|Edition description:||Second edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Craig Hawes grew up in Briton Ferry, South Wales. He has worked as a journalist in London and Dubai, where he currently lives. He was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2009, Runner-up in the Rhys Davies Prize 2010, and placed third in the Yeovil Short Story Prize, 2010. Hawe’s short stories have appeared in several publications and prize-winning anthologies including Blue Tattoo and the Bristol Prize Anthology in 2009 and 10. He has also had stories and an Afternoon play broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist Hawes has had work published by the London Evening Standard, Sunday Times Style, Big Issue, Time Out Dubai, and many others.
Read an Excerpt
The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim
By Craig Hawes
ParthianCopyright © 2013 Craig Hawes
All rights reserved.
The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim
Jaydeep and Melody stood outside the villa looking in through the liquorice-twist rungs of the wrought iron gate on which hung some sort of Native American dreamcatcher device – a fan of pink flamingo feathers wound, with thread, to the shaft of a large barbed fishing hook.
'I suppose this is it, then,' Jaydeep said. Melody pulled a rumpled Post-it note from her handbag and again read it aloud. 'Last villa on 16b street. Palm tree outside. White garage door.' She nodded at the feathers. 'I think that's a bit of a giveaway, don't you?'
'He'll have us drinking menstrual blood from a monkey's skull,' Jaydeep said, studying the beige two-story building for any signs of life. He felt that if he listened closely enough he would hear from within its walls animals being sacrificed to the sound of incantations and frenziedly beaten drums.
Jaydeep had phoned the witch doctor two days before to make the appointment. Melody had been given his number by Noura, her Egyptian capoeira instructor and, given the amount of psychic mumbo-jumbo she was filling her head with, spiritual guru. The witch doctor, whose specialty was 'relationship healing', had brought a happy ending to a conjugal crisis where a year of hypnotherapy sessions and marriage guidance counselling had proved hopelessly ineffective. Noura hadn't stopped gushing about him since.
'Is this the, uh, witch doctor?' Jaydeep had enquired with the quiver-voiced uncertainty of a hunchbacked psoriasis sufferer asking Naomi Campbell on a date.
'If you think you have a problem that cannot be solved by the mortal abilities of therapists and doctors, then I can almost certainly help,' the man had said, after a cautious pause and in what sounded like a West African accent. 'But I'd prefer mystical warrior to witch doctor, an appellation that sounds quaintly primitive. And please ... call me Mr N'Dengu.'
Mr N'Dengu had asked Jaydeep a few questions before confirming the early evening appointment. Among other things he'd wanted to know the nature of their problem, Jaydeep's ethnicity and, rather bafflingly, whether he was from a family dominated by men or women. He'd also wanted to know what Jaydeep did for a living and seemed a little unimpressed that he was a chef.
Still, Mr N'Dengu had seemed satisfied enough with the answers to accept them as clients. And now here they were in this well-kept Umm Suqeim street, the top half of the Burj Al Arab poking up above the rooftops of the villas.
A small red kite, fluttering in the wind, stood out against the rose-tinged sky. Jaydeep wondered who was flying it. Perhaps a father and his infant son, bonding on the beach. He craved that. From a young age he'd felt born to breed, that fatherhood would be the one thing in life he would revel in. As for Melody, she didn't so much want a child as need one to preserve her sanity. Recently she had taken to going inside baby shops whenever she passed one, making a mental note of the prices of prams and high chairs.
Yesterday after coming home from the restaurant where he worked Jaydeep had found her weeping in their spare bedroom. Currently a haven for Jaydeep's prized cricket memorabilia, it was long ago designated the future progeny's nursery, a haven of Disney wall-stickers and cuddly toys, its walls yet to be painted a gender-neutral lemon-yellow. 'I'll try anything,' Melody sobbed. 'IVF, shamans, witch doctors ... I just want to be a mum, Jay.' And he had promised her that it would be okay, that they would explore every avenue, however unorthodox.
It struck him as odd that they were about to be helped in this quest by a practitioner of the occult, and yet the fertility clinic in London they had attended months previously, with its sterility and cold-palmed handshakes from the staff, was far more daunting – notwithstanding the slightly creepy voodoo-style paraphernalia hanging on the gate they now stood in front of.
