It was times like this that Thandi really missed their mother. She would be home next weekend. In ten days’ time. She was ticking the days off in her diary. It felt like a lifetime away. She wished she could tell her mom about Themba. She needed her advice. She wanted to tell her how Nomsa wouldn’t listen when she told her that he was no good. That she wanted to tell her what Themba was like, but didn’t want to hurt her sister. And what about Avile? He needed a dad.

Why had it all changed? And suddenly she was filled with hate for the family that had taken her mom from her. The children that her mom looked after, when she was meant to be looking after her own daughters. Her mom said, “But Thandi, this family is better than the last. The pay is better. I need it to keep you in school. And for your studies one day. Please…” And Thandi had shut up about how hard it was for her alone with Nomsa and the baby.

The family her mom worked for now may be better, she thought. But then you couldn’t get much worse than the last family her mom had worked for. Fifteen years her mother had worked for them. Fifteen years of faithful service and they left to go to Australia without a thank you. No severance pay. No farewell gift. She had to beg the ‘baas’ of the house for a reference. The same ‘baas’ who had pushed her mom up against the kitchen wall and tried to kiss her. Thandi had found the letter he had written, crumpled in the bin. Her mother was in tears that night. The letter said. “Never tell my wife, Ilsa. It will never happen again.” Her mom had torn it into pieces. Thandi had to stick it together to read it.

Now it was better. Better job, better pay, but she had to sleep in. “Those little blonde babies have more of our mother than Avile has,” Nomsa had said a dozen times. Thandi had agreed, but she never complained. Those blonde babies put food on the table and money in the bank.

“Of course you never say anything,” said Nomsa. “All you can think of is all the money Mom is saving for you to go to Varsity one day.”

“It was for both of us,” snapped Thandi. “You also had those sort of dreams. Remember.”

“Themba is going to help me go back to school. He told me that, and I believe him. He’s not going to leave me packing shelves at that Chinese shop forever.”

But now Themba had no job at all. Thandi noticed Nomsa didn’t speak about all that with much conviction any more.

As if he could hear them talking about him, Themba pushed through the door of the shack. He was drunk. Thandi could smell him from across the small room. He swayed on his feet as he walked over and kissed Nomsa.

“Hello baby,” he looked at her so tenderly. But Thandi knew it was a big act. And Nomsa fell for it every time. “And hello baby,” he added, kissing Avile. He stumbled and sat down with a thud on the bed. “Come sit with me,” he said to Nomsa, “I’m in the mood to party!”

“I’m tired,” said Nomsa, “those Chinese people really worked me today. They made me pack shoes right on the top shelves. Up and down that damn ladder all day!”

“Come on, baby,” said Themba again, standing up slowly and leaning into Nomsa. She shook him off.

“I said, I’m tired. And anyway, you’re drunk,” she moved away from him, shifting Avile onto her other shoulder. Thandi’s heart leapt. Perhaps Nomsa could see now that Themba was no good. Perhaps she would get rid of him. But she was frightened at the same time. Themba was big and strong. How could they fight him?

Themba stepped back from her. He stood swaying in front of her, looking at her with bleary eyes.

“You know what?” he said loudly, leaning forward, spit flying into her face. “You know what? You’re so boring! You know that? You know that?”

Nomsa stepped away from him, cuddling Avile close. Themba spun on his heals and stormed out.

Nomsa started crying. But Thandi felt hope in her heart. If she could get Nomsa to see sense.

“You see what he’s like.” she said. “He’s not good for Avile.”

But Nomsa spun around and shouted at her sister through her tears. “It’s you! If you weren’t here we could spend time together. Just him and me. But you are always here! Now look! He will go out and get another girlfriend, because he can’t spend time alone with me.”

“Good,” shouted Thandi. “Good, let him go. And what about Avile? I am here looking after him for you. And you never thank me! Ever!”

“You are just jealous that I have a boyfriend who cares about me, who wants to party with me!”

Thandi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “And where am I supposed to go to give you your special ‘time’? Out onto the street? And I suppose you want me to take Avile with me. There’s something you don’t know about Themba…” Thandi blurted out. But Avile had started crying and Nomsa didn’t hear her.

Tell us what you think: How do you think Nomsa is behaving?