“Don’t worry bra, my mom’s inside the house. You don’t need to close the door,” said Tshidiso looking at Thapelo as he fiddled on his pocket.

Tshidiso mother didn’t see Thapelo locking the door and burglar gate before they left.

“Let’s hurry up my friend,” Thapelo said as he walked to their gate. “My mother will be waking up soon; she’s working nightshift remember.”

They hurried out of the yard and as they crossed the road, Gogo Grace called to them.

“My babies, come over here,” she said beckoning to them. They looked at each other in annoyance before going to see what Gogo Grace called them for. “Help me carry these bags to my house, please,” she said pointing at the grocery bags that were in front of her.

They each picked up two grocery bags and carried them to Gogo Grace’s house, just two houses away from Thapelo’s.

“Thank you so much,” she said after they put the bags in front of her door. She then opened her wallet to them one rand each.

“Thank you, Gogo,” they chorused in dismay because they had expected to get more than that.

Thapelo and Tshidiso then went to the shop down the road to buy themselves two packets of 50 cent chips each.

As they walked back to Thapelo’s house, they noticed people running down the street saying “kuyatcha, kuyatcha” (it’s, burning, it’s burning).

“Where do you think it’s burning?” Tshidiso asked Thapelo as they ran to take the shortcut through the dumpsite.

“I have no idea my bra, but let’s hurry. I think it might be a tsotsi being burned alive, you know what they do to people around here,” Tshidiso said struggling to keep up.

They jumped over rubble as they ran to Thapelo’s street. As they turned the corner, all they saw were flames bellowing from shacks close to both their homes. They ran to the crowd that had gathered to see whose house it was that was on fire. They both pushed and edged their way through the crowd panicking the whole way through.

When they reached the front, Thapelo was shocked to a standstill when he saw that the two shacks next to their house were engulfed in flames. Tshidiso was on his knees and tears when he realised that his house was burned to the ground.

First thing that Thapelo thought of was his mother who he had left sound asleep earlier. He ran to their shack dodging the arms of the spectators who warned him about getting burned. When he reached the front door he yanked at the burglar gate and was horrified to find that it was locked. He searched his pockets furiously while yelling “Mama ukhona? Vuka!” (Mom are you there? Wake up!) over and over. He finally managed to retrieve the house keys. But when he looked up he saw that one side of their shack was alight with flames. The fire seemed to spill from one shack to the other as fast as water running down a hill.

He felt Tshidiso pulling at him to come away from burning shack, “Thapelo, are you crazy? Look at how quick the fire is spreading!” He exclaimed in an almost scream.

“No leave me! My mom is in there. Didn’t I tell you to not lock the door! Now look at what you have done. My mother is locked up in this burning shack,” he said harshly.

“Mama, open the door!” Thapelo yelled at the door when he heard his mother mother’s voice deep in the shack yelling at him to get away from the door. He could hear her coughing and jimmied the keys into the burglar gate but it wouldn’t open. The gate just didn’t want to open.

Thapelo heard sirens, when he looked around he saw that it was a firefighter truck. Two firefighters came running towards him when one of them tried to pull him away from the burning shack he said, “My mom is in there, I heard her she’s still alive.”

“We’ll try and get her out of there but you have to leave now,” the firefighter said as he dragged him away from the scene.

Thapelo and Tshidiso both stood at the gate watching along with the other people from their community as the firefighter dragged their water pipes into the burning shack. The entire time Thapelo had been praying for his mother to be found alive. When no one seemed to be paying attention to him and Tshidiso standing there, Thapelo ran back to their burning shack passed the firefighters searching for his mother in the blinding and toxic smoke. He stumbled and fell, but when he tried to brace himself the burning cupboard fell on top of him. Then everything went black.

Thapelo woke up in the hospital two days later to find Tshidiso standing at his bedside.

“What happened?” he asked confused

“There was a fire, don’t you remember?” Tshidiso asked looking at him sceptically.

Then the memories of what had happened flooded him like a river. Thapelo recalled their shack being on fire and his mother trapped inside the burning shack.

“My mom, where is she?” he asked frantically and trying to sit upright. He felt a sharp pain at his lower back.

“You had a kidney transplant, boy. Your mother donated one of her kidneys to save you. You were badly injured after that burning cupboard fell on you. But your mother is in this hospital too, recovering from minor burns and bruises caused by the fire,” Tshidiso said trying to calm his frantic friend down.

At that moment his mother came in wheeling herself in a wheelchair. Thapelo looked at her with tears in his eyes. “Ma…” is all he could say.

“I’m okay my boy; thanks to Tshidiso’s mother, both of us will be fine. His mother works in this hospital and made sure that we were taken care off when we came in. They lost everything in the fire too yet, they are taking care of us,” his mother said with tear filled eyes.

Later when his mother left to get some rest, Tshidiso gave Thapelo the small box that was on the table next to his bed. When Thapelo opened the box he saw two burned keys inside and a note. He placed the box back on the bedside table and read the note. It was from the firefighter who had saved his mother and him.

I heard both you and your mother are alive. Keep these (the keys) to rebuild what you had lost.


Tell us what you think: Have you ever experienced the devastation of a fire? How did you feel?