But mom did not come back soon, as I was expecting. Actually, she did not return the whole morning. The sun was high by now and the heat in the closed shack almost unbearable. It must have been around late morning when I felt the need to make a wee. First, I tried to ignore it but the need became stronger and stronger. I was convinced that my mother would become angry if I pee’d inside the shack. At the same time, I was afraid to call for help, since the old neighbour had been so unfriendly the day before.

Finally, I tried to open the door from the inside myself. But it was a strong lock, and although the door was wobbling, I could not make it open. Eventually I could not hold my wee in a second longer and pissed all over myself.

It was then that I started crying, although I had promised my mom that I would never cry in the new place. I felt so ashamed about myself. I was sweating and stinking and it was just so hot.

Maybe my mom had had an accident? Or somebody had robbed her of the rest of the money with which she had planned to pay the rent? I started to panic then, because I missed my older brother Mavusi so much.

Much later, I heard some heavy footsteps coming closer. ‘Mom?’ I asked in a low voice.

But then somebody started banging on the door: bang, bang, bang – three times.

I did not dare to make a sound. Who was banging so violently against the door?

Vula ucango . . . open the door!’ a male voice demanded. And again, more banging.

I put all my courage together and responded: ‘Uxolo – sorry, I can’t. My mom is gone . . .’

I heard men talking to each other outside. Then they disappeared. And I kept waiting . . .

It was afternoon when my mom returned. She had no food with her.

She was so drunk that she did not even notice the bad smell in the shack. I ran out to the tap and drank and drank, as much as I could. Water helps when you are hungry. I knew that. But I also knew it never helps for long. The hunger always returns. Even worse.

That evening, I found something in a rubbish bin, close to our yard. I don’t want to call it food. But I ate it. There are moments in life when you eat anything. Very bad moments.


Life in the new place was not much different from the old place. Each day my mom went out looking for work. I stayed behind with the other children in the yard. She no longer locked me into the shack, because we knew the neighbours now. The uncle who owned the yard was a nice man. I found out that he was my mother’s brother. Sometimes he helped out with food. If it wasn’t for that we would have starved.

Then, once again, there was hope in this new place.

It was about two weeks after our arrival when mom came home one day very excited: ‘Enkosi Thixo – thank God! I found a cleaning job not far from here . . . I can start tomorrow!’

The rest of that day she spent washing all our clothes with powder she had borrowed from the wife of the uncle. She hung everything carefully in the sun and watched over it to make sure nobody could steal anything.

The next evening, she brought home some fresh fruit and even a small piece of chicken. ‘All from this kind family . . . They even promised us some furniture,’ she told me.

And indeed, at the end of the week, an umlungu, a white man, brought mom home in a bakkie and unloaded a used mattress, two chairs and a camping table. ‘Is this your son?’ the man asked.

Ewe – yes!’ my mom answered. ‘This is Mbu. He will go to school soon . . .’

I tried to look big, so that he would believe my mom. But I did not dare to say a word.

That evening, we sat on the two chairs and there was more food than ever before, set out on the small camping table. I asked my mom: ‘Can I really go to school?’

Ndiya kuthembisa – I promise!’ she said.

And she really kept her promise. In fact, it was the only promise she ever made to me in her life. So, whatever you might think about my mom, at least she was always honest, despite all her other failings.

Tell us what you think: How do you think Mbu’s life will change when he goes to school? Have you experienced very bad moments like Mbu?