The Magic of Saida

The Magic of Saida by M. G. Vassanji

Book: The Magic of Saida by M. G. Vassanji Read Free Book Online
Authors: M. G. Vassanji
Tags: General Fiction
came across a solid brick building, above the entrance of which was a sign indicating a madrassa. He stepped in, and was met by a polite man in kanzu and cap, who was the teacher. There were sixty-three students, the teacher said, when Kamal inquired. They were all boys and came from all across the southern region of the country. All were on scholarship and boarded here. He showed Kamal the weekly schedule of classes, written on a blackboard. The instruction available was Islamic and in Arabic, but there was some English and math too.
    Kamal phoned the boatman on his cell and was picked up. Back on the other side, the water having risen, he had to take his shoes off to wade to the shore. It was no longer easy, he discovered, to walk barefoot on the pebbles.
    He sat at a table at the hotel’s small patio overlooking the sea, musing to himself, waiting for the chef to sound the dinner gong, which he always did with much gusto, bringing sudden life and cheer to the place. It was dusk, the hour of mysterious portents. Where he sat, the beach was empty, though from somewhere came the disembodied voices of two men out on a stroll. Earlier, on his way back from his Island tour, he had splurged on several newspapers at a vendor’s stand in Masoko. The stand had appeared like a miracle on the roadside; he had not seen it before. Nobody read newspapers in these parts, as far as he could tell, or anything else. In Kilwa he had looked foolish merely asking where he could buy one. He thought about the sign he had noticed behind the vendor—painted in crude caps on a board nailed to an electric pole, advertising the services of a mganga, a traditional doctor, for problems of love, sickness, business, virility. A mobile number was provided. Perhaps that might be his last resort? How far was he willing to go in his search for Saida?
    The dull drone of an outboard motor, a thread of sound in the pitch-darkness of the sea, drew him away from his consciousness, until Lateef had arrived and rescued him.
    “Sir—you think much,” Lateef said, sounding cheerfully solicitous beside him. “It must be about this woman, Saida. Tell me about her. Eti, she was a good woman?”
    “She was my friend when we were children. We played together. I taught her English and math, and she taught me Arabic writing. Our mothers were like sisters. Then we got separated, and now I want to find her.”
    “You came from Canada to find her.”
    He had been asked a half question to which he gave a half answer, and received a grunt of approval. He had come all the way just to see this local girl with whom he had played. Lateef was impressed.
    “Sir—tell me about Canada. Does it have the sea, eti?”
    “Yes, it does. You have seen the map of America? And it has the sea on both sides?”
    Lateef agreed.
    “Well, Canada is just to the north of it, you see. It too has the sea on both sides—Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.” And it has a sea on top, but he didn’t say that.
    “It’s big then.”
    “Yes, it’s big—like from here to Nigeria,” Kamal said, taking a wild guess.
    “The marvels of Allah never cease.” Ya Mungu ni mengi.
    Lateef became thoughtful; he looked around and glanced behind him into the bar. There was only John there, standing idly at his post. Finally, in a somewhat muted tone, Lateef said,
    “They have agreed, sir. Saida’s family have agreed. Ali’s younger mother, Fatuma, will talk to you. I explained that you are one of us and a daktari, and she was impressed. Here we worship doctors. We will go and see her tomorrow.”
    “Thank you, Lateef. God bless you.”
    “You are welcome, bwana.”
    “You came all the way here—you could have phoned me, Lateef.”
    “I was in the area, bwana. I thought I would come and see how you were doing.”
    He had a soft drink and left.
    Watching him go out past the bar and through the dining hall, returning greetings, Kamal had the distinct feeling that he was still

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