That night was another one without a roof over my head. And the next day was the first that I was late for school, because I had slept too long under some cardboard sheets on the outskirts of the wetlands. Even worse was that Atie had not washed my uniform from the previous week, so I returned this Monday with dirty clothes and a bad smell on my body.

Our teacher in Grade 8 was Mrs Mhlana, an elderly woman who was always dressed like a lady. Despite her age she wore high heels and a heavy necklace with a gold cross.

She treated all of us with a special respect. ‘You can reach for the stars…’ she’d encourage us, when we were tired or somebody had not done their homework. ‘Don’t accept darkness. God is light and you, as children of God, can touch the light!’

That morning, she’d seen immediately that I was in bad shape. When I entered the classroom, she greeted me as ‘Mister Maloni!’ – and nobody laughed. I bowed my head and mumbled: ‘Sorry, so sorry…’ She continued with the lesson: isiXhosa literature. Modern literature by women like Sindiwe Magona. What a beautiful sound! Usually I loved listening to her reading to us. But this morning, somehow, I could not concentrate.

During the break she asked me to carry her heavy bag, full of books, to the staffroom. When we were far away from the others, she looked at me and said: ‘You are in trouble, Mbu, aren’t you?’ I did not look back at her. With my eyes downcast I answered:

‘No, Mrs Mhlana, all is fine.’


After school I was so hungry that I wasn’t sure how much longer I could resist going back to Longbeach Mall, to one of the big shops; just once more. I managed to keep resisting. But it was hard. I was starving. I lost weight as if I had the dreaded disease. But it was nothing more than hunger that ate at me. Finally, I just couldn’t hold out anymore. I knew that I was on the point of going back to the old ways of getting food without paying.

It was Yamkela who saved me from further trouble. I was on my way back from school when I heard him calling my name from the other side of the busy Pokela Road. We greeted each other and he invited me home with him to have some sandwiches.

I was so hungry that I could hardly control myself and once we were sitting down in their living room, I just ate and ate and ate. I ate so much and so fast that a few minutes later I felt a rush of nausea and just made it to the toilet in time to vomit.

‘You are too skinny, Mbu!’ Yamkela said, as I walked slowly back in from the toilet.

I wanted to apologise to him for my behaviour, but I couldn’t say a word. I could only look at him in deep despair, and would have probably started crying like in old times; but there were no more tears left in me, so I just kept looking at him, like a beaten dog.

Tell us what you think: Have you had a similar experience to Mbu?