CHAPTER 5: The Abandoned Valley and a New Home
CHAPTER 5: The Abandoned Valley and a New Home
Dengana was crying again.
On top of all the other tragedies, there had been another terrible shock awaiting the surviving villagers. All the young boys who had been looking after their various herds had not returned. Dengana’s younger brother, Delani, was one of those missing.
Dengana had been one of those to go and search for them. The grazing area where he had last seen his brother had no trace of boy or cattle, and he had gone to visit or overlook all the other places where they sometimes took them, but without success.
Mpilo, the headman’s brother, returned to the headman’s farm but then came back again in even more distress. ‘All cattle and horses also gone from farm, same like here, same like Old Frogs! Fence flat; no cattle,’ he yelled.
The ‘fence flat’ registered suddenly with Dengana. He stopped crying and said a number of times, ‘That mean they go somewhere, not taken by tokoloshe,’ but nobody was listening. Instead, everyone was taken up with frenzied preparations to leave the accursed area.
The boy wanted to curl into a ball and sleep. He felt physically and emotionally drained. It took a great effort of will to force himself to follow up on his hunch. He made that effort. When Mpilo yet again went back to the farm, which was one of those furthest up the valley, he had a stowaway.
As soon as the coast was clear, Dengana sneaked out of the back of the ATV. He debated whether to try and speak to Mpilo now that he was alone, but could see that he was already in a frenzy of gathering belongings and probably still wouldn’t listen. At a jog, he made his way across the grazing areas to where he could see that a good length of fence had simply been pushed over, as if by dozens of cows working in concert. He gave some clicks of satisfaction when he saw, on the other side, clear indications of the passage of the herd. The signs were easy to follow, so he did.
He grew increasingly excited as other converging sets of tracks became visible on either side, showing that other groups of animals had either joined the herd, or had followed the same route. More flattened fences marked the way, until the broad highway of tracks went upwards towards the mountains and outside of any fenced areas.
Something which cheered him up enormously was when, in a few places where softer ground had been churned up by the hooves, he could make out the imprints of small bare feet which had to have been made after the cattle passed. From that, he was confident that his brother and the others were alive, and following the runaways.
He had been following for a couple of hours, now along a section that sloped ever upwards towards a break between mountain summits, when a group of figures coming towards him made him cry out with joy. Delani came rushing down towards him, to hug him as if he would never let go.
He greeted the others; then one a little older than himself, Guduza, said to him, ‘The cattle all run, run, run. Horses, sheep, goats go with them. All stay together. We follow long time. They have stopped behind the mountain. They will not come back. We shout; we hit them with sticks, we throw stones; they only go other way. We go back now, tell fathers.’
Guduza and all of the others had mothers or sisters or both who had been at the river. One of the boys had a father who had been at the Place of Two Old Frogs. Dengana wished he could crawl into a hole and stay there rather than having to break the awful news to all of them. It had to be done, though, and somehow he managed to do it.
The return of the herders lifted a little of the gloom of the remaining villagers. After the boys had got as far as the farm, an astonished Mpilo had piled the still-wailing group into the ATV for the last stretch of the way back.
The headman ordered that Guduza and another older boy, Njabulo, whose normally merry disposition fitted the meaning of his name, would set out early next morning, fully provisioned for a few days, to find and keep track of the herd. Mpilo would drop them off at the nearest point to the animals which the vehicle could reach.
First priority in all their minds, though, was to leave. The headman went on a journey the next morning, and returned with arrangements already made with another Ndhlovu ‘brother’ (cousin) whose farm and village were some thirty kilometres away. They would all move there, for the time being at least. The area had plenty of grazing, and his relative welcomed the thought of his herd being increased so greatly, even if it turned out to be temporary. Greater numbers of cattle on his land meant prestige, in his world.
Preparations for departure went amazingly quickly. By the next evening, some families had already packed their belongings and had found ways to transport them in their own or borrowed vehicles.
Before the first ones left, though, the headman called a meeting of everyone, and said, ‘What has happened to us in this place is family business, and must not be told to anyone outside the family. Do you understand well?’ He glared at the younger members, including Dengana. ‘Do you children understand well? No word must pass.’ They all nodded.
