Having been hoeing out the weeds since morning, Father Sikhova rested awhile under the shade of the tree in his farm. He drank porridge, brewed using yellow maize, from a 2L container whose sole purpose had been to store Tropika Juice, but was now used for various purposes. Since the village of Manzana, and other surrounding villages, now had electricity, Father Sikhova could’ve taken a 2L soft drink or juice to the farm. But, a man fond of reminiscing about past times, he preferred porridge. In his household, he was the only one who still ate umngqusho, and pumpkin. And whenever he appetized such foods, his wife, Nosimphiwe, cooked something else for her and the children.
On the footpath, outside the barbwire of his farm, Father Zagweba appeared plodding behind his cattle. He was pushing them to graze near the village since it was towards sunset so it would be easy to put them in the kraal. Father Sikhova possessed a huge reverence for this man. Even at his old age he was still industrious. And he knew the old man’s industriousness wasn’t as a result of his indolent sons. Sikhova had known him to be one of the most hardworking men in Manzana village from his childhood.
“Mbosini!” Father Zagweba shouted, greeting him by his clan name. “How’s wellness?”
“We are well, my elder,” said Father Sikhova. “There’s nothing. We can hear from you.”
“No…We are well as well, Mbosini,” said Father Zagweba, wiping his sweaty face with a cloth. “There’s nothing except for this sun which has been scorching these days.”
“Ey… say that again, my elder. These days it’s terribly sunny. But then are we ever satisfied as people? When it’s sunny, we complain. When it’s rainy, we complain. When it’s windy, we complain. And when it’s cold, we also complain.”
Father Zagweba laughed. “You’re speaking the truth, Mbosini. In other words, we don’t know what we want. So therefore, God is right there where He is.”
Although he never disclosed it to anyone, Father Sikhova was an atheist. But his apathy towards religion was dilute for he did listen and sing along to popular gospel songs. On other occasions he’d amuse himself by humming hymns. And surprisingly, he entered the door of the church occasionally and enjoyed it when the pastor, in his sermons, referenced Biblical verses to give counsel about daily life situations. Yet he could not fathom the idea that there is a God. He avoided it when conversations shifted towards religion.
“I see you still have the energy to tend your livestock,” said Father Sikhova, changing the subject.
“They say if you want to get things done, do them yourself. And it’s not like I have a choice with those lazy sons of mine.”
“Children nowadays are lazy. All of them.”
“Say that again, Mbosini. These boys don’t want to do anything. They disappear the whole noon only to return towards sunset demanding a plate of food.”
“All they do is wander these villages because of soccer and girls.”
“And marijuana. Don’t forget marijuana.”
“It’s hard, my elder.”
Father Zagweba said his goodbyes and continued pushing his cattle. Before returning to his hoeing, Father Sikhova turned on his portable radio to listen to the news. The radio…he vowed it would be his companion till eternity. This simple yet complex sound-producing item always filled him with nostalgia. He reminisced of the times when as siblings they’d sit around the hearth whilst their mother cooked in a three-legged pot with firewood. She’d tell them stories, and they’d tell stories amongst themselves whilst she listened. She’d shush them if they made noise when news was being read on radio. And they’d all sit still and dead silent as another episode of UGonondo Omkhulu story played on Umhlobo Wenene FM. The story made them tremble from fear yet they always looked forward to another terrifying episode. The worst nightmare was when the Eveready batteries started running out of power before month end when their mother could go to town to purchase new ones along with groceries with the money their father sent from Johannesburg. And to boost their power these batteries would be exposed to the sun or near the fire by the hearth and would be used when it was time to listen to the story.
“Good afternoon, listeners,” Dikeledi Jobela, the newsreader began. “In news of this hour, a man shot his wife, and his three children, one boy and two girls, before shooting himself. It is alleged that by the time the neighbours and the police rushed to the scene, the man and his family had long left this thorny road of life.”
Father Sikhova turned off the radio. Sympathy broke his spirit whenever he heard devastating news. This continuous practice of men killing their families and themselves angered him. And why then don’t these men, since they yield to the cowardice of running away from life’s adversities, take their own lives and spare those of their wives and children? The mere imagination of murdering Nosimphiwe and their children boiled his blood. It was a ridiculous impossibility for him.
He stood up and resumed his hoeing.
