C.K Tournament on Friday night. Little did I know that Tiffanee and Mrs. Irene had been working together to buy me a boxing robe with a tiger in the center of the back. The words across the shoulder read “Tiger of Tanzania.” That Thursday night Tiffanee and Mrs. Irene surprised me with the robe! Razor had already issued me the traditional fighting uniform, which was black satin shorts and a black satin tank top. The black boxing robe matched my uniform perfectly. Just seeing the uniform made me excited for the fight.

Friday night was filled with nervous excitement. The S.A.C.K Tournament was being held at the town square stadium. People packed the stands waiting for the fights to start. My match was the seventh bout of the tournament. The boy I was fighting was a former champion and the heavy favorite. None of that mattered to me; by the time I stepped into the ring I was focused on winning. My only thought was how much I needed to win! I imagined how much food, clothing, and shelter the 150-dollar prize would provide, and my body began to pulsate with power, my mind filled with pride. The crown applauded and screamed loudly when my opponent stepped into the ring. The announcer introduced me first, saying, “In the red corner, you have TyJee the Tanzanian Tiger!” There were only a few cheers, then the announcer introduced Ike the “Ice Pick” Mazabou. People stood and clapped, cheering him on. Ice Pick was definitely the favorite fighter and he used the cheering crowds to boost his confidence.

By the time the bell rang, none of that mattered. I defeated him in 15 seconds, striking a deadly kick to the throat that caused his windpipe to close. Ice Pick collapsed on the canvass and began convulsing. His body craved air until he died!

Everyone was stunned; some were sad and scared. I was so excited and happy about my win that I wasn’t aware of how serious the strike that had injured Ice Pick was! Days later the newspapers and TV reporters poured into Razor’s gym. They all wanted to hear my story. I charged six dollars per photo and Razor only allowed me to tell my story once.

Months went by before I got another kickboxing match. Razor had to petition the African Sports Association to allow me to fight in the African Continental Combat Tournament. It included all 72 countries of North and South Africa. The prize for first place was seven thousand dollars and a chance to train with the American top team. Just hearing we would have a chance to go to America made Tiffanee excited! Every day I trained, every day I imagined what I would do if I had the chance to change our life. Finally that day came! The African Continental Combat Tournament was held in North Africa. The stadium held over 35,000 people. TV reporters and newspaper writers were surrounding the stadium. Everybody wanted to see the Tiger of Tanzania. I had become a celebrity in Africa after only one fight! As I watched the bouts before mine, I felt a little unprepared. These kick-boxers were a lot better than those I’d ever seen in South Africa.

Razor could see the nervousness in my face. “Forget your fear,” he said. “It won’t help you!” He screamed, “The time is now, TyJee! Not tomorrow, now!”

My stomach felt nauseous, my chest felt tight, but I knew I had to fight! The bout was called and I knew I was next. The TV cameras and newspapers were all patiently waiting. The opponent I was facing was 19 years old and a four-time champion. He was the only kick-boxer to accept the challenge. All the other teams and coaches refused to fight me after the Ice Pick fight. When the announcer called me to the ring, the crowd roared and my confidence rose. My opponent was the “Amazing” Najm Mugabee from Morocco. The bell rang and the bout began. I circled my opponent and he was very defensive. The Amazing Najm Mugabee showed why he was so amazing by jumping in the air and doing a spin kick that knocked me to the canvass. The ref began counting and the crowd booed. “Get up! Get up!” Razor shouted from the corner. I got to my feet and the ref resumed the fight. Mugabee’s confidence began to grow. He was much older, stronger, and more experienced than me. The whole first round he beat me from bell to bell. While in the corner I could hear the crowd boo. Razor shouted loudly, “Never back down, you’re beating yourself! Everyone is here to see you! Now show them who you are! Are you a coward?” he asked.

“No!” I screamed..“I am a Tiger!” I shouted as the bell rang. In the beginning of the second round I rushed to Mugabee, crowding his space. I struck his stomach with a hard front kick. I continued to move forward, forcing Mugabee to throw kicks and punches that were wild and way off target. Then I kicked him again in the stomach. I felt my foot sink in beyond his ribs. Mugabee stumbled back, bouncing off the ropes. The crowd cheered louder and louder! As Mugabee stepped forward, I twisted my body, bringing a roundhouse kick to his head. Then I kicked him in the stomach again and again, harder each time. I could see the air was knocked out of him, as he collapsed to the canvass, clutching his stomach. “Oh shit!” I screamed.

“Oh shit!” Razor screamed.

“Oh shit!” the ref screamed, stopping the match.

Mugabee was shitting all over the mat. It was a trail of turds that stunk up the whole stadium!

They declared me the winner of the A.C.C. Tournament by total knockout victory. As I went to claim my prize, a white man named Paul Ryan walked up and introduced himself as the chief promoter of American Top Team. He explained to me that I would be offered a work visa to go to America to train. I began explaining that I needed two visas, and he said “Of course, one for you and one for your trainer, right?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “I must take my sister with me!”

Mr. Paul Ryan looked puzzled and paused for a second.

“We will talk more about it later,” said Razor, breaking the awkward silence. Over the next couple of weeks I worked out at the gym and Tiffanee worked around the rooming house as normal. Nothing much had changed besides the fact that I was a South African celebrity and I rarely had to pay for anything. Now I saved all my money from the interviews, the photos, the prize money, all of it I saved! Every dollar to go to America! I hadn’t heard anything from Paul Ryan. Razor constantly called the African Sports Association to claim our prize. We called American Top Team and they would tell us to wait until Paul Ryan contacted us. “This is bullshit,” said Razor. “We have to get you another fight!” So five months later, I was invited to go to Britain to fight in the European Kickboxing Championships. No one knew me in Europe. There were no cameras clicking my picture. I fought this boy from Poland and I won. Then I fought the British boy and I won. I fought this one boy from France and I fractured his ribs.

