Three tablespoons of salt, one lemon, three needles piqué in lemon, cross-form. Add one coconut only if client pay double normal price. Pique finger and decorate with blood (premium) if client pay three times + +
Abhishek followed the “Purifying” recipe entry in his book with “Eternal Rules for Good Healing Practices”, which were:
1. Rituals always must happen at three a.m.
The Catholics loved this. The rite was extra strong, he had been told, due to its link with the hour of Golgotha.
2. Rituals always must be on crossroad, near healing site
In a country designed like a child's paper cut-out and scribbled over like a child's masterpiece, crossroads were everywhere.
He was pleased with his pen's gentle flourish, the way his instructions were inked into the book without dispute, in English no less. He would cover the thing with plastic or faux-leather, later. Make it a genuine article, a proper book, not just a spare accounting ledger stolen from work. He continued:
Owing to investment reasons, rituals must only be used in following circumstances:
A) During manifestation of sorcery or sorcery-like practices in neighbourhood
B) Client willing to pay extra precautionary measures above normal
C) Slow work period
D) He lay his pen down, to think. He would need a different ledger entry, maybe even a different book for his recurring clients, such as the Matriarch: their future remedies and future illnesses had already been scheduled well in advance. He wrote these illnesses/cures down on various company accounts (photocopies, of course) whilst he was at work. After all, inspiration has no fixed hour.
He liked to think of the recipe book as his legacy, though he had no apprentice and no children to continue the business. He hadn't found a title for it yet, either. ABHISHEK THE HEALER: A SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS GUIDE TO HEALING could be one. Or he could just copy out the sign (laminated plastic if you please) he had appendaged in front of his apartment, on numerous telephone poles and also printed in newspapers:
ABHISHEK THE HEALER, B.S.C, M.S.C
CERTIFIED HEALER FROM LOTUS SCHOOL, INDIA
COME FOR NATURAL HEALING EXPERIENCE!!! FIX PROBLEMS GUARANTEE. FAMILY TROUBLE FAMILY-IN-LAW TROUBLE HEALTH TROUBLE SKIN TROUBLE FERTILTI TROUBLE EXAM TROUBLE. AVAILABLE ALSO REMEDY FOR CURSE COUNTER-CURSE GHOST DEMON ETC.
AVAILABLE ONLY 7PM-11PM MONDAY-SUNDAY TELEPHONE FOR DETAIL.
He was proud of his laminated sign. It wasn't the glossy billboard-sized ads that hung in front of his competitor's houses—the ones with paid testimonials and professional-looking graphic designs—but it demonstrated, as they said in the auditing company for which he worked, a “no frills, just skills” approach to his practice. Another of the company's mottos was “Integrity and Trust”: they included it in every advert they made, in bold and in caps. Once Abhishek's clients knew that he worked at said audit firm—as an “audit executive,” no less—they were greatly reassured. This suit and tie approach to Healing imbued him with an aura of authenticity: here was a man, like they, who could only dedicate himself to the really important things—God, golf, or other entertainment—after work. Better still: here is a man who has not lost touch with real tradition. His sophisticated polish won over many working men and women, who were too humiliated—too aware of their newly-minted class status—to visit the longanists, the rural witch-doctors. Those types made each ritual a loud performance, they were an embarrassment to be seen with. Cockerel poo and feathers on the floor, a few drops of blood littered here and there, that sort of thing. You couldn't get those on your heels. Abhishek received his clients into his apartment/office not with gross hands and animal carcasses but with golden thread-woven rugs he liked to call Persian. All the decorating tips and the word “Persian” he had learned from visiting the White Man Tarot-Card Reader. This was at the start of Abhishek's career, when he thought on-field research was necessary to determine the precise way he would market himself.
Psychic aid and its natural extension, sorcery, were after all a family business: his uncle ran his own local clairvoyance telephone company and managed that of a French-owned conglomerate operating on the island. Hundreds of recruits, tempted by the fixed, slightly higher-than-minimum-wage salary, spent twelve hours a day cajoling weeping men and women in a perfect French-from-France accent. No psychology degree needed, just a streetwise aunty figure with life experience. Type CHEAT to 83231 for instant wisdom. His uncle now drove the slickest cars, preferring white BMWs (to show, of course, that he could afford to have someone clean his car every day). He carried himself righteously, with the lacquered coat of purchasing power. He was the family's idol: Abhishek's father, who had graduated from vegetable seller to Ayurvedic-Yoga-Pilates instructor for the middle-middle-class, hoped Abhishek would follow in the man's footsteps. He brought his son to visit him at the tender age of fifteen, where one's career choice had already been settled by the subjects one chose at school. “Accounts hunh?' He rubbed what remained of his hair. “You've got ambition, but too soft,” he said. “Look at this face. Accounts-Economics-Maths, very good, join a big auditing company later on. Big Five. But managing is a different story. They don't teach that. That, you have to be tough. Forge character.” Abhishek had never been interested in calling himself an entrepreneur. Healers, however, they were the ones with the real power, no-one trusts one's boss. Abhishek had never even met his. But someone to help, to comfort in distress—now that was something worth establishing.
