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Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

Henry and His Marvellous Hands

By  Lwandile L. Fikeni
Henry was a corpulent man. He started his day with a plate of hot wings dipped in pepper-sauce; pork-ribs glistening with sweet barbecue marinade, sometimes tea with the teapot served on a silver tray and the usual side of chicken livers in sugary red sauce not quite as thick as blood and not as bitter. He fancied girls a lot -- the ugly ones. In their escort he overwhelmed them with condiments; jewellery, French manicures and such. He stayed in a three-storey-eight-bedroom house with his black maid, Sophie, and his shiny Mercedes Benz. He was not fond of family or friends but preferred a double shot of whisky with ice for company. On one of his regular night visits to one of his many mistresses Henry unwittingly frightened an old white woman. The aforementioned woman telephoned the police when she heard someone -- Henry -- toy-toying noisily outside her flat in a residential complex. The woman phoned the police when she heard him singing a struggle song and punching his awesome fists in the air outside her kitchen window. Henry had mistaken her apartment for that of his mistress.

In her statement the woman relayed that when she heard Henry outside she swore he was one of them coming to burgle her home, which is why she phoned the police immediately. Henry was the least amused. He was hurt that in his drunken state such remarks were being tallied about him in a crowded police station. After all, Henry was a smart man: a respected leader in the community and a liberator of his people. Had the woman looked at his blazer or maybe glanced at his shoes or asked him for the time, she wouldn't have been so hasty, Henry thought. Had she glared at his marvellous hands, round and plump, tapping furiously on the station counter, she would have foiled this nonsense sooner. But the woman seemed really terrified about the whole ordeal and was now divulging her distress to the officer attending to her complaint. 'You know how hectic things are with crime and unemployment,' she said to the officer who was at this moment reciting the statement to make sure that they were on the same side.

'That's right, that's what I said,' retorted the elderly woman, whom we shall refer to from now on as Mrs Eilenberg.

So nothing was stolen? Said the officer in charge.

'No. Nothing,' she said with a sigh.

'And this man,' said the officer prodding Henry with his BIC ballpoint, 'did he try any funny things with you ma'am?'

'Funny how?' Retorted Mrs Eilenberg.

Without a reply she continued.

'Oh no, no my dear he didn't. He was just making a racket outside. You know how they are.'

'Did he approach you or your property at any point Ma'am with intention to do harm?' asked the officer.

'Like I said he was outside my flat and you never know, you know. I would feel a lot safer, not just for me but mostly for him, if you kept him overnight. Look at the poor thing; he's drunk out of his mind, best release him in the morning when he's altogether.'

The officer scribbled something down, thanked the woman for assisting with the statement and handed Henry to another officer in charge.

'I haven't done a thing,' slurred Henry as the policeman dragged him by the arm to the back office.

'She's just racist, this woman,' Henry continued while being pulled by the arm and then shoved into a small room at the back of the police station.

'Hey wena go man,' the officer retorted.

Once they were inside the back office the officer let go of Henry and began to whistle a different tune.

'I know you didn't do anything wrong,' said the officer.

'But we need to appear as though we're doing something about you or else a complaint will be lodged against this precinct and we can't have that. Anyways, you seem like a smart man, chief. I am also a man like you Mr Mazibuko and I have ears to listen. So how about we speak man to man. What do you have to say about this whole mess?'

Henry dug deep inside his jacket pocket with one of his big hands and pulled out a bank note, scrunched it, and slipped it to the officer in the guise of a handshake. The officer shook him back with a tighter grasp almost encasing Henry's equally fat hands.

'You are the man Mr Mazibuko,' the officer grinned.

A silver light dance on his eyes and Henry perched himself drunkenly on the table that was in the room with a wonderful smile, pleased with his trick. When they were certain the lady had driven off, Henry was released. All this happened on Saturday, the night before Henry's hands strangely mutated.

Through a crack in the shutters of Henry's lovely room the sun pierced and stung his massive head. He woke up grinding his teeth and clasping fiercely at the covers. This is when he discovered that there was something peculiar about his hands. Where his massive pudgy hands used to be, gaunt dry tentacles hung loosely from his impressive wrists. He stared long and hard at them, twisting and stirring his arms and his mind till a thought occurred to him.

'Lord, I have become a poor man.'

How did he surmised this just from the look of these 'hands'? Only his lord knew. But it was as if he could decipher all the knowledge encrypted in the form of these hands; the wrought flesh that wrapped tightly around the bone making the joints along the fingers seem abnormally bulbous, the hardness of the palms, the scabs along the knuckles and the fetid smell of the black soiling under the fingernails.

