Harbouring a Curse
I fished two perfectly poached eggs from the pot with a sieve and slid them onto a plate next to triangles of toast. “You’re supposed to say ‘someone with albinism’, not ‘albino’, it’s a genetic disorder.” I threw the sieve into the sink and took off Cara’s apron. “Come and take your plate, I’ve a ferry to catch.”
Quinn walked to the counter with her eyes on the screen of her phone. “Thanks, uncle Donnacha.” She glanced at me wide-eyed as she picked up the plate.
“I thought I told you, love.” I put on the trench coat Ned had loaned me because it had a detective’s look to it. He’d given me a nice bottle of single malt too—for a fair price—to wash away the worry of going back there after all these years.
She blinked away her vacant gaze—a look I was getting used to seeing these last few years. “You don’t have to come over here to cook us breakfast. We can do our own now, and Cara makes the best pancakes.”
“I like cooking breakfast for you and Hugo, I did it for thirteen years. I miss you two around the house.” Some part of me wilted inside as I took my satchel off the kitchen chair and threw it over my shoulder. The full whiskey bottle whacked against my side. “Don’t call me ‘uncle’, Donnacha is fine.”
“You should be happy, Donnacha, now you can do all the things we prevented you from doing.”
“I never said that, did I?” I went to the hallway
She rolled her eyes. “You didn’t have to.”
I called Hugo.
She darted her eyes up from her phone and back. “I read up on what they do to albinos in Africa, people with albinism I mean. It’s sick. Is it true?”
“Yes.” I waited at the front door. “But it only goes on in remote parts of Tanzania and other places like Malawi, not all of Africa.”
“According to this there are over twenty countries in Africa that hold superstitious beliefs regarding albi—people with albinism. Albino is just easier to say, it’s a bit of mouthful.”
“Oh, poor you—Hugo!”
“It goes on in secret now, I think.” She stabbed a fork into the yoke and watched it bleed. “The chopping off-of arms and all that. You’d have to be rich to pay the price, I thought Africa is poor.”
“I haven’t got time now, love. Is Hugo having a lie-in or something?”
“He sleeps in until after 10 now. Aren’t you worried about his family? I heard you tell Cara they’re criminals.”
“Your ears must have satellite link-up.” I went to the bottom of the stairs. “Hugo?”
She gawked at me pacing the hall.
“Lazy git,” I said. “He’s not coming. I’m going.”
“I’ll come with you.” She put a triangle of unbuttered toast in her mouth and pushed the plate away. “You overcooked the eggs,” she said, shoving me outside.
“My mind was on other things.”
“You haven’t been back to Dublin in years, have you?” she asked, slamming the front door.
“Only once since…” My voice cracked.
“Since my mam and dad were murdered?”
She followed me to the ferry, pestering me about my reasons for going all the way to Dublin to help a complete stranger.
Why was I? The Gardaí warned me members of the gang who killed my brother and sister-in-law were still operating in Dublin. Maybe I missed feeling like a saviour now Quinn was almost eighteen and Hugo had just turned seventeen and both were beginning to see me as a sorry drunk blaming himself for his wife’s mental problems.
“Isn’t your anxiety and depression bad enough without you adding to your worries?” she asked, looking at the ground and walking with her hands in the pockets of her denim dungarees, taking long strides. “We don’t need dangerous people coming to Treoir either.”
“I brought you here, didn’t I?
“Funny.” She rolled her eyes. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
“I think it makes me less…what was that word you made up you to describe me?
“Yeah, less cruddly.” I stopped by the dock and rummaged in the pockets of Ned’s coat, hoping to find some hash he may have forgotten about. “The lad is not dangerous and I’m not depressed anymore.”
“But his family are dangerous.”
The ferry door lowered.
She inched to the edge of the dock, lighting a cigarette, then balancing on her toes, with her heels over the water. “You invited your friend Wann here and look what happened with her. You’re not a charity. What’s it got to do with you anyway?”