The sun was setting as it gleamed in a golden yellowish colour. There came a cooling fresh breeze on the farms which, at intervals, had Father Sikhova inhaling it deeply with relaxation with his eyes closed. He believed nature to be therapeutic. On reaching the farm where his white Toyota van was parked, he threw his tools in the back, closing the canopy. He progressed to the front, placed the portable radio behind the driver’s seat, and started the van before getting out again to empty his bladder. He stretched his arms and sat on top of a huge rock. And from where he sat, he could see almost the whole of Manzana village. He was fond of this village where he had grown up. To demonstrate his fondness, he bought kits for the soccer teams in the village to compete for. He readily assisted in ceremonies where men were needed in the village. In fact, the man helped everyone who came knocking at his doorstep. Men from surrounding villages who had gone hunting passing by his compound he’d call them in for a drink and a bit of relaxation. The news of his benevolence exceeded the boundaries of Manzana village.
He stood on top of the rock with his feet. Further ahead the gravel road he saw a man with a bag on his back carrying an object in one hand. And then he saw the ever wandering ‘witch’, MaMpinga. MaMpinga was an old, wrinkled woman who roamed the village talking to herself. Her incessant self-talks were about people dying, screaming in the burning ashes of hell for mercy, in their deathbeds pleading with God to hasten the process. Already a notorious witch, her rambling was perceived by others as some kind of atonement for all her evil deeds. From his childhood, Father Sikhova had been made aware of the phenomenon of witchcraft. As boys they’d point at random women to be avoided because they were dangerous witches. But growth made him sceptical of this kind of witchcraft. He believed it to be real but not in the supernatural sense. The story of the devil with horns and that of the ugly woman with long, sharp fingers flying with a broom at midnight he perceived as pure nonsense. For him the devil was a human being without horns like him. The witch was just an ordinary woman with a cruel and unforgiving heart.
He jumped off the rock on seeing his wife’s car hooting as it passed by, blowing dust behind it. The school was out he rationalised. His wife, Nosimphiwe, was a teacher at Mbongweni Senior Secondary School in Nogaya village. He always saw her car drive past whenever he came to work at the farm. He hastily drove behind her so they would arrive home simultaneously. The man with a bag waved at his wife, asking for a lift, but she drove past him like he were a road sign. His did not understand his wife’s impatience with people. She never cared to demonstrate compassion to others. He had seen her drive past a pregnant woman headed to the clinic asking for a lift. He disliked this behaviour; their privileges ought not make them indifferent to the suffering of others. Should they lose everything the next day, they would need assistance from other people.
When near the man, he stopped the car and opened the front door for him to enter. The man thanked him with gratitude written all over his face. He put his bag and the trowel, which had been what was on his hand, on his lap. Father Sikhova judged him to be a construction worker. And from the way he spoke IsiXhosa with an accent, he knew he was a foreigner.
“Thank you,” said the man. “I knew that witch wouldn’t give me a lift.”
“No problem,” said Father Sikhova, uneased at hearing his wife called a witch.
“Life is ironic, isn’t it?” said the man.
Father Sikhova, amused, enquired. “What makes you say that?”
“The fact that that witch is the wife of a very good man. That’s what confuses me. That a man whose kindness is known in all these villages chose that heartless witch for a wife.”
“What is the name of her husband?”
“His name is Sikhova. He is one of the respectable men in Manzana village.”
Father Sikhova’s suspicions that this man did not know him personally were confirmed. He must have known his name through hearsay and gossip.
“Oh…I am from Manzana. I know Sikhova,” said Father Sikhova.
“Poor God’s fool!” remarked the man, laughing in a pitiful voice. “Even the children he has with that witch are not his.”
Father Sikhova’s hands trembled on the steering wheel, but he quickly composed himself. He wanted to milk these rumours.
“Eh… what are you trying to tell me now? That the good man has been cuckolded?”
“I’m surprised you’re from Manzana yet don’t know this. It’s a known secret. Everyone in these surrounding villages knows about it, except, maybe, Sikhova himself.”
“I am surprised that I don’t know about it.”
“Well, apparently God’s kind-hearted fool is not the biological father to the children he has with that witch. And damnit! How she acts holier-than-thou and stinks of arrogance but is an adulterer.”
The van arrived on the junction near Manzana. Perspiration streamed down Father Sikhova’s forehead and nose. These rumours of his wife, his angelic wife, allegedly being an adulterous witch drained his strength. He asked one crucial question lest he suffer a heart attack and die.
“The man,” he said, embittered. “The man who is the real father of the children. What’s his name?”
“Badudule. He owns a spaza shop at Ntlaza village.”
