Father: Where are you?
Tata: Uphi?

Like me, Atie did have parents. I don’t know where his mother was, and I am not sure whether even Atie knew. But he had a father who stayed in a shack in Masonwabe Road with his stepmother and his much younger half brother, Malibongwe.

Sometimes his father disappeared to Capricorn, a mixed township of black and coloured people near to Vrygrond. It’s possible that he also had family there.

Families, families, families. I really don’t know what a family is. Some people say: it is a father, a mother and children. But I hardly know any families like that. I know adults who have split up with their partners and have half families here and half families there–and maybe a quarter family somewhere else. Usually, when a man meets a woman or a woman meets a man, they start with having sex with each other, and, sometimes, they call it love.

Some of them move in together for a while and pretend to be happy. You don’t have to wait long for the day they start arguing. The next step is: they shout. Then they fight. They throw things at each other. Sometimes the men beat the women. Sometimes the women cheat with other men. When men have sex with other women, it’s not called cheating. When men make babies with other women, they mostly don’t care. They don’t care about the babies or the women or themselves–not even about Aids. That’s why you see so many mothers with kids without fathers. Does any of this make sense?

The best family I ever met was one that you might call a ‘child-headed household’: Mrs Naki and her two siblings. The second best is a small Children’s Home with kind childcare workers, most of them young adults and all from Masiphumelele, who look after kids that don’t have anyone to take care of them. But about this place, I will tell you more later.

At the time that I’m speaking about, Atie and I honestly did not know what a family is. Neither of us wanted to marry and have kids, although, of course, there was the challenge that there were some quite attractive girls around. But how to be friends with them? No idea. Maybe sex, yes, when we were a bit older; soon.

But this thing called love, or even having our own family in the future? No idea. One day Atie said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to know how white chicks are in bed? Maybe it’s easier with them.’ That’s the language Atie used; sorry. And, of course, he was always ready to venture into new territory. He loved challenges. For now, it wasn’t a problem for him that his father and stepmother had just split up again after a period of fighting with each other, and that Atie’s dad was staying in Vrygrond most of the time. Atie was used to fending for himself.

Next to their shack, there was a small, empty caravan. ‘This will be our shack, when my dad is not around,’ Atie suggested one evening. We started to fix up the caravan, plugging the holes in the roof with plastic bags. We then collected all kinds of stuff from the rubbish dump to put in it.

But don’t think we had an ugly, stinking place; this caravan became one of the best! Before we brought anything in, we washed and scrubbed it with soap and dried it in the sun. In the end, we had almost everything we needed–a small mattress, a cupboard, even a table.

On top of all that, Atie managed to connect an illegal wire to another illegal wire–and from that day on we even had electricity! That meant: light, music, an old computer, even a small black and white TV. The caravan in Masonwabe Road was a hundred times better than the shack of my mother. I moved away from them permanently, though I missed Anam. Fortunately, by then our Auntie Nompumelelo had also moved into her own shack in our yard and looked after the small ones when my mom and Anam’s father were not around. But I kept worrying about my newborn half brother Aphelele. He was such a tiny little guy, always crying, like me when I was a baby.