In the morning on the way to school in the taxi they pass the outskirts of Site B where houses have been burned down overnight.

Pieces of wood are still smouldering where homes have been destroyed, and the burning plastic sheeting is polluting the air with thick, dark smoke. Refugee families have been left homeless and uprooted again. The smell of smoke is strong. It chokes the air. It’s the smell of people’s homes and lives going up in flames.

“Be careful,” her mom told Aimée when she had left for school. “You are walking with your friend?”

“Yes mom.”

“And come straight home. I hope it doesn’t spread here.”

“Yes mom.”

“And don’t talk to anyone until you get here. Aimée…”


“We might have to move again, if…” But Aimée doesn’t want to hear her. She doesn’t want to think about ‘if…’

The only thing she can think about is Mandla, how handsome he is, how he had smiled and given her his chair, and how she is going to meet him at break and get her coin back. She can’t wait to see him.

But Mandla isn’t in class.

“Why so sad?” Princess says, with mock pity. “You really don’t understand. Do we have to spell it out to you? Mandla will never care about you. He will never go out with you. Get it girlfriend? He’s the son of a chief. His daddy wants someone better for him. Understand? Not some kwerekwere.”

At break Noki comes to find her, with Chantelle.

“I just have to meet… someone…” she hesitates. “Then I’ll come and find you.”

“Someone called Mandla?” asks Noki.

Aimée is embarrassed.

“Be careful,” Noki says. “Just get your coin back, that’s all. Mandla can be very charming. But…”

Aimée doesn’t want to hear the same thing about Mandla from Noki. How can she be agreeing with the other girls? She thought Noki was her friend. Does she also think Aimée isn’t good enough for this cute boy? This son of a chief? Why?

She runs down to the tree, but there is no-one there. She waits. She can see the groups of girls and boys around the yard. Two boys are smoking near the wire fence. Princess is having her hair played with by her friends. Noki and Chantelle are kicking a football around with some boys. Laughing.

Was this a joke? Was Mandla as bad as Princess? Was he just setting her up to bring her down?

But then he’s there. She didn’t hear him come up. He takes her hand in his. She looks over to where Princess is standing with a group of girls.

“Don’t worry about her,” he says. She feels her heart flutter. Noki’s warning is no use to her now.

“There is no such thing as love at first sight,” her mom had told her. But Aimée isn’t so sure. Aimée is already losing her heart to this cute boy, who has her coin.

“Princess thinks you’re her boyfriend” says Aimée. “Are you?” she asks cheekily.

“She told you that? In her dreams,” he laughs.

“Do you have my coin?” she asks.

“Why is it so important to you?” He looks at her like he really wants to understand. “Come here, sit down and tell me.” And she sits down next to him under the tree. She feels his body, so close to hers. If she moved just a tiny bit, they would touch.

She takes a deep breath and starts to tell him about the coin, about her grandmother, about how she far she has travelled with it and what it means to her. She is not sure yet that she can trust him with her story. What if he laughs, or teases her like Princess and her friends? But once she starts she can’t stop. It just comes rushing out.

“And they burned Ali’s shop yesterday in Site B,” she ends, fighting back the tears. “What did he do? He was a good man.”

“He was,” says Mandla quietly. “I know. I’ve bought from him before. He always gave the kids something, when they were hungry, even if they didn’t have coins – a banana, or bread.”

“It’s not fair.”

“No it isn’t.” Mandla takes her hand and squeezes it. Then the siren for the end of break goes.

“My coin,” she reminds him, as he pulls her to her feet.

“I’ll give it to you tomorrow. I promise,” he says.

“Why did you keep it?”

“I wanted to see you again.”


“Hey, it’s a free country. Maybe I like you. You’re interesting.”

“Princess says you are the son of a chief. Is that true?”

“Is that what she says?” He doesn’t answer her questions but rather says, “Hey, come and watch me play soccer on Saturday. Say yes.”

“Yes,” she says.

She looks across the schoolyard. Princess is staring at them.

* * *

Tell us what you think: Why is it hard for Aimée to trust Mandla? What advice would you give Aimée?