He quickly throws down his bundle of books, removes the only pair of uniform he has, and neatly but hurriedly folds it away. He is not going to wash them; washing will only make them wear out faster. The uniform is only washed once a week, or when it is visibly dirty. He goes out to the shed and picks up his guiding stick. It is a hot afternoon and he has to go out and graze the three cows they have.
Others seem embrassed to talk about it, they say he had a bad "cold". This one makes him more confused. They told him he is too young to be told more, that he will learn more of this disease when he grows older. But he has heard pupils talk about the disease in school, "dont shake hands with such people" they say, but he is too preoccupied with other things to enquire more. He is the man of the house now.
He does not feel the loss of his father, after all he barely knew him. He saw him once a month or sometimes once in three months. Mother told him father is a busy man, who works in the big city and sends them money, but now father is dead, and he is left with five siblings. He is only thirteen but he is the firstborn and the man of the house. He has always been the man of the house.
He grabs his guiding stick and runs to the field. He has to release his mother from her morning shift. See, they take turns. His mother grazes the cattle in the morning while he is at school, and in the afternoon he takes over. He can’t afford to take afternoon classes. The government says education is free now, but that does not make much of a difference. Mother has to go and look for food for their evening meal, which will also be their breakfast. See now, they can’t afford to have all three, or four, or five meals in a day.
In the evening he guides the cattle back to the worn out shed, which is at the brink of falling apart. He makes sure his siblings have eaten first, “they are young,” he convinces himself, as his stomach rumbles and burns, “They need the food more”.
After everyone has gone to sleep he grabs the kerosene lamp they have and goes to a corner. Careful not to disturb the rest with the light. He brings it closer to the pages, he has to remind himself what he had been taught that morning. The boy has a dream and believes in struggling to achieve that dream, he believes he is the only hope for the family, he believes he is the man of the house.
As he blows out the lamp after reading, and as he crawls on to his bed a sisal mat, he considers himself lucky. He knows there are those worse than him. One can’t help wondering how those worse than him survive.