“You get your homeless ass off my street!” shouts the gangster in the black jacket.

It’s after school, but it’s still so icy cold that clouds of ‘smoke’ come out of his mouth as he emphasises each ugly word.

I rub the steamed-up taxi window so I can see. The driver is idling on Sixth Street, waiting for more people to pack in like sardines before he leaves.

I know that gangster. He works for The Confiscator. He’s got gold hoops in each ear, and he’s dangerous. Not just because he’s bad, but because not only does he deal drugs, he takes them. And he packs a gun. You don’t want to be around him when he’s having a bad day, because it could end up being your last.

The guy he’s shouting at looks about my age. He’s not shouting back. He’s just getting up, bleary eyed, off the cardboard that he’s been sleeping on under the bridge. He doesn’t make eye contact with the gangster. He’s trying to get his cardboard into his trolley so he can move the hell out of there. I notice his lips are chapped and scabbed from the cold. He’s skinny and his clothes are city stained, but he’s a good-looking guy. Tall. He looks so tired but there’s something in the way he moves, carefully and thoughtfully, while under attack. He doesn’t lose his cool, or say a word. If it were me I’d probably fight back and end up as a corpse on the pavement, but this guy moves with quiet dignity.

“Move scum! Blocking up my pavement. I don’t want you here. I don’t want to see your filthy face in this hood. Do you hear me?”

I see the guy’s got a battered old book sticking out of his back pocket. I get a lump in my throat and my eyes suddenly fill with tears.

He keeps his face blank and pushes his trolley away.

The gangster picks up a can lying on the street and hurls it. It catches the guy on the ear, and I see him flinch with pain, and then cup his ear with his hand.

“Eish!” An angry, sympathetic murmur runs through the taxi, but we are all too scared to do anything.

The guy doesn’t look back; he just keeps wheeling his trolley.

For the second time in twenty-four hours I realise that could be me. Me, homeless and living on the street by the end of the month. Last night really opened my eyes.

All too soon I’m getting out of the taxi and the door slams shut behind me.

“Houghton’s a smart hood for a girl like you!” shouts the driver over the pumping taxi music, as it pulls away.

I impress myself by managing to keep my hand down at my side as I secretly flip him my middle finger. A-hole.

I check I’ve got the right street number. Yes, this is it. This is my landlord’s house. Or at least, it’s his gate. There’s a massive fence around the property and a beautiful lawn stretches away inside. Trees full of chattering birds block my view of the house.

I check my taxi fare home one more time. I’ve got the exact amount and that’s the only money of my own that I have in this world.

In one mixed-up moment I smooth my coat down for the hundredth time, almost run away, then manage to press the intercom button and look calmly into the security camera.

A crystal clear voice from the intercom makes me jump.

“What do you want?”

“I’ve come to see Mr Besturd please.”


“Er, my name is Pheliswa Zongozi, and I’m a tenant at City Views in Sixth Street. I’ve come to speak to him about renewing my family’s lease.”

There’s a long, quiet pause before the intercom clicks off.

The gate doesn’t open. I stand there, waiting.

A girl just a little younger than me comes zooming across the lawn on a quad bike. She spots me, and steers her bike onto the driveway, towards me.

But a well-dressed man comes out, says something and gestures for her to go away. She cuts the engine.

“What did you say Daddy?”

“I said I’ll handle this.”

She stays where she is, looking at me curiously.

“Go. Carry on biking. I’ll handle this on my own.”

The girl looks at me again, starts up the engine and drives away.

He checks the time on a gold watch, and I notice he’s holding a remote panic button in his hand. Is he afraid of me?

“Mr Besturd?”

“Who do you think you are, just arriving at my private premises without an appointment?” he snaps.

I see red, but take a deep breath and manage to keep it together, even though he’s so rude. This is important.

“I … I … um. My family has been living in your building for three years. We’ve paid our rent every month. Look, I’ve brought my granny’s accounts book to show you. Please sir, we are very good tenants. I’ve come to ask you to please not evict us. You can trust us.”

Mr Besturd’s face turns a strange purple.

“Trust you?!” he roars. “It is people like you who’ve run my building and that whole inner city area into the ground. Do you know how much money I’ve lost because of you?”

I flush as I think of how hard my gran works to pay him rent every month.

“You’re making a mistake. We–”

“The only mistake was letting you move in, in the first place! Go home and pack your bags. If you’re not out by the end of the month my security guards will throw you out!”

I stare at this awful, messed-up man.


“You’re not going to get away with this Mr Besturd.” My voice is cold and hard as ice but inside I’m sad and shaking.

He smiles at me, flashing coffee-stained teeth and a gold filling.

I turn my back on him and walk. I can’t understand how he can be cruel to me, when he has a daughter almost the same age. Doesn’t he understand that I’m human?

My gran’s words from yesterday echo in my memory: “Pheliswa, you may have just turned eighteen and you think you know everything, but you don’t know the law.”

The quad bike roars to a halt on the other side of the fence. I turn. The girl smiles at me.

I stare back at her, filled with despair. She frowns and looks like she’s about to say something.

“Gemma! Come back here right now!” Mr Besturd calls.

Our eyes lock for a moment. She opens her mouth to speak but her father shouts again. She holds up her fingers in the peace symbol, and then she is gone.

My phone beeps. It’s Aphiwe.

I tld my sista wht happnd

& she’s orgnised free

apptmnt 4 u wth hot-shot

lwyer 2moro aftrnoon.

No wy. i dn’t wnt

hlp frm yr sista.

Ys I kno she bust us 4

smking but dis is imprtnt.

U nd 2 gt ovr it.

My gogo gatd me

4 a whl mnth 4 dat.

Shme. She was

tryng 2 do da rght thng.

Kul dat ht hed of yrs down.

I walk for a few hundred metres while I think about that. I don’t forgive easily. But then I think of last night’s eviction notice, and that homeless guy this morning, and I realize Aphiwe is right. I have to get over myself. Maybe.

OK. Cn u mt me ltr 2 tll me wht she says.

Nt sying I’ll do it, bt I’ll listen.

Now u got da rite ’tude sista. Mt u ltr.

Cebisa’s gonna hlp u out.

I think about it all as I walk to the taxi rank and wait in the queue.

A woman walks past in a T-shirt that says: ‘You gotta take your power back!’

Jeez. She’s right.

I grin. Watch out Mr Besturd. You just made yourself an enemy.


What do you think? Is Pheliswa brave or foolish to have gone to see her landlord?