I remember very well how my late grandmother, who lived in rural KwaZulu-Natal, used to warn me about venturing outside at midnight. She would often tell me that midnight is the time for evil spirits to roam freely. The spirits were said to be extremely powerful and dangerous in the middle of the night.
The dangers of being out at night included the possibility of meeting ghosts, tokoloshes and witches. But, to be honest, none of my friends or family members ever confirmed meeting any of the above. Not even my gogo witnessed the power of the evil spirits she feared most. Out of respect for my grandmother, who helped to raise me, and for her to be on the safe side just in case evil spirits really existed and wandered at night, I decided that I had to be indoors before it got dark outside. But as I grew older, this routine was broken. Later on in life I would sometimes find myself at work until very late at night and inevitably go home long after midnight. But nothing untoward happened to me on these long journeys home after midnight, until one night . . .
I remember driving home alone at about midnight on 31 December 2012. I was en route to the northern parts of KZN. I was about ten kilometres away from my destination when suddenly I found myself stuck with a stranger who appeared out of nowhere. He was making it difficult for me to proceed with my journey because he was walking in the middle of the road. Having spent all my adult years in Joburg, the first thing that came to my mind was that I was about to be hijacked. But I was wrong.
I was really not prepared for what I was about to witness. Remember, it was already almost midnight and I was alone, tired and drowsy. I had constantly tried to keep my eyes wide open to safely complete my journey. But at that stage my vision was not only affected by my exhaustion, but also by the bad weather – you know those nights that are misty and drizzling (and the perfect setting for a scene straight out of a horror movie).
In shock I winked and wiped my eyes with my hand as I approached the tall figure that was strutting in front of my car on the road as if leading or showing me the way. Though I’m quite familiar with the area, I still looked around just to make sure that there were no houses in the vicinity. As I already knew, there was no one except the deserted open veld stretching as far as my eyes could see, and the man walking down the muddy road.
This tall lonely old man who had been walking for some metres in the middle of the drizzling night, with the help of a walking stick, suddenly stopped as if he was challenging me to take him on. This was the last thing I expected. He didn’t look bothered by me or the presence of my car behind him. Instead, he continued strolling until I was about five metres from him.
Then he jumped to the left side of the road – as if something had stung him. He turned his whole body to face the road and fell on his back. No sooner had he fallen on his back than he rose again – but this time only his upper body was elevated, with his hands on either side of his body. He was now sitting on the wet ground with his feet stretched out and overlapping into the road. I swerved the car to the right to avoid driving over his feet.
About 300 metres after passing this stranger I made a conscious decision to turn back. What if he was sick? What if he needed my help? What if he was lost? I really felt that I had to go back to him. Now I was facing the direction where I had come from. To increase visibility I turned the headlights to bright. Just up the road, believe it or not, the man who had been sitting down not so long ago was walking majestically in the middle of the road, coming towards my car.
I thought of stopping next to him, but instead I decided to drive past him and made another U-turn so that I was now facing his direction. I drove for about ten metres before I stopped my car. The man was now standing next to the road on the left side of my car. I opened the passenger-side window.
“Hello, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“What are you saying, young man?” the man asked, turning his back to the window of the car.
“What is your name; where are you from?”
“Listen, young man, can’t you see I’m drunk?” he replied with a strong and clear voice, without even looking at me.
“Where are you going?”
“Home; just down the road.
I was drinking the whole day and now I’m going home.”
“Where is your home?” I asked nervously, checking all directions for any possibility.
“My home is just down the road. My surname is Sithole.”
A cold shiver went down my spine. I wondered if it was just a coincidence that this mysterious figure’s surname was the same as mine. I began to realise that I might have actually brought a problem or evil spirits upon myself. I thought of speeding away, but my hands were shaking. The man stood still on the side of my car and was still not facing me. I never saw his face.“Do you want to give me a lift home?” he asked politely. Before I could respond he continued talking and was moving closer to my open window. “Please give me a lift home,” he begged. “No, no, no. No ways!” I responded as I put my car into first gear, preparing to speed away. Before my car could pick up speed, and without bidding me goodbye, the man simply vanished into the thick night air.
Fearing that he might have entered my car, I checked outside and inside my car. But he was nowhere to be seen. And even now I don’t know whether he disappeared or what happened. Was he one of the spirits my grandmother used to talk about?
By Sipho Sithole