I’m still screaming as I leap up to run out of the rondavel. I yank the door open and my foot catches on something and I almost trip and fall as I reach the cool clay of the stoep. As I regain my balance, I see that a dead goat has been left on my doorstep. Its throat has been cut. The words, ‘LEAVE WITCH’ are scrawled in blood on the clay stoep, shining red in the light from my bedroom.
By now Bambatha and half of the village must have heard me screaming frantically because he runs out of his own rondavel towards me. I want to collapse into his arms but I’m not going to let this sick joke turn me into some weak, crying mess. I’m shaking with anger as much as with fear. This must have been Chasa. Judging by his behaviour today, I’m sure that he is trying to send me a message.
The next morning, I go to the police station to report what happened last night but the local police say that they cannot help me. The officer I speak to seems to think I’m better off leaving the village.
“Eh Sisi, this is not a place for outsiders,” he says. “Especially not outsiders who bring strange things that frighten the people and only cause unnecessary problems for all of us.”
Frustrated, I decide to go back to Bambatha for help. When I can’t find him in his rondavel or doing work on the small holding, I walk towards the river. There I find Bambatha in his maize field. From behind, I walk up quietly and watch him looking over his crops the same way we did yesterday. I can’t see his facial expression from here but it feels as though so much has changed since I tried to show him my work. The whole village seems to be against me now.
“Do you think I should leave?” I ask.
He turns to face me. “Nomfundo, I believe that you are here to do good and I wouldn’t have allowed you to stay in my home if I didn’t believe that. To be honest, I’m as afraid as the other people in the village.”
“Bambatha you have to help me understand. All of these accusations and threats are so strange to me. I’m trying to help.”
“After last night, the villagers interpreted you saying that your technology would help predict future crop harvests as an admission to being a prophet. Many years ago, a powerful prophetess lived in this village. One year, the rains had not come. The prophetess tried to convince the people that the ancestors felt that they were being forgotten and that people were embracing too many modern things and leaving behind their heritage. The bright lights brought by electricity were too bright for the ancestor’s eyes, she claimed, and the few cars that had come to village were too noisy to allow them a peaceful afterlife.
“To appease the ancestors, the prophetess claimed that the people needed to stop trying to leave the past behind and instead return to the old ways. Then, she said, the ancestors would allow the rains to come again. The people did not listen to her and many died in the following years of that great drought.
“Starving and unable to feed her children, the prophetess promised that she would put a curse on the village. She said that any new trickery of the modern world that came here would only bring misery to the people and they would regret not listening to her. She told them that she would disguise herself and return every few years with some new display of the modern world to witness and cause their downfall again and again, until they had learned their lesson.”
“What happened to her?”
“She drowned herself and her children in the river. The rains came a few months later.”
Neither of us say anything for the next few minutes. Finally, I ask, “So what does that have to do with me?”
“Chasa believes that you are that prophetess. He thinks you have returned to curse the village again.”
I believe in facts, science and predictable weather patterns, not prophets and reincarnation. I ask Bambatha whether he thinks Chasa is right about me.
“No, but there is something that’s hunting down people. No-one knows what it is or how to find it.”
“Has anyone seen it?” I ask.
“Some claim that they have. They say it looks like a dog or a large black jackal. It moves very quickly and can jump over tall wire fences. They say its eyes shine in the dark.”
I shudder. It’s just a coincidence. It was just a stupid dream. But I’m sure that in my dreams, Bambatha is killed by the very creature he is describing to me. I hope I have not seen his future.
Tell us what you think: What should Nomfundo do about the villagers’ attitude to her?