Bhekani runs down the hill at great speed. He follows the foot path until he reaches the Ngwempisi River. He is out of breath as he kneels to drink water on the river’s edge. He sees his clear reflection on the water as he drinks. The worry on his face is as crisp in the water. How will he even start to explain to Delani what is happening?
He knows he has to be the first to tell him. He quickly splashes his face with water and walks on, deep in thought. He is still battling with his thoughts as he enters the yard of the Mkhize family. Delani’s mother is sweeping the yard by the cooking hut.
“Hello, Ma,” says Bhekani.
“Hello, Bhekani,” says Delani’s mother.
“How are you, Ma?”
“We are well, my boy. It’s just this sun that is boiling us.”
“Yes, it is blazing hot today.”
“Even children are afraid to go out to play. They scream when you send them out of the house because the ground is so hot it burns the soles of their feet!” She puts down the broom to gather some firewood for the cooking fire.
“Is Delani home, Ma?”
“Yes. He is taking a nap in his hut.”
“Thanks. Let me go see him.”
Bhekani heads for Delani’s hut. He finds Delani on his mat. Bhekani kneels down next to him and kisses him. Delani opens his eyes to see the love of his life in front of him.
“Bhekani! I was dreaming about you!” says Delani.
“Lower your voice, Delani. Your mother will hear us, she is outside getting firewood,” says Bhekani.
“She is cooking already in this heat? Ma never wants to rest. You look worried, my love. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong, my love. I think I got too much of the sun while I was coming over to see you.”
“Come sleep next to me and rest. I’ll get you something to drink,” says Delani.
As Delani leans against a tree in the yard he spots a chameleon on the trunk of the tree. He screams at the top of his lungs. His mother rushes from the cooking fire.
“Delani! What kind of a man are you? Scared of a chameleon? At your age?” says his mother.
“It startled me, Mama!” says Delani, out of breath.
“I wonder how you’ll fare in stick fighting with other men if you are still scared of a little chameleon?”
“Mama, I want nothing to do with stick fighting. Just the thought of hurting someone else disgusts me.”
“All the young men in our area like stick fighting. How can you not like it? I wonder what is going on with you, Delani?”
“Mama, can we please not talk about this?”
In the cooking hut, he fetches cool water from a jug and pours it into two cups. He heads to his hut with the cups in his hands. He finds Bhekani sound asleep. He watches him and smiles as visions of possibilities flood his mind – he dreams that one day they will find freedom to live as they wish. They have hidden their love for each other from everyone around them for too many years.
Homosexuality is a taboo subject in the Ntuli kingdom. If people are found to be homosexual they are sentenced to death or exiled together with their families from the land. Delani is always begging Bhekani to run away with him to a place where they can live freely, without fear of being persecuted for their sexuality. But Bhekani doesn’t want to leave.
Delani draws the hanging over the doorway and cuddles next to Bhekani. He lies on his back and watches spiders chasing each other on the rafters of his hut. He wishes for the freedom of these spiders. He daydreams of freedom – just the two of them swimming, kissing and laughing in the Ngwempisi River. But the heat stops his daydreaming. He is sweating buckets. He pushes away the hanging in the doorway and grabs a cloth hanging from a nail on the wall. He gently wipes the sweat off Bhekani’s face. Bhekani awakens. His eyelashes flutter a few times until he fully opens his eyes.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“Not too long. I made the mistake of covering the doorway in this heat which made you sweat and wake up.”
“Why did you cover it?”
“I wanted us to have privacy so I could kiss you.”
“I love you, Delani,” says Bhekani as he breaks into a smile.
“I love you, Bhekani. Have you heard that big competition for Princess Thobile’s hand in marriage has come to an end? The rumour mill says the king will now make his choice public on who will marry Thobile.”
“Who told you? Who has been chosen?”
Bhekani’s chest is pounding. He is afraid news that he will marry Princess Thobile has reached Delani before he has had the chance to tell him first.
“What’s wrong, my love? You look worried.”
“No I’m not worried. I was just asking,” says Bhekani.
“I haven’t heard the man’s name but I’ll find out soon enough.”
“Who is this rumour mill that always gives you the freshest gossip?”
“Habe! I’ll never reveal my source!”
“Don’t you trust me, my love?”
“I trust you,” says Delani smiling. “Enough about other people, let’s concentrate on our relationship.”
Delani draws the hanging in the doorway closed. They cuddle and kiss. They look into each other’s eyes for a long time. Their hearts are at peace in the small circle of freedom inside the hut.
Tell us: What do you think the future holds for their relationship?