“Don’t smoke in front of me.” I sighed and tensed my stomach muscles to control a pang of nausea. “He’s gifted and we need talented students at the college.”
“My smoking annoys you, and you’re not depressed when you’re annoyed. I’m doing you a favour.” She blew smoke at me. “Is this to do with that lecturers’ league table?”
“You really have to stop listening in on my conversations with Cara.”
“I heard you weren’t high up. Is the plan to bring students here who’ll”—she took a drag and blew it into the air—“back you?”
“No, don’t be an idiot.” I straightened out creases on the lapels of Ned’s coat. “I had to think long and hard about helping him.” I folded my arms, staring at the cigarette she held daintily by her face. “Being depressed feels selfish now. It’s the right thing to do for me and for him. You’re too young to understand.”
She cupped the cigarette in her hand and held it by her side. “What if his family follows him here?”
“Trust me,” I said, shuffling to the edge of the dock as the ferry’s engines fired up.
A wave of scorn broke over her nose, a gesture that disclosed past conversations she’d eavesdropped on.
I got onto the ferry and leaned over the corroded green rail, gazing down into the turquoise waters and breathing in the sweet Westerly winds.
“There’s going to be trouble, I know it,” she said and marched across the car park and climbed the dunes. She smoked on top of the highest one until the ferry left.
My mind was elsewhere. Nowhere. Everywhere. A fifth settled my nerves.
Gangs buzzed around the noisy entrance of Dublin’s Heuston Station. People readers, teasing my troubles out of me with knowing looks and prescribing a cheap deal on faulty electronics. As I crossed the busy street I saw one light a long, thin cigarette and laugh about me to his little gang of chain-smoking street hustlers. They had jilting eyes warning me to watch my back.
Once the streets weren’t too cluttered with people I took a few swigs from the bottle of mouthwash I’d started carrying everywhere. Benjamin Kolo’s place was in Smithfield, a few hundred meters walk along the Liffey. I called to announce my arrival, and he told me to bang hard on the door as he would be mixing.
Kolo’s flat was above a shop on a high-street north of the old Smithfield Market. It was an area that had a buzz of black-market trading about it. His door was royal-blue and the walls seemed to breathe with the slow, deep beat coming from behind them. A smell of weed leached from the carpet and the black mouldy wallpaper. I took a swig of whiskey and a hit from the little canister of mouth spray I kept for emergencies, and I hammered loudly with the back of my knuckles.
He opened the door and embraced me one-handedly and yanked me inside his cramped flat. “Brother, it’s been so long since you’ve come to Dublin, you look old. Good to see you again.” His lilting Dublin-Nigerian accent had a song in it. “Your friend, Faith, is a lovely woman. She told me she can’t meet you,” he said, smoothing out patchy facial hair on his cheeks and jaw. “But there’s a lift waiting outside.” His bright black eyes were the same colour as his Nigerian skin, and his cranberry-coloured lips held a perpetual smile. His face always put me at ease.
I went to the window and pulled back the yellow-stained net curtains.
“Are you being careful, Donnacha?”
“Always, Kolo,” I said, taking a Martin Heidegger book from his flea-market bookshelves and fanning the pages. I felt too out of it to read and smelled the sweet, musty paper.
He shook his head. “I haven’t been back to Africa in years. It hurts to think my homeland is still so superstitious.” He made a loud tutting sound with his tongue.
“Is Ireland so far ahead?”
He cocked his head. “Ireland is a wonderful place to live.”
“It’s only a few decades since babies born out of wedlock were seen as the seed of the devil and left to die in orphanages.” I put the book back, folded my arms, and paced the floor. “We put people in mental asylums and threw away the key for masturbating, did you know that?”
“I’m serious, man.” I sat on a green armchair and crossed my legs. “Irish culture championed conformity, anti-intellectualism, and resistance-to-change up until the turn of the millennium. You can’t change a people overnight, it’s all still under the surface.”
