“What, Baba?” says Nomvelo.

“I’m complimenting your beautiful body. You have the beauty of ten beautiful women in one,” says Ndlovu.

He is almost salivating now, lusting over Nomvelo. Nomvelo doesn’t say anything. She is frightened and confused.

“Didn’t your parents teach you to take a compliment?” Ndlovu says angrily.

“Thank you, Baba. But is it possible to have a female make these incisions on me because –”

“Is this your house? Are you setting the rules in my house now?”

“I’m sorry, Baba.”

“Have you come here to be initiated or have you come here to disrespect my home?”

Nomvelo is crying now. Her body is shaking with fear. She doesn’t know whether to run out of Ndlovu’s rondavel or to keep standing and let Ndlovu finish making the incisions. She picks up her clothes and gets dressed as soon as Ndlovu finishes making the incisions. She runs to the rondavel where she sleeps and sobs. Nokuthula walks in a few minutes later.

“What’s wrong?” Nokuthula inquires.

“Nothing is wrong,” says Nomvelo.

“Then why are you crying, Nomvelo?”

“It’s just these cuts that Baba made on my body. They are painful, that’s all.”

Nokuthula looks into Nomvelo’s tear-filled eyes.

“I have a bit of airtime if you want to call home. Maybe that will make you feel better,” says Nokuthula.

“Thank you, that will definitely make me feel better. Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Nomvelo. Go ahead.”

“Where were you going that night when you went out of the rondavel and came back at dawn?”

“Don’t worry about that. It’s just things that happen in this place that you won’t understand because you are new here. Call home but make it quick. I don’t have a lot of airtime.” Nokuthula hands her the cellphone and leaves.

Nomvelo dials Sakhile’s number.

“Hello,” Sakhile answers.

“My love,” Nomvelo cries.

“Is that you, Nomvelo?”

“Yes, my love.”

“Why do you sound like you are crying?”

“I’m missing you. I don’t want to be here anymore, Sakhile.”

“I also miss you, my love. What is happening there?”

“I can’t tell you, because they say what happens here stays here. They say if you tell people outside this place what happens here bad things will happen to you.”

“What is this thing that you find so hard to tell me?”

“It’s nothing serious. I was just missing you. I’ll call you some other time. The phone is running out of airtime. I love you very much.”

“I love you too, Mvelo,” says Sakhile.

At night the following day Nomvelo is in the rondavel chatting with the other initiates. Ndlovu’s wife, MaCele, bursts through the door. She is livid with rage.

“Listen here, you little girls! This is my house and I make the rules here! Who cooked this rubbish that is in the pots today? I said you should cook samp and beef! And what did you cook?”

“We are sorry,” they all say.

“On top of that you have no respect! You are looking me in the eye when I speak to you! Does it look like I’m your age?”

“We are sorry, Ma. Please forgive us,” says Nokuthula.

“You are always sorry! Who cooked today?’

No one answers.

“I’m talking to you! Answer my question!”

“It was me, Mama,” says Nomvelo.

MaCele’s stabbing stare sticks to Nomvelo. She points her shaking finger at Nomvelo.

“You! I saw the day you arrived here that you have no respect! I’ve noticed you are lazy! You work the least of all the initiates! Do you think you are on holiday at a hotel here?”

“No, Mama,” Nomvelo answers tearfully.

“Didn’t your mother teach you to cook?”

“She did teach me,” says Nomvelo.

“If you ever again cook that rubbish you cooked today, I will show you who I am!”

MaCele bangs the door on her way out.

Nomvelo covers herself with a blanket and sobs.

“Don’t cry, Mvelo, this is just how things are in this place. We are all persevering so we can finish our initiation and go home,” says Nokuthula.

“I’ve had enough of this, I want to go home now. Enough is enough, it’s not as if I was chased away from my home,” says Nomvelo from under her blanket.

“Don’t cry, my sister,” says Senzeni, another initiate.

“MaCele also hated me when I first got here,” says Nokuthula.

“What did I do to deserve so much hatred from her?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Nomvelo. It’s just the way they are in this home. They don’t know how to treat people. In fact the way they treat us is pure abuse,” says Thandi.

“You’ll get in trouble if they hear you speaking like that, Thandi,” says Nokuthula.

“But Thandi is telling the truth! This is abuse! We do everything here. On top of everything we do we also have to wash their clothes! That woman and her children don’t do anything! Don’t they have hands to do their washing?” Nomvelo’s words are laced with rage.

“We have to persevere, guys. There’s nothing we can do about it,” says Nokuthula.

Tell us: Thandi says Ndlovu and MaCele don’t know how to treat people. How would you describe the way Ndlovu speaks to Nomvelo when she asks for a woman to make the incisions? And what about the way MaCele speaks to the initiatives?