My body felt numb and painful as I lay on the grass, dazed and confused. The rope had broken and released me. I rubbed my neck where it had cut into my skin. And then I saw her, this vision before me. A tall girl was standing at my feet, staring down at me with a stern face. She looked beautiful. Her hair was shaved and she was tall and slender, glowing in the afternoon sun. An angel, I thought, stroking my itching neck as I loosen the rope and pulled it off. My heart melted as our eyes locked. She turned and hurried away with my djembe drum.

I struggled to my feet and stumbled after her, calling. She didn’t turn but I could hear her laughter as she disappeared towards the dark mountains.

I had heard many stories about those mountains and that scared me. I could hear her giggling up ahead as I leant against a tree to catch my breath.

I ran again, thinking about my instrument that she had stolen. When we got to the mountain side, I saw a hut. She disappeared inside. I knocked at the slightly opened door. Gently, I pushed it open with my finger.

She was sitting on a bed, the only furniture in the room, my djembe next to her. I moved two steps towards her. She backed up against the wall, her arms crossed around her long legs. She was shaking with both fear and cold. The hut was as cold as snow.

“I won’t hurt you. I just want my drum,” I pleaded.

Tears shone in her dark eyes, but she said nothing.

“Ssh! Don’t cry. OK! Keep it then … for a while.”

Her white teeth lit the spooky, dark hut as she smiled. There were two burnt pieces of wood, some cigarette butts, and an empty cigarette box in what seemed to be a makeshift fireplace. I went outside and collected some firewood. The sun was about to set when I went back to the hut. The girl was still sitting there, shivering.

I started the fire in silence. Soon the hut got warm. I sat on the edge of the bed, far from her. She put the djembe between her smooth thighs and started to play one of my songs, one that I had uploaded on YouTube. It sounded different though. It was faster. I began to sing, changing the pace to fit the rhythm that she beat out on the drum.

She smiled wider and stood up. Our eyes met and I felt like she could see through me. My sadness disappeared as she started dancing. I joined her. It was easy, as though I had known these moves forever.

Finally, she sat down on the bed and beckoned me to sit next to her. I did. She held my hand gently and said with a smile, “Thank you.” Her voice was as sweet as a honeybird’s. I smiled back, squeezing her hand gently.

“My name is Gift, what’s yours?”

“Tebatšo Lamola. My name is Tebatšo.”

My eyes widened with shock.

“Yes, it’s me. I know people have been looking for me back in the village. I stay here with my grandmother,” she explained, with sad eyes.

“Why didn’t you come back home then? Your father has suffered a stroke because of your disappearance two years ago. As for your mother, she is just like a zombie. I know, I work … worked … for them.”

“Don’t worry about them. They will be fine … soon.”

“No … I don’t think so. Not unless you come back home with me.”

Suddenly, the heavens rumbled. Once, twice, and the rain poured down. I had to go back home with her, I told myself, looking up at the leaking roof.

“It’s fine. We will go there tomorrow,” she paused, gazing at the fire. “I can’t leave without saying goodbye to my grandmother. She has taken care of me all this time.”

I agreed, although I had seen no-one else in or around the hut.

All night we sang and danced to my djembe music, tirelessly. She taught me how to improve my slaps and I listened.

“I feel like this is the longest night ever. Don’t you?”

She didn’t answer, but held both my cheeks with her hands. As she looked deep into my eyes, I saw a man reflected in them. He was waving an okapi knife and shouting.

***

Tell us: What do you think has happened to Gift? Do you think Tebatšo is real?