“If you’re not buying anything, go! No malingering!” Mr Chen said, pointing to the sign behind the cash register that said: No Malingering.

Morwadi whispered in my ear, “I’d steal these sweets if I wasn’t a coward, just to punish him for being so mean.”

I laughed and we walked to the front of the store. Morwadi was like that – she was brave and stroppy. I’d be far too scared to even think such a thing.

“What you laughing at now?” Mr Chen said.

“So now we can’t laugh in your shop either?” Morwadi said.

My Chen took the R10 I handed him and gave me my change. “You rude girl, Morwadi. Next time your mother here, I tell her how you act. How you think about that?”

“Tell her what you want, Mr Chen. I couldn’t care in the slightest.”

She walked out of the store ahead of me. As much as Mr Chen was mean, he was still an old man. Morwadi was rude to talk to him like that. If he really did tell her mother, she’d be in big trouble.

“Bye, Mr Chen,” I said in the hope that my words might temper Morwadi’s rude comment.

“You go now!” Mr Chen shooed me out with his hands. “You eat too much sweets. Your teeth fall out just now, Emma. And then what? You no find husband is what.”

Outside Morwadi was waiting for me.

“Best Shop?” she said.

I looked up at the sign above the door she was referring to.

“More like only shop. I wouldn’t even step in the door if it wasn’t the only shop in the neighbourhood.”

“You know how Mr Chen is – just ignore him,” I tried.

“Why did he come and set up a shop here if he hates us so much? He should just go back to China.” Morwadi started stamping down the road towards our houses at the end, before the corner to the main road. I ran after her.

“He’s been here forever,” I said. “My mother said Best Shop was the only shop when she was a girl. His family in China probably don’t even know him any more.”

“He can tell my mother whatever he wants. I don’t care!” I could hear that she cared.

“He’s just talking. Mr Chen never tells. Even when people get caught stealing.”

Morwadi stopped and looked at me. I think she was thinking about all of the other times she heard Mr Chen threaten to tell other kids’ parents and how we never heard that they had been punished. She started laughing.

“You’re right! He’s all hot air.”

She was immediately better then, so I thought I might get a chance to ask her about the Christmas dance that was coming up at school. Though Morwadi and me have been friends and neighbours since we were little kids. Morwadi was also friends with the in-kids at school, so she usually knew about social things that I was clueless about.

“So, are you going to the Christmas dance?” I asked.

“Yes, everybody is. You’re going right?”

“I want to … Actually … Dineo asked me,” I said.

“Really? That’s good – he’s cute. You said yes, right?”

“Sort of.” My problem was the dress. I suspected I needed something fancy but hoped not; that was the information I was looking for. “So what will you wear?”

“I have Kaone’s dress.” Kaone was Morwadi’s rich cousin. I was sure the dress was beautiful though it didn’t matter because Morwadi looked good in everything. I was not tall and curvy and lovely. I was more short and round and pimply. My dress was going to matter – a lot.

“My mother put a dress on lay-by at Carla’s,” I said. She promised she’d pay it off month-end. I hoped she’d manage and I hoped it was the right sort of dress. “My mother said it was nice but maybe she’s not the right person to know such things.”

Morwadi started walking again. “Carla has nice things. I’m sure it will be fine. Emma, you worry too much.”

Since Morwadi seemed so sure about my dress she never saw, I decided it was fine to give Dineo a final answer. I told him to meet me after school the next day.


What do you think about the way Morwadi treats Mr Chen?