Start from the bottom, the Americans said, then work your way to the top: that's how he found himself at the pristine electric gates of Auguste de Bagatelle a.k.a Monsieur Fortune, the famed White Healer. Abhishek had prepared a month for this meeting. He decided not to reveal his healer projects to a would-be competitor in the future, to play it safe. After all, he had the golden idea, marketing plan, and fake certificates to support his claim to sorcery. He was sure that in no time he would be so well-known, that everyone, race and social status regardless, would come to him. Therefore, he saved up his monthly salary and went to Monsieur Auguste as a humble client, wanting to know if promotion and/or salary increase and/or wife were in the cards. Naturally, Abhishek had no illusions about potentially having any of these things. Viz. work: he wanted to be home by at least six p.m. in order to catch any potential clients returning from the office, which nullified all prospects of promotion. His ten-hour work day meant that he was treated by his superiors like any other female member of staff who claimed that her husband would beat her if she came home late, I.E, was treated indifferently but with that red tag of liability; in the next round of staff cuts, he would go. But, as he always reminded himself, he was planning on being rich and famous before that happened. And viz. wife: all his female colleagues were married or engaged to be married to men they didn't yet know. The modern female ones were just stupidly uninterested. They were all ugly, anyway.
Auguste's office required no framed, newspaper-witness accounts of the man's divine power: it was a reference in itself. Carpets and cushions convoluted around him, a showcase of ornate, rich embroidery: hallmarks no Mauritian could easily dismiss. He was told to sit in this plush textile cocoon, his vision distorted by the gentle yet intense waves of incense—none of the normal type sold at the bazaar, please, this was “jasmine-freesia essence: a few delicate drops to stimulate both our minds.” Abhishek could only vaguely remember one card near the end of his tarot session, a hand holding a spherical star, and Auguste saying “Very, very good. New opportunities, new beginnings.” He left Monsieur Fortune's house feeling cleansed: the cold air of the high plains debrumed his mind of the incense, of his invented problems, and had given him the feeling they say goes with Catholic confession, a feeling that he was now determined to sell.
A few acts of bravery had been enough to launch his Healer career. All that was required of him was a little market research into the local folklore. A few nightly visits to the cemeteries, for instance, confirmed that the legend of the Great Crosses still held true. When rich Mauritians (of appropriate faith) die, their large gravestones are accessorised with even bigger, ornate crosses. Wealth, like power, transcends; and the bigger the display, the more likely the deceased has power over the living. Hence the following curse: take an item of clothing from the person you would like harmed (harm inflicted is proportional to the size of the gravestone cross). Say you catch Sujata making sexy eyes at your husband. Find one of her possessions—easily done if you steal something from her washing line—and drape it on the cross of a Dead Rich Mauritian, whilst saying a prayer. The DRM will know Sujata by her underwear (even with residue detergent!) and will curse her. It was never questioned whether a DRM would take offence at (such) clothing being splayed on his edifice. The time taken for Great Cross Curses to be effective was still under debate, but after inquiring, Abhishek found that there was generally a two-week deadline.
So: who went to purify the Great Crosses? Who cleansed the crossroads with the first recipe in his book, when a black, decapitated cock was thrown on the gravel in a mixology of its own blood, causing traffic mayhem and lines of vociferating families? Who performed the rites to ward away Saint Expedite with prayers of greater strength to Saint George? All this, and at three a.m. too?—Abhishek, with his clothes worn the professional way (inside out, for optimum demon-warding efficiency).
His established clientele so far had been typical enough: the unending mother-in-law/daughter-in-law duo; the neighbourhood curse/counter-curse problems. A static ledger entry in his recipe book, in fact, was “daughter issues” and their numerous solutions. Modern daughters, suffering from Kali-esque bouts of rage, were dragged into the apartment to be Healed. For the girls who had “fallen in love” with a boy necessarily equal or inferior to the girl in caste and wealth, he would provide special, trying rites for the parents that involved speckling salt around the house twice a day. This would give ample time for the girl to master the purification techniques Abhishek would have taught her; that is, more apt ways to hide her phone, meet her lover, bunk off school—he had always harboured secret pity for those impure daughters and their lovestruck boyfriends. Those girls who had been caught with another girl, however—it required a special form he made the parents sign, and a doctor (his uncle's son) who he would instruct the family to go to if she suffered from excessive bleeding after her Healing Process was complete. Such tendencies were unnatural, unacceptable, exorciseable. It was his duty to rectify these girls' minds to the pleasures of male flesh.
