MaNgubane’s bundles were halfway finished when we approached the June exams, but I wasn’t excited. I still hadn’t adapted to the cold nights and sleepy days. I couldn’t adapt to not being the smartest student in class. I couldn’t adapt to living a terrible life just because it pleased the only person I loved.

Of course, I was also afraid of what would happen to me if I stopped, but I was more worried about my grandma.

After a month and a half of doing that ritual and watching my grades decline, I finally told Grandma I didn’t want to do the ritual anymore.

“No, Sbusiso, no!” Grandma shook her head as she walked out, leaving me behind in her bedroom.

“Look, Gogo. Is this me?” I followed her with the Physics test where I’d gotten 48%. “Isn’t this what you were afraid of? The ritual is supposed to help but because of doing it, I’m always tired and can’t concentrate. The dream was about me not succeeding. The ritual was meant to counter that. But I’ve been doing the ritual and my grades are only getting worse. I’m failing. Look at this; I’m failing.”

“I can see, Sbusiso, but if you stop doing the ritual it’ll be worse! What we need to do is go to MaNgubane and tell her what is happening!”

“What? That’s stupid, Gogo. What I need to do is just stu–”

“Sbusiso!” Grandma shouted and slapped me. “How dare you speak to me like that?”

The side of my face where she had slapped me burned. I rubbed it with my hand and stared at Grandma. She was breathing heavily and her arm looked like it was about to launch another slap. But her face didn’t wear just anger; it also wore fear and confusion.

“You need to trust me, Gogo.” Tears rolled from my eyes.

“Trust you to call me stupid? Huh? Is that what I need to trust you to do, Sbusiso?” Tears crawled down her face too.

Since I was trying to hold back the tears my body needed to let out, I hyperventilated instead. “I … I won’t let … I won’t let you down, Gogo. And God won’t let us down,” I managed to gasp out through frequent breaths.

Grandma covered her face with her hands and wept. I hugged her and also wept.

“I know you love me, Gogo. I know you want the best for us. I beg you to please trust God one more time.”

“Why me? Why should I suffer like this? Will my life ever be easy?” she cried.

“You have me, Gogo. God gave you me, Mom gave you me. I need you to trust and believe that I am the answer to your prayers,” I said and held her tighter.

After us crying together for a few minutes, Grandma pushed me away and hurried to the stove. “See? I’m burning food now because of you and your drama.”

I laughed. I didn’t know Grandma knew an expression as hip as ‘your drama’.

Later we said our nightly prayer at nine. Then I went to my room, studied until 11 and slept. Though Grandma had not responded to my request of no longer doing the ritual I believed she wouldn’t wake me at 12 – and she didn’t. I still remember how refreshed I felt when she woke me up at five the next morning. I hadn’t had any nightmare, but Grandma didn’t believe me at first. I think she continued to sleep with her ears open for my screams for the next few nights, to make sure I wasn’t having the nightmares.

I did what I’d told Themba I’d do; I studied twice as hard. Mr Mahaye was proud when my grades picked up – he kept telling me I had made the right decision. Grandma still couldn’t help but ask me every day how school was and if I was feeling okay; her unease was transparent. School was great for me and I felt confident that I’d make it through the June exams all the way to the finals.

But I only wrote two of the June exams before I fell ill to what I first thought was just a stomach bug.


Tell us: Should Sbu rather just do everything to please his Grandma? Does she know best what is going on?