Again, Pholisa woke up to an empty house. She felt hopeful that Masi had gotten up early. Uyokufola, he’s gone to look for work, she told herself. She got up from the bed and knelt on the little stained carpet alongside that Nana had brought home from her employer’s house.

Bawo wethu osemazulwini, Our Father who art in heaven,” Pholisa began to pray. She thanked God for everything He had done for them. The safe journey to Cape Town, the new uniform she had, her friends and the food she ate daily. And finally, she asked for one thing; that Masixole may find work.

Ndiyacela Bawo, please God, even if it’s something small that doesn’t pay much. It doesn’t matter, we will be happy.”

She thanked God for giving her grandmother peace at last.

“Amen,” she closed her prayer and got up to put water on the stove so that she could wash.

She felt optimistic about the day, about life. Once Masi has a stable job things will be better, she told herself as she poured water into the plastic basin. One day, they will live in a brick house with running water and a toilet inside. She would no longer have to wash in a plastic tub; she would use a proper bathtub.

She made herself some porridge. They were running out of mealie-meal so Pholisa made just enough for herself. She couldn’t afford to waste any of it. Then she ate her breakfast with only sounds of the cars and the taxis outside for company. The street was awake and people were going about their daily business.

She washed her dish under the tap outside, took her school bag and headed for school.

She marvelled at how everything looked so different from the village back home. There were already people bustling about getting to work, to school, and some street vendors were setting up their stalls for work.

As she crossed onto the main road she had the sense that someone was behind her. She turned just in time to catch him reaching for her.

“Pretty girls shouldn’t walk alone to school.” It was Lazola.

Pholisa smiled; he had called her pretty. “I walk alone longer distances back home,” she said, walking faster.

“Well, school only starts at eight, you know?” he said trying to keep up.

“I like sitting alone before classes start.”

“Homework?” he asked. She almost tripped when he said that. How did he know? And then, as if reading her thoughts, he answered, “Sometimes I go to school early to do mine, so I know. With afterschool classes and drama, I hardly have the energy when I get home.”

She hadn’t realised he did so much. She was curious to know more about him.

“So why do you do drama?” she asked, slowing down her pace.

“Well, around here, it’s either you’re in a gang or in a gang, and I’m too pretty to be fighting.” She looked at him and he winked at her.

Pholisa’s stomach turned – not the bad feeling of wanting to throw up, but the hot rush of waves rushing through her tummy. She didn’t know this feeling but she liked it.

“You should come with us after school,” he invited her. “There’s a show we’re going to watch; we’re all going in a taxi.”

She hadn’t even felt the road to school and already they were at the gates. She didn’t want this to end, she loved talking to him so much. But now she had to do her homework.

“Later then?” he called after her, and she turned and smiled.

The entire day she felt happy. She couldn’t wait for school to be over so she could go with Lazola. That was until she got a text just after lunch break.

Cum hm str8. Dnt b l8.

It was Masixole. Had he got a job? Did he have good news to share with her? Or was he just controlling her, not wanting her to be with her friends like yesterday?

She felt a wave of disappointment. But she knew she couldn’t disobey him.

“Pholisa!” a voice called to her as she walked out of the gates. It was Lelethu; she was with a group of girls. “You coming with us to the show?”

Pholisa thought of that text from Masi.

“I can’t, chommie. It’s far and I didn’t bring extra money for i-taxi,” she said softly.

She could see Lelethu didn’t believe her, but she turned away and started walking home.

“Okay ke, pass by my house in the morning and we’ll walk together to school,” Lelethu said. Pholisa could hear the concern in her voice.

As the girls walked off, Pholisa felt alone again. She couldn’t be with her friends, out having fun – what normal teenagers did. No, she had to be home for Masi. Home to hear if he had news about a job.

Mxm, but why can’t my life be easy?” she questioned the empty streets as she made her way home alone.

When she reached the house Masi wasn’t home yet. Was that a good sign? Maybe he had got a job, and that was the news he was wanting to share with her.

After changing into her day clothes, she started on her chores. The house was small, which made it quick to clean, but there were holes in the walls, up in the corners and down under the door. Sand blew in daily so she had to sweep and dust every day.

Afterwards she washed her only shirt and socks. Then she started cooking. It was the last of the mealie-meal and it had no sishebo. She thought of Nana’s spinach garden that had died from neglect. Perhaps she should work on it, see if she could get something growing.

But just then, the gate creaked. It was Masixole. Please, please God, let him not fight me today, Pholisa said a silent prayer. Then she saw the yellow plastic Shoprite bag he was carrying. Her heart leapt with joy.

She was so excited she almost hugged him when she saw the contents of the bag. A tray of six pieces of chicken, a kilo of flour, a kilo of mealie-meal, half a dozen eggs, a packet of yeast, salt, a bag of sugar and some oil. He had even bought a small tub of peanut butter. He knew that Pholisa loved her soft porridge with peanut butter and he had spent money on it even when she knew he didn’t like it much. Tears of joy pricked Pholisa’s eyes.

Yek’ubobotheka upheke – stop grinning and cook,” Masixole said when he caught Pholisa smiling at the food he had packed on top of the small cupboard.

“Ewe, bhuti,” she said smiling.

Pholisa cooked, humming her grand-mother’s favourite hymns, and filling the house with a smell she had forgotten – the smell of home.

She kept stealing glances at Masixole, who kept himself busy outside, tending to the yard. He was different, he was Masixole again – the soft-hearted little boy that Gogo had chosen to take into her own home. He, too, was humming along with Pholisa, unaware that she could hear.

They ate their first full meal with gratitude in their hearts. As Masi ate, he kept commenting on how things will get better. He had a promise of a long-term job from the mlungu who picked him up for some construction work. He was optimistic and Pholisa was happy.

Ndisay’othoba kwaThabiso – I’m off to unwind at Thabiso’s,” he announced after dinner when Pholisa was doing the dishes. “Don’t lock the door,” he added as he walked out.

Pholisa lay in bed and stared at the zinc ceiling, her stomach so full it looked like a balloon. She was happy about the way the day had turned out. She wasn’t too worried now about her bhuti, he was fine.

“You see, a man just needs something to do,” she said into the darkness, smiling. Perhaps now he would let her spend time with her friends.


Tell us: Do you know someone who has such changeable moods as Masi? What are some of the difficulties living wih someone like this?