“Nomfundo! Nomfundo, wake up!”
I open my eyes to see Bambatha’s face come into focus above me. I try to sit up and it feels as though the back of my head has been split open. For a few seconds I can hardly keep my eyes open but then the pain passes and Bambatha helps me to sit up.
“You’re conscious again,” he says. “I should get you some water.”
I nod. Now that I am sitting up, I notice that we are in my rondavel and I am on my bed, but we are not alone. There are seven or eight other people here now too. Most of them look like they are my age or younger except one of them, an old man who sits on the end of my bed. None of them says anything. This just makes me feel even weirder. Bambatha returns with my glass of water.
He hands me the glass and laughs, “You were out for quite some time. I didn’t know if you were going to wake up or not.”
“What do you mean ‘out’? Did I collapse?” I ask.
This time it is the old man who answers my question. “You fainted in the field,” he says.
All I can think to say is, “Oh.” I can’t believe that I fainted. I can’t believe why I fainted either. But as it starts to come back to me, I see the animal attacking Bambatha over and over again in my mind. That is why he looked so familiar to me. I’ve been dreaming of his death for months.
“What did you see in the field?” the old man asks. It is as though he has read my mind.
“Nothing, just the crops,” I lie. He looks at me as though he wants to say something, but only nods.
“I called the village healer to come to you when you didn’t wake up. I carried you to the rondavel and called him. These are the initiates about to complete their ukuthwasa with him. They came as fast as they could,” Bambatha explains.
I turn to them. None of them look like they are initiates, not that I even know what an initiate is meant to look like. Really, they could just be students at the university. They look and dress just like me. I don’t know what I expected.
“Thank you all. You didn’t have to come. I’m fine. I just hit my head on the way down, that’s all.”
“I will give you something for the pain,” the healer says, and stands. He is out of the rondavel before I can even thank him personally.
One of the two young men in the group says, “I know you are lying. You saw something else in that field.”
“There’s nothing I saw in the field that wasn’t the product of my work and of the science behind what Bambatha and I are trying to achieve.”
“You can say it in your fancy ways all you like, but I know what you are doing.”
“With ALPS, we can track the crops, find out what the harvest will be next year … predict how much there will be to eat and to sell. I’m trying to help you – not hurt you.”
The young man opens his mouth to say something but is interrupted before he can even start.
“Hayi! Chasa just leave her alone,” says one of the women initiates. “She says she didn’t see anything.”
Chasa says, “You can forget your training if you want Ayanda, but these strange things this woman brings to the village are dangerous. You’ve heard what Bambatha said about her work. She’s changing the nature of the plants, making them behave abnormally. Our maize shines in the dark because of her!”
Bambatha intervenes, “Chasa, I asked Dr Makana to come to the village. We need help or many of us will starve. I don’t want any more men leaving to try to find work in Joburg. There are no more new mines to go to. We need to feed ourselves and work our land.”
Chasa says, “She will anger the ancestors. This doctor of yours is bringing bad luck to all of us. All of our crops will die if she carries on messing with things that we should not mess with.”
The healer walks back in with a small packet in his hand and Chasa looks as though he is going to stop speaking. But instead he sighs and says, “The old ways had their problems. We did not always have enough for everyone but these were the ways of our fathers, and their fathers, and we cannot just abandon them now. We must hold on to our ways.”
Without waiting for anyone to respond, Chasa leaves. The healer hands Bambatha the small packet, tells him something in a voice too soft for me to hear and then leaves with the other initiates.
“I’m sorry about Chasa,” Bambatha says.
“It’s OK. Change is difficult for people to accept; I understand that.”
“It’s more than that,” he explains. “The villagers are all on edge. A strange animal has been roaming through here, killing small animals and livestock, and last night, we think that it killed a woman walking to get water from the river.”
“That’s terrible!” I say.
Bambatha nods. “Yes, but you need to rest now. Let me mix you something to drink. It will help you to heal and your head will feel better.”
I agree and later drink the mixture Bambatha makes for me. I don’t believe in this stuff but my head really hurts. I close my eyes for what feels like only a few seconds and when I open them it’s dark outside. I get up to find the light switch and feel that my blankets are wet. I switch on the light and look at my hand. It’s red and wet. I look down at the rest of my body and I scream. I’m covered in blood!
Tell us what you think: Is Chasa right to want Nomfundo gone?