WORD OF JEREMIAH’S DEATH SPREAD QUICKLY, BUT IT WAS NOT EXACTLY THE TRUTH. Word was that an elderly black Muslim man with ties to the Cape Malay was found dead. People said he still practiced the old Sufi ritual called ratiep, which requires self-inflicting sharp objects into the body. It is meant to help the follower communicate with Allah. However, most modern-day Muslims discredit the ritual, and it is not acknowledged by other religions. Some African Traditional Religions mix this ritual with their own, and this type of syncretism is frowned upon by all. It is a dangerous pact between those who honor Allah and Muhammad and those who honor divinities of the bush.
Of those who could shed light on what actually transpired on that Good Friday, the Pantry Six seemed to know what was best to say and when to say it; the nexus of this was Caddie One, the one with the most mystical wellbeing. Looking back, I remember thinking Caddie One was complete make-believe, shim-sham in full action. But the Pantry Six showed up at our front door with serious, worried looks on their faces and Caddie One was at the front; she had the most to share in cases like this, so she had the lead and the other five stayed quietly behind her. She started the inquiry with one simple question. “What went wrong with the ratiep? We all need to know what happened and when. We may all be in trouble.”
“Trouble?” I asked, almost panicked. “Why would you all be in trouble? You had nothing to do with this.”
Gracie stood behind me, and I could tell Mary Margaret was listening too.
“Trouble is exactly what I mean,” Caddie One replied. “Now, tell me, is Mary Margaret here? She needs to be here too. She has to be a part of this too.”
“She is here,” I answered. “She’s standing right in front of you.” It was the first time anyone had ever asked about Mary Margaret. I knew people were talking, and she more or less had been forced to show herself to my pa. But this one question from Caddie One made it all feel real and helped me realize—for the very first time—Mary Margaret was not one of us.
I thought this would shake Caddie One up a little bit, but she didn’t move an inch. She had something going for her; I’m not sure whether it was magic, witchery, sorcery, or what. But she had something running in her veins. “Okay,” Caddie One replied. “Let’s all go inside. We don’t want people talking more than they already are.”
Gracie and I moved out of the way so the six women could work their way into the house. Then we both turned and looked at the dirt road and the woods. “People talking? What people?” Gracie asked as we turned back towards the door and walked inside.
“Close the door and lock it,” Caddie One commanded as she surveyed the living room and peered down the hallway. Then she paused and spoke in an uncharacteristic eerie quiet manner. “I can feel it,” she said, mainly looking at Elsie and Louise. Gracie and I could have been invisible, just like Mary Margaret; the Pantry Six knew what to do, and they didn’t seem in a hurry to bring us into their world.
Then Elsie spoke, attempting to regain her active presence. “Is it bad, Caddie One? Do you feel it everywhere? Or just around the windows and doors?”
As Elsie asked this, I understood the significance of her question. Black folklore tells of kindred spirits that come back and tend to hover near window and door openings. But these tales centered on the old kraal bush huts and Boer mud houses. I didn’t think it could mean much in modern homes with real wooden doors and glass windows that locked.
My thoughts were confirmed when Caddie One answered. “No. Not over there. I can feel it right here,” she announced from the foot of the stairs. “What’s up there?” she asked as she began to walk upstairs.
“That’s where my pa slept,” I answered.
Then Gracie spoke up with her normal territorial tone. “Now wait, Caddie One. You have no business up there. I want you to stop and let’s talk about this. What’s going on?” I saw Mary Margaret standing behind Gracie, if only to show moral support. I could tell the others still could not see her.
The others gasped, concerned because, apparently, Gracie still didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation. In fact, neither of us did. But Elsie’s next words made things perfectly clear. “Where did you put the wooden doll? Wherever that doll was placed, then Caddie One has business there. This is serious, woman.” She then looked back and forth at Gracie and me like we were two schoolchildren being scolded. “Because of your carelessness, we could all be in danger.”
“How?” That was all I could muster, and I quickly repeated it just to make it clear that I still needed an answer. “How could we all be in trouble…danger? Is it because Jeremiah is dead? But you had nothing to do with that.”
“Heavens no,” Louise finally chimed in. “A poor black man—especially a Muslim kaffir—killed on a back road in Kimberley means nothing to the whites, just another sorry ass tragedy to us, just one less dirty dog to worry about to them.”