“But it’s good here now.” His smile wavered. “No?”
“You’re a black man in a mostly white country. Are you telling me you haven’t felt threatened in Ireland?”
He looked down at the tan wooden floor, studying a hole where a notch used to be.
“Of course you have. Culturally, we’re at a point of great instability in the world.” I sat forwards. “If we’re not careful…”
“Yes, maybe, but I understand that change takes time and patience.”
“You should talk to some of the islanders where I live, change takes a lifetime there.”
He grinned uncomfortably. “I came to Ireland to get away from all that superstitious bullshit and I’m very happy here.” He took a bag of weed from a small wooden box, opened it, and sniffed it. “A few assholes shouldn’t bother you, Donnacha.”
I gripped the armrests.
“It’s a good thing that you’re doing this for this person,” he said, sprinkling some weed into a jumbo Rizla.
I rubbed a sharp pain from my temple. “It is in part for my own selfish need.” I took a deep breath and sighed. “I have to find something to help me get past Erin.”
“Oh, right.” He skulked to his decks and lowered the music until it was barely audible. “You should be careful with this person’s family.” He fixed me with a worried look. “They’re poor and he’s worth a lot of money to them.”
“He’ll be safe on the island.” I scratched the scar on my arm. “I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Benny, Kolo’s free-roaming pygmy mountain goat, appeared in his small kitchen and studied me with a dignified pity. It ate anything it wanted and went anywhere it liked, and none of the neighbours said a word. “You still have him?”
“I missed you, Benny.” I used to wish I had Benny’s freedom, I thought as I rubbed his head. “I wish I was Benny.”
Kolo laughed, probably at my sincerity. “Faith said this person you are helping has a brilliant mind for science. She thinks he might be a genius.”
“Yeah, she mentioned it.” I thought about Erin’s intelligence as Benny butted my hand and went to the balcony and hopped onto a fire-escape to the roofs.
Kolo sprawled out with his lanky legs over the armrests of a tan, leather, two-seat sofa, draping one arm behind his head. He took a letter from inside a Kafka collection of short stories on his coffee table. “Faith left a letter.” He threw it to me, lit his spliff, and tapped it into a green glass ashtray while I opened it.
I quietly read the letter in Faith’s handwriting.
As we have discussed, Jonah is in grave danger and needs somewhere safe for a while. Last week, he came to me and told me he would kill himself if he doesn’t get away from his awful family. His father is not of sound mind; he mentally tortures his wife and is violent towards Jonah—believing he is cursed. Jonah’s family are planning to sell him to a witch doctor in Tanzania.
He isn’t strong and needs support. The family are poor and he’s useless to them. Now the Tanzanian government has clamped down on the mistreatment of people with albinism, there is a demand for his kind in rural parts of the country. It seems inconceivable to think it, but a child’s arm can fetch from $5,000 to $10,000 and a person anywhere between $70,000 to $150,000. Jonah’s family stand to make a small fortune from his sale.
Some people in Tanzania, including politicians and other influential members of society, believe witch doctors when they tell them people with albinism have magical properties that can bring luck, riches, ward of evil and cure disease. If the sale goes ahead, Jonah will be mutilated and killed.
He is gifted, very intelligent and has a unique brain—he has theories on the universe that will astound you. He is also a self-taught musician, sings beautifully, is loving and a pleasure to be around. Jonah has nowhere else to go. Nowhere safe. I believe Treoir is far enough away that nobody would ever think to look there. And he will be a valuable addition to your community once he’s settled.
I have no doubts Jonah will be sold soon, and he may carry out his threat if he can’t get away. You have his home address. I have left a bag of his things with Benjamin. It is with great esteem that I ask for your help.
I got up and thanked Kolo.
He threw me a rug-sack. “Be careful. Check his phone for apps and turn off his GPS.” He came to the door. “Make sure nobody follows you back to Treoir.”