Bhekani lights a torch with the embers of a cooking fire outside. He heads to the cooking area, where he finds his parents sitting around a dying fire.
“Just the person I want to see. We were just talking about you,” says his father.
“Is everything alright, Baba?”
“My son, the king sent a messenger to us earlier. Our great king has given us a date for the wedding. Tomorrow we will start lobola negotiations,” says his father with a proud smile.
“Baba, can I voice my opinion in all of this?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What’s the use of getting married to someone you don’t love, Baba?”
“Bhekani, you are old enough now. Stop acting like a child. Grow up!”
“Listen to your father, my boy,” says MaKhuzwayo.
“Are you also taking Baba’s side, Mama? You should be on my side!”
“I don’t understand what your problem is, Bhekani. Thobile is a very beautiful girl,” says MaKhuzwayo.
“How many times must I say that I don’t want her, Mama?” shouts Bhekani.
“Don’t you dare shout at your mother!” his father warns. “Show some respect and do what we say. Stop arguing with us! We are your parents!”
“That’s true, Baba. Bhekani has become very rude. I don’t know what has gotten into him.”
“You have spoiled this boy too much. Just look at how he speaks back at us!”
Bhekani doesn’t say another word. He rushes to his hut and cries. It’s not in his character to argue with his parents but today he couldn’t restrain himself. He had to take a stand. He wipes away his tears, gets up and walks outside.
It is a dark moonless night. There is no space for fear in his mind because he is thinking about how to tell Delani that he is going to get married to Princess Thobile. In no time he has reached the Ngwempisi River. He takes the footpath that leads to Delani’s home.
He stands a distance from Delani’s hut. There’s no light on the windows. He can hear Delani’s laughter coming from the hut that is used for cooking. He wishes for this happiness that is in the Mkhize household. His smile quickly turns to worry because he realises he is here to break Delani’s heart.
An hour passes while Bhekani is standing in the cold waiting for Delani to come out of the cooking hut. In this hour he tries to think of the best way to tell Delani that he is about to get married to Princess Thobile.
“Good night, see you in the morning,” says Delani to the other members of his family.
He walks over to his hut. Bhekani follows close behind.
“I’m so happy to see you, my love,” says Delani as they hug. “Why is your body so cold, Bhekani?”
“I was standing outside waiting for you to come down from the cooking hut.”
Delani clicks his tongue. “That’s bad. I’m so sorry, my love. Is everything alright?”
“Not at all, my love,” says Bhekani shyly.
“Now I’m scared. What’s wrong?”
“Tell me, my love. I’m listening.”
“I’m getting married to Thobile. I tried to refuse and stand my ground but I just couldn’t do it.”
Delani begins to tremble. Tears well up in his eyes. “What? So it means all this time when you said you love me you were lying to me?” he whispers.
Bhekani shakes his head fervently. “No, Delani. You know that I love you. Please understand that I don’t love Thobile,” he pleads.
“What exactly do you want me to understand? You want me to understand that you are going to get married and have a wife?”
“But we will continue with our relationship. Our relationship won’t end. To the world we will pretend as if we are friends.”
Delani stares at him. “Bhekani do you even hear what you are saying to me?”
“I’m sorry, my love.”
Bhekani tries to take Delani’s hand, but he pulls it away.
“Stop saying the word love! It is clear to me that you don’t know what it means!”
“Don’t say that, Delani. My heart breaks when you speak like that.”
“And mine doesn’t break?”
“Delani, it’s my father who wants me to get married to Thobile. He and the king arranged it when we were born.”
“That’s all fine and well. Just tell him you don’t want to marry Thobile. He should marry her if he loves her so much!” Delani hisses.
“Delani, I can’t argue with my father because he will cast a curse on me.”
“So you think I won’t cast a curse on you if you break my heart? Get out, right now!”
Bhekani starts to cry, tears streaming down his face. “I’m sorry, Delani.”
“I said leave!” Delani says, then push Bhekani outside.
Bhekani begs Delani to let him in. But he refuses. Bhekani stands outside the entrance, the curtain over the entrance between them.
“Please, Delani, let’s talk about this,” he pleads.
But all his efforts are to no avail. He presses his ear to the wall and taps on it. He is only answered by faint sniffling coming from inside the hut. His heart breaks. He pleads for another hour before he eventually leaves. It’s like he is carrying the world on his shoulders as he heads home. All possibility of a joyful life has simply evaporated. He is going to get married to someone he doesn’t love.
He doesn’t light a torch when he gets in his hut. He lies awake in the dark. The pictures in his thoughts grow crisp. It hurts him deeply to see Delani so upset. Maybe after a day or two they can sit down and talk. Maybe then things will get back to how they were.
He hears footsteps outside his room.
“Bhekani, have something to eat before you sleep,” says MaKhuzwayo.
“I’m not hungry, Mama.”
“You are not hungry? Where did you eat?”
Bhekani doesn’t answer.
“Alright, my boy. I’ll see you in the morning.”
It takes a long time before he eventually sleeps. In his dream he is with Delani, by the river. They are feeding honey to each other. Bhekani heads to a nearby tree to pee. When he comes back he finds Delani in a pool of blood. His throat has been cut from ear to ear.
Bhekani wakes up drenched in sweat. He opens the hanging in the doorway to let the moonlight in. Then he kneels down to pray.
Tell us: What do you think will happen next?