Close your eyes and cover your toes,
Sleep my child, else comes the Tokoloshe…
Lerato gazed at her pale blue eyes. They were the color of the ocean, just like her mothers’. The innocence in them tugged at his heartstrings. She stood at his doorsteps wearing a purple frock and clutched a rag-doll close to her chest.
“My little girl Amahle… I have missed you so much!” Lerato bent down on his knees and hugged his four-year-old daughter. His life felt complete.
Amahle stood still in her father’s warm embrace but didn’t know how to respond. She held her doll with one hand and Nomusa’s fingers with the other. She didn’t want to let go of any. Moreover, Lerato was a stranger to her.
Sophie stood behind Lerato fumbling with the edge of her kitchen apron to suppress her nervousness. The father-daughter reunion warmed Sophie’s heart. She had never witnessed Lerato exhibit such intense emotions ever before. Yet she couldn’t evade a jittery feeling unfolding inside her.
Lerato and Sophie first met in a hospital. She worked there as a nurse and Lerato was the receptionist. She didn’t know what she saw in him but it was enough to make her fall head over heels in love with him. They got married after a courtship of just three months. Both owned a house in the city of Johannesburg.
“Hi Amahle… I’m Sophie… I made Malva pudding for you! “She tried her best to sound excited but got a blank stare in return.
“Miss Amahle avoids sweets. She needs to rest” Nomusainterjected. The curtness in her tone was unmissable. She released Amahle from her father’s arms in a polite manner.
Nomusa was Amahle’s nanny. To be precise, she used to be Amahle’s mother and Lerato’s ex-wife Marli’s nanny. Marli’s family owned a mining company and when her parents were busy running their business, Marli was taken care of by Nomusa. After Marli and Lerato’s bitter divorce, Marli took up her parent’s business and Nomusa pitched in to look after Amahle. She was a tall and sturdy woman with authoritative manners. She looked imposing in her long-printed dress and a matching head wrap. She had a deep skin-tone and huge watchful eyes with years of experience etched in them.
Lerato and Marli’s relationship was complicated. When he was married to her, Lerato had been a vagabond. Amahle was brought up solely by Marli. She had cited him as an irresponsible father and maintained distance. But when Lerato settled again and started a new life with Sophie, he wanted Amahle to stay with him for some time. After an umpteen amount of persuasion, Marlie had relented.
Lerato’s happiness meant the world to Sophie. She tried her best to make Amahle feel at-home. She designed her bedroom keeping in mind a four-year-old girl.
Amahle looked around the room with an air of indifference. She was more interested in her rag doll than anything else. Nomusa’s watchful eyes scrutinized each and every corner.
“These pink walls are hurting my eyes.” she squinted.
“Can we lose these truckloads of unicorns and teddy-bears please? Miss Amahle is not fond of them. Now, please excuse us” Nomusa thrusted the stuffed toys in Lerato’s hands and shut the bedroom door on his face.
Some toys slipped from his grip. The helplessness on his face was pitiful.
Sophie picked them up “It’s our mistake. We should have found out about Amahle’s preferences from Marli beforehand”
“This is my only chance to bond with her… I shouldn’t make such mistakes…” Lerato looked troubled. The thin lines around his eyes seemed to have deepened.
“The situation is tough… but it takes time… we can do this together…” Sophie held both of his hands in hers.
“I love my daughter the most, Sophie… the most…” He broke down. Sophie hugged him and let out a deep sigh.
The next few days went well. Lerato took a break from his work and devoted his entire time to Amahle. They had their meals together, played games and visited all the fun places in Johannesburg. Lerato learnt that she loved eggs and her favorite color was purple. She told him that she liked listening to stories. So, every night, he read her a story and tucked her in bed. Amahle started bonding with him in a slow but steady manner. Lerato’s genuine efforts didn’t escape Nomusa’s observant eyes. She took a step back from her overprotective and dominating nature.
