“Are you really going to wake up so late in my house? Get up before I throw you out of bed!” Mama said angrily.

When I looked out from under the blankets the sun blinded me. I wanted this Sunday to be my lazy day. Why couldn’t Mama understand that? She never took the time to find out how I felt. She didn’t know about the girls at school who were bullying me about being fat. How they called me “sdudla” and “magcwal’ibhafu”.

She also didn’t know how I was too scared to even talk to boys. Mama thought boys weren’t important at all. She would be happy if I didn’t talk to one until I was 21 and safely finished with my degree. She had high hopes for me, but she hardly ever praised me.

So I got up and made my bed. I dragged my feet to the kitchen where I made myself a bowl of Phuzamandla.

“Lizzy, I have to leave for work at 11. Please make sure that my house is clean when I come back at six,” Mama said, taking up her bag and grabbing her jacket.

“Yes Mama,” I answered her. It is my house too, I thought. Sometimes, well most of the time, it felt like I was invisible.

I thought of the chores I had to do and that sent me straight back to bed where I paged through a magazine, looking at the girls posing for the camera – smiling, young, beautiful and skinny. Why? I threw the magazine off the bed and pulled the cover over my head, feeling even more depressed. I fell asleep.

In my dream I was on the cover of a magazine. I was so beautiful and petite. But when I woke up and went to the mirror I was not the girl in my dream. Nothing like her. I was still trapped in my chubby body.

I had slept for longer than I thought and had to rush to do the dishes and sweep our back yard before Mama came back. We were renting at Mam Zondi’s house. She lived just across the yard.

Mam Zondi was very outgoing. She had a round figure to go with her large personality. But, unlike me, she loved her body. She celebrated all her curves. Mam Zondi would look at herself in the mirror, turning this way and that, and say, “Ndiyinzwakazi entle, I am a beautiful woman.”

I wished I could be like Mam Zondi – so full of confidence.

We lived in Better Life, a community in Philippi. Who had named it that? It was a township filled with crime. We were scared for our lives every day.

When we were on the way to the spaza unemployed boys and men sitting on the corner would cat call us girls. Just yesterday one of the regulars on the corner shouted at me: “Ek sê upakile lo mntwana and wondlekile.”

I hated the attention they gave me. It seemed so unfair that they noticed me in all the wrong ways, but the boys at school ignored me.

“Mntwanam, boys mean nothing but trouble. They will distract you from your goals. The last thing you need is to be a young mom,” Mama would say, staring out of the window. I knew when she stared out like that, it was as if she was talking to herself when she was a teenager, and got pregnant with me.

Mam Zondi had high hopes for me and she wasn’t afraid to tell me. She wasn’t afraid to praise me when I did well either. She would tell me that Mama often told her how proud she was of me. Why couldn’t Mama tell me herself, I thought.

“We all need affirmation, Lizzy, even your mother,” Mam Zondi would tell me. Mam Zondi was a very positive person. She had written quotes in bright colours and stuck them on her wall: ‘You Rock!’; ‘Go Girl!’;’Work hard and Make it happen!’ And one that I liked, but didn’t believe about me: ‘You are more powerful than you know and beautiful just as you are.’

“Yes Mntwanam,” she would say. “We want you to be something great in life.”

A doctor I thought. Dr Lizzy Thabethe. Yes, that sounds good. I worked hard at school and I gave everything my best. I was one of the top 10 students at Bongolethu High School. You would think I would be happy. But my good marks only got me bad attention from the bully girls with their sharp tongues.

“They are just jealous,” Mam Zondi said, but that didn’t make it better.


Tell us: Do you agree with Mam Zondi that everybody needs ‘affirmation’ or praise? What would you say to Lizzy about envying magazine models and celebs?