Waiting at night
Ukulinda ebusuku

As far as I was concerned, this was the life I had always hoped for: my mom having a job and not drinking. Coming home to me in the evening without other men. Me going to school every morning, even if it was only Grade 1 so far and in an overcrowded container. I even enjoyed cleaning our shack in the afternoons.

And no more hunger, although we almost never ate chicken or fish, let alone real meat. Every day, we had what we called African Salad, which actually is not salad but mealie meal and sour milk. It is not tasty – it really has no taste at all – but the good thing about African Salad is: it can fill your tummy and you do not feel the pain of hunger. I even began to like the ambitious name of this township, one of the poorest among the poor: Masiphumelele. In isiXhosa it means: ‘We will make it’. And I thought, small as I was: I will make it, too! But then everything changed, between one day and the next.


On that day I came home in a happy mood, as our teacher had told us that the whole class would soon go on an outing to the Zip Zap Circus in Cape Town, which was famous because all the performers in it were street kids. These kids were exceptionally good artists. They had performed on TV and even overseas. The nice rumour was that there were two girls from Masi who had made it to fame at the circus. Once or twice a year the circus invited primary classes from some of the townships – and this year Ukhanyo School had been chosen!

As I walked home, I thought about how I would share the good news with my mom that evening. I was sure she would be as happy for me as I was for myself.

When I turned into our yard, I could already see that something strange was happening. Our shack door was wide open. Had somebody tried to break into it?

I ran the rest of the way to our shack – and was shocked to see my mom sitting at the small table with her head bowed, holding her face in both hands. From the shivering of her back I could see that she was sobbing. I entered silently and put a hand on her shoulder: ‘Mom?’

Only now did she notice me. When she turned her face towards me, I saw that tears were running all over her cheeks. She sighed deeply and said in a low voice: ‘Kuphelile – it’s all
over, Mbu! I got fired. They said that I stole something, but I did not…!’

Slowly I realised that my mother had lost her job, and that we would now have, from one day to the next, no money, no food, no nothing. I could not accept what I had just heard: ‘Kodwa … but, Mom, you will find another job! Please, don’t give up now!’

I wasn’t sure whether she had heard me. But finally she responded, in that same horrible, sad, low voice: ‘Ubomi bunzima – life is not good to me, Mbu!’

I wondered why she was talking only about herself and her suffering. I wanted to say: but there is also me! Together we will make it! Don’t give up now, mom! I am so good at school. You did so well working as a domestic with that family…

But it was as if nothing could make my mom return to the path of hope. As though she had read my thoughts, she continued: ‘This is a small place here. They said they will tell everybody that I am dishonest – and that I will never find a job in this area again…!’

Sadly, I poured some sour milk for her and myself. She did not touch hers. She just sat there, until the evening dark came over us. I prepared our blankets for the night.

Lala kakuhle – sleep well, Mom!’ I tried to comfort her. ‘Tomorrow is another day…’

But she was not ready to come to bed. She kept sitting where she was, on her chair, staring into a dark universe of her own. She did not respond to anything I said. I covered myself with a blanket but I did not close my eyes. I was watching her, praying all the time: ‘Please, God, give my mom another job tomorrow…!’

As she still did not relax and I got no sign from God, I started to negotiate: ‘Please, God, give her a job next week. Or at least next month . . . please God!’ And, finally, I prayed: ‘Even if she does not find any job at all, please, God, please, let her not start drinking again! Let her not go out again in the nights…’

Tell us what you think: How do you think Mbu felt when his Mom lost her job?