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Book Excerpt: Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot

Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus ShotFirst-time novelist Richard de Nooy has just started a blog on BOOK SA – http://richarddenooy.bookslive.co.za – and to honour his great good sense in doing so, we present an excerpt from his very well-received work.

Daily Dispatch critic Mike Chandler wrote of Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot recently, “We call someone who trips, bumps, scrapes, and bleeds through a life of injury as ‘accident prone’, and that’s the subject of Richard de Nooy’s finely crafted novel, peppered with visceral and black humour. De Nooy relates the tragi-comedy of two brothers raised in South Africa, one of whom is accident prone and becomes increasingly impervious to the pain and suffering, both his own and that of others, who he leaves in his calamitous wake as he crash-tackles his way through life.”

Here’s a crash-tackling excerpt centred on a hash bar in Amsterdam:

* * * * * * * *

Amsterdam, 1985

The Grasshopper opened at noon, but even at that unlikely hour the regulars were there: two guys playing backgammon at a table, one at the pinball machine and one at the bar, reading a newspaper. As if they’d spent the night under dust covers, calmly waiting to be uncovered by Mahmoud in the morning.

They looked up like four friendly Labradors woken from their afternoon nap: eyelids heavy, lolling smiles, slow tail-wags. It would have been cruel not to greet them. They returned my nod and then settled back into their warm, dope-lined baskets.

Mahmoud was on the phone, as always. He cocked his head in concern when he saw me, then barked gruffly into the receiver and slammed it down. You didn’t need to speak the language to get the message. (How dare you call me just as my most esteemed client is entering my worthy establishment seeking to purchase my precious wares, you ditch-born son of a Casablanca whore!) He raised his eyes to heaven and tossed his head angrily at the phone, then reached across the bar and shook my hand.

“So, my South African friend, I hope the Afghan was not too strong?” he said, laying out the menu on the bar. “Would you like some more of the Durban Poison? ”

“The Afghan was excellent, thanks. I still have some left. But I have something else to ask you.”

You could hear the Labradors shifting in their baskets, cocking their ears. Mahmoud closed the menu and stepped back, ready to improvise. I had planned various pitches beforehand, but decided to go for the hardball straight down the middle.

“My brother got hit by a tram last night.”

“No!”

“Yeah, the one who was with me yesterday. Don’t worry, he’s alive.”

“Praise be to Allah!” cried Mahmoud, shaking his hands.

“Yes, thank God. The problem is, I need him to see a doctor, but he can’t walk and he has no medical insurance. And I think the police may be looking for him.”

“No! Why?”

“For leaving the scene of the accident.”

Mahmoud wished bad things upon the police in Arabic, giving me time to gather my balls and move on.

“So, I was wondering if you knew a doctor who might be able to help us? Off the record, for a fixed price. Like outlaws, you know?”

The last bit just popped out. It was meant as clarification, but it had the opposite effect. Mahmoud’s English was good, but this was way off his screen.

“Outlaws?”

“Like in cowboy movies, you know? They rob a bank, and one of the guys gets shot, and then they …”

I stopped. This was stupid. Mahmoud was clearly trying to decide whether he should reach for the phone or for the baseball bat that he undoubtedly had hidden under the bar.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. Listen, we didn’t rob a bank or anything. He just got hit by a tram and he needs help.”

Judging by Mahmoud’s face, I was going to have to seek help elsewhere. I apologised again and turned to leave.

“You need the White Coat.”

It was Big Chief Sitting Shaman, stooped over his newspaper at the bar. He was in his forties and looked like he’d just stepped off the Yellow Submarine. His scraggly hermit’s hair was tied back in a long tail, and he was wearing a leather waistcoat full of beadwork and bright buttons that might have been stripped off the barf-stained body of Jimi Hendrix.

“The what?”

“The White Coat. They’re doctors and dentists who help refugees and people with no money. Good guys. No questions asked.” He stuck out his hand and I grasped it desperately, like a drowning man.

“Coffee, friends?” cried Mahmoud, his voice shrill with relief.

Jurgen the Shaman and I bounced his spliff and drank coffee and shared deep thoughts. He asked a lot of questions. Like a girl. More than anyone had ever asked me in my entire life. I felt doors opening up inside me. Long-forgotten memories and emotions crept out of the shadows. I suppose I poured my heart out. It made it easier, him being a stranger. I’ve tried retracing my steps, piecing our conversation back together, but it’s like a kaleidoscope – too diverse and colourful and complex to describe.

Over three rounds of coffee we discussed life and love and brotherhood and South Africa: “The eternal struggle between big and small,” as Jurgen called it. And then he paused for a long time, dropping his chin to his chest and closing his eyes, trying to remember what Marx and Engels had said on the subject.

I decided it was time to pop the question. “Have you got their number?”

He sized me up sadly, deciding whether I could handle the awful truth, and then said gently, “They died a long time ago.” I started laughing and couldn’t stop. As if the dope had loosened up every last bit of the rock-hard shit inside me and wanted to flush it out of my system. It just went on and on. Like diarrhoea. I eventually managed to get a grip when I saw everyone staring at me as if I was perched on the stool with my pants around my ankles, blowing it out my arse. I had some explaining to do.

“I meant the White Coat.”

“Ahh,” they chorused.

Jurgen fished out his little black book and wrote down the number. Then he placed his big hand on my back and said, “We all need a brother like you.

I knew for sure they were all nodding, but I didn’t look up. It was sentimental, Little-House-on-the-Prairie bullshit, but it hit the spot like a hammer. I thanked Jurgen, gave Mahmoud a nod and rushed to the door, hoping to hit fresh air before the tears came.

I raced down the Rozengracht, pedalling like crazy, slaloming through the Saturday shopping traffic, blinded by tears, choking down the lump, urging myself to get a grip, telling myself it was just the dope.

I eventually pictured myself telling the story to Rem. That did the trick.

I stopped at a phone booth and called the number. A machine answered, asking me to leave my name and number and my reason for calling. I left my name and address and said I’d be home after 8 p.m. every day. As soon as I hung up I realised I’d left out the most important part. So I dialled again and said, “This is Ysbrand de Heer again. I think I forgot to mention that he’s been hit by a tram.”

* * * * * * * *

Book Details

 

Recent comments:

  • almac
    almac
    August 12th, 2007 @23:33 #
     
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    When shall we see 6ix Fangs on UsAmazon?

    Waiting patiently,
    ALM

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    August 12th, 2007 @23:52 #
     
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    6FM has now arrived in London and can be ordered here:

    http://www.africabookcentre.com/acatalog/index.html

    There are only 200 copies and I'll be sending out a mail shot sometime next week. How quickly can you type "Six Fang Marks"?

    Thanks for enquiring. Spread the word. Enjoy.

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