NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 25

“ When I was a child and just becoming a woman ,” she began , settling back on her cushions like a mother about to tell a story to a child , “ I became sick of the rickets and when my teeth began to rot my father , the Emperor , sent his privy secretary to Khartoum to persuade a surgeon with Napoleon ’ s army to come all the way from Khartoum to Axum to cure me —”
She motioned him to pull up a chair and waited for him to do so before she would continue with her tale —
“ Can you imagine such a journey ?” she exclaimed . “ In those days it took almost a month . Anyway , this famous surgeon , when he finally arrived at the palace , he put poison in my mouth where the base of the teeth had rotted down to the gums and then built new teeth of balsam wood and solid gold and planted them in my gums ! He was a German , but he also was a Jew . And when I became pregnant with his child , he asked my father if he could bring me back to Germany as his wife . I was twelve years old , and I lost the child in a terrible storm at sea that lasted over a week .
“ Then on that same voyage my husband died from the croup — this was twenty-three years ago , has it really been that long ? You see , I ’ ve lost all track of time thanks to my pipe —
“ His mother , my dead husband ’ s mother , a pious Lutheran woman gave me this house to make up for the suffering her son had caused me , but she gave me no money , which is why I had to renounce the privileges of royal birth and become a tradeswoman and a whore —
“ But enough talk about me , what about you ? Am I wrong to surmise we have much in common ?”
A bit startled by her question , the young violinist was about to stutter a reply , when Madam Maloka smiled and placed a finger to his lips and motioned for him to bend down so she could caress his cheek and give him a feathery kiss —
“ If we are to become friends and perhaps even business partners , then there must be no secrets between us —”
Her tone of cold and total possessiveness sent a wave of tiny shivers down his back , and involuntarily , he pushed his chair back , as if to increase the distance between them .
Which sudden move caused her eyes to darken and her expression to become fierce and grave .
“ You will never pass as a baron ,” she said in a sharp contemptuous tone of voice , which chilled him to the bone . “ The police here are well schooled in such matters , and you are wearing the waistcoat inside out — the red silk goes on the inside and the gray gabardine must be worn outside . And look at your nails , they are like the claws of a seagull and just as filthy —”
She thought a moment , her gaze riveted on his eyes and then said , but now not unkindly : “ You ’ re such a dear helpless child ! Take off your clothes and I will give you a bath —”
From the moment they met , the young violinist had been suspicious of this brazen self-confident Ethiopian woman , just as sooner or later he had grown suspicious of every woman ( his adoring but aged grandmother the only exception ) in his cramped and stunted life .
But realizing now that for better or worse he had become totally dependent on this exotic and improbable black woman , and that without her help , he might not only never escape to America , but might well end up for the rest of his days in some grotesque horror of a German prison , he abruptly decided he must change both attitude and tactics and , smiling sheepishly , he began to undress , docilely handing each elegant garment in turn to an old crone dressed entirely in black who had materialized from behind a curtained alcove in a far corner of the cavernous all-purpose room .
Now , naked and trusting and feeling grateful and privileged as a boy visiting a whorehouse closed for the holidays of which he was now the only guest , he followed the old woman into a tiny dark room where a huge ornate bathtub made of copper but with a gleaming white ceramic lining took up almost all the space , and stood there patiently swathed in a sheet , while the old woman slowly filled the tub with steaming hot water from pots and a kettle lined up on the top of a stove —