With Christmas trotting towards us at unseemly pace (even in Muslim dominated, far from anywhere, Outpost we notice this: thanks to satellite television and the calendar counting of a ten year old).
Hat works up to her point with enormous grace and subtly. At first.
”I love Christmas Mum”.
”Do you? I do too’.
”Why do you love it?”
”Because the people I love most in the world are at home”.
”That’s nice”, she acknowledges, with a smile, ”I love it more than my birthday, even”.
”More than your birthday, why’s that?”
”Because on my birthday only I get presents, at Christmas everybody does”.
”That’s nice, Hat”. (I’m a bit distracted, I’m driving to the market and trying to avoid the bicycles that straggle untidyly and dangerous along the road)
”I like giving presents, Mum”.
”But I’m not sure if my pocket money is going to be enough to get presents for all the people I want to buy for” (I empathize – especially given that her list is about four times longer than mine will be).
”You’ll have to save hard”.
”Could I work, do you think? Do chores?”
”If you promise to leave less of your rubbish scattered around the house, I may up your pocket money”.
She’s not impressed; she’s talking big bucks here. And grand schemes. Grander certainly than picking up her own dirty socks.
”Why don’t I go to work in Kaidi’s shop?”
Kaidi is the Arab who runs the local duka (we arrive armed with ambitious shopping list and leave with 40 loo rolls and a Bounty to make us feel better). Hat would barely be able to see above his counter far less get at stuff on shelves. She might attract business though; nobody’s ever seen a white child serving in a shop in this part of the world. Ever.
”You can’t do that”.
”Why not? I’ve seen Indian and African children working in shops here”.
”Yes, I know, but they’re Tanzanians, you can’t work here because you’re not”.
”How does dad work here, then?”
(This conversation is going waaaaaaay off track).
”He has a work permit”.
”Can’t I get a work permit?”
”No Hat, you can’t. Let’s think of some other way you can make some money”.
Hat does. That evening she invites me into her bedroom. Once again it’s decorated with candles, much like it was when we visited Madame Marcia. Hat, however, looks a bit different this time; she has donned something resembling a multi-coloured wig made of that glitzy ribbon smarter people than I use to knot elaborately around gifts.
”Who are you?” I ask (I know better than to assume she’s still Hat).
(We have learned about Medusa as part of our History of Art course in school; Hat has drawn a picture of her which now glowers down at me from schoolroom walls).
”You seem quite friendly to be Medusa”, I observe
She grins and proceeds with business like haste, no time for small talk, Medusa, clearly.
”Now listen”, she instructs bossily, ”I have alot of useful things here for you to buy”.
She proffers a host of small dishes and bowls which as far as I can tell in the dim light thrown by two flickering candles contain the likes of soy sauce, coriander seeds, cinnammon bark and a mixture of unpopped popcorn and lentils.
”This”, says Medusa, motioning to the soy sauce, ”is dragon’s blood. It will protect you against snakes, but will attract bats. It is 50/- a portion” (Clever, clever girl; she knows I hate snakes but don’t mind bats).
”These”, she continues, indicating the coriander seeds, ”are memories, their smell is more than enough to knock a knight from his steed. If you manage to take a sniff without dying (I do – sniff – and I don’t – expire), your memory will become 100% better” (another clever obervation about her mother on my daughter’s part: I spend my life hunting for car keys because I can’t remember where I put them, whilst simultaneously swearing – I used to say pardon my French until Hat said ”I’m learning French now, you know, and that’s not French”).
”They’re also 50/-”.
Medusa/Hat proceeds, ”these are crushed dragon bones. They are brilliant in rabbit stew and if you eat them like that, you’ll be able to jump twice as high as you can now” (that’d be handy) although dragons won’t like you much (oh dear).
The cinnamon bark is snake skin, I am told, harvested from her own tresses/gift tie and will render me ”Medusa’s new sister”.
The small glass of what looks like apple juice is – apparently – pig’s urine which will quench my thirst for ten hours but then I will always have to drink it or I shall always be thirsty. Or something like that. Which will, of course, oblige me to keep buying the stuff … a very clever marketing ploy I felt?
Hat tallies up what I’ve bought – or rather she counts up the cost of the seven ingredients she has thrust upon me presuming I have a need of all of them. She looks crestfallen.
”That’s only 350/-” she says, but then she brightens,” oh that’s far too cheap, I’ve made a mistake: everything is 100/- each: 700/- please. You can drop it at the door as you leave”.
I do. In fact I pay her double (which only amounts to about a dollar); the entertainment alone was worth ten times that.