New strategic business insights were gained from his clients' minor yet insightful comments. His unblotched, even skin, his unbalding uneczemaed scalp, currently made him a go-to favourite for dermatological issues. He would fill little glass vials (now sporting coloured tags) with his special concoctions, interchangeably named Rejuvenation Medicine or Purifying Regeneration Lotion. All of these, of course, were fabricated in his kitchen sink: his magic cauldron was a blender, his ingredients mainly supermarket lemon juice concentrate, and mint leaves too wilted for cooking purposes. If placebos are effective then his practice was completely honest. Nothing to reproach. Sometimes when he felt that perhaps he was being a little too money-minded, he gave his clients further instructions:
Use Purifying Regeneration Lotion with coconut oil on hair before washing and raw egg as conditioner.
Do not over-eat gato piman, gato brinzel and other deep-fried Mauritian snacks when consuming Rejuvenation Medicine, for face.
He truly offered what all companies were advertising at the moment: SERVICES TAILORED TO YOUR NEEDS. Clients exulted in the miracle, eventually ceased to visit. Better that, he thought, than a client becoming suspicious after several weeks of no results.
The Matriarch visited him at least once a week, depending on Abhishek's finances. She was responsible for the birth of the recipe book; and of an income that doubled what he would have earned just at the auditing company. Every consultation necessitated a new kitchen-sink intervention, self-help books, even some YouTube psych-tutorials. He liked those videos so much, in fact, he subscribed to a few iTunes U courses, where he first heard the word “bipolar.”
It beat the time he first learned about epilepsy, and could safely de-demonize the story of the girl cavorting on a Church floor, “ramping like a snake” (so everyone said), frothing at the mouth. It beat the time he had read the article in the newspaper explaining hysteria, which gave a name to those untreatable mental issues some patients brought to his door; the time he discovered that the sardine tin, rum and cigarettes his parents lay in front of the Eucalyptus tree for the Minis Prince were gratefully consumed by their fourteen-year-old neighbour a few hours later. All those years he had spent—!—trying to catch sight of the spirit watching over one's garden, protecting it from intruders… bidding the Minis Prince myth adieu was more difficult than accepting the non-existence of Father Christmas.
It was like coming out of Auguste's office all over again. He revelled in the word, rhyming it with Anahita. An eternal lake of wealth, generating unswerving rivers of superstition. Unlike all the problems that could be resolved by variations of green curry paste, bipolar disorder would accept no permanent placebo. This was Destiny's sign that his future was secure. Destiny would permit him to finally buy a proper house, none of that rabbit hutch-apartment business. Maybe find a wife, even employ a few maids. He vowed to forever nurture the illness, even when the Matriarch's spit dappled his eyelashes during their counselling/prayer sessions, even when she cried for fifty minutes straight in hysterics at the smirks and hair flips the cashier girls gave her, the laughs that pubescent-styled thirtysomethings would throw at her when the Matriarch passed by.
She was not even beautiful to look at, the woman, and she stunk. She would not buy the deodorant he'd recommended, claiming that it caused breast cancer. Then again the Matriarch came from the same village where, only five years ago, a mother decapitated her own baby in a rite. There was no changing that kind of stubbornness.
Ridiculously naïve as well, she was genuinely excited that the Aura Reader and Measurement Device™ he used on her (which consisted of two bent coat hangers attached with Sacred Tumeric Thread™) always opened so wide in her presence. Sometimes, to curdle the growing laughter and/or irritation throbbing within him, he would stare at the four Buddha statues placed strategically in Feng-Shui style across the room (all of which were present thanks to her devotion and weekly cheques).
“I don't know why the cashier girl at the grocery shop keeps laughing at me, I buy vegetables and she laughs, I buy water she laughs, or she does that smile… she has a demon in her.”
“Jealousy, Mammi-ji, only jealousy.”
He would remind her of the innumerable iterations of comfort that she had, that the others would never have: the beach houses on every coast, the latest sports cars, the offshore businesses...
“You really think so? What if they know something… you know… the thing you discovered at work? Our family will forever be grateful to you for what you have done for us, you know this, you will be so blessed, we thank you in our prayers—”
“They cannot know. Your husband and I sorted it out. It's fine.”
