Mbali woke in a cold sweat.
Her heart pounding so hard she was certain it would explode.
In a fruitless effort to calm her nerves, she took a few deep breaths, and made her way to the billowing, threadbare curtains of her bedroom.
She pushed a section of the coarse fabric aside, and closed the window.
Mbali hadn’t felt this fearful since the night the ancestors had called her to be a traditional healer (sangoma).
Although her destiny was one of great privilege, discovering she was chosen had overwhelmed her, as she’d been seized by dreadful headaches and stomach cramps.
This initiation illness (ukuthwasa) had gone on until she’d established a fitting relationship with the ancestors.
Then she’d been healed.
She remembered that time vividly, although it had happened more than thirty years ago.
Her first encounter with the guiding spirits she so revered.
“Dark powers,” Lindiwe called them.
Puh! What did she know, anyway?
21 years old, and totally unaware of her heritage as a Zulu woman.
Lindiwe claimed that she had great respect for her culture, but that she had even greater respect for Jesus.
His name made Mbali’s stomach churn.
Jesus ... the white man’s god.
Lindiwe had become unbearable company, since becoming a Christian.
Then she’d thrown the ultimate spanner in the works, when she’d started a bonfire in Mbali’s garden, and systematically incinerated all Mbali’s muti ingredients and divining bones.
Unfortunately, Mbali’s neighbours had witnessed the sacrilegious event.
After Lindiwe’s departure, Mbali had received word of an irate neighbour, who, in an inebriated state, had mentioned that he intended to spill Lindi’s blood, to alleviate the great offence against the ancestors.
Sickened at the thought of her niece coming to harm, Mbali had requested some time to seek the advice of the ancestors.
Divining bones gone, Mbali had had to resort to having the ancestors possess her, to receive an answer.
What happened next had been horrifying.
Mbali had always been told that the ancestors were inherently good.
But that night of searching, she’d become aware of a singularly malevolent presence.
And she knew Dumisani’s bloodlust was not his own doing.
Out of love for Lindi, and in the hopes that the ancestors could find a way to forgive her, Mbali had lied and asked her best friend Busisiwe to verify the fabrication.
Mbali had told everyone that she’d had a dream of Lindiwe’s impending death.
And Busi, whose oldest son, Simon, was a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, validated the “prophecy,” by claiming that Simon had mentioned that Lindiwe was no longer attending lectures, and that none of the students knew of her whereabouts.
Mbali had hoped that “disappearance” would not only be the best way to implicate a supernatural occurrence, but that it would also guarantee that nobody drove up to Jo’burg to attend the ensuing funeral.
It had seemed like a good idea.
However, although the tumult around the incident had subsided with the onset of the rumour, the ancestors’ anger had not abated.
Mbali’s nights had been fraught with terrifying visions of beasts clawing at her flesh and suffocating her.
Why was the ancestors’ desire for revenge so unyielding?
Lindi’s words came unbidden: “The ‘ancestors’ you serve are naught but hateful demons, bent on destroying you. Think about how difficult your life as a sangoma has been. Mom says you used to be carefree, before the call. Jesus would have you carefree again.”
Could this Jesus the colonialists had brought to Africa really care for her?
Mbali went to the bedroom Lindi had slept in.
On the bedside table, she found the worn, leather-bound Bible Lindi had left her.
She flipped the book open, and her eyes fell on the most comforting words she’d ever read: “Come to me, all ye that labour, and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28)
Tears welled in Mbali’s eyes. She had not slept peacefully in over 30 years.
“Oh Jesus ...”
Her heart burst from yearning for this promised freedom.
“Jesus, please come inside and set me free.”
Instantly light flooded her being.
And she knew what to do next.
She would ask Lindiwe over, and together they would dispel the rumour, and prove that no weapon formed against God’s elect would prosper, and that all those who rose against them would fall.
Yes, God willing, her community would know the Truth, and the Truth would set them free.
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