Three days after Muzi was discharged from hospital Mr Radebe drove him to the rehabilitation center. His luggage and toiletries were neatly tucked into his two black and green bags. In the car Mrs Radebe put on the gospel music she loved. Not a single word was spoken. Muzi looked pale and sweat dripped from every pore. He was still suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

When they finally arrived at the rehab, House of Astra, which was deep in the countryside, they were met by the manager, Tabane. He was a tall black middle-aged man, with small eyes like marbles that were sunk deep into their sockets. He had a full beard that encircled his face like a wild bush, and hair that defied gravity. He looked intense but his voice was calm and soothing.

“Welcome, welcome Mr and Mrs Radebe. And this must be Muzi?” he turned and smiled at Muzi.

“You will need to say your goodbyes now, Mr and Mrs Radebe. Sadly, I can’t allow you to come into the facility as it may disturb the residents and jeopardize their treatment.”

Mr and Mrs Radebe looked at each other. It was unusual not to even be able to see around a facility. But they had heard that they used unconventional methods at the rehab. And perhaps only unconventional methods would save their lost boy now – they had tried conventional methods after all and none had worked.

Muzi gave them a tight hug and they said their goodbyes.

Mrs Radebe had to have a last word of comfort. ”Take care my boy, Mommy loves you deeply. Come back in better shape. We will be rooting for you. I believe in you, son.”

Then she and Mr Radebe got back into their black C-Class Mercedes and sped off.

As he watched the Mercedes speed up and disappear around the corner Muzi started to cry, for what he had become. He was all alone. Tabane waited for him to recover himself and then took him inside the facility.

As they entered the doors a resounding silence befell them. The inside of the building was spartanly furnished. The floor was concrete and from the back of the foyer, which served as a reception area, a long passage stretched with many rooms to each side.

The inmates were wandering around silently: some had come in from outside and others were passing through the foyer on the way to what looked like a library. When they saw Muzi they stopped and smiled welcomingly at him. They looked peaceful and content, not like drug addicts craving their next fix. Muzi longed to be like them – their faces radiated hope.

The manager took Muzi to the reception desk where he had to sign a form of consent. Behind the desk sat a white middle-aged man, whose face was covered in a bushier beard than Tabane’s. He was wearing a white silk robe. Muzi wondered if he was a visiting spiritual guide, or even one of the inmates, but Tabane introduced him as the head of the facility. He called him ‘Guru’.

Muzi was not in a fit state to even read the consent form that the guru gave him, before he signed it. He just wanted to get on with his recovery.

“Now that you’ve signed the consent form,” the guru smiled at him, “you have become one of our community. Congratulations. Tabane will now take you for an official introduction.”

Tabane used a commanding voice as he called everyone to attention. The inmates gathered around Muzi in the centre of the foyer.

“Your attention please,” Tabane clapped his hands. Everyone turned to gaze at Muzi.  “We’ve got ourselves a new member. Introduce yourself, Muzi. You are one of us now. We embrace you and invite you to start your healing process.”

Muzi frowned in confusion. This was unlike any of the rehabs he had attended in the past. The way Tabane spoke was more like a pastor than a counsellor, but unlike any pastor he had ever come across.

He hesitated and the manager repeated the request. There was something else in the manager’s eyes now. They were intense and Muzi felt that he wasn’t asking as much as commanding. He looked at the expectant faces around him. The inmates were smiling calmly.

He thought of the consent form he had just signed. Then he took a deep breath.

“My name is Muzi. I don’t have an occupation at the moment … I’m here because of cocaine and opiate addiction. I’m trying to fix myself as best as possible, to make my parents proud.”

As he spoke the inmates drew closer to him and encircled him like a swarm of bees. Then all of them were hugging him. In that moment he felt a warmth he hadn’t felt before in his life, not even from his mother. It was unconditional, this love. It felt like they understood him.

All the while the robed white man said nothing. He did not join the others to offer comfort. Instead, he got up from where he was sitting and walked away across the hall, taking Muzi’s consent form with him.

***

Tell us: What do you think Muzi has just agreed to by signing the consent form?