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 I have come to you for help, I told the igqira when he
had finished the tale,  and all you can offer me is a story.
 Bring me the sheep first, he said with a sigh, as if he
found it hard to speak.
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Once I had obeyed he seemed more satisfied.  There
are two kinds of medicine, he said.  One is for you, the
other for the woman. I will start with you.
We sent the woman to wait in her hut so that he could
first anoint me with the salve he had prepared with his own
hands, according to his wisdom. But even before he had
finished it began to burn so fiercely that I felt my bird was
ready to fly up into the night skies with me. I could not
stop myself. Right through the fire I ran only the next
day did I discover the blisters on my feet out of the door,
through the bushes, down to the water. But it was no use.
My member was burning like a log. In the end I plastered
it thickly with clay to cool it off, but the clay started bub-
bling like boiling water, and in the moonlight I could see a
cloud of steam rising from my loins. Within minutes the
whole village was assembled around me to find out why I
was bellowing so wildly. But I did not answer. That night I
spoke in languages that had not yet been invented.
If only the cure had helped, I would still have regarded
it as worth the agony. But I swear that by the following
dawn, when the fire finally subsided, the thing had grown
even thicker and longer than before.
In the meantime, while I was wallowing in the burning
mud, the igqira had set to work on the woman. What cure
he tried on her I never found out, but he looked very smug
when I saw him again. Only it made no difference. To
make things worse, he announced that the cure would
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have to be repeated many times, both mine and hers. First
he would come to anoint my member, and as soon as I was
running screaming into a night illuminated spectacularly
by that flaming torch planted in my groin, he would set to
work on the woman.
Until one night I lost my temper where I sat beside the
stream with my smoldering member buried in a huge
mound of wet clay. Tears still streaming from my eyes, and
steam billowing from my loins, I ran back to the village.
The Moon was dead, but the reddish glow emitted by my
firebird lit up the night, so that I came home rather soon-
er than the igqira must have expected me. I found him
kneeling above my prostrate woman.
 Now don t you get the wrong thoughts, T kama, he
said in a voice choking with fear.  This is very special
medicine I m using on her. There is magic in this root.
I threw him out the door before he could say another
word. This very nearly led to war, because he was the igqi-
ra and his people could not bear to see him insulted. But I
told them I didn t care what magic he had in his root, the
woman was mine. So every man picked up his assegai; and
if old Khamab hadn t caught me by my glowing bird and
dragged me off there would have been blood. Before the
morning star was up we had to be gone, otherwise they
would have slain us all, man, woman and child. They even
set their dogs on us.* Some friends.
* Would a black tribe at the end of the fifteenth century have kept dogs? It
seems unlikely to me. Yet that is how I remember it.
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11
On a language lesson in the wilderness
N THAT YEAR, if that was the year
I
the year da Gama discovered the sea route around
the Cape of Storms, six years before Hieronymus
Bosch painted his  Last Judgment, the year when
Leonardo turned forty-six and Michelangelo
twenty-three, six years after Columbus had
reached the coast of America and the Moors had
been driven from Granada, thirteen years before
Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly and nineteen years
before Luther s ninety-five theses, about three-
quarters of a century after Mutota had founded
the empire of Mwenemutapa (later more widely
known as Monomotapa) in present-day
Zimbabwe, and about one thousand two hundred
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years after the first people of the Christian era had
settled in the Transvaal, thirteen years after Caxton
had printed Malory s Morte d Arthur, and forty-
five years after the fall of Constantinople
in that year our wandering through the wilderness began.
 It s all your fault, old Khamab was quick to tell me.
 Why did you have to meddle with their igqira? Am I not
good enough for you?
 Nothing you did could help me with the woman,
Khamab, I reminded him.  You know you ve tried
everything.
 Then it s time you realized it cannot go on like this. It s
not just your life and the woman s, it s all of us. Or words
to that effect.
 I ll go through the fire for her, Khamab.
 You ve already gone through the fire, and look what
happened.
 I won t ever stop trying.
 And what is to become of us?
 We ll get through.
 Is this faith or pigheadedness?
 Is there a difference? I put my hand on his bony shoul-
der.  Just tell us which way to go so that we can get away
from this place.
 You think we can ever escape the eye of Gaunab? he
asked angrily. But without waiting for an answer he turned
his back on me and started fiddling with his medicine
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horn. With deft fingers he maneuvered a strip of leather as
thin as a blade of grass into his mixture of grease and herbs,
then rubbed two sticks together to make fire and set the
strip alight. As soon as it began to glow he cautiously held
the horn against the wind to see which way the wisp of
blue smoke would go. There was no need of explanation,
we all knew the procedure. We set out in the direction the
smoke had indicated. Day after day we proceeded like that,
on a route that kept us roughly parallel with the coast.
Not that it helped much, for we seemed to carry the evil
with us.
In the earliest times, when the first human beings
were still fresh from Tsui-Goab s hands, those people
had been much plagued by Gaunab, the Dark One, the
Destroyer, who waged unending war against them. Tsui-
Goab tried to protect his creatures. In the beginning he
was beaten every time by Gaunab, but from every
encounter he emerged stronger and stronger. Until there
came a day or a night, to be precise, because it was in
utter darkness that Tsui-Goab lay sleeping beside a
stream and Gaunab came upon him and the two began
to wrestle when he dealt Gaunab a death blow behind
the ear. But as he fell, Gaunab struck out at him one last
time and broke his knee. Which is where Tsui-Goab got
his name, Lame-Knee.
And so the Dark One had been killed. But for us, if
something dies, that does not mean it will be dead forever.
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Look at Heitsi-Eibib and his graves dotted throughout [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]