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The second annual Oshun short story anthology, Twist, is a compilation of short fiction from South Africa’s most accomplished women authors and most promising new writers. Using random tabloid headlines as a point of departure, 25 authors weave tales of myth and legend, the ordinary and the extra-ordinary, the bizarre and the unexpected.
A homely woman undergoes a transformation deeper than skin after face transplant surgery in My face belongs to a killer. A disgruntled wife comes to terms with her unsalvageable marriage in Man abandons wife for rhino, a reclusive writer inexorably turns to ink and a mysterious campsite Romeo ruffles tail feathers as a mother grieves for things unsaid. From the sublime to the absurd, Twist navigates the interface between truth and fiction, between imagination and reality.
Established South African writers Sindiwe Magona, Petra Müller, Gabeba Baderoon, Susan Mann, Marita van der Vyver, Rachelle Greeff, Pier Myburgh, Consuelo Roland, Rosamund Hayden and Joanne Fedler set the literary tone, with up-and-coming authors Ceridwen Dovey, Arja Salafrance, Karin Schimke and Alexandra Smith (among others) more than holding their own in this fresh contribution to local fiction.
Citizen Vibe (Sheana Campbell):
Sunday Independent (Karina Magdalena Szczurek):
Die Burger (Thomas Minnaar):
Cape Argus (Vivien Horler):
Sindiwe Magona: Man lands on the moon
Makhulu Mamkwayi might have broken the longevity record, had she had a birth certificate. You only had to look at her, see all those lines that criss-crossed her face, to know she was older than anybody you knew. Older than anybody you’d ever seen or would ever see in your entire life. And when you heard she had outlived her great-great-grandchildren, then you had no doubt she was very, very, very old indeed.
Then why would you doubt the veracity of her words? Especially when those words were delivered with such vehemence? Such meticulous attention to detail. And never, not once, varied from what you’d heard the very first time they hit your ears, surprised your mind.
Neither did the time or manner of their telling vary. It was always after dinner - in that hover-time when one didn’t really know what to do. Not with the same precision as: time to start dinner ... time to dish up ... time to eat... and time to wash the dishes.... Or time to get up ... time to make the beds ... time to sweep or time to start breakfast.
'Do you know that my mother knew Nongqawuse?’
Makhulu Mamkwayi would begin. She never used such commonplace references as years or descriptive phrases - I am this or that old. In fact, now that I think of it, she never, not once, talked of herself in terms of age or ageing.
Her mother had seen Nongqawuse. Her mother and Nongqawuse were age mates. If you have done any history of South Africa, you know how old any child of Nongqawuse would be today. Remember too, people were made wives at a much younger age then, so they started having children way, way before twenty - at around twelve.
Mamkwayi knew all about ootikoloshe, iimpundulu, and the likes. She knew that whole villages existed below the surfaces of water in dams and rivers and, naturally, in the big blue and endless river that ceaselessly roars and thunders. Why, she had seen some of the marvels of that under-world. Seen them with her own two big brown eyes - so it was not hearsay.... She’d already started sprouting, so she was no little girl when this happened - when the first sighting took place.
A group of us girls had gone up the mountainside to gather imifino. That means it was late autumn, early winter ... the mountainside still verdant and all that goodness just there. Just there for the plucking.
The other girls were a little older, already interested in boys and such stuff. I was a wild one - a little afraid of boys ... I mean, in that way. I couldn’t quite figure things out. I mean, it would have made more sense to me then, for women to be lovers - after all, they were made the same way. It just seemed, you know, a misfit, the other way round.
Anyway, so I lagged a little behind the group, minding my own business. We got halfway up the mountain, to the place below where the goats were grazing, but well above human footprints. You know we didn’t have toilets there and people did their business in the bushes and thickets, so to gather anything you were going to put in your mouth, you went well away from where people frequented.
‘On the way back, all of us carrying our bundles, I now headed the group. I was in a hurry to get home. Tata did not care for a girl child to be out of doors after the sun had gone to sleep. As the others tarried, talking and laughing among themselves, I struck out ahead despite their relentless leg-pulling, their girl-tease. Determinedly, I trudged home. I was never in a hurry to make my father mad.
There was a river to cross. I went upstream, where it was a little shallow. The umfino all bundled up into my pinafore and fastened around my waist, I reached the crossing point. The others were still some way behind me. I gathered my dress and petticoat to raise it waist high so I could wade through the shallows without getting them all wet. But then suddenly, the ground at my feet gave.
One moment I was doing what I’d done countless times at this very point - first alongside Mama, holding tightly onto her hand (if she had one free) or to her pinafore - but later doing it all by myself. But now, I just sailed down - zoomed down at the speed of the amahobohobo (weaver birds) nesting all along the riverside in the lacy branches of the willows. I felt as though I were flying, only downward. As though I walked on air!
The strange thing is, do you know, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Not at all frightened. Sudden and swift as the whole thing was, how it happened, it felt just right. It felt as though it were something I had expected - something I knew would happen.
