Ngaka and MmaNgaka

An Excerpt from Chapter Four

   Ngaka. Doctor. Magic word, in Botswana.
    Even Mum had a special name. MmaNgaka: wife of the doctor – hotline to Dad, which could be inconvenient for Mum.
    “Dumela MmaNgaka,”
    “Dumela, Rra,” said Mum, smiling at the thin man standing behind her in the queue. She turned quickly back to face the till and murmured something to the three of us who sat sprawled on the floor, immobilised by boredom and heat. 
    The line in the stuffy little hardware store was stationary. Four or five people waited in front of us. Behind us, the tail of the queue rounded the end of the nail, screw and bolt isle. No one was going anywhere and a discussion about ailments, should it start, would be inescapable. So Mum made a point of looking busy with her children, of being unusually sympathetic to our whingeing.
    We had “popped in,” after the weekly grocery shop in Phikwe – for a few odds and ends: sandpaper, paint, glue, drill bits. Now, half an hour later, the already wilted Spar lettuce would be slimy brown on the outside and the milk would be curdling in the boot.
    At the till, moving as if the hot air was syrup, a brightly clothed, enormously fat Motswana woman prodded buttons on the cash register. Only her mouth was animated; smiling and firing a stream of rapid Setswana at her customers. Other customers chatted amongst themselves. No one else seemed to mind the wait.
    “My kidneys are bad.” The man behind Mum pulled a face. “Botlhoko. Botlhoko,” he tapped his shirt in the vicinity of his kidneys. “I need to see the doctor.”
    “Well, I’m sure he’ll be able to help you,” said Mum, turning round reluctantly. It was the usual problem: almost every Motswana man said there was something wrong with his kidneys. The women all complained about their wombs.
    “Eh-he.” The man nodded. But after a few moments deliberation he continued. “And I am only half-charged.” His expression suggested this was a greater problem than his kidneys.
    “Half-charged?” said Mum.
    “I can only do it once a night.”
    Problems with “doing it” were a thrilling change from troubled kidneys, wombs and dirty blood.
    Damien and I immediately stopped tracing patterns on the dusty shelves.
    Mum coughed. “Oh dear,” she said in a strained voice, “well, perhaps the doctor can help you with that too.”
    “Eh-he.”
    The man in front of us turned around, and said something in Setswana to the half-charged man. Laughter and rapid conversation followed, joined by several other men. In any language, the sympathetic nods, occasional laughs and thigh slapping clearly accompanied an exchange of embarrassing stories and shared problems. 
    But it was only when the cashier spoke that the conversation returned to English.
    She had abandoned the cash register altogether and leant forward across the counter. Huge breasts spread out in front of her like full sacks of mealie meal – breasts stretched by child after child, but kept full thanks to a rich husband who could afford to fatten his wife with generous amounts of beef.
    “You men are all wrong,” she announced, in a booming voice that silenced the chatter. “We women like it just once.”
    She paused, eyeing her audience, letting her point sink in. A few chuckles came from the line, which was mostly made up of men. One or two began to murmur in Setswana.
    “And,” she continued, silencing everyone once more. “We like it long and slow.” She prolonged the last word and her breasts shook as she laughed at her own unabashed precision. She turned to Mum, and eyed her enquiringly.
    All eyes followed. 
    “We do indeed,” said Mum, grinning back at the cashier.
    Laughter erupted in the queue. A few people yelled enthusiastic MmaNgakas. Heat seeped across my face. I was embarrassed for Mum, mortified for me. Sex was fine – fascinating – in the abstract, between animals, or involving people you didn’t know. Involving parents, it was unbearable.
    The cashier winked at Mum, and resumed her till prodding. A babble of Setswana filled the air again, and the queue ground on. Long and slow. Like everything in Botswana.