Then Elsie continued her dark-reality thoughts. “To spot and pick up a lost diamond in the middle of the road, white people would stop in an instant. But let one of us be in the road...well, we’d be run over. No questions asked. This is apartheid, sweetie.”
I just stood there, speechless. I guess I never heard the realities of my homeland expressed in such desperate ways.
Caddie One then reassumed the lead role. “You know those wooden dolls in Jeremiah’s shack?”
“Yes,” Gracie and I answered in unison.
“Well, those dolls are souls,” Caddie One continued. “They are living souls, and Jeremiah had control of them. He, and only he, knows how to control their crossroads.”
Then Gracie and I learned exactly what should have transpired that night. The ratiep is a frightening ordeal, but Caddie One left out few details. “Jeremiah was a Sufi Malay, and some in Cape Town claimed he was from a family of wise and pious followers of Allah. ‘Awliyas,’ they were called. And some members of Jeremiah’s family were believed to be leaders of the now-banned ratiep ceremonies. His father was a ‘khalifa,’ who led many ceremonies for his small group of followers in Cape Town. Jeremiah told us he was allowed to view the ratiep ceremonies after his seventh birthday, but he never told us when he first participated in one.”
Then Caddie One paused to ask us a question. “Did he share any of this with you?”
“Only that he was of the Sufi sect,” I answered. He’d actually told me much more, but I was anxious to learn what Caddie One was going to share with us. Turns out, she had a lot more to say.
“The Sufis’ main spiritual goal is to gain a closer connection with Allah,” she explained. “This grants them a higher knowledge of eternal purpose and truth. The purpose of Sufi rituals, and there are many kinds, is to allow the soul to exit the body and rise above the common to a more complex level, where the believer is spiritually closer to Allah. By reducing the space between man and Allah, and thus God, the believer moves closer to ultimate knowledge. And as I said, each Sufi sect has its own unique means to induce the soul to rise from the body. The Cape Malay brought Islam and the ratiep with them from the Malay Archipelago. The Sufis call their prayer ceremonies dhikrs, and they result in the same conclusion—a joyous chant from a circle of relentless followers, repeated over and over again. ‘There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet.’ What isn’t understood—at least by those with feeble, less-believing minds—is how the leaders who direct such ceremonies, most of them elderly, can twirl and dance in ecstasy for hours.”
Caddie One stopped briefly to see whether Gracie and I were still following her. After a few seconds, she continued. “Well, you see, the same concept exists in the old Cape Malay ceremonies, except in these cases their stamina and endurance isn’t tested—their bodies are tested. As drums echo in the small ritual room and chants elevate to a beautiful chorus, Sufi leaders take sharp objects and pierce their bodies. Impossible, most would say. These men stab themselves and are not hurt. It is an amazing ritual—during which some have died—but most are uneventful, other than the expected joyful reverence that follows.”
I interrupted to ask the obvious. “What does any of this have to do with Jeremiah and his dolls?”
Caddie One answered quickly. “Jeremiah did the unthinkable. He dabbled in the forbidden Malay Sufi ritual as well as old bush rituals, primitive rituals that no established religion—Islam or Christianity—would espouse. He was told to leave Cape Town, and that’s how he ended up in Kimberley. Jeremiah was banned from his own people in Cape Town, and he never returned.”
I knew all the dirty little secrets would eventually spill out. Caddie One continued, with Caddie Two by her side. “Jeremiah became our friend many years ago. He took care of our fathers in the way we couldn’t do. We only had to follow his instructions and he did the rest. The next morning, when we took the wooden dolls back to him, Jeremiah was up and about, standing on his front porch playing with his birds.”
As Gracie and I looked around to see who was next, Caddie Two pointed to the next confessor, Sallie Mae. “It would have been quiet and could have ended right then, but Sallie Mae had to stick her nose into our business.”
Sallie Mae immediately changed her posture to protect her already tarnished reputation. She was only able to release a gasp as Caddie Two continued. “It’s true. You’re so nosy. You had to know all about what happened, when, and how.” She stopped to look at Gracie and me. “Then we saw Sallie Mae’s husband beating her in broad daylight and we knew Jeremiah had more work to do.”
“So, Jeremiah took care of all your men?” Gracie asked as she eyed the other three. Elsie, Candace, and Louise each nodded in affirmation.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish