A drumbeat wakes me. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. It is beating a funeral dirge.

When I was my little sister Zi’s age, we rarely heard those drums. Now they wake me so many Saturdays. It seems somebody is dying all the time. These drums are calling our next-door neighbor, Umnumzana Dudu, to leave this place and join the ancestors where they live, in the earth, the land of the shadows.

I get up and walk to the window, peeking through the curtain at the Dudus’ house in the faint pink light of dawn. Their house is small like ours, government built—a matchbox house made of crumbling cement and peeling peach-colored paint. It is partially obscured by the huge billboard the government put up some few weeks ago between our houses. This is what it announces in bold white lettering against a black background:


My grandmother Gogo fretted like mad when that billboard went up. “People who can’t read, they will just see that symbol for AIDS right over our house, and they will say, ‘Those people, they are the ones spreading it.’”

I tried to soothe her. “People know better than that. Those billboards are everywhere.” It’s true, the government wants everyone to know about the disease of these days before we all die from it.

But Gogo shook her head. “You watch, we will have bad luck from this thing,” she predicted.

Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. The drums next door continue and a dog across the street howls in response.

I look for movement in the Dudus’ yard but see nothing.

Like us, they have wrapped thick barbed wire around the top of their fence, in order to keep tstosis away. Only some few of us have anything that tstosis would steal but these days, things are so hard those gangsters will hold a gun to your head and steal crumbs of phuthu right out of your mouth even as you are chewing and swallowing.

Excerpt copyright © 2012 J.L. Powers

About the book:
This Thing Called the Future is a coming-of-age story set in post-apartheid South Africa. Just as Khosi, 14, starts falling in love for the first time, she is haunted by a witch’s curse, a supernatural stalker, and the looming death of somebody she loves.

What people are saying:

“This novel takes a loving, clear-eyed look at the clash of old and new through the experience of one appealing teenager… A compassionate and moving window on a harsh world.”–Kirkus Reviews

“… a compelling, often harrowing portrait of a struggling country, where old beliefs and rituals still have power, but can’t erase the problems of the present. Readers will be fully invested in Khosi’s efforts to secure a better future.”–Publishers Weekly

“This is a fascinating glimpse into a worldview that, while foreign to many readers, is made plausible through Khosi’s practical and conflicted perspective.”–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 5 stars

Released: May 2011

About the author:

J.L. Powers is the author of The Confessional (2007) and This Thing Called the Future (2011). She is the editor of That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, essays from around the world (May 2012). She blogs at The Pirate Tree and Mother, Writer, Mentor  and edits the literary magazine, The Fertile Source.  Visit her online at