It was dark when she finally arrived from work. She had two bottles of fresh milk and a tin of soup with her.
We ate the heated soup soon afterwards and my mom and Siya each drank one of the bottles of beer. When he opened a second and then a third bottle, my mom said in a low voice: ‘Not tonight, please! It’s his first night…’
The man who called himself my mother’s husband looked irritated; but he put the fourth bottle back in the cupboard. My mother then prepared their bed for the night. I was wondering where I was supposed to sleep. My mom looked at Siya, but he just shook his head. She put one of the blankets down on the old carpet.
‘You will sleep on the floor, Mbu… if you get cold we can give you another blanket.’
I should not have gone to sleep during the day, since I was much too wide awake now. First the baby fell asleep; shortly afterwards, I could hear the deep snoring of the man and then my mother’s lighter snores. I lay listening to the sounds from outside; so many sounds… barking dogs… shouting people in a shebeen somewhere… the hooting of cars far away. I just couldn’t fall asleep. I also did not want to dream again. The carpet had a bad smell and was wet close to the wall.
I counted the days until school would start. I was in Grade 5 now and, thanks to Mrs Naki, I was not afraid of any subjects in class. Aside from the factory job, my mom was also doing the washing for some neighbours in exchange for small amounts of money or food. Just before the holidays ended, she brought home a used school uniform that was almost my size.
‘In a few months it will fit you perfectly,’ she said. I was grateful indeed that she had received the uniform, just in time, through one of her laundry jobs.
I’d been back at home for almost two weeks now and I’d started to accept that my mother and this man were drinking every evening. They did not go to bed without being totally drunk. Sometimes they were joined by neighbours who also drank and made a lot of noise. If they had no booze left in the cupboard, they went to other people or to one of the shebeens.
I felt sure that this man had accepted my return only because I looked after Anam whenever I could. I was normally the one who put her to bed and made her last bottle of the day. Anam was incredibly sweet… she had a smile like a star in the night. I could not understand why she was always smiling, whereas I had always been crying as a baby…
Tell us what you think: How does alcohol affect families?