My earphones are very special to me, my most prized possession. They have helped me through tougher than though times.

Nothing was ever served to me on a silver platter. I had to earn it. And when I wanted a phone of my own in high school, that is exactly what I did. I began saving up some money to buy it. I still recall how, throughout the summer holidays, while everyone else was buying ice-cream, I stayed behind. The harsh South African sun was scorching! I would have done almost anything to attenuate its effects, if it was not for this phone I yearned for.

After a year and a half, I knew it wasn’t much but it was something – four hundred Rand. My mother was retrenched around that time. Money became tight. I knew I had to contribute. My heart sank along with my dream. It was the most soul crushing moment. All my money vanished in one go.

My best friend, Thandiswa, was a huge help. She texted me on WhatsApp about this competition running on the internet. It was to complete Maths questions and stand a chance to win prizes. I know, it sounded lame, the typical competition-slash-scam emotive language. “It won’t hurt to look into it…” her next text read. She had known me long enough to read my thoughts. And I really was not keen. I let out a deep sigh before replying with the simplest, “Okay.”

So I headed to the library on a mission. I searched the competition. It was bona fide! I was shocked. Large corporates sponsored and endorsed it. I seized that opportunity. I signed up for it. I participated daily for it. I’ll never forget the moment Thandiswa ran into my room. She was jumpier than usual. “Great news, great news!” she shrieked. “You…” she caught her breath, “You… You won a phone on the competition!!”

“Shut the front door!” I said in disbelief. We shrieked and jumped in unison. All I had to do was send them my school’s address and the rest is history.

My greatest joy, as I soon realised, were my earphones. They give me this freedom to be alone but not lonely. Freedom. People have searched high and low for that sensation. Whenever my parents start arguing, someone flares up my anger, or Thandiswa is too much to bear, I can just retreat into my world, escape reality. The only words that seem to resuscitate me are, “Kwandile, did you hear a word I just said?!” And my white bread reply, on cue, would be, “Huh?”