Markus could move like a ghost when he felt like it. Sometimes, he wanted to turn himself into a non-person, an abstract entity that did not extend beyond its own sense of the universe. He would imagine himself exactly like that, then. A disconnected jumble of eyes, nose, ears and tongue floating through the air, plugged out from everything to do with people but linked to the air and the forest and real life.
He didn’t really have to imagine that last bit.
He moved like that, then, through the ramshackle single corridor of what they called a house but everyone inside it knew that he had come. Everyone consisted of one more person than was necessary: a bald, golden haired man, pink and splotchy. His chest flapped outward to either side, butterflied like chicken breast before you stuff it with herbs and a round, flaky rose behind it like a peach sun. He was nearly piebald with every shade of colour white could be. He was clearly going through something. Everything was rising and falling, undulating
Markus’ mother hovered over him, her eyes on Markus and her hands on this sea-creature in a man’s body. She was singing the song nearly everyone knew the words to as she pressed down on the man’s chest. Markus leaned against the doorframe, watching and bored.
Mother had beautiful eyes. He didn’t comment on the rest of her but he supposed she wasn’t all that bad. She had a very long forehead and there were this little craters in them, two or three and so small they looked like large freckles from the distance. In conciliatory, soft, wet evening in front of the fire with popcorn, Markus would run his fingers through these little craters and feel. She had beautiful eyes, large and wide with a lot of room for storytelling. She rolled them to the right, to the table where his now cold milk and fried banana was placed under a red, plastic lid.
Markus nodded, not moving just yet and watching. Behind the scene in front of him was the large, curtainless window through which the evening sunlight was spilling like orange-juice into the room. He felt the onset of a bad mood starting to creep on him. It was multiple things at once like this that got to him, in the end. The thing with Una and the boy. The fact that his mother had let a session prolong way past the time she herself had been so vehement about. “After school is me over you. You listen to me. That time is for me over you.”
She was over someone else now and there was healing and money involved. Or a big act and exoticism. Perhaps he was another researcher who didn’t really have cancer or liver-disease or whatever else he claimed to have. Perhaps he was going to run away as soon as this was over and take notes about everything that happened, the way her hands became hot and cold over his naked flesh, fine tuned abilities to control body temperature at will and so on. Or maybe he got off to this stuff. His mother knew these types existed. She never refused to entertain them.
The man was starting to get distracted by Markus’ presence and his mother slapped him gently on the reddening cheek, getting him to look into her eyes again. It was close to the end of the lilting, rather scratchily sung song and this was probably the last effort to exorcise the little organisms that were feeding on him. The man was sweating enough for Markus to think it was probably successful. He opened up his after-school snack and ate it quickly. About as soon as he was done with his milk, a big spurt of vomit exploded out of his mouth and on to the plastic mat placed next to his head which fell down, facing the other side. The best-case-scenario mat, his mother would call it.
She took a basin filled with water and mixed drops of essences and oils from old squash-bottles in it before sprinkling the mixture over the white man’s face. He woke up, tired and panicked and she gave him a clean towel, sitting him up and rubbing his scarred, freckled back up and down.
“Markus, clean this up…” she muttered.
Markus just sat, hands crossed.
“Markus, clean this shit up.” She looked to him long enough for the white man to also turn to look at him, heaving, and he looked back at both of them, biting his lips and holding till it got awkward. He got up with a theatrical huff, walked slowly to the bedroom (which was the size of his school toilet) and returned with a mop and a bucket of soap water. By then, the white man was sitting at the table, buttoning his white shirt up drowsily.
“So is it out?” His voice was gravelly and weak.
“Not sure. Cannot be.” Mother’s English was halting and clipped. He could almost predict what she’d say before she said it. Maybe she practiced these things. “Need to wait.”
“That’s…you know…it was just a chest massage. I paid a lot of money.”
“You paid for me trying. It will work. It will.”
He sat, looking ahead and quiet for a while. “I could hear voices. Up…inside my ears. I could hear things speaking up there.”
“Will work. Go quickly. Forest not safe at night.”
He turned and looked at Markus for a while, in his school uniform with the sleeves folded up and the bottom of his pants coated in mud. Markus looked right back. He was shaken up, this man. Didn’t even have the strength to argue. Out here, it was power and magic and in spite of how angry Markus felt about having to be subjected to this when the terms of the arrangement were so clearly laid down, he was glad he got to have this moment. It improved his mood, a little.
He turned to see Mother counting wrinkled notes and coins and making them into piles. She counted out a few five-hundred rand notes and some change and then pushed it towards him. The specificity of the sum made it clear to all parties involved that it was his school fees, to be paid as is.
Then, she counted out a few more hundreds and pushed that as well and again, it was clear to all parties involved that this was an apology, to be done with as he so chose. He tried to drum up revulsion and revolt from inside him. He wanted to be angry about not being able to be paid off like this.
But he was grateful. He was sixteen. Money was starting to become important. And he’d need a cheer-up after tomorrow’s affair.
He went to bed early, reading only a little bit under his battery-torch. She came later to the much larger bed in the same room, humming the old healing song. She stopped abruptly, realising what she was doing and tucked herself in.
He lay awake for a long time, his eyes white and ghastly against the dark.