by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
Stealer of Souls
A Chinese man in his mid-40s squatted on his heels at the side of the pavement, one of a couple of dozen men selling their wares in that small section of Kowloon's Ap Liu Street electronics street bazaar where they sell bits of jade, old notes, coins, antique trinketries, and junk, all laid out on the pavement. This man had two tin boxes of bits and pieces of things, including three large brown seeds. As soon as I saw them I reached down and grabbed them, and had a closer look -- the same, the very same.
___I don't know what tree these seeds are from or where it grows, or whether they're rare, but I had been carrying just such a seed around in my pocket for the last 23 years, and not seen another one like it. And I'd lost it a few days earlier, in the front seat of a taxi. I was twisting round to talk to the people in the back seat and it must've popped out of my pocket, although I'd done that scores of times before and it hadn't popped out of my pocket.
___It was a pleasing object -- dark brown, round and smooth, 4-5 cm across and 1 cm thick, with a deep sheen from being polished by that long succession of pockets. Other things I've lost along the way I still regret, but somehow I didn't really mind losing the seed. "It's gone travelling," I said. "It took a cab."
___It had come from a tribal herbalists' and witchdoctors' supply store in Johannesburg called KwaDabulamanzi, a Zulu name meaning "Place of Deathwater". A friend named Jake bought it there and gave it to me. Jake is a black musician, a great kwela flute man, and I was a music promoter in the black townships round Johannesburg at the time, and Jake and I did a lot of work together. Jake, though, was also a witchdoctor, and he did some very weird things. I tried to keep my distance from all this, but sometimes (quite often actually) it was much easier to humour him, and try to explain away all the odd coincidences that always seemed to happen somehow if you just went along with it.
___It was a "seed of happiness", Jake said. Someone had to give it to you, it wouldn't work if you bought it for yourself, although it was okay of you found one somewhere. There was an essential ritual that went with it, involving lots of water, and I got wet. He'd bought a few of the seeds, and gave the others to some of his other white friends. They also got wet. Within six months three of them had met the loves of their lives, each of whom also had a seed they'd found on a beach or something, and they all got married and had babies. Personally the last thing I wanted was to get married -- I'd just got divorced.
___"But it will protect you," Jake said.
___"Protect me from wives?" I asked.
___"No, it will protect you," he insisted, so I thanked him and put the seed in my pocket, and thats where it stayed for the next 23 years.
___Soon after Jake gave me the seed, I went to Natal to take a break with some friends who had a house on the Zululand coast. It was a 650-km trip and it was evening when I arrived, and I was tired. And they weren't there. They'd left a message saying they'd be back the next day, and if I arrived in the meantime maybe I wouldn't mind camping on the lawn, where there was a tent. I didn't mind.
___The "lawn" was some distance from the house, a grassy oblong in the coastal jungle between the house and the beach. I pulled the car up beside the tent and walked through the forest to the beach to watch the day end over the Indian Ocean, and it was dark when I got back. I built a campfire, cooked and ate dinner, crawled into the tent and fell asleep listening to the sounds of the jungle.
___I had a terrible dream, or at least that's what I told myself it was, so vivid that I still felt displaced in the bright world of the morning when I woke up. I couldn't remember what I'd been dreaming about before, but suddenly he was there, a wild black man with tangled hair, wearing beads and bangles, skins and a tribal blanket, and he held a long "panga" machete, pointing at me, his eyes burning into mine. I knew he wanted my life, for he was a taker of lives, a stealer of spirits. Now as I write I see him again, an evil nightmare. I was defenceless and very frightened, but I couldn't move -- I just stared back at him. It went on and on and on. Then suddenly he turned and was gone. I didn't wake up, if indeed I'd been asleep, but continued dreaming troubled dreams tinged with wildness and terror. In the morning I felt awful, dispirited and depressed. I couldn't get the demon of the night out of my mind -- had I been dreaming? It hadn't felt at all like a dream. But then ...
___I drove to the nearby village for breakfast, and later I went for a walk in the forest, but I was still off-key and the peace and beauty of the place didn't reach me. I went to the beach for a swim, but the Natal coast has many shark attacks and I didn't know the area, so I sat hunched on the beach and gazed at the waves, thinking of a surfer I saw once who'd been torn up by a shark.
___I went back to the tent and the car, and found myself getting ready to go. I wanted to see my friends, but I was tired of waiting and now I kept thinking of pressing things that needed me in Johannesburg. Mainly I was just unhappy. At about midday I left.
___Some days later my friends, Roland and Gillian, returned to Johannesburg. They'd missed me by an hour. Gillian told me of a fright she'd had later that day. Her mother had gone for an evening walk with the dogs and Gillian started panicking when she hadn't returned by nightfall. Gillian knew something she hadn't told her mother, not wanting to worry her, and thinking there was no danger with the dogs along. A Zulu ritual killer had been working his way up the coast, killing someone each night. Four had died, the fourth two nights before in the village south of the house. Gillian was terrified he had killed her mother. Eventually, of course, she returned quite safely, having met a friend and stopped for tea. The next day they read that the killer had taken his fifth victim that night in the town north of the house.
___"So the night I slept in the tent he would have been in the area," I said.
___"Oh -- I suppose he was!"
___"I think I saw him."
___"You saw him?"
___"Well, maybe I dreamt about him." I told them what I'd dreamt.
___"He had a panga," Roland said. "The killer used a panga."
___"Maybe he came into your tent and you only half woke up," Gillian suggested.
___"So why didn't he kill me then?"
___We couldn't find an answer -- he would have killed me. So it was just a bad dream and a coincidence.
___Jake didn't agree, when I told him about it.
___"No, he was there, just as you saw him," he assured me. "Where was the seed?"
___"Yes, the brown seed, did you have it?"
___"He could not kill you," Jake said. "The seed protected you. Otherwise you would not have seen him, he would have killed you in your sleep. But the seed protected your spirit and he could not touch you."
___"Well, I can't say if it was just a dream or more than a dream, so I'll take it as just a dream."
___"No -- he was there, the seed saved you, sure."
___"Maybe..." I didn't tell him so but I couldn't help believing it -- it seemed to make more sense than anything else. I still believe it. Which is why I kept the seed in my pocket so long. Only to lose it.
___And now I had three of them in my hand. They say you can buy anything in Hong Kong ...
___"... unless you find it somewhere," Jake had said, and I reckoned these three qualified, even though I'd have to buy them myself.
___"What are these?" I asked the hawker.
___"I don't know," he said.
___"Where did you get them?"
___"I don't know," he said again, laughing.
___"No, all three" -- even cheaper than at the Place of Deathwater. I gave him $10.
___One of the three seeds has gone on further travels and is now somewhere in England. The other two seem to work very well: latest reports are that there aren't any killer Zulu witchdoctors within thousands of kilometres of here.
___And the original seed? It turned out it had gone travelling, but not in a cab. A few months after I lost it I visited an office I work in sometimes, and there it was, sitting on top of a colleague's computer monitor. I stared, and grabbed it: "Where did you find this?"
___"Oh, that thing -- it's been around for months, it vanishes for a while, then it turns up on someone else's desk."
___"It's mine," I said. "I thought I'd lost it in a cab."
___"Well, you'd better take it back then," he said.
___So I put it back in my pocket.
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