Lidudumalingani writes about the sufferings of a young girl, in a community where schizophrenia is seen as a spiritual problem that requires exorcism.

Schizophrenia, a kind of mental illness that cannot be cured, ravages the mind of young girl in a community largely ignorant of the condition. She suffers even more in the hands of traditional exorcists, who employ crude methods known and available to them, in an attempt to expunge the supposed demons that held her mind captive.

In school, her sister whose breast has failed to grow because of an incidence where hot porridge flung across the room, in one those moment when the thing ceased her, found its way to her chest; learns that her sisters condition was a mental one, one that makes it impossible for her to tell fiction from reality.

Though her sister owing to her condition had lost the power of speech, they rediscover love, the bond they share and they could understand and communicate in a way possible only to them.

Meanwhile she discovers her father, whom nobody ever talks about had the same condition before his sudden disappearance; an indication that her sisters condition was one of genetics. Then he overhears her mother discussing with Smellyfoot, the man who had moved in with their mother, to send her sister to a sangoma; Nkunzi. A revered traditional healer, who achieves results by baking his patients on a zinc sheet over fire.

She makes the connection, and decides she would rather have a sister who laughs and cries and looks her in the eye. They run away from home, with nowhere in mind.

This story is an illumination, an inroad into the dark, often neglected topic of mental illnesses that comes in different shades. Lidudumalingani has pointed out the need to know and embrace with love and utmost care; sufferers.

Lidudumalingani is a South African writer, film maker and photographer. His short story ‘Memories We Lost’ won the 2016 Caine Prize.

 

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