Next thing I know, there is cousin Yolisa, who had died a month ago. There she was, looking exactly as she had looked the last time I saw her ... before she took ill so suddenly and died, before the witchdoctor her father had gone to fetch had even taken his medicine sack off his horse!
Yolisa smiled at me. Smiled in that way she had - eyes sparkling while the face stayed quite immobile. Hers was an eye smile; it touched neither lip nor dimpled cheek. We looked at each other and she beckoned. Head slightly bent to one side, her smile shy but inviting, encouraging, she beckoned with one arm.
How could I not go? There wasn’t the least bit of fear in my heart. This was Yolisa, my mother’s brother’s daughter - umzala warn - my cousin! Draped over her shoulders, was the thin white cloth in which she’d been buried.
I’m cold,’ she said, when I’d come right in front of her. We stood facing each other. ‘I’m cold,’ she said. Then she told me how she came to be where she was. How one of the women of the village had spirited her away.
‘That thing you saw, the thing you buried, was not me. That was impundulu who had taken my image to fool all of you. By the time I was pronounced dead, I was already at the Forest of Gwadana. What lay on my isicamba, pretending to be me, was impundulu, child of my father’s sister’.
My poor cousin - lobola already in her father’s kraal, about to be made a wife! A big-boned girl and bound to give that husband of hers many, many, many children. But there she was.
She wanted me to bring her clothes. And something to eat. The woman who had spirited her away had not yet done the ritual to transform her into isithunzela, a zombie. Yolisa was afraid that would happen soon. She wanted me to return before the sun set and bring her what she had asked for. Because after that, when the witches had done making her isithunzela, she’d be invisible to the human eye for many years - hundreds of years. Till all who’d known her had gone to the spirit world. Which explains why I knew none of the others with her - all izithunzela from people way, way before my time.
Then she picked up a clod and threw it at me. Not to hit me, no. But as though to send me off - warn me of some danger. I say that because she didn’t throw the clod so it would hit me. I was near enough that, had this been her intention, she’d have hit me all right. Also, she threw it rather gently - didn’t use a great deal of force at all. Even had it hit me by accident, it wouldn’t have done much harm.
At that point, I turned and fled. Screaming at the top of my voice, all that imifino scattered to the four winds, I fled. I reached home and screeched, ‘UYolisa!’ When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by all my mothers and fathers. All the blood sisters and brothers of Mama and Tata were there. So were the clan relatives. And so were all the neighbours.
I told them all I had seen - all I had heard. But Mama was a new convert, igqobhoka. She had just washed her umbhaco of red ochre and now her skirt was as white as a communion wafer. She would not hear of me going back to the river. She would not hear of any talk of Yolisa. As far as she was concerned, Yolisa was dead and buried - and that was the end of that.
When Mamkwayi came to this moment, she would shake her head and a faraway look would steal into her eyes. She’d appear as though she’d clean forgotten where she was or what she was about. Only a gnawing sorrow lay on her brow. A few seconds later, however, she would return to us, return to the story she carried in her bosom till the day she died.
But I know what I saw. I know what I heard. There were people there - down below. Well below the water we drank, there was a whole big village and people lived in it. People just like you and me. They talked. They walked. They ate and drank and fought among themselves. Some still had their tongues and there was hair on their heads.
But not a few had already been made izithunzela - heads shaved clean, a gleaming nail protruding from the middle of the head. These could no longer speak. Not as you and I speak. They were de-tongued and their speech reduced to a nasal hahhahhhahhahahahahhah. Kowu Malume’s child. To say ‘headache’ in the morning and be dead by high day - egg-laying time.’
That remark was always followed by a slow shake of the head, a deep sigh. Then, with the back of her veined and papery hand, Mamkwayi would wipe her dry, dry eyes that cried only when she laughed or thought too hard over some forgotten item she’d misplaced. And although we all knew the outcome, knew what happened at the end of the story, we waited to hear that ending all over again.
The way she said it, the regret in Mamkwayi’s voice, made that ending seem new each time I listened to it. In a voice lower than she’d been using, she’d say:
‘Because of Mama, Yolisa was most probably made isithunzela that very night. We could have saved her....’
With a sigh, she’d shake her head again and hang it down as though in shame or utter despair. She didn’t have to explain further. We all knew the rest, could fill in the gaps. After someone has been made a zombie, there can be no rescuing them. Zombies all get wild and shy away from people. The witches make them that way - so that they won’t go home or be discovered, even by someone accidentally bumping into them.
And then, seconds later, her head would rear up and, brow furiously furrowed, she’d bark: ‘But guess what? When that big lie about a man walking on the moon came, Mama had no problem believing it! Now, you tell me ... when is she ever going to get to the moon to see that for herself? Same woman who doubts her only daughter’s word can believe all this stupidity and lies from people she doesn’t even know!’
This was said with such heat, eyes blazing, we all felt her sense of outrage. I never had the heart to tell Makhulu I had seen the miracle of the Apollo landing myself, albeit on television. I don’t think she’d have believed me anyway.