by Sozah Ruzario

The confessions passed through the wooden sieve. What contrived lies drugged mouths doth weave. The sieve was pressed to her lips, over her mouth like a muzzle. Millions of small triangles like the pieces of a puzzle. Her voice sounded hollow, like letters written by a stencil, empty within. The sangoma pressed the sieve down so that it bruised her skin around her mouth, ‘This object sucks the truth out of her’ explained the sangoma to the wide eyed crowd. She cried out, ‘They have cursed me! It hurts sangoma! Make it go away’ He had made her drink whey, mixed with herbs, algae, a toad’s legs, and the chanted words of some ancient hex. The sangoma turned his dark eyes to this woman’s mother, and the aunts that had brought her, ‘This is a powerful demon’ his voice rumbled, The mother crossed her arms over her breast in fear as it laid hold, and the aunts clasped their hands, scared. The woman screamed, hoarse. The sangoma held her down, as a stink lifted from her, as if she were a corpse. She drowned every other scent. The sangoma tinkled his bells from the top of her head to her legs. He muttered inaudibles that sounded like meaningless mumbles into her ears. She cried out, the side of her face washed by her tears, her skin a yellowish pigment, stained by time and dirt. ‘Help her!’ begged her mother, and the sangoma nodded gravely. ‘Save me!’ said the woman through the sieve, ‘Be still’ the sangoma breathed. And she was still. The sangoma began to heal. He crushed dry roots in his palm and started to hum magics. ‘Please…’ the mother moaned, The sangoma rubbed the crumbs into the woman’s flesh, bones, and the shadowed hut filled with the haunting hums. The Aunts swooned and the sangoma removed the wooden sieve and pressed the bits of root into her mouth by forcing apart her lips. She clenched her teeth against the bitterness and the sangoma poured the whey over her gurgling tongue as she resisted. ‘It’s the demon that refuses’ explained the sangoma, ‘I must force her to take it’ The bile rushed down her throat as she groped for release, nails digging into the mud. Her screams curdling the blood. Then the sangoma let her go and she sat up, turned her head, and wretched on the floor, filling the air with foul smells. The mother and the aunts stared and the sangoma tinkled his dark bells over her head. The bell tolled over her hair, hair like tatters, her eyes half closed. The sangoma mutters, ‘It is done. There lie the demons’ He pointed at the woman’s spew and the mother sighed relief. The aunts let out an audible “phew” The sangoma held them in belief, and the woman collapsed as the mother and aunts gasped. ‘It shall pass’ Said the sangoma, ‘Hush’ The woman started to mumble to herself, gibberish. The sangoma nodded, as if he knew the language. The mother spoke, ‘Are you saying the curse is lifted?’ The sangoma said one word, ‘Yes’ ‘Her husband will love her?’ The mother persisted, ‘She will need to take powerful medicine to keep the curse away’ ‘The whey?’ Asked an aunt, The sangoma shook his head, ‘I will prepare the medicine for her’ then he turned to the shelf of herbs, little bottles filled with things. Seeds, leaves, roots, fruits, dried, or in liquids, then he tinkered like some scientist, turned again to his audience as the woman regained consciousness. He handed her a bottle filled with powder, ‘Rub this over your body every day, as I did with the root, when you shower’ The woman took the bottle in her trembling hand. He handed her another, the liquid gleamed through the glass, ‘This portion is to charm him, when you cook, pour a spoon of this in his food’ She took that bottle too. The sangoma watched her, ‘Will you remember?’ he asked her. ‘We will make sure she remembers’ said the woman’s mother The sangoma nodded. He exhibited another bottle, ‘This one is important’ His fingers lingered on the glass tube, tips on the smooth surface. ‘The demons dwell in your hair, girl, wash them out every three days with this,’ The contents of the tube were the color of pearl, almost translucent. She took it; her mother murmured thanks. ‘Last, we must protect your clothes. Wash them in these herbs, behind closed doors. Do these things in secret, else those that cursed you may seek new remedies’ The mother turned threateningly at the aunts, to dissuade them from gossips. The sangoma’s grave eyes stared at them and he chanted, then his eyes rolled back as if it were a séance. He spoke in words they all could understand, ‘Whoever repeats what has happened here; the curse be on their head’ Two months later the woman returned to the sangoma. To thank him, she laid the empty vials at his feet; her hair shimmered in the sun, rich and glam. Her skin smooth, radiant like golden wheat, her clothes perfumed, sent fragrances in the air every time she moved. She bowed, ‘The curse is gone; my husband comes back to me every night’ The sangoma gave her his dark looks, void of all light. She was beautiful; he had seen that in her, the first time she was brought to him by her mother and aunts. Underneath that unkempt hair, the dirty yellow skin, the soiled cloths, all she needed was a little shampoo for her curls, motivation to bathe every day, to wash her clothes, and a harmless potion, so that she cooked for her husband daily, all disguised in a contrived exorcism, to convince them all. ‘Girl, I shall make more medicine for you, use it every day, lest the demons return. ‘ Said the sangoma, in his mystical drawl… ‘I shall sangoma’ said the grateful woman.


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