All morning Thabi worried about Mr Katz. He looked so sick. At lunchtime she met her friends Motso and Simelane in the park. They worked at the cellphone shop three doors down from Mrs Ram’s coffee shop.

“Can you imagine being so old and so sick?” Thabi said, shaking her head. “Poor old Mr Katz. How awful to go home to a cold, empty house.”

“Doesn’t he have family?” Motso asked.

“His wife Betty died twenty years ago. They had one son, but he lives in Australia. They had a big fight, and now they don’t speak.”

“Imagine having a house all to yourself…” Motso said, taking Sim’s hand. “That’s what I dream of – our own house, with just us. No sisters and brothers, no aunties and cousins…”

“No crying babies keeping us awake at night…” Sim said.

“Except ours, one day…”

Thabi sighed. “You guys don’t know how lucky you are, having family here. Mine are sooooo far away in Tsolo. I miss them.” She picked up her empty chip packet and chucked it into the rubbish bin. Then she got to her feet: “Oh well, back to the torture chamber.”

“Mrs Ram giving you a hard time?” Motso said, rubbing her friend’s shoulder.

“She’s just so mean,” Thabi said. “I don’t get it. She’s so horrible to everyone. Unless they’ve got money. Then she sucks up to them.” Her heart sank as she went back to the coffee shop a few minutes later.

“You’re late!” Mrs Ram snapped. “Be late once more and I’m taking an hour off your wages.”

Thabi bit her lip and said nothing. She needed this job. She tied on her apron and went out to serve the family at table three.

“Four burgers and chips please,” the mother ordered.

“And tomato sauce,” said one of the boys.

“I’m not eating a burger,” the sulky-looking teenage girl said. “I told you, I don’t want a burger.”

“You’re too thin,” the mother said. “You have to eat.”

Thabi wanted to reassure the girl: “The burgers are very good here.” Shame, she thought, looking at her scrawny arms and drawn face. She really is skinny. Like poor old Mr Katz. But he doesn’t have enough to eat… What he needs is a decent meal. I wish he could afford a burger once in a while.

A while later the mother signalled for her bill. As Thabi cleared the table she saw the burger on the girl’s plate. It was untouched. I could take it for Mr Katz, she thought. It’s just going to be thrown away.

Mrs Ram had a rule about leftover food. It had to be thrown away. She never let the staff take it home. But she needn’t know.

Thabi took the plate through to the kitchen. Mrs Ram was sitting on the phone in the back room. Joyce, the woman who did the washing up, was busy at the sink. Quietly Thabi opened the drawer where the foil was kept, tore some off and wrapped the burger. Her bag was hanging on the hook as usual. She slipped the burger inside and zipped it up.

“Caught red-handed!” a voice bellowed.

She spun around, blushing.

There stood Mrs Ram, pointing her fat finger at Thabi’s bag. “Open it,” she snapped. “Show me what you’ve stolen.”


Tell us what you think: Was Thabi really stealing if she took food, instead of throwing it away?