Mr. Sex Positive emailed that he’d never met a more sex positive woman.
He claimed he’d shared this girlfriend with the note’s recipient, his breakup successor.
The Successor remembered her lovemaking, the good winter nights. Their split had meant weeks of tears, but had freed The Successor for the running away: The Peace Corps, then California, a new life.
Was it kiss and tell Mr. Sex Positive had wanted? She’d never deserved that. She still deserved respect, even if, in The Successor’s disgusted consideration, they’d shared her somehow.
Sex Positive’s note went unanswered. It was what The Successor could do. The only right thing.
Rwanda Suite: The Pygmy Cure
Cook did not approve of The Pot Man or his wares or his looks or his body odor and told us so and told us to stay away from him.
He despised the Pygmy’s nappy head, dirty wife beater, and stained khaki shorts from which peeked the head of The Pot Man’s enormous penis.
My Peace Corps roommate and I never saw the Pots and Pot Man coming. But each time he did visit, bowed under heavy ceramics on yoke, he seemed smaller than his four and a half feet, but still larger than the last time we’d seen him.
He always approached from our back door, the sheltered foyer where Cook washed dishes and chopped the necks off the chickens he roasted for lunch. Once in the shade, the scent of eucalyptus smoke having settled around him, The Pot Man used a filthy bandana to dab away perspiration, Louis Armstrong style.
Then he’d ask for water. Cook always swore at this request, but grudgingly brought The Pot Man a drink of the unsafe tap water, never the boiled or filtered, in a crusty, barely rinsed tin can.
One morning Cook had had enough. We’d told him not to vex The Pot Man, but that day after the Pot Man criticized Cook’s butchering method again, Cook threatened the Pygmy with his chicken ax. The Pot Man, unfazed, simply hissed loudly, reached into his pocket, and tossed a handful of dust at Cook’s feet.
Cook immediately dropped his weapon and fell to the ground paralyzed crying out that the pygmy was un salaud infidèle and sauvage dangereux, a bastard heathen, wild and dangerous. Thereafter, if Cook failed to show for work, having sent word of an illness, we knew that The Pot Man had had a hand in the infirmity, the poisoning according to Cook.
At only one or two percent of the Rwandan population, Pygmy people suffered a profound discrimination rooted in hatred over long ago privilege and fear of their perceived powers. Hunter gatherers traditionally, the Pygmy had stalked the Nyungwe and Bwindi forests for duiker and bongo, wild honey, fungi, and powerful herbs.
In the days of the Tutsi monarchy, leopard and lion fur from their hunt had adorned the Mwami King’s person. And antelope and buffalo hides, all Pygmy gifts, had covered the floors of the Mwami’s Ingoro Palace. Then too, before the practices of German and Belge doctors, when a royal or an elite fell ill, Pygmy cures and medicinals had treated everything from headache to colic to flu to impotence.
Given their wide travels, the Pygmy heralded news, and as imperial jesters and poets, they roasted the court and the connected while ingratiating themselves with the same. Respected as preternaturals capable of clairvoyance, shape shifting, poison craft, and other shamanic arts, the Pygmy were the curanderos and witch doctors of the Western Rift Valley.
But with the bushbuck and leopard hunted out and the forest denuded of roots and herbs and pushed back for banana and manioc, knowing where vulnerable boar tread and how to find malarial antidotes was considered pagan, and inutile. So the main populace considered the Pygmy, also known as the Batwa or Twa, as parasites, hobos, and tinkers unwilling and incapable of industry.
In spite of his people’s perceived stature, The Pot Man maintained dignity. When his customers, mostly amazungu had answered his knock, he regularly donned cheap and worn Bata sandals otherwise stored in one of the planters he carried. Then, with most of the French he knew, he’d intone:
Bonne Journee à vous, bonne journée à tous,
Mesdames et messieurs, et tous les bons gens,
Beaux pots de fleurs, et des merveilleux cures,
En vente pour vous, pour vous, seulement vous.
Good day to you, good day to all,
Ladies and gentlemen, and all good folk,
Beautiful flower pots, and marvelous cures,
For sale for you, for you, only you.
Sometimes, we’d sing along with him, and always we’d tease him a bit with the bargaining, first bidding hundreds of times what he’d asked, then confusing him by reducing our offer to nearly nothing. When he’d understood our joke he’d grin, and declare us amazungus umusazi! - crazy white people, and hand over a wad of gooey hemp tied in banana leaf.
We’d pay his asking price and a bit more. After all, The Pot Man was no thief. However, we did have to fire Cook for stealing a wristwatch. Without Cook though, when The Pot Man stopped off, we could always offer him the filtered water, cold and fresh, from a good clean tumbler.
Sometimes, when he’d enjoyed his drink and displayed his wares, The Pot Man would grow quiet, throw a bit of that dust over us, and chant a poem or story, we guessed in some forest language. But no matter the tongue, his song brought calm.
And when he’d gone, having parted without our actually seeing it, we’d savor the full scent of his body, the big sweet eucalyptus smoke, and that dry clay air everywhere left in his wake.
About the Author: Steven Gowin is a corporate video producer in San Francisco. His fiction has appeared in Hobo Camp Review, Insomnia and Obsession, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Literary Orphans, and others. Gowin is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.