|Mmm. Milk and dark chocolate with a soft centre.|
‘He’s here’, said Marcia walking into the lounge.
Marcia is from Uige, the Bakongo tribe. She is to all outward appearances educated and cosmopolitan but she is still African. She will eat international dishes using cutlery but use the fingers of her right hand if it is a traditional dish and there are no foreigners present.
I was bitten by a snake that even I admit I did not see and two months later I am, if anything, worse. I am not going to muck about with typically British understatement anymore, I am in agony. I have not slept in weeks. Marcia is doing all the work because I can’t walk. It started with a nip on the toe, now my whole foot is involved. All the Docs say is to keep swallowing the antibiotics and, most recently, iron tablets as well. I am sick and dizzy with the pain and all the tablets I am ingesting. I am sadly all too familiar with the bowl of my toilet as I vomit into it every night as quietly as I can so I do not disturb hard working Marcia’s sleep or that of little Alex. Saturday afternoon I finally keeled over out of sheer exhaustion and Marcia thought I had suffered another heart attack so squirted a whole bottle of Nitrolingual between my teeth. I am still recovering from the bloody headache.
‘Who’s here?’ I asked, not interested in the slightest.
I averted my gaze from my book and surveyed the N’Ganga. He must have been right at the back of the queue when God was handing out skin and fat. Talk about ‘chiseled’, or ‘muscle definition’. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. All his veins stood out, pulsing in time with his heartbeat. He was at least a foot taller than I was and had to bend down to come in through the door. The man was bloody scary. I had no idea what an N’Ganga was.
‘He has come to look at your foot,’ explained Marcia.
‘Oh, he’s a Doctor?’
‘Sort of,’ said Marcia.
He examined my foot carefully. ‘It’s Gimbassa,’ he announced.
‘I knew it was Gimbassa,’ Marcia said.
‘What’s Gimbassa?’ I asked.
‘Mina Tradiçional,’ they both chorused.
‘A Traditional Landmine?’ I translated in my head. I must have come across as a little bit confused so Marcia reminded me of her brother who had, apparently stepped on one last year and in the end had his leg amputated just below the hip. I remembered the amputation but I hadn’t realized he had stepped on a mine. The N’Ganga told me, with a gravitas that would make a high court judge summing up before awarding a penalty of death look like a standup comedian, that this was very serious and definitely life threatening. He told me to take my trousers off. One look from Marcia silenced the outraged objection about to fly from my lips. He examined my leg. ‘It has nearly reached his knee,’ he told Marcia, ‘if it goes above the knee, he will die. There is no time to lose, I must treat him now. Has he been circumcised?’ The two of them were now conversing across me; I felt like a laboratory animal under inspection. What the hell does a foreskin have to do with a snake bite? I tell you, I was bloody relieved that Marcia could confirm my todger had already been snipped. The way this conversation was going, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had whipped out a razor blade and told me to drop my keks and behave like a man.
It is terribly easy to insult an African so rather than leap to my feet shouting, ‘Who the Fuck is this guy?’ I merely asked what a traditional landmine was. Marcia translated for the N’Ganga. They both laughed the sort of laugh people use when they realize they are in the presence of the congenitally stupid.
‘There is someone who wants to kill you,’ Marcia started to explain. I suppose some people would be quite shocked if their wife casually pointed out to them they were on a hit list but I found it amusing. Someone? I thought. I am sure there are many, I could write a list; ex wives and girlfriends, outraged fathers, people who owe me money, most recently the guy I smacked with the ashtray… ‘so this person has gone to a Quimbandeiro and he has arranged for you to step on a Mina Tradiçional.’ Marcia concluded.
‘Quimbandeiro? A witch doctor?’
So I hadn’t been bitten by a snake after all, I had been Hexed! Cool. Imagine having someone who cared enough about you to have you hexed. I was quite flattered. Whoever it was hadn’t the guts to square up and try planting one on me.
Sensing I wasn’t taking this at all seriously, Marcia tried again.
‘Andy!’ she always calls me Andy for some reason. (My last boss was called Andy so maybe I should have him hexed just in case Marcia had liked more than just his name), ‘you are going to die!’
Ooh I was so tempted to be flippant and point out that her prediction was one she could bet on, but I could see she was genuinely upset so bit my tongue. Being blessed with a wife who loves you so much she is willing to try anything to keep you alive is not something to ridicule so I would play along. But, no matter how much I cared for Marcia’s feelings, I wasn’t letting this guy anywhere near my dick.
He unpacked a small, genuine Gucci leather Man Bag made in China out of plastic and pulled on a white robe before laying out a cloth and a bottle of Eau de Toilette.
‘Can I get my camera and take pictures of this?’ I asked Marcia.
‘Tómas!’ Marcia shot back, horrified. She only ever calls me Tómas if I am in the shit. Pity really. I would have thought an image of a tall black African dressed like the Pope kneeling at the feet of a fat white bloke clad only in his underpants could have excited a few comments on my blog.
‘I need a plate you no longer require’, the N’Ganga announced. Marcia hurried off to fetch one. Have you ever noticed that if you ask your wife for a glass of water she will bring you one in whatever cheap bit of molten and molded silica that’s quickest to hand but if a complete stranger pulls up and asks for the same, she’ll serve him with your best crystal and probably offer him first dibs off the plate of scones you had been patiently waiting to cool down? I haven’t got much decent bone china left so was quite relieved when Marcia returned with a bit of market bought porcelain. Obviously she had already decided the value of my life had a limit.
The N’Ganga, clad in his robes, performed a more detailed inspection of my afflicted appendage and announced that there were five points of infection. Fair do’s I thought. I still couldn’t see any sign of a razor blade so I was pretty relaxed. He sprayed his hands with Eau de Toilette again and then started to massage my foot, which wasn’t so relaxing and then unexpectedly clamped his lips on the base of my toe and sucked hard which was pretty alarming. Before I could jerk my foot away, he leant over the plate and spat out a damn great black thorn. I was surprised, not least because at over three inches long, I reckon I would have noticed its presence in my toe long before he decided to perform religious fellatio on it. Four more times he performed the same procedure on my foot, each time resulting in a new object spat onto the plate; a palm seed, a pebble tied with string, a dried berry and, finally, a bit of twisted dried root; a regular Houdini regurgitating the keys to a cure. I was really disappointed when I glanced over towards Marcia. Instead of seeing her creasing up with mirth, thereby allowing me to explode with laughter and, with my good foot, kick this charlatan out of my house, her face was as inscrutable as a championship Chinese Mahjong player’s.
The N’Ganga went into a fairly convincing catatonic state but I did notice he rolled one eyeball down to see what I was doing. I was staring at him slack jawed. No doubt reassured I was paralyzed with awe, he continued doing nothing.
‘It is a woman,’ he announced suddenly.
‘Who is a woman?’ I asked.
‘Ssshh!’ hissed Marcia.
I shushed. For God’s sake. I reached over to the coffee table, grabbed my fags and lit up. ‘You can’t smoke!’ protested Marcia. I bloody well can, I thought and, as if reading my mind the N’Ganga said it was perfectly in order for me to smoke. So I poured myself a whisky as well.
‘It is a girl your husband knows very well’, he intoned.
Ah well, that’s Marcia then. I always knew she would tire of me and kill me in the end. Jeez, I’m amazed I lasted this long.
‘Does she live in the village?’ asked Marcia. What a daft question, I thought, of course you do! Then I went cold. This was getting dangerous. If he said this was a jilted lover of mine living in the village, I was in deep shit with a life expectancy less than a First World War pilot. Marcia has forgiven me for many things but I really did not want to test her tolerance to accusations of me tucking into the local natives. I was as regularly unfaithful to two previous wives as they were to me, the only difference being they got theirs for free. Marcia is my last chance and I really did not want to literally and physically fuck it up so in all the years I have been with her, I have never stepped over the traces. If she can believe that this guy just sucked a thorn out of my foot, what chance did I stand trying to convince her that the guy was a lying con man if he accused me of infidelity? Grabbing a kitchen knife and stabbing him through the heart before he could utter another word would be construed as a sign of guilt hard to argue against in an Angolan court of law so I held my breath wondering what dramatic turn my life was about to take.
‘She lives’ he pronounced before pausing to great effect (please, I thought, just get on with it, I am sat here only in my flaming underpants with a lot less material available to soak up a bit of unexpected incontinence), ‘in the CITY!’ he finished. Thank goodness for that! Even Marcia knows I have only visited the city twice in the past three years.
‘I have only visited the city twice in the past three years!’ I told Marcia, ‘and on each occasion Roddie drove me!’
‘Three times,’ she said, ‘are you forgetting when you drove to town yourself to collect Dominic?’
Oh hell. I’d forgotten about the time I was so angry when my diver welshed on the agreement to bring Dominic down here for his hols so I jumped in the car and went to fetch him myself. Normally it would only take about four hours but we just had to keep stopping off to buy delicious snippets at the various markets and a football and a really cool pair of swimming shorts for little Alex on the way back. We had a great time. It took six hours. Marcia was frantic by the time we got back.
‘Ok’ I said, ‘so I was in Town six months ago. This happened six weeks ago.’ Wonderful how women can ignore pure logic. So somehow, during this flash trip to the city, I had stepped on a traditional mine laid by an irate female city dweller hell bent on killing me blessed with the skill to wire in a six month time delay to detonation. To be brutally honest, I really wasn’t buying it but wanted to avoid an argument at all costs. Besides which, most of the women I slept with in the past carried stilettos (thin bladed knives, not high heeled shoes) in their handbags and resolved issues with non-paying clients in seconds, not months. This would have to be someone who had held a grudge, nurturing murderous intent for over seven years, the time I have been with Marcia and then suddenly decided, that’s it, I’m gonna kill him!
‘This is a woman who knew your husband well and is jealous. She does not want you to have him, she wants to drive you apart’ he told Marcia. Death would do that I suppose. Young wives do like to have their husbands stiff, but in a bed, not a coffin. It was impossible to read Marcia’s expression so the N’Ganga continued. ‘Perhaps, on his last trip to the city, she saw him in his expensive 4x4 and became jealous.’ Expensive 4x4? It’s a ten year old Jeep with 235,000 kilometers on the clock that cost me $2,000 and a dead truck! And who, in their right mind, could possibly be jealous of any woman with the courage and fortitude to take me on? This was, as my old English teacher once told me having read an essay of mine, a load of bollocks but if Marcia became convinced I’d been playing for another team, the razor blade would come out and I’d lose a lot more than a bit of useless skin.
‘I know who it is,’ Marcia announced. On such scanty evidence, even Poirot would have been impressed at the deductive powers I was witnessing. ‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’ Marcia continued, ‘It is your ex-wife! She wasn’t going to let you have Dominic so you drove all the way into town and fetched him! Of course she hates you!’
Well I am sure there is no love lost between my ex-wife and me but with all the alimony I owe her, I doubt she wants me dead. At least not until I pay up. Had the N’Ganga invented a secret concubine, however, Marcia would want me dead so I guess I was pleased with the result. Just to set the record straight, Dominic’s mother was perfectly happy for me to have Dominic. I hurtled off solo into town angry as hell not with her, but my driver who had once again let me down deciding that he could only collect Dominic the following day. Any parent separated from their child would agree that even just one extra day with them was worth burning rubber. Did you know, a V8 Jeep Cherokee will do an indicated 120 mph and fly over potholes? I am still impressed with my old Jeep. So was Alex, strapped in the back shouting ‘faster Daddy!’ As I said, on the way back we meandered, just having to stop at every roadside market. Chicken gizzards roasted over charcoal, delicious in the company of two boys separated by ten years, yet exuding the love and respect that exists only between siblings. Sad isn’t it that adults, who should know better, fuck everything up to the detriment of their own offspring?
Apparently, under local lore, anyone stepping on a traditional mine who, before they died a horrible death, had the prescience to engage an N’Ganga could not only be cured, but arrange to return the compliment. I was now offered the opportunity to occasion the demise of my ex-wife using traditional means. Dominic is widely regarded as a polite, well behaved and intelligent young man. I had no hand in that. The good man he is turning into is all down to his mother and I am very pleased with the result. The very last thing I wanted to do was curse her. She and I may have been incompatible but there can be no question, she was a better mother than I was a father so the last thing I wanted to do was anything that would disturb this happy equilibrium. I may not believe in this Hexing shit but I wasn’t about to let people start opening fire just in case traditional stray bullets existed. Dominic loves his mother and in my book, that makes him a real man.
Marcia always suspected that I still held a candle for my ex-wife ignoring the fact it was me, finally exasperated, who walked out on her. I didn’t want her dead though, so once again I found myself treading carefully through a mine field. If I did not leap immediately at the chance to suffer horrible death on the mother of my first born son, could this confirm all Marcia’s suspicions?
