Many years ago, two sisters, named Akukho and Inala lived in a small hut at the edge of a forest. They were not rich, but they grew food in their garden and kept some chickens which provided for their needs quite well enough.
One hot afternoon, Inala was out working in the garden when she heard a strange and beautiful sound. Wiping the sweat off her brow, she stood up to see where it was coming from. A boy of around 12 years old was leaning against a tree, drawing a haunting melody from a battered old violin with his bow.
Inala listened, enchanted, and when the music came to an end, she clapped and cheered, ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ As the boy turned towards her, Inala could see his face was dirty and tear-stained, his arms and legs covered in bruises.
‘Child!’ she cried, ‘what has happened to you? What is your name? Where have you come from?’
‘Aunty,’ he said, ‘my name is Umbaleki. I have travelled far and wide and I am hungry and thirsty. Won’t you please spare me a cup of water? Then I will tell you my tale.’
Straight away Inala rushed into the house. She moved quietly around the kitchen gathering food and drink for the boy, as she had a feeling Akukho would not be entirely happy with her entertaining strangers this way.
Umbaleki fell on the food gratefully. When he had finished, he told Inala his tale of how his family had been scattered to the four winds by famine and war, poverty and disease. Now he was scouring the four corners of the globe to find them. ‘I must keep playing my music,’ he said. ‘When they hear it, they will come.’
As he took up his violin again, Inala’s eyes filled with tears.
The next day, Inala looked for Umbaleki, but this time, she heard the sound of not one, but two violins.
‘Aunty! My sister has found me!’ he called, joyfully. Inala fed them both, and helped them to build a small fire to keep them warm through the night.
Each day after that, Inala returned to find the family, and the fire, growing. She continued to feed them as the melodies from the now many different instruments swirled around her, capturing her heart and drawing her in.
Inala began staying with the Bhekizizwe family later and later in the evening, until one day, Akukho noticed her absence.
‘Inala! Where have you been?’ she asked.
‘Don’t be angry Akukho,’ soothed Inala, ‘I have made some new friends. They needed sustenance, but really, it’s been no trouble. Come and see, listen to the beautiful sound they make.’
Akukho peered over the garden wall suspiciously, the great sound of the music and the family’s shadows making them appear larger in number than they really were. She began to panic and tremble.
‘What have you done, you silly girl?’ she shouted. ‘If you keep feeding these people there will not be enough for us!’
‘Now, truthfully,’ reasoned Inala, ‘I have given them hardly anything – you haven’t even noticed it’s been gone, have you?’
‘That’s not the point and you know it,’ said Akukho angrily. ‘What if our garden turns to dust, and we have nothing left for ourselves? It is a good job I am here to be wise and sensible. You know nothing, and we would starve if we did things your way!’ And with that, she left the room.
That night, Inala slept fitfully, with strange shadows of the past creeping across her dreams. When she woke, she knew what she must do. She climbed up to her wardrobe and reached a case down from the top. Gently, Inala put together the silver flute that lay inside it. The memories locked away in her fingers came flooding back as she touched the keys and she began to play.
‘No! No!’ shouted Akukho. ‘Stop that horrible noise! I forbid you to make that sound!’
But the music of the Bhekizizwe family had called out to something deep inside Inala and she would not, could not stop. As she played, she walked out of the cottage, through the garden and beyond the walls, until she had reached the family of musicians and was adding her sound to theirs, creating rich and beautiful harmonies.
And she neither heard, nor saw, the shrill shrieking of Akukho ever again.