Tebogo took out her English homework. She loved English. Tonight she needed to read a short story and answer the questions Mma Mogomotsi had given them. The story was about an old woman who lived in the desert, a woman who could see the future. Tebogo wished she knew a woman like that. She’d like to know her future. She was sure it was going to be good. She was sure it was going to be better than her life so far.

She dug in her school bag for her lunch box. Inside was the rest of Monica’s chicken and rice. She’d saved some so she could eat it for supper too. Monica’s father was a good cook, no matter what Monica complained about.

Tebogo read as she ate, and didn’t hear the key in the lock of the door until it was too late.

“You’ve got every light on. This house is a Christmas tree!” Tebogo’s mother said when she walked in. She switched off the outside light Tebogo had left on so that her mother could see her way up the walkway, with its uneven concrete.

“Dumela mme,” Tebogo tried, though she could see already that her mother was in a bad mood. It was probably better she kept as quiet and small as she could.

“What’s that smell?” Her mother had her nose in the air. “What is that? Have you been at the food again? Have you?”

Her mother was tall and big, and she grew even bigger when she was angry. She came up to the table where Tebogo was working and yanked her to her feet by her arm. “Didn’t I tell you that food is measured out for the month? You get your share don’t you?”

She dragged Tebogo to the pantry at the back of the tiny house. Her mother switched on the light and they both looked down at the padlock on the food cupboard. It was still firmly locked. Her mother took a key from around her neck and unlocked the door. She moved around inside as Tebogo waited nervously outside. She knew she’d taken nothing but that didn’t mean she’d avoid punishment.

Her mother came out of the pantry with a packet of biscuits and the things she needed for tea. She pushed past Tebogo and went to the stove. Seeing that she was free for now, Tebogo silently went back to the table.

She struggled to concentrate on her work when her mother was around. The older woman turned on the radio to listen to the obituaries. Her mother loved hearing about who had died. She was happiest when there was a funeral she might attend for someone nearby. The programme finished and she packed all of the tea things and the remainder of the biscuits in the pantry and locked it up, putting the key back around her neck.

“I’m off to bed,” she said. She switched all of the lights off, even though Tebogo was not yet finished with her homework. “Can’t be wasting electricity. You always think you’re so special, wasting money like I don’t have to go down on my hands and knees scrubbing floors at the hospital everyday. You’ll learn once you’re grown.”

She went into the only bedroom in the house and locked the door behind her. Tebogo slept on a mat in the sitting room. She waited until she heard her mother lightly snoring and then opened the front door carefully and carried her book bag across the street, and along past two streetlights to the one that was still working. She sat down in the dust, opening her school books and the last of the chicken and rice. Now she forgot about everything – except for the woman in the desert who saw everyone’s futures.


Tell us what you think: What do you think about Tebogo’s home life? What would you do if you were Tebogo?