It was a nightmare. It couldn't have been a joke. Those who knew him from The People's Party where Henry was an active member, would go as far as saying he shook his way to the top of The Party, one hand at a time. At Party rallies, with a loudhailer in one hand, shouting rhetoric at the top of his head, Henry would flail the other one, which was rolled in a massive fist, energetically, to drive his point into the fatigued minds of the poor masses who came to hear good news because they had none at home. At Party celebrations he manoeuvred his hands around women's waists and between their legs. Driving down the long road from his lovely home to his office in the city he often jutted his elbow out the window of his Mercedes and waved his marvellous hands at the passersby and the hawkers displaying their wares along the dusty pavements.

Inexorable frustration gnawed at him when he thought about this mire, so he got out of bed and had a shower.

To say he was upset would be an unfortunate understatement on my part. The man, dear reader, was livid.

'What is this nonsense?' he roared at the silence that filled his room as he stepped out of his en-suite bathroom clad in a fluffy nightgown with initials HSM - 'S' for 'Stone Cold'.

'Those are your hands, Henry' said his maid who had just walked in with his breakfast only to find her master screaming at his palms.

'Sophie, don't talk nonsense, look at these, these aren't mine,' Henry retorted angrily raising both hands about his face.

'Do you know who I am?' Henry asked tetchily and answered himself at the same time.

'I am Henry 'Stone Cold' Mazibuko. I fought for your liberation, Sophie. Don't tell me nonsense. These aren't my hands. If you have bewitched me I promise you, you won't get any sleep ever again. I have better korobela than you. I have seen you with your friends. I know you talk about me when you loiter at the park with other helots like yourself, but you won't succeed, I know people that can make you disappear. So if you know what's good for you relinquish your spell and I might just forgive you. I will get to the bottom of this! You hear me?'

Sophie left the room without a word.

Henry spent the whole of Sunday in his room and on Monday he put on his finest Valentino suit, a pair of leather loafers and darted his Party broach on the flap of his blazer and went to see doctor Victor Mabena, his confidant.

'Comrade Mabena,' Henry howled as he budged into the doctor's office past the waiting room teeming with sick patients waiting their turn to see the doctor.

'Hawu Mazibuko' Dr Mabena replied with a surprised whiff that made him contort his face and tilt his face slightly to the right.

'Did you not see my patients in the other room Henry?'

'They can wait I have more urgent business to discuss with you.'

'What's that smell?' asked the distinguished doctor with a tilt of his nose.

'What smell?'

'That acrid smell that wafted in here with you.'

'That's what I'm trying to talk to you about Comrade Mabena'

'Doctor Mabena.' The distinguished doctor corrected his fellow comrade and confidant.

Henry silently dismissed this last remark and continued with his urgent matter. Without taking a seat, he slipped his hands out of his pockets shoved them in Dr Mabena's face.

'Jesus man! Your hands are filthy!'

'They are not my hands' Henry said in his defence.

'Then whose are they?'

'I don't know.'

'Let me have a look at those scabs.'

Dr Mabena reached inside his desk drawer and took out a pair of rubber gloves, didn't wear them, but held Henry's scrawny fingers with just the one glove and with a tongue depressor, prodded the wounds, that oozed white puss.

'We will dress the wounds but that's all I can do for you.'

'I don't want you to dress the wounds Victor, I want you to tell me how a man can, overnight, lose his powerful hands and wake up with these sickly things.'

'I'm a doctor, Henry not a Sangoma,' Dr Mabena said, paused as if further calculating his response, then continued.

'If I were you I'd get tested for The Sickness immediately! And we can do it now if you like.'

'Do not insult me with HIV AIDS, Victor, do you know what people would say if they heard I had an HIV test; I'd lose all respect in The Party and that would be the end of me.'

'Well then I guess there's nothing we can do here'.

'Is that all you have to say about this whole matter Victor after I took care of your wife and children during our great struggle?'

'What do you want me to say? If those aren't your hands, which is highly unlikely and outlandish at best, maybe you should visit a police station and have the prints verified. But I advise you my friend you will make a mockery of yourself and we have branch members of our Party at these places and they might think you've gone off the rails.'

The room fell silent for one, two, three seconds.

'Alright then, see you at The Party meeting tonight and please do not mention anything about this foolery for my sake.'

Dr Mabena finished off by jotting down some notes on a brown file and waved Henry away, and called out: 'Next!'

Mortified and insulted Henry squeezed out the door without a goodbye and jostled past the waiting room which was now filled to the brim with all sorts of sicknesses: sores and scabs, raw flesh and burns, dry coughs and itching, cholera, malnutrition and AIDS, cancer and diabetes, a fever here and a headache over there, all trapped in the tiny space of Dr Mabena's waiting room. Outside, the air was dense and boiling. Henry rushed to the cool air conditioning inside his car and drove off to the police station.

