I got into the car, opened the windows and watched the sizzling air writhe its way out to join the rest of the scorching O. Thank heavens for air-conditioning.
Commissioner Street, Johannesburg. I tapped into the search function of google maps on my smartphone. The last thing I needed was to get lost in central Jozi. Apprehension coated my forehead in translucent beads that had a life of their own. Did I really need to do this? Sibongile, my housekeeper and recently qualified traditional healer seemed to think I did. She should know. I’d asked her to help me, but she said she didn’t have the power yet. Her analogy was along the lines of having a car but not the license to drive it. From past experience I knew how dangerous it was to meddle with the ancestors, so thought it best to go with her recommendation.
I drove past Marshall Street with its ubiquitous armed guards on the corner. “It’s perfectly safe, you know. It’s your white privilege that makes you so unnecessarily jumpy.” This from Sibongile. Apparently Anglo American weren’t as convinced as she was about safety, since it was they who employed the security guards on Marshall Street.
Was there even any parking? I drove slowly down Commissioner Street. My destination was on my right according to the google lady. Walter Sisulu House was on the far left and I was sandwiched between my destination and a Ria Viya bus stop. The city traffic hummed like a swarm of drones and every so often it felt like one of those drones was about to attack as a mini bus taxi filled to bursting point, swerved in front of me and slammed on brakes. People being expelled from the innards of the taxi like a pot boiling over on the stove and those people mixing with the drones. Nerves of steel were de rigueur when driving in Johannesburg. My nerves were made of fraying sack cloth.
I crossed over to the next block which looked more promising. A young guy in a high viz jacket jumped out in front of my car and gesticulated that I should park there.
I played dogem’s with the oncoming drones and people. I got my car successfully situated, alighted, and checked that I’d locked the doors three times. “I look after the madam’s car.” I smiled at him. “Thanks.” He did a mock bow and evaporated into the lunchtime milieu.
I was to meet Unathi at The Bridge Book Store. Sibongile had arranged the meeting for me. I was relieved that I was to meet the Sangoma, come herbalist come author in the middle of the city instead of a traditional herbal store down a back ally close to the heaving taxi rank. Not sure my frayed nerves could have handled that.
There he was, all decked out in his traditional finery. No shoes, white beads at his wrists and ankles and around the top of his arm, as well as criss-crossed across his torso. He had a headband that kept his bob length braids in check. He wore a leopard print brown vest with a brown and white piece of ankle length cloth wrapped around his waist. He was signing a book. The juxtaposition caused a misfire in my mind.
I walked up to him. “Unathi?”
He handed the book and pen to their rightful owner and turned to face me. He smiled. “Yebo. Sawubona Sisi. You are Theresa?” I nodded. “Come, let’s go and sit.”
I followed him to a quiet corner of the store.
“Sibongile told me that the ancestors said you needed help?”
“Um yes.” I fiddled with my necklace, winding it tighter and tighter.
“You are going to have to release your prejudice and you are going to have to believe that the ancestors can help you.”
“I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
He took a mahogany box from a bag at his feet and placed it in front of me. “Open it.”
I did as I was instructed and was immediately aware of intense vibrations being emitted at a different frequency to my own.
“Tourmaline.” He answered the question I hadn’t yet asked. “A semi-precious mineral. Similar to granite. And no, not something that South African Sangomas are known to use.”
“You appear to be able to read my mind.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “No, but I have been asked these questions before.”
“The vibrations you can feel are invisible waves of energy. They’re able to penetrate all layers of the body right through to the bone.”
“I see.” I didn’t really. My already frayed nerves unravelled a bit more.
“Choose the colour that speaks to you the loudest. Hang it around your neck. The stone will stimulate and detoxify your body and mind, you should also experience lightened moods.”
“It has magical powers then?”
“Be careful not to offend the ancestors.”
The beads on my forehead had multiplied. I couldn’t control the tremors that had taken over my body. “So, how did you get into this?”
“At one time I owned my own telecommunications company, but the ancestors called and I had to answer. I’d be dead now if I hadn’t. They told me about Tourmaline and its powers. I gave up corporate life and here I am.”
I handed him R750 for half an hour of his time and the Tourmaline necklace.
I got up to leave and he put his hand on my arm. “If it can work for Olympic athletes it can work for you. Just believe.” I felt as if I’d been infused with a mind altering substance.
“Thank you Unathi.”
“Sala kahle Sisi.”
My phone jangled. “Oh thank god Theresa, you’re alive.”
“Sibongile, what are you on about?”
“Your car is in the driveway, but I couldn’t find you.”
I scrabbled in the depths of my handbag, no keys. I turned and looked at Unathi. He mouthed, “Believe.”