After a while the runner led us into the witchdoctor’s consultation room and we were ordered to remove our shoes as we entered the clinic room. The witchdoctor was sitting on icansi, a reed mat, with his legs folded as if he was meditating. There were no chairs. He pointed us to an open space in the room and we sat downnexactly in his posture. It was uncomfortable in my condition, but it had to be done. He was draped in animal skins; his head was laced with a leopard skin headband, which is usually worn by chiefs and it meant that he was married; amatshoba, cow tails decorated his knees and elbows; injobo, long animal skins adorned his waist; and umncwado, a cone-shaped skin, wrapped his manhood, which was meant to tame the beast inside. Izambia, chequered cotton material, which is shaped like a flag, graced his semi-naked upper body covering part of his top left shoulder and going under his right armpit. He came from the Ndebele tribe, but he also spoke both Shona and English fluently too. Ice and Beans called him grandfather.
The room was decorated with bones and skulls hanging on the walls and the roof. They came from all types of animals imaginable. Skins from different kinds of animals decorated the walls and the ceiling too; lion, baboon, leopard, lizard, frog; you name them the witchdoctor had them. A python’s skin zigzagged around the walls of his little clinic room. I would not have been surprised if he had human skulls in his closets too and that thought alone left my hair standing on its end. I wondered how he managed to bring all those skulls, skins and bones to the United Kingdom. But it was an open secret in the Zimbabwean diaspora that DHL was the main culprit for delivering the witchdoctors’ concoctions from Zimbabwe. Some people smuggled in drugs to make a fast buck and the witchdoctor smuggled in skulls, skins and bones of dead animals and creatures for the same reason too - a quick buck. Ice put one hundred pounds into the traditional wooden plate just to enter the house and it was not the last money he would pay.
I had never thought that one day I would find myself in a witchdoctor’s paradise, worshiping idols. I painfully sat in front of a Satan worshiping serpent. My body was there but my mind was miles away.
In front of the traditional healer there were bones of animal vertebrates, shells of snails and every other creature. I suspected that he picked some of the shells from the nearest beach and wondered if shells from Southend-on-Sea would really work too. On his left hand side there were a number of bottles of different sizes and shapes. Each bottle contained some medicines in forms; roots and barks, some crushed some not, all of them were of different colours: black, orange, khaki, grey and any other colour of one’s imagination.
At the beginning of the consultation, the witchdoctor held the bones and the shells in both hands, he shook them, groaning and grunting like a wild pig, and threw them on the floor and they scattered about like sand, as he spoke in tongues (I hate to say this as it appears to put him in the same league with the holly men of God).
He scrutinised them closely, pointing at some of them with his stick glittering with some animal fat. He shook his head and picked them up and scattered them again. It is believed that although the witchdoctor throws the bones and shells, the ancestors control how they lie on the floor. The meaning is found on how they lie on the ground. It is only the witchdoctor who can interpret how they lie.
Not every man or woman would know what was signified by the way they lie. That was the reason why Ice paid his money to see the genius of Luton. He gathered and scattered them. He gathered and scattered them. He gathered and scattered them. Groaning, grunting and talking in tongues louder and louder as he tried to find the cause of my problems.
His walls must have had the thickest soundproofing ever and his windows in quadruple glazing to keep in his groans, especially at that time of the night. His neighbours could have wondered if he kept wild animals and reported him to the council, who would have hit him with an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO), making him the only doctor with an ASBO in the country.
Each time he scattered the shells and bones, he poked them with his stick - as if to make them lie the way he wanted them to, tricking them to make sense to him, I thought. He repeated that again and again talking in tongues, groaning and grunting until he found both the cause of my problems and their solutions. And guess what? Apparently when I went to Zimbabwe someone cast a bad spell on me using a black cat. When he mentioned the black cat I was stunned! He told us that it was behind the animal attack, carjacking, nightmares and sightings of the Limpopo River woman.
When the witchdoctor told us that a bad spell was cast on me and that the black cat carried the spell, I thought that he was a true genius. Not only that he even had the right concoction in his clinic to make my troubles disappear! All along I had been chasing the shadows of a goblin woman with puppy eyes in Bournemouth, while my medicine lay untouched at a terraced council house in Luton!
