Nelani was singing softly to herself as she hurried to the Soul Side shop. It felt so good to know people were waiting for her – people who saw and heard her, and who wanted to know the real her. Her new friends, Caleb and Miriam, and their sweet, kind mother Rebekah, who ran the shop for its owners.

“Here she is, our Nelani,” Caleb welcomed her, as she stepped into the shop.

He was so good-looking, in a completely different way to Loyiso Mabila, who was just about the only person who ever talked to her at school.

Caleb was almost gaunt, the way she imagined suffering saints, starving their bodies while feeding their souls.

Loyiso’s build was lean but subtly muscular, a clue to his status as one of the school’s best track and field athletes. It always surprised Nelani that he noticed her. There must be something wrong with him, to think she was worth talking to.

But Caleb and Miriam also thought she was worth talking to. Did that mean there was something wrong with them? With their judgement?

No, they were different. They saw inside her, to her soul. What did Loyiso see?

“What’s wrong?” Miriam asked, coming over and stroking Nelani’s upper arm. “You’re looking worried.”

“Just thinking,” Nelani excused herself, embarrassed. “About someone at school.”

“You don’t have to worry about those people anymore.” The way Caleb was smiling, looking into her eyes, made Nelani feel wrapped in warmth. “You’ve got us now.”

“I know!” Nelani couldn’t hold back a smile. “It just takes some getting used to. Being valued, I mean.”

“We all have equal value,” Miriam said, a bit like she was reciting something she had learned. “We’re one family.”

“I can hardly believe how meeting you guys has changed things for me,” Nelani confided. “My life, my thinking. I told you how my real family–”

“Cha!” Caleb held up a finger. “There is no setting apart, remember? No real family and other family. All are family … and you never know. Someday, those people you live with might see the truth, the way you have. What a day of rejoicing that will be, for all of us.”

“It could be that Nelani doesn’t want to live with them anymore.” Miriam was looking at her brother.

“It’s amazing the way you both get me!” Nelani was excited. “That’s exactly how I feel.”

Her mind flew to the way things were at home. Her parents and grandmother forever focused on her older brother, even though he wasn’t at home much these days, being a student in Pretoria. It was all about how awesome he was, what a star scholar, how well he was doing, what a fantastic girlfriend he had, what a bright future …

Nelani couldn’t compete. However well she did at school, they never seemed to notice. She’d given up voicing her ideas for her own future, because they never listened.

“You should come stay with us at the Soul Side farm,” Caleb said, and Miriam nodded.

“Come over to the Soul Side,” Nelani joked in a deep, dramatic voice, but they didn’t laugh.

“You’ll love it.” Miriam was full of enthusiasm. “The people, the place. Oh, please say you’ll come, dearest Nelani.”


Tell us: Nelani thinks there must be something wrong with Loyiso for thinking she’s worth talking to. What does this say about her self-esteem?