The SMS from yesterday was weird: even for me. I can’t think of who would have sent it. I don’t recognise the number. Who could know about me, or my secret? I’ve always been so careful. Not even Gogo knows about the ghosts. Umkhulu told me to watch my back and that’s what I do:keep my head down, watch my back.
Umkhulu’s advice is not always clear. When he comes to me in my dreams, sometimes I am confused about what he wants me to do. But when I got sick all those years ago, when I started seeing people who weren’t there at all, I knew right away I was being called. I wanted to drop out of school immediately and go to initiation. I wanted to respect my ancestors. But the ancestors had other plans for me. “We will guide you,” they said. “Finish school, work hard, keep your head down and we will guide you.”
I met a sangoma once who told me that’s how it is sometimes. Ukuvuma idlozi, accepting the calling, isn’t always about a specific ceremony or going into the mountains. I know the ancestors work through me, so I accept that I must do as they want and right now, they want me to go to university and make Gogo proud.
That, and every now and again, save some people from the walking dead.
The message had to be some kind of sick joke because the rest of the day passes without anyone even looking my way.
That night, I find it hard to sleep. When I finally do sleep, my dreams are empty with no messages or guidance.
The next day, I feel the effect of two nights of being a freak. By the end of the school day, I can barely keep my eyes open. I almost fall asleep in Maths in the last period. Mr Ndlovu comes over and slams his hands on my desk, which wakes me right up. There’s a ripple of laughter through the class and that’s basically the most exciting (and embarrassing) thing that happens all day.
That night I dream that I am standing in a river. This is not the first time I have been here. I know that I will not be able to move. I know that the water around me is rising up. It starts at my ankles and soon the water is up above my waist. Even though I know I am really safe in my bed, asleep, I feel my heart start to beat faster. Will I drown? In my dream, I hear a voice.
“Hello, my child,” it says.
I look to where the voice came from and the spirit of Umkhulu is standing on the riverbed.
When Umkhulu was alive, almost one hundred years ago, he was an educated man who fought the laws discriminating against his people. He stands now in my dream tall and proud. When he comes to me like this, I know it’s something important and urgent.
He’s looking at my chest. I look at it too. I’m wearing a strange jacket. It’s too big, leather and brown. I think it’s a man’s jacket.
“Whoses jacket is this?” I ask.
Umkhulu says, “There is an evil man. He is haunting a place. You must rid that place of his evil.” That doesn’t really answer my question.
“You will know.”
“Who was he?”
“You will know.”
The water is at my chest now. Great. I’m going to drown and still do not know who I’m supposed to help, or where.
“Umkhulu, please. Tell me something more. Someone needs my help.”
“Wait for a sign. The fire will come when you need it.”
The water is at my chin now. I look down at it and when I look up again, Umkhulu is gone. I don’t even struggle or scream or cry in these dreams anymore. I just sigh and sing to myself as I wait for the water to cover my mouth, my nose and eyes. I wait for the dark of the cold river water swallowing me.
When I wake up, it’s still dark outside and my sheets are wet with sweat but I can hear Gogo already busy in the kitchen. She is probably making porridge for us both before she has to get to work. I roll over and reach for my phone on the floor. I check the phone more out of habit than because I actually think anyone has SMSed me, but this morning I am lucky: ‘1 new message’. It’s from the same number as the last message.
things r gettin bad. i need ur hlp. he wont leave.
It’s not cold but I shiver anyway.
Tell us what you think: What should Lindi do about the messages?