It wasn’t until the clock struck noon when Aneni finally opened her eyes. The 15-year-old troublesome teenager had gotten used to waking up to the annoying sound of a hoover banging against her bedroom door, accompanied by loud gospel music and the out-of-tune voice her mother, Ma Aneni singing along.
Ma Aneni was a middle aged, bad-tempered yet loving mother of 3 children – Ashe, her 17-year-old son, Aneni and Anesu, her 4-year-old son. Ma Aneni was a modern Christian mother who had given up on teaching her children the basics of her customs, traditional food, folktales and heritage that her late grandmother had taught her. Ma Aneni’s children, like any other modern youngsters, were not willing to learn, Aneni being the worst of the 3. As a woman living in the up-class suburb of Chishawasha Hills, Ma Aneni eventually let go of her true African-self. Which was quite common. The only disciplinary rule Ma Aneni had in her house, was that all her children, regardless of gender or age, were expected to carry out house chores, giving rise to the customary loud cleaning that never permitted the children to sleep-in on weekends.
Aneni opened her eyes with zero torture from the sun. She was surprised to find her bedroom curtains still shut. The girl sat up straight in confusion. She yawned, stretched out her arms and then stared at the door for a moment, waiting for her mother’s noise to kick-start her Saturday morning. Aneni waited and waited, until she gave up. The girl gave a huge grin and then threw herself back under the covers.
20 minutes into her peaceful rest, Aneni sat back up again. She had failed to go back to sleep. She decided to pick up her cell phone from the floor. As soon as she laid her eyes on the screen, Aneni jumped up and screamed, “no! It’s in the afternoon already? Oh no!” Aneni quickly ran to the door, put on her slippers and headed into the hallway.
To her surprise, the house was silent. No loud music. No hover sounds. No out-of-tune singing. Aneni began to panic. Tears filled her eyes as she feared that something had happened to her mother and brothers. Aneni rested against the wall, trying to catch her breath from her on-going panic attack. The poor girl began to sob. Unexpectedly, Aneni was distracted by an awful smell. She gagged twice and then looked up. Her eyes rested upon Ashe who was exiting the toilet, down the hall. The boy dried his wet hands on the back of his shorts as he approached his sister. Aneni ceased to cry and broke into laughter. “What did you kill in there?” teased Aneni as she stepped away from her brother. Ashe grinned with pride and then headed into the television room. The girl wiped her tears and followed behind.
Ashe threw himself on the fluffy couch, by his little brother’s side. He picked up his gaming controller and resumed his video game with Little Anesu. Aneni was troubled by how calm her brothers were in the absence of their mother on The Sacred Day Of Cleaning. A day Ma Aneni would never miss even if someone had died.
“Where’s mom?” asked Aneni as she stepped further into the television room. She sat by the edge of the couch, glanced at the television and then back at her occupied brothers. “I said, where is mom?” screamed the girl. Anesu sulked in his adorable little voice, “you don’t have to scream, Aneni. She is in the garden.” Aneni gave her little brother a kiss on the forehead and added, “thanks bud.” She went on to smack Ashe’s head and ran out, smiling with satisfaction.
“Why didn’t you wake us up with your loud music and painful noise this morning?” questioned Aneni as she approached her mother who was squatting while uprooting weeds from her onion bed. Ma Aneni stood up straight, adjusted her sun hat and then rested her eyes on her puzzled daughter. The woman grunted and then returned to her squatting position. She repositioned her gloves and then resumed plucking out the weeds. Ma Aneni chuckled, “what are you talking about, Aneni?” Aneni took a step closer to her mother, sighed and then sobbed, “I was worried. I thought something had happened to you.” Ma Aneni broke into laughter. She wiped off some sweat from her forehead and then replied, “huh?” Aneni crouched down and then sobbed once more, “you have never missed The Sacred Day Of Cleaning. Are you ok?” Ma Aneni paused for a moment, looked at her daughter with a puzzled face and said, “your brothers and I cleaned the house in the morning. No amount of singing woke you up, today. Anesu cried at some point. He actually thought you had died in your sleep.” The woman resumed her weed plucking and then added, “I had to send Ashe to check for your pulse.” Aneni chuckled, “that’s impossible. I always hear you. A dead man in his grave can hear you clean.” Ma Aneni grinned, “go and eat something but this means, next week, the boys will do nothing. You will have to do all the cleaning.” Aneni, stood up, broke into a dance and then smiled. She was happy that her mother wasn’t going to spank her or scold her for not participating in the cleaning. As Aneni began to walk away, Ma Aneni cried out, “Aneni, I hope you are not on drugs like that neighbour’s son.” Aneni, grunted, smiled at her mother and then headed into the house.
At dinner time, Aneni sat down with her family for a home cooked meal. As they dined, Little Anesu brought up how Aneni would not wake up in the morning. The little boy was convinced that her sister had died and somehow risen back to life.
