THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

79   Philemon the Facilitator

At roughly the same time as Henry had reached the King's Blockhouse on the slopes of Devil's Peak, Philemon the Facilitator was fumbling at the rickety picket gate set in Mr Goodenough Tshabalala's chicken wire fence. The Tshabalala residence was one of the most salubrious shacks in all of Crossroads, boasting three rooms under one roof as well as a consulting room annected to the main wood and corrugated iron structure.

"Molo, Tata." It was the eldest son, wearing sunglasses and a chauffeur's peaked cap, who was polishing the 1959 Bentley. A large handsome vehicle, black in colour, hardly a scratch or dent to mention, it used to be the private conveyance of some old English arsehole with a bloody ridiculous double-barrelled name like Fotheringham-Poncewhallop, or something, and an equally pompous title on the lines of Admiral Sir Lord, the Earl of… Died of gout on the brain whilst reclining in a canvas chair on the first class deck of the Pembroke Castle as it crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in a northerly direction. Despite missing two wheels and having no engine, gearbox or differential, this car was in fine condition for its age and provided a modest but steady source of income. Many a newly-wed couple had been photographed waving from its sumptuous back seat, Tshabalala Jr at the wheel.

"Bawo awaits your arrival with a happy heart. Please be so kind to advance without further delay. The postman always knocks twice." He threw the idiom in because it was a new acquisition and its subtle fatalism and blend of optimism and pessimism appealed to him.

Philemon was fumbling because he had been drinking. On his way to the Sangoma's house he had visited, albeit briefly, no less than four ports of call. At each one the basic ingredients of the intoxicant had been the same: water, yeast, brown bread and sugar. The distinctive character of the individual beverages, however, was determined by the brewer's unique choice of additives. At the first shebeen he slaked his thirst with a clay pot of skomfaan drawn from a batch containing overripe pineapples and the heads of six rats which had been marinated in battery acid. Next, he had stopped for a glass of mbamba and it had nearly taken the top of his head off. It owed its potency to sour porridge and molasses, which aided in the breakdown of starch and the production of sugar, and some used dynamite, which introduced a whole new dimension to the chemistry of fermentation, converting every last vestige of glucose into the purest of mind-frazzling alcohol. The shebeen queen at stop number three welcomed him effusively, allowed him to palpate her left breast with his right hand, and poured him a tankard of some quietly persuasive skokiaan. He relished the exotic blend of flavours - the sweetness of treacle, the meatiness of stewed snake, and the sharpness of copper sulphate. Very mellow. The last establishment on his itinerary was a notorious smokkelhuis rarely frequented by upright working people of Philemon's class. But, he thought with cheerful abandon as he ducked through the low doorway of the drinking den, In for a penny, in for a pound. It wasn't every day one had cause for joyous celebration. The isikilimikwiki was dispensed in a red enamel mug. Without savouring it he knocked it back in two gulps and stood waiting expectantly. The brew was laced with tobacco juice, carbide, antifreeze and methylated spirits, and was known to cause blindness and madness if taken in excess. "Hau!" is what he first said, and "Hau, hau, hau!" is what he had continued to say right up to the Sangoma's front gate.

Mr Goodenough Tshabalala had just finished inflating his pig bladders with a bicycle pump and his face was shining with perspiration. He greeted Philemon warmly and bade him be seated upon a low stool. Then, after some polite chit chat about the weather, the traffic and the health of mutual acquaintances, the ritual began. It took the form of a Socratic dialogue, in which master led pupil to a realisation of something approximating the truth by posing a series of questions based on some underlying ironies.

"Are you a happy man now?"

"Ah, I am happy. Too happy, too happy."

"Do you remember the time when you were not happy? The time when you first came to consult me?"

"I remember it well Doctor. It was a bad time."

"Why was it you were unhappy?"

"I was suffering at the hands of my employer. A bad white man. A cruel man, an evil man."

"What did that mad white dog say to you when the word came from the Transkei your old father had died?"

"No leave. These were his words. You bloody people are always going to your father's funeral. Father's funeral, mother's funeral, brother's funeral. Bloody pack of lies. This is what he said, Doctor."

"And your ancestral spirits? How was it with your father's spirit?"

"Doctor, Doctor! The spirit of my poor father could find no rest. He wept with shame, he cried out that his son did not come to perform the correct ceremonies. My people were troubled by his wailing and moaning in the night."

"You were a bad son. You did not care about your poor father, who held your hand and advised and protected you all your life. You were an ungrateful son with a hard heart like the heart of a European."

"Inyanga, do not say this thing! My heart was crying, crying, crying."

"Your father's spirit ceased with sadness and became very much angry. What did your father's spirit demand?"

"My father's spirit demanded sacrifice and revenge. In a terrible dream I learnt my father's spirit would only rest if I were to kill the evil one who had prevented me. I was instructed to seek out the great diviner with the '59 Bentely."

"And did I turn you away? Was my ear deaf to your troubles?"

"No, Healer. You said your muti was strong. But costly."

"Oh? I forget these matters. What little amount did I say?"

"Four ninety-nine, special price, Sangoma."

"So little? Ah, but I have always been too generous, caring nothing for money, wishing nothing for myself. But what of the muti? How strong was the muti?"

"Too much strong! For three days the fire burned under the big No 8 iron pot. To fix such an evil one required much, much poison. For one day and one night the pot simmered with the stomach of a great white shark fresh-glutted on human flesh."

"You remember well, my son. And do you remember clearly what the spirits told me to add next, after the shark guts?"

"I remember well, O Great Interlocutor between the Living and the Spirits. First, one bullfrog caught sleeping, having sweated venom under a cold stone for thirty-one days. Then the eyes of a puffadder and the tongue of a black mamba, the claws of a crab and the tail of a scorpion, some fat from the back of a hyena, the legs of a lizard and the head of a chameleon, fly stuck to tongue, eyes fixed in opposite directions. Then you poured in the blood of a pig which had eaten its own farrow, and added the womb of a monkey complete with foetus."

"Do not forget the human parts."

"I get to the human parts, Doctor. My recall of the ingredients is total. Can it be otherwise? First the fruit and vegetables. In went three apples of Sodom, one after one after one. The bulb of the blood lily, dug up at midnight. Leaves of the gifblaur taken from the second stomach of a dead cow. The bark of the Tamboti tree soaked five days in lion urine. Some grated rind from the fruit of the green monkey orange tree, a handful cycad seed kernels, and one cup fine chopped tuber from bushman poison bush. Last of all, one pint milk from dead-man's tree. Now the human bits. The liver of an alcoholic, you cut into twelve pieces and threw them in the pot. You skewered the tongue of a Jew and the ears of an Englishman on the thorn of a kameeldoring tree and tossed them in too. Then you drove a six-inch nail through the heart of an Afrikaner and it dropped straight to the very bottom like a stone. The hand of a new-born babe, delivered and strangled in a ditch by a drunken prostitute, you let slip below the bubbling surface. Some run-off grease from a crematorium you put in the fire and then, finally, upon those flames you scattered the powdered shit scraped from the trapdoor of a gallows. Out of the thick smoke the voice spoke."

"Yes, the voice spoke. But you forgot one thing. You forgot the little cloth bag. The BB tobacco pouch with the drawstring. It was heavy. How could you forget?"

"Ah, my Inyanga, how could I forget? The penis and testicles of a rapist, heavy with cruelty and guilt. You lowered them slowly, slowly, slowly on a piece of wire and the pot screamed with shame. I forgot because of my pain."

"Indeed. And when the voice spoke from the smoke, what did it instruct? Be careful now, little muntu, the spirits do not like to be misquoted."

"The spirit spoke from the smoke with the whisper of dry leaves, a voice and yet not a voice. 'On the day of the golf game leave open the gate, leave open the gate.' This is what the spirit said. Also: 'Lead the green snake into the driveway, and let it lie half in the sun, half in the shade. Conceal yourself and wait for the stranger to come.'"

"And then?"

"Then, 'The stranger will come and destroy the heart of the evil one. But only the heart, only the heart.' That is all the spirit said, Sangoma."

"And did you obey most thoroughly the voice of the spirit?"

"Most thoroughly, most thoroughly."

"And did it come to pass as the spirit foretold?"

"Most exactly, most exactly."

"And tell me, good gardener, why is it you are so happy today? Why do your eyes shine and dance like the eyes of a mischievous child? How is it that joy makes you act like a drunken man? Tell me. And tell me why is it that you come to visit your Sangoma today? Tell me."

"I am drunk with joy, my Sangoma, because the spirit of my father is now at rest. The evil one has been murdered, as was required, the police have come and gone, and the body is nothing but ashes. Only ashes. My diviner has shown me the true way as he said he would. Now it is my duty to show the correct and respectful gratitude."

And so saying, Philemon handed over the R499, special price, assorted notes and coins all contained in a Rothmans cigarette box tied up with a shoelace.

Of these events Henry remained forever ignorant.

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