The knock on our kitchen door did not scream of urgency, but I suspected it had something to do with my brother, Simphiwe. I shared a room with him: my fifteen-year-old, troublemaker of a brother. In a descent too fast – only three months – he went from being a child of great promise, to an out-and-out lost one. I curse the day he started smoking wunga. That poison turned him into a neighbourhood thief.

I fought for his honour when the very first allegations of stealing clothes from washing lines were linked to his name, only to find he really was the thief. I slapped him when he stole and sold my cellphone. I lost it, and decked him, when he pinched cash from Ma’s purse. Then I had to recoup our household appliances from the wunga merchant – all sold to him by Simphiwe.

“Khulekani, someone’s here for you,” Ma called out.

I didn’t answer: I had just noticed that next to my flip-flops, the box with my new sneakers was empty. I imagined the foul things, in dirty places, that Simphiwe was stepping on with my new sneakers; saw visions of him high after he sold them for a wunga hit.

Before he became a wunga boy, we shared some of my older T-shirts. When Ma forced us to go to church, I let him choose from my smarter clothes. But Simphiwe stopped loving himself after he inhaled that first wunga drag. His side of the room became untidy, his bed never made.

“Simphiwe needs a klap,” I said to the mirror, before finally responding to my mother’s call.

I walked out to see scrawny Boy Boy, another wunga slave, waiting outside the front door.

“I was just checking on Simphiwe,” he told me. “I heard he was in a fight at the wunga spot. Is he here?” Boy Boy couldn’t look me straight in the eye. He scratched the back of his head, arms and shoulders – tell-tale signs that he yearned for a wunga hit.

“You know I don’t entertain his nonsense. It has nothing to do with me. It’s his life not mine. He is not here.”

I was going to close the door, but he went on.

“I thought, as his older brother, you should know,” he said, his scratching growing vigorous.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

“I need a hit. Do you have five rand, Khulekani? I want to buy bread.”

“You just told me you need a hit, Boy Boy.”

He got my drift, understood he was not going to get a cent out of me. I fumed at Simphiwe’s latest stunt, my vanished sneakers and the dead gaze in Boy Boy’s eyes. It all added to the hangover I already had.

I drank water and napped it off, waking up to a silhouette at my door an hour later. It was Ma.

“You know I’ve never dreamed of your father since he passed, but I just saw him now in my dreams. He told me Simphiwe is in trouble.”

“Simphiwe does this every weekend. He’ll be back. Besides Ma, I have tests this week. I need to study.”

“Shut up and listen to me.” Pools of tears filled her eyes and she went on: “Your father said Simphiwe is in trouble and you must look for him. And that is exactly what you are going to


Tell us what you think: Will Simphiwe come back? How do people become ‘slaves’ to drugs?