In the hospital ward Thabo stares at me in silence. He’s waiting. He thinks I’m not done telling my story.

“That’s it,” I shrug, smiling.

“I don’t understand,” says Thabo, confused.

“Which part?” I say gently.

“I thought you were about to try and convince me that witchcraft doesn’t exist.”

“I’m Zulu, Thabo, and I grew up in Ulundi. The fact that I’m a doctor now doesn’t mean I didn’t believe in curses then.

“But it was the herbal medicine that MaNgubane gave me that soothed my stomach. A lot of herbal medicines can help with things like cramps. But what you have is appendicitis and it’s more serious than my stomach cramps. What you need is to have it out. I know that when your mind believes something it works to find proof of what it believes.

“But I wasn’t cursed back then. I stopped the ritual and I got better with medicine for stomach cramps, not curses. The nightmares I had were probably Matric stress, and the stomach pain was probably not a big deal, but my belief turned it into something more serious.”

Thabo squints in deep thought.

“But doctor, what if we spend time and money on the surgery only for this sickness to come back?” Thabo says.

“It won’t. We’ll remove the part that’s causing the problem and the pain will be gone forever.” I sit back on my chair to hint conclusion. “Just call your father and tell him you want to try the surgery and then I’ll do the rest.”

Thabo nods. “Please lend me your phone, doctor.”

Thabo talks to his father and then he hands the phone to me. The father still sounds unsure, so I ask him to just come to the hospital. The conversation runs better when we talk face-to-face, and I can show him the evidence on the scans. Finally he agrees to the surgery.

“But doctor, aren’t there risks?” Thabo’s father asks as I wheel Thabo out of the ward down to the rooms where he will get an anaesthetic before surgery.

I smile. “Relax, sir. There’s nothing you should worry about. Your son is going to be okay. I promise.”

He smiles back as he holds his son’s hand and squeezes it.

I smile at the memory of that Matric year and how I got through it all. How I passed my exams so well that I am here today helping a boy, a boy that used to be me.


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