I ran out of the house, alarmed by what Ma had said, and how she said it – her voice had been stern, before she broke down in tears. Simphiwe had been going AWOL over weekends regularly, so to me it really was no big deal.

The change in my little brother’s life had been so swift; happening at high speed. As his brother, it was painful to witness: the lies, the stealing, the shame he brought to the family. My dad, especially, must be turning in his grave.

I tore open a new airtime voucher and thought angrily of my sneakers – brand new and two sizes too big for Simphiwe. I thought of how I saved to buy them by busting tables after my classes at Tech. Since Simphiwe’s antics were not good for my studying, I crashed with friends on campus and only saw Ma and the trouble-maker on weekends. A fine arrangement: I was on course to finish my Tourism diploma on time.

Cold, bottled water lifted the weight from a heavy night. I had over-partied after my shift, got home an hour before sunrise. Blocking thoughts of Simphiwe, I decided to rather call the beautiful girl I met at the party. She’d stood out, the only dread in a sea of weaves.

While punching in the voucher PIN I made out the scrawny frame of Boy Boy with another wunga addict, on the outskirts of my peripheral vision. They walked, lost. When they saw me and approached I saw the need for a fix in their eyes.

“Have you seen Simphiwe yet?”

“No. Eish!” Boy Boy whined, and clutched the back of his head.

“What’s wrong, Boy Boy?”

“I haven’t had a hit today. Help me out; the pain in my belly is unbearable. I can feel my intestines twist into knots. The back of my head is cold, my whole body itches. Please, Khulekani, I’m only short by five rand. I beg you, please, my brother. I am good for it. We have this roof painting job, but we can’t function without the hit. I’ll pay you back this afternoon.”

“I would, Boy Boy, but you are not helping me with Simphiwe. I bet you know where he is, but you are covering for him.”

“No such thing. He has not been smoking with us for a week. Look for him at the wunga merchant,” Boy Boy said, scratching harder, almost peeling the brown off his skin.

“What’s his name? Skhumbhuzo?”

“Not Skhumbhuzo. Bheka, in the shacks. That’s where he smokes now, where I heard the fight happened.”

Boy Boy directed me to the shack and again pleaded most sincerely for cash. He looked to be in physical pain, so I relented and gave him five rand.

A friend called: “We are around the corner to pick you up.”

One beer to kill the hangover led to a drinking spree that put the Simphiwe problem on the back burner and ended with me sneaking into the house in the early hours of Sunday morning.


Tell us what you think: Is it Khulekani’s responsibility to look after his drug-addicted brother?