As I woke up gasping for air, I realized why the smell of chlorine was so familiar to me. My abusive aunt had once again interrupted my peaceful slumber with a bucket of water, just as she did every morning. But as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I was struck by a dream I had just woken up from. It was a dream about my late mother, who had passed away years ago. It was a strange awakening -one where the lines between reality and dreams were blurred, and everything felt surreal. My Aunt’s harsh wake-up call had brought me crashing down to earth.

“Wake up you ugly, chubby thing”, my aunty shouted with her coarse voice which I could hear from a distance. “Wake up and quickly run like a rabbit that you are to the forest to collect firewood to boil water for my daughter to prepare for school, “she shouted harshly and pulled my wet card box blanket away from me.

I stood up, grapped the bucket of water and headed to the river. “Why do people judge others without having clear facts of who they are, look at aunty she’s so golden outside and people in the community think she’s a goddess, I wish they knew the pain she puts me through,” I said to myself as I headed towards the river on the dusty streets not even taking the pain on my toes in consideration. I have already gotten used to being called “chubby or Sdludla”, the name has even escalated in the village, but I just pretended as if I’m okay with whatever the world throws at me.

I watched as the water was flowing so peacefully and calm, I wished my aunty could be like smooth flowing water. I enjoyed watching the hills and the green grasses at the banks of the river. I looked up towards the heavens wishing to see her face for a sec, the only woman who never noticed my chubbiness but rather the beauty of my heart.

“Mother why did you leave me in this miserable world, ever since you left aunty Zaza has been so rude towards me our home has turned into a prison of judgement and persecution, I’m even thinking of running away from home, I just can’t bear the pain no more”, I said with tears in my eyes.

Suddenly she saw two high school learners passing near the river.” OMG! I’m surely gonna get a beating for making Ntando late for school, “I said running quickly home.

To my surprise I was welcomed by such a warm gesture for the first time ever since Mommy left. As I was still hanging in confusion of my auntie’s sudden change of behaviour, I was welcomed by my uncle Simon’s face. It has been ten years when I last saw him.

“Greet your uncle and quickly go prepare yourself so that you don’t run late for school, “she said giving me a 1 second smile.

“Wow! maybe Uncle Simon finally put some sense into her heard so that she can stop mistreating me, aunty Zaza never cared whether I go to school or not, but today…,” I said silently with a smile on my cheeks.

To add onto her awesome gesture that day she even gave me Ntando’s school uniform so that I could look presentable and well taken care of to my uncle. For the first time she even prepared a delicious Macaroni with fried Chips for breakfast, I don’t even remember the last time I had such a splendid meal. All felt like a dream come true I was so happy that God has finally answered my request.

“I am so happy you are taking care of my brother’s child, look what a grown woman she has become, my brother chose well here a woman so gorgeous inside and out,” he said staring at me with so much amusement.

“You know me, I’m a very good stepmother to Hilda, I regard her as my own daughter,” she said and looked at me for a second with a pretentious face just as my uncle was still focused on his meal. That’s when I realized a leopard never loses its spots and I maybe I was too quick to daydream by thinking aunty will one day change and become a better person, as my head was beating with numerous thoughts I quickly grappled my bag and went to school.

When I returned home, the warm gesture I received in the morning has suddenly turned into hate and persecution. “You should’ve seen your ugly smile when your useless uncle was here, my mother will never be your mother,” my cousin said as they were pulling me and removing her school uniform, undressing me violently. That is the day I decided to stand up for myself.

As the sound of the courtroom door slamming shut echoed in my ears, I felt a sense of closure and relief. My aunt, who had always portrayed as a kind and loving person, had been revealed for the monster she truly was. Her gentle appearance had masked the years of mental and physical abuse she had inflicted upon me. It took courage to finally confide in my uncle and reveal the truth, but it led to my aunt’s arrest and an end to her reign of terror. Going forward, I knew to never judge a book by its cover.