Sister Adwoa

D.R. Collier

In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.
Hippocratic oath
1984, Chicago Westside Austin neighborhood

The apartment building had the musty smell of a Goodwill store, perhaps the smell arose from the dusty, worn hallway carpet, a brownish thing with a pattern that is noticed, then forgotten with a nano-second after brain recognition, the brain had grown accustomed to life in Westside ghetto of Chicago where everything looked worn, discarded, reused and abandoned. The hallway walls seem to ripple forward with dust filling the stagnant air, its’ ancient carpet a steady pathway leading to one particular door even though it led to all doors. Apartment 301 door was open, seldom was it closed; when it was closed it meant the occupant was not home because even during the nighttime it was open, even with just a crack; a whirling fan sound emanated from inside, its blade twisted hot muggy air currents into a vortex of cooling illusions. Illusions or not the effect was relief during Chicago’s hot, humid summers.

No stranger ever approaches this door because any and all who approached or entered became a friend in need; the stranger leaves a friend. Thus, any stranger standing at this door received a warm welcome before they could knock or call out. Sister Adwoa would appear to those who stood in front of this door. Her face sparked it seemed with soft light; eyes twinkle with light; black skin softly radiating a beauty, very few wrinkles; long braids of silver-gray hair added to the illumination of her presence. If the truth be told, she long ago stopped counting the decades of her life; life was a slow meandering stream.

Sister Adwoa was an old-school root doctor. Most people addressed her as sister; others addressed her as doctor; sometimes heated arguments exploded up out of friendly conversation with one side taking offense when the other side did not use the proper honorific; oh, you meant to say Doctor Adwoa, no says the other we always called her Sister Adwoa. They all feared and respected her hoodoo art; a practice in which a certain amount of witchcraft was involved. They say she can strike down an evil person, squeezing their heart into twisted stone. They say she has a sacred relationship with a very old African spirit that came to this world by slave ship. They say it is called Bro Death; it is both her companion and protector. They say she talks with it, calls him Bro Death, a shadow amongst shadows. They say you might get a glimpse of him inside her abode; some say they got a glimpse of him outside on a mission; a strange shadow moving swiftly down the street, blending into existing shadows.
Those who called her Doctor Adwoa claimed she had knowledge of healing from the slavery days, then beyond to Africa itself. They had the highest fear and respect for her. Neighborhood children call her Miss Adwoa; they weren’t expected to know the loftier honorifics unless taught by a parent.

Inside Sister Adwoa’s studio apartment office there was a clutter of old useful things. A small Everything was randomly placed where it could be found even though it had not been touched in ages. A covering of dust lent prestige to it all; a small wood table with matching wooden chairs was the center piece; small beaten down sofa, discarded bookcases, old toys for the children brought by a parent for one reason or another. Collected over a lifetime were herbs from the woods she uses, such as: cami weeds, peach tree leaves, red oak bark, for fever, chills and malaria, privet weed for T.B.; the bittersweet grease to cure rheumatism, sheep nannie tea for measles, all these to treat everyday ailments that a regular doctor could not cure; Others came to find hope in a cruel world; Adwoa would fix them up with a handmade mojo bag made up with fabric brought from their homes; tucked under their mattress for nine nights to imprint their souls onto the fabric and then blessed by the old gods; in it was placed a bone of a cat leg, flint stones, and dried dogwood blossoms for good luck. Just like the days of slavery, broken bones, for some it was the only time they seen a regular doctor. Bro Death went out to search the Negro world for a constant supply of magical flora and fauna; Doctor Adwoa was kept well supplied, ready to treat any human malady.

Some maladies had no ready treatment. Sister Adwoa stood at the door with a warm smile, nonetheless. Standing in the hallway, Wanda, a neighborhood woman of low repute, faced her at the door as it fully open to greet the visitor. Wanda’s puffy brown cheeks were wet from the shower of tears streaming downward. She choked on her words as sobbing challenged every other word; sobbing painful words pushed their way out of her mouth to the ears of the listener, Sister Adwoa.

“Oh, my god, what’s wrong sweetie.” Sister Adwoa spoke with genuine concern;

Wanda was a frequent visitor always desparate for wishful good fortune; Wanda was a poor welfare mother with rich dreams and one too many mouths to feed, three children, plus the recently paroled father of the youngest child. Overwhelming pressure drove her out every day, regardless of weather, to purchase Illinois state lottery tickets; on occasion luck smiled on her, nothing big, but big enough to bring joy to a hungry soul.

