The tone in his father’s voice frightens him. Something is wrong, very wrong. 

Khaya hastily sits down on the couch opposite his father, and his mother joins him.

“Would you like to tell me why you are walking in at this time?” 

Khaya clears his throat, looking around for anything to set his eyes on. Anything to avoid his father’s gaze. The TV playing in the background is turned down, the silent picture blinking on his father’s face.

“After school, Thando and I chilled at the mall,” Khaya says. “We lost track of time…” 

“Oh, the mall with Thando. Khaya, did I raise a liar?” His father’s voice is harsh with anger.

“Hayi Tata,” Khaya’s voice quavers, “No, Dad.”

“Then you can tell me about the phone call I got from Mr James this afternoon. Is there anything you would like to tell your mother and me?”  

The programme!

A few weeks ago, Khaya had been called into Mr James’ office. Greymans High was considering collaborating with another school in the region on a STEM programme. It would      be the first of its kind in the country. Mr James jumped at the opportunity to head the programme, with his star pupil in mind. 

Khaya hadn’t had the courage to tell Mr James that he wanted to focus on dancing, so he agreed to the opportunity. He promised to inform his parents and get them to sign the permission slip. He had thought he could stall Mr James. So when he asked Khaya if his parents had signed the permission slip yet, Khaya said both his parents were out of town, and he wasn’t sure when they would be back. He never dreamed Mr James might check out his story. 

“I can explain,” Khaya finally lets out.

“EXPLAIN!” his father booms.

“School has been hectic. It slipped my mind. I promise I was going to tell you,” Khaya says nervously.

Khaya grabs his backpack, rummaging through the pile of papers that lay at the bottom.

It has to be here it has to be… please be here.

Finally, he finds it crinkled up in the corner. He pulls it out and places it on the table, trying his best to smooth it out.

“See! I was going to give it to  Mom today… I just”  

Khaya turns to his mom. She wears a look that at first he mistakes for disappointment. But as he looks into her eyes, he realises she is scared for him. 

But why––

His father stands up with a loud bang. Khaya turns  to see his Step-Up DVD and ballet shoes on the table. 

He feels the blood drain from his face.

“Is this what you are busy with!?” his dad shouts fiercely.

“Calm down,  tata ka Khaya  you’re scaring him, hlisa umoya,” Khaya’s mom says.

The softness in her voice calms the fear that hangs heavy in Khaya’s heart. She moves him closer to her, squeezing his hand to assure him of her presence.

“No! I want him to answer and tell me for how long he has been lying to us! Apparently, we have been out of town for weeks now! How could let you let such a great opportunity slip through your hands!? And for what? DANCING?”     

“It’s what I want to do!” Khaya bursts out. 

Khaya is now also standing. This was the first time in his life that he had even considered challenging his father’s authority. Silence falls over the room as he and his father stare each other down.

“All of my life, all I have ever done is do what you wanted me to, whether I liked it or not. While other kids were outside playing soccer, I was here with you, practising sums all day. While other kids were out being children, I was here with you, reading engineering books and listening to you tell me about the ‘     wonders of the engineering world’.      You wanted me to go to Greymans High. I worked harder than I     ever had, and I got in! Not ONCE did I complain. Not ONCE did you stop and ask what I wanted.” 

“Khaya,” his mother warns.

No, mama, no! He said he wanted an answer. My whole life has revolved around what you wanted for me. I stood in this very spot when I was seven and told you that I wanted to dance. Expecting you to support me as my parents. Instead, you shut me down without any care about my feelings and went on to turn me into this pet project of yours.”     

He swallows, feeling bad for disrespecting his parents like this. But also, a huge weight is lifting off his chest. 

Tell us: Have you ever had to stand up to your parents? How did it go?