I didn’t feel, or hear, Mama waking up and leaving. She must have had to be at work early today. Maybe there was a lot of ironing. But when I looked at the clock I saw that I was late. I quickly boiled water then poured it into a vaskom and bathed quickly. I made some lunch, packed my books, locked the door behind me and raced down the street.
I waved for one of the amaphela Avanza taxis. Bongolethu High school was a few kilometres from where I stayed, but the journey didn’t take long the crazy way the taxis drove.
A taxi stopped in front of me. “Uyaphi sisi?” the driver said.
I answered as I caught my breath from running. “E Bongolethu High school driver.”
“Ngena sisi,” he said above the booming music.
I was late for school and as I ran into the class there was a loud burst of laughter.
“Ebetakile ke lo,” said one student from the back. “Whose bed did she sleep in?”
“Une bhabhalaza,” another sitting close to the window added.
“He magcwali bhafu, where were you?”
I flushed with anger. I felt like I was boiling hot with fury inside. How could they say such mean things – spreading rumours about me?
I thought of the vetkoek Mam Zondo always brought me. I knew that I should not eat so much but when I felt down it was the one thing that made me feel better. Mam Zondo called it ‘comfort eating’. But really it didn’t comfort me – well only for a few minutes – then it made me feel worse about myself.
When the bell rang and I squashed past the mean girls’ desks they threw rolled-up bits of paper at me. It was the last straw after being late and having a mouthful from the teacher. I just wanted to go home and get into bed.
I found a faraway patch of grass to lie down on and I burst into tears. I cried and cried. I didn’t notice a girl standing next to me until she spoke. It was one of the girls in 10A. I would usually see her when we had sports day at school or when there was a concert, but I had never talked to her. I wondered if she had come here to make fun of me too. But instead she sat down next to me on the grass.
“Hello, I am Palesa. I saw you crying over here. You look so lonely I couldn’t just leave you here by yourself.”
I wasn’t sure that I could trust her and that it wasn’t some kind of joke the girls had thought up – but she was smiling, and her eyes were kind.
“Um, I am Lizzy. I don’t mind. You can sit with me and chat.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
I shook my head, reluctant to speak.
“It’s okay,” she reassured me, and she looked sincere – like she really wanted to help.
“Okay, I will tell you.” I took a deep breath. “In my class they were making fun of me. There’s a group of girls who always make fun of me.”
“That happened to me when I was new here,” she said. “That’s why I came over to talk to you. I remember crying at breaktime and there being no-one I could talk to. Now things are different.”
“How?” I blurted out.
“I got more confident.”
“I need to … but I don’t know how.”
“There is a group I started going to. It’s a youth life-coaching programme called Girl Power. It’s fun and it helps me. It’s held in the community hall down the road from here on Friday afternoons after school. A friend of my mom’s told me her daughter was going and my mom encouraged me to join.”
“You’re lucky your mom cares about things like that. My mom … I don’t know …” I said. I thought of Mama and what she would say.
“I wasn’t sure either when my mom’s friend told me, but I went along to try it out. You never know if you’ll like something until you try it at least once,” she encouraged.
“What kind of things do they do at the group?”
“They help us to build our confidence. I have learned how to start saying ‘no’ when I don’t want to do something. They help us with what we can do in difficult situations … like when those girls bully you.”
“I don’t know …”
“If you change your mind I’ll be waiting after school on Friday, and we can go together.”
The bell rang and we headed off to our different classes. I could see the mean girls looking at me and Palesa and I knew it would mean trouble. What would they do if they found out I was going to life coaching so that I could stand up to them? They would tease me even more in class.
When I got home Mam Zondi came over with vetkoek.
“Enkosi Mama, ndiya dieta,” I said to her.
“Hayi suka Lizzy. I have tried dieting myself but it did not work out so I chose to join Fitness Club and eat healthily – most of the time,” she laughed. “But you know me, I can’t resist the vetkoeks ne?”
“Where is that fitness club, Ma?” I asked her.
“It’s at the Vuyiseka Complex,” she said. “You can always come and join me. Hey, there’s a madala at that club who is really cute. But I am running for my life from him,” she laughed, then she stopped and looked at me closely.
“Why are you sad, Lizzy? What’s on your mind? Is it a boy?”
“No, it’s nothing,” I said.
That night I lay in bed thinking about Palesa and the life coaching programme. I thought of lots of reasons why I shouldn’t go: The programme had already started and I had missed sessions. Everybody would already know each other. How could I talk about myself? What would I say?
No, I decided, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t for me.
Tell us: Would you feel happy to talk personally about yourself in a group, such as in the life coaching sessions? Do you find making life changes difficult?