For who had audited the family's business accounts? Who had found, even at his level of competence, figures strangely distorted; entries too sudden, too large? And who had rung said family's Patriarch discreetly early on in the latter's career because the family's surname had sounded nice, because he thought he could recognize their elevated caste, because he was excluded from all office hour gossip and was therefore unable to make the connection? And who, then, in a gesture of eternal surveillance masquerading as thankfulness, became the family's appointed friend? And who, once friendship was established and potential risk nullified, created slots for the Matriarch's visits that perfectly fit the Patriarch's timetable? Abhishek's talents and contact list, he believed, were expanding.
“But I see their eyes, when I go by in my Mercedes. I see their eyes reflected on my car. I am tired, Abhishek, tired, of purifying all of us and every thing with salt every night. I know one of the maids stole my jewellery last night. I know she prays for harm to come to us. You have to see the way she looks at my husband. She wants to be in my place. Help us.”
Next week you'll tell me you found your earrings and the problem is now with the cook. Look at the new rug.
“Abhi-ji I'm so scared now I can't sleep. Even my husband, who went to Europe to study, you know my husband—now even he thinks there's something in the house. I'll make him come with me to see you sometime. Last night, Abhi-ji, something so awful happened! I came in to hear scraping sounds, and doors rattling. Then the shadow of a woman laughed and disappeared through the wall. These women in our neighbourhood, Abhi-ji, have summoned the demons against us.”
Help us let us pray for demons incarnate in female flesh. Feel the new wooden floor beneath your feet.
Rejuvenation Medicine mojitos and garlands of frangipani had ceased to be enough since the ghost/demon incident. The idea of asking the Patriarch for some of his business goods to relieve the Matriarch's pain was too audacious, and marijuana would be enough to relieve her without his help.
This evening, he was trying Himalayan Purifying Calm Meditation™ techniques: benefits included easy dozing—“The Healer must, strictly, not be disturbed during intense communication with his chakras, Mammi-ji”—and her silence. Abhishek was also satisfactorily deploying some of the essential oils Auguste had used on him. In vaporous somnolence, both communed quietly.
When the timer woke him up, he found the Matriarch still half-conscious: her saree had slipped from her shoulder, exhibiting dark crevasses of bust fat, glistening, slackening with her heavy breaths, her hands still in vayu mudra position. She did not attempt to redress her humility.
He wondered if she was really a gift from God. He liked to describe himself as spiritual. God was on a strictly need-to-know business; to help him understand his clients' background. Still, his clients' superstition had begun to feed on him: he started seeing signs. The number three, for instance, appeared repetitively wherever he went. Incredibly, too, his business had never stopped growing. He must be doing the right thing, or karma would have gotten to him by now. Plus there were the dreams he was having: of himself, clothed in white, a bright light emanating from his being. Maybe she was to be his gift. Anyway, for business reasons he could tolerate having her visit him just a little more often.
Even her pose, Abhishek noticed, was the female flower opening in cross-form. Her hair was kept in a bun using three sticks, and three-petal flowers were embroidered across her saree. He was conscious enough of his own beauty, notably his lighter-than-usual Indo-Mauritian skin tone (another hallmark no Mauritian easily dismisses). He knew that he had enough appeal to generate the lust of a much older woman. Yet the thought of such a wilted flower, dry and crusty around youthful parts, did not incite his utmost pleasure immediately. He wondered if her continuous visits were a sign of her desiring more than just treatments. His wonder turned into cemented belief the more he looked at her.
And what if the cure for this woman lay within him? Was this the meaning of his dream? And anyway, she could only be forty or so. True, he preferred the nubile daughters that he cured in the same way, but she would do.
“Mammi-ji?” He caressed her jawline in what he thought was a gentle manner.
“Abhi-ji? Is it time?” Her eyes were dewy around the edges, her puce lips open and panting. An invitation.
“It is time. I have been enlightened by my spiritual selves during this meditation. They have told me what to do to cure your problems, Mamma-ji.”
“I understand. I trust you, Abhi-ji, no matter what happens. You have always been there for me, the only one that I can trust. I have no-one—”
Weeping, she reiterated many “no-ones” with each thrust, never exhibiting a moment of doubt.
“I trust, Abhi-ji.”
He only grunted, thinking of a name for his next entry: Healing Internal Presence.
Alexandra d’Abbadie (@Alex_dAbbadie) is Anglo-Mauritian, child of diaspora. BA and MA in English literature, Durham University. Editor in chief of Transect Mag. Slow reader, slow learner.