“I promise you ma, I woke her up. I even slapped her 16 times,” said Little Anesu with a huge grin on his face. “How did you know it was 16 times?” teased Ashe. Anesu retorted, “I counted, dummy.” Ma Aneni smiled as she complimented her precious little boy, “wow, bud, you can now count that many. You should be proud of yourself.” Anesu smiled as he took the last spoon of his rice.
Aneni let go of her spoon, ran her hands around her face and then giggled, “I was wondering why my face hurts so much.” There was a moment of silence and then Ashe burped. After excusing himself, he said, “dude, mom had to send me to check if you were still breathing. I also threw in a few slaps of my own.” He paused and then added, “argh, I should have taken a video.” Ma Aneni complained, “I keep telling you to stay off those phones and you don’t listen to me. Now look.” The children broke into laughter. Aneni shook her head, “here we go again, blaming phones for everything wrong in this world.”
Days went by and Aneni kept having weird episodes in the morning where she wouldn’t leave her deep sleep no matter how hard her brothers tried to wake her up. Luckily it was during the April school break and so there was no need for Aneni to wake up early in the morning. Aneni had no control over her episodes, however, Ma Aneni strongly believed that her daughter was just being her troublesome, lazy-teenage-self.
That following Friday, after a week had gone by, Aneni crawled into her mother’s bed after dinner. Ma Aneni was peacefully reading a novel when was disturbed by her daughter. Ma Aneni shut her book, adjusted her reading glasses and then stared at her daughter. “What on earth do you think you are doing?” questioned the annoyed woman. There was no response, instead, Aneni adjusted the bedcovers to her liking. Ma Aneni, still staring at her daughter in confusion, “what are you doing, Aneni?” Once more, Aneni did not respond. Instead of starting an unnecessary fight with her daughter, Ma Aneni decided to let it slide. She grunted, opened her book and then resumed her reading. A few pages later, Ma Aneni ordered, “move your cold feet away from mine.” This made Aneni break into laughter. “I’m scared of sleeping alone. I might fall into my deep sleep again,” chuckled Aneni.
On the following day, on a lovely Saturday evening during dinner, the talk of Aneni not waking up came up once more. Ma Aneni was not happy with this new habit of her daughter. “I have let this go on for a week because I understand that you need a break from your school term but this ends now,” roared Ma Aneni. Ashe giggled. The site of his mother scolding his sister gave him great joy.
“Ma, I promise you. It’s not on purpose,” sobbed Aneni. Ma Aneni responded harshly, “Aneni. I am not a fool.” Aneni adjusted her chair and then began to explain, “listen, I keep having the same dream but it’s not a dream, it feels real, as if I am there.” Aneni took a sip of her water followed by a bite of her chicken wing and then continued, “get this, the dream is continuous. It’s as if I press pause when I wake up and then resume from exactly where I left off the next time I go to sleep. Anesu stopped eating and began to listen to his sister attentively. On the other side of the dining table, Ashe was barely paying any attention.
“Ok, so I know this is weird but in this dream, I’m in a different world. Like, like, like, hmmm, like those ancient African days.” Ma Aneni shook her head and chuckled, “Aneni, stop.” She couldn’t help but laugh a little at her daughter’s bizarre story. Aneni continued regardless, “in this dream, wait, no, in this story, I am a 20-something-year old female who is fully grown and mature.” Ma Aneni interrupted her daughter with a laugh. Aneni continued in spite of the mocking laugh, “I am this beautiful young woman who has a task to complete for reasons haven’t figured out yet. I’m still stuck with finding out what my real mission is. So far, I have been chatting, laughing and working with the villagers. I have learnt how to farm, gather fruits, braid hair and dance the African traditional dance. Of course, they just call it dancing.” Aneni paused to take a bite of her chicken while Ashe shared his thoughts, “if it were a video game, based on a mission, and I was the player stuck with a task I have no clue of, I’d ask the locals, especially those random men and women who sit by the road side. They see everything and they know everything. Chances are they will give you some good hints.” Ma Aneni giggled, “Ashe, I thought you weren’t interested in your sister’s fake dream.” Aneni cried out, “it’s real, ma. I will even be wearing those loin skirts from the olden days.” Anesu gasped in excitement, “sis, you must be time travelling somewhere in Africa but hundreds of years ago.” Ashe and Ma Aneni broke into laughter which left Aneni disheartened. The poor girl stood up from the table, carried her plate and vanished.
Aneni slowly opened her eyes as the sun harshly hit her face. She felt grass and stones pierce her back from lying on the ground. Aneni immediately knew that she was back in her dream, which she preferred to call an alternate world. Aneni sat up straight. The view of the nealty ploughed field did not cease to mesmerize her. The girl grinned. She noticed that no one was in the field. The villagers were gathered under a tree, approximately 600 metres across the field, where they sat down chitchatting and sharing some laughs. This helped Aneni confirm that it was midday. From her last visit, Aneni had learnt that to avoid dehydration and headaches, farmers would take breaks from working when the sun hit directly above their heads. This is how the villagers determined that it was midday.
Aneni was tempted to visit the farmers, hear their jokes and folktales and share a laugh with them but unfortunately, Aneni had no time to waste. She had a quest to complete. The girl dusted off the dry grass on her arms and braided hair. She stood up on her feet and began to adjust her clothing. The animal skinned loin-skirts and breast-cover were the most challenging change Aneni was facing in this world. The poor girl felt as if she was walking around naked. But, there was no time to sit down and whine. Once her sleeping time ran out back at home, Aneni would be pulled out of this alternate world with the consequence of having start from exactly where she left off. Making progress was crucial to Aneni.
The girl got up, waved at the farmers from afar, headed to the gate of the fenced field and into the dust road. Instead of watching out for cars, Aneni had to watch out for ox-drawn carts, which was another adjustment to deal with. The view of men, women and children nearly naked, with only loin-skirts and breast-covers, was slowly becoming less weird to the girl. Aneni walked down the road joyfully with a smile on her unlike the first time she arrived into this different world. For every stranger that gave Aneni a greeting, Aneni would smile and wave back.
Aneni finally made it to the market place where various foods, meats, vegetables, artworks and sculptures were traded. She walked from booth to booth, asking why she had been brought into this different world. Luckily, language barrier wasn’t a problem Aneni had to face. The villagers spoke Shona, Aneni’s mother tongue. A few words would vex Aneni but she still managed to understand the villagers. Unfortunately, no one seemed to take her seriously until an old, wrinkly man invited Aneni to his fish and carpenter booth. The man had grey hair, a rod to help him walk and countless beads and charms over his exposed chest. He was dressed as the other wealthy men in the village did.
“They do not know what you speak of. The men and women of this village have been reprogrammed to believe that you have always been a part of their world,” uttered the old man. “Their world?” questioned Aneni as she drew closer. “Yes, child, their world or timeline rather, to be precise,” responded the man. Aneni cleared her throat, “so which timeline are you from?” The man chuckled, “300 years from your present day.” Aneni grinned and then teased the man, “so global warming didn’t destroy man kind after all, did it?” The man grunted, “you are stuck in a different timeline and that’s the first question you choose to ask me? Argh, you pandemic survivors are the most curious versions of mankind. You are all the same.” Aneni’s face lit up, “so this means you have met people from my timeline somewhere around here, correct?” The man replied, “that does not matter. All you need to know is that random Africans and African descendants from various timelines have been brought into this particular timeline to complete a task or collect information and carry on that knowledge back home. As of now, we are in 1100 AD. Those who fail to complete their tasks in time, will be stuck here forever as I. Those who cheat will be wiped out of existence from all timelines including their own.” Aneni lost her joyful smile. She frowned her face in worry. “So how do I know my task?” asked the troubled girl. The old man hit his rod onto the ground and used it to pull himself up. He rested on the nearest pillar of his booth and then used the rod to point at the edge of the village. “Do you see where the world ends?” asked the old man. Aneni squinted her eyes in the direction of the rod and then she shook her head. “The villagers in this timeline do not believe that the earth expands farther than their eyes can see. They believe that they are the only people under the sun.” The man chuckled and then continued, “where those mountains lie is what they call the end of the earth. No one has ever lived to tell how they crossed beyond those mountains.” Aneni frowned her face once more but this time in terror. “Fear not, dearest child. You won’t need to cross the mountains. All you have to do is visit the lake beneath the valley of the mountains. Wash your face gently with the water once and only once. Thereafter will your eyes be opened. You will see what your human eyes could not see. That which you ought to do will be revealed to you.” There was a moment of silence as Aneni tried to fathom the information she had just received. The girl finally asked, “that seems far, how can I get there?” The man chuckled, “you will have to walk,” and then he slowly sat down onto his wooden stool. Aneni gasped, “that’s far! Approximately 50 kilometers away from here, judging from the size of the mountains from where we stand. That will take me 20 hours, if not more.” The man giggled, “66 kilometers to be exact.” Aneni slapped her face with her palm, “argh.” “I’d get going if I were you. You don’t have much time,” said the old man. Aneni shook her heard in annoyance. As she took her first step, Aneni felt a pull. “Argh!” cried Aneni as she got pulled out of existence and into thin air.
The poor girl woke up in her bed, screaming in frustration. She had finally gotten a lead on how to figure out her task but she had to wait till the next night to continue from where she had left off.
