I fell asleep on her back and only woke up again when there was a strong light all around us. It was such a bright white room that at first I could hardly see anything. When my eyes got more used to the light, I realised that this must be the hospital. I don’t remember much about the rest of that evening. And I don’t know how we got back to Masizakhe.

The next morning, my brother had a huge white bandage around his arm and all the other kids looked at him with admiration. Mavusi told them: ‘The dog bit off my arm but the doctor sewed it back again . . .’ The other kids nodded their heads. Yes, we had some dangerous dogs that sometimes became very fierce. But the dogs were also beaten all the time . . . and they were hungry like us.

Sometimes I liked the dogs, especially the puppies. Once, I even brought a puppy home. But my mom just grabbed the puppy by its neck and threw it through the open door back into the street. ‘Uphambene – are you crazy, Mbu?’ was all she said. I felt so sorry for that baby dog. I remember how sweet it was with its big black eyes like buttons, its tiny wagging tail and funny long ears.

When some of the other boys started school at our local primary school, our mom said to my brother: ‘Linda, Mavusi – you must wait! You will go next year . . . you have to look after your brother.’ Mavusi never complained. But I saw that he was sad that he could not go to school. A year later our auntie insisted that he should go and gave him the used uniform of one of her older boys.

Although I missed Mavusi during the day, I was so proud of him. What a big boy he was – and how smart he looked in his uniform of green and black. Almost like a man! ‘Haybo – no,’ he smiled, ‘I am just Grade 1!’ But to me he was big now. Not a small kid like me. While he was at school, I dreamt that one day I would also go to school. I thought that school must be a magical place, because it was only allowed for the older ones and they received magical powers at school. For example, my brother showed me papers with small black signs on them. These signs did not make any sense to me. They did not show a door or a window, but my brother pointed to one and said: ‘This means ucango – door!’ He pointed to another line of signs and said: ‘This means ifestile – window!’ I did not understand and thought that he must have had a certain initiation of the traditional kind. But when he asked me, ‘Uyaqonda – do you understand?’ I nodded my head. Of course.


My childhood ended sometime after my fifth birthday, around the end of Grade 2 for Mavusi. Without any warning, my mother said to us one hot morning in January: ‘Mavusi, you stay here with Gogo . . .’ Gogo was the old relative who sometimes used to look after us in Masizakhe. To me, my mother said: ‘Siya eKapa – we are going to Cape Town . . .’ Long ago: The baby I never was Nobody will ever kill me

It was the first time I opened my mouth in objection: ‘Hayi, Mama – please let me stay with Mavusi!’ She looked at me in surprise but pretended that she did not hear my words. ‘We leave at noon by bus . . .’

Much later I understood that she could not find any job anywhere in Graaff Reinet. Maybe also because of her drinking. In the bus, she said to another passenger: ‘It’s easy to get a job in iKapa!’

I’ve never forgotten how Mavusi came with us to the bus station. And how he stood there when the bus left. As if he was frozen. When I waved my hand, he did not wave back. He just stood there without a movement and became smaller and smaller the longer I looked back at him. Then the bus made a turn, and Mavusi disappeared.

This time, I was not crying. But it was hard not to. I bit on my lips until I could taste blood.

Tell us what you think: In what ways do you think Mbu’s life will be different in Cape Town?