“Bad things happen to people who hurt me,” said Jeremy. “That’s my gift. That’s my secret power.”

I frowned at him. “What? Bad things happen to people who hurt you? You’re joking, right?”

The wind off the lake grew colder. Jeremy took his jacket off and put it around my shoulders. It smelled of mothballs. Unpleasant.

“No jokes, kiddo! It happens too often to be coincidence. With TP. With kids who bullied me at school. Teachers who punished me. Yeah, even with that ex-girlfriend. If I told you what happened to her, your skin would crawl. Let’s just say, no other man will ever want to sleep with her. No jokes!”

I should have been disgusted. Instead, I was entranced. What a wonderful gift! Imagine! To know people who hurt you got their just desserts!

I thought of the Seboni sisters. They are always on my mind. They had hurt my feelings a million times over, from back when I was a little girl.

“There are people who have hurt you, aren’t there, kiddo?” said Jeremy.

I told him about the Seboni sisters.

They lived with their parents in a beautiful mansion. I lived with my mother in a shack in their backyard. We were distantly related to Mrs Seboni. My mother worked as a domestic in their home.

There was Boineelo the Beautiful. She told me often that I was ugly and untidy and no-one would ever marry me when I grew up.

Sometimes she gave me her old dresses. But only if they were stained or torn. Sometimes I think she tore and stained them on purpose. I wore them anyway. I had nothing else.

Then there was Keletso the Clever.

Keletso could play the piano. I stood at the doorway watching as her fingers flew over the shining white and black notes. Tinkling melodies filled the air. How I longed with all my little-girl heart to make music too.

But Keletso closed the lid. “Don’t dare touch my piano, Neo. I don’t want your dirty fingers on the keys.”

She said the same thing about her bookcase filled with books – wonderful books that I longed to read.

“Don’t dare touch my books, Neo. You’ll make them dirty. You never wash properly.”

But how could I wash properly? The Seboni sisters had a bathroom with steaming hot water, with shelves of sweet-smelling gels and bubble baths. All I had was the tap outside and a bucket. And bad-smelling red soap.

Lastly there was Farai, the Social Butterfly. Friends! She had endless friends. They sat on her fluffy white carpet in her pink bedroom, gossiping and giggling.

I stood at the doorway, longing with all my little-girl heart to be invited in. Farai slammed the door in my face. I stood alone in the passage, hearing my mother hum as she ironed their private-school uniforms. Then I went off and polished their private-school shoes. I cried while I polished.

My mother thought I was silly and ungrateful. “You are too sensitive, Neo. The Seboni family is very kind to us. We are lucky to have a place to stay. I am lucky to have a job here. Be nice to Boineelo and Keletso and Farai. They are sweet girls. Don’t cause trouble.”


Tell us what you think: Was Neo’s mother right? Was Neo silly to feel so upset by the Seboni sisters?