For the next week, Aneni kept waking up before her journey to the end of the earth was complete. The walk was quite long, tiring and nearly hopeless. Luckily, Aneni would continue where she would have left off instead of starting from the beginning.
On the last Friday night of her April school break, Aneni gobbled up her food during dinner time so that she could rush to bed. The poor girl nearly chocked on her food a couple of times. “Hey!” cried out Ma Aneni, “will you slow down, please.” Aneni quickly swallowed the food in her mouth and then shoved a few more spoons. Ma Aneni order, “I said, slow down.” Aneni mumbled in response with some food falling out of her mouth. Ashe uttered, “eww!” in disgust. Little Anesu exclaimed, “Aneni is eating like pig,” and then the little boy broke into laughter. Ma Aneni frowned her face, “Anesu, sweetie, what did we say about name calling?” she paused to look at Aneni and then continued, “why are you in such a hurry?” Aneni swallowed the last batch of food in her mouth, jumped up from her chair and said, “I have some, hmmm, I have to, yes, I have some homework to do before school starts on Monday.” She did not give her mother or siblings a chance to question her false excuse. Aneni ran into the kitchen, washed her plate and headed to her bedroom.
“Yes!” cried Aneni with tears of relief falling down her eyes. She jumped up and down a couple of times and then threw herself onto the rocks that lay at the edge of the waters beneath the mountains. She sighed in relief and then gasped at the beauty before her eyes. The mountains at the edge of the earth looked more beautiful in close range. Aneni could no believe her eyes. She whispered to herself, “this is magnificent. Wow! But, I don’t have time to waste, I may wake up any moment from now. I have got to finish this task before school opens on Monday.” Aneni could not risk having her deep sleep episodes on school mornings.
Aneni was too weak to walk any longer. Instead, she crawled farther, until her palms touched the water. Aneni followed the instructions she had been given. She dipped her hands into the lake, scooped as much water as her little hands could carry, shut her eyes and then splashed the water onto her face. Aneni put her hands down and then opened her eyes. Her jaw dropped in awe. She could not believe her eyes. A gigantic cloud of fire floated above the lake. As if this was not shocking enough, a deep voice roared out of the cloud. Aneni gasped. She looked around and noticed that her eyes had been supernaturally opened which allowed her to see others who were on the same mission as her, surrounding the lake. Aneni observed the various types of clothing from all historical and future time periods. She lost focus for a moment as she studied the different men and women in her presence.
Aneni finally snapped back to focus on the mission. She looked up to the cloud of fire and began to listen. The voice roared, “you have been chosen to walk on the beautiful grounds of our people. You have seen the beauty that Africa once was. A people of unity, mighty strength, beauty and honour. Some of you have communed with our people. You have witnessed who we are. Take this knowledge with you. Teach, share and remind all descendants to live in these ways. Each of you has a task, some tasks harder than others. Look into your heart and your task will revealed to you. Complete your task. Do your part.”
The voice went silent for a moment and then began to repeat the same lines, “You have been chosen to walk on the beautiful grounds of my people. You,” Aneni did not wait to hear the lines for the second time. She jumped up and began to ran back as fast as her weak legs could carry her.
As she saw the marketplace from a close distance, Aneni began to feel the pull again. “oh no!” cried Aneni as the pull got stronger. The pull intensified. Aneni lay floating in the air as she cried out, “I can’t go back home today without finishing my mission.” The deep voice from earlier on uttered, from thin air, “you have seen and you have learnt. You have done your part. Your mission is complete.” The girl sobbed while trying not to look down from where she was, “complete? How? I have only heard the words that you said. I need to ask the old man from the market what I should do next.” The voice responded, “the moment you received the revelation, I saw a wave of self-love and acceptance float in your heart. Your mission was for you and for you alone.”
Aneni opened her eyes and found herself lying on her bed. She sighed in relief, smiled and then jumped out of bed. Aneni opened her bedroom door and then immediately ran into her mother in the hallway. “Wow!” exclaimed Ma Aneni, “you are up so early. It’s 7:30 AM. What a shock.” She pointed to the lounge, smiled and the said, “I was about to go and switch on my loud music so we can start cleaning.” Aneni smiled at her mother with warmth in her heart. Ma Aneni squinted her eyes and asked, “you hate cleaning, why are you smiling?” Aneni grinned, “nothing,” she paused and then said, “mom, can I please start wearing my natural afro hair to school on Monday?” Ma Aneni questioned, “since when? You have always hated your hair.” Ma Aneni progressed towards the television room with a puzzled face, while Aneni stayed in the hallway. “Since when?” yelled out Ma Aneni. Aneni chuckled, “I’m embarking on a new self-love journey with my Africanness. Maybe after, you can teach me how to wash my hair. No promises that I’ll like the food, but maybe we should start eating traditional food in this house.” Ma Aneni grinned with joy. She never thought she would live to see the day her daughter would utter such words.