No matter what I said to her, she refused to leave. She pulled a chair and sat down. “I’m sorry” I said, sniffing and wiping my tears. “Its okay, my friend” she said. I sniffed again. “Mandy, what is going on? You know you can talk to me, right?” Olwethu asked. No matter how hard I tried to pretend nothing was going on, she wouldn’t let go of the subject.

I pulled a chair  and sat down too. “Uhm..” I cleared my throat. “There’s a lot going on here. I can’t share everything with you, but all you need to know is that I’m now taking care of Enkosi and I am really not coping” I explained. “Where is your mother?” she asked. I felt a huge lump forming on my throat, making it hard for me to talk. I knew Uncle Thabo would kill me if he would find out that I told Olwethu about what happened to my mother. “Uhm, my mother went to a relative’s funeral” I said. “Oh? I thought your mother had no family members” she said. Right there and then, I knew I would trip and fall over my own lies, so I decided to slightly change the subject. “Olwethu, I need a little favour” I said, uncomfortably shifting on my seat. “What?” she asked? I cleared my throat again. “Uhm, could you please help us with some food? Enkosi and I are hungry. He was crying non stop, so I decided to drug him to sleep longer” I said. Her eyes widened and her mouth hung open for a few seconds. “Please don’t judge me, I didn’t know wat else to do” I said. “You drugged your brother?” she asked, making it sound like I was an evil sister.

She looked at her wrist watch. “Oh my word, I’m late. I have to go” she announced. I looked down, deeply disappointed at her reaction. “Mandy, I only have 20 Rands with me, its my lunch money and I will give it to you” she said as she got up and took her school bag from the table. “Thank you so much, my friend. I promise I will pay you back when my mother gets back” I said. That was more like “I will never pay you back” because my mother was never coming back. “Its okay, you really don’t have to pay me back. We are friends, and friends support each other” she politely said. She took out the 20 Rands note and handed it to me. I felt like a simple “thank you” was not enough, but I couldn’t think of any other way to voice out my gratitude. She said her goodbyes and rushed out.

Without wasting any time, I rushed to the shop to buy a small packet of maize meal and milk. Mr Nkomo, the shop owner wasn’t there, and his son was looking after the shop. I walked in and placed my order of the items I came to buy. “Why are you so rude?” he asked. “What do you mean?” I asked too. He smiled. “You walked in here and saw no need to greet me” he explained. I smiled too. “I’m sorry. I just have a lot on my mind” I explained. After making small talk, he gave me my items and I paid up. “See you around” he said as I walked out. I got home and prepared porridge for myself and the baby. While I was busy stiring it up, I heard Enkosi’s loud scream and I ran to the room. I got there and picked him up. I noticed that he wet himself and the bed. “Oh Lord, Enkosi. Why did you wet yourself knowing that we don’t have soap? How am I going to wash these blankets now?” I exclaimed. Being the baby that he was, he laughed and threw his hands in the air. “Dammit!” I shouted as I placed him on the chair and took off the linen from the bed. I lifted my heavy mattress up, in an attempt to take it outside, to dry- but it was too heavy for me. Enkosi started crying, announcing that he was hungry. I lifted the mattress and walked out of the room with it. “Dammit!!” I dropped the mattress  and ran to my pot, which was nearly burning to ashes. I took the pot and removed it from the stove. Because I didn’t cover it with anything, it burnt my fingers. I screamed in agony, but I didn’t drop it to the floor. I knew that dropping the pot would mean no food for us. I gently placed it in a cool place and ran to the tap to run cold water on my burnt fingers. Enkosi walked into the kitchen, and announced that he was hungry. I took out a bowl and dished up for him. The porridge was still hot, so I cooled it off for him by blowing it while I stirred it up. When it was cool, I poured some milk on it and fed him. He ate it like his life depended on it. When he was full, I dished up for myself and ate too. The porridge had nothing but milk, but I ate it like I was eating a meal prepared by the world’s best chef.

After eating, I took the mattress out to dry and cleaned up around the house, bathing the wet Enkosi too with clean water and no soap. Later, I wanted to prepare dinner, but we had only a small potion of maize meal and nothing else. I knew that my family had no relationship with the neighbors, but I  needed to ask for help. I decided to swallow my pride and go to the lady who lived two houses away from our house. I chose her because she stayed alone and she was a church goer. I carried Enkosi and went to the lady’s house.

Her yard was neatly trimmed, with little trees and flowers in her front yard. I knocked several times before she came to open. Her face lightened up when she saw us. “Oh hi, come in” she warmly said, making way for us to walk in. “Hello, ma’am” I greeted. “How are you? Please, sit down” she said. I sat down and Enkosi sat on my lap. “I’m okay thanks, and you?” I responded. “I’m fine” she said as she came to sit next to us. “Ma’am, I know you probably don’t know me, but I know you. I see you every other day when you go to church” I said, and she nodded. “I need your help” I added. Her smile slowly faded away. “What is it? Is everything okay?” she asked. “Uhm.. we are.. Uhh.. We ran out of groceries, and we were wondering if you could help us” I said. She nodded. “Ofcourse, I will help you” she said, getting up from her seat. “What do you need?” she asked. “Just an onion and two tomatoes, please” I said. “Follow me” she said, as she went to the kitchen. I carried Enkosi and followed her to the kitchen. She took out a shopping bag and loaded it with a lot of things- from vegetables, rice, cooking oil, and all the essential household items. I thanked her endlessly, as she gave me R50 on top of everything that she gave me. “Thank you so much, ma’am” I said. She smiled. “Its okay. Your mother is a very kind woman, even though she doesn’t go out often” she said.

I nodded and took the shopping bag from her kitchen counter. “I better get going then” I said, avoiding the subject about my mother.. She walked me out and told me that her door was open whenever we needed her help. I joyfully walked home with Enkosi. When I got home, Uncle Thabo was already home. He was standing in the kitchen, with both his hands in his pockets. “Uncle Thabo, hi” I said. He stared at the shopping bag. “Uh, I went to ask Sis’Thandi to give us some  food, just so we can survive” I explained. “Go and put Enkosi in the lounge and get back here” he commanded. I took the baby to the lounge and switched the TV on for him. When I got back to the kitchen, Uncle Thabo was locking up. He turned to look at me. “Oh, so you went to the neighbors and asked for help” he said. I nodded, smiling. “Sis’Thandi gave us enough food to last us a… ” Before I could finish what I was saying, “shut up” he said, and I tightly pressed my lips together.  He walked up to me. “So the neighbors now know our family business?” he asked. “No, they don’t. I didn’t say much to sis- ” he stopped me again. “I said shut up!” he shouted and I kept quiet. “In my house, people live by my rules. Do you hear me?” I nodded as he got to me and grabbed me by my gown. It was only then that I realized that I was on my sleepwear the whole day. “You think you are smart. Going behind my back and disrespecting me like this” he said as he slapped me across the face. I screamed. “Uncle Thabo, I’m so sorry. I will return the- ” he slapped me again. “Shut up” he shouted. He slapped me for the third time and I felt down. He placed his size 11 boot on my face and squashed my face. I wanted to scream and cry for help, but I knew it was pointless. My mother must have screamed for help before she died, but she was killed anyway. “You think you’re clever? huh?” he asked as he brutally kicked me on my stomach. I couldn’t help but scream, but he didn’t stop. I was lying there, screaming and begging for his mercy, but I could feel his boot hitting hard against my stomach and face. I don’t remember how long the beating lasted, because I zoned out  of consciousness..