She stared at the licked-clean plates and her shoulders sagged, a solitary tear rolling down her face.

“Hey sis, I hid some for you.” It was her seven-year-old sister, Zama, grinning wider than a mile.

“Aii you made me jump,” Scenty said, rubbing at the tears.

Zama worshipped her sister. She stretched behind the sink, recovering a bowl filled with rice and meaty bones. This dish was a fortnightly favourite and the only time meat was on the table. It was still warm.

“Come on, Scenty,” she said, leading the way and nudging two cousins sprawled on the couch.

“Move your bony backsides, make room for someone who works,” she said, silencing Zenzele’s grumbles with a glare.

“There you go, sis.”

Scenty squeezed in the space.

“Aaaah no, not 7de Laan again,” she complained, looking at the television. “That’s three days in a row.” No one spoke and she tried again, “Hey can we watch Muvhango? It’s the ‘Roots’ episode.”

“Whaaat?” Uncle Bheki blustered, a glass of home-made beer in one hand and the remote control in the other. “No.” He scowled at his niece. “You can’t come in late and say what we watch.”

“I been workin’, Uncle.”

“Your tough luck.”

“My tough luck?” She repeated and tension filled the room. No one wanted to get in the way of an angry Scenty, especially when she was hungry and tired. “I’m workin’ before and after school to pay the bills while you laze on your fat potato all day.” She had the light of battle in her eyes.

“Sit on my fat potato?” he spluttered and the siblings couldn’t help smiling. “I’m telling you child,” he shouted, “silence or I’m gonna fetch the stick!”

His threat ended the conversation and he slurped a mouthful of beer. Scenty wasn’t scared of him, she couldn’t be bothered. She shrugged. One day, she promised herself, one day.

Zama moved closer to her sister, thinking: I love my Scenty, if he comes near he’ll hafta get by me first.

Innocence gnawed at the bones, hunger pangs subsiding when she scooped up the rice and licked her fingers. Zama watched every lick, giggling as her sister burped. Zama held out a mango. Scenty polished the fruit off, wanting to complete her homework and then bag a space in the bed shared between four siblings and two cousins.

She loved education and flew through maths. Scenty rarely dropped below the top two in a class of one hundred pupils. One morning her pencils and workbook disappeared and the school wouldn’t let her attend until she had replacements. Her good-for-nothing cousin, Zenzele, had exchanged her precious books for a bottle of beer.

Precious whispered a prayer and climbed in the bed, Zama snuggling up behind her. They giggled about Uncle Bheki until, moments later, a voice nagged.

“Scenty, Scenty time for work.”

It was 4:15 and Zama was shaking her. Scenty scowled; mornings were not her thing. She did the morning cleaning, a two-hour shift bringing R60 a week to the table. She stumbled from bed and into the yard, Zama standing on a rickety chair next to the corrugated tin enclosure and beckoning.

“Sis, I warmed the water on the ashes,” she said, leaning over with the many holed bucket.

“Quick, before it gets cold.” The water trickled. Zama sang ‘How great thou art’ in a voice as fresh and sunny as the morning sky. It was her sister’s fourteenth birthday.


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