Writivism 2014 Flash Fiction: No Juju That Strong

I was selected as a participant at the 2014 Writivism workshop in Cape Town early this year. Further to the workshop, participants were paired with other writers who mentored us as we developed a piece of flash fiction for publication across a range of African media.

After feedback from my mentor Julius C Sseremba, this was the story that appeared in The Observer newspaper in Uganda:


No Juju That Strong

by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee


She sways and spins, her position held by hips as broad as a baobab. The feather-duster in her hand sheds ostrich plumes.

They rain down hope on the woman kneeling before her. Mama Eve raises feet clad in green plastic mock-crocs. She stamps on a heap of cowrie shells, filling the room with brittle crackling. The woman rocks her bowed head reading, chanting softly from the scrap of paper in trembling hands.

Mama Eve lowers her hips and torso and comes face-to-face with the woman. “Come out!” Mama Eve shouts in a voice deeper than the one she was born with. “Come out! And leave this one! Come out and let her bear! Come out!” Her eyes are open to their whites. She places her hands on the woman’s stomach and pushes.

“By all that is good, and all that is not good, come out I command you!”

Mama Eve presses her palms against the unyielding belly once more. The woman falls to the side. Mama Eve strikes up, cobra-like and circles the woman. She picks up the feather-duster again waving it around the supine figure. “It is done,” she proclaims.

The woman stumbles to her feet. Mama Eve leads her out to the cash register. “I won’t charge you for the consultancy but cleansing is R350 and the medicine is R400.”

The woman hands over the money. A mystified gaze floats in her blood-shot eyes.

“You must follow the calendar I gave you. Lie with your man on the days I’ve crossed out. If you still don’t have a baby in three months, come see me again. I do not charge for follow-up visits.”

The woman’s cheeks melt into meek gratitude as she leaves, her hand lightly rubbing her navel. Mama Eve locks the door behind her. She proceeds to a desk stacked high with leaflets. She picks through the names of some competitors.

Those who go by the title Dr. –  Simbwa, Hanifah, Kirumba, Khan and Nyere; there are those who, like her, go by Mama –  Obote, Zainab, Tina and Belinda. There is only one professor, a certain Gibson. Mama Eve glances at the clock. Oliver has still not called after leaving the night before.

If this is like the other times he’s left, he probably found his way to his brother’s house to sober up before work. She should expect his knock within the hour, his trembling hands clutching a bouquet he bought from the man at the robot.

Eve picks up a cork from the table, a reminder that there have been few celebrations in their home since the baby’s funeral. It was not her child but Oliver’s first born from the woman who’d forgotten she had a baby in the car, as she chased tinkling barrels of cherries for cupfuls of coins at the Gold Reef City Casino. Oliver must have run out of his usual poison and started on the wine she kept for love spells and Christmas.

Mama Eve dips the cork in a stain left behind from Oliver’s late night binge and draws a symbol on the table where it evaporates as fast as she sketches. In the same way that psychics aren’t supposed to see lottery numbers or winning horses, Mama cannot heal herself or her man. There is no juju that strong.

She pages through her collection of leaflets again. Dr Kirumba will bring back a lost lover. He can also administer a treatment to double the length and girth of a penis. Eve knows his supplier – the same Chinese herbalist at Dragon City she gets her stock from.

Mama Zainab now has an advert printed in full colour; business must be booming.  Zainab promises to fix an immoral spouse but does not offer the cure for a broken one. Eve sweeps her hand across the table sending the heap of leaflets to the floor where they nestle among beer cans and cigarette ash she will sweep up later.

She reaches for a pen and the stack of phone books of which she keeps a ready pile since the pages are just the right thickness to wrap charms in. She flips through to a section she hasn’t yet ripped out. Her fingers, as a braille reader’s, move down the yellow page. She pauses at M and the number next to — marriage counsellor.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on www.shootcake.com) based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

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