I remember repeating silently, desperately, that I had come in good faith, that I wanted only to be healed, as he shuffled off towards a cupboard, bobbing at the knee. The flood of hope that perhaps I would survive, and the desperation to find something pretty enough to engage her sympathy. Realising I was cornered and not knowing who I was more scared of, the possessed man behind me, or whatever was guarding the shrine in front.
And that we walked back into the hotel in silence and sat down on the terrace outside, above the statue of Baron Samedi, and I realised he had let me live. But trauma is a funny thing. I remembered the room as deathly silent, the only sound his heavy breathing. One right after the long back and forth about which pretty thing I might be able to give him. After that night with Richard Morse, I knew the answer. He was a priest. If something was wrong — physically, emotionally, whatever — I would unpick the situation until it was a tatty pile of string.
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If I had a problem, I confronted it. I was chasing down my illness. By the time I solved the puzzle, I had done far scarier things. Been cut with a razor in the Aids capital of the world. Slaughtered a chicken and bathed in its blood. Jumped in icy mountain water and had a neck vertebra crunched out of place. Eventually I realised: that night with Richard Morse was the first time I saw the treatment through to the end.
And that ghastly desperation was more terrifying than any Bond villain or spectral murderer I could think of.
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Please wait till morning, I begged whatever it was. Wait for your something pretty. It was different in the daylight, of course. The pool looked just tired, not sinister; the treadmill was a treadmill, not a harbinger of doom. I kept breathing as Richard Morse knocked on the door, felt perfectly calm as we walked in, past the bed and the top hat and into the cupboard. I thanked Erzulie for protecting me last night, hoped the sculpture met with her approval and begged for her help.
I believe, I said, I believe in it all. Once I was back in the car, telling Geffrard what had happened, I realised I was drenched in sweat again.
I picked up my bag — the little carry-on case that I normally made everyone else lift in case it dislocated my shoulder — and went upstairs for a coffee. I came back downstairs, exaggerating a limp I no longer felt to avoid questioning looks as I sat in the disabled seats. I pre-boarded and asked the cabin crew to lift my case into the overhead locker, asked for an extra pillow to cushion the armrest against my allodynia. Then I got into bed and prayed. I felt fine the next day. And the next.
My friends stared as I went down to the sea twice a day to make the rum sacrifices, outraged at my waste of good liquor. I tried to explain it, but all they wanted to talk about was shagging, not possessions. Although they did quite like the idea of the demon cat.
But there was one thing he did. It was just there. Mad at me. I wondered if all houngans were so paternal. Erzulie Dantour, represented as the black Madonna. Erzulie Dantour, the protectress of abused women. I wondered what Erzulie Dantour would say about Yentl Syndrome. I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. After delivering the sculpture to Erzulie I was completely pain-free for 48 hours. It was astonishing — wonderful and horrifying in equal measure.
Vodou, though, had spirited it away in its entirety. It was probably the placebo effect, I told myself — after all, houngans had mastered the nocebo effect like nobody else. I took it badly when the pain sloped back on the third day. Either way, it hit me harder than any of the disappointments that had gone before. I got a cold.
Which turned into food poisoning. The next day I woke up with a fever and crushing pain through my body. My friends iced and monitored me until they were scared enough to call a doctor. An ambulance was called — my symptoms were those of a heart attack, the dispatcher said. Of course, there was nothing wrong with my heart when the paramedics scanned it. It was the nocebo effect in its full, raging force. I wanted to forget I had ever been. And so I went back to the medical drawing board.
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