THE TWISTED HEART
THE TWISTED HEART The nightmare woke him up again. It was the same one; the one that kept on coming back to haunt his dreams, making him wake up during the night, shaking and perspiring profusely all over his body, tangled in sheets that were wet with perspiration. Luntu Madikizela searched for the lamp on his bedside table, his heart still pounding. It was a familiar routine by now for he had been having the nightmare ever since he was a little boy. If it had been just one bad dream he might have considered taking laxatives or an emetic, like many other Africans, who believed that bad dreams are sometimes caused by too many toxins in the blood, or an excess of bile in the liver. As far as Luntu was concerned though, the very fact that it was the same dream every time made it completely different. He didn’t think it had anything to do with his ancestors either. To be honest, he didn’t really even believe in ancestors, even though it once occurred to him that perhaps he should be doing something for his. But he never gave the matter much thought. His dream always began and ended in the same way. If everything went well during the day the dream would leave him alone, but if he became angry, frustrated or stressed then he knew that he wouldn’t have a pleasant night. Luntu's heart rate began subsiding and he took a few deep breaths. Suddenly aware of his dry throat, he climbed out of bed and gulped down a glass of water before going out to the verandah of his flat for some fresh air. The cold evening breeze would keep him awake, no matter how tired he was, so he came back inside and sat down in a padded lounge chair. He was going to attempt to understand the dream that had plagued him for so many years. It always started in the same way. Luntu could see himself as a small boy, probably around two years old. He seemed to be dressed in summer clothing, and he was always alone. When the dream started he was walking out of a tunnel onto a road that led off into three different directions. He could see several stone buildings and a street sign, but had never been able to read it. There were generally threatening black clouds building up in the sky, warned him of an impending storm. He was only able to take a few steps toward the buildings before starting to panic and stand frozen to the ground, unable to move. At this point he would always wake up, heart racing, perspiring, and breathless. What did it all mean? Exhausted, Luntu went back to bed. When he woke up the next morning after a restless night, he decided that it was time he did something about the dream that had such an effect on him. Perhaps he should visit a sangoma or fortune-teller. He had never been to one before and, to be honest, the rest of his family did not believe in fortune-tellers, herbalists or ancestors either. But he didn’t seem to have a choice: he had to do something to put an end to his recurring dream. Would seeing a fortune-teller affect his standing in the police force, or cause him to be demoted to a lesser rank? He didn’t know. He suddenly remembered a pamphlet that he had been handed by a street vendor earlier in the week. For some reason, he hadn’t thrown it away, and if his memory served him correctly, it was advertising a fortuneteller who lived in Sophia Town. There were even directions and a map. Without giving himself a chance to change his mind, Luntu hurriedly dressed then sped off in his car in the direction of Sophia Town. He was still wondering whether the fortune-teller was an answer to his nightmare, and whether what he was doing was the right thing, when he rounded a long and winding curve and saw a tunnel ahead of him. "What on earth?" he exclaimed as he slowed down. His heart began racing and he could feel beads of perspiration on his forehead. "I know I'm not dreaming, but this looks just like the tunnel I’m running out of in my dream," Luntu said out loud, without even being aware of or hearing the words he had uttered. As he entered the dark tunnel, he could see the flashing blue lights of the emergency rescue vehicles ahead, and was able to make out the wreckage of two cars in the dim blue light. Apart from the revolving blue lights, the tunnel was pitch black. Luntu got out of his vehicle and went directly to the police officers investigating the scene. He produced his badge before asking, "How bad is it officer?” "There is one fatality in the car, a man. The woman in the car is still alive, but she seems to be in a bad way. We don’t know if she will make it. The paramedics are still trying to get her out of the car. The driver of the truck doesn’t seem injured, only very shaken. The car veered over the lane and hit the truck head-on. It is so badly damaged that we can't make out if there was anyone in the back seat. We think we heard a cry coming from the back, but can't be sure,” explained one of the officers. "I would like to check for myself," said Luntu quickly, running to the wreckage. "Hey! Are you all right… can you move? We're here to help you, but you need to let us know if you're okay," he called out. He waited for what seemed