I went home to get something to eat and change out of my school uniform. To my surprise, I heard voices through the window, one of them my mother’s voice. I had begun to call her by her first name, Stella, after she left because I resented her. But when I opened the door and was met by her beautiful smile, my resistance faded.

Mama! Mama! Yoh mara, Mama!” I shouted as I threw down my school bag and threw myself into her arms. She was a bit thinner than I remembered, but being held in her arms and feeling her heartbeat reminded me of how, as a little boy, I would get the very same hug when she came back from work.

“Mama, what are you doing here?” I asked, her head against my shoulder.

“I’ve been let out on early parole. I thought I’d surprise you,” she answered, tears in her eyes.

The image of her being dragged away in handcuffs and the smell of the stale prison when we visited came back to me and I pulled away. She didn’t notice because I didn’t change my expression. But at the back of my head a voice reminded me that Stella was a no-good criminal who left her kids without a mother. She couldn’t just pretend that it never happened, things couldn’t just go back to normal after the suffering and humiliation we had had to endure because of her crimes.

“Oh, okay,” I said, trying to sound normal. “I’ll just put my stuff down and get out of these clothes, then we can talk.” I went to pick up my book bag and headed towards my room.

My brother, Snethemba, walked in. “Bhuti, uyabona ukuthi umama ubuyile? Sekumnandi futhi lay’khaya!” he exclaimed.

I turned to him with a smile, “Yes I can see her, little brother, and I hope so too,” I said and continued walking towards my room.

Gogo stopped me in my tracks. “Hau Thulasizwe, now that your mother is here you don’t even say hi to your granny!” she exclaimed.

I walked back to her. “Sorry Gogo, this surprise made me forget my manners.” I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

She smiled. “I prepared lunch for you, it’s in the oven, you can eat after you’ve taken off your school uniform.”

Stella jumped in. “Hau mara Mama, let the boy eat! Besides, I could use something to eat too, so why don’t we share the plate?” she asked jokingly.

I felt a sudden rush of anger at her, like I wanted to knock her down. Then it left me just as quick, leaving me feeling confused.

As we sat down and ate, Stella looked at me. “How have you been my boy?”

I looked up at her, still irritated, but decided to stay calm on Gogo’s account. I half smiled. “I have been ‘wonderful’, wena?” I asked.

She looked at Gogo. “I have been great, I just missed you and Snethemba, that’s all,” she replied.

I looked back down at my plate.” Okay then,” I mumbled. She looked at Gogo once more, then back at me. “How are things going at school?”

I snapped. “You’ve been back five minutes, but you’ve already asked a thousand questions! Can’t you let me enjoy my meal in peace – a meal provided by my loving Gogo? No! Instead ufaka isandla ekudleni kwami mawuceda ubuza umbuzo ongapheli!” I exclaimed. Stella asking me about school was the last straw. I might suffer the same fate as her if I didn’t get my grades up, I thought. “Futhiyazini, awungiyeke!” I shouted.

Gogo intervened.“Hau mara Thulasizwe, hlisa ulaka mntwanami, umamakho bekazibuzelanje ngoba afuna ukwazi ukuthi uquba kanjani eskolweni ngoba akuthanda.”

I got up and turned to Stella. “If you loved us, you wouldn’t have left us!” I said as I picked up my book bag. Then I went straight to my room and closed the door behind me.

Tell us: Why do you think Thulasizwe reacted this way? How would you react if your mother came home from prison?