Thirty-five years previously, when known as Raimundo dos Santos, Professor Kacimba fled his country, just as the civil war had begun. Like many of his compatriots, he had been welcomed by relatives living in shacks in the suburbs of Lisbon and he had started to work in the building trade as an apprentice bricklayer. This was his profession for twenty years. Moving from site to site, perching on scaffolding, he contributed to the construction of the buildings, bridges, and viaducts that made the city grow and he was never short of work. With no other qualifications, without the means to set up a business, and with no chance of returning to his country, Raimundo resigned himself to being a bricklayer for the rest of his life. The mortar holding the bricks together also held him to the building trade. But he didn’t fear the economic crisis or any competition from new emigrants because he had built up a reputation as a competent worker and honest person. He never missed a day of work, and never turned up drunk or got into a fight.
One day, after his club had been thrashed once again by its rival from the north, he bought a sports paper and came across a page full of ads from clairvoyants, sorcerers, astrologers, tarot readers, fortune-tellers, folk healers, warlocks, and wizards. He had seen these ads before, but never so many of them. He was amazed that such people could guarantee to solve every problem known to man; and yet more amazed that there were, from all appearances, so many people willing to put their faith and money in them. Just like the girls in sex line ads, people working with the occult had the wind in their sails—never before had flesh and spirit been so valued. Strange things were afoot in this country, and not just in public works or in banks.
Unable to get the idea out his head, he spent weeks ruminating on it. Society was building an urbanization with unknown materials, under the command of improbable master builders; and neither the quality nor the height of the buildings were subject to restrictions or inspections; the sky was the limit.
Chatting with his friends, he found out what he needed to know. Raimundo’s biggest surprise didn’t come from them telling him that their wives were using these professionals—while omitting that they themselves went there too. This he already suspected. Rather it came from hearing the prices charged for each consultation.
“I don’t believe in these sorcerers; my wife goes there from time to time though.”
“Me neither, but I have heard that they do actually solve some problems.”
“Yes, they do. One guy I know was diagnosed terminally ill by doctors, but now he’s right as rain.”
“So, what do they do, actually? How do they cure people?” Raimundo asked.
“Well, they have powers, they do magic, that sort of thing…”
“You’re not supposed to ask them, they don’t like that.”
“No, it’s secret.”
“And how much do these consultations cost?”
“There’s one that takes a hundred.”
As soon as he heard these figures Raimundo’s practical mind understood that there were people who, without being doctors, engineers, or footballers, were earning more money in a day than he did in a month, without having to risk their lives on scaffolding or lugging bricks about.
So, tired of so much hard work and little money, made even less by a hernia he had developed on the job, and with the rest of his body just as pummeled by the grindstone of the building trade, Raimundo dos Santos decided that is was time for a change of life. And so the bricklayer Raimundo, without recourse for magic arts or artifice, transformed himself into Professor Kacimba.
He recalled having been present at ceremonies at which the tribe’s healer, to the sound of chanting and drumming, put on a mask and thus was transformed into a muzhik possessed by a spirit that endowed him with supernatural powers. He then began a frenetic dance and spoke in tongues. During this trance state, he would banish evil spirits, pass judgment, heal the sick, make women fertile, and force the clouds to burst with rain. And when none of this worked, it was because even more powerful spirits had interceded.
This was the model Raimundo chose for his metamorphosis into Professor Kacimba, adjusting it to the society in which he now lived. The muzhik’s mask was not necessary, and neither were the fetishes studded with nails. But he had to arm himself with other props, because no great Professor can turn up empty-handed.
He began by buying some outfits and a red cap from a fancy dress shop, necklaces, and bracelets from street sellers and statues of saints from a saint statue shop. Then he bought some books about the occult, an astrological map, a stuffed owl, and made use of a fish bowl that, when turned upside down, was transformed into a crystal ball. And unable to find mandrake root at the market, he decided that cassava root would have the same effect.
The friends who visited him were intrigued by the accumulation of strange objects.
“What do ya’ll want those for?”
“Are you going to sell these knickknacks at the fair?”
“This lot’ll get you plenty of crates of beer.”
Raimundo felt that they weren’t ready yet for him to reveal his change of life. And for the time being he didn’t have the magic to stop them from bursting out in laughter. The forces of the occult were ruthless with anyone who was exposed to ridicule.
“Decoration, merely decoration,” he said.
He began to practice consultations with imaginary patients. The secret was to console people. The most wretched of people that came to see him would have to leave the surgery full of hope. A little theatrics, a touch of pantomime, and the promise of happiness. Priests did the same; and some doctors, too. When he had received what he was actually looking for—some attention and a little comfort—the wretched soul would pay any price.
So he perfected a formula he believed would work, with varying degrees of modification, for every case and for every future customer. And the final result was the following: he would start by saying, “I can see from your face that you have great problems…,” then he would pause, during which time he would place both his hands on his temples and close his eyes for a few seconds, before finishing with “but I have a solution for your case.”
Seeing as health and Masterchef were in fashion, Kacimba also decided to make some dietary recommendations to his patients. Having seen a scientist on the news explaining the benefits of red wine, revealing remedies called resveratrol and flavonoids, he would recommend a glass at dinner time. As to health-giving foods, to avoid cancer and encourage bowel movements, he chose broccoli. So that when the consultation came to an end he would recommend they “drink red wine and eat some broccoli salad.” They could certainly not do anyone harm.
