No-one in the village likes me. It could just be my imagination but I’m pretty sure that not one person has even greeted me since I arrived here three weeks ago. Bambatha says they are just not used to outsiders coming in: Especially not a woman scientist who drives her bakkie around the village at all times of the day and night.
Bambatha allows me to live on his smallholding. He is unmarried and an orphan. He has no siblings and his relatives live on the other side of the village so it’s very quiet here. During the day, there are young men who come to help with the cattle and the goats. There are women, who Bambatha says are his cousins, who come to cook and clean for him too but they never speak to me. I mostly spend my time in the maize fields anyway. I’ve set up my experiment with a small patch of maize, in the bottom left corner of the field. It’s the side nearest to the river and Bambatha tells me that at this time of year, the water is usually so high that it can easily sweep a grown man away and under the thrashing rapids. In the height of a drought though, the river can be crossed with no danger.
When Bambatha told me this, I noticed that he looked sad. I could tell that this is not the way he thinks it should be. Me? Well, I’m a city girl. More than a city girl, I’m a scientist. I don’t waste time thinking about how things should or shouldn’t be.
So much of the village life seems confusing to me. Some of the rituals sound familiar but a lot of it I don’t understand. Bambatha tries to explain but I just don’t believe in their superstitions and rituals.
This morning, Bambatha walks me down to the maize field. I spent half of last night getting my three computers to run reports on the data captured from the plants three weeks ago. Something is definitely wrong with them but I haven’t been able to isolate exactly what yet.
“You need to tell us what is happening with the maize, Dr Makana,” Bambatha says while we walk.
“I think I’ll know more in a few days,” I say. “I’m just not sure what exactly the problem is … I wasn’t the first person to invent this technology, you know. The Americans beat me to that. But if I can refine it, if I can prove that my method works … it could change everything.”
Bambatha smiles at me like I’m a crazy person. I haven’t shown him any of my work yet. I sigh. “I think I’ll just have to show you what I mean,” I say.
We reach the field and I place my bag on the ground. I pull out my gloves and the small bottle of pesticide that I have brought with me.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m showing you what I do. Listen, the key to this method – before – was changing the DNA of the plant while it was still a seed. I improved on that. In my experiment, I have changed the DNA of a plant that is already planted and growing in the soil,” I say, as I kneel next to a plant. “I’m making it so that plants can tell farmers what is wrong with them. This bottle is a very strong pesticide. It is meant to kill insects that eat the crops but this type is too strong and starts to eat away at the plants. It’s banned now but I can use a little to show you what I mean.”
I unscrew the lid of the bottle and sprinkle a few drops onto the leaves of the plant. After a few seconds the plant’s leaves starts to glow an unnatural blue.
“How … how are you doing that?” Bambatha asks.
“I told you. I’ve changed the plants so that they react when something threatens them. They can sense that I have put poison on them and they are reacting to warn me.”
I go to my bag again and this time I take out a small device that looks like a microphone, except with a button at the top where you would usually speak into.
“What is that?” Bambatha asks.
“It’s a light sensor device. I ‘plant’ it in the ground with the crop and it sends data on how the plants are doing back to my laptop. I’ve used a few of them since I arrived but I’m hoping that adding some more to different areas of the field will yield more data.”
Bambatha kneels down in front of the plant too as it starts to glow stronger. He turns to me and smiles genuinely.
“I knew that all I needed was a genius like you to help me,” he says.
As he speaks, I feel dizzy. With my face so close to his, for the first time I recognise him. In my dreams, Bambatha is the man dying every night. His name is the name I call out as the beast attacks.
It feels like I am going to be sick, and faint at the same time. I push my hands out in front of me to break my fall but I faint backwards instead, hitting my head on a rock, and I fall into the darkness.
Tell us what you think: Why is Nomfundo dreaming about Bambatha?