I take a deep breath and step outside. The feel of the chilly breeze forces me to close my eyes momentarily, holding back tears that are threatening to fall. I detest winter, and the air is particularly eerie this Monday morning. After another deep breath, I take a brave step out of the rondavel, warm from the fire, and walk as if I want to go to school. A distance ahead of me, I can see the fog still hovering over the Mhlumayo mountains, giving the morning an air of dread. It does not help that the sun takes so long to show its face in winter. At 6:30am, the rays are shyly coming through the fog. It is a perfect day to stay in bed, cuddled up with blankets and a steaming cup of tea. No such luck here. I am already joining my schoolmates in shuffling our way towards the Mhlumayo Combined School, the only school in the village. I’ve had nine years of this but I am still not used to the long walk there. But human beings are creatures of habit. So as soon as I find my friends among the groups of students, I push away the unsettled feeling in my stomach and I join in the latest gossip.

“Did you hear about the people who got caught making out under the bus?” my best friend, Zethu, asks, as soon as I am walking beside her.

Of course not. I am always the last person to hear the news. Also, how does that even happen? I swear teenagers are not human.

“What happened?” I ask, trying to sound nonchalant.

And Zethu Bhengu loves being the first to deliver the news! She takes her hands out of the school’s grey and blue tracksuit, getting ready to speak in her usual animated way. She is also the type that refers to herself as a morning person — open eyes mean open mouth and open life. I am the opposite. It takes me at least an hour to be able to open my mouth after waking up.

“But do you remember the girl who won the dancing contest?”

I nod, more for her to continue with the story and not regress by explaining said girl (that I vaguely remember). I want her to jump to the juicy stuff, although I know she will take the long way there.

“She’s also part of the track team. So after the running, she was caught with a boy from the rival school…”

Just to catch you up, our school went to visit a school in Newcastle this past Saturday. I couldn’t go, of course. I knew my grandmother had no money, so I did not even tell her about the trip — neither did my brothers who, unlike me, participate in sports. I do not even feel left out because I have Zethu, the star of our netball team and captain of the debating team, to fill me in. Although honestly, I do not have much interest in my schoolmates’ sex lives.

“OK, OK,” I interrupt her. “I am more interested in you. How was the game?”

Dramatic pause. Mock frown. Big smile.

I can read my best friend like a comic book and these expressions mean one thing — a big win. I am already giddy with excitement.

“I scored six goals,” she says, her eyes twinkling.

Wincing, I stop walking and grab her arm so she also stops.

“What’s wrong?”

“Sorry, I just had a weird pain in my stomach,” I say apologetically.

“You didn’t eat breakfast again,” she says accusingly.

I never eat before school. What normal person eats before 7am?

“Anyway, did you debate their heads off?” I ask, moving away from the food topic.

“Girl…” she starts excitedly, as we resume our long walk to school.

Tell us: Can you relate to any of the narrators’ thoughts and feelings?