…I’d lie on my bed at night scratching and scratching at the thin, angry line that showed the worm’s path under my nine-year old skin. I knew it as a sand worm. The worm is microscopic, and it gets under your skin and begins a merry-munching - journey day and night. Yes, especially at night. (The Africans’ have a theory that it is heading for your brain so the best time to catch it, is when it makes its final dash across your eyeball). I’ve tried burning the wiggly-bastard with the fiery tip of a cigarette and even a candle flame. I attempted toasting it, but that didn’t work, so I tried sticking a heated pin in its squiggly path but all it did was squiggle to the left or right and keep going, heading for my ankle. It has two heads, so the German doctor in town mumbled through his nicotine stained beard. He gave me a salve, an ointment, to rub on, but this seemed to encourage the wiggly- bastard to double its rate of eating.
So in the end you, Feet, on the advice of Mabuza, took me across the swollen Matsapa River to visit the Sangoma, the witch doctor. He’s as wise as the combined occupants of a zoo and has a skin as gnarled as a sun dried Granadilla. He lived in one of three beehive huts surrounded by a sad maize crop and had the plume of the Sobhuza bird, as red as a plum, glued to his forehead with what looked like candle wax. He stank. He stank of cow shit and some crappy white man’s skin cream that the maidens recently started to apply to whiten their black skins. He had soft hands and the whites of his eyes were an ancient, scroll-like yellow.
I sat on the ground in front of him and raised my barefoot off the hot, red earth so he could get a good look at the wiggly- bastard. The Sangoma, not in the least perturbed, looked at my foot and crawled back into his hut, his withered buttocks for all to see. Inside the murkiness of his abode, I could just see the shapes of an assortment of dried leaves, herbs and roots hanging from the rafters. I could smell through the usual aroma of wood smoke, the sweetness of marijuana. I glimpsed the pinkness of a child’s doll lying on the floor near the arched doorway. It was naked, and its limbs had been darkened by fire. Then the Sangoma appeared in the doorway, so I dropped my gaze, feeling guilty for looking into his world.
On his knees, he gestures for me to raise my foot. This I do, and he cradles it in his, alarmingly, soft hands. He then spits on my foot; a huge projectile of phlegm that splatters right on target right where the worm crawls. I wince as the liquid slides off my flesh like egg yolk and plops onto the dry soil. But I know he’s watching me so I try to keep eye contact as he rubs the phlegm into my skin, over the worm’s track, and while he is doing this, I’m wondering why that baby doll is in the hut and why its limbs are singed? Then the Sangoma pulls out the rusty needle he has between his teeth and aims it toward you, Feet, toward you, you wiggly- bastard worm. I tense and my toes curl, awaiting the stab of the needle. Nothing happens. I open my eyes as I sense further movement from the Sangoma in front of me. He is digging deep into a leather pouch that is around his waist, tied amongst the braided leather strips and beaded thongs. He removes a chipped, white shirt button tied to a piece of thread and in my nine year old brain I’m imagining that he is going to sew that button onto my flesh.
My stomach lurches but the Sangoma doesn’t sew button to flesh. Instead, he swings the button like a pendulum over the worm’s phlegm covered path. My stomach and feet relax whilst the button swings left and right. I think he’s hypnotising the squiggly bastard. Then the Sangoma sneezes. I can feel the twin, moist streams of his hot air on my foot. Suddenly, the button stops swinging as if frozen in midair by an invisible force. The thread it hangs from has gone as tight as a fishing line with a decent sized tiger fish on it. Then the wise old man, as quick as a flea can jump, stabs down with the needle, right beneath the poised button, right into the worm’s trail. I yelp like a puppy, not because of the pain but because of the abruptness of his action. He drops my foot unceremoniously and puts out his soft hand. I see there’s a speck of blood on my foot as I hand the Sangoma the coins. He stands and shuffles off between his huts, scattering the wretched, half plucked chickens as he goes and I understand this as being my cue to leave.
So we do, Feet, heading for the river’s bank where the muddy water slides between the stepping-stones that brought us here in the first place. I notice that the fluffy seed pods on the reeds by the water are bursting like snow-flakes in the breeze, and that the green and yellow Cape Weaver birds are in full harmony as the males make their upside down nests; a harmony that may falter to a frustrated twitter when their wives examine the nests and begin to tear them apart if dissatisfied with the construction or location.
That night, and every night since, there has been no worm, no itching, no wiggly movement. For a few nights, I was still wondering about that singed, child’s doll back in the Sangoma’s hut. I had pink flesh. I had singed my own flesh to be rid of the wiggly bastard.
Now you can understand Feet, why most Africans never sit with their bums on the soil; why most squat on the heels in what may be construed as a rocking motion. It’s so you don’t get a wiggly bastard up your bum, Feet.