The walls of the single room hut are a lurid, almost luminescent green. The single glazed window is closed but the rough timber door is ajar allowing some air movement, otherwise the heat radiating through the pitted corrugated iron roof would be intolerable.
The walls are clean and have probably been recently painted, but when the old man leans forward the plaster behind his back is visible where the paint has been rubbed off. Clearly he always sits in this position on the grass mats spread around the corner of the room. Sibusiso and I sit on mats against the adjoining wall. He comfortably with his legs bent and to one side, leaning on one arm. Me with my knees uncomfortably against my chest and arms protectively around my shins. I randomly wonder why we mlungu find it so difficult to sit on the ground – not enough practice I suppose.
It had taken hours to get here.
First we had gone to Babe Makhanya’s homestead. He was not there, but he could be found at Nkoyoyo where he had taken the cattle to the dip, and I remembered that it is Wednesday - dipping day. A young lady from the homestead gave the number of someone else who may be able to help - a Mr. Hadebe.
|The road from Kuthula Cottage to Nkoyoyo - which is as bad as it |
As we battled our way through the deeply vegetated edges of the homestead fields Sibusiso suggested that we could track down Babe Makhanya at Nkoyoyo. I said “Look Babe Makhanya is only going to be acting as a middle man surely you know someone rather than having to go through Makhanya”. He thought this a good idea, and anyway Makhanya always got drunk when he went to Nkoyoyo and would therefore be difficult to deal with. Pleased that we had established that the Makhanya route was probably a potential blind alley we resolved to phone Babe Hadebe. In order to do this we drove a kilometre North to the top of a ridge between two koppies to get a better cell phone signal.
Inside the room is a long low table along the wall next to the old man. It is laden with a great variety of containers ranging from canteen size Ricoffee tins to small tubs that once contained Vaseline or lip salve, and screw-topped pill pots. Against the wall opposite us is a rough timber shelving unit leaning at such a crazy angle that it threatens to collapse at any moment spilling onto the floor more boxes and pots, and two litre plastic bottles containing nameless and mysterious liquids that are plainly not what is advertised on the peeling and fading labels.
As it later transpired fortune smiled on us, because once we had managed to find a signal we rang Babe Hadebe’s number and there was no answer. “There is no answer” shrugged Sibusiso, “listen” handing the phone to me. “I am sure you are right,” I said, but listened to the ringing tone anyway – more through a sense of camaraderie than because I had doubted him.
“Sibusiso”, I said, “we are getting nowhere. I would much rather that we find someone who you know – rather than going through second and third parties.”
“Okay”, he said, “let’s go to Nkoyoyo where I know someone who knows someone who lives in Mpholojeni.”
“Right”, I said, “let’s go to Nkoyoyo.”
The road from Nkoyoyo to Mpolinjane - which gets a lot worse
In the corner between the old man and me is another pile of herbs out of which protrudes the handle of a golf club. I wonder if the old man actually practices his putting, or uses it to thresh his herbs, or thrash recalcitrant creditors perhaps?
Nkoyoyo is not far, 5 kilometres or so, but the road is in appalling condition. Sibusisio congratulated me on the excellence of my 4x4 vehicle and we discussed the relative merits of diesel over petrol.
At Nkoyoyo we picked up an old school friend of Sibusisio’s called Sifiso who climbed into the back of the vehicle to show us the road through Mpolonjeni that would lead to our goal. The Mpolonjeni road was even worse than our road and made more dangerous by the speeding taxis waltzing around cavernous potholes and leaping over aggressive ridges and dips. While relatively stable now this road must be nigh on impassable after heavy rain.
After three or so kilometres we arrived at a collection of three un-plastered concrete block one roomed huts. We parked, and in that familiar manner of studied reluctance deferentially approached an old man clad in a loose shirt, tracksuit pants and broken-down sandals sitting with a younger companion on a grass bank in the shade of a tree.
Despite his obvious youth in the face of the old man Sibusiso explains with confidence, enthusiasm and verve the purpose of our visit.
Sibusiso explains that I own a cottage beyond Nkoyoyo towards Hawane, and that there is a smaller empty workers cottage obscured by trees some 100 meters distance from the main cottage, and that the building has three windows in it, or rather that until recently there were three windows in it but now there are only three gapping holes where the window frames used to be and that we do not know who has stolen these window frames, but it happened over a period of perhaps four weeks and we (Sibusiso and I) are very upset about this state of affairs and would like the frames to be returned and would also dearly like to see the people responsible for this heinous crime in the flesh and to see them roundly condemned as criminals and be suitably punished, and anyway we are also fearful that further such crimes may be committed in the future.
At least I must assume that this is what he is saying, because the entire proceedings take place in siSwati with occasional brief translation for my benefit, and the breathless explanation has gone on for an awfully long time.
I had expected the old man to listen to our tale and make an appointment for a later date and an insitu inspection, but no, this does not happen. He dons a long beaded necklace with what look like sharks teeth (but aren’t) around his neck and under his arm like a bandolier.I am a rationale being, a family man, a law abiding, respected (I think!) and responsive member of society. A cat loving person with two university degrees and membership of a number of learned societies who has demonstrated a capability and willingness to change the odd nappy or two. I am sitting in a hut in rural Swaziland consulting a traditional Sangoma about the case of the missing window frames.
If I pinch myself hard enough I will wake up . . . except I don’t want to!