The Story of the Cannibal Woman

The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Condé

Book: The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Condé Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maryse Condé
you’ve settled into my thoughts and dreams. No bother at all. As discreet as an alter ego. You hide behind everything I do, invisible, like the silk lining of a doublet. You must have been like me, a solitary child, a taciturn teenager. Your aunt who raised you said how ungrateful you were. You had no friends. You didn’t attract attention. The boys walked past without a glance, without a thought as to what you were dying to give them.
    Every weekend since she had been on her own, Rosélie had followed Dido to Lievland, where her old mother, Elsie, had stayed on. The open-air life and visiting places had never interested Rosélie. It was Stephen who, at the slightest day off, had dragged her, moodily, through the game parks, onto the beaches, into the mountains and campgrounds where they ate braais in the company of strangers—who were disconcerted by the presence of a black woman—and on excursions out to sea to spy for whales they never saw. If she had been left to herself, she would have stayed home on Faure Street, moping with her memories. But Dido insisted she should “enjoy” herself.
    Now that gangs ransomed passengers, raped and molested women traveling alone, taking the train was like an adventure into the Wild West. So Rosélie rented Papa Koumbaya’s car. Stephen had known Papa Koumbaya’s three younger sons at the university where they taught music. During his frequent visits to the jazz clubs, he had become friends with the older sons, who also were musicians. They had all made him laugh when they told him the story of how they had clubbed together and given a Thunderbird as a token of their affection to their old parents, crippled by a life of hard labor under the suns of apartheid. The parents had thanked them warmly, but nevertheless found the car too beautiful, far too beautiful for a couple of old fogies!
    They had kept it in a garage, and Papa Koumbaya brought it out in exchange for a fistful of rand for wedding processions. Being driven to the altar in Papa Koumbaya’s Thunderbird was one of Cape Town’s costlier attractions. Renting his car to Rosélie for mundane excursions showed the full extent of the feelings he had for Stephen.
    Rosélie didn’t know who she preferred—Papa Koumbaya or the Thunderbird, red the color of desire, hissing like a snake, which, alas, the old man, an extremely careful driver, reined in along the highway like a jockey curbing his thoroughbred. As for Dido, she complained that Papa Koumbaya stank like a billy goat. And then there was nothing original about his stories. They were so basically South African. As a result, she stuck ear plugs in her ears while Rosélie opened wide her own. Shriveled like a gnome behind the wheel, Papa Koumbaya set about telling them a different way each time, spicing them up in new guises, adding moving details or picturesque anecdotes. For forty years he had lived with six others to the room in a men’s hostel in Guguletu. When his body cried out too much, he would relieve himself by masturbating in front of a photo of Barta, his wife. Then he would wash away his disgust with gallons of bad beer. In the meantime Barta had been relegated beyond the six-hundred-mile limit to a barren bantustan. They made love during his brief leaves. Year in, year out, however, Barta gave birth to a son. In order to cheer up his miserable life as a pariah, he had learned on his own how to play a number of musical instruments, and communicated his passion for music to his sons. The seven of them had formed an orchestra, which played at services in the churches of the Assembly of God. The Koumbaya Ensemble. Strangely enough, the end of apartheid had sounded its death knell. Too rustic, too folksy when all you had to do was switch on the television to get the handsome Lenny Kravitz or the Spice Girls!
    Rosélie would have driven through Stellenbosch and its whitewashed houses, full of memories of

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