Just then a well-built man in his twenties walked past. He was dressed in the latest fashion jeans with a matching jacket.
‘Hey, Samuel!’ called the man with the angry eyes.
Samuel turned and when he recognised the man, his face broke into a broad smile.
‘Beka!’ he exclaimed, ‘When did you get out?’
They clasped each other’s hands and Beka gave a low, ugly laugh. ‘A week ago,’ he replied. ‘I need your help this afternoon. Will you take some packages?’
‘Yes,’ Samuel readily agreed. ‘What’s in it for me?’
‘A hundred rand!’
‘I’m looking for somewhere to stay,’ said Beka.
‘How about my place?’ suggested Samuel.
‘Fine, I’ll move in tonight.’
Nokwazi and Impuku, their eyes wide, watched Beka and Samuel walk to a large blue car parked alongside the pavement. Beka opened the boot and took out two shopping bags, handing one to Samuel.
‘Hey you!’ Samuel shouted, pointing to Nokwazi. ‘You come with me. I’ll give you five rand.’
Nokwazi’s excitement was dampened by an uneasy feeling that had come over him. He tried to shake it off by thinking about what he could buy with the money. After all, he was not doing anything wrong, was he?
He glanced along at Impuku who was grinning broadly. He gave Nokwazi the thumps-up sign before turning and following Beka. Impuku had always been like that, lighthearted and mischievous.
Nokwazi walked with Samuel across the road and behind a bus terminus.
‘Stand on the corner facing me,’ ordered Samuel, pointing to a sharp turn in the road. ‘Whistle and lift up your right hand if you see anyone suspicious. Some of the police don’t wear uniforms.’
Nokwazi did as he was told but he was trembling from fear. What if he made a mistake, he wondered. He sensed that Beka and Samuel were dangerous. He looked around wildly but nobody appeared to be interested in him.
Slowly he relaxed. Every now and again he stole a glance at Samuel, who had a steady stream of customers, mostly young men and women. Now and again boys of thirteen and fourteen, casting furtive glances about them, approached Samuel, made their purchases and hurried away.
An hour or so later, much to Nokwazi’s relief, Samuel walked over and handed him a five rand note. ‘Be here again tomorrow,’ he hissed and left.
Nokwazi went to find Impuku who was waiting for him at the place where Beka had found them. When he saw Nokwazi he grinned and held up a five rand note. Nokwazi took his own money out of his pocket and waved it in front of Impuku’s face.
Chattering excitedly, the boys walked into the large supermarket in the complex. Nokwazi bought a packet of mealie meal and a few scraps of meat. Impuku bought a piece of meat and a loaf of fresh white bread. They pooled the rest of their money and bought a small bar of chocolate. Nokwazi still had fifty cents left which he put safely into his pocket.
On the way home they shared the chocolate. It tasted so good, so very good. Nokwazi licked his lips and smiled contently to himself. Life was going to improve, of that he was sure.
‘What do you think they were selling in those small packets?’ Nokwazi asked, biting his lip thoughtfully.
‘Well….it could be anything,’ Impuku said hesitantly. ‘They had plenty customers.’ Then he slapped Nokwazi on the back and added brightly, ‘Man, who cares anyway? We have a job.’
Nokwazi was silent for a moment and then he nodded.
‘Yes, Impuku, we have a job.’
Soon he and Impuku went their separate ways and Nokwazi excitedly hurried home, clutching his parcel close to him.
With bated breath he pushed open the door of the shanty. Makulu was sitting on a mat on the cement floor. Somehow she looked smaller and more wrinkled than usual to Nokwazi. Phandla was cradled on her lap.
The room was very small. Against one wall was an old double bed, with a coir mattress flattened from constant use. On the opposite side was a small table and two chairs. On the table was a primus stove and a parafin lamp. A large box, with a curtain draped around it, stood in a corner.
‘Where have you been?’ cried Phinda, climbing down slowly from Makhulu’s lap.
Makhulu shook her head. She looked tired and her face was sad.
‘I’ve a job in the afternoons!’ Nokwazi almost shouted and he proudly pushed the packet into Makhulu’s hands. ‘This is for supper.’
Makhulu looked at him in bewilderment. Slowly she opened the packet and looked inside. She gasped and her face lit up with pleasure.
‘Hauw!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’ll get the supper ready. We are all very hungry.’ She rose to her feet and, with tears in her eyes, hugged Nokwazi. ‘You’re a good boy,’ she said, a sob in her voice.
Suddenly Nokwazi felt good, relieved too. Why should his family suffer so much when he could help them?
Later, when his mother arrived home, she could not believe her eyes when she saw the tasty meal that awaited her. When Nokwazi told her he had bought the food, she looked at him steadily and asked, ‘Did you steal, my son?’
‘No, Mama, I did not steal. I have a job in the afternoons,’ he assured her.
‘What kind of job?’ Mama wanted to know.
‘Oh,’ he said offhandedly, ‘I help a man to sell his wares at the bus terminus.’ Inspiration came to him and he quickly added, ‘He’s a hawker.’
She smiled with relief and soon they were eating heartily.
Gateway is published by Paul Edmund Norman on the first day of each month. Hosting is by Flying Porcupine at www.flyingporcupine.com - and web design by Gateway. Submitting to Gateway: Basically, all you need do is e-mail it along and I'll consider it - it can be any length, if it's very long I'll serialise it, if it's medium-length I'll put it in as a novella, if it's a short story or a feature article it will go in as it comes. Payment is zero, I'm afraid, as I don't make any money from Gateway, I do it all for fun! For Advertising rates in Gateway please contact me at Should you be kind enough to want to send me books to review, please contact me by e-mail and I will gladly forward you my home address. Meanwhile, here's how to contact me: