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Laughing Africa

written by: Eve Dobbins

 

We know that Africa is not a camera and that the continent cannot steal someone’s soul but we know that words, superstitions, and traditions can signify an alternate reality to those who believe.
The fighter remained on the second rung of the ladder about twenty seconds longer than necessary approaching with bated breath. Patrick entered ringside; his oily long black hair swinging gracefully as he ducked into the ring.
“Go, go remember Red Hook,” shouted the Anglican right-hand side.
‘Vamos, Vamos’… shouted the left-hand side. One of them in the crowd yells at Patrick, “Hey buster, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” And then he incites the crowd to a fever pitch of booing as the star Ahab goes down.
'10, 9, 8, 7' ..I swear, as I watch him count down, the bookies were not expecting this, ‘6 5 4 3 2 1’ and the roar shoots through the crowd like an elephant raising its trunk.
“I got $50 riding on this with high odds. I am gonna make some green,” he states to me. It was this dumb-looking jock in the front row licking his lips greedily. “Hey, Morris,” he screams, “you got another one on the docket like this one?”
‘Naw,’ I say ‘he is one of a kind,’ and I shoot the breeze for awhile enjoying the sound of my big promises hitting the warm wind of the night. That is what being the manager is for me: it is the total rush of who I am: the promoter Morris…I am the man. For me, they will sing until the bet is placed and the race is won. Actually, I do have another one waiting in the wings and his name is Sammy. Let me introduce you.
Sammy felt the heat surge his straining muscles as he met the eye of his promoter, Morris urging him forward faster.
Morris, alias, George Giacalone, returned the grin as Sammy with renewed vigor swung and attacked his opponent repeatedly.
“Sammy, you one up on the man,” he heard as his left hook went wild. And then it happened. As it happened, there was this crazy little poem vibrating through Morris’s brain -teasing him along.

The pope
Will never go near
The projects
Regardless of
How many tenants
Are members of his fan club

Pedro Pietri, a writer from New York, said it well with this poem 3170 Broadway. So Morris thought even a boy from Brooklyn comes to New York and makes it. A match made in heaven. Morris loved his job which involved the seamy and steamy underside of life, lies, and corruption known as the New York ringside of Madison Square Garden. He was always reminded of his idol and nemesis, Norman Mailer….benefactor of the writer and overseer of the infamous book “In the Belly of the Beast.” Friend of the author and convict, Jack Abbot was a man’s man…..he mused about this briefly thinking that he probably attended all the fights. Morris squinted and looked around with steely determination and then breathing deeply, he swung his shoulders back, ‘Today, we won,’ he waned, ‘tomorrow, Sam, who knows?’ Two of his boys were doing well: one had just won and the other was looking good.
And then as if Jack Abbot were in the crowd or Norman Mailer was around, he nodded his head to the departing crowd as if to say, ‘I got this.’ His mama…may she rest in peace, would have said…. 'to each his own.’ She had long given up on figuring out what made her boy run. Nana only knew that this one attracted trouble like a rat running in a circular maze never pausing to analyze or change direction. One day, she recounted to her best friend her philosophy of Morris’s movements, “Lena, I raised him to know right from wrong after his father left. I just don’t know why he is the exact replica of his dad.”
His dad, Silvestre, was currently serving time after beating up a man who neglected to pay him what he owed. Another month and he would be out and the stanzas of the poem Pedro wrote about New York would be realized.

Everybody has a headache
In these human file cabinets
Known as the housing projects

Boxing had been the light at the end of the human file cabinet for Morris. After boxing, he got tired of someone using him as a punching bag and was only too happy to trade the gloves for the deal of making money off the bet. Morris was complicated with the raw hungry emotions that often propelled him toward making crazy decisions.
Morris sometimes told the fighter to lose on purpose…; it was pure instinct, something some Italians and a few Spaniards have in abundance. When the stakes are high, they have to win….there is no other choice…yet just like them, he was superstitious. The night before the fight, he prayed, just like his momma, with her rosary beads. With each bead, each stroke he found a new prayer, albeit desire in this life. His mother liked to remind him, “Morris, you got that from me." And so, he had. He was as superstitious and as driven by fervor like his Nana.
Morris was from East Brooklyn where everyone seemed to know everyone because they were usually related to the next person. His best friend’s father was an enormous Jewish man, who owned a candy store, which sold under the counter all magazines from Girly to Gourmet. The candy store was the premise of business
while the customer placed bets with his best friend’s father. Morris became one of the bookie’s runners. Morris used to saunter in while he was on the phone, as Andy dipped his challah bread in honey…. munching and running his finger lovingly down the list of horses placing his odds.
His mama prayed to the good lord that Morris would remain a good boy while Morris prayed that Andy “Satchmo” would teach him everything about the art of the deal. Morris earned a good living and some minor write-ups in the Post. Jimmy Breslin used to mention him in his column about characters in New York. Morris was a character with his high steppin’ arched walk, a hat jauntily slung on his head, a leather jacket slung over his shoulder espousing the curly brown hair peeking out around his face.
‘He lives for the game,’ Breslin wrote about him.
The promised land mentioned in the poem was no longer the garbage can but an occasional trip to Europe, a nice car, and a better place for his Nana to call home.
Like an agile dancer thrown into the Hudson, he learned to navigate and farewell with his trade. One trip to Paris with his mom, he met Genevieve. His mom met her first, “Morris, have I met the woman for you?” She espoused, “I met her at the Quaker Meetings in the 7th arrondissement.”
“Yes, mum,” he mumbled under his breath. He thought aloud quickly, “Tell you what Nana, I will meet her one time for coffee and if you are right, tell you what. We’ll make a bet. Even down. 10 to 1, if I find her perfect and ask her on a second date, you win the bet.”
His mother laughed thinking of the woman she knew as Genevieve. She thought of the long red wavy flowing hair, the long lean slender body which seemed to dance along the street, and the subtle yet careful way she had of voicing her thoughts. “Deal is on,” and she shook her son’s hand gloating at her victory. “Where does she work, mum?” “She is with the South African Embassy as a secretary for the Diplomat to Paris.” Morris smiled to himself thinking some snooty broad who will have no interest in me. He visualized a stout woman with a poker face and a British accent. “Sure, mum,” he muttered, “whatever you say.”
The meeting was arranged that Friday in a local café. As Morris was nursing his coffee, he noticed a long lean female slinking along like a cat, he later told his best friend, Joe.
All he noticed before she plunked herself down was a flash of her red hair and a high pitched laugh that made him sit up straighter. “Well, hello,” she blinked her eyes twice, “Are you, Morris?”
“Yes, I am,” and he realized he was a goner. Dang his mom, she knew his style. This was his type of female. He felt lucky, blessed as if she could help grant him every wish he desired. Dollar signs, Vegas, the roulette table, and every gambler’s superstition flitted through his mind as the conversation continued with talk of work, Paris, South Africa, New York, etc. However, Genevieve was not especially interested in him. She later told her best friend, Georgia, “I just wish that I could meet a man I think I could settle down with.” Morris was intuitive as a bookie and since he made his living reading people sensed that Genevieve was not interested in him.
“She has other contenders,” he told his mother and paid up his losing bet.
It was during this time that Morris wandering around the left side of the bank in Paris happened upon a book named “Laughing Africa.” He picked it up and idly glanced through the stories until motivated to throw down a couple of dollars for it.
The author wrote about the strange and mystical superstitions of Africa. Under one photograph, he read this quote, “Woe to the photographer who tries to capture the soul of the African. Doom and gloom will come to him…..one cannot capture the soul. The soul is the keeper of the man. Without this keeper, one cannot be released. Bad luck and misfortune will follow the one who messes with this." With some curiosity, he wondered what Genevieve thought and made a note to ask her the next time he met her.
“I get that,” Morris mumbled to himself. One should never duet with the devil. But you know, he mused to himself, some people will do the dance. It was around this time that Morris started to have a run of bad luck. Most of his bets fell short; his boxer was mowed down crossing a busy street; Jimmy Breslin stopped writing about him, and he moved back in with his mother to save money. He thought to himself ‘I need a good luck charm.’ So he began thinking and he remembered Genevieve.
"Damm the feeling," he said aloud. "I felt so good with her beside me." And with that thought, he fixated on her.
"What’s that," his mom dozing near his chair inquired. He sighed heavily, glanced sideways at his mom, “Nothing, Nana, just thinkin’”…of what he was not sure of but he felt as if she was the answer to his long run of bad luck. And from that moment, 'I knew I would return to Paris', he later confided to a friend. Meanwhile, Morris followed Genevieve’s career….through Facebook and other social media, he quietly stalked her.
