The Baobab Tree (6)
Opiates and imaginings
Busisiwe stood with her back to a fever tree and was idly imagining what old Khanyisile would look like now. Was she still old in this place, or had she taken the form of her younger self? It was said she was quite the beauty when she was a young woman.
What would she say when they met? Could Sile and the older Sangoma help? She really hoped they could. The faces of the sick and the ones who had succumbed to the horrible plague affecting her village were never far from her thoughts. The lingering death of the young and vibrant Kwanele, the second child his mother had lost, had been the deciding factor for Busisiwe.
The following morning, her apprentice Sindisiwe, and several of the unmarried girls from the village had accompanied her on her trip to enter the spirit world beneath the great Baobab tree. Thankfully, she was successful and was standing in this strange dark moonlit place, waiting on the only ‘man’ she had ever come close to falling in love with coming back to her….Something wasn’t right. She looked over to the bridge:
The tapping and scraping and the annoying creaking from the swaying ropes as Thulani tested the integrity of the old bridge had suddenly ceased. She looked at the fog surrounding the entrance, it breathed and rolled ominously. The haze appeared thicker, denser, and it was now giving off an aura of guilt; the folds in the cloud were like a shoulder turned by a red faced young girl trying to hide something precious in her hands.
The disconcerting silence intruded so quickly it worried her. If her boatman was returning, the ropes would still be swaying. Maybe he’d stepped off at the far side and was making certain it was safe there. She waited in silence, staring at the entrance, hoping to see his face push its way through the smog.
“Where are you Thulani?” She whispered.
She couldn’t wait any longer. Taking her digging stick from her back and holding it out protectively in front of her, she moved cautiously towards the bridge.
“Thulani answer me.”
The mist swayed and breathed silently. Busisiwe stopped and tentatively slipped her free hand into the thick cloud. She waved her arm from left to right in an attempt to dissipate the shifting fog. Small, smoky tentacles slid sensually around her hand and began sliding up her arm. A wall of white unmoving nothingness filled the space behind, frightened, she pulled her hand away. As she did, a pungent odour followed, a familiar smell she couldn’t quite remember: There was jasmine with banana, she drew deeply through her nose, the spicy smell of cloves brought her memory flooding back. Of course, ‘dream root’. She had come here looking for a Zulu village and not just a tribal village, but a village of Sangoma. This was ubulawu, ‘the white path’, the way to the spirit world. She had used it many times to help her visions and to commune with the spirits.
Here it was being used as a ward to keep, well here in this plane, it could be spirits or demons or more likely the wild and dangerous imaginings conjured by the women from the village. Busisiwe sniffed again; this time however, she was searching for something in particular. She inhaled slowly and deliberately, analysing as she did. She found what she was looking for as the sharp overriding aroma of tobacco proclaimed what she suspected and now knew. rooibos, a strong stimulant, but when mixed with dream root in the proper quantities changed the dreams into nightmares. The potent mixture induced the dreamer into experiencing his or her worst fears. They had both been inhaling it in ever increasing doses since they had entered the clearing
The mist was full of this rooibos and the ubulawu concoction. Thulani wouldn’t have known what was happening to him. He would have succumbed to the root and believed implicitly in whatever was being conjured in his susceptible mind. He would have been terrified. She searched on the ground for the suggestive stimulus. Three old planks of wood wrapped in decaying vines had been placed on the ground to stimulate thoughts of the rickety old bridge and the deep ravine he had spoken of. She would have to find him and bring him out of the dream state. As long as he was breathing the mixture he would be trapped in a nightmare of his own making.
She reached for a small leather pouch hanging from her belt. She opened the ties and withdrew a small heap of ground ibogaine, a powerful stimulant. She peeled some off the plug and put it in her mouth, chewing slowly, she swirled the juices around her mouth and more importantly, beneath her tongue, after a few minutes her thoughts came into focus.
Holding her digging stick in front of her, Busisiwe stepped into the mist. She had only gone a few paces when she discovered Thulani. He was lying face down on the path with his right hand stretched out towards his staff lying a few feet away.
She knelt down beside him; resting her hand on his back she leaned closely beside his head and listened. His breathing was strong and rhythmical. He was perfectly fine apart from being in a drug induced sleep. She sat beside him and prepared the ibogaine antidote. He wouldn’t be able to chew, so she took some of the root and rubbed it firmly in between her hands. After a few minutes it was ready to burn. She put the root into a small bowl she kept in yet another belt bag, she placed the root inside and with her flint she struck a spark. The dry root caught easily. She cupped her hand over Thulani’s nose and blew the smoke into his flaring nostrils. After a few moments he coughed.
Busisiwe could have no idea of the extent of the trauma Thulani may have suffered but she had been witness to victims of this type of hallucinogen before. Thulani was mentally strong, which would be a contributing factor in his recovery. He would be angry though: This plane was his. This place he believes, is under his control, his power, his world. She would have to be careful.
He began to stir and his eyelids fluttered. She put a comforting arm around his shoulder.
“Thulani, it’s me, Busisiwe, you’ve had a terrible nightmare but it’s over now. You’re safe. I’m with you. A very powerful ward had been set on the path to stop us going any further towards the village, I’ve discovered and nullified it. The path is clear now, we can continue.”
He groaned and began to drag his body into a sitting position.
“Sangoma!…What…” he coughed,
“What have they done? There’s no sun in this world, only the moon, and they’ve brought the sun here Sangoma. I cannot exist in a world of sunlight.”
He began to stand albeit shakily, Busisiwe helped him to rise, saying as she did,
“No my love, It was a dream, a terrible nightmare of your own making, just like I did in the forest. The opiate made you dream your worst nightmare my darling, please believe me. There’s no sun here Thulani, only the moon and its wonderful light. Nothing has changed. It was a dream Thulani, only a horrible fear induced dream. Everything is as it was before you tried to cross the bridge, the bridge that was the start of your nightmare.”
He drew his hand across his head and pulled his hood down onto his shoulders. His beautiful eyes were still full of fear, yet she could see trust there as he looked into her eyes; trust in her. He took in everything as his arm, seeking comfort slid around her shoulders. Holding on to her for support, he lifted his head, the full moon hung in a dark sky surrounded by a luminous disc of gossamer brilliance. Thin tapering clouds drifted silently in front her. Stars, like frightened children, peeked from behind her, afraid to leave their mother’s side.
Thulani lifted his staff and began to hum in a low but powerful drone, his staff began to glow as he raised it higher. His robe shone white as the moon filled him with her brilliance. Keeping his staff raised, Thulani dropped to his knees and consumed his fill of precious moonlight. A few seconds later he stood and with his eyes blazing once more inside his cowl, he turned to Busisiwe and like a small boy who had lost everything and had suddenly found it again, he looked deep into the medicine woman’s eyes and smiling, he said,
“It’s the moon Busisiwe, my precious moon, thank the creator.”
To be continued.