Still, he wondered whether he would feel the same way if the witch doctor – or 'mystical warrior', as Mr N'Dengu preferred it – lived elsewhere. Whenever they read in the local newspapers about these people, they seemed to operate out of the less salubrious parts of the city: Shindaga, Hor Al Anz or Ghusais. The upmarket address of Mr N'Dengu's villa and his rich vocabulary suggested he was of a different ilk to these gobbledygook-spouting charlatans and their comically elaborate scams.
They pressed the buzzer at the gate and gave each other thin-lipped smiles of reassurance.
'Look at us,' Jaydeep said, putting his arm around Melody's shoulders. 'Like Hansel and Gretel.'
A thin black woman on the cusp of old age led them into the villa and ushered them into a large dark room whose only window was covered with a purple sheet. She then left them alone without uttering a word. Whispering could be heard in another room before it was silenced by the gentle closing of a door.
A dozen or so small candles emitted enough light for them to make out pieces of hand-crafted wooden furniture, coffee-bean brown and draped with the skins of various exotic beasts, one of which, a leopard, still had its teeth-baring head attached. The candle flames reflected in its glass eyes seemed to give them life. It gave Jaydeep the creeps and he slyly trod on one of its paws to put his mind at rest.
In one corner of the room an elephant's foot had been fashioned into a table on which lay a chess set, its pieces made of ivory – or perhaps burnished bone. The room reeked of patchouli oil and candle wax, but also detectable was the sickly sweet scent of decay, which presumably came from the animal skins.
Jaydeep went over to the chessboard and picked up a pawn.
'Leave it alone,' Melody hissed.
'I wonder if he plays,' Jaydeep said, putting the pawn back on the wrong square.
'Keeps the mind sharp, I believe,' came a booming voice behind them.
Startled, Jaydeep and Melody turned around to find a man standing in the doorway. He was basketball-player tall and wore a black suit on top of a red silk shirt whose wide-open collar flopped over the lapels of the jacket. A silver chain sparkled amongst a salt'n'pepper furze of chest hair.
He strode into the room and the candle flames trembled in reverence. 'Joseph Makanga N'Dengu, at your service,' he said exuding confidence and shaking their hands before returning the pawn to its correct place on the chessboard. Jaydeep thought that he looked like something out of a seventies blaxploitation movie. Goatee beard, a short, neat afro and a cartoonishly large smile. The theme tune from Shaft started playing in Jaydeep's head, fading away only when Mr N'Dengu held on to Melody's hand longer than was entirely appropriate.
Mr N'Dengu told them to sit on the sofa and relax. He apologised for the dimness of the room but said the spirits he needed to call upon for his work had an aversion to bright light. He lowered himself into a wide leather chair opposite Jaydeep and Melody, stroking his beard as he studied each of them in turn. His eyes lingered on Melody a little longer than they did on Jaydeep, something that did not escape Jaydeep's attention. But then he was used to it, what with Melody's seraphic beauty and Russian tennis player physique.
They sat in silence for several minutes before Mr N'Dengu spoke again.
'Hmmm, I sense great sadness in you both,' he said, sinking back in the chair and crossing his long legs. 'Your desire for a child is immense, it is plain to see, yet do not fear, I can assure you that in time you will become the proud ... ah, but wait.' His eyes widened and his voice turned to a barely audible whisper. 'It lurks ... amongst us.'
Mr N'Dengu shuffled forward to the edge of his chair. He removed a crucifix from around his neck and began massaging it with his fingertips. Closing his eyes, he jerked his head back as if some unseen force had given the nape of his neck a vicious yank.
'Oh, saviour take my side,' he said, his body shaking. 'Give me the strength to overcome this unholy fiend before me, this vile acolyte of Lucifer. Sssshhhhhnnnng-y-yes, yes, aaah! Imbue my mortal bones with your divine power! Yes-yes-aaah-yes, such power!'
At last the shaking subsided and he sat still, breathing rapidly through his nose. When Mr N'Dengu opened his eyes again they had the petrified look of a man who had just witnessed a medieval torture session. He seemed to be staring at a point somewhere above Jaydeep's head.