Finally, he went in search of a place in which to carry out his new profession, which should have two conditions: cheap rent and nobody knowing him in the neighborhood. After looking all over the place and being refused because of the color of his skin, he ended up having to settle for a small apartment in the neighborhood of New Europe, which also contained an African hair salon. There was little magic in these premises, the supernatural powers would certainly feel timid, but for the start of his career it would have to do.
However, when negotiating his rent, Raimundo felt discriminated against once again. Not for racial issues, but due to a clash of cultures. The owner feared that the reliability of the tenant was as volatile as ectoplasm.
“So you’re going to open an astrology office?”
“A center for the study of occult sciences, to be more precise.”
“Fine, you can start by paying four months’ up front.”
“Four months? But that’s illegal!”
“My dear friend, it’s we who make the laws around here. Take it or leave it.”
In his surgery, where the sound of hair dryers added to the atmosphere of mystery, as if trumpets from the great beyond were being played, he decorated the walls with the astrological map, some black and white pictures of some unknown people that he had found in an antique shop, and a color poster of Dolly the sheep. And the effect of this syncretic décor was such that some of his patients took the people—one the foreman of a coffee plantation in Guinea, the others his employees—to be great sorcerers of the past, and Dolly the sheep for the goat that symbolizes the devil. Even so, a devout patient advised him to put a prayer card of Saint Rita of Cascia on the door.
“With the saint on your side, professor, you’ll be able to cure everything.”
But how did Professor Kacimba gain the trust and respect of the residents of New Europe?
He achieved this with proven results, by clearly demonstrating his powers in solving problems where doctors and his professional colleagues, science and magic had failed. In addition to this, Professor Kacimba would accept payment only after the problem had been solved, leaving it up to the patients to decide how much they would pay.
One night, one of the forty grandchildren of the gypsies patriarch Honório fell ill, the victim of an unknown ailment that left her bedridden with a terrible fever. The doctors were unable to cure her, and said that it was a virus, but the medicine didn’t return her to health. The woman that read palms paled when deciphering her fate line. An amateur sorcerer was chased off. A Brazilian magician, who wanted to be paid in dollars, ended up being beaten. Nothing seemed to help. Desperate, the gypsys didn’t hesitate in calling Professor Kacimba.
“Oh, my daughter is dying,” the mother of the child told him in tears.
“Save her, save her!” implored other women.
“How old is she?” Kacimba asked, not used to child cases.
“Thirteen? I’ll see what I can do,” said Kacimba, not that certain of his craft.
As soon as he entered the girl’s room, he told everyone to leave—there were ten people there mourning her; he smoked the space, smoked the child, uttered prayers in tongues, performed muzhik dance steps, let out three yells to frighten off evil spirits and, finally, already perspiring greatly, examined Honório’s granddaughter by placing his hands on her burning forehead. Terrified, the girl let out cries and lashed out. Unperturbed, Kacimba continued his examination. After her forehead, he took her pulse and finally opened an eyelid. “Aaah!” he then exclaimed. There wasn’t the slightest doubt: the young thing had been the victim of the evil eye.
He called the family back to the room, presented his diagnosis, and explained the method of treatment. “You need to cut the neck of a black cockerel, right here.”
“Professor, we’ve only got brown and white hens at the moment,” said the grandmother.
“No problem. Bring two fat ones.”
“And then, professor?” asked the mother.
“Then you need to mix the blood with bristles from Honório’s beard, as the work of magic was done to reach him indirectly.”
“I knew it, the girl never did anyone harm,” said an aunt.
“And I did?” said Honório, enraged.
“If you didn’t, you were going to,” replied the grandmother (his mother-in-law).
“Listen up. Then you add some powdered cassava root, mix with a hand blender for two minutes, leave it to rest, don’t rush it or you’ll ruin everything, and in the end, cover the patient’s body with it.”
“And that’s it, professor?” the mother dared to ask.
“And if the girl took some paracetamol along with her medicine, professor?” the aunt suggested.
“Don’t even think about it. It would immediately stop it working,” Kacimba replied peremptorily.
Even though Honório had been hesitant as to believing in the effectiveness of the cure and had thinned his silver beard reluctantly, what is certain is that on the following day the fever began to fall, the girl’s appetite returned, and she managed to get out of bed. Two days later she was fit as a fiddle once again, helping her parents at the fair: “Get it here, get it here.” Her illness left no aftereffects, unless you count hiding whenever she saw the healer, or developing a great dislike for broccoli.
From that day on Professor Kacimba definitively established the reputation of great healer, and celebrated the feat on the following night with spicy grilled chicken for his friends.
João Cerqueira has a PhD in Art History from the University of Oporto. He is the author of seven books: The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, Devil’s Observations, Maria Pia: Queen and Woman, José de Guimarães and José de Guimarães: Public Art. The Tragedy of Fidel Castro won the USA Best Book Awards 2013, the Beverly Hills Book Awards 2014, the Global eBook Awards 2014, was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal 2014 (Eric Offer Awards), and was considered by ForewordReviews the best translation published in the United States in 2012. His works have appeared in Toad Suck Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Hypertext Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Danse Macabre, Contemporary Literary Review India, Open Pen Magazine, the Liberator Magazine, BoldType Magazine, All Right Magazine, South Asia Mail, Linguistic Erosion, Sundayat6ammag, and Literary Lunes.