The van stopped at the junction.
“This is where I am turning,” said Father Sikhova.
“Of course,” said the man. He got off the van. He once again expressed his gratitude and slowly walked towards the footpath headed to Khwam Village. Father Sikhova drove slowly into the village. He was in contemplation of what the man had said. He wondered whether it was true or just mere rumour-mongering. To his surprise, he saw the man through the rear window running back towards the van. Father Sikhova stopped and lowered the windscreen.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said the man, breathing loudly. “I rambled so much I forgot to introduce myself. I am Azuka from Nigeria. And no, I am not a drug dealer. I make a living as a construction worker.” He paused awhile. And then he addressed Father Sikhova gazing him straight in the eye. “I believe it is impolite for a man to not enquire about the name of his benefactor. So what’s the name of this man who has shown me kindness.”
Father Sikhova didn’t want to tell Azuka his name or clan name lest he connect the dots and realise he is the God’s kind-hearted fool he had been talking about.
“Just think of me as a man who helped. That’s all.”
“Well then…if that’s what you wish.” And then Azuka, with all seriousness, said, “You’re a good man. I hope the world doesn’t screw you over like Sikhova.”
Father Sikhova, without uttering a syllable, hastily drove away, leaving a mystified Azuka behind. He arrived in his compound long after his wife.
That night his family was perplexed by his suddenly changed behaviour. He was withdrawn and laconic. Although he ventured to conceal it, even his children could distinguish something was the matter with him. The family went to bed with the tension still brewing. In the middle of the night, for the first time since their marriage, Father Sikhova left his wife to sleep on the couch in the sitting room. This was the most extreme of acts although they’d had some quarrels.
The next morning when he arose, his wife and the children had already left for school. He ignored the breakfast she had laden on the table for him. He dressed up and after more than twenty years he reached for his gun in the safe. With a cloth he wiped it maliciously whilst contemplating. Satisfied with its cleanliness, he shoved and hid it on his waist. He commenced his journey on foot, leaving his van behind. And immediately he was outside his yard, he felt like the most foolish person in the world. The entire village, except him, for years, knew his wife cuckolds him. And it turns out that the children whom he adored to death were not his biologically. His wife, for whom he has demonstrated his love by paying lobola, has borne him bastard children. As he rose up the village, his emotions fluctuated between anger, annoyance, and aggravation. This was a huge predicament for him and he had not the slightest idea of how to resolve it. But when he felt for his gun on his waist, he knew the resolution might start with him pulling the trigger.
“Anger! Oh anger! Killed by anger! Burning in the hottest furnace of hell because of anger!” he turned around to see MaMpinga rambling behind him. But he wasn’t scared of her for he didn’t believe her to be a witch.
He crossed the gravel road sneaking into the barbed wire of the farms used to keep livestock off from entering. He walked slowly along a footpath. The sun was out, but he was not in a rush to reach his destination. After crossing three rivulets on the farms, he came near the uneven ground of Ntlaza village. He progressed towards it, feeling nostalgic. This ground was where he had seen Nosimphiwe for the first time. He had been bewildered by her beauty and mannerism. It was during the festive season and he had returned home from Doornkop mine in Joburg. There was a soccer tournament, and he had been playing for Highlanders, one of the soccer teams in Manzana. He knew that he wanted to make a wife out of her. And then someday, he finally asked to speak to her amongst her group of friends. Initially, she rejected his pursuit. He also learned, through his own vetting of her, that she had a boyfriend by the name of Badudule. It was a relationship he managed to talk her out of and eventually had her as his wife. But unlike many men after paying lobola, he let her continue with her studies, and even financially assisted her pursue her Bachelor of Education at Fort Hare University until she finished.
As he moved away from the ground, Father Sikhova wondered if his greatest mistake had been letting his wife continue her education. Most men with no education force their wives to drop out of school because of the anxiety caused by the possibility of their wives seeing better men. What further infuriated him was the recollection that Badudule had gone to Fort Hare around the same time as his wife. But he dropped out after his second year because of financial difficulties. As he moved between homesteads in Ntlaza, Father Sikhova bitterly wondered what other kinds of debaucheries his wife and Badudule had indulged in whilst at university. The barking of dogs woke him up from his cogitating. And in all the homes he passed by people acknowledged him because of his reputation.
