This was a passion project–one of those things I know will probably never be published but I wrote it, anyway. Because I wanted to, because it spoke to something deep within me, because I’ve seen it, because it won’t leave my thoughts, because…because, because… It’s not even close to what I usually write. I hope you enjoy it at least a little.
IN THE LAND OF HEAT AND DUST
By Resoketswe Manenzhe
By the time the winter months arrived everyone in the village of Kamela knew that Mmitsa was afflicted with the disease of the three letters. Everyone was sure of this because Mmitsa had been married to Thabana for the past twenty summers; for nineteen of those summers, Thabana had been visiting the hut of Mphela, the small hut at the corner near the big motlomma tree.
Mphela—a short woman with a dark yet pretty face, had been known to stand in the queue for ARVs at the local clinic for five summers now. As was expected of her fading favour with the gossiping women, she had told Thabana that the queue was for her Tuberculosis treatment.
To prove that he believed the enchanting tale told to him by his beloved Mphela, Thabana did not cease the visits to her hut. And when he was blessed with the good fortune of acquiring a job at a gold mine near the small city of Mokopane, Thabana was seen boarding the bus with Mphela’s hand held firmly in his.
When she departed for the hostel room assigned to Thabane at the gold mine, Mphela stopped standing in the queue for her Tuberculosis treatment at the local clinic. And when she arrived at the hostel, she did not stand in the queue for ARVs at the clinic there. She was still a stranger in that place and even though she had only gone up to standard three in school, she understood that new gossiping mouths would whisper into Thabana’s trusting ears.
So it came as no surprise at all to Nurse Lerumo, the matron nurse at the local clinic all the way back in the rural Kamela, to hear of the death of Mphela. That was at the same time when the people of Kamela Village discovered that Mphela’s disease of the three letters had evolved to the deadly one of the four letters.
It was whispered by all, at least those who did not fear that their husbands did not keep beloved women in their hostel rooms, that Thabana was not a man of integrity. And when Thabana heard the news being whispered by his neighbours, it was said that he started to grow thin and that he could be found standing in a queue for ARVs in the local clinic that was only two streets behind his hostel room in Mokopane.
Yet as soon as it was whispered that Thabana was heard confessing to Nurse Lerumo, “I wonder if there was ever love,” it soon became common knowledge that Thabana was a man who was now seeking his ancestors, and so, he was man who could be said to have at least a strand of integrity.
“I wonder if I truly loved her,” Thabana said to the neat nurse, who at hearing the confession of his heart, felt that shaking her head was a kind thing to do. She clasped her hands together and said to him, “These are the things of life, child of my people, these are the things of life.” Then she sent a boy to buy a carbonated drink from the spaza shop behind her house and offered it to Thabana.
He drank it solemnly and thanked her for her kind words. When at last he felt that his heart no longer felt heavy, he bid her farewell, placed his hat on his head, and departed her hut with a wave. It was after he left that Nurse Lerumo started to wonder of whom the troubled man had been speaking when he wondered if he had ever loved her.
When Mphela’s three children were seen going to school in dirty clothes and their stomachs were heard growling from hunger Nurse Lerumo understood that the troubled man known as Thabana had been speaking of his once beloved and now deceased Mphela.
It dawned as a shock to all who could whisper just beneath their breaths when Mmitsa, now the only lover of Thabana, used a portion of her youngest daughter’s social grant money to buy a sack of maize meal, a jar of washing powder, a pack of sugar beans and tins of hot-flavoured sardines so that she could deliver them to the hut that stood near the big motlomma tree.
It was all rather confusing: when the winter months finally arrived and everyone was eager to gossip about the conformation of the disease of the three letters, they instead found themselves speaking of Mmitsa’s intentions with the half-orphaned yet fully abandoned children of the dead woman known as Mphela.
Yet even this was soon replaced by the news that Julius, brother of Thabana, had raped the oldest daughter of Mphela. It appeared that everyone had failed to inform Julius of the disease of the three letters and that the child’s mother had been stolen by its brother—the deadly disease of the four letters.
Nurse Lerumo was soon seen visiting Julius’s hut to inform him of the dangers of living with his blood untested for such things. Mmitsa, who was said to be in fear of her own daughter’s possible rape, did not fail to notice that the kind Nurse had forgotten to visit the raped girl. As she sat under the mango tree near the hut she shared with her husband, Mmitsa concluded that the Nurse must have known that the raped girl had heard of these things from her deceased mother—the things of rape and the dangers of her own tainted blood.
When the winter winds howled like the wolves of the night and all the trees shook like thin straws of grass, no one was sure of which rumour to nurture—that of the raped child being pregnant or the one of Mmitsa pestering the police with the arrest of the man known as Julius, the child of her husband’s mother.
It was because of her tireless visits to the police station that Thabana requested a leave of absence from the gold mine and returned to speak with his wife. “He is my brother, dear wife, he is the child of my mother’s womb,” Thabana said to his beloved wife, “Besides, an arrest will not erase the crime. What good will result from the arrest, beloved wife?”
When Mmitsa failed to give an answer to her husband’s question, he kissed her shaking hands by way of farewell and departed for the small city of Mokopane on the next day.
And so it was that when Mphela’s half-orphaned daughter gave birth to a daughter of her own, she did not know what to call the child—daughter, cousin or curse. So she was seen taking the child to the gully beyond the primary school and digging there for hours. She then placed something in the hole and begged for forgiveness.
And when she returned to her hut at last, they say Mphela’s half-orphaned daughter wept and washed herself in hot water for many hours, and no one ever saw the child to whom she had given birth, and so no one else was burdened with deciphering what the missing baby should be called—child or curse.
Mmitsa was said to visit the gully beyond the primary school only days after that, and there she took something from the ground and wrapped the thing in the folds of her own garb. By that time, when Mmitsa did the unthinkable thing of burying an abomination behind the hut she shared with her husband, the winter months had already departed and the ngaka was predicting a sizable harvest for the farmers.
And so by the time the summer months arrived everyone in the village knew that Mmitsa was afflicted with the disease of the head. Everyone was sure of this because Mmitsa had been strange in the way she handled the matters of her family, and in the way she was careless with the blessing of having a family in the first place.
And that was how, in that small village of Kamela, everyone came to agree that the affliction of the disease of the three letters upon Mmitsa was a small matter, after all. There were better things to discuss when the women convened for their gossip—such as the matter of the madness of that woman who lived in the hut near the mango tree.
 A deciduous fruit-bearing tree found in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
 A small convenient store most commonly found in rural villages and townships.
 A (African) traditional healer.