Abongile heard the voices scream his name from the street, multiple times. The screams were rapidly getting closer and closer. He answered, called back, from the window of the small room he shared with his younger twin sisters: “What you want?”

“Abongile and your friends! Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare make a noise in my house!” his mother shouted from the kitchen.

He shushed the excitement and impatience now at the window. Lutho, Siphenathi and Avela – Abongile’s friends – started speaking in exaggerated, low whispers, words intertwined with each other like multi-coloured gummy worms.

“There are people being chased! Hurry up Abo mfethu–”

“Everyone from Ntlazane Street – even my mother, Lutho’s uncle, Ta Fix. I’m telling you, everyone is chasing them. If they catch even one–”

“C’mon AB! What are you doing?”

Abongile was already lying on his stomach scrambling for his shoes under the bed. He looked up and saw that his friends had peeled the curtain back from the outside and were all looking at him like a three-headed monster, their faces pressed up against the burglar guard. He ran out of the house, hoping his mother would remain a silent blur in his peripheral vision in the kitchen.

Heyi, Abongile! Where do you think you’re going?” his mother asked.

He was supposed to be helping her with the cooking – an internship, the beginning of an end.

Already on Saturday mornings he was responsible for making the breakfast. Variations of eggs, burgers and viennas. Then, straight after washing the dishes, there would be a proper clean-up of the kitchen: not just sweeping the floor where the twins ate, but mopping the tiles, a damp cloth on the kitchen table and cupboards. After that she would find some odd chore for him to do. His father would help her as well, for example suddenly realising the grass was growing too long and needed cutting with the machine.

He knew with quiet anxiety that the time he spent outside the yard with his friends was steadily and knowingly being nibbled at by his parents, specifically by his mother, like rats on clothing. He could already see the holes, hear the voracious chatter.

It had started with the squeals of surprise his mother got into the habit of making whenever he came home from a soccer match and such. Pretending as if dusk hadn’t always been his time of coming home.

Then came the complaints: how she was so tired from a full day’s worth of work. She had select phrases that she repeated daily, like mantras. Sayings such as: ‘Yhoo hayi, but I’m so tired,’ and ‘Abongile, this whole time you came back from school, you’ve been playing in the street. You don’t even think to sweep up around the house.’

Her personal favourite was reminding him of the virtues of his older cousin, who she knew he particularly looked up to, but who was a whole six years older than his 12.

“That time Phumlani cleans, cooks, does his homework without being asked to by his mother when he comes from school. But I wonder when you will grow up my child?”

She spoke her mantras with quiet sighs but their house was so small that, even in the living room with the TV on, he heard her. Undressing from her work clothes into her home clothes. He already knew the silent pause, before swollen feet were slipped into slippers as she got back up.

Then she’d spend most late afternoons in the kitchen where she devised supper, and little chores to keep him in the house until the twins came back from playing, until dusk; until his father’s return from work.

***

Tell us: Why might Abongile’s mother want to keep him home more?