“It’s a miracle! I promise you! I heard the painting speak!”

Misha was undaunted by her friends’ responses.

“Ag, you talk kak, man.”

“You’re always full of stories, Misha.”

“Leave us alone, man.”

Only her one friend spoke encouragingly: Leila, who was kind to everybody. “What did it say, Misha?”

“She said that she was a slave. And that this child on her breast was not her own child.”

The others sniggered. “Wow. That’s obvious, you idiot. We all said that in class.”

Misha gazed at the picture in her hand. She knew she had heard the woman’s soft low voice that reminded her of her mother. The woman’s bent head looked unspeakably sad. There was her baby hungry next to her, and this other woman’s baby at her breast. Where was the other woman, the rich white woman? There’s the biggst joke, Misha thought she heard the woman whisper. The mother of this child on my lap is sketching me. That is why I am here. Misha could feel the tears of bitterness in the woman’s eyes. She stood up, and walked away from the rest of the girls, ignoring their giggles.

“Look at these pictures of people in the street,” said Misha’s Life Orientation teacher. “Why do you think they live on the street?”

Misha put her hand up. “I know why, Miss,” she said. “Her father beat her, her mother didn’t love her. And she had an older brother who treated her badly. She didn’t want to go on the street. But she had no choice. Her life was worse at home.”

“Wow, that’s pretty convincing,” said the teacher. “And what about the other children we see, Misha? What do you think their stories are?”

“I can’t hear them talking,” Misha answered, “I can only hear the girl.” The class colllapsed into noisy jeering laughter. “Ask her where I can score some zol,” Leroy shouted.

The teacher banged the blackboard. “Quiet, class!” she shouted. The noise subsided. “Now explain what you mean, Misha?” Misha knew it was hopeless, but she liked Miss Hogan and wanted her to understand.

“People in pictures have started speaking to me, Miss,” she said. That’s how I know the girl’s story. She told it to me now. She has a sad voice.” The class erupted again, and Misha put her head down. She noticed that even Leila had a smile on her face. She didn’t care. She knew things they would never know.

Miss Hogan just about had to break the blackboard this time. And she quickly moved the discussion away from Misha. But at the end of the lesson she called Misha as the rest of the class was jostling out of the classroom. Misha could see that Miss Hogan was concerned for her. “Misha, if you tell stories like that you will lose your friends.”

“Yes, Miss, thanks Miss,” Misha murmured. “I must go to Geography now, Miss.” She kept her head down as she moved along the corridor. The floor was a grey dirty colour. The noise of the children bashing their way past, calling and laughing was an ugly grey noise, she thought. This is an ugly grey day. She concentrated on remembering her favourite picture in one of her school textbooks.