Reflections

The Maiden and The Bear (9)

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By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa:

It is the day before the lobola negotiations, the calm before the storm. I’ve been sleeping at Ntombi’s since Wednesday, partly because I want to fully support my friend and also to run away from my family. We were woken up by Ntombi’s mother in the wee hours of the morning so that we could make tea for everyone. That means preparing wood fire, boiling water and then making tea. Luckily we had gathered plenty of wood in the past two days; we don’t have to go down to the forest. We are now sitting at exhibeni waiting for the water to boil. It is so warm in here. Ntombi and I are laughing about her crazy aunt when we hear…

“Ekhaya kwaNgcobo. Mapholoba, Nyuswa. Sicel’ isihlobo esihle. Mavela, Mafuzafulele njegefu lemvula.”

What?! There are people chanting Ntombi’s clan names outside, asking for her hand in marriage. This is a shock! The King’s delegation is expected tomorrow. Ntombi is literally shaking.

“Mapholobola! Yithi oMbhele, oSothole, oMphemba. Yithi abaseLenge. Sicela isihlobo esihle. Fuze”

It’s the Mbhele’s! Those are the Mbhele clan names. Are these people crazy?! Ntombi’s father barges in looking like a dragon. I have always wondered what her mother saw in this man – damn he is ugly! He has short legs, a huge stomach and is seriously black (not dark; black like a Zulu pot). That’s all you need to know. He walks around the room, kicks a bucket and then storms out. He probably wanted to kick Ntombi but the poor thing is already crying. Who knew life could be this interesting huh? I’m a princess and my friend is getting lobola from two men. I have always known Mnqobi to be stupid; he always acts irrationally. First, he broke her virginity and now this. His mind is a circus I tell you. I go around the fire and embrace Ntombi.

“My friend, don’t cry. This is not a funeral.”

I’m really not good with comforting people and my humour is kind of dry. She smiles. I can see the fear in her eyes. The chanting goes on outside and there is no reply from the Ngcobo family. There are footsteps around the yard but no one comes into the kitchen. The water is boiling now. As I’m holding Ntombi I can hear her heartbeat, her silent tears, I can almost taste the fear. It hits me; this is serious. The Zulu delegation is coming tomorrow; if the Ngcobo’s welcome the Mbhele’s today there will be trouble with the royal family.

“Mnqobi probably thought this was best,” I begin. “We asked him to fix this remember?”

She nods.

“His family obviously agreed to this. You were promised to the Mbhele’s first. Ntombi you need to trust your man. Trust your love, you will pull through.”

We hear one of Ntombi’s elders respond to the Mbheles and we run to the window. The Ngcobo’s are now at the gate but on the inside while the Mbhele’s are on the outside. It’s Mnqobi, Mzuvele, Nqobizitha and Bhekikhaya.

“These fools,” Ntombi laughs.

Even though they are the eldest Mbhele brothers, they can’t negotiate lobola. They need their father and uncle. They really are fools. Ah! Their father appears from behind Bhekikhaya. That’s the brother I wanted to end up with but he works in the city and is engaged – just my luck! We cannot hear what the men are saying but I’m glad the sun is coming out, at least we see everybody clearly. After what seems to be a decade, the gate opens and everyone gets into the main hut. The crazy aunt and Ntombi’s mother come into the kitchen and send us to the main hut. They will continue with the tea – can you see me smile?

We entered into the bedroom area through the back door. We can hear the conversation from here. We are given clothes and head wraps, to be presentable. And now we wait.

“Ngcobo ,we come in peace.” I hear Mnqobi’s father say.

By the way; Mnqobi remained outside. He cannot be part of the negotiations. He actually moved back when his father came to the front. Ntombi is biting her nails, maybe she shouldn’t be hearing this. Her father is fighting Mbhele. I know he just wants the royal money. Mbhele is rich, yes, but he can never pay as much as the King. And he is calm throughout the conversation.

“Let us not forget that the girl is already our makoti. Mapholoba, do I have to remind you of the promise we made about these children all those years ago? Maybe you’ve been away from home for too long, you’ve forgotten.”

Damn Mbhele! The Ngcobo’s do not retaliate.

“We apologized for not announcing our arrival, and even paid the fine for that. We’ve also paid for the damage that my son has caused. We are not here to ask for her hand in marriage, we have come to finish what we started. Remember we have already paid half of her lobola. How old was she again, ten? Just before you went to the city.”

We exchange looks with Ntombi. So Ntombi is already a Mbhele wife, well, technically. What type of father is this anyway? Ngcobo probably asked for the money so he can go start his new life in the city. He left his family broke! Can I hate this man any more than this?

“Get the girls,” Ntombi’s father says after an awkward silence.

This means he accepts. We are going out covered; they need to identity their ‘bride’ and the order of the day can continue. Bhekikhaya is the one that identified Ntombi. How hard can it be? My hips are just a sell out and we are all familiar with each other.

This is it! Ntombi is officially going to be Mrs Mbhele. I can see her smile when we walk out the hut with our heads facing down. My friend will get her happily ever after, hopefully. I wonder how the Zulus will take this. Their bride-to-be is taken. I think I’ll spend another night here. Ntombi’s mother appears at the door.

“Makhosazane, your father is here for you.”

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