Unlike the climate inside Henry's car the air at the police station was heavy and dyspeptic. A queue spilled out onto the street and went up a block and disappeared into a derelict building that had just recently been hijacked by thugs. Being a Party Man Henry was not accustomed to long queues so he cut in at the front and was met by the same officer who had released him just a few days ago.

'Ah, chief you're back,' greeted the policeman who neither had a name nor a face, instead wore a big nose and a peak cap with a long visor that concealed his eyes.

'I want to have my prints verified immediately. I smell a rat.'

The long queue was at this point murmuring their disapproval of Henry for cutting in but their voices were so muffled no one heard a word of what they said. So Henry and the officer continued.

'So chief you want to verify your fingerprints because you smell a rat?'

Henry nodded.

The officer rummaged on his side of the station counter and brought out a pen and a piece of paper and duly advised Henry to write every detail of his story as a statement after which he would be allowed to verify his prints.

'Here chief, write here,' the officer said pointing at a thick black line on the paper.

'Tell us where you found this rat and when, and whether the rat had any markings on his body, assuming that the rat was a 'he' and not a 'she'. In either case, tell us in detail, how the smell of the alleged rat got stuck to you.'

Henry interrupted the officer.

'I am not here about a rat, Chief! I'm here about my hands, which I seem to have lost, together with my dignity. I will deal with dignity later but would appreciate it if you took me to the back of the station like before, to sort out this matter.'

'Well, you should have said so earlier chief. I was still waiting for you offer me a cool drink,' said the officer with a wry smile and a dry guffaw.

The policeman ushered Henry to the back of the station where Henry slipped out a bank note, which slipped between his emaciated fingers and landed on the floor. The other policeman in the room stared at it then at Henry and continued with the work he was doing on the computer. The officer with Henry stood listlessly and stared Henry in the face. Embarrassed, Henry picked up the note and handed it to his helper and had his print verified. The results came out sketchy and inconclusive. Henry was not satisfied and went home with his head hung low and his shoulders at his waistline.

Later that evening Henry arrived late for The Party meeting. The room in which The Party was congregated was small and stuffy. The ceiling was low and pressed against the milling crowd and those who were seated. And the air was humid. By the door stood a young boy with his legs straddled and firmly planted on the wooden floor and his arms crossed by the chest. As Henry walked in the boy stretched one of his arms and blocked his way.

'The meeting's already underway, comrade, and there are no more seats,' the boy said in a stern tone. 'You will have to stand here at the back and not make a noise.'

'Do you know who I am?' fumed Henry.

'Do you know who he is?' asked the boy pointing at the speaker who was at this hour hurling voluble rhetoric and punching his massive fist in the air, making the room vibrate with intensity.

The speaker was a small man, a fiercely gaunt figure with eyes that lit with fire when he spoke. He wore The Party paraphernalia from head to toe and had interestingly large hands that did not fit his small frame.

'Those are my hands!' Henry shouted at the top of his head and rushed to the stage.

'Those are my hands, you thief, you scoundrel, give them back now!'

For the first time since the meeting started silence descended on the hall. The commotion stopped. A car sped past the building. A rat was heard chewing something underneath the wooden floor.

'Mbambeni! Seize him!' Henry crowed but no one made a move. Instead, the boy who had been standing by the door came rushing towards Henry from behind and tackled him to the floor, drawing blood from Henry's mouth. Henry whipped himself into fantastic rage and wiggled his way out of the boy's grasp. He clawed his way along the floor to the podium, kicking, with froth forming in his bleeding mouth. Someone else jumped on him and plunged a knee on his back. Henry squirmed like a wild boar and turned over, clawing the man in the face. He nicked the man with his dirty long nails, the man screamed and in one fell swoop the meeting disintegrated into a riot. Some of The Party members hurled chairs at each other. The speaker tried desperately to keep the calm but was met by a jab in the nose and went down instantaneously. Henry kicked and shoved the menacing crowd; the crowd kicked and punched and pulled and ripped and swore and spat until blood stained the floor, and Valentino suits were torn, and Blackberry's were shattered and Rolex watches were broken and Italian leather shoes were smudged. By the end of it The Speaker had disappeared.

Haggardly Henry limped to his car and drove home. In the morning he woke up from restless sleep with his marvellous hands back to their rightful splendour. The whole ordeal seemed to have been but a dream. With his powerful hands in place Henry was still uneasy for he did not know how he would get his respect and dignity back.
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  • Comment Link Judy Croome Monday, 28 May 2012 02:00 posted by Judy Croome

    A great debut short story, filled with vivid imagery and likeable characters.

  • Comment Link Christian Thursday, 24 May 2012 02:00 posted by Christian

    A relevant and pertinent story. Thank you for this. I'll pass it on

  • Comment Link chwayita Tuesday, 08 May 2012 02:00 posted by chwayita

    Incredible story!! Well done Lwandile looking forward to lots more.

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