Maria reads the bible every night (I also read every night before going to sleep but I tend to choose a good book). Just like everyone else around here, she manages to reconcile a belief in traditional magic with Christian religious dogma.
‘I am sorry,’ I said, ‘but Jesus says I should just turn the other cheek. Thou shalt not kill’
Now that was rich coming from me but they both bought it.
Having agreed I was happy with just a cure and not revenge as well, he sprayed Eau de Toilette directly into suppurating wounds.
‘Ouch!’ I said as my glasses steamed up as a result of the sweat I broke into.
Then he unwrapped a squib of newspaper, about the size of a walnut, exposing a black crystalline powder. It looked very worryingly like the smokeless powder contained within modern firearms cartridges. I put my cigarette out and surreptitiously pocketed my lighter. He rocked back and forth moaning as he waved his hands over the powder before sprinkling some over the sores and rubbing it in.
FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!
It was jolly painful. My eyes watered ever so slightly. I may even have squirmed a bit.
‘Força!’ encouraged the N’Ganga, telling me to be brave. Bugger the seventh Commandment; I wanted to strike him dead. As full blown shock set in, the pain subsided a bit. Fortunately the loss of circulating body fluids that occasion shock had exited through my pores and not my willie. The N’Ganga then announced he had to inspect the garden. I hobbled after the two of them as far as the verandah so I could see what was happening.
The N’Ganga hauled out his Eau de Toilette again and started giving each fence post a bit of a squirt. Having covered fifty yards he finally realized what I had figured out immediately I saw his strange ritual start; 250 mls was never going to be enough. To do my place he would have needed a crop sprayer. Still, it was fun to watch the solemnity with which Marcia, at a respectful distance, accompanied his every move. Finally the N’Ganga stopped and inspected an otherwise unremarkable patch of sand. He returned to the house, collected the plate on which rested the surprising contents of my foot and his packet of powder and asked Marcia for an empty rice sack. He spread out the sack, laid the plate upon it and sprinkled over the last of his powder before igniting it. There was a bit of a woosh and I was pleased to sense in the breeze the scent of sizzled hair as a brief column of white smoke rose to the heavens around his ears. Then, using his walking staff, he smashed the plate with an enthusiasm suggesting he was pretty annoyed about the loss of his eyebrows.
We all settled back in the lounge. I have no difficulty with Portuguese but occasionally like to play the illiterate so Marcia translated giving me confirmation of what I had just heard the N’Ganga tell me. The evil spirits he had sucked out of my foot had been cremated allowing the wind to scatter them. I was now cured. Magic, I thought, why does it still hurt?
I suppose I could be pissed off that I survived being a bomb disposal officer in the British Army. I survived clearing landmines in Moçambique and Angola. I survived running diamond shipments through bandit country. I have been blown up, shot at, stabbed, suffered all sorts of tropical diseases, had my head kicked in more times than I care to remember, have been evacuated by air to South African hospitals twice to be patched up, have had two heart attacks and now, in retirement, I was finally disabled by stepping on a traditional landmine (they’re not covered in the three volumes of Ammunition and Explosive’s Regulations so I was not trained to deal with them let alone recognize them).
No, what really pisses me off is that after two months of ingesting antibiotics and letting Nature take its course, my foot was about due to start healing anyway. But, when it does, it won’t be as a result of modern medicine, it will be because of the intervention of a Witch Doctor.
‘So What?’ I hear you all say, ‘So long as you can walk again!’
Yes. I agree. But I will never hear the end of it.
|Once he'd gone, I got the camera out|
The plate may be dead but the sack'll still do for bagging the rubbish
A young priest took over the parish of an old, retired priest. Every Sunday, as the young priest rode past on his bicycle on his way to Church they would exchange pleasantries.
One Sunday the old priest noticed the younger one pitching up, late, on foot.
‘What happened to your ‘bike?’ asked the old priest.
‘Somebody stole it,’ said the young priest.
‘Ah,’ said the old priest. ‘What you need to do now is give a sermon on the Ten Commandments giving special emphasis on Thou Shalt Not Steal’
The next Sunday the young priest rode up on his bicycle.
‘Told you it would work, didn’t I?’ says the old priest.
‘Well, not exactly, Father. I got to Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery and I remembered where I had left the ‘bike’