Nothando packs her few belongings into a black refuse plastic bag. When Xolani’s family saw that she slept over all the time and would stay for days they complained about the extra plate of food and slices of bread that they had to pay for. There was a family meeting that came with the solution that Xolani and Nothando had to pitch in with money for groceries.

Nothando had to go out and find work. She found a job as a dishwasher and general all-round worker for a big catering company. The hours are long, the pay isn’t much, but work is constant.

She stands at the door, and looks back into the room. Xolani is sitting on the bed and looking at the clump of marijuana he is crushing in his hands. He rolls the blunt, lights it and raises the volume on his Bluetooth speaker. Nothando’s heart breaks because the songs Xolani is playing are happy songs. He is celebrating breaking up with me, Nothando thinks.

She has nowhere else to go. At first her grandmother raised her after the death of her mother. Her aunts on her mother’s side took her in after her grandmother passed away. It was a total change in life when her aunts took her in. She was neglected because they had their own children to look after. From a young age she got used to going to bed hungry while her cousins always had food. When she met Xolani she thought she had found her prince in shining armour, but he has changed since he lost his job.

The change in Xolani’s behaviour has nearly driven Nothando to the point of depression. He has developed a violent temper. He gets angered by any small thing but rages on for hours on end. Sometimes his jealousy makes him see things that are not there in their relationship. His accusations are laced with swear words so vile they make the hairs on Nothando’s neck stand up. But love is a strange thing, it has kept Nothando glued to Xolani in spite of it all. 

Nothando trudges on up the Zidindini informal settlement hill. Her aunts, Zama and Nompilo, glance at each other as Nothando enters their shack. They can’t hide the fact that they can’t wait to ridicule Nothando for coming back. They are itching to ridicule her for failing in love. They wish nothing good for her.

“You have failed in love so soon?” says Zama.

“Has your man found a better woman?” Nompilo laughs.

Nothando doesn’t answer. She just heads straight to the sofa and lies on her back. The springs of the sofa stab her back as she tries to turn.

“You chose the wrong day to come back, Nothando. I have a visitor today. You have to go out for a few hours and come back after my man is gone,” says Nompilo

“Where will I sleep, aunty?”

“Well, Nothando, you are not my problem. But because I have a good heart, you will go out for a few hours and I’ll allow you to come back after we are done.”

“Fine,” Nothando leaves the shack. Tears itch behind her eyes. 

She stands behind the shack, not knowing where to go. It is cold so she decides to take a walk. As she is walking around aimlessly she passes her friend Nonhlanhla’s shack. 

“Where are you going so late at night, Nothando?”

“I’m going to the shop, my friend.”

“But the shops are behind you. Didn’t you see?” says Nonhlanhla.

“Eish, it is tough, my friend,” Nothando weeps.

“What’s going on? Talk to me. Come inside.”

Nonhlanhla fixes her a cup of tea and some sandwiches. Sorrow is written in Nothando’s gaunt eye sockets.

“One day you will overcome all this sorrow.” Nonhlanhla rubs Nothando’s back.

“That is just a fairy tale,” says Nothando with sorrow in her every word.

“You have to think about going back to school. You have to get your matric.”

“But how will going back to school help me when I see people with diplomas and degrees jobless?”

“There is nothing more important than education these days. Even the basic jobs need you to have matric at least. And what will you do if you lose your job? Who will hire you if you don’t have matric?”

“I know that is true. I need to go get the form and rewrite my matric.”

“It is important. You have to try to fix your life. You see how your family doesn’t care for you. And you cannot put your hopes on Xolani.”

“Thank you for the meal. I have to get going,” says Nothando.

Tell us: What do you think of Nonhlanhla’s advice?