Two strange things happened that day. Being chased by a hurricane was not one of them!
I was eight years old when I first encountered Mama Nganga. I had been playing hide 'n seek with my best friend, Nalo, when the seeker spotted us and gave chase. We tumbled in heaps of laughter into the adjacent woods, willing ourselves to outrun the footfall.
We scrambled through thickets, leaped over bluebells, falling over each other, venturing off the well-trodden path and into the arms of the untamed wilds. We ran until the only sound - pounding hearts, and blood pulsing hard and fast beneath our temples. Having escaped, we paused to catch our breath. We took the time to examine our bumps and bruises, battle scars to be brandished proudly in the days to follow. Taking in our surroundings, realisation hit that we had ventured into unfamiliar territory. We stood aghast, staring at each other.
I think... we're lost!
Nalo shifted uneasily as she gave voice to the obvious.
How quickly reckless abandon turns to nervous apprehension.
As we contemplated our next move, the skies clouded over. The sound of thunder rolling across the heavens, partially obscured by the dense tree canopy, grew louder. A crack of lightning whipped me back to my senses. My head played out a dozen scenarios in as many seconds - none of them good - and then I smelt it... a wood fire. Around here, that meant one thing. People.
We followed the unmistakable sweet scent of Birch hanging in the air until we broke into a small clearing about a hundred yards away. A brightly coloured cabin lay on the outskirts; a small fire pit beside it. A woman was huddled over the smouldering wood, harbouring a large cast iron cauldron, a dark shawl pulled over her head, singing gently to herself, seemingly unperturbed by the approach of the storm.
What on earth was she doing out here all alone? I wondered.
The woman's gaze lifted as she rose to greet us. She barely had time to brace before Nalo ran headlong into her midriff.
Child, what on earth are you doing out here?
She chided gently, laughing as she folded Nalo into her arms, before calmly adding...
Come now... we must all get inside before the storm is upon us.
That afternoon Mama Nganga rescued us from the elements. We listened and watched in awe from inside the windows of the little cabin. We sipped hot chocolate as the storm raged on, powerful beyond all reckoning of it. The forest lit up every few minutes. It was magical. And when the extreme weather subsided, Mama walked us back to the edge of the forest so that we could make our way back home safely.
That afternoon, twenty years ago, I fell in love with thunderstorms, and a small part of me fell in love with the crazy old lady who lived in the middle of the forest.
In the midst of an electric storm, you can almost taste the lightning. The metallic ions on the tongue, a warning of its proximity and danger - a thrill for the storm seeker to savour. Over the years, I often found myself gazing out across open fields, watching sporadic bolts light up the night sky - nature's fireworks! Opening up my chest, I would fill my lungs with the scent of dry earth after the rain. 1 Storms held a deep attraction for me that I could never quite articulate. It was something I simply felt deep within and the reason I was now an avid storm chaser. For me, the calm before the storm, involved encountering its eye, the centre around which the eyewall spins. It is usually followed swiftly by the eyewall - where its violent heart resides. 2 It was a dangerous pastime. Not for the fainthearted. But it made me feel alive at a time when I was all but dead inside.
What I didn't know back then, was that Nalo's grandmother was a witch. This was something I discovered quite by accident. A modern-day nganga 3 - she had the gift of vision and could divine your fortune if desired.
It was during the hurricane season that I stumbled upon the cabin in the woods for the second time in my life. I had just celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday, the first one I'd spent alone in five years. Scott always did have terrible timing. He had walked out almost a year before, citing irreconcilable differences. The only irreconcilable difference we had was the one that involved him wanting to be with me and sleep with her; that bimbo from work he had known for all of five minutes. I get it, five years is a long time to commit to one person. In his case, clearly not long enough for commitment to take hold. I keep trying to convince myself that his leaving was a blessing - that no amount of time would ever mend the shattered pieces of my heart. Broken trust is not something one can simply gilt back together again. And Kintsugi is not a solution for repairing cracks in relationships. The last thing we wish for is to highlight the flaws of our broken lives. And so I didn't chase him. Instead, I chased the storms.
I had been on the road for days, chasing a category 4, research for the latest book I was working on 4. Its strength grew by the hour when the wind changed without warning. Within minutes, the pursuit was turned on its head, and the pursuer became the pursued. Amid torrential rain and high winds, I found myself racing to outpace its fury, and in danger of losing the battle. The hurricane unleashed mini tornadoes, vortexes of spiraling destruction, intent on taking me down with them. Thunder and lightning completed its arsenal. The visual display was an unusual sight, one seldom encountered in a hurricane, due to the horizontal forces at play.
