“Gogo, can I ask now?” We were walking down the gravel road, heading home. Our steps on the gravel sounded like two people chewing crunchy chips with their mouths closed.

Grandma looked at me and smiled. She had a few beads of sweat on the tip of her nose. “Yes, ask Sbusiso.”

“Do you trust God?”

“Of course I do,” she said.

“Then why are you panicking? My whole life I’ve never seen you use muthi or express any fear of witchcraft.”

“I know, Sbusiso,” she wiped her face with her striped handkerchief. “I’ve been told many times by my customers and ladies at the stokvel that I would never succeed for as long as I lived next to a witch. But I believed that God would guard us … and I still believe so. It’s just that I can’t sit back and wait as you keep having such nightmares. What if you don’t wake up from one of them? I know I should trust God, but you’re all I have Sbusiso, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you’re okay.”

I spent the remainder of my day studying, making sure I stayed ahead of everyone who had gone to school that day. Grandma sat before her sewing machine and completed a curtain she had started a few days before. One of her customers came in the evening to collect two dresses. She paid R200. I was glad to see Grandma recover some of the money she’d spent at MaNgubane’s.

Grandma had helped me take my ARVs until it became something I did automatically. She intended to do the same with the ritual MaNgubane had prescribed.

“I just hope it will keep the nightmares away. I’m tired of seeing you suffer like that,” Grandma said as we ate supper.

After eating, we did our nightly prayer and Grandma didn’t sound as doubtful as she had been the night before. I decided to not to go to sleep at 11 like I usually did, and waited for midnight. Grandma accompanied me outside to make sure I did the ritual properly.

I sprayed the contents of the first bucket around, making sure that the parts closest to the house were done first and more thoroughly than the rest of our big yard. Dipping a broom in a bucket with the muthi and swinging it all over the yard didn’t seem like much work until I actually did it. I filled another bucket with water and put a pinch of the chopped tree bark from each bundle. I carried that bucket to the back of our house. I took off all my clothes besides my underwear. Grandma assisted me to empty the bucket over my head, and so rinse my body with muthi.

It was one thing to stand naked outside at midnight and have the cold wind scratch my skin until I felt like it was peeling off. But when that cold water actually hit the top of my head and screeched down my body it felt like I was about to die. I shivered violently and tried to catch my breath. Grandma quickly covered me with the big towel she had kept folded and never used – until the night I’d had the first nightmare.

“Go inside; I’ll bring your clothes,” Grandma said.

I ran inside, dried myself with the towel in the space of a few seconds, and jumped into my bed. Grandma brought me another blanket but I still shivered until I fell asleep.

After what felt like just a minute later, Grandma woke me up.

“It’s 3am, Sbusiso. Wake up!” she shook me.

“I can’t, Gogo. I’m going to school tomorrow. Please let me sleep,” I protested.

“You have to do the ritual, Sbusiso. You just have to.”

I rose from the bed and did the whole thing again. It took me a little over 30 minutes. I slept for just over an hour before grandma woke me up to get ready for school.

“You didn’t scream or sweat, Sbusiso.” Grandma had a smile of relief on her face. “How do you feel?”

“I’m okay.” I faked a smile but I was really tired from doing the ritual.

I felt like a sleepy zombie as I walked to school. The thought that I was going to have to live like that for as long as those bundles had muthi in them exhausted me completely.

***

Tell us what you think: Is the muthi working?