Plans were in place to send Teko to the bush.
It was 05:30 in the morning, at Teko's uncle's place.
Vusumzi's property had the main house, where he lived, and three other oversized mud huts. It was a large plot of land with cattle and goats.
Teko sat in one of the stuffy huts, undressed, with only a blanket wrapped around him. He'd had to shave every ounce of hair on him, entirely, and apply oil all over himself. One could see their reflection on him.
He sat with an older cousin, who seemed knowledgeable of the proceedings. The only trouble was that he was hammered out of his mind - mumbling every word from his intoxicated mouth.
The place stank of traditional beer and cigarette smoke. It was noisy, with drunk young men still dancing and chanting from the previous night. They sang tirelessly - traditional songs of manhood and maturity. It was ironic, considering that they behaved like silly kids, rejoicing whenever Teko's uncle handed them more beers.
Sneakily, Teko had his cousin, Thando, send text messages to Fati - a totally forbidden act.
He’d promised Thando two cases of beer, when he returns from the bush.
Ndiyakuthanda baby. Ngaske ndikuphuze yazi, mnto yam estrongo, nto yam efit.
Teko whispered through the blanket. “Yes but write it in English, Bra Thando, so that she feels it’s coming from me. I don’t sms like that.”
Thando was on his own crusade, writing text to a Fati he doesn’t even know. The wording sounded nothing like Teko.
“Okay okay. You’re a cheese boy, my lightie. Why would you chat with your bird in English?”
“Just write, please.”
Thando deleted. I luv u Fati, I can’t wait 2 kiss you, my beautiful thing.
“Are you happy now?”
The ladies of Teko's extended family sat in another hut, also boozing and rejoicing. Blessing had had to accommodate the female elders with traditional beer, tripe and wine.
It really wasn't her scene, as she sat there subjected to endless small talk.
All she could think about was – will her nephew be okay. There’d been way too many reports of fatalities. It was shocking that the Department of Health still hadn’t sorted this issue out.
Teko sat in the men's hut feeling and looking morbid.
He'd been advised to stay away from all liquid - liquor or soda. His soberness made him miss his beloved Fati dearly. He thought of her overly honest and emotional persona. Why is Fati asking me about marriage? Does she think they’ll set me with someone else here, or what?
It hadn't dawned on him that Fati was probably just being a girl - yearning for a loving lifetime partner.
Then suddenly, the singing stopped.
Teko sat up, peeping to see what was going on.
Thando hid his phone away.
Uncle Vusumzi walked in with the initiator, Xaba.
You could hear a pin drop as everyone shifted back, giving the elders room.
Teko fidgeted, frightened now.
Xaba wore traditional attire with beads wrapped around him, and a cow-skin sarong.
His only words were, "Let's go, gentlemen!"
The chanting began again, much louder and with more vigour than before.
Teko stood, adjusting the blanket just right.
"Don't be scared, brother," Thando assured. "It's just one week of pain, and afterwards you're healing. Trust me, you’ll be okay."
It wasn't helping at all.It made Teko increasingly panicky.
He didn't want to be reminded of pain and wounds healing and all that. He needed to just get it over and done with.
"Sure," was Teko's response, walking out, barefoot.
They all sang and fussed around Teko, taunting and teasing him with their drunken breaths. “It’s on now, boy … You’re gonna die … You’d better be ready … Are you a sisi or a man? …” And so on.
Teko walked out, accompanied closely by his cousin. It was icy cold, with dew on the grass.
Blessing, Florence and a gang of their lady distant relatives stood afar, singing and cheering along too.
Even though Teko saw them briefly and vaguely, from a distance - he felt Blessing's pain. Blessing behaved liked her nephew was being sent to prison, for life.
She'd been against it from word go.
The initiation had begun.
They walked a kilometre on gravel, stones and thorns to the actual initiation hut - it would be Teko's home for the next three weeks. Teko’s feet hurt like hell. He'd had to maneuver around all sorts in the thorny terrain.
"Bra Thando, I need you to give me your cell phone, tomorrow," Teko whispered, covering his mouth with the blanket. "Fati will contact you, to get to me. Please avail yourself. I’ll sort you out for the airtime."
"For now, please send her an sms saying, I'm okay, everything went smoothly. We’ll chat tomorrow and I love you."
"But how do you know everything's gonna be fine?" Thando joked. "It's war out here, youngblood. Most initiates don't make it back."
Teko found no humour to his comment.
"I'm just kidding, you'll be fine man. Just don't drink anything, and no oily foods for the first week. If you disobey, you’re on your own."
"Sure." Teko was beyond terrified now. He could see his initiation hut. It was straw-made primitive structure, with plastic packets all over.
There was also a bon fire burning beside it.
“Also tell Aunt Blessing and Flo that I’m okay, please, no matter what happens.”
“You will be okay, my lightie. Don’t stress.” Thando responded, chanting loud and dancing.
By the time they arrived, Xaba and uncle Vusumzi stood beside the hut, prepared already.
Xaba held a sharp miniature spear, pointing it to a spot Teko had to sit on.
They'd laid a small blanket for the initiate.
A terrified Teko obeyed and sat on it.
Everyone else circled around Teko, still singing and chanting.
A goat had been slaughtered, prior to their arrival. Teko had been told that the goat was a sacrifice. It symbolized his leap from boyhood to maturity.
Teko's uncle kneeled down and gave Teko a piece of meat to eat. Vusumzi fed the initiate briefly, without saying a word and quickly retreated.
"Throw that blanket away, boy" Xaba insisted, approaching Teko.
Teko did so. He trembled.
The moment had come.
The singing stopped. Everyone watched closely.
Xaba stooped down, opening Teko's legs wide.
“This is one of the most important days of your life. Do you understand, boy?"
"I don't want you to contact your female family members or girlfriends, for at least ten days, do you understand me?"
“You’d better not nurse yourself. If you need assistance down there, you get your small boy to call me, and me alone. You do not go to a hospital - if you do, then you’re not a man. Do you understand me?
“Yes I do, Sir.”
His uncle looked at him with worry on his face. Everyone seemed to share a concerned look on them as they huddled to witness.
"Teko Mpande, are you prepared to leave boyhood foolishness behind, and mature into a responsible man?" Xaba asked, holding the spear up like a murder.
"Yes I am!" Teko responded, scared out of his wits, with glassy eyes.
"I can't hear you, damnit!"
"YES I AM!"
"Are you prepared to leave childishness, self pity, laziness, parental dependencies and stupidity behind?"
"Yes I am."
"Shout it out LOUD!!"
"YES I AM!"
Xaba raised the blade, dropped it and sent Teko into excruciating manhood.
The crowd roared, cheering with pride and joy.
The singing commenced again, with dancing, clapping and whistle blowing.
It was a celebration.
Teko had crossed over into a new chapter.
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