After about an hour of calming the irritable Enkosi down, he finally fell asleep in my arms. I was still slowly  pacing up and down with him, trying to make sure that he fell into deep sleep. Uncle Thabo walked into the kitchen. “Aah, he’s so peaceful” he proudly said. I silently went to put the baby to bed, in my room and changed into my sleepwear too. I didn’t feel like facing Uncle Thabo, so I decided to jump into bed too, next to Enkosi. About two hours later, he woke up and started crying again.

He cried the whole night, and I tried every trick in the book to calm him down, with no luck. When my alarm went off at 6am, I was still up from the previous night, but Enkosi had just fallen asleep. Uncle Thabo knocked on my door. “Mandy, open up, it’s me” he said. Annoyed, I got up and went to open for him. “Mandy, good morning” he said as he gently pushed me to the side and walked into my room. “Morning” I mumbled under my breath. He walked in and went to stand next to my bed. “Oh, the little man is asleep” he said. I nodded, even though he wasn’t looking at me. He gently brushed the boy’s head. “How can I help you?” I asked. He turned to look at me, while his hand was still on the boy’s head. “Oh yes..” He removed his hand from the boy’s head. “Look, I want you to go and do some groceries. I will leave the money on the kitchen table when I’m leaving” he said. “I’m going to school, and after school I will look after the baby, so I can’t go to town” I said, folding my arms. He smiled. “Okay, I will see what I can do” he said, as he patted my back and walked out. It was too late to sleep, so I took my school uniform out and started ironing. When I was done, I took a bath and got dressed in my school uniform. Uncle Thabo had already gone to work.

I woke the baby up and bathed him. Enkosi was a happy child, always laughing and giggling, but that morning he was different. He was always crying, or just plain off-mood. After bathing him, I dressed him up and tried to feed him, but he just wouldn’t eat. I was running late, so I packed his lunchbox and took him to daycare, and I also went to school. The first period was Maths, and I couldn’t concentrate, no matter how hard I tried. Instead of calculating numbers, I was calculating how my mother must have been killed. “Mandiphumle!” I heard someone saying my name, but it felt like the voice was echoing from a distance. “Mandiphumle Soldati!!” The voice yelled louder and I snapped out of my thoughts. It was my Maths teacher, banging his fist against my desk. I blinked rapidly and looked at him. “Care to share your thoughts with us?” he sarcastically suggested. “I’m sorry, Sir” I said, looking down. “You’re sorry? For what?” he asked and some of my classmates laughed. “For not paying attention to the lesson” I explained. “Stand up” he commanded and I got up almost immediately. He ordered me to leave his classroom, and I did. The rest of my day got worse as more teachers seemed offended by my lack of concentration, so much that I found myself in the principal’s office.

She was an old woman, with long Grey hair and big-framed spectacles.  “Soldati, what is going on?” she asked.  I looked down and fiddled with my fingers. “Soldati, I asked you a qestion” she said. I looked at her. “No.. Nothing is going on, ma’am” I said. “What do you mean by that? So your teachers are complaining for nothing?” she asked again. I shook my head. “No, ma’am” I answered the question. She got so annoyed and threatened to call my mother and report my behaviour. Hearing her mention my mother broke my heart. I couldn’t help but break into tears. “Soldati, what is going on?” she asked again. I wanted to tell her that nothing was going on, but I could not say anything. All I could do was cry helplessly. She tried calling my mother, but her phone obviously reached her voicemail. I came up with a quick lie and told her that I had a terrible headache. She then gave me pain killers and allowed me to go home. I got home and took a quick nap, before fetching the baby from daycare. I was so drained, both physically and emotionally. Enkosi was asleep when I arrived, so I carried him home.

