The flat in Joburg was in the city centre, just a three block walk from the hotel where my mother worked. Our flat was on the tenth floor. It was nice enough, I suppose. It had a small balcony at the back where you could sit and look down on the city. I had my own bedroom and my mother bought me all new furniture for it: a nice wide double bed and a chest of drawers with a big mirror. She even bought me a lime-coloured bean bag seat, something I’d been asking for forever. On the surface everything looked almost like it was perfect. But it wasn’t.

I felt like a dark cloud had lowered over my life. I cried into my pillow at night, missing Mmoloki and Mighty. I missed the trees and the grass and the river. I wondered what was happening at home. I wondered if the eggs our best hen was sitting on had hatched. I wondered if Lady missed me and was waiting at her gate whinnying for me to come and take her for a ride. I wondered what Mmoloki was doing at school.

Joburg seemed to be covered over completely. There were the roads and the pavements, and every other square centimetre had buildings. There were trees, but like me they seemed to be struggling to get a breath. Everything was so close and crowded. People were everywhere, making noise. Cars raced here and there, always hooting. Music played from different corners, each sound cancelling the other out. When you looked up, you could only see little patches of sky, their shapes decided by the tall buildings. Sometimes I wanted to run and run and never look back at this terrible place.

Three days after we arrived, my mother took me to my new school. It was only seven blocks away, an easy walk. It was a tall, red brick building called St Anthony’s High School. My old school only had 300 students altogether, for Grade 8 up to matric. This new school had 2574 students – 2575 with me. I was just another child for the teachers to push through the syllabus. I was just one face in a huge crowd of noisy faces.

And the kids were so different from those at home in Nokeng. Some had tattoos, others had piercings in their noses or eyebrows, or even in their tongues. They spoke back to teachers and the teachers acted like it was OK. I couldn’t figure out anything in this crowded place. I was sure I’d never be able to learn here.

At lunch each day, I bought food from the tuck shop and tried to find a place to sit outside. There was a bench under a tree, near the back of the school, by the football pitch. I often found it empty. After eating I’d lie back on the bench and look at the murky sky between the green leaves. I’d pretend I was at home. I’d try to convince myself that Mighty was asleep next to the bench and soon I’d stand up and we’d walk back home to milk the cows or collect eggs from the hens or walk by Mmoloki’s house and see what she was up to. And then the bell would ring and I’d stand up and be right back in Joburg and my horrible life.

* * * * *

One good thing was that my mother bought me my own computer and, though Mmoloki’s mother wouldn’t allow her to download Skype, we were able to chat on Facebook. It wasn’t the best but it was something, something I looked forward to all day.

Hey M, what’s up?

Hi Baleka! Saw Mighty today at your grandfather’s shop. He seems to be fitting right in, acts like he owns the place.

So how’s school there in the Big City?

Crap. What about there? Is Mma Modise killing you in additional maths?

Of course.☹ It looks like the matric dance is going to be next month. I’m getting excited.

Maybe I should come for it?

Won’t you have one in Joburg?

Sure, but that’s not my school.

Yeah, I guess so. Listen Ma’s calling me, we’ll talk tomorrow, OK Baleka?

OK. Night!


I lay back on my bed, upset. I searched my brain for the reason why I felt so troubled. Was it that Mighty was apparently getting on fine without me? Or was it that already Mmoloki saw me as not being part of the high school in Nokeng? She acted liked I was crazy to think about going to the matric dance there. Where am I supposed to go? I thought miserably. That was – is really – my school, not this noisy mad house I go to now. Is Mmoloki changing? Or am I being oversensitive?


Tell us what you think: Is Mmoloki forgetting about Baleka already?