“Khwezi! You left the water boiling!”

I’m in trouble again.

“What did I tell you about the stove?” This, his voice, before I’ve even reached the kitchen.

“That I mustn’t ever–”

I do not finish because my ear is stinging. He has hit me. I gasp. I try not to cry. He screams at me if I cry.

“The potatoes will be overcooked now.”

“I’m sorry.”

No response. We sit at the table. There is a burn mark on it. Also, the stain of where someone left their coffee.

I have to pour him beer.

“Beer’s warm.”

I don’t answer.

“I said, ‘Beer’s warm’.”

“It’s because you didn’t put it back in the fridge,” I say, trying not to sound like I am correcting him. He hates that too.

His eyes go weird. “Are you saying I done something wrong?” He watches, listens carefully for my answer.

“No,” I say, after a pause.

He softens. I sigh. He is my uncle and I hate him. His name is Piko. He hates me too. He’s told me. He also told me that I’m stupid. I’m not. But when someone tells you the same thing over and over, sometimes you start to believe it.

My name is Khwezi. My mother was Bulelwa Tshibolane. My father was Jabulani. Both of them died in a fire that swept through our township four years ago. It started in one place and then jumped to the next shack, then jumped and jumped, until sixty houses were burning.

I lost everything that day. I lost the people who loved me. Nobody loves me now. I don’t know if I even love me. If you have nobody to love you, it’s hard to love yourself.

After dinner, he watches TV. He just sits there, smoking, like a zombie. I’ve never seen him smile or laugh at the TV once. Most people will talk a bit when they watch a show. They’ll say, ‘I can’t believe it!’ if their team does something wrong. Or they’ll laugh if someone makes a joke.

He watches it as if it’s a wall. He gives me the creeps.

Sometimes he talks on the phone. I can never understand the conversation. Sometimes when he’s on the phone he goes to his room and shuts the door, like he doesn’t want me to hear.

I don’t bother asking if it’s for me. It never is.


Tell us what you think: What role does Khwezi play in her uncle’s life?