The Man and the Old Woman

Fiction / Ntombi K

:: The Man and the Old Woman ::

Once upon a time, an old woman stopped a man. The old woman asked the man to remove a green sticky thing from her eye. The man snubbed her, and from that day onwards, every time the man went to the bush to relieve himself, his faeces followed him relentlessly. That was the end of the story of an old woman and a man, but the beginning of tale of that man, as Tshomo and his shit:

*

Tshomo and His Faeces

There once lived Tshomo, his wife, and his mother. Tshomo was a glutton. His wife served and served him, and when he was full, he went to the toilet and released the looooooooonnnngest shit. When he made to flush the toilet, it didn’t go away. Then, he left and went to a Stokvel. His shit followed him and said:

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Ha o ya lebeng, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Ha o ya lebeng, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

(Tshomo oh Tshomo
Why do you leave me, Tshomo?
When you go to a drinking hole, Tshomo
I’ll follow you, Tshomo)

Tshomo stopped and squashed and squashed it. When he was done, he continued to walk to the Stokvel. His shit, spreading out, trailed behind him.

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Ha o ya lebeng, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Ha o ya lebeng, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

Tshomo ran, ran, ran, and then fell. When he was flat on the ground, his shit laughed aloud. Then he waited for it, tucked it inside his pocket, and carried it down to the Stokvel. When he got there, he bought himself beer and drank it. His shit peered and said, “Tshomo, Tshomo, feed me. If you don’t, I’ll embarrass you in front of everyone.” Tshomo fed it. Then he bought himself Coke and drank it. His shit peered out again, “Tshomo, Tshomo, feed me. If you don’t, I’ll embarrass you in front of people.”

Tshomo fed it, and when he had fed it, the members of the Stokvel said, “Mmmmmh, we smell shit here.” Tshomo took his shit from his pocket and hid it under a bowl. Tshomo’s shit pushed at the bowl and ran away. The Stokvel members chased Tshomo out of the Stokvel.

Then, on their way home, Tshomo and his shit met an old man who held a bag containing a lot of money. Tshomo instructed his shit to jump inside the old man’s bag and steal some money. His shit did as instructed and that was the end of this story, but the beginning of another Tshomo tale:

*

Tshomo and His Shit

There once lived, and surely still does, a hoggish man called Tshomo. One day, after having dinner with friends, he excused himself and went to the restroom. He sat on the toilet seat for a very long time, such that the person who had been queuing after him went to a restroom in another building and came back to find him still there, moaning out a thick, long, long shit.

He wiped his cleft, flushed, and the shit would not go away. He waited for the water to fill up the cistern—to flush again—and it still would not go away. Then he decided to leave it laying there like that, but when he reached for the door handle, it sang:

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Mo o yang, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

(Tshomo oh Tshomo
Why do you leave me, Tshomo?
Wherever you go, Tshomo
I’ll follow you, Tshomo)

Tshomo kicked and squashed it, and then proceeded to walk—a lot faster this time. But it tripped him, and when he fell, landing on his back, it sang again:

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Mo o yang, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

Tshomo pleaded with it, promising to wear it proudly the next time. And, nose turned, it continued to sing until he decided to tuck it in his side pocket. He washed his hands and applied huge gobs of cologne before going back in.

A few minutes later, a beautiful young woman walked across to where Tshomo and his friends were seated. Tshomo made to approach her, but when he stood up, his shit made a slight movement. Holding on to his side pocket, he went to the restroom again. “I thought we agreed that you will stay inside my pocket until we get home,” said Tshomo. His shit asked how it would have felt if it had been Tshomo in the side pocket. “Ok, fine. I won’t be long,” said Tshomo, spreading a few drops of cologne to silence his shit.

He fiddled with his wristwatch before telling his friends that he needed to go somewhere urgently. His friends begged him to stay for one more beer, but when he had finished it, and had forgotten about what lay hidden inside his pocket, he asked for a refill. His shit started to jump up and down, down and up, inside his pocket and Tshomo’s friend asked, “What’s that smell?”

“I thought I was the only one picking it up,” said another, and Tshomo, directing their attention to something else, spoke about the beautiful young girl who had walked past them. Even as they asked the waiter to shift them to another table, the smell lingered. It hung about as they looked at each other and under their shoes, resolving that it couldn’t have been from one of them.

They left the place at last. Most proceeded to another drinking place while Tshomo went far away, to where he was going to desert his long, long shit for good. He managed to, but only for a short while. For when he went home, he found it coiled outside the door, singing:

Tshomo we Tshomo
Ong se elang, Tshomo?
Mo o yang, Tshomo
Keya le wena Tshomo

Things had changed. Tshomo’s shit was no longer trailing behind, but leading him. What else could he do to get rid of it? The disgruntled Tshomo held his head, out of options. Then, the following day, the same girl who had passed their table—on the night of the dinner with his friends—walked past him and could not smell his shit, but instead a balm of roses.

At first, the girl refused his lift and to give him her number.

