Paradise Road is a mean street. ‘NO’ is spray-painted in front of ‘Paradise’ on its sign. Whoever spray-painted the ‘NO’ knows. Crime is rampant here, gang wars are epic, the drug use high. Child-headed households are aplenty. This is NO Paradise. The gang activities have also found their way into the school yard, where gang signs are sprayed on the walls.

In class, even the nerds think Thando is a nerd. Be that as it may, he always participates in class and never gets discouraged when teachers plead with the rest of the class, “Can someone besides Thando please raise their hand!”

‘Bookworm’; that’s what his schoolmates call him. He has learned not to mind when no-one sits with him during break time. He just opens his books and reads. And it’s not high school text books that he reads, but university level law books. His ambition is to be a big-shot corporate lawyer. So, he has decided to start very early.

He sits alone, as usual, at break time, reading his law books. The winter sun is warming him nicely when a shadow suddenly falls over him. He instantly recognizes who it is by the shoes: a pair of Nike Air Jordans. It is Brice, fellow student – and drug dealer. Thando’s heart skips a beat. Not one of the teachers, not even the principal, has ever called Brice to task for not wearing proper school shoes. They know he is a gangster.

“You Bookworm?” asks Brice.

Thando is afraid to look up. He knows Brice comes from a family of outlaws.

“Well, are you Bookworm or not?” Brice barks at Thando.

Thando looks up. “Yes. Yes, they call me that,” he says.

“Here.” Brice gives him a textbook and an exercise book, “I want to get seventy percent on this.”

Thando looks at the section in the Mathematics textbook. It is the same home work he did earlier in the week, and got full marks for.

“I need it within the hour,” says Brice. “Bring it to my classroom when you are done.”

“You can wait here. I’ll be done in five minutes,” says Thando.

Brice gives him a curious look and says, “Cool. I’ll hang around while you do it.”

Thando gets to work, counting marks as he goes along. Brice is on his cellphone, making sure some sort of deal has gone according to plan.

“Done,” Thando says when he finishes.

“You are all right, Bookworm,” says Brice. They bump fists.

Thando wishes the other kids are around to witness him bumping fists with Brice. He looks around and finds no other soul in sight.


Tell us what you think: Is it good to have a gangster on your side if you are a school nerd in a rough area?