Four years later, his dear mamma departed and Morris took a sabbatical to Paris. His business had picked up again but never was he as strong a bookie as he had been prior. He was riding an open double-decker bus when he spotted that marvelous walk, and the red hair swaying as if to its own catwalk beat. It was Genevieve…in a long wedding dress surrounded by onlookers.
“Stop, stop. Arrêtéz, arrêtéz”, he commanded the bus driver.
Morris lunged off the bus and snatched the camera from the photographer as he was snapping pictures. He tore down the street too embarrassed to stop and then he kept going until he delivered the camera to a store. At least, he reasoned that he would have photographs of Genevieve to cherish. Maybe her visual presence would bring him some much-needed luck. As he continued to his hotel, he remembered that strange African fable…when you take a photograph of someone, you steal the soul and so some tribes of Africa do not like to be photographed.
“Is everything alright Mr.?” questioned the bellhop worried at the puzzling expression on Morris’s face.
“Yes, yes,” Morris yelped, “I will be departing tomorrow at 6 p.m. for the states.”
“Very good,” replied the bellhop moving quickly on. Later, when reporting to the head bellhop, he complained about the strange moods of some foreigners, in particular Americans.
Morris pondered all night about stealing the purity of Genevieve’s soul but really he was enraged that she had married someone else. His dreams were very weird full of black creatures disappearing into white fog and then reappearing with a box that resembled a soul. Every dream he had that he was next to Genevieve, she disappeared before he could make contact, disappearing in a film of white heavy smoke. Nervously, he was to return for the developed film at 2 p.m. as requested by the film developer. As he stood up at the stand-up bar drowning a small cup of very dark espresso, Morris fidgeted impatiently. That morning for Morris was eventful….a promoter called him from Madison Square Garden to tell him that his favorite prizefighter had lost a big match…. it was pouring heavy drenching rain like a Korean monsoon in Paris….cautiously, heart beating, he dashed back the espresso in one shot, banged some money down on the counter, and ran out the door much to the surprise of the proprietor who later told his wife he couldn’t imagine what it must be like to live in the United States. “These people expect everything immediately. They have no patience.”
He ran into the store and paid for the photos opening them with trembling hands. “What happened?” he demanded of the clerk.
“Don’t know. It happens,” the clerk shrugged and moved on to the next customer.
Black, black, all black…there were no images.
Morris gulped and searched his memory. Yes, he remembered the photographer clicking away; suddenly Morris was unsure of the past, present, and the future or more specifically, his future. It was a signed death warrant….thunder crashed around him and the lightning rolled in…as if his mamma, may she rest in peace, was crying upon his shoulder. Morris broke out in a cold sweat and left Paris immediately deciding to have no further contact with anyone he knew. Upon arrival in Manhattan, he joined the Concrete Church and became a pallbearer for funerals. He had the opportunity to listen to all sermons on the power of positive thinking. He quit his night job at the Garden and bought a small ice cream business. Slowly and steadily, he became a fixture in the neighborhood. About three years later, he married a pretty high school French teacher, Ava. For their honeymoon, three months later, she begged him for a trip to Paris. With some trepidation, he agreed.
The second day they were walking near the Eiffel Tower when he spotted a woman with gorgeous red hair, and a quick two-step pulling a little carriage. Morris realized it was Genevieve. They stared at one another with surprise: or rather one with delight and the other with despair.
His wife inquired rather suspiciously, “Who is this?”
“Hi, Genevieve,” he stammered.
His palms began to sweat and he had trouble breathing. Superstitiously, he crossed himself…twice for good luck. 
“Congratulations on your marriage,” he heard himself saying as if from a great distance. Genevieve continued talking. Genevieve and Ava did most of the talking and after a while, his wife fell silent and looked at him with an accusatory stare.
She was beginning to get suspicious, “who was this lady and what did she mean to him?”
Through the din of traffic and the thud of his heart, Morris heard these words from her…she didn’t have to say them aloud.
Genevieve told his wife, “Oh, this is my latest. You may have heard of my marriage to the South African diplomat. His wife left him and we got married in Paris three years ago. I looked your husband up while we were in New York on our honeymoon but there was no record of him. It was as if he dropped out of sight. I tried the Garden…” As it was, Ava had no knowledge of his life prior to meeting her, stared suspiciously and quizzically at Morris.
Morris jumped into the conversation, “Ava and I are newlyweds. This is our honeymoon.”
Genevieve mentioned that she hoped they had some good photographs of the wedding to remind them of the special occasion. She said with vengeance, “We did have a professional photographer at our wedding but it didn’t work out.”
Belatedly, Morris queried, “Why?”
“Someone ran off with the camera just as the film was put in the cartridge. The photographer never had a chance to take any photos. We were mugged on our wedding day by some stranger wearing a cap pulled down to hide his face.”
Morris asked aloud, “Do you have any idea who could have done such a thing?” Then, an image of his life for the past three years since that fateful day passed before him. He saw himself lighting a candle at the Concrete Church, the tithing of 20% of his income to the church, and to the doctrine of the power of positive thinking.
