It was back in 2010 and I was doing Matric the day it started. After school I was walking the four-kilometre road back home. I’d trudged that same gravel road for 11 years but today I was elated.
I had received my first quarter report card and had aced all my subjects. It felt like I was gliding that road with my worn out Toughees. I couldn’t feel my steps. I couldn’t feel the harsh sun’s rays stabbing my face, making it bleed endless sweat. And I couldn’t hear a word my friend Themba was saying, until he slapped my shoulder with the back of his hand.
“Sbu, I’m talking to you!” said Themba.
“I’m listening,” I replied, while still deep in my daydream of one day driving a fancy Mercedes Benz like most of the doctors I’d seen. I wanted to study medicine – and with a report like the one I held in my hand that dream was within sight.
“No, Sbu. Your mind is far away. You haven’t heard a word I have said since we walked out of the school gates,” Themba said.
“I’m sorry,” I said and turned to look at him.
“I was asking if you think you can also get straight As in the final exams, like you just did in this first term.”
I thought about it for a second. “Yeah, for sure. I’m about to study two times as much as I was doing all along. Then I’ll study three times as much in the third term and four times as much in the fourth!”
Themba smiled. “You know you’re approaching insanity at 120 km/h, right?”
“Come on, Themba.”
“Seriously, Sbu. If studying too much doesn’t take you to insanity, witchcraft will. This is Ulundi, boy. You have to be careful,” he said.
I smiled and shook my head. Although I had done the work, getting straight As as a kid raised in Ulundi still seemed like I was overachieving. Sometimes it scared me when people said I was going to go crazy from studying too much. But the thought of being bewitched by someone in the area because I excelled in school never bothered me at all – until later that night.
Grandma had raised me to understand that God was more powerful than any witch.
I lived in the Nkonjeni area of Ulundi, near Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s home. I’d pass by his house every day on my way to and from school. Years back, the vast, flat lands of Ulundi were used for farming, but by 2010 people had stopped farming. Those vast lands had become fields of overgrown grass.
My heart breakdanced with excitement when my grandma’s RDP house appeared in the distance. The report card in my bag was a step closer to building her a big house, like the ones some of our neighbours had. It had become culture for people who grow up in Ulundi to go to Johannesburg or Durban to work, and return to build their families beautiful houses.
“Sbu!” Themba shouted, which gave me the impression that it wasn’t the first time he had been trying to get my attention again.
“Sho,” I snapped out of yet another daydream.
I turned to find Themba a few steps behind me, next to the footpath that led to his home.
“You see? You are already starting to go crazy.” Themba pointed at me and made a circling motion on the side of his head with his index finger.
“I’m sorry, Themba. What were you saying?”
“I said greet Gogo for me. And Sbu, please make sure you don’t forget that thing, okay?”
I patted my pockets before I remembered that the ‘thing’ he was talking about was in my bag with my report card. I smiled and gave Themba a thumbs-up.
Our neighbour, Gogo Khumalo, was outside removing laundry from the drying line when I passed. She lived alone in her RDP house. Rumour had it that as a young lady she was a housewife – until she poisoned her lawyer husband to get his life-insurance money. After doing that, Gogo Khumalo lived a fancy life in her big Richards Bay house. She drove a fancy car and took her three kids to the best schools. But that didn’t last.
Years later, after the money was long gone, she tried to poison her son, who was then a police officer. Her children knew that their father had died from food poisoning but had never believed the rumours that it was their mother who had done it. That was, until her son caught her while she was sprinkling rat poison on his food. Her denials and attempts to guilt trip him for accusing her of such came to a halt when he asked her to eat the food or let him take it for inspection. Instead of arresting his own mother, he asked her to leave and never come back.
“Good afternoon, Gogo Khumalo,” I greeted with a smile. She didn’t even look in my direction.
Grandma had told me that Gogo Khumalo was deaf and short sighted; that’s why she never answered any greetings or made friends. But everyone else in our area believed that she was not friendly because she was a hateful witch.
“No way Sbusiso! This is not right!” Grandma put her hand over her mouth. Tears had instantly filled her eyes as she looked at the As on my report card.
“What’s not right, Gogo?” I sat down next to her on her bed, with a huge smile on my face.
“You’re too smart. Your mother would–” She tilted her face up and sucked in air through her teeth. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought she had bumped her little toe on a table leg.
“What’s wrong, Gogo?” I rubbed her back.
“When your mother, Nosipho got sick she … she just couldn’t forgive herself.” Grandma wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her self-knitted sweater. “She was smart too but …”
“I’m listening, Gogo,” I said, as soon as she paused. I didn’t know anything about my parents, besides that they died when I was very young. Now I was about to find out – on this day of all days – when I felt elated about my results.
Grandma looked at me; her stare brimmed with concern. I imagined she was gauging if I was finally old enough to hear the truth about my parents. I sat up straight and put on a serious face. A smile tried to come alive on her face but she didn’t fund it with the necessary energy.
After short consideration, Grandma took a deep breath and looked away saying, “You already know that your mother died from AIDS,” she said. “She was a good girl, very smart, but she made some bad decisions.”
Tell us: Could the extreme rumours about Mrs Khumalo being a family murderer be true? If so, how has she escaped the law?