The Coward

By Drum Digital
11 July 2014

Eli’s got a lot on his shoulders: matric, his siblings, money . . . and impressing his girlfriend

No matter how difficult things were. On the way home, Eli spotted Bokamoso. He was on the street with his naughty friends. “Bokamoso! You come here right now,” Eli shouted in his sternest voice. “Yes, I want you home. I want you to water the vegetable garden. And then you must do your homework. Do not argue.” Bokamoso glared at Eli, but he obeyed and that made Eli happy. Yes, somehow he would find a way to keep Bokamoso out of trouble. But the shouting had woken Everloved. Now he was crying in Eli’s arms, and then Eli started worrying about supper – he would have to start cooking the minute he got home. And then he started worrying about Thandi and her tight school dress all over again. And then there was his maths homework to do, too. He had to finish it before Friday. Eli sighed a deep, deep sigh as he turned the corner. He could see their house just up ahead. There was always so much to worry about. Sometimes he wished he could just run away from everything.

He wished he could just forget about his three siblings and all their needs and demands. And then he heard Thandi crying. What was wrong? He rushed the rest of the way, with baby Everloved bouncing in his arms. And there was Thandi, sitting at the door and sobbing. She had a bandage around her hand. “Thandi, what is it? What happened to you?” Eli shouted. He always shouted when he was worried. Thandi looked tearfully up at him. “I was trying to boil the water. I wanted to help make the supper, but then the water spilled over my hand.” Eli was yelling at his sister now, “I told you, Thandi! How many times have I told you? Don’t ever touch the stove. And who bandaged your hand up?” “Your girlfriend. Masego.” Eli couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Masego had been here? That meant she had seen inside their house. She had seen how little they had, and how untidy it was! Eli and Thandi tried to keep the house clean and neat. But it was so hard. It was all so terribly hard! “But why did Masego come here?” demanded Eli. “She brought me a school dress,” said Thandi. “She brought me a bigger one that her sister is finished with now. It fits nicely, Eli. It’s comfortable.” But now Eli was filled with shame.

Masego would think he was a beggar! She would not want to be his girlfriend, not a moment longer. That was the moment Eli decided: he was going to train-surf. Yes! Tomorrow, right after school. Somehow, he must get the courage to go up onto the train’s roof. He just had to show Masego he was worth something. Masego had to see that he wasn’t a loser and a coward. He had to make Masego proud and make her eyes shine like Wame’s. And then Eli heard a noise in the kitchen. Masego was still there, standing at the stove, stirring the pot. “Hi, Eli,” she said when she saw him. “The food is ready now. And I must go home.”Eli thought he would surely die of shame. He put Everloved down on the floor beside Thandi. He told Bokamoso to go and water the vegetables. And then he walked out of the house with Masego.

Should he tell her now that tomorrow he would train-surf – just for her? Would that make up for all the shameful things she had seen today? But oh, he was still so afraid. Would he really, really have the courage? What if he got hurt? Or killed? He knew of two boys who had been electrocuted when they went train-surfing. What if he got electrocuted himself? What would happen to his sister and brothers then? Who would keep the family together?

At the front gate Eli stood awkwardly next to Masego. He really liked her. She was so special. He had to find a way to keep her as his girlfriend. Masego took his hands in hers, looked up at him and said, “Eli, this must be so hard for you: to look after your brothers and your sister, to work every weekend, to still keep doing all your schoolwork for matric. How do you do it? How on Earth do you manage? “I think you are the bravest person in the whole world, Eli. Braver than anyone else I know. Your mother would be proud of your courage. And Eli, I am so proud to be your girlfriend. Truly.” Eli looked down into Masego’s beautiful eyes. And yes, they were shining.

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