The next few days passed in a dream. Muzi felt light headed but free most of the time. It was like he was gliding on air as he ate and exercised and chanted along with the other inmates. But each night as he lay on his bed he wondered where Gayle was. She had not re-emerged and he had flashbacks to the ceremony. If only he could ask her if she was OK. If only he knew where she was now. But no-one would tell him.
One afternoon, on a day when the clouds stretched like one piece of sea weed after another across the sky; the crowd gathered in the garden. They listened to tales and gospels from the guru. All of a sudden, a scream was heard several feet from Muzi. One of the followers had started convulsing and had fallen into the fountain.
The scene was comical but sinister at the same time. The followers watched from the grass as the man flailed around in the water, sinking and reemerging from under the water. But instead of helping the followers mimicked his movements. They shook their arms and fell on the grass and laughed.
“Help. Help. Help me … Help me …” shouted the man.
“Help. Help. Help me … Help me …” the inmates echoed.
Muzi stared in horror. He did not join in. Something of the old Muzi was still alive in him and it recoiled from what was happening in front of his eyes. He dashed towards the fountain, shouting at everyone.
“What’s wrong with all of you? What the hell is this? You’d let one of your own die?”
Guru Sedaya was fuming as he pushed aside all his followers.
“Mr Radebe, don’t you dare disturb the proceedings of my fellowship. It’s all of your duty to save yourselves when you are in danger. That is my teaching. Empower yourselves. Now leave the man. He will choose of his own free will, life or death.”
Muzi stared at him in disbelief.
“We have to embrace the moment Mr Radebe, and what we could be. This man might survive or not, it is what he makes of it. Will he free himself? I don’t know. You need to free yourself, Mr Radebe, you are almost there. I thought you were already, but perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps one more treatment …”
“What happened to Gayle and Goodwill?” Muzi shouted as the guards dragged him away.
The first day was starvation and isolation. On the second day they gave Muzi another injection. His heart raced, sweat gushed, his hearing was amplified, his sense of smell increased. The objects before him wobbled and distorted before his eyes, and imaginary landscapes built and collapsed before him. It felt like the beginning of an end. He had been given life-threatening amounts of drugs this time.
Two days passed without food, water, or sanitation. He was weaker than he’d ever recalled. He could hardly raise a finger nor move his body. His thoughts scattered and meandered. They couldn’t string together into one clear picture and form.
Then he surfaced to overhear thudding and clattering out in the passage. The door opened. He struggled to open his eyes. When he did he saw two strange men in uniforms. He thought he was being brought yet more serum. But these men were different. He hadn’t seen them before. They lifted him from the chair he was bound to and untethered him.
He fell into their arms. And deep in his dazed brain he felt that finally he was safe.
He woke to a dazzling white light and blurred figures moving around him. For a moment he thought he was entering the pearly gates and the voices that he heard were those of angels.
“Oh my boy. My boy.” He recognized the voice as the figures came into focus. It was his mother and her face was radiant. She was the angel he had heard.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry Muzi my boy … I’m so sorry,” Mr Radebe tearfully fell onto his son’s bed, head buried into his arms in shame and guilt. “I should’ve been more gentle and kind. I shouldn’t have pushed you son … I’m deeply sorry. Please forgive me.”
So this was what heaven is like, thought Muzi. Full of forgiveness and loved ones. Muzi took his parents’ hands and squeezed them.
“If I had known what would happen in that terrible place I would never … It’s all my fault … and now you may never walk again. How can I forgive myself …” Mr Radebe wept.
“What happened?” said Muzi. He tried to move his legs and couldn’t. This was not heaven.
“My darling boy, the doctors say with therapy you may … you will … walk again … It was the serum – it did so much damage …” his mother wept.
As she spoke, Goodwill entered the room. Muzi hardly recognized him. He looked healthy, his eyes were awake, his skin glistened.
“Ah Muzi … I’m sorry to see you like this my friend,” Goodwill said.
“What happened to you? Where did you disappear to?”
“I am sorry. I tried warning you about the place. The day I was taken for more ‘therapy’ I managed to escape and ran for the hills.”
“What happened to the House of Astra? What happened to Gayle and the others?”
“They are in hospital recovering like you are. The police raided the compound after I reported what was going on there. The inmates, who were heavily drugged, were taken to hospital to detox where they could be monitored. Gayle was heavily drugged but able to give evidence that she was drugged and raped by the guru. She is also in hospital and is getting councelling.
They took you in the ambulance. The final serum they had given you … it had done such damage to your nerves. I’m sorry, Muzi.”
Tears trickled down Muzi’s cheeks uncontrollably now, as he thought about the entire situation that had played out.
“So Goodwill… what happened to Guru and Tabane?”
Everyone in the room drew their breaths, as they knew the macabre story of what had taken place at House of Astra.
“Well … they were cornered. The police had them in the guru’s chamber in the centre of the building. But before they could arrest them, the guru set himself and some of the others, including Tabane, the guards, and some staunch followers, on fire.
“As he lit the match he said: ‘From the ashes we shall rebuild in the Astral dimension …’ That’s how sick and crazy that bastard was.”
For some period silence reigned in the room, as everyone carefully examined Muzi. His mind felt full of cracks.
As everyone gathered around him, he whispered: “It’s not all lost. That place may have tortured me, but it has given me hope and a new direction.”
Everyone gathered tearfully as they drew close to him; warmly they all embraced, at the prospect of the future.
It had taken months but with the help of therapists, Muzi was recovering well. He was even starting to learn to walk again. Each day more and more became possible for him. His parents had contacted Gayle and were helping her through her slow and difficult recovery too.
One morning, Muzi asked his father to drive him back to House of Astra. He wheeled Muzi to the gates that were chained and locked and then went to wait in the car to give his son some space.
Muzi stared at the building and the lawns. Some people said they were going to renovate it and turn it into a proper rehabilitation centre, others said they were going to demolish it and build something new there.
What Muzi knew was that the lost boy had fallen into the abyss beyond those gates and had reemerged to find himself.
Tell us: What do you think the future holds for Muzi?