Weeks later, when they saw each other again, she turned him down all the same, but at least this time took his number.

Three weeks later, they had already gone out on many dates.

A month later: inseparable!

Tshomo’s shit was silent then. For, months later, the girl’s rosy balm clung to Tshomo’s collar and Tshomo’s shit to the girl’s diadem.

A year later, the girl washed up several times, with scented baths oils and salts, to enshroud that noisomeness, which wafted grimly the moment she got to it.

A year and some months later, the man started going out late at night with other rosy-balmed girls, leaving the girl behind.

A year and some more months later, the girl stopped going home. Stopped seeing anyone.

Two years later, Tshomo told the girl how no man in the entire universe could put up with a stinky for a girlfriend.

Two years and some months later, the girl left Tshomo and went back home.

Two years and some more months later, Tshomo moved in with another girl, with a doubly rosy smell.

Three years later, when the girl had heard that Tshomo was with another girl, it broke her to know that she had lost the essence of her scent to a man who had a lot to take and nothing to give in return.

Three years later, Tshomo was still living with the doubly rosy girl but on the side, seeing a triply rosy-smelling girl.

Three years and some months later, the first rosy-smelling girl to take Tshomo’s shit met an old woman, a fairy, who upon seeing her in a busy market said, “That shit wearing you down will soon return to its owner! Learn better, next time, what you are after, and what or who is after what from you, and also for what reasons.” Pressing a small bottle into the palm of her hand, the fairy disappeared among the winding market avenues. Doing as instructed by the bottle, what Tshomo had left her with soon became nothing but a frowsy memory. Even as it infiltrated her mind, it could no longer be hers.

That night it rained, and when the bolt of lightning struck, it hit Tshomo’s stomach and he rose, in the middle of the night, and ran to the toilet, to let out his longest shit yet, and it sang Tshomo we Tshomo, Tshomo we Tshomo until it stopped raining. But even as the rain stopped, whenever Tshomo would leave it behind, it continued to sing.

Three years and some months later, the balm of the doubly rosy girl would become single and that of the triply rosy girl, double.

Three years and some more months later, when Tshomo could be seen spending more time with the doubly rosy girl and less time with the singly rosy girl, the singly rosy girl would meet another Tshomo and leave him.

Four years later, the doubly rosy girl was only left with half of what was once a resilient balm.

Four years and some months later, when she awoke in the middle of the night, she followed the trail of shit, in every drawer, under every shoe, behind doors, in the wardrobe, inside a side pocket of a hanged coat, to where Tshomo had hidden his shit. When the girl confronted him about it, he denied it.

Four years and some more months later, she confronted Tshomo about it and he denied it.

Five years later, she left because nothing changed.

Five years and some months later, Tshomo was back to his same old shit, still unwilling to deal with it himself, still looking for someone to pass it on to or a place to ditch it, forever.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales (2009) and the fairy tale collection, My Mother She Killed me, My Father He Ate Me (2010), which features Lily Hoang and Carol Oats, truly left an impression on me. In Petrushevskaya’s collection, I particularly liked her requiems, fairy tales, and a little bit of her allegory treasure trove, although it is only her fairy tale collection I drew a lot from. In the same way, I delighted greatly in Hoang’s “The Story of the Mosquito” and Oats’s “Blue-Bearded Lover.” Exposure to literatures by the these female writers and the privilege of having being taught prose writing by Prof. Lily Hoang inspired me to revisit the fairy tales I grew up hearing. In the process of remembering these fairy tales and contacting my cousins (young and old) and friends to remind me about the parts I had forgotten, I found myself filling in a lot of missing gabs in the parts they too had forgotten.

The gab-filling process became also a process of reimagining/reinventing new fairy tales. From memory, I used the Tshomo fairy tale as a template to create a new fairy tale that speaks to a contemporary setting. I also used this fairy tale as an opportunity to query its supposed “original structure” and its subject matter with the hope of creating or recreating a past, present, and future Tshomo.

This is how the story of “The Man and the Old Woman” was generated. The version of the Tshomo fairy tale I grew up hearing emerged during a time when many homes in the old township of Evaton/Small Farms (where most of my childhood years were spent) had no flushing toilets. People either went to the bush or used pit latrines to help themselves. In many ways, this influenced the manner in which this fairy tale was specifically told. It reflected the living conditions, culture, and language of the Evaton/Small Farms community at that time. I took these factors into account during the process of remembering and reinventing the fairy tale. I experimented with the language shifts from the old version which was plainly, “The Man and the Old Woman” to “Tshomo & His Faeces” and “Tshomo & His Shit” in order to suggest the passing of time. I have also delighted in discovering who Tshomo is in the present day.

Note, significantly, that the Tshomo tale was (and still is) mostly narrated by girl children.

 

Ntombi K is a 2017 Andrew Mellon Fellow. She holds an MA in Creative Writing (Rhodes University) where she authored her first short story collection titled, I Won’t be Long. She also makes Theatre and TV/Film in the Vaal area of Evaton (South Africa).