Nomvelo dozes off on the long drive to Msinga. She didn’t get enough sleep last night because they stayed up for the better part of the night talking with Sakhile. She is dreaming as soon as she closes her eyes.

In her dream she is a child playing with many children in a field she has never seen before. The sky turns dark and a thunderstorm rages. A bolt of lightning strikes the field. Of the many children in the field, only Nomvelo is struck by lightning. She wakes up hyperventilating and sweating. Her eyes are are open wide in shock.

“You have been asleep for only a few minutes but you are already dreaming?” says MaNgubane.

“It was a terrible dream, Mama.”

“What did you dream?”

“I dreamt I was playing with many children in a field I have never seen. There was a thunderstorm but I was the only one struck by lightning.”

“I think it’s only nerves, Mvelo. You are just afraid because you are going to live in a new place. But don’t worry so much, because our ancestors are with you on this journey.”

“It’s easy for you to say that, Mama. Going to stay in someone else’s house frightens me.”

“Don’t be frightened, because there are many other initiates at Ndlovu’s house. You won’t be alone, Mvelo.”

MaNgubane’s comforting words don’t dampen the unease that has suddenly overcome her daughter. Nomvelo has told herself she will no longer shed tears because crying won’t help anyway. She looks out the window and sees Ndlovu’s house appearing in the distance.

When they arrives at Ndlovu’s house the other initiates come to help Nomvelo with her suitcase. MaNgubane speaks with Ndlovu for a few minutes while Nomvelo is introduced to the other initiates. An hour after they arrive it is time for MaNgubane to head back home to Eshowe.

“I will come to visit you, my child,” says MaNgubane as she hugs Nomvelo.

“Go well, Mama. Safe journey,” says Nomvelo in a sad tone.

Nomvelo watches the car until it disappears over the dusty hills of Msinga. Part of her wants to sprint and follow that car. Another part wants to find out what this calling has in store for her.

All the initiates sleep together in one rondavel. Nomvelo’s mind is far away; she is thinking about Sakhile. She is withdrawn and only answers what she is asked. Other initiates try to talk to her, to make her feel welcomed, but she is still in her shell.

The lights are switched off. The initiates finally fall asleep. Nomvelo is the only one awake through the night. Very late, just as she feels sleep coming, one of the initiates, Nokuthula, tiptoes out of the rondavel. Nomvelo finally sleeps. She is awakened by a draft of cold air. She sees the door closing quickly. She can see that it is Nokuthula who is tiptoeing back to her mattress on the floor. Nomvelo can hear that Nokuthula is crying.

She asks herself many questions as she tries to go back to sleep. Where is Nokuthula coming from? Was she visiting a boyfriend? Are initiates even allowed to have boyfriends? And why is she crying?

By the end of the second month of her initiation Nomvelo has gotten used to the routine at Ndlovu’s house. Every morning, without fail, all the initiates wake up at the break of dawn and go to a river nearby. There they drink the river water until their stomachs are full and then induce vomiting. They go back to Ndlovu’s house and give themselves enemas before they start their daily chores. This is to keep their bodies clean, Ndlovu explained.

The initiates do all the chores. When they wash clothes they also wash for the Ndlovu family. The Ndlovu children don’t lift a finger, they don’t even do the dishes. Sometimes the initiates wake up when it is still dark and head to the forest. They cut tree branches, pick leaves and dig roots that Ndlovu uses to make muthi. They come back with the branches, leaves and roots and grind them to Ndlovu’s specifications.

They are grinding muthi one day when Nokuthula taps Nomvelo on the shoulder.

“Baba is calling you, Nomvelo,” says Nokuthula.

Nomvelo hurries to Ndlovu’s rondavel and kneels in front of him.

“Baba, you called for me,” she says.

“Initiate!” Ndlovu says.

“Yes, Baba.”

“Today I will make you strong. A lot of people in your area know that you are going through your initiation so they will try everything in their power to make you weak. I need to make small cuts with a razor on your waist, wrists and ankles, and then rub muthi on the cuts. Take off all your clothes and stand in front of me,” says Ndlovu while mixing muthi.

Nomvelo’s heart skips a beat. She undresses shyly. Ndlovu’s eyes scan every inch of Nomvelo’s body.

“You have a beautiful body. You don’t have a single scar. Not one blemish.” Ndlovu licks his lips.

Tell us: Ndlovu is meant to be teaching Nomvelo. Now he asks her to undress. Does this seem acceptable or not to you? Why do you think that?