In my backyard stands a colossal baobab tree, ten feet farther from the house, tall and majestic as the Nkanyamba mountains overlooking the surreal view of our village, its peaceful demeanour pervades all around it, more so when its copper arms beckon at me with a poised buoyancy from a distance, sending enthralling tingles all over my scrawny body with every whiff of the wind.
It’s a sort of haven for me, much like a sanctuary for my angst-ridden, heavily wounded soul. I come here every afternoon after school seeking refuge from the bustlings of the world; to dismally muffle out the noise in my head, the indefatigable busy bodies of my siblings and from my mother’s deafening shrill voice who upon seeing me, even on catching a glimpse of my shadow screams out my name at the top of her lungs with the startling command of an army officer.
For a long time I was convinced she possessed magic of sorcery, she could smell my presence from a mile away. I would find her waiting on the door tapping her right foot frantically on the threshold with cheeks bulging out from her face with fury, and upon my arrival she ritualistically gave me a list of chores to do.
She would find every reason to keep me occupied like a soldier on a drill. I would drag my body back and fro across the yard in revolt, soiled in sweat, muttering a few curse words under my laboured breath, until a sigh of relief at approaching dusk.
At one time, my father walked in on us charging at each other’s faces in a vehement argument, me on objection; ardently defending the soul of a precious tree like a fanatical environmentalist from being mercilessly chopped down after she threatened to do so on many occasions. My father seemed to be on my side, I could sense it in the way he bleakly looked at me through my sodden eyes, feeling sorry for me, but of course he felt compelled to side with the grown up and not make my mother lose ground and appear weak and vindictive. Though I thought she was simply trying to spite me. It’s as if she sought to punish me for sins of youth I had not yet committed. I cried my lungs out imploring her to let the tree be and amidst my fervent defence I blurted out that the tree protected us from break ins and warded off evil spirits. My mother looked at me silly as though all she heard was babble coming from a boy possessed by a tree. My voice was so piercing it utterly smothered hers and scared Musi away, our timid dog, out it went with its body lowered close to the ground and its tail tugged between its legs.
It had become more than just a tree to me; writhing in anguish I cried. It listened to my stories with great heed, dreams that had my heart leap out of my chest with dread in the middle of the night, and on most days we shared sheer silence, a virtue humans know little about the tree would whisper. No one could understand this, the entanglement of the soul of man with that of a tree.
A few years had passed and I became too attached to the tree, friends became more estranged, they would watch me closely with suspicion and scoff at the absurdity of it, with grimaces warping their brown faces. My mother was still the unretired slave-driver. Her resentment for me grew grotesque, though I never really understood what was about me that exacerbated her so much. Some days I would sleep under that very tree, cozied around its enormous worn trunk which disseminated throughout the ground to clench on the underneath of the soil as an infant clutching on the lactating breast of her mother.
After the years I spent with the tree, my dreams grew haggardly vivid and mysterious at the same time. In one of the dreams, I dreamt I was morphing into one, my feet which had then transformed into protruding roots, rushed in all directions to pierce through the ground as earthworms, the branches which grew from my upper limbs rove staggeringly from my torso which was quickly swelling up to a thick trunk within seconds, while my parents stood there awe-struck feeling utterly helpless and powerless, screaming at the tragedy unfolding right before their eyes.
My siblings didn’t seem to take notice, they remained unscathed in their benighted, frolicsome youth and went on chasing their juvenile demons. My mother was in aghast and her spirit shattered to infinitesimal shards. I could not bear the appalling sight but I couldn’t help it either.
“No, not again!” in her muffled voice she cried, sobbing and bereft of all strength.
“Come back my child, please come back. Take me instead, take me…” She implored though in vain.
For the first time in ages I saw a deep, soft affection in her eyes, a sight I had become estranged to. Since that day, she hardly left the spot, she’d wake up at the break of dawn, and sweep the scattered wind-rattled leaves while reciting church hymns with her mollifying voice that would put me to a numbing sleep as a child. She would sweep and sweep for hours until she was grazing at the bare soil, forming little paralleled lines with her straw broom and rearranging them all over again. She told of stories; legends from our clan, stories about great healers and sorcerers and in the stories she kept stumbling on my grandfather’s name which trumped every other character. Vusamazulu Sizwesethu Mthethwa, the great sorcerer, whom in his youth had surreptitiously dug up the roots of a forbidden tree to use as muti to procure the power of immortality, and how he was cursed for a millennium and turned to a baobab and how the first born of every third generation would be cursed too.
The writer is a freelancer who loves experimental prose. He writes to give ear to the little stories our stories tell.