Oct/Nov 2008  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature

Mokana Children's Home

by Sheila Killian

There is a girl standing there beside the blue-painted wall. She wears a yellow jumper and has pink ribbons in her hair and a deadly virus in her blood. She's playing with a yo-yo that came free in my daughter's Happy Meal last week. Her mother is dying. Her father is dead. Her sister is on the game in Cape Town, and that's where she'll be sent, when it's time, unless this new dormitory gets built.

I go inside and talk to the director about client turnover, which means how long these children last. Her office is full of paper. The map on the wall shows the town within the township. I've never seen it drawn like that. My map only shows the streets with English names. I've been here five months now, and still I'm clueless. The director looks tired—her hair is long and grey, her blue eyes watery. I want to leave. I want to pick up my daughter early from after-school and take her for an ice-cream treat. I stay, though, in the hot little office, and try to follow the paper trail.

Later I try to tell my daughter about the girl in the yellow jumper.

"What is her name?"

I never asked.

Last week a thief came to our back garden. The same one as before, I suppose, the one who stole the boys' clothes from the line. Some kid from over the hill. This time I'd stupidly left the key in the padlocked door of the shed. He got away with the bike, some cricket things, two footballs. He took the key away with him but left the padlock open, hanging off the latch. I've been keeping it in my pocket. I hold it in the palm of my hand sometimes. Part of me wants to snap it shut, take away its last bit of usefulness. Or maybe I'll leave it out for him tonight, for when he comes back, so he can keep his new bike safe in this town of thieves. I can't carry it around forever.