He crossed the gravel road once more and then saw the spaza shop belonging to Badudule standing a distance away. He felt his gun on his waist and progressed towards the spaza shop. And because it was a bit early, there were no people relaxing on the veranda as was usually the norm in this spaza shop. Father Sikhova was grateful. He entered and stood by the door facing the counter. A young man, on recognising him, flashed an appreciative smile.
“Molo Greetings Father Sikhova,” said the young man. “How can I assist you?”
Father Sikhova said not even a word. The smile on the young man’s face faded, giving way to fear.
“Is Badudule here?” Father Sikhova enquired after a moment of deafening silence. The young man tried to speak but no words came out of his mouth. Instead, like a dog with a tail between its legs, he knocked on the door of what was supposed to be the storeroom.
“What’s wrong?” Badudule asked the young man, astonished. The boy, still as scared as an offender about to be hanged, didn’t give a spoken response. Instead, when Badudule came out, he merely directed him by shifting his gaze towards Father Sikhova. Badudule froze on seeing the man he deemed to have complicated his life. Their eyes locked and Badudule, seeing the fury on the man’s eyes, lowered his. And that to Father Sikhova was confirmation that the rumours about this man and his wife were true.
“Can I have a coke and a disposable cup,” said Father Sikhova, giving the money to Badudule. He then went to sit himself in one of the benches inside.
The young man brought him the coke and the cup. Father Sikhova told the boy to keep the change. The boy, grateful but still scared, then went to sit beside his master behind the counter. An unnatural silence prevailed.
As he drank his coke, Father Sikhova maintained his piercing gaze at Badudule. But the desire to kill him suddenly subsided. He knew killing him would not undo the damage or heal the stinging wound in his heart. Besides, killing him seemed easier than he had anticipated. Without any sign, he exited the spaza shop. He leaned against the wall in the veranda for a while eavesdropping on the two people inside.
“What did you do to him?” the young man asked.
“Do what to whom?” said Badudule.
“Father Sikhova. I swear judging by the way he gazed at you he would’ve shot you if he had a gun.”
“Nothing. It’s more of what he did to me. But what I can tell you, my boy, is that his greatest mistake was using culture to steal the only woman I ever loved. A woman who, by the way, will always love me more than she does him.”
At that moment, Father Sikhova walked away, furious. He used the same path in which he had come to go back. Nihilism engulfed him. For the first time in his life he contemplated suicide. Birds started chirping noisily as he walked, but he felt as though they were laughing at him. On reaching Manzana, he wondered if people were still laughing at his idiocy, whether they still considered him the God’s kind-hearted fool as said by Azuka. Or could it be that they’ve laughed so much that it was not funny anymore. He might not be the only idiot in the world, but he considered himself the most idiotic person he knew. When he reached his compound, he threw himself in bed because of exhaustion, not because of his journey but the effects of having slept on a couch the previous night.
When Father Sikhova woke up, it was night-time already. His family was seated in the sitting room watching television. But he bitterly recalled it was not truly his. It was Bududule’s. He passed them without greeting, a gesture which had them looking amongst themselves, wondering, and went straight to the rondavel. He took an axe and a jug full of water and went towards the kraal. He inspected the kraal and found that all the livestock was there. He knelt down and sharpened the axe on one of the stones beside the kraal. Tomorrow he would go to the forest to cut down branches of trees to knit the kraal anew. He wanted to stop thinking about the predicament with Badudule until a solution subconsciously presented itself in his mind. As he sharpened the axe his fury escalated. He thought of Manzana, a village he has given his all, diverting its youth from mischief by promoting sport, finding solutions to members of its community by helping all who come crying at his doorstep, postponing his own issues to partake in whatever goings-on which needed extra hands in the village, yet not even one person, just one, had the loyalty to tell him that he was being cuckolded, that his wife, for whom he had paid a steep lobola, was having an affair with another man, and not only having sex with this but going as far as bearing him children, children he had showered with all the love a good father possesses for his children, children who, sadly, are his only by tradition but biologically belong to his wife’s lover, Badudule, whose only contribution had been to make them whilst he toiled in the mine for their upkeep but now was a laughing stock in the entire village, to other surrounding villages, to the entire universe, and he would have died without having found out if it weren’t for a foreigner by the name of Azuka that it’s Badudule’s blood running in the veins of his children.
Furious, like a possessed demon, he ran to the sitting room with his axe swung high, ready to strike. Piercing screams and cries had the entire village running to find out what the matter was. But by the time they arrived it was dead silent. Even the strongest and bravest of men were horrified by the ocean of blood from the sitting room to the entrance door.
Image: Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash