Mick Shawyer

© Copyright 2021 by Mick Shawyer


Photo of a girl in a South African township.

Scenty opens with the protagonist at the end of a school day, a thirty-minute walk to an evening cleaning job. Both parents lost, a jobless couch-loving Uncle moves in. Glimpses of township life and sibling affection that will tweak your emotions.

Innocence, known as Scenty by the other pupils, didn’t have time for chattering and clowning on her way home. She went in the other direction, walking to the office block where she cleaned five days a week for a Friday pay packet of R120.

Her mother Nomathemba had passed, changing the thirteen year old’s world forever.

A workshy uncle moved in with two sons, declaring himself head of the house - all three relying on handouts or anything they could steal. There was no time for becoming a teenager, Scenty working before and after school, weekends washing and housework.

Not that she envied girls teetering along the path of early onset puberty. Scenty had no time for boys and their manoeuvres, despite her best friend Daisy’s encouragement. ‘Come on Scenty,’ she would say. ‘We have good fun down by the sheds, smoking and stuff.’

Huh. I'm not smoking and as for stuff I’m not being a baby mummy for anyone.

Almost 9.00pm walking home, bone tired, starving. It wasn’t a safe time for girls to be out, Scenty flitting between the trouble spots and a short cut through the back fence of Q771, the section allotted to her family.

She squeezed past the rondavel, the family cockerel making a short fuss.

Yey,’ and giving him the evil eye - didn’t she share crumbs with him?

The sometimes sticking door opened to her touch. A tart and spicy aroma making her tummy rumble. Would there be any left?

The meaty bones, a once a fortnight meal prepared by a visiting aunt. The only time meat was on the table.

She poked at the debris in the pan, barely a mouthful. Scenty’s fingers gathering up scraps as she turned to the stack of unwashed plates. Licked clean. Her shoulders sagged, I’m done with this, I’m so done with this.

A solitary tear splashed from her chin.

Hey siswami I hid some for you,’ her seven year old sister Zama grinning wider than a mile.

Aii you made me jump.’

Zama worshipped her sister, reaching out, touching her face. ‘Don’t cry Scenty,’ smiling. ‘It’s a big bowl!’

She stretched behind the sink, recovering a bowl filled with rice and meaty bones. Overflowing and warm.

Come on sister,’ Zama leading the way, her foot nudging two cousins sprawled on the couch. ‘Move your bony backsides, make room for someone who works.’

Her glare silenced Zenzele’s grumbles.

There you go sis.’

Scenty looked at the television as she squeezed in, ‘Aaaah not '7 de Laan' again. Can’t we watch Muvhango?’

Waaat?’ Uncle Bheki spluttering. ‘No.’

He scowled at his niece, ‘You can’t come in late, say what we watch.’

I been workin’ Uncle.’

Your tough luck.’

My tough luck?’

Tension filled the room. No one wanted to get in the way of an angry Scenty, especially when she was hungry and tired.

I’m workin’ before and after school to pay the bills while you laze on your fat potato.’

My fat potato?’ his chair creaking as he twisted and the siblings hid their smiles. ‘I’m telling you child, silence or I’m gonna fetch the stick.’

Huh I don’t think, so, that fat potato looks well trapped to me - Scenty wasn’t scared, she couldn’t be bothered with his shenanigans and shrugged. One day she promised herself, one day.

 Zama moved closer. I love my Scenty if he comes near he’ll hafta get by me first.

Innocence gnawed at the bones, hunger pangs subsiding as she scooped up the last of the rice and licked her fingers. Zama encouraging every lick, giggling as her sister burped.

Scenty reached in her school bag, retrieving a mango she’d snaffled from a neighbours tree. My favourite and polishing off the fruit in the twinkling of an eye.

Homework and then bag a space in the bed shared with four siblings and two cousins. She loved education and flew through maths. Innocence rarely dropping below the top two in a class of one hundred pupils.

Twenty minutes later schoolbag under the bed, clothes folded on top.

One morning her pencils and workbook had disappeared and the school wouldn’t let her attend - her good for nothing cousin Zenzele trading her books for a bottle of beer.

Scenty whispered a prayer and climbed in the bed, her sister snuggling up behind her. They giggled about “Fat potato” Uncle Bheki until Scenty drifted off, Zama crooning and stroking her sister’s hair.

Scenty, Scenty. Wake up sis. Time for work.’

It was 4:15 and Scenty scowled - mornings not her thing but the cleaning work brought another R60 a week to the table. She stumbled in the yard, Zama perching on a rickety chair next to the corrugated tin enclosure.

Sis I warmed the water on the ashes,’ leaning over with the many holed bucket. ‘Quick before it gets cold.’

As the water trickled Zama sang, “How great thou art” in a voice as fresh and sunny as the morning sky. It was her sister’s fourteenth birthday.


The author has no formal education but can tell a tale. Self-taught in life, self-taught in writing. Sit next to him on a bus or a park bench and he’ll describe the adventures of something nearby – on the bus a grab handle – in the park a waste bin. A brit residing in South Africa, fishing or cooking when he’s not writing.


Contact Mick
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Another story by Mick

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher