“Come have a Coke, Ndaba. I’ve got enough bucks for two.” Lebo says as we step onto the platform. He is still high with excitement from train-surfing. He is a hero in everyone’s eyes.

“Sorry, Lebo. I have things to do.”

I don’t have time to hang with my friends. I have to collect my baby brother, Brightness from Mma Moepi’s. She babysits him while I’m at school.

I walk to her house and Masego walks with me. Every day she walks with me as far as Fourth Avenue. But today Masego doesn’t turn at Fourth Avenue. She keeps walking next to me. It makes me worried.

Masego says, “I don’t have much homework, Ndaba. Maybe I can walk home with you?”

I can’t let that happen! I don’t want her to see my home!

We reach Mma Moepi’s door. Mma Moepi says, “Brightness is fast asleep, Ndaba. Why don’t you leave him here for the night? I will give him supper.”

“Brightness must come home.” I tell her. But when I wake him he starts to cry.

“Let me hold him. Maybe I can stop him crying.” Masego offers.

By now I am really upset. I don’t want Masego to see me struggling like this. I don’t want her coming to our home.

“Just leave us alone, okay!” I say. What else can I do?

I can see I have hurt her. I feel terrible. She turns and walks away.

By the time I reach the alleys close to our shack Brightness is sleeping. But I hear my sister Shalani. She is crying from our shack. I rush there with Brightness bouncing in my arms.

Shalani has burnt her arm. “I was trying to cook the pap for supper, Ndaba,” she wails.

I put Brightness down on our mattress. “I told you not to touch the stove! Do not touch the matches. I will do the cooking. Why don’t you listen?” I shout at her. The only ointment I have is a little Vaseline at the bottom of the jar.

Then Kabo comes home very late with his school shirt dirty. I shout at him too. “Why are you so late? You will go to school dirty tomorrow. If you wash your shirt now, it will not be dry. Why don’t you do what I tell you?”

He glares at me and goes back outside. I look around the shack where I live with my sister and brothers. There is one mattress, one small table, one chair. The washing bowl is cracked. In the corner, the packet of White Star maize meal is already half-empty. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this anymore. Take care of everything! Sometimes I think, why should I, when my friends are out chatting having a good time with their girlfriends.

And for sure, I can’t let Masego see such a place. What would she think? Then I remember the hurt look in her eyes.

That’s when I decide I will go Topside too. I will train-surf with Lebo. And Masego will know I am being brave just for her.


What do you think: Why is Ndaba being mean to the people he cares about?