All of this went unnoticed, until I fought in the Pan-African Games held in Ghana. In the Pan-Africa Games, I was looked at like a movie star. People paid for autographs, people paid for pictures. Newspapers wrote about my every move! The night of the fight I was so ready to show my skills. My opponent was a 20-year-old from the Ivory Coast. I was only 13 years old and the newspapers hyped the fight as “Boy Beats Man.” I man-slayed him. I don’t remember him even landing one punch. It was the easiest fight I’ve fought. After I won the semifinal bout so easily the newspapers interviewed me, asking how I viewed the sport of kickboxing. “It’s a lot easier than robbing and stealing,” I said. The reporters ate that up. The next day’s paper front page stated “Common Criminal Turned Kid Kickboxer.”


Chapter Six: The Big Head

The next day I fought my final bout for the Pan-African Championship. The cameras constantly snapped my photo. All the way to the ring I smiled and shook hands and signed autographs. My opponent was an 18-year-old boy from Ghana. His name was Ace-Opal. He was a short, stocky boy, who had trained as a boxer and then turned to Maui Thai, then to kickboxing. His multiple skills, style, and experience gave me more trouble than I anticipated. Ace pounded me with hard punches to the face. My eyes were swollen shut by the second round. I’d never been beat so badly. My eyes were injured so bad that I cried tears of blood. I could do nothing to stop the vicious attack. Ace keep coming, swinging punches that connected, causing my teeth to chatter. Then Ace delivered a spin kick to my jaw, causing my consciousness to slip. I backed up to the ropes and I could barely see. Ace delivered a hard leg kick, striking me right below my knee, knocking it out of the socket.

I fell to the canvass and the ref called the fight over by total knock out!

It took me six months to heal and six months to stop feeling like a complete failure. I trained for two months before I got another chance at the annual S.A.C.K tournament. The night of my return fight, Lima asked me, “Are you ready? Are you sure?” I said yes, but the truth was I didn’t know.

“Let’s go,” said Razor. “Let’s see if the tiger is tame or if the tiger still has enough roar to win!” he said excitedly. My opponent tonight was a familiar face. I knew when I first saw him that I recognized him. He was the bigger boy that had stolen our tunnel two years ago. The announcer introduced him as Zaire “The Flash” Umma! As we touched gloves in the center of the ring, Zaire said to me, “I enjoyed looking at the photos of you and your sister shirtless!” Instantly I knew he had seen the pictures of Tiffanee and me posing on the beach. I was furious by the time the bell rang. I didn’t think about boxing, I just brawled! I attacked the boy like an animal. The ref warned me for head butting, but it didn’t matter. I kept kicking and punching until I saw his bloody body hit the mat. After Zaire was down, my mind still didn’t allow me to stop beating him. I kicked him while he was down until the referee called the match over by disqualification.

Days later I learned that Zaire died in a coma. I also learned that I was kicked out of all African combat sports! I’d over-reacted, now I’d killed two teenage boys in the ring. I’m outlawed from all combat sports in Africa. Ten months later I was contacted by Paul Ryan for America Top Team. The news of my two fatal victories hit a hot spot in American sports circles. Spectators and sports writers all questioned why this killer kid kickboxing sensation wasn’t being sent from South Africa to America! So American Top Team offered two visas for Tiffanee and me to go to America!


Chapter Seven: Profit from Pain

Upon our arrival in America, we were greeted by a bunch of reporters. They all wanted an interview; they all took pictures. We rode in a limo to our Hilton Hotel. Everything was like heaven! Finally I thought, I’ve escaped from South Africa. All the struggles and hardships that Tiffanee and I faced seem to slip away in America. Paul Ryan took Tiffanee and me to the United States embassy, were I was granted emancipation as a minor and granted full custody of my sister. After my emancipation, I was allowed to sign my American Top Team contract. I signed with American Top Team for two million dollars for ten years at age fifteen. They figured I still had a lot of room to grow into a superstar. Now that I had the money to live my dreams, I could not let go of my nightmares. I dreamed every night about the deaths of those boys.

After a couple of months of sleepless nights, I surrendered to my conscience. I contacted the families of those boys. Then I wrote a check to the families of Zaire “The Flash” Umma and Ike “Ice Pick” Mazabou.I gave them 100,000 dollars each. I used the money as a way to buy a clear conscience. After I sent the check, cheer came back to my soul and sleep to my nights. I used the rest of the money to buy Tiffanee and me a medium-size middle-class home in California. I hired the best teacher in the city of San Diego to teach Tiffanee and me the basic education we missed in South Africa. After getting my G.E.D., I got my driver’s license, then I bought a Porsche. Life was good and getting better each day. I had no worries, no needs, only wants and wishes, which I fulfilled financially.

One day I drove home and saw Tiffanee crying at the kitchen table.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She said, “He wrote! He finally wrote us!” Then she handed me the letter.

It was from Tiffanee’s father, Bison Ellack. The same bastard who had murdered my mother. After five years of leaving us homeless in the hellhole of Africa, now he was writing to us! I was so angry, I couldn’t hide it from Tiffanee. I’d always told her I’d forgive him if he were ever released. But after he was sentenced to life in a South African prison and never contacted us or was the least bit concerned, I considered him dead! Now after I’d gotten us out of Africa and into America, the government of Tanzania wanted to give him a pardon so he could come parent his children. Not to mention, the government wanted me to donate some of my money to Tanzania! I was so mad, I couldn’t even talk to Tiffanee.

“When the time comes, I’ll consider it,” I said.

Then I stormed out of the house, hopped into my Porsche, and took a long drive down the freeway.