The following morning Lesego slipped out of bed. She crept into Nomsa’s bedroom to say hi, but her sister was still asleep.

She went into the kitchen so she could make some tea and porridge before setting out for school.

Mom was already up and dressed for the day. “Please be quiet. I don’t want you waking your sister up,” she said sternly before Lesego could even greet her.

Lesego, who had been just about to fill the kettle with water, stared across the room at her mother. She felt Mom was coming down too hard on her. She had been as quiet as a mouse.

“What is wrong with Nomsa?” Lesego asked before she could stop herself. “She’s lost a huge amount of weight, Mom. She looks almost like a skeleton.”

“It’s the super bug. I’ve already told you that. Don’t you ever listen to anything I say? Like playing that silly jive monkey music as loud as you could yesterday.”

Lesego’s eyes filled with tears. She took a deep breath to prevent them from spilling out of her eyes and down her face.

But her mother seemed oblivious to her youngest daughter’s stress and concerns.

“I just want you to listen properly to me. Nomsa is sick and she needs plenty of rest and good nourishing food. I don’t want Zanele hanging around here either. All your noise and chit-chat will only upset your sister.”

Lesego opened her mouth to say something but before she could talk her mother said, “I’m not saying she can never come here again. I just want you to respect my wishes. Together we must make Nomsa strong and whole again.”

“I’ll do anything to make Nomsa well again,” Lesego said.

“I know you will, sweetie. It’s just that…”

“What is it, Mom?” Lesego said softly.

There was a noise at the back door and before either of them could speak Zanele walked in.

“Good morning, Mrs Seoke,” Zanele said cheerfully.

“Morning,” she replied in a gruff voice. She didn’t seem at all happy to see Zanele. “Lesego is ready now. Aren’t you, sweetie?”

“Is Nomsa up yet? I’d like to say hello to her.”

“Nomsa is asleep. So hurry up both of you and get off to school quickly.” Mrs Seoke picked up Lesego’s school bag and handed her a box of food for her midday snack.

She all but pushed them out of the door.

“Bye Mom,” Lesego said, but her mother had already closed the door.

As soon as Lesego could not see her house anymore she suddenly stopped walking. She looked at her friend and burst into tears.

“What’s wrong?” Zanele asked, as she put her arms around her friend.

“It’s bad enough that Nomsa is sick, but why does Mom have to take all her anger and frustration out on me?”

“People act differently when someone in the family is sick. Some people don’t like to talk about whatever is the matter with them.”

“So Mom’s way is to treat me badly?”

“I suppose so,” Zanele smiled and shook her head.

“How do you know all this anyway, Zanele?”

“I actually read an article about it in the O Magazine not so long ago.” Zanele was a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey, the American talk show host.

“We have library class first period today,” Zanele said, as they turned into the school gates.

The two friends had just sat down when Mrs Moloi, the librarian, walked in. The teenagers had been encouraged to read more so they had regular library sessions now. Mrs Moloi also gave them talks on sex education and other topics that were important to young people.

Then Lesego noticed Mpho giving her strange looks and start whispering something to the girl next to her. Mary glanced at Lesego and looked away. It was clear that whatever Mpho said to her was making her uncomfortable.

Lesego had never liked Mpho. When they played sport Mpho always pushed the other teenagers around and hurt them deliberately. Once she had even put her foot out and tripped Baeti causing her to fall heavily on the concrete. Mpho was always spreading nasty gossip around about people.

Lesego glanced across at the book Zanele was reading. It was a book about HIV and Aids. Lesego shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. For the life of her she could not understand why her friend would want to read such a book. Lesego didn’t like to think about diseases like Aids.

Once again she thought about her sister and began to feel sad again. How long was it going to take before she got better?

Lesego looked up and noticed Mpho grinning and whispering to Mary again. Then she saw Mpho push a piece of folded paper to the girl sitting directly in front of her.

Khosi didn’t look up or even acknowledge the note that had been pushed at her. She sat with her head bent over the book she was reading.

Only a month ago Khosi’s mom had died. It had happened very suddenly.

Lesego now suddenly felt bad that she had barely comforted Khosi when her mother passed away. They were not great friends but Khosi was in all her classes at school. She should have offered her some support.

Khosi didn’t appear to have many friends. Her mother’s death must have grieved her a great deal. Look at how she herself was reacting to her sister’s illness, thought Lesego. There and then she vowed to speak to Khosi. Perhaps Zanele and her could become friends with Khosi.

Soon the bell rang to announce the end of library class. Zanele and Lesego were almost the last students to file out of the library and so they were witnesses to what happened next.

Mpho pushed hard against Tatho who fell against Khosi, who toppled over and dropped her school bag.

“Don’t anybody touch her,” Mpho said with that nasty voice of hers.

Lesego rushed to Khosi’s aid. She noticed tears gather in Khosi’s eyes. She thought of how brave she was. Despite what Mpho had done, Khosi was not going to break down and give Mpho the satisfaction that she obviously craved.

“Her mother died of Aids,” said Mpho loudly. “And I bet she has it too.”


Tell us: Is there still a high level of stigma around HIV and Aids where you live?