Jaydeep turned around to see what he was looking at, but there was nothing there except a photo on the wall of a young Mr N'Dengu in his college cap and gown. Jaydeep wondered from which dubious academic institutions you could obtain a qualification in the art of black magic. No doubt the same sort of place where you could get a degree in Media Studies.
'Jaydeep,' Mr N'Dengu said, his breathing normal again. 'You have acquired, I believe, an embittered and vengeful enemy, one who has sent a malevolent spirit to cause you immense harm.'
'No shit,' Jaydeep said.
'A fellow chef whose recipe you have stolen, perhaps?'
'Not in my nature, Mr N'Dengu.'
'A relative you have double-crossed, then?'
Jaydeep thought for a moment. 'I owe my uncle Ram two hundred quid but he knows I'm good for it.'
'Think, take your time, this is extremely important,' Mr N'Dengu said.
There was silence for a whole minute.
'What about Oliver?' Melody said at last.
'Who is Oliver?' Mr N'Dengu asked.
'Oh for fuck's sake, Mel!'
'Truth is essential, Jaydeep. Lies will render my powers impotent and you'll be wasting our time.'
Jaydeep looked at Melody who gave him a prompting nod.
'I was unfaithful, Mr N'Dengu,' Jaydeep said at last. 'Seduced by an older woman.'
'I forgave him,' Melody said.
'Continue, please,' Mr N'Dengu said.
Jaydeep looked down at the floor.
'He had sex with Nicole, Ollie's wife,' Melody said. 'Last year at the staff party.'
Jaydeep looked at Mr N'Dengu who stroked his beard and said: 'Hmhmm.'
'So now you know,' Jaydeep said. 'And yeah, he probably hates my guts. But we've all moved on, yeah? Water under the bridge. Anyway, they moved to Kuala Lumpur last month so –'
'Distance has no relevance,' Mr N'Dengu said.
'Hang on, you're saying Oliver's put some sort of ... curse on me?'
'Almost certainly. A demon spirit lies beside you when you make love to your wife, preventing you from conceiving. This is undoubtedly Oliver's doing.'
The idea of a supernatural ménage à trois gave Jaydeep goosebumps. He visibly shivered.
'This city has several men like me,' Mr N'Dengu said. 'Sadly one or two are willing to abuse their powers for the right price. A disgrace to the profession. Oliver must have paid one of them handsomely.'
'Look, can you send this thing away or not, Mr N'Dengu?' Melody asked.
Mr N'Dengu scratched his head. 'It is possible, yes, but expelling demon spirits of this kind is a complex procedure.'
'How much are we talking, Mr N'Dengu?' Jaydeep said. 'To lift this curse, make this spirit go away?'
Mr N'Dengu laughed and put one hand on Jaydeep's shoulder. 'My brother, why do you insult me? My work is strictly non-profit. I neither want nor need your money.'
'Really?' Melody said.
'Of course! But there are materials I will need to put this spell in motion. Some strands of your hair, Melody – plucked not cut – and a photograph of the inciter of this heinous spell ... Oliver, did you say his name was? A print-out of his Facebook profile photo will suffice. Lastly, and I do apologise if you find this distasteful, I'll need a semen sample from you, Jaydeep.'
'I'll give him a hand,' Melody joked, then blushed when Mr N'Dengu's face remained impassive.
'Let us reconvene a week today,' Mr N'Dengu said. 'Then we can proceed in earnest.'
Jaydeep and Melody looked at each other and nodded, and then the old woman came into the room as if she had been listening outside the whole time.
'Zeema, arrange their next appointment,' Mr N'Dengu ordered her. 'I must rest now and replenish my psychic energy before my next client, a Saudi businessman who wants me to cure his homosexual son. Such intolerance saddens me deeply, but if I can spare this poor young man from a public decapitation, well ...' He shrugged his shoulders as he strode out of the room.
Zeema gave an apologetic smile, as if to atone for her employer's abrupt departure. 'I'll just need the consultation fee for today,' she said. 'Which is one thousand dirhams.'
Jaydeep took out his wallet and handed over the money.
'As Mr N'Dengu has informed you, his services are free,' Zeema said. 'However he will require some extra materials which need to be smuggled in from Africa.'
'Like what?' Melody said.
