Talk 18 – Peace, No
So how is he?
Why don’t you white folks enjoy the ride for once and let the news show itself when its needed? Why do you always want to know the future? Well I shouldn’t contain it because that was how my mom raised me and my siblings, by telling the future of white folks. The witch.
So it’s serious.
What is serious is my allergy to cats and she has about ten at all times. She says it’s my fault. Before my allergy blossomed when I was a trouble maker I found a carton box with four kittens in it by the road just outside the city, around where we are now, in fact. I brought them home and begged her to keep them. Since then they have multiplied and are a society on their own singing fine songs when they are hungry. Even the dogs are afraid of them.
Do you visit the library a lot?
All gypsies read till their last breath.
What kind of books do you read?
Mostly ale nowadays. Brandy only for the holidays. And wine I am saving for when I find a lady.
Does he read?
Ah, he never read all that much you know, he’s a serious man. A glass of wine at times with his sheep only. He doesn’t join in group debauchery any longer.
Yes, he bought a flock of sheep, not large, fifteen or so. He tends to them and shepherded them in the hills, with a book on hand, an actual book. Not our code name for opiates. They’ve been closed for a while.
So he’s no good?
The fool I am, I gave you too many clues and you’re putting them together.
What is it?
My mother the witch says it’s bad. But what does she know?
And how about your brother, I remember some of the finest conversations I have ever had were with him.
Ah, yes. My brother. Not drinking enough brandy finally caught up with him.
What do you mean? Is he still teaching history?
He just resumed doing so, indeed.
Two years ago he had a mental collapse. In the school in the middle of class. He scared us alright. Stress, the white doctor said. He was dysfunctional for a while. Then his ex-wife came to aid. They spent a lot of time together just talking. He was in the depths of depression, avoiding all human interaction. She started slowly bringing him back. Until one day out of the blue her heart stopped. And she was my age, sober and a glutton. Well that nearly finished him off, too. He took to bed, curtains closed. I force fed him for two months. And one morning he snapped out of it as if he drank a bottle of brandy. He was up and all smiles. He still takes pills, three types, for hallucinations, for depression, and another for side effects of the first two. But he started teaching again and overworking himself again. He doesn’t take advice well. He is back to his full ego, speaking at you and not letting you talk.
He’s like one of those fast talkers with no tolerance for conversation, who pin you to the wall like a butterfly and tell everyone in earshot about your underwear. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not that bad!
How about you? See I can ask questions, too. How are painting and white men in the city?
I don’t know much of the latter but the former saves me from the vagaries of the world. I attend five art markets five days of the week in different towns that are within driving distance from me. Well, two are in the city but quite far still. I’m not flourishing but I make a living. And I’m glad I can do what I love.
You’re not lonely?
There are levels of loneliness I am capable of handling and have accepted.
He always said you’re strong. Why not find another man?
I’ve tried. But I know myself too well by now. It’s a wonderful game of chance when you are drunk on youth to gamble your mélange of feelings and imperfections against someone else’s. But once you have defeated yourself and know exactly what you want, your choices are very limited, your capacity for change and compromise diminishes.
Naturally you become more aware of death.
My capacity for brandy has also diminished.
That was my point.
Yes, after a bottle of brandy I could stand the babel of the stupidest of women. Sober, I prefer to play hide and seek with my mother’s cats.
Do you have a bookshelf?
A bookshelf? I have a brandy shelf with many potions. It’s getting dusty, but looking at it gives me peace. Many good stories have started with it and I can trace the threads of memory from its bottles.
We’re almost there.
You see the church top? We are there between the church and the cemetery. Some of us had built houses. Others prefer the old ways. Even though, we don’t move like in the past, but we still live in tents. There’s a special magical feeling in knowing that you can pack up and leave any day. Plus your reading budget is bigger.
You own the land, right?
That we do. See, we’re fixed land owners now. Attached to a small town. White falls are still afraid of us. Mothers tell their children not to come about in our wing of town. Except for church. So it happens the only church is next to the largest brandy distillery. Two fine places with gods of their own. Here’s my home.
It’s one of the largest tents here.
It’s new, modern, it has compartments and is very sturdy. Here is the town’s famous band of cats. See that dog under the tree? It’s afraid to get near the tent. And the witch.
She looks fine for her age.
Well, she’s taken the souls of many young men. Hello mom, give us some wine and sweet bread. We have traveled far.
Hello, son. And hello fine lady. It is good to see you. Perhaps your witchery will be of more help than mine.
Don’t worry her give us the wine.
Sit under the shade and take a little brandy and chocolates to return your color.
Isn’t it too early for brandy, mother?
It’s too late for wine!
Take me to him.
Not before you drink, woman. I am the witch here and I prescribe you to prepare yourself.
I don’t take brandy.
Yes, you do, fine lady. Perhaps I can tell your fortune.
No thank you, my path is set.
Wise, isn’t she, son? Your path is set, too. I’ve found a fine woman for you. They arrived yesterday, cousins of our neighbors from the east. She had been married but her brothers killed him over a pot of gold he stole from them.
Does she have children?
No, but she wants some. And you can give them to her.
How much does she cost?
Considering her situation, nothing.
You are a real witch mother, I want to meet her.
I am a witch.
Now drink, fine lady. No brandy, no answers.
Take me to him.
All in two hours time. He’s asleep now. And has not slept the last four nights from fever. It is not wise to wake him. They saw the car, they will come for us when it’s time. Here, some oiled bread. Feed the cats or they will feed on you.
next chapter: Talk 19 – Still Life
previous chapter: Talk 17 – Non-Stop
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more by PETER ODEON
photograph by Alex Holyoake