It was a calculated gamble but the forest looked to be the only place that might provide refuge from its path. With that thought in mind, I headed for the trees as memories of my childhood flooded back. I wondered if Mama Nganga still lived in the area. I was going to find out soon enough as I headed for the site of the old cabin, hopeful that it would still be there and provide sanctuary from the deluge. I got lucky!
Drenched and bedraggled I knocked frantically on her door. The old woman glanced out of the window before easing the door ajar and waving me inside.
Twenty years had passed but a hot drink and cookies still welcomed me in. I was surprised that she still recognised me. This time, however, she offered me a cup of tea, freshly brewed from loose tea leaves. Sitting alongside her in that little cabin in the woods, safe from the swirling winds and rain outside, brought back memories of happier more carefree times. I longed to erase the past few years - wondered what might have been if I had walked away that fateful day Scott had approached me at the bar. But life brings us joy and little knocks. And it's up to us to battle our way through the minefield and endure. My face must have given away my contemplative mood, for I was pulled back from my reverie with Mama Nganga's hand gently resting on top of my own, asking repeatedly about my well-being.
Truth be told, I was a bit of an emotional mess those days, but next to the power of the storm, my own troubles seemed to pale in comparison. My mood usually oscillated between sad and ... very sad.
Mama Nganga took both of my hands in her own and whispered softly.
I would like to do a reading for you if you'll let me.
I didn't have a clue what she was talking about.
Yes, have you ever heard of tasseography? Reading tea leaves? I... read tea leaves.
However strange fortune-telling might seem, somehow it didn't sound quite as odd coming from her. I figured I was stuck for at least a couple of hours until the storm passed... so I agreed to play along.
Sure, why not...
I offered a half-smile.
As the old lady looked on, I swirled the golden brew around the edges of the teacup. The tea leaves spiraled through the mini whirlpool created at its centre. Remnants of memories licked the sides of the drinking vessel. I sipped the amber liquid, at once warming and soothing my aching heart. When the bottom of the cup came into view, I swirled one last time, and then I stopped and handed the cup to Mama, allowing the leaves to settle gently with my thoughts.
Mama's head tilted from side to side, purveying its contents. The tea leaves clung to the bottom in odd-shaped clumps. She frowned, seemingly perplexed, but then relaxed and announced without further hesitation...
I see a great storm coming. It will catch you unawares, and demand your full attention. It will attract you and draw you in. You could get lost in its eye... Take heed - life-changing choices will present themselves and you will need to be brave and ready to act or lose the chance for happiness.
Great! Just what I needed. More drama in my life. Now I'd have to spend between today and eternity waiting for disaster to strike! Life couldn't be better if I tried!
Six months later, I was at a launch party for my recently released book: Inside the Eye. I'd exchanged light conversation with a few fanboys and finally managed to break away and head to the refreshments table, eager to indulge in my daily caffeine ritual.
He was pouring himself a steaming mug of coffee, when I noticed him, meticulously selecting the sweetener packets, taking two, and then replacing one carefully. As he opened the sachet, I watched his eyes rising to look over the rim of his Clark Kent glasses. He caught me looking before I could avert my own. He smiled and looked down again momentarily...
Would you like me to pour you a mug?
... he gestured.
I was about to decline politely - stubborn independence becomes a force of habit over time - but something about him made me hesitate.
His deep blue eyes captivated me; bright, and vibrant, they drew me in. Not waiting for my reply, he made small talk and assembled another cup of coffee alongside his own. His southern drawl had me captivated. He radiated warmth. His presence seemed to expand outwards into the room. I felt my once-spinning world start to slow. My thoughts seemed less erratic. I could feel my storms subsiding, and I allowed them to be silenced. An incredible sense of calm came over me, just listening to his voice. This was at odds with my heart, belting out a new rhythm inside my chest. I felt a little out of control - but in a good way. He was unlike anyone I had encountered before, and in those few minutes, I liked the way he began to make me feel.
I don't believe we've introduced ourselves properly...
He looked at me and smiled as he handed over his steaming offer of friendship.
I felt my cheeks flush. Perhaps it was time for something different! Something new. God knows something had to change. And then I glanced down at his nametag... and I smiled back at him.
*This post appears as a paid-for featured post on the Dreemport website. If you'd like to be entered into the bounty to win 100 Dreem tokens, visit the link, leave me a comment on this post, and let me know that you're a dreemer - draw takes place 21st March 🤗💗
Image header by Elliot FZ on Pexels in Canva Pro library
Closing Image by kwasny221 in Canva Pro Library
1 - Stop and Smell the Geosmin
2 - What does 'Eye of the Storm' mean
4 - Storm Chasing
Dreemport banner used with permission of @dreemsteem and @dreemport and designed by @jimramones