Zulu Brothers story: Sbopho

In a village where witches were torched and cripples were a curse, the news of Mthaniya's fourth set of twins dying was met with panic.
The first set lived for only two days. The second and the rest that followed were stillbirths but the last, according to the man who scattered bones and saw her future when she was pregnant the fifth time, were going to die too and they were going to take her with them.
Her family had always been outcasts in the community, but Thulula loved her anyway.
He was a tall dark man with eyes bulging out of his face and a voice so hoarse you'd swear his chest was in flames.
Mthaniya took the bone thrower's predictions to heart and so for the three weeks that were left before her full term, she sat belly bulging behind the kraal and waited, next to the four graves of the rest of her children.
But Thulula, who always had a justification whether it was the bad weather or an incompetent midwife for why his children were dying, was not going to let that happen.
People spoke of curses, of atrocities committed by his own father who died on the night he was born and of his stupidity of marrying a woman whose mother was a cripple.
He watched his wife, already drained to the bone by the repeated loss and unspoken judgment, sitting next to those graves every day, and he made a decision.
Nsikeni was mountains and a forests away from Mbazwana and if he were to leave immediately, he'd be back at least two days before his children were born, that was if Mthaniya did not die from sitting and weeping before he came back.
What took him to Mbazwana was what he had heard from the men who went there to 'fix' their issues, whether it was their multiple wives hating each other and making their lives difficult, or curing strange diseases that even the most powerful healers could not understand.
He started the journey one early morning of a windy month in 1955, oblivious and ignorant to what was happening beyond Nsikeni because he was one of the few men who remained behind to farm cows and plough fields when the rest trekked to Joburg.
It took him four days, by foot and by train and at one point near eShowe, a horse cart.
When he asked around, only one name kept coming up.
'He will help you,' they said.
"He has never failed before," they would insist.
And when he reached the homestead, big and clean and flooded with healthy happy children, he sat comfortably in front of the fat man wearing a leopard skin.
'Your wife will die in two weeks, along with your unborn children. You've already buried eight of them,' the man said.
He knew not to ask the man how he knew all of that and so he sat and listened.
'It is not you, it is those who came before you, but you can stop it,' the man said.
He chose to stop it.
And when he returned home a week and two days later to find Mthaniya still sitting and mopping near the graves with her feet swollen and her nose two times bigger, he sat down next to her and told her: 'the children will live'.
He was a different man and she noticed.
She wanted to ask him where he had been and what he had done but she desperately wanted her children to live, by all means necessary.
'I will make you food,' she said, dragging herself to the house.
'No, make me some meat. I will slaughter a sheep, make some dumplings,' he said when he caught up with her in the kitchen blowing dust off the almost wrinkled sweet potatoes.
Slaughtering sheep was for special occasions, mostly when her family was visiting or if it was September, the month he said his ancestors visited their home.
They lived alone, just the two of them, that's why his request sounded strange but she adhered anyway.
That night he ate in silence while she watched. 'What are we going to do with the rest of this meat? I can't give it away to people, they won't eat it, they already think...'
'Eat what you can and throw it away when it gets rotten,'
'It will still be good tomorrow and the day after, I'll serve you in the morning,' she said.
He nodded and went to rest.
There was a bad feeling she couldn't shake, but a bad feeling was nothing compared to her desperation for her children to live, and so she chose to ignore it and lie down next to her husband expecting sleep not to come as always.
It came, but a sharp pain and wetness on the bed came and disrupted it. She knew very well.
'Thulula!' she patted him.
She had not made arrangements for a midwife, none of them would have agreed to come anyway, they had seen enough death.
'Thulula, it's time,' she whispered.
He lay still, his eyes open and staring up on the roof as she struggled to sit up.
'Are you going to help me?'
He said nothing.
He only got up when she shouted his name the fourth time.
He had never witnessed a woman giving birth before but he did not really have an option now, so he followed her instructions, placed a bowl of water next to her open legs, a knife next to it and a blanket.
He knew from past experience that it took hours of her moaning and groaning and screaming before anything happened, he had heard all of it before when he was standing outside the room while the midwife shouted for her to push.
'It won't be long, I can feel them now,' she said.
He didn't speak, just held his hands out below her vagina and waited.
It took 15 minutes of her pushing for a head to appear and three more pushes for a small human to pop out.
'Cut the cord,' she said.
He didn't know where to cut it but he did.
It wasn't long before the next one came out, wailing and twitching like the first one.
They were alive, it had worked, he thought as he wrapped both of them with one blanket.
They looked exactly like him, like his father and his father's brothers. One even screamed in a voice like his.
He placed the blanket on his wife's chest and said: 'Sbopho and Nyanda'.
Except for the first two, he had not named the eight other children who had died in that same room.
'I will bury them in the kraal,' he said and left the room.
Mthaniya was not interested in knowing where her husband was going to bury the placentas. In fact, she was not interested in him and whatever was going on in his mind. She had two infants suckling on her breasts and that was enough.
The next morning she found him curled next to the five graves, cold and lifeless. It bothered her that she was more happy about her children being alive and less sad about her husband being dead.
She lived with the guilt silently for a while but eventually the presence of the two boys, one loud and restless with a temper and the other quiet and polite, surpassed all of it.
The big-eyed Zulu twins blended, played and went to school with other children and with time, the whispers and suspicions faded.
They lived a simple humble life, until they turned 14 one August...