He handed me some concoction, a mixture of roots and some soot, in two small bottles – to drink. He also gave me some white ashes in a transparent plastic bag and advised me to mix the concoction with ashes and smear my whole body in the bush. At that point I almost burst out laughing had it not been for the seriousness shown by Ice and Beans. He advised that I should smear my whole body with his concoction mixed with ashes in the bush in Bournemouth. I thought the Queen should knight the witchdoctor for his excellent work. He deserved a medal. Great Britain was very lucky to have such a talented man in her midst. More immigrants of his talent should be encouraged into the country in order to save the NHS millions of pounds. With his gift and talent, who needed NHS?
The witchdoctor did not understand that the wet ashes smearedall over my body would quickly dry up and turn me into a white ghost. I imagined myself pregnant, standing naked, white as snow in the bush in Bournemouth. Dog walkers who patrol Bournemouth bushes would have a free movie.
He went on to advise Ice that after the smearing, he should drive me home, still naked, wrapped in a white sheet, which he handed to him. I was also advised not to bathe for two days after the rituals. I told myself that I would never have body ash smearing in the bush in my lifetime. Not in the United Kingdom, not in Zimbabwe and not even on Jupiter. I had gone there to solve my problems and all he came up with was a ridiculous, foolish and outdated form of treatment. The way things were going I would see a psychiatrist in broad daylight, and tell him that I was born on Mars and my libido levels were so high that I could make love to a monkey: than have a body ash smearing in the bush in Bournemouth! But he had not finished with me yet. The ancestors were telling him that I should receive two forms of treatment before I left his house that night. He picked a bottle with black stuff in it and mixed it with some oily substance. I felt we were being taken for a ride. We were being fooled. I wondered if Ice ever played a child’s play, as a child, called Bantwana Bantwana Wozani Ekhaya (Children Children Come Home)? The first group of children would hide their ‘lions’ (other children - part of the group) and call out loud the second group to come home, although the second group would doubt the sincerity of the other group, they would still throw caution in the wind and proceed home only to be caught and be eaten by hidden lions. The witchdoctor performed that child play with us that day and he managed to fool Ice; I was not.
He told us that he needed to apply some concoction on my shoulders and buttocks. He would use a sharp razor blade to make two tiny cuts on each shoulder’s deltoid and on my buttock cheeks. He would then rub his concoction into those cuts. He would also put some of his medicine; dry and crushed roots and barks of trees, on the red-hot charcoal and cover me with a blanket in order to inhale the smoke of the concoction. I shook my head so violently that it sent a clear message to Ice, who excused us from the witchdoctor’s clinic room for our own consultation outside.
We stood near the fence, next to the road, and in a hush-hush voice I said to him, “I’m not having a witchdoctor fondling my< bottom Ice. I’m not inhaling his dog poo, I’m...”
“Don’t be so disrespectful Dee. This man is trying to help you. To help us.”
“Do you know the number of people he has cut with his razor blade? Do you?”
“Well, I don’t know, but does it matter?”
“As a student nurse, you must know better. Yes it matters, Ice. He might infect me with HIV?”
“Come on Dee, HIV lasts a few minutes outside the body. The chances of the razor blade passing HIV to you are very slim indeed. An old razor blade that has been used on an HIV positive person a few minutes ago wouldn’t pass the virus to the next person. We will ask him to use a new razor blade instead.”
“I’m not having him scarring my body Ice.” I was almost in tears. I did not believe in witchdoctors in the first place, but for the witchdoctor to apply his filthy stuff on my body was frightening.
“I’m not inhaling his charred concoction I would rather see a psychiatrist.”
“Please Dee, this could be the best thing to happen to you. This could solve all your problems, our problems, once and for all. Please, if you can’t do it for the baby, do it for me.”
He was so serious about the witchdoctor thing that he would allow an unqualified stranger, just because he was known and trusted by Beans, to cut and paste me with whatever and to inhale it too.
