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).