I walk along the footpath that leads to my house, which is easy to spot as it is painted with ikalika (white paint) from knee height to just above the small windows. The rest of the house is hand-smeared with mud. I walk in, drop my school bag on the floor and look, as usual, at the framed quote on the wall.


A photograph of my mother and father hangs below it. This framed quote has been there for years − as long as I can remember. Perhaps the love is dead, I think to myself. Why did Tata choose not to come back last December? Instead, he sent a lousy three hundred rands.

Today there is a fresh smell of oranges in the house. My brother, Luxolo, has stolen them from the orange farm nearby. The devil has been whispering in my ear to go with him many times. But Luxolo tells me it is not a good idea. “You are too young kwedini. I want you to focus on your schoolwork,” he always tells me.

Luxolo is waiting for a job. He applied three months ago to work on a new electricity installation project for the municipality, but they have not got back to him yet. We remain hopeful when we see that the project has not started yet. He applied to be a general worker, digging holes for the electricity poles.

The smell of oranges is welcoming. My tongue feels like it has sores from umpokoqo netomatoe, which we eat every second day. That is when we have small tomatoes growing in the garden. Every other day it is just mielie pap and water.

“Mphum, is that you? Two oranges for you now, and two for tomorrow. Take from the small pot young boy,” Luxolo shouts from the bedroom. He has been sleeping half the day. Stealing oranges from the farm is only a night job.

“Oh, thank you,” I say to him.

I look around the kitchen. All the dishes are clean, and all the pots too. Oh Lord! I know what this means. “Does it look like I have a choice, buti?” I say. It means there is no other food. I will eat them all, I think to myself. When my teacher told the class that the community lives ‘from hand to mouth’, it felt like he was talking directly to me.

“It is bad, really bad. Kuntswempu ikati ilele eziko. (The cat sleeps in our cooking place.) But I want you to be strong, uzobayindoda. You are going to be a man. Umama wethu is out. She said she was going to Dikidikana,” Luxolo then informed me.

“For what? On foot?”

“You know how it goes. The people of this village must be tired of her asking for bowls of mielie meal every second day.”

“I pray she gets a lift from a good person and comes back home soon.”

“By the way, your girlfriend was here.”

Hayi, andinayo. Who is she buti?”


I smile to myself. I wish she was my girlfriend. That will never be possible though. She asked me to buy her a small packet of amashwamshwam, maize snacks, for fifty cents and I could not even afford that. I am sure she was here about school work. I don’t say anything more to my brother though. I just smile. He looks at me and smiles too. Luxolo walks out the door without saying where he is going.

The sun is setting. It is descending fast now. My mother hasn’t returned. There is no paraffin for the lamp. I close the curtains. I close the door and I lock myself inside. If anyone knocks I will keep quiet. I won’t say a word. How do I explain a house in darkness when all the other houses in the village have lamps shining in every room? I search for more oranges, but I find nothing. My stomach is rumbling. I prepare umondlalo, my blankets directly on the floor, and slide in. I want to fall asleep as soon as possible. This proves to be difficult as I am so hungry and worried. I think of Mama. She has not come back yet.


Tell us what you think: What has happened to Mphum’s mother?