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January 2016 vol 11 no 4

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Matthew Caretti


The taxi rank teems with life. Young girls hawk bananas and avos. Old men tote shoe shining kits. Homebound mothers haul bundles full of groceries. And uniform-clad students enjoy frozen fruit juice after classes. Beyond this throng a bit of tented shadow. A scene like one from some not-too-distant refugee camp, a UN canopy always white on the periphery. Here in the coolness of this tent’s shadow stands Prince, this the name he prefers to his given Mbulelo. Much easier, he says, for the Whites. “And classy, too!” Indeed, he claims his family is of royal stock. But as the third son, he has been relegated to his perch atop Bushbuck Hill. Here he is simply the town barber.

soft buzz
of the swarm

My unkempt hair falls in ringlets to the red earth. What was once brown now mostly grey. Silver, my father would have called it. Now every six months a haircut and shave from Prince. Each time I visit, locals gather to watch. On this day, an old man approaches, wrinkles his face into a toothless smile. He wonders, explains Prince, if he might have some of my shorn locks. I look to the man and back to Prince for some clarification, but then understand the old man’s last word – muti. A term of Bantu origin meaning the medicine of sangomas, or witch doctors. I nod my assent before he disappears into the crowds with a rich handful of my hair. Prince smiles. “A white man’s silver hair, when prepared properly, brings wealth.”

tip basket
beneath the coins
a prayer