After dropping the call Makhulu Tshezi took her walking stick and went out to close the doors of her chicken coop. Skhwehle, the young lad who normally looked after the cows, had already gone home. Makhulu was now alone on the homestead, save for her brave dogs Bathathe and Gilumntu.
“Gila! Bathathe! Come on boys. Let’s go check that old lady lying at the bottom of the garden. Come boys!”
The dogs started barking again, but because it was overcast and already dark, she could not see what they were barking at.
“Come on, let’s quickly go check on Mazomzi,” she said again.
But something seemed odd this night … she was not sure why. She felt a little scared, something that seldom happened. So she took her torch, casting it around, lighting even under the shrubs along the fence. She saw nothing.
The dogs ran in front of her, as if they knew that what lay ahead would leave her weak to the core.
“Is it my eyes … or what?” she whispered, eyes wide open, straining to see in the dark, cloudy night. Only the light from her torch shone just ahead of her as she was heading down to the bottom end of her large garden.
There were tall gumtrees, and short acacia trees, all the way along the fence … and suddenly she thought she saw some shadowy shapes lurking there. She directed the bright light of the torch to that point, but her eyes could not figure out for sure if what she saw were people … or trees.
The dogs came running back to her, and they started barking again.
“Who is there? What do you want?!” she shouted, peering in the direction of some rustling sounds.
She arrived at the make-shift shelter and shone the beam into it. There she was, Mazomzi, the beloved cow, lying on her side. Her beautiful, spotted black and white, soft head was tilting to the side, her mouth slightly ajar. Her big brown eyes that used to ooze love and hope were looking blankly into space.
The dogs whimpered, jumping up and down around the cow’s carcass. Suddenly a chilly wind blew sharply around Makhulu Tshezi’s ears and she quickly covered her head with the scarf that was hanging loosely around her neck. There was a big lump in her throat and her lips suddenly felt dry. She licked them, trying to hold back the tears that were burning in her eyes.
“Oh, yini Mazomzi. Poor Mazomzi. My beautiful cow. You are gone now. Are you really gone, my lovely cow?” she said, moving around the frail, skeletal carcass of her cow that was once so full of life.
“What more could I want from you, my dear? You have been the best cow Mazomzi. Rest now,” she said softly, bending down, touching the carcass, moving her hand over its sharp pointed horns. She remembered how fierce this cow had been – with those horns one had to think twice before coming close to her.
“I have to call Vuyo. I have to let him know about this. As for the carcass, Skhwehle and his boys will see what to do with it in the morning.”
Later, back home, it was hard to sleep. She had prayed, as she did every night, calling all of her offspring, mentioning them by name for God’s providence.
But her soul was not at peace tonight; maybe because of the death of her cow troubling her? She kept tossing and turning in her bed, feeling uneasy.
Just before midnight Makhulu Tshezi decided to call her grandson again.
“What is wrong now, Khulu? The cow was sick and it was very old. Don’t worry. I have money, I will buy you another cow just like Mazomzi,” Vuyo tried to comfort her. He could tell that she was not herself. The passing of her beloved cow had dealt her a bad blow.
“What about the dogs, Khulu? What is happening?”
“They have been barking all night long. They have never barked like this before. Something is wrong.”
“Okay. Okay Khulu. Keep calm and I will call Skhwehle to come and check up on you, okay?”
“When I went down to the end of the garden this evening, I think I saw two shadows lurking behind the gumtrees. I called out to them but I couldn’t see clearly, as it was already dark.”
Vuyo could hear from her voice that she was a little bit scared.
“Please try to sleep Khulu. I will be there in the morning. Just say your prayers again, okay.”
“I wish you could come now, my boy. Please come now and see what to do with the carcass of that cow. I want it buried. A proper burial. I don’t want people to eat that cow. It’s too sacred to be eaten.”
Suddenly tears came flowing down her cheeks. She didn’t even know where they were coming from. She was just overwhelmed with sadness. And the dogs were still restless; they kept running around the yard, barking.
“Arg! Come on Khulu. The people will say you are a witch now. Let people eat the cow if they want, please.”
Ka-boom! Kaboom! rang out two loud noises.
“Did you hear that?”
The phone slipped from Makhulu Tshezi’s hand and fell to the floor because she was trembling uncontrollably. Vuyo’s voice could be heard, still calling for her on the other end of the call.
“Khulu! Khulu! What is going on there? Okay, I am calling Skhwehle right now.”
Makhulu Tshezi, still shaking like a leaf, tiptoed towards the window to check what sort of sound it was, but when she lifted the curtain, she could see nothing.
“Gila! Bathathe!” she shouted for the dogs.
Silence. Strange silence.
“Gilumntu!” she called again, going towards the door.
The dogs were silent. No barking. Nothing.
Tell us: What do you think Makhulu should do?