When I left for school the following morning, mom was still asleep. Or so she pretended. I was relieved that she had stayed home at least, and assumed she had gone to bed much later, when I was already fast asleep. I did not concentrate well at school that day. To be honest, I have no memory at all of what our teacher did with us in class that morning. On my way home, I was nervous and even ran the last few hundred metres. In what mood would I find my mom

But when I finally entered the shack, my mother was not there. I did not dare to ask any of the neighbours if they knew where she’d gone, and started to clean the house as always. By sunset, mom had still not returned home. My hope faded that she might have been out looking for another job. Finally, it was pitch dark and there was still no sign of her. I went to bed, leaving the door open, in case she had lost her key. But I did not sleep; I was waiting for her. She came at last, when the noise of all the other neighbours had already died down. So it must have been after midnight. I knew from her movements that I could make out in the moonlight, what had happened.

‘Why are you not sleeping, usana lwam – my baby?’ she asked in a high voice, holding herself upright against the door frame. She never called me ‘baby’ when she was sober. A loud laugh came from her direction: ‘All whites are shit…!’ she said hoarsely. ‘Black men are real men!’ I knew that in that state she would not listen to anything I had to say. She threw herself on the ground and started sobbing. I covered her with a blanket. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t, not for a long time.


My wonderful old teacher noticed, as the days went by, how much I had changed. ‘What is going on, Mbu? Every morning you look more tired! Are you not sleeping at all?’ I kept quiet, not wanting the other children to hear my troubles and make fun of me.

She didn’t question me further. But she gave me, from time to time, a sandwich with jam on, as she could see how hungry I was. Even African Salad had run out in our shack. But things got really bad when mom started to stay away all night with men again.

When I begged her to be with me at night, she responded angrily: ‘Yima – stop that, Mbu! Since we don’t have money, I must try to find a decent man to take care of us. What else can I do?’

Tell us what you think: How do you think alcoholism affects families?