“Why are you helping me?”

“We are the same, you and me. We are both the victims of our mothers’ sacrifices.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are the first son of omenists. I am the child of a serpent. We weren’t meant to be alive, yet here we are.”

***

The day she gave birth, Hineni woke up from her nightmare in tears, her body lethargic and wet with sweat. She scanned her surroundings, unable to see where she was and realised that she was still stuck in the omen, witnessing the future as it would happen before it actually did.

The loudest and most clear thing was this: her child was dead. Walking towards his lifeless body wrapped up snuggly on the floor, she caught herself silently wailing, holding him against her own beating heart, hoping to resuscitate him. 

It was night, and she was in a forest she couldn’t recognise. The ghostly music was louder here, more confronting, and alive. It danced around her ears, telling her to get closer, closer, closer. She held on even tighter to her child and descended deeper into the forest. The music held her hand and willed her to come. She followed.

When Hineni got to the edge of the forest, she realised where she was, and the warning cries of her aunt Hope started ringing loud in her ears, loud enough they wrestled with the hypnotising song that called her. The call was more powerful, dulling everything. She could not hear her Gogo Nokuthula’s warning never to go there after Hope saw that omen, about what dwelt in the Forbidden Forest.

She was in the presence of Inkanyamba. This was what Hope had seen. 

The weight of grief was heavy in her chest. She could not think of anything but the sadness that seized her heart. She could not think of anything but the dead baby she held in her arms. The baby that was said to be the first male omenist. The baby who would either die at birth or live long enough to destroy the legacy of omenist women.

The moonlight painted the waters in an eerie glow, and the ominous whispers of the wind seemed to echo her inner turmoil.  Inkanyamba waited, her presence felt in the rustle of leaves and the mysterious murmurings of the night. Slowly, she emerged from the water, her call lulling the bereaved mother. 

“Hineni,” Inkanyamba’s whispers twirled towards her with the wind.

“I am here,” answered Hineni, her voice shaking. 

“Your grief is known to me; it hurts me. Allow me to change that.”

“You’re a vengeful goddess. Why would you call me?” Hineni asked, “Why would you promise to bring my son back to me?” 

“We are the same, you and me.”

“How are we the same?” 

“I, too, lost the one I loved because of those who believed he did not deserve a life. If he had been promised a safe return to me, I would have taken that. Allow me to give you that peace.” Inkanyamba got closer to Hineni, her voice no longer the melodic call that brought her there but the whispery hisses of serpents, her scales glistening in the moonlight.

“A gift?”

“A barter.”

Hineni hesitated, glancing down at Mlindeni’s lifeless form. 

“A debt,” Inkanyamba added, the river shimmering with otherworldly energy as Hineni reluctantly placed her son into the serpent’s embrace, “… to be settled in kind. In time.” 

“Do it, please.” 

The serpent smiled cunningly, looking deep into the sleeping baby’s eyes and vacant soul. Inkanyamba took him with her as she slowly submerged and disappeared into the water. 

***

From his own apartment, under the Echo’s trance, Mlindeni watched his mother cry even deeper, even louder, the ground rumbling with her tears. It began raining, with faint sounds of thunder. 

The Echo smiled from behind the mirror, his hand reaching out of the reflection slowly. Mlindeni was lost in the confusing haze of time, grasped by the feelings of grief he shared with his mother. It is not every day that you witness your own death. He was about to say something to the Echo when he fell on the ground again, writhing and shaking. 

In the fight to save himself, he closed his eyes and channelled the gifts that his omenist blood gave him, but the music grabbed firmly onto him, strangling his throat. He tried fighting it, but he was choking hard and fast. He tried screaming and crying, but it hurt to do so. He strained to open his eyes, a bloody tear falling from the side. As he fell into the darkness, he saw the shadow of the Echo getting up. How? He struggled to understand what was happening. 

“I am so sorry, Mlindeni.” The Echo whispered. 

***

Hineni sat at the riverbank’s edge, waiting for  Inkanyamba to emerge with her son alive. A minute passed, and nothing happened. The water stayed still; the music was suddenly silent. This is not how it’s supposed to happen, she thought, and her omenist powers agreed. 

“Something has changed,” she said quietly to herself. “Something is wrong.” Time had become fragile , which was why this nightmare wouldn’t relent. Someone was messing with time. It was why this omen was trying to break her. 

***

“Why are you doing this?” Mlindeni whispered weakly, his voice breaking.

“Your mother agreed to this.” The Echo placed a hand on Mlindeni’s neck and started pressing. “The contract your mother signed was for you to live a full life, and you have. The sacrifice required a body.” 

The Echo pressed and pressed on Mlindeni’s neck until it heard the bones crack, and the young man became still. Around him, the dark sky broke out into a crimson colour as the walls of Mlindeni’s apartment blurred to manifest the riverbank at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.  Inkanyamba emerged from the water in a blazing tornado as the Echo’s glowing body absorbed Mlindeni’s lifeless body into himself. 

From where she sat, crying softly to herself, it became obvious to Hineni what had happened. She wiped the tears from her eyes, Hope’s words echoing in her mind: 

“We are omenist women, Hineni. We are most dangerous when we’re helpless.” 

She walked towards the river to reclaim her child from the vengeful serpent’s clutches. And with those words ringing in her head, Hineni Zana got up and split the river in half with her wrath, in turn waking herself up from her nightmare.

Hope and Gogo Nokuthula sat at the edge of her bed, shaking and screaming for her to wake up. 

“Hineni, what have you done?” is all that Gogo Nokuthula was able to say as the world started darkening around them.

In trying to save her dead son, Hineni fulfilled Hope’s darkest and most terrifying omen: she had destroyed the barrier between reality and the dreamscape from which they received their omens.  

Tell us: Between fate, Hineni and Inkanyamba, who or what is to blame for what happened to Mlindeni?  Motivate your answer.