When sis’Ntombi, the secretary, called me to the principal’s office, I had no idea what she had in store for me. From the way my heart was pounding in my chest as I sat waiting in the corridor, I could tell something was up. “Thulasizwe Dube! Mrs Masemola is ready for you, you may go in,” sis’ Ntombi said.

I got up and opened the door to the principal’s office. Mrs Masemola sat behind her huge desk. She looked up with a stern look on her face. “Ah! Thulasizwe, please pull up a chair and sit close to me, we need to talk,” she said.

In my short existence, I’ve learned that it’s never a good thing when a woman says, “We need to talk.” I sat down opposite Mrs Masemola. One look at her grim face and my heart went from beating fast to pounding against my ribs. I could tell trouble was afoot.

She looked at me over her black-framed glasses. “Thulasizwe, I received a complaint from a concerned parent who saw you drinking alcohol with some of the young teachers from this school,” she pursed her lips and paused. From her serious face, I could tell she was not in the mood for messing around, so I decided to confess.

“Yes ma’am, it’s true, I have been drinking with some of the teachers on weekends,” I mumbled.

She nodded. “Good, I’m glad you’ve decided to be honest. The teachers will be dealt with, they will face disciplinary charges. As for you, my boy, your grades have suffered because of your actions. But I’ll give you one last chance. I will put you on probation for the next three months. Your marks need to improve, this is serious. If I hear that you have been drinking again I will have no choice but to expel you from school,” she said.

A sudden shock went through my whole body. I nodded numbly and got up to leave. Mrs Masemola held up her hand. “Thulasizwe uyaphi? Buyalana, hlala phansi ngikubonise,” she said. I did as I was told and found my seat once more, but I couldn’t look her in the eye.

She extended her right hand towards me. When I reciprocated, she grabbed my hand and held it. “Thulasizwe, listen here, my boy. I know you’ve had it rough over the past few years. Your mother’s arrest must have been a traumatising experience since you were so young, still are!”

She shook her head. “But if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up in real trouble.” She gripped my hand even tighter. “When life knocks you down, you have to get up and try again. You have the potential to make something of yourself, it’s not too late. Be strong,” she said, “study hard and expand your horizon and meet new people.”

I looked up at her and saw she had a smile on her face. I smiled back nervously. “Thanks ma’am, I really needed that.”

She let go of my hand. “Okay my boy, you can go back to class now, good luck, I’m counting on you.”

As I walked back to class, I thought that this proved that I had failed Gogo once more. I couldn’t do this to her after all she had done for me. I took my seat in class between Thembinkosi and Thabo, two of my friends.

Thembinkosi poked me with an elbow. “Bro, what did Mrs Masemola want from you? Are you in trouble?” he asked. Thabo also turned to face me.

I looked at them. “Sho bafowethu, ishubile, I could get expelled from school,” I replied.

Thabo pounced. “Eh! Expelled? Iya ilokuthi uzenza umaqinasi, uphuza nabantu abaphambili kunawe nge mpilo ushiya thina ngoba ubona ukuthisiyabhayiza sikwenzela kancane. Serves you right!” he exclaimed. They both laughed and so did I, but I was only laughing on the outside to keep from crying.

I thought about Gogo once more. She had been there for me since day one, especially after my mother’s arrest. I didn’t want to disappoint her again; she was the one who had fought tooth and nail to get me into a good school, when no other school would have me on account of my delinquent behaviour.

Deep down I blamed my mother for my troubles. If she hadn’t left us, things would be different. The memory of the tragic day of her arrest on fraud charges came back to me.

That day, there had been two police vans in front of our house when I came home after school. I had been in the sixth grade, so I didn’t fully comprehend what was happening. A small group of spectators had gathered, so I joined them and stood gawking with them like a fool.

Then two police men and one police woman came out of the house with a lady in handcuffs. Her face was hidden by a black hoodie. I had noticed something familiar about how she walked and the clothes she wore, but my mind didn’t want to accept it.

Ha vele u Stella!” grootman Sandile shouted from the crowd, frantically waving his arms in the air, then finally resting his hands on his head. As the police lead the lady in cuffs to a police van, she tripped on some rubble and fell to her knees and my never-ending nightmare began as her face was exposed. “Ah shame endewuye!” Jah Lady exclaimed next to me. I stood there, silent, rooted to the spot, torn between fright and shame as I looked into my mother’s eyes.

The school bell went off, interrupting my thoughts, and I snapped out of it. As I packed my bag, I felt that same fear and shame again. How was I going to get myself out of this mess?

Tell us: What do you think about Thulasizwe?