I spent the next few weeks crashing on the floor at my friend, Alec, who lives on campus, and scored a job washing dishes at the canteen. It was for four months while one of their permanent staff went on maternity leave.

I’ll apply for a bursary for next year, I told myself.

In the meantime, I looked for a better job. My friends, Alec, Cebo, and Joe had started hinting that I needed to find my own place, and when they went out, it was always to a study group. They didn’t involve me in their conversations. I was no longer one of them.

When I got home from my shift one day, they were waiting for me. Alec gave me one week to move out, and Cebo and Joe said there’s no way they could help me out. Exams were approaching and I was a distraction.

Through the college noticeboard I found a room, more like a shack. It was in local tavern owner Bra Jackson’s backyard, with one toilet I had to share with the five people living in the other rooms. The bathroom was a tap outside, a paraffin stove to warm the water, and a huge ice cream container I got from the canteen. That’s all I could afford.

I moved out of my friend’s room when he was out and left a thank you note.

Afterwards, when my so-called friends saw me on campus or in the canteen, they ignored me. I’d become the invisible man. Ma always said: “Friends are few when days are dark.”

There are still good people in the world though. The canteen chef let me use his computer to look for work. I applied for anything and everything, but everyone wanted experience.

I applied for an internship at a publishing company, went through a psychometric test and got shortlisted. Hope!

Another interview followed and I got excited. According to the interviewer, my test results showed great potential.

I wasn’t chosen though, and I had one month left on my job at the canteen.

I started collecting tin cans for recycling. The extra money would cover my room and food after my canteen contract ended. I still had hope.

A week before my rent was due, the landlord told all his tenants that he was increasing our rent – by 100%! When we complained, he answered, “Pay up or fuck off. I gotta waiting list.”

We paid. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, and even with the increase, this rent was the cheapest. Other landlords charged much more for worse living conditions.

When my job at the canteen ended, I was still job-hunting, and my money was running out. I hardly ate to save the money for rent.

When rent day came, I was still R50 short. Bra Jackson wasn’t happy.

“I promise, I’ll have it by tonight.”

Bra Jackson spat a match from his mouth and sneered. “Jy biete, laaitie. No rent, no room. Jy hoor my?”

I didn’t get the full amount. The next day while I was out working the rubbish bins for tin cans, Bra Jackson tossed my stuff out and put a new padlock on the door. When I got home, my neighbours were going through my things. I got away with some clothes, my ID and toothbrush. Bra Jackson already had another tenant moving in later.

For three weeks I slept wherever I could. The only upside was the warm weather. It was summer.

On the day the mall opened, I’d been walking around, looking for a piece job. I saw some guys working the parking lot and joined them.

Three long, flippen years ago, but I won’t give up hope.


Tell us: Do you judge and blame Ollie’s college friends for making him leave? Why or why not?