But life is seldom as easy as it seems.
It was one of those peaceful breezy nights. Lerato watched the purple flowers of the jacaranda tree in his backyard swaying in the wind. The feeling of contentment in his heart made him smile. Sleep eluded him.
He thought he heard a cry.
Lerato dashed towards Amahle’s room. Her bed was empty. He called her out but there was no response. The house was shrouded in darkness but he noticed a blue flame in the kitchen and rushed towards it with his heart thumping in his chest. Amahle lay huddled on the kitchen floor. The stove was on.
“What happened my dear?” Lerato switched off the gas and picked her up.
Amahle was whimpering. Her body was drenched in sweat and she shook like a leaf. When Nomusa came, she leaped into her arms.
“Did you have a bad dream baby?” Nomusa wiped her face and fed her water.
“The story…” Those were her last two words before she stopped talking completely.
There was no end to this bad dream. From then onwards, the same thing happened each night. Amahle would scream and then be found on the kitchen floor with the stove on. Her health deteriorated and she lost appetite. A cloud of fear seemed to have engulfed her. Dark circles developed around her eyes. They all took turns sleeping with Amahle in her room. But as soon as they shut their eyes, all hell broke loose.
One night it got worse. Lerato and Sophie found Amahle lying on the floor with Nomusa holding Amahle’s toe with a kitchen cloth. A deep scratch ran across her leg. The cloth was soaked in blood and her bloody footprints mapped the floor. Lerato froze at the sight. Sophie tended to her wounds and cleaned the floor at once.
Nomusa mumbled with her tear-laden bloodshot eyes.
“It’s the Tokoloshe….”
“The Tokoloshe has been summoned for my baby….” Her voice trembled as she rocked back and forth holding Amahle close to her chest.
Lerato and Sophie looked confused.
“It’s another name for the devil… it torments the person it lays its eyes upon… “ Nomusa wept and caressed Amahle’s pale face.
“You mean a monster from fairy tales?” Sophie let out a disapproving laugh.
“It’s not a joke!” Nomusa’s pitch rose.
“My forefathers who belong to the Zulu tribe have experienced the evil deeds of Tokoloshes in their times. We grew up listening to their harrowing tales. They are short hairy creatures who are summoned by witches to scare, hurt or even kill a person. They are as real as day and night”
“How can you be so sure?” Lerato asked.
“Tokoloshes scare their victims at night. They scratch their body and bite their toes”
“I feel Amahle also guessed who her tormentor was from the stories she had heard. Hence, she lit the kitchen stove each time. Fire drives a Tokoloshe away.” Intense fear crossed Nomusa’s face.
Lerato’s throat went dry.
“Lerato you can’t believe this nonsense! She might have hurt herself running around” Sophie looked bewildered.
“I’ve been observing her… I feel we should consult a doctor for Amahle’s condition… her activities aren’t normal… she is too quiet for her age… “Sophie tried to reason with him.
“Are you telling me that my daughter is mad and making all this up?” Lerato snapped at her.
“No… You are getting me all wrong…” Sophie felt uneasy under his accusing eyes.
“Do you have bricks?” Nomusa asked out of the blue.
“Yes…” Lerato pointed towards the garage.
Nomusa hurried to the garage and carried four bricks to Amahle’s room. They watched in utter confusion as she placed one brick under each leg of Amahle’s bed.
“What on earth are you doing?” Lerato threw his hands up in the air in frustration.
“I just raised Miss Amahle’s bed. It is believed that since Tokoloshes are tiny creatures, they can’t attack the victim if they sleep on higher elevation”
“In the coming nights, it will be clear if Tokoloshe is the reason for her sufferings or not”
“We are well-educated people for God’s sake! … we shouldn’t believe in such gibberish… let’s contact a doctor… don’t listen to this woman” Sophie rolled her eyes.
“The next few nights will decide whether Miss Amahle stays here or not…”Nomusa declared.
“What! You can’t decide that! I’m her father” Lerato said in exasperation.
“Well, you’re not great at being one, are you?” She charged him. Lerato went silent looking at the pathetic condition of Amahle.
“Amahle’s mother has given me the responsibility to decide what’s good for her,” Nomusa was back to her authoritative self. She came face to face with Lerato and stared hard into his eyes.
“If I’m proved right then trust me Sir… you yourself won’t want Amahle to stay here…” The chill in her voice made Lerato shudder a little.
There was nothing to do but wait and watch.
Amahle slept well the next night. She woke up with a sore toe and body pain. But the episode of the other nights was not repeated. Amahle continued sleeping on the elevated bed and with each passing day, she looked better.
It was a bright morning. Lerato plucked a purple jacaranda flower and fixed it in Amahle’s ribbon. He read her a story while she ate the omelet made by him.
“Daddy loves you the most Amahle… “He kissed her on the forehead and swallowed a lump in his throat.
Amahle hugged him tight. It broke his heart to send her back but he was relieved to see his little girl back to normal again. He wished to God that she never forgets him ever again.
As he seated her in the cab, Nomusa walked up to him.
“Sir, I feel sorry to separate your daughter from you… whether you believe me or not”
Lerato kept mum.
“I’m old school… but I know even you can’t deny the feeling of something sinister going on in your house…”
“Sir, someone doesn’t want Amahle to be with you…”
Lerato shut the cab door without any reply.
Amahle kept waving at him as long as she could see him. Once the cab was out of view, Lerato let himself go. His tears wouldn’t stop.
“Don’t cry darling… I’m here for you” Sophie kept a hand on his shoulder. “You can’t believe the rantings of that mad woman!”
“I don’t know whom to believe anymore… ” He pushed her hand away.
The look in Lerato’s eyes hit Sophie like a lightning.
There have been incidents where a minuscule moment changed fates. A mere glance had the capability to mend or destroy relationships. The look of betrayal in Lerato’s eyes at that instant, altered their relationship forever.
Marli held Amahle to her bosom and kissed her. Her happiness knew no bounds as her beloved daughter was back to her safe and sound.
“How can I thank you umama for all that you do for me!” Marli hugged Nomusa and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I’m here to protect both of you inganeyami…” she took both mother and daughter in her arms.
The call got connected after a few tries.
“Hello… May I talk to tagati (witch)?”
“I was satisfied with your work… I want to summon the Tokoloshe again… I will pay in cash”
“Sure…the victim’s name please and the severity”
“Victim is Lerato Gumede… I desire death for him “
“It will be done. Thank you for contacting me through witchservices.com. Your name please…”
Tokoloshe – Tokoloshes are a creature from Zulu mythology that inhabit South Africa. These creatures attack you in your sleep and are said to be a part of the reason while many people in the Zulu culture used to sleep with their beds raised off the floor.
These creatures are malevolent and very dangerous. They are said to crawl into sleeping people’s rooms and cause all kinds of havoc – from simply scaring them all the way to choking them to death with their long, bony fingers. It seems to particularly enjoy scaring children, often leaving them with long scratches on their bodies. One way to keep the Tokoloshe at bay is to put bricks beneath the legs of one’s bed. This will put you out of reach, and hopefully out of harm’s way, of the Tokoloshe.
Tokoloshes are creatures called upon by those with magical abilities (like witches) to wreak havoc and pain in a community.
Malva pudding – Malva pudding is a sweet pudding of South African origin.
Zulu tribe – Zulu people are a Nguni ethnic group in Southern Africa. They are the largest ethnic group and nation in South Africa.
Umame – Mother in Zulu.
Inganeyami – ‘My child’ in Zulu.
Tagati – In South African English, a tagati is a wizard, witch, or a spiteful person who operates in secret to harm others or who uses poisons and familiar spirits to carry out harmful deeds.