like an eternity before hearing a voice. "Please help me. I'm afraid. Where are my mommy and daddy?" "Don't worry kid. Don’t be scared, we're going to get you out of here. Are you hurt? Can you move?" replied Luntu, trying desperately to keep his voice calm, even though every fibre of his being longed to scream at the injustice of the accident scene. "I can't move. I'm stuck. Mommy, daddy! Please help me!" This time the little boy was crying. "Don’t worry kid, we will have you out in just a minute, okay?” he tried his best to calm the sobbing little boy, even though he too felt like crying. Leaving the wrecked car for a minute, Luntu went in search of the truck driver, who he found standing near the exit of the tunnel. As he was walked towards him, he saw the opening of the tunnel and his heart began to race. “What is this? What’s going on here?” asked Luntu, breathing rapid. The scene in front of him was identical to the one in the nightmare: the road leading out of the tunnel into three different directions, the street sign, even the row of stone buildings. "Excuse me sir, but is everything all right? You look as though you have seen a ghost. I know this is a bad accident, but you have probably seen accidents hat are far worse than I could ever imagine,” said the truck driver. "Where is this place?" asked Luntu, trying to sound calmer than he felt. "This is Auckland Park. The SABC station is east from here." But Luntu was no longer listening. He walked out the tunnel, leaving the truck driver talking to himself. He was battling to breathe. This was the way it happened in his dream. But what was the meaning of the young boy? Why he was still young in the dream? And how did his dream fit in at this point? Luntu's breathing became more laboured and he dropped to his knees as memories came flooding back. He remembered now, the day when his dream was real. He, Luntu, was the small boy he kept on seeing in his dream. He was walking away from something horrible, so badly that he was afraid to remember it. But what he had just seen had already activated the memory, and his subconscious mind brought it to the surface. A jolt went through his body. The wreckage in the tunnel changed to a scene he had experienced 25 years ago. There had been an accident and a wrecked car that day, too. His parents were with him in the car, but miraculously, he wasn’t injured or trapped, and had somehow managed to get out the car. He couldn't remember how, but knew that he had to find someone, anyone, to help his parents. He could remember the smoke coming from the car, and the feelings of fear and desperation as his little legs carried him out of the tunnel. He remembered the wailing sirens of fire engines, ambulances and police cars coming closer and closer as he stood helplessly, frozen to the ground, waiting and hoping for someone to come. "Captain...Captain Madikizela, are you okay? What’s wrong? Captain..." Luntu came to realized that he was back at the wreckage site, lying on a stretcher that had obviously been provided by one of the paramedics. “What… what happened?” he asked as he started to get up. "You tell us. We found you flat out on the ground just outside the tunnel,” replied one of the paramedics. Luntu was still disoriented, but the vivid scenes he had recently relived were rising to the surface again. He had to get out of this place and find some answers to the visions that were now so clear in his mind. Going first to check on the injured mother and child with one of the officers at the scene, he was told that they had both been rescued from the vehicle and were on their way to hospital. "How was the kid?" Luntu asked the officer in charge, who had just finished writing up his report. “Oh, he's a tough little fellow,” replied the officer. “I’m sure he's going to be fine. The boy's mother was complaining about her left leg, but it's not as serious as we had originally thought." Telling the officers that he would go and see the victims in hospital as soon as he could, he returned to his car. He no longer had any desire to see the fortune-teller. All he wanted to do was go to see his Aunt Mamosa and Uncle Vuyo, who had raised him after his parents’ death. It wouldn’t take long… they lived in a township not far from the hospital where the mother and her child were being taken. He still couldn't believe that his dreams were related to his parents' accident, but knew that his aunt would be able to give him the answers he so badly needed. The question was why she had never said anything about the accident. Looking back to his childhood, he couldn’t even remember them saying anything about an accident. Aunt Mamosa had always told him how happy his parents had been and how much they had loved him, but had never shared any other family memories with him. Luntu always thought it was because he was so young. They were the only parents he had ever known, yet they had never wanted him to call them mom and dad. Whenever Luntu asked why though, his aunt always changed the subject. Luntu eventually stopped asking his aunt and uncle about his mother and father. They loved him and had supported him for all those years, and he knew that they would not let him down now. He had to find some answers. When he arrived at his childhood home he could still remember the smell of yeast coming from the big bowls of dough his aunt had always put out to rise on the front verandah. Nothing had changed. The smell of freshly baked bread coming from the kitchen reminded him of his childhood, and how he used to love a piece of hot bread, thickly spread with jam or peanut butter. "How did you know I was coming today?" Luntu asked, giving his aunt a big hug. "I didn't know, but an aunt can always hope, can't she? I’ll get you some bread – I know how much you always loved it straight from the oven. Would you like milk or coffee with it?" smiled his aunt. "You mean I'm finally old enough to drink coffee?” teased her nephew. “I thought coffee would stunt my growth?" His aunt pinched his cheek as she put some fresh bread and a cup of steaming coffee before him. "I think you've finished growing," she smiled, watching as Luntu hungrily chewed a second slice of bread. “Where’s uncle?” Luntu wanted to know, taking a sip of coffee. “He went to tend his cattle on the farm. He’ll only be back very late, so you won’t be able to see him. He will be so sorry, he missed you,” she replied, after a sip of her coffee. "What are you up to on this beautiful day? You're usually far too busy to stop by to see us on a weekday." Luntu told her about the accident he had seen near Auckland Park, noticing the strange look that came into her eyes, and how quickly she turned her head away from him as she listened. "What happened? Was anyone hurt?" Aunt Mamosa wanted to know. "The man died, but the woman and child who were with him in the car, probably his wife and child, survived. They were injured, but they'll be fine. But Aunt Mamosa, I want to ask you some questions and I need you to be honest with me." "What kind of questions, Luntu?" his aunt asked slowly. "It's about my parents. I need to know what happened when they had their accident." Luntu saw his aunt's eyes filling with tears and knew that this was going to be more difficult than he had thought. "I was in the car, right?” he went on. “I keep having the same dream, you know the one I had when I was growing up. You always used to come and pick me up and put me in the bed with you and Uncle Vuyo for the rest of the night. I'm still having the dream and it's getting more and more frequent. Then today at the scene of the accident, I felt as though I had walked right into my dream. The tunnel, the roads outside the tunnel, the road sign and stone buildings, they were all there, right in front of me. What does it all mean, Aunt Mamosa? Help me understand!" begged Luntu. His aunt got up from the worn rocker she had been sitting on and walked over to the fireplace, where she stood for a few seconds, looking intently at a picture of Luntu, taken when he was seven years old. "Are you sure you want to know?” she asked. “We tried to get you to talk about it right after it happened, but you wouldn't say anything. You would stay silent for days and then the dreams would start again.” Luntu tried to force himself to remember more as his aunt continued. "We took you to specialists, to counsellors, to any doctor we thought might be able to help you. They all told us the same thing... when you are ready to talk about it, you will. We must not force you, or tell you anything you didn’t want to know. Every time we tried to talk to you about it, you froze up, so we finally gave up. Your dreams became less frequent and the years went by. Before we knew it, you were going off to college and we realized that we had never been able to discuss that day with you. We weren't sure what to do, so we just left it alone." The room was completely silent as Luntu tried to absorb everything his aunt was telling him. “I'm sorry if we hurt you even more by not talking about it, but what happened that day was so terrible. We loved you and wanted to protect you; we weren't deliberately keeping anything from you. Thinking about your parents, and how they died, was so painful that it was easier to forget." "It's all right aunt, I understand,” he reassured his aunt. “But I'm ready to hear about it now. Please tell me what happened?" Luntu learned that his mother and father had been on their way to visit his aunt and uncle on the day of the accident. “We had planned a family gathering, and waited until afternoon for your parents to arrive,” his aunt explained. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have a telephone, and there were no cell phones in those days. So we waited. Later, the police who had been called to the scene of the accident came to fetch us. They took us to the police station, where they were looking after you. One of them was our neighbour, and he had known your father." His aunt knew that all she could do was tell Luntu the truth. She also knew then that they should never have waited 25 years to tell him. She looked at him with eyes full of love, but realised that there was no way to soften the blow of what she was about to say. "The car was still burning when they got there. At first they thought there were no survivors, but then one of the officers found you standing at the end of the tunnel, screaming for someone called Buntu. He couldn’t get you to say anything. You went back to look at the burning car, and started screaming again. By the time we got to the station you wouldn't talk at all. This was the only reaction we could get from you." “Buntu… Buntu? Aunt Mamosa, you said Buntu, did you hear what you said?” “You don’t understand, Luntu. Buntu was your twin brother. He was with you on the day of the accident.” “I don’t think… no, wait. What do you mean? I don’t understand.” Luntu’s voice rose, and he couldn’t control it. “Why didn’t you tell me about him? I… Oh, my God!” he cried out. A tear ran down his cheek. "What happened to my brother? Did he burn to death?” Luntu forced himself to ask. "The officers told us that both your mother and father died immediately. The driver of the other vehicle was nowhere to be found. It was later discovered that the car had been stolen. When we asked about Buntu, the officers assumed that he had not been in the car when the accident took place. We kept asking questions, but no one could remember seeing him. You weren't able to help because you were so traumatised. Any memory of the accident you had was buried so deeply inside you that dreaming was your only release." At this point, Aunt Mamosa got up and came over to sit on the arm of the recliner in which Luntu was sitting. She took both of his hands in hers as she looked at him, tears running down her cheeks. "We never found your brother, Luntu. We don't know what happened to him. It was a terrible time. First, the shock of seeing the burnt car and realising that both your father and mother had died, then on top of that finding out that Buntu had simply disappeared. There has never been a trace of him." "What are you telling me? I had a brother and then he vanished into a thin air? He could still be alive!” exclaimed Luntu, adding, “Didn't you try to find him?" "We tried, Luntu,” replied his aunt slowly. “Investigations were carried out for years. Your uncle followed any leads that came in too. Many of these took him to cities and towns all over South Africa, but he always came back empty handed. We even consulted fortune-tellers who told us that he was alive, but they couldn’t tell us where he was. Our hopes were raised so many times over the years, but we eventually had to face facts when the authorities told us that we would probably never find him. They questioned you on several occasions after the accident, but you were unable to give them any answers. We think the driver of the stolen car kidnapped him, but we're not sure. He disappeared without a trace." Aunt Mamosa looked around the room as she said, "We put away all the pictures we had with Buntu in them because every time you saw them you would began to scream and the dreams would start again. They're packed away. When you're ready to see them, I’ll take them out." "Why didn't they take the both of us? Why only my brother? Why can't I remember my brother?" Luntu cried out. "Perhaps your subconscious mind has locked your memories away. The top specialists in the field have all tried to release them, but until today, you had absolutely no recollection of that day. Who knows, you may remember more now." "I've got to remember! He could still be alive. I may have a brother. Please get the pictures, Aunt Mamosa, I need to see my brother." He waited expectantly while Aunt Mamosa went to a cupboard to fetch the photos and carefully handed them over to Luntu. He went through them slowly. Some of the pictures showed Luntu and Buntu standing together or playing together, in others they were wrestling with their parents. The brothers looked so alike they could have been identical twins. Luntu looked at the photographs for a long time before handing them back to his aunt. He must make a move. He would have a cup of tea with his aunt, then go and visit the mother and child who had been in the accident. After saying a fond goodbye to his aunt he drove straight to the hospital. Luntu decided to first look in on the young boy. The sister in charge of the ward told him that he was fine, but that Luntu wouldn’t be able to speak to him because he was fast asleep. He went quietly over to the bed, and stopped suddenly, aware of a sudden stabbing pain in his heart. The little boy lying fast asleep in bed was a mirror image of the two little boys in Aunt Mamosa’s photographs. Luntu stood and looked at him for a long time, then went to meet his mother. “Buntu! Oh, Thank God, you’re all right,” the woman screamed loudly as Luntu entered her ward. Luntu froze at the entrance, confused. He was unable to speak. “Buntu, you look so strange. Are you okay? Is my baby okay?” the woman asked anxiously. “He’s fine, but… I’m not…” Luntu felt his body go weak. There was a choking sensation in his chest, and he couldn’t draw any air into his lungs. Overcome, he collapsed on the floor. His nightmares were over. But now the grieving would start.