A Soap Opera?

Things seemed perfectly normal until I walked through the door to our courtyard bracing myself for the expected avalanche. Nothing happened. Where were the kids? There, sitting in front of their houses talking, playing, doing the things they did all the time. But what mattered most, they were ignoring me. Until coming to Africa, I had looked upon the Pied Piper of Hamelin as a highly improbable fairy tale with some kind of moral twist. But the likelihood of hordes of children following after one man, however skilful his pipe-playing, had never impressed itself on me.

That changed overnight with my arrival in Africa. Being different draws children like a magnet. And I certainly was different. Every time I went out onto the street, a group of chanting kids started following. "

"Nassara, nassara."

I'd have thought that was evident enough without it having to be sung. But the kids, it seems, didn't. More often than not the group grew into a horde by the time I reached the limit of our quarter, upon which the kids turned and went home leaving me to the relative peace of having a few adults mumble something similar every few minutes.

Even time didn't temper their enthusiasm. I'd been living among them now for almost two years and still had to run this gauntlet, daily. But today? Why was today different. Had it been night, I dare say I would have counted my lucky stars. That's not easy by day, so I just made my way to the neighbour's half expecting a crowd to jump out at me chanting "April Fool... Nassara... April Fool." Nothing happened. Arriving at the table my neighbour had set up in front of his house, I started greeting him. It was only when I realised this greeting was taking far more than the - for a nassara - usual two minutes that a strange feeling came over me. Everyone was treating me like a black man that day. True, I was wearing my jalabah. But that didn't usually make such a difference. I bought a small jar of jam and a baguette and crossed to the other side. Assantah greeted me with a wide grin.

"That soap works very well, neighbour."

I looked straight back at him. The back of my mind began to stir. Yes, he'd offered a special soap just a few days ago. Soap for staying secret, he'd called it.

"I give it to you, and if you like it, you pay me later."

I'd merely smiled at the time, but what if... I stretched out my hand from under my jalabah to pay him. The palm still looked pretty white but when I turned it over... It was only a light black, of course, somewhat like my northern neighbours but nowhere near like the black of the southern tribes who occupied the neighbouring quarters. Still, it was enough for me. I returned Assantah's smile and wandered on. For the first time in my life I was going to discover Africa in-cognitio.


I really like this Paul. A very clever way to use the prompt.

5 March 2010 at 12:40  

Love the ethnic sound to it. It reads like a fable also. It's great to see you come and pen a tale for us!

5 March 2010 at 13:53  

Like Carrie I like the fable feel of this. There seems to me to be an air of magical realism too with the transformative power of the soap. Plus the link to that hoaky joke shop soap provides more layers to this tale. Top stuff.

5 March 2010 at 14:49  

Interesting premise. I would have like to read a bit about the emotional side of becoming a black man, but it's a neat piece.

5 March 2010 at 15:48  

To have the ability to explore a place without being treated as a foreigner would be priceless.

7 March 2010 at 17:47  

Hi! Excellent blog, Paul.

12 March 2010 at 13:08  

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