'Two grams of powdered rhinoceros horn, the heart of a female baboon, several rare herbs and a vial of water from a remote salt lake in Djibouti – none of which is available at your local pharmacy, obviously, which is why we rely on our Somalian contacts to bring it in on a dhow.'
'And all this amounts to what exactly?' Jaydeep said, checking the contents of his wallet.
Zeema produced a calculator from an inside pocket of her jacket and prodded the buttons with her withered fingers. 'Eight thousand, nine hundred and seventy two dirhams. And 75 fils.'
There was a sharp intake of breath from Jaydeep.
Zeema again went into her pocket and pulled out a tiny onyx camel. She placed it in Jaydeep's palm. 'We'll throw in this protective talisman free of charge. Believe me, you're going to need all the help you can get.'
* * *
Jaydeep, dick in hand, was trying to get aroused over a photograph of a skinny Japanese girl with black lipstick and a silvery-purple wig. He'd flicked through the magazine several times but few of the women in it did anything for him. At least this girl fondly reminded him of his university-era girlfriend, Yoshiko, the 'Nippon nympho' with a penchant for alfresco blowjobs. He'd even been faithful to her for a whole year. Apart from the one time with her flatmate.
He could hear Melody laughing downstairs at something Mr N'Dengu had said. Jaydeep resented the fact that Melody's contribution to N'Dengu's curse-lifting spell was a few wisps of her hair, while he had to degrade himself by tossing himself off to kinky Japanese porn (did that country even produce any other kind?), knowing that everyone in the villa – Melody, N'Dengu, Zeema – was aware he was doing so. Sure, it was probably nothing compared to the pain Melody would experience in childbirth. But women had been doing it for millions of years. If it was that traumatic why did so many end up having more than one? And these days you were given drugs to ease the pain. Free drugs. Time off work. Fathers didn't get such privileges.
They were back at Mr N'Dengu's villa exactly one week after their first appointment, armed with the items he had requested. Mr N'Dengu however had been concerned with the freshness of Jaydeep's semen. After its expulsion approximately 24 hours ago it had been carefully transferred to a plastic Nutella jar and put in the freezer. Unfortunately, due to a major traffic jam on Al Wasl Road and the car's air-con playing up, it had now spent well over an hour congealing in the 38-degree heat.
Mr N'Dengu said that this was such a frequent occurrence that he had turned his second bathroom into a makeshift 'masturbatorium', a room where male clients could produce a fresh supply, aided by some visual encouragement. This, Jaydeep discovered, consisted of three porn magazines and a badly illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra, a book that Melody had once posited, in all seriousness, as a way in which Jaydeep could reconnect with his Indian heritage.
After much deliberation Jaydeep had settled on the image of the Japanese girl, and half an hour after being sent to the masturbatorium, he had something to show for his efforts. He coyly handed it to a latex-gloved Zeema who whisked it away 'for preparation'. Then he joined Melody and Mr N'Dengu in the darkened room where they were sitting next to each other on the sofa.
The second he entered they stopped talking.
'Ah, Jaydeep!' Mr N'Dengu said, standing up, 'welcome back.'
Jaydeep looked around the room. A large clay bowl filled with smouldering charcoal was placed atop the elephant's foot table. Next to it, on a small wooden trestle, were tiny cork-sealed bottles filled with indeterminate powders of various colours.
Mr N'Dengu was wearing the same suit as before but this time he wore a loose and colourful silk robe over it. This, he explained, was his ceremonial gown and had been handed down to him by his father, the great Akwanfe N'Dengu, a legendary magic man who had once prevented a constitutional crisis in a major West African country by changing the sex, in utero, of a tribal leader's baby. Melody tried to get him to elaborate on this but Mr N'Dengu was keen to press on with the ritual.
Excerpted from The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim by Craig Hawes. Copyright © 2013 Craig Hawes. Excerpted by permission of Parthian.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim,
The Sound Between,
Aim High, Olongapo,
Pictures in the Dust,
The Orange Tie,
Suzie Kaminski versus the Most Evil Man in the World,
The Fidelity of Abbas Ali Khan,
The Abu Dhabi Brass Rubbing Society,
The Adidas Amulet,
A Home Unknown,