The headless chicken flailed on the red ground with blood foaming at its sliced neck, another headless chicken dropped from the sky, landed on Neli’s lap while flapped its lifeless wings and attempted to plant itself on top of her red hair. The feathered feet of the bird slipped from the animal fat in her hair and as it fell to the ground, it painted her shoulder with coagulating thick blood. She adjusted her red and white beads, looked up at the sky and waited for another chicken to be thrown over the wall of her mother’s house. Her stomach complained in bursts of rumbling; the starvation caused her impatience and irritation, her heels were cracked from a year of walking barefoot and dancing at every crack of dawn. The loud drum was starting to annoy her and the sun was taking its time to fully come out. The drummer would only stop once the sun was fully above the horizon. She had been a good initiate: she listened to her elders, did her chores, studied the plants well and knew where to dig them. She had not visited her friends or family at all, she had not been intimate with anyone and at three that morning she had danced as if trying to rouse her dead lover back to life. Neli’s nipples hardened as she thought of Kay, her beads brushed across their firmness and she readjusted them. She gently cupped her breasts which shone from the animal fat that had been smeared on them by her gogo and felt a fire shoot up from her belly and immediately stood up to dance.
Kay stretched her arms out from under the bed covers, scratched their eyes, then immediately panicked and rushed to the basin to wash their hands. The Corona virus had made them more paranoid than before. After much heavy breathing and rigorous hand washing, they could hear the bold beating of the drums and anxiety turned into excitement. Kay wondered how well informed Neli was about the pandemic because she had been training in the mountains of Mpumalanga where there was no Twitter or YouTube. Neli with her lithe tiny body, Neli who woke up well after the sun had rose, Neli who did not like cooking or cleaning, Neli who ate kotas for all meals in the day, Neli who visited the clinic all the time, naughty Neli who hid under her thin wide smile and whose eyes beamed out light like shiny hazelnuts. Neli who defied her parents when she was asked to marry her father’s best friend’s son who had farms, taxis and only drove BMWs. Neli who had given up the possibility of that secured lifestyle all for Kay. Kay had received it like a burden because love did not come full, it was unnatural for it to be so complete, so readily available and accessible. The anxiety returned and they opened the bedroom window, the stars lingered above a slither of silver light across the horizon. A police car drove past very slowly and the revolving blue lights reflected on the yellow walls of the house and onto Kay’s round face.
“Fuck this virus” Kay cursed through their clenched jaw.
The corner house on the slope had the greenest grass, the largest yard and the best view in the whole district. The grass was soaked in blood, a goat’s skin lay stretched across the base of the apricot tree with large sea salt cubes strewn across it and kneeling under the tree was Neli. She enjoyed her solitude, a year of never been alone made her savour this time. She had unintentionally danced out her appetite and was waiting patiently for it to revisit. Kay pulled the rusty gate shut, the same gate that as a child they used to swing on and climb over to go play with Neli. The drums had quietened, the streets were empty except for a child running home with a loaf of white bread clasped in their hands. Kay looked left, right and left again to see if any of the neighbours were heading to the corner house, the house of the rich man with a beautiful daughter who had refused marriage and ran off to the mountains to train as a sangoma. The beautiful daughter who had proudly exclaimed that she was going to marry a woman and bear her children, they wondered and waited to see how this could be done. The neighbours speculated amongst themselves that maybe that was why she went to the mountain; spells to make men fall in love were well known but the spell to make a woman fall in love with another were unknown. They mixed speculation with knowledge of how historically such coupling was practiced but amnesia had disturbed links between knowledge, culture, myth and new knowledge.
Neighbours gossip, a good neighbour gossips about other neighbours because if they did not it would show that the neighbour is not aware of their existence and their actions, that they did not care and humans like to be seen, to be cared for and fussed over even if it is through vitriol. The house was filled with the neighbours gossiping about each other to each other, traditional Zulu beer was passed around in large glass jugs, plates of meat passed afterwards and they chewed as they chattered. Kay was pulled in by the over friendliness of the event, they loathed the neighbours, actually only a few humans made it on their favourite’s list but this event called for unprecedented congeniality and they managed to joke with them and swat off questions about their sexuality, the prospect of a husband and reproduction. The smell of chicken and goat meat wafted in the air, it smelled like meat not like spices, just bloody meat with no salt and Kay sneaked away from the company of intrusive neighbours by pretending to go look for a plate of food. Gogo had warned her not to eat the food that was cooked there, her paranoia was bigger than Kay’s.
The initiates all looked the same, all of them looked like they had spent the year doing facials and exfoliating, all of them were female and they all had a fierceness in their eyes: a fire that could only be ignited by going into the dark depths of the human soul and taming the creatures that live there. Kay examined each one carefully with her eyes, Neli was not amongst them and suddenly an initiate moved towards Kay by shuffling on her knees while looking down and when she got there, she offered a glass jug filled with beer but before Kay could accept it, it fell out of her trembling hands and smashed onto the ground. A drunk old man laughed and almost fell off his seat with his plate of meat. Kay got down on her knees, comforted the initiate who was in distress with kind words and picked up the broken pieces for her. The dustbin was at the back of the house by the apricot tree and when Kay went there, they dropped all the broken pieces into the blood-soaked grass, shocked by the sight of Neli.
“Khetiwe!” Neli shouted excitedly when she saw Kay.
“Nelisiwe” Kay uttered shyly. Neli’s beads rattled as she walked and caressed her bare breasts which bounced with every step.
“Not too close. You’ve heard about the Corona” their hand was outstretched to prevent Neli from approaching any further. Neli paused, she dug her feet into the moist grass and bubbles of blood popped through the gaps between her toes.
“You’ve always kept me at arm’s length and I don’t know what I did to deserve such treatment Kay” Neli cried.
Kay hesitated at first but then took a step forward.
“Besides the virus you’re not supposed to be touched, you know the rules” Kay lectured her but Neli grabbed them by the waist and pulled her in closer to her shimmering torso.
“I don’t care for the rules” she whispered and kissed Kay.
“You haven’t changed” Kay whispered through a smile.
“Oh, in some ways I have” Neli said leading Kay to the apricot tree.
sangoma: Zulu word for a traditional healer, a diviner
kota: a South African urban meal, bread stuffed with hot chips
gogo: Zulu word for grandmother/ a person who trains one to become a sangoma
Image source: Destiny Magazine