The deep blue sky spreads across the rugged horizon of the Inanda township. The sun scorches and burns every bit of the surface it touches. The green trees and leafy flowers dance about with the cool Saturday afternoon breeze.

Like all the teenage township boys, Zethembe loves the summer days — for him, they mean more playtime and less time staying indoors. And although he is only 15 years old, Zethembe is allowed to roam the streets of Inanda at will with his only friend, Thato. They play from sunrise to sunset, only coming home at dusk because of the dangers after dark.

Today is different. Zethembe crouches on the floor with his mother, Zandile, on the veranda of their five-room brick house on the slopes of a hill.

“I want to be a bird,” says Zethembe, tilting his head to his mother.

Zandile’s dark shiny face brightens with a grin. “Why?”

There’s a bit of silence that Zandile assumes is her only son pondering his response.

“Birds fly, Ma, birds fly, I want to fly,” finally answers Zethembe. He looks out to the street through their short gate and sees a tall lean boy: Thato, his friend. He smiles and waves at him, and Thato waves back.

“Oh, what is interesting about flying?” asks Zandile, who has only seen birds as a child before she went blind.

“You can reach higher heights, you know…I want to be up there, fly and be free,” says Zethembe, pointing at the blue sky.

Zandile chuckles and says, “Maybe be a pilot, you can’t be a bird.”

“That sounds cool, I’m going to tell Thato!” exclaims Zethembe, getting up and running to the gate to catch up to his friend.


Late at night, spoons and forks clash as Zandile, Zethembe, and Vus’umuzi sit around the table digging into their plates of food. Vus’umuzi, Zethembe’s father, works for a construction company, where he is a foreman. He works tirelessly to put food on the table, he always stresses that. Zethembe’s gotten used to the phrase.

“Dad, I want to be a pilot when I leave school,” says Zethembe, licking his spoon.

“Mm.” That’s all Vus’umuzi says. He chews on the meat and spits it out. “This is not cooked right, see, it’s bleeding.” Vus’umuzi is a well-built skin-lightened man who has gained muscles from all the heavy lifting at work. “That’s right, you can’t see it. What am I going to do with you, Za?” asks Vus’umuzi, shaking his head and getting up. He struts outside.

“It’s alright, Ma, it’s nice. I love it,” says Zethembe, getting up to hug his mother.

A few minutes pass, and Vus’umuzi has not returned. Zethembe goes outside, and by the corner of the house, he hears his father’s raspy voice. He moves close enough to hear him.

“I will leave her, just give me some time,” says Vus’umuzi, with his phone glued to his ear. 

“What? You know I love you. It’s just…no! it’s too early for that. Yes, she’s blind but she’ll notice, she’s not dumb.” Vus’umuzi chuckles. Zethembe flinches.

Tell us: What do you think of the characters so far? Can you relate to any of them?