Autumn Leaves Change Colour
(A novel Draft)
He was peeping at her from underneath the blanket. She stood in front of the curtain that covered the bedroom doorway, left arm on her waist, the right holding a grass sweep. A rat lay still on the pile of dust at her feet, looking dead.
‘Wake up!’ she shouted at him. Her brow was furrowed. ‘Do you go around with witches at night now to sleep until so late?’
The rat leapt up and scampered for the rectangle of bright sunlight that was the open back door. The grass sweep flew - it hit the rat and catapulted it out into the blaze. She strode to the door and looked out.
He saw her shrug her shoulders, then she turned around, picked up the sweep, and her bare feet stepped towards him. Her toes, coated with dust, were large and splayed out, as if they wanted to individually flee from the feet as the rat had done from her. Reaching him, she leaned down, and yanked the blanket away. She took one look at him and her cheeks, half in shadow from the daylight behind her, seemed to swell.
‘That is why!’ her voice was accusing. ‘And everyday too!’
He scrambled up. Dressed in only a pair of rumpled khakhi short trousers, he was eyeing the sweep carefully. The shorts had a wet ring on the right side.
MaNdlovu threw the blanket back over him, so it hung over his head and down his body like a hood for some obscure ritual.
‘Go and hang everything outside!’ The tail of the grass sweep thwacked his head under the blanket, and the blanket suddenly collapsed down. Outlined underneath it was the rigid back of Sipho’s kneeling form.
MaNdlovu stared. The form remained kneeling. Suddenly, the blanket was thrown back, and Sipho’s face reappeared. It was now covered in sweat.
MaNdlovu’s mouth opened wide, and the sweep fell at her feet. Both of Sipho’s hands gripped his throat, and his mouth was also as wide open as his mother’s was, but in a soundless scream, his face tightly drawn. Then, slowly, his body arched backwards, at an impossible angle, as if his hands gripping his throat were pushing his body backwards, and it was resisting.
MaNdlovu’s hands darted out towards him, but they missed him, and his body thudded back on the pile of blankets on the floor, and lay still. He was looking upwards, his mouth still wide open, his hands still gripping his throat, now as if he was choking himself. Then his waist arched upwards. His eyes were now up-pended, showing the whites.
Fear filled maNdlovu’s eyes. ‘Mayibabo!’ she wailed. She touched her head in helpless confusion, then her bosom, then her head again, then she darted into the bedroom, flinging the curtain aside and leaving it billowing softly, as if it had a life of its own. Before the billows had settled, the curtain was flung aside again and maNdlovu re-appeared, now a small plastic sachet in her hand right hand. She knelt beside Sipho. He was now lying flat on the blankets, his mouth and eyes closed, and his naked chest moving slowly up and down in sleep.
With shaking fingers, she pinched snuff from the sachet and sprinkled it over him - just as the nyanga had instructed them a year back when the problem had started occurring.
‘The elders want to come out through him,’ the nyanga, a young man immaculately dressed in an expensive suit and tie, quite like a medical doctor, had declared. ‘And if they do, I tell you he will lose his mind forever.’
‘We hear you!’ maNdlovu and Ngwenya had chorused in reply, sitting side by side on a goat skin.
The nyanga had consulted his bones, scattered on the floor between his low wood stool and his clients. He had pointed at one, which had scattered away from the rest. ‘See, he is a special child,’ he had gone on. ‘And that has its rewards. Even some animals give birth and then immediately die. That is their reward too from the animal spirit. Are you prepared to hear what your ancestors want to say to the people?’
‘We only have two children,’ Ngwenya had said. ‘And all our hopes reside on Sipho, who is the youngest.’
‘We can’t have him losing his mind,’ maNdlovu had put in. ‘Already the other one has no mind. Why don’t they speak through him if it’s that important?’
‘And what would they want to tell us, and through a ten year old boy, poor as we are?’ Ngwenya had asked.
The nyanga had regarded Ngwenya with bright probing eyes. ‘Don’t underestimate your ancestors,’ he had said. ‘What ever it is, it has a bearing on the future of the country.’
‘If it’s for the country then no!’ maNdlovu had declared, emphatically. ‘Why don’t they speak through the leader if that is the case!’
A wry grin had flitted across the nyanga’ lips. ‘Maybe he is no longer making them,’ he had said, almost under his breath.