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The pain is unremitting and debilitating, but Nkqinqa tries not to let his discomfort show.

He doesn’t want to appear weak in front of the other emerging men.

She looked nine again, the age she was when I’d met her in Seattle and she’d given me a cool, appraising glance over her father’s shoulder.

Later that trip, she’d held both our hands, swinging between us with laughter thrown up to low black clouds.

The Xhosa boys are also circumcised during this time, and most years these schools make headlines because dozens of the boys die during the process. It is customary for the patriarch in a family to send a boy off, but Nkqinqa’s father has not been a part of his life for several years, and three of his uncles are dead.

So a neighbor named Patrick Dakwa has agreed to take responsibility for him.

The next morning, Nkqinqa wakes up confused about where he is or how he got into this white and blue gown.

This school is located in the Eastern Cape province — the country’s poorest.

In the Xhosa culture, the transition into manhood is marked by a month of instruction from elders, who teach the teens how to be a father, a husband.

Life had made her whip-smart and fearless, with flashing eyes the color of the Guadalupe in sunlight. She was starting a new life here, with nothing but us as her anchors. Suddenly I wondered: was this what being a mother was like?

It was easy to forget, sometimes, that she was a child. I couldn’t understand why she would want me to feel so afraid, so helpless, and so very much like a fool. and now she was the one who was scared—scared that she’d ruined everything between us. I thought of the many times in high school that I’d hurt my mother, and how I’d still never doubted her love for me.e’d been separated for a month by the night of the dinner. It was this desperate desire, I think, that made him do what he did: ambush me with his daughter at dinner. I could not teach this child, this girl so quickly becoming a woman, that to stay was always right.

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