I got home and put him to bed, and went to the ktchen to prepare dinner. I then realized that we had gone out of groceries, even baby food, so I waited for Uncle Thabo. I was certain that he had done the grocery shopping. He arrived later, carrying nothing. I was in the lounge with Enkosi when Uncle Thabo arrived. He greeted, in the happiest of moods. “Didn’t you go grocery shopping? We have ran out of everything” I said. He looked at me and smiled. “I asked you to go grocery shopping earlier, and you told me about a whole lot of crap” he said, still looking at me. “It wasn’t crap. I had to go to school and also take care of Enkosi afterwards” I responded. He shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, well. I didn’t buy anything” he said. “What are we going to eat for supper?” I asked. He laughed out loud. “I don’t know. All I know is that I used my money, so I don’t have any money left”  he said. What he was saying really hurt me, but what hurt me the most was the fact that he found his actions funny. Enkosi was hungry, and he was crying non-stop. Uncle Thabo went to his room and left me confused and panicking. I made him a bottle of Rooibos tea, hoping he would fall asleep, but he didn’t. Taking care of him in that state was so exhausting, especially because I was not in he right emotional space. I needed time to mourn my mother’s death, time to condition my heart for the new situation.

Enkosi finally fell asleep, giving me time to catch up on my sleep. I could feel my insides turning from hunger, but I forced myself to sleep. Like the previous night, Enkosi started crying again. I got up and went to make him a bottle of Rooibos tea again, with the last teabag in the house. I held him and rested his head on my chest as he sucked on his tea. “Ssssh baby, everything will be okay. Please be a good boy and be strong” I whispered. I  didn’t even know what I was saying, because Enkosi was too young to understand what was going on around him.

The following morning, Enkosi woke me up. “Mandy, Enko is hungry” he said, repeatedly as he shook me until I woke up. He was starting to cry, because I wasn’t waking up. “Ssshh, don’t cry. I will make you something to eat” I said as I got up and rushed to the kitchen.

Uncle Thabo walked in, as I was desperately looking for something to make for the hungry baby. I turned to look at him. “Uncle, please give me some money. I need to buy mealie-meal, to prepare porridge for…” he didn’t even wait for me to finish my sentence. “Mandiphumle, I don’t have money. You refused to go grocery shopping when I had money, now I don’t have it” he said. I could feel tears threatening my eyes. “Uncle, please. The baby is hungry and he has been crying since last night” I begged. He ignored me and left for work. There was nothing to prepare for the baby, and I was out of my mind with frustration.

I could not even go to the neighbours and ask for help, because we didn’t have that kind of a relationship with our neighbours. Uncle Thabo hated it when my mother talked to the neighbours, and so she stopped. People thought we were unfriendly and full of ourselves- not knowing that  being isolated from the community wasn’t my mother’s choice.

I went to the main bedroom and looked for Enkosi’s medication. I found his paracetamol and gave him three full table spoons. I was drugging him because I wanted him to fall asleep, so I could have time to think and come up with a plan.  Just as I was still trying to come up with a plan, someone knocked on the back door. I went to open. Olwethu, my friend, was standing there.

“Olwethu, hey” I said, as I made way for her to walk in. “Mandy, how are you? Why are your eyes so swollen?” she asked. How was I? Sad, heartbroken, confused, miserable, frustrated- that’s how I was. “I’m fine, my friend” I said, cracking a faint smile. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m fine” she placed her school bag on the kitchen table. “Why aren’t you ready for school?” she asked. “Arg, I don’t feel like going to school” I said. She gave me that “I don’t believe you” look. “Seriously, I’ve had  a rough night. You know, with Enkosi being sleepless and all” I explained. She nodded. “Get ready then, I will wait for you” she suggested. I tried coming up with various excuses why I couldn’t go to school, but she wouldn’t back down.

“Olwethu, leave me alone” I screamed. “Leave me alone, okay? I don’t have time for school” I screamed again, with tears flowing down my cheeks. “What do you mean you don’t have time for school? You’re one of the top students at school. You have even..” I couldn’t listen to any more of that, so I yelled “shut up!!” and she stopped talking. “Just.. shut up! You don’t know what I’m going through here. You don’t know what I’m faced with. Go to school and leave me alone!” I yelled.  She tried to remind me of the passionate girl that I was, with big dreams and a bright future ahead of her. Little did she know that the passionate and ambitious little girl died the minute she realized that she was all alone, with a baby to look after- and an empty spirited girl, with nothing but a pile of problems and a truck-load of worries was born.