His wife who knew Morris as a successful small business owner quizzically asked him about what Genevieve was referring to when she mentioned “the Garden?”
Morris watched as Genevieve said “Ciao” and sauntered casually down the boulevard.
“Arrêtéz, arrêtéz, stop," he cried in anguish and rushed to the nearest bar.
It only took his wife, the newlywed, Ava, seven days with the help of the American Embassy to locate Morris. Morris was found reciting his prayers, standing up in a coffee bar outside the Moulin Rouge, drinking black coffee with sides of cognac.
He was later quoted by his wife to her stunned parents as repeating “black, black, all black….who would have thought it? Ma ma….” The scenario was later reported by a French writer who happened to be in the bar at the time and wrote an article about the strange behavior of foreigners in Paris…
He concluded this segment by stating “Paris has a strange effect on people, n’est-ce que pas?”
The reporter was very grateful to get the quote from Ava. “He never drinks, never. He does enjoy his banana splits though.” One of his old boxing buddies happened to read the article and laughed uproariously, “That sounds like the Morris I knew,” he told his new promoter, Parish. He had heard rumors of the ice cream man Morris and had even visited not recognizing the easy-going somewhat rotund man scooping up ice cream behind the counter. He missed the old double-talking Morris.
“People change,” he told Parish, “but life continues.” He mused, “we are what we are. We can’t change.”
Secretly, the reporter wondered what else Morris never did. And what happened to Morris, well he fell off the wagon, and flew to Las Vegas the next day. He decided to try his luck at the roulette wheel. But he promised to himself gambling would never steal his soul. His whole life had been build around the “gift” of no return. He began to think that everything leading up to this point had happened for a reason.
Eventually, he returned home from Las Vegas broke and begged his wife, Ava for forgiveness. Ava loved Morris and life continued. They decided to make a new beginning in Las Vegas. Truthfully, he confided in Ava about his past and Ava accepted him. They moved on to Las Vegas. Ava found a job quickly as a French teacher and Morris worked for a casino managing the floor. Ava was very surprised to see how quickly he fit into Las Vegas, but since she enjoyed the lights and the glamour of the city, she counted herself as fortunate to have met Morris. He never went near a camera again and refused to have his picture taken. When the article by the French journalist reporting on ‘Foreigners visiting Paris Bastille Day’ was published by Parisian Today magazine, Genevieve happened to read it with some interest.
She mentioned to her husband quizzically, “I wonder if I had any effect upon him.” She shrugged her shoulders and applauded her choice of marrying Bob, the retired diplomat. It seemed the best gift she had been given.
“Bob, I think we should get married again in a ceremony in Las Vegas and this time make sure we get the pictures.”
“Sure, Genevieve,” mumbled Bob. “Anytime.” He adored his safe and comfortable life with Genevieve after running around the world following postings from Chile to Iceland. A little excitement and enjoying the city of Las Vegas would be good for Genevieve. The small town of Clermont, Florida they were living in could be quite boring but at least the children all attended the same school and they were very safe cocooned from all the crazies in the world. Bob sighed, thinking of how he and Genevieve had met and became closer after the bombing at the South African Embassy in Paris. Getting married shortly after his divorce, and then the crazy guy with a hoodie stealing the camera from the photographer. Bob shook his head. He was so glad that they were living far away from some of the crazy events. Their life was really perfect for them. He smiled happily and helped Genevieve prepare lunch for the family.
“How about we go this July? It will be our 4th year anniversary.” Genevieve’s face lit up, “Perfect.”
The wedding chapel happened to be located one block from the home of Morris and Ava Devante. Morris was walking his pug Tiny that morning and upon hearing the bells ringing commented to Tiny, "What a great morning to be getting married. The sky is so clear and beautiful. I should have my camera to take some photos.”
Upon returning to the house, he mentioned to his wife, “I think I will go for a walk near the Chapel. It sounds like a wedding. See you soon.”
His wife amazed that he was picking up a camera again smiled. She was never sure why he stopped photography, but she knew he used to love taking photos. Ava, busy with feeding the baby, and thinking about the new school year smiled and continued sipping her coffee. She reflected that they were settling into Las Vegas nicely.
In her mind, she reflected that this time next year, they might have a new wall of family photos. Things were working out perfectly.

 

The End

Eve Dobbins

Eve Dobbins

Eve Dobbins was born in New York City and raised in a small town located in the Catskill Mountains where everyone knew your name. After graduating from Stony Brook University with an English degree, she spent several years working in Manhattan in the garment industry; as a real estate property appraiser with the city of New York and a girl Friday for local radio talk show host, Barry Farber, as well as a stint in the United States Navy. Her favorite authors are Lee Child, Lisa Unger, and Ann Rule. Her favorite quote for inspiration is “Everyone has two eyes but no one has the same view” (Wael Harakeh). Her husband is her co-conspirator in writing and baking which paved the way for Cupcake Cache, a gourmet cupcakerie which closed in 2015. Mrs. Dobbins has a MA in TESOL and has lived and worked in Asia and the Middle East. Presently, she makes a living as an English teacher. She was named in August 2017 “Poet of the Month” by “The Horror Zine.”
Eve Dobbins

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