Braving Grey Streetby Samora Chapman / 07.09.2012
Grey Street is what happened when Bombay made love to the Zulu Nation. I recently went down there to try cleanse my metamorphic angst. I have no home and no money, so I may as well go and wonder the streets aimlessly; the only whitey in sight tryna snuggle with my shadow. All the cool kids in Poison City seem to be shovelling cocaine into their brains in the great quest for self worth. Fuck that. I’m going in search of some herbal ointment.
On a whim I slip into the Ajmeri Arcade and wade through the chaos until I come across a traditional Zulu ‘muthi’ shop. I hover at the door until I pluck up the courage to step inside the cave. Who knows… maybe they can change me from a cockroach back into a real boy.
As I enter, the grassy stink of the muti fills my nostrils. Little twisted carcasses hang from the roof: monkeys, fish, rats and unidentifiable sea creatures. Dried roots and mouldy herbs are stacked to the ceiling.
The shopkeeper sits on a plastic crate sipping weak tea out of a tin cup. She eyes me suspiciously and bares her lips to reveal an incredible set of pearly whites – spread like claws in her rosey gums. I’ve heard that people with gapped teeth are destined for wealth and power.
“Wenzani!” She hisses. “What do you want?”
My mind races as I try come up with something. “Um… I need some help. Do you have anything that can make someone love you again?”
“Eibo!” She clicks her tongue at me in disbelief.
She digs in the forest and produces a handful of muti. “Skhafulo: The muti of calling back your girlfriend to love you once again.”
Before I can back out or make an excuse, a strange man appears carrying a gigantic, oily rock python. He exits the shop without a word; so I turn on my heals and follow like Alice down the rabbit hole. It’s Grey Street. Let the adventures begin!
The snake man strides through the arcade out onto the main road. He picks a spot on the sidewalk and unpacks an assortment of vials, woven strings and amber stones. He then begins walking up and down the street, wielding his snake to get peoples’ attention. As a crowd gathers, the snake man launches into a vicious sermon. It’s all Zulu and I’m left out of the story conjured. I’m an alien in my own town, between two worlds like the thief at the window.
The crowd is bewitched. In no time, one after another come forward to buy an amber stone or take a hit of his magic potion.
“What’s that muti for?” I ask.
“It protects you from evil spirits,” the snake man says.
I’ve got a few demons in my head, so I take a hit of the devil juice and jet before snake man casts a spell on me or feeds me to his dreadful asp.
The muti takes hold and I start to feel like maybe I’m a jedi and I could transcend this physical realm of only I tried a bit harder. The streets are suddenly filled with robed men marching in unison; rushing to the sound of a strange mystic wail.
I follow the robed warriors to the gates of the Jummah Masjid Mosque. The wailing is coming from one of the golden minarets. I hover at the gates, wondering if a non-believer is welcome in a Muslim holy place.
A figure at a bus stop catches my eye. He’s perched like a pigeon, muttering to himself as he etches visions all over the bus shelter. He’s covered in faded green tattoos and has one of those tongues that seem to rove free of their masters.
I approach the pigeon man and awkwardly join him in his abode. We listen to the mosque call fading.
“That’s the adhan,” says pigeon man. “It tells the Muslims that it is time to go and pray.”
“Do you know what it means?” I ask.
He looks up at me with milky eyes and says: “There is no deity but God. And Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
As the adhan disappears, I catch wind of a sweet melody coming out of a nearby alley. So I follow the music. It’s coming from a brightly lit store called Ajmeri Record King. Inside I find stacks of dusty vinyl and a wonderful red leather chair that swallows me whole. Now this is my kind of Mecca. The record king goes by the name Mr Ebrahim Habib. He’s a serious man, about the size of a five-year-old boy.
“What’s your favourite type of music,” I ask him as I lounge in the red leather, feeling a sense of relief in wake of the madness.
“I like jazz,” he says. “I’ve been running this store for 50 years”. I get Ebrahim to pose for a picture with his favourite record right now: Mr Big Stuff by Jean Knight.
“What’s this that’s playing?” I ask.
“Richard Groove Holmes,” says Ebrahim.
“Damn, I like it.”
With that the melody takes hold of my soul. Music is today’s muti. My sweet Jesus. In this place of beasts, deities and magic potions. And all I can think about is plugging in my walkman and throwing on Sundial by Qwel. Cos everything’s gonna be okay.
*All images © Samora Chapman.