What had entered his head? Just a few months ago we were mocking witchdoctors and that night he was an ardent convert. How did he manage to change his beliefs so quickly and so recklessly? I was caught between a rock and a hard surface. I would be damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
“Please Dee, let’s do this and move on with our lives.” He pleaded with me, “Our lives have been held back since your return from Zimbabwe. Who knows, this could be our only chance. It could be the turning point. You did tell me about the black cat crossing the road, didn’t you?”
“So I must take him serious, is that what you’re saying? Black cats cross roads every day Ice.”
“But why did you agree to this if you still had doubts, Dee? Why did you come all the way if you didn’t believe in this? Why?”
At that point a short woman wearing a full burka glanced at us as she went past on the road. Her eyes sent a chilling feeling down my spine. Was she the short woman with puppy eyes, in Luton, at midnight?
“Did you see the short woman wearing a burka, Ice?”
“You mean the one who just walked past?”
“What about her?”
“I don’t know. She looked like the short woman with puppy eyes.”
“Thus why you have to do as the healer says, Dee. He will stop all this nonsense in your head.”
“Okay, okay, Ice, I will do it.”
When we returned to the witchdoctor’s clinic room, Beans and the witchdoctor were having a hush-hush conversation of their own. He might have been thanking Beans, promising him a bigger cut in future if he kept bringing lucrative clients like Ice, one good turn deserves another.
I was no longer sure whether trying to appease Ice would save our marriage or destroy it. I wondered how exposing my bottom to another man in the presence of my husband and his friend could save my marriage. I was confused and I hated what I was being forced to do.
In the clinic room I began by pulling my maternity dress’s sleeves to expose my shoulder muscles and the witchdoctor made two cuts on each shoulder and rubbed in his concoction and it stung a bit. I lifted up my maternity dress and pulled down my panties to expose my behind in full. If I had known that I would need to undress in front of a stranger I would have come prepared, in a two-piece maternity dress. The witchdoctor would not have seen too much. That night he was thunderstruck by the size of my boot. Beans left the room when the backyard shenanigans began, his job was done, it was all left to the witchdoctor and Ice, who kept a keen eye on the events, just like the Limpopo hyena. I wondered what was going through his head, as he allowed the witchdoctor to perform frottage on me, while he watched.
When he finished cutting and pasting my bottom, his runner then brought in a small metal plate with glowing charcoal, and he put it on the floor in the centre of the clinic room. The witchdoctor instructed me to kneel down and put my head over the glowing plate, before putting some concoction on the glowing charcoal; black and white fumes rose up and he quickly covered my head with a blanket.
I inhaled the chocking stuff. It was sharp in the throat and it made me cough. It was bitter in the eyes and tears poured out. I could not tell whether the tears were caused by the concoction or by my frustration at what was being done to me against my will. I was choking and crying; it was like being trapped in a burning room. I pulled the blanket off my head when I could not breathe properly. I was panting, sweating and angry. I did not wait for him to take it off, I had heard of accidents where fires have been started and lives lost while undergoing the same kind of treatment back in Zimbabwe. I did not want to be the first in the statistics to be killed while undergoing that treatment in the United Kingdom. The witchdoctor said it was OK; it was enough for that night. It would work. Under my breath I said ‘I hoped it did or else I would be back, not only demanding our money back, but your head too.’
Visiting the witchdoctor was the lowest of my lows; it showed that desperate situations required desperate measures. I did a disgusting and despicable thing that night in Luton, I inhaled smoke mixed with sin.
Ice paid his witchdoctor and we left Luton in the early hours of the morning and drove back to Bournemouth. Before we left the witchdoctor emphasised to Ice that he should guard me while bush ash smearing at twilight. We discussed how near impossible it would be to carry out the witchdoctor’s treatment on our way back home and Ice was adamant that I should do as the witchdoctor had prescribed. I did not understand what had gone into his head, which made him so unreasonable, forcing me to act against my beliefs. He told me that he had not paid five hundred pounds for nothing; he did not poo money, he reminded me, as if he wanted reassurance that he did not. Beans supported him.
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