Therefore, the following day when Dengana and his family were helped with changing their wheel by Donald, Dengana had not been able to be frank with his old friend Hugh, but he had warned him as much as he dared.
The following few days were spent in settling in to their new home area, which was called Sisebenzela Kahle (working well), but the Kahle was generally left off. It was amazing how easily the extra numbers were absorbed into that community, and how soon new huts started to sprout.
Guduza found enough mobile phone reception on the mountain to report that it was urgent to do something about the livestock. Some men from Lesotho, over the border, were stating that the animals were now in their land and were trying to claim them. They would have done so, had it not been that the first part of the route they needed to follow was back towards Rhino Valley, and all the animals refused to budge in that direction.
Dengana was sent as part of a large group from their new village, with the joint tasks of discouraging any animal-grabs, and of herding the animals to the new location. There were no roads in that area, so the route had to be along the plateau behind the line of mountains, and then back over them or through them again.
Having proved himself to have a good eye as a pathfinder, Dengana was tasked with scouting a route. He was proud of the one he found, which enabled even the cows with half a brain and four left feet to get to the destination safely.
On the final stages of the journey, he led them down a long, gently sloping hillside overlooking Sisebenzela. While he was waiting for the herd to catch up, he noticed one of the Shining Ones coming quite close to him and then retreating, as if trying to entice him to follow.
This reminded him that he had been having a number of strange dreams over the past few nights, featuring a Shining One who looked like a person and who wanted him to do something which involved a return to Rhino Valley. The very thought made him shudder.
However, his curiosity was aroused. Glancing back to see that he had time for a detour, he followed for a while until he saw a rather strange ring of flowers ahead of him. Then he paused, and the Shining One moved back and forth rather agitatedly.
Dengana glanced back up the hill again. The herd was closer, and he realised it was time to pick the final stages of the route. It looked straightforward enough, but it would be dreadful if lack of dedication meant they came across some obstacle or danger he should have spotted. Making a mental note to come and have another look at the flower ring when he had time, he returned to his duty.
When he glanced over his shoulder, he could make out the Shining One zipping around in something of a frenzy.
The following day was rather frantic. There were plenty of volunteers for herd duty, but he was expected to help fetch and carry for the beginnings of building operations. He also had to visit the nearest farm school with his brother, so that they could be enrolled. The whole process took up the entire Wednesday afternoon.
At the end of it, he and Delani had both been accepted, and would start on the next Tuesday, as Monday was a holiday.
The following day Dengana decided he deserved a break. He tried to sneak out on his bicycle, but couldn’t get at it without being noticed. ‘Need to keep it somewhere more out of the way,’ he resolved disgustedly.
He set out on foot instead, and wandered up the hillside overlooking the village. After he had climbed some distance up, he remembered the strange Shining One he imagined he had seen a couple of days ago, and wondered if he could find the place again where the flowers grew in a circle.
Hardly had the thought passed through his mind when a Shining one was there again, behaving in the same way as before. He followed with a mixture of fascination and fear. This certainly wasn’t imagination - but how did he know the thing wasn’t dangerous? Was it trying to make him follow again?
Sure enough, the Shining One went through all the indications of wanting to lead him, and again they soon came near the flower circle, still looking exactly as it had a couple of days ago. Now, when he looked closely, the Shining One had changed to the appearance of a very small person who was beckoning to him to come inside the ring.
It was different to the tokoloshe he had seen with the leopard, though. That had been dark, but did not look like one of his own race. This one, on the other hand, did look like one of his people, but with a glow to it. It was all most confusing.
Half of him wanted to go forward, but the other half wanted him to run away like mad and keep running. He stood frozen, and then half-turned to do a dash. At this, the Shining One stepped further into the ring and vanished.
Dengana stood; staring.
Abruptly, the Shining One returned. She - he could see her clearly enough now to tell that a ‘she’ is what she was - had another with her.
The shock of seeing that ‘other’ nearly caused him to pass out.