Lockdown Story E10: uMuthi


Neli’s ankle bracelets, made out of a number of seed pods, rattled as she walked down the street to Kay’s house. The breeze brushed against her bare legs and its icy presence caused the small hairs on her shins to stand up. She held on tightly to her sack satchel which swung with every bump of her small hips. The gate was closed so she picked up a small stone and tapped it on the gate endlessly. Kay’s Gogo peered out the window and then limped towards her. Neli knelt down at the gate, greeted Gogo and told her that Kay had sent her. Gogo invited her inside the house.

Gogo fussed over making tea and biscuits but Neli informed her that she had lost her appetite for biscuits while she was away, the tea on its own would suffice, but Gogo placed a tower of homemade biscuits in front of her with disregard. She bit into the biscuit out of politeness and sipped the tea then she opened her bag.

“Gogo, Khetiwe tells me of your ailments” Neli took out a brown paper tied close with white string.
“Yes, they started in 1978 while I was working in Booysens and and… Where is Kay?” Gogo’s frail voice shook more when she asked about Kay.
“She’s helping out a friend in town. She said to tell you that she’s safe and you should not worry” Neli assured her by speaking slowly.
“What about my medicine?” she worryingly asked with a dry biscuit whirling in her wet mouth.
“That’s why I am here gogo” Neli answered politely trying not to be disgusted.
Neli pushed the plate of biscuits aside and carefully placed the brown packet in its place, she delicately untied the string and unfurled the paper to reveal a pink powder.

“She could not find the medicine because the pharmacy closed but not to worry” Neli continued, “I have made something for you which should ease the pain. The mixture needs to be made in a metallic cup, pour hot water, not boiling, and add a teaspoon of this powder. The solution should be drunk in the morning before it cools down, make sure not to eat before it, it’s best to have at sunrise”
“Thank you, my daughter” Gogo closed the packet up and retied it.  “Now have some more biscuits”.

Neli was pleased with herself and moreover proud to have her medicine accepted by Gogo who was a stern Christian and did not like Neli’s family or Neli for that matter. She imagined that soon she would be married to Kay and that the conflict between their families would end. The conflict began with Gogo’s husband who had originally signed up for the corner house under the apartheid regime but Neli’s grandfather had bribed the officials and the house became his. Corner houses came with more land space than the other houses, also the one on the slope had a view many were envious of because of how flat the district was. Kay’s grandfather never forgave them and it was said that Neli’s grandfather put a spell on the family that they would never be prosperous. The community feared the family on the corner house, generations of chiefs, witches and powerful medicine people came from the lineage. None of Gogo’s four children married instead each was courted by rich men and women but then they disappeared without explanation immediately after writing a letter of proposal to Gogo.  Gogo had grown bitter because of this, all her children gave birth out of wedlock with different partners except for Kay’s mother but still she was angry and vengeful.  The grudge dissipated when she saw the friendship between Kay and Neli grow. Kay was her favourite grandchild therefore their friendship was allowed on the basis that Kay never visited Neli’s house and even when she sneaked off to the house, never to eat the food.

Neli’s walking pace had slowed down because of the heap of gogo’s biscuits stuffed in her tiny stomach. She sent Kay a call-back and counted to thirty but Kay did not call back. She panicked because Kay always called back within thirty seconds. A police siren rang behind her. Police officer Mazibuko peered out the passenger window. A policewoman with her face iced with make-up and long finger nails held tightly on the steering wheel, she made a clicking sound with her tongue and chewed gum violently.

“It’s fine, you don’t have to wait for me. I’ll catch up with you on the other street” Neli heard him tell his irritated colleague.
“Hey Neli” he tried to sound casual. Neli coldly stared back at him.
“I just wanted to make sure that you made it home safely the other night” he explained.
“As you can see, I did and that was like a few days ago, shows how much you care” she was busy with her cell phone with dialling Kay’s number but it was not going through.
“The network is slow today with the lockdown many people are spending more time making phone calls” he informed her. Neli clicked her tongue out of annoyance.
“Why do you have a gogo cell phone?” he belittled.
“What?” she asked angrily.
“Your cellphone is for old people. Are you not on Facebook or WhatsApp?” he jabbered on.
“I’m not, so no you can’t have my number” she snapped back at him and walked away.
“I don’t need your number; I know where you live” he retorted.
“That sounds like a threat” Neli stammered.
“I did not mean for it to sound like that. Forgive me” he feigned being apologetic.
“I have to get home; my father is waiting for me”
“Your father is not home. The whole town knows when his home, there’d be multiple cars now parked outside. You just don’t like me” he clumsily ranted.
“I don’t know you and even if I did, I do not like police officers” Neli exhaustedly explicated
“Okay. Next time I’ll come without the uniform” Mazibuko teased with unbuttoning his shirt.
“Next time don’t come near me” she reiterated.

Police officer Mazibuko seethed with anger but his calm demeanour masked it well. He watched Neli walk away, her bum jiggled and the drawing of the lion on her skirt seemed to roar with every angry step she took. He smiled at himself, he was gaining some entry into her, this encounter was better than the first, with this one he managed to get some emotion out of her. Significantly, he observed how she kept dialing Kay’s number which immediately went to voicemail and he gathered that Neli and Kay’s relationship was shaky. He would save her from the insane spectacle of their open secret and give her his medicine to teach how to be a real woman.

muthi- Zulu word for medicine 

Lockdown Story is the original creative work of Nobantu Shabangu

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