Wanda choked out the words, “Sister Adwoa, I did something stupid and horrible. I am so ashamed of myself. I haven’t even been home, because I am to ashamed look at my children to tell them and Jim, the boyfriend, what I’ve done. “Then with one mighty exhale of heaving sighs, “I lost the rent money at the track.” Heaving sighs, burst of tears, snotty nose with nothing to blow it, she went on, “I won a hundred dollars on the lottery. Bertha, my friend… you know her.”

Sister Adwoa just nodding her head a gentle reassuring yes, I know her.

“Bertha said to me, ‘Girl, today is your lucky day!’ I felt so good, I thought maybe I could go to the off-track betting place with Bertha and put the hundred on a trifecta, triple my money easy because today was my day. Then the devil tempted me I put a bet down with all the money in my purse, the hundred dollars, plus the rent money.”

Sister Adwoa nodded her head, “What can do we do sweetie?”

“I don’t know. I pleaded with the people to give my money back. Keep a hundred but give me back my rent money. They say they can’t do that. They say I need help but they can’t return my money. The only help I know of is you, Sister Adwoa. Please help me.” Sobbing tears rolled; the snotty nose began to drip.

“Come in, sweetie, I will make some tea to calm you.”

“Thank you, Sister Adwoa.” This simple suggestion brought an easing of pain, clearing the mind and comforting to a frighten soul.

Wanda stepped into the smell of burning herbs unlike any incense; this smell brought safety and comfort. She sat down in an old wooden chair at the equally old wooden table at the center of the small apartment, just as soon it seems a steaming hot cup of chamomile and herbs prepared in the appropriate moon cycle was sat in front of her on the tea-stained table. Sister Adwoa sat down opposite, no tea, she reaches across the table, with soft hands she gently holds Wanda’s hand, “Lets recite, I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me, with all the pain in your heart, faith in God, Wanda burst with sobbing:

“I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.”
“I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.”
“I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.”

Without any prompting, Wanda recited this mantra into a trance. Sister Adwoa smoothly disengaged hands; Wanda’s hands remained in a holding position grasping air. Sister Adwoa layered flat the red flannel fabric piece, reaching out for Wanda’s grasping hands laying them palms down flat on the flannel; the soft touch of the flannel spark movement in the hands to smooth the flannel. Sister Adwoa lifted Wanda’s hands aside, touching the outside edges of the flannel she placed a lodestone pair nestled into the center sprinkling with a dusting of Queen Elizabeth powder, a Mercury dime tied with string to a High John the Conqueror root, the four sides of the fabric were folded over into a pocket satchel stiched close with white thread. She gave instructions to keep this satchel close to your skin always for at least 9 days. Recite out loud every 24 hours the Lord’s Prayer:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Uplifted Wanda cried her last tear sighing her last sigh and place the good satchel on her left side snuggled firmly in her bra. “Sister Adwoa, I have no donation worthy enough to leave you”

I understand sweetie…. go with God’s blessing.”

May God bless you Sister Adwoa

And Wanda tell your family the whole truth, fall on your knees asking for their forgiveness. They will give it because they love you.

New warm tears flowed down Wanda’s cheeks, but her eyes seem joyful.

Out on the street she breathed in deep the fresh air as if it was the best and only fresh earth on earth; how could be any better anywhere, anytime but here and now. At the end of the block she spied Bertha walking towards her, she thought I am not angry at her, she’s my friend, then she heard her father’s voice….” With friends like that you don’t need enemies.” Her heart pulsed at the soft spot she has for her father. She whispered to herself, “I learned my lesson daddy…,”. But…? They embrace…. whispering apologies and forgiveness. Walking BFF arm in arm, talking too fast, too loud, girl this girl that…. a pause, Wanda said to Bertha, “You know Sister Adwoa gave me a blessing, a luck and protection satchel, a prayer and a chant. I feel safe now. Let’s put our little money together and play a Powerball number…. Just two dollars….one dollar each.”

“Are you sure you want to do that? I feel like I encouraged you to do wrong. I’m so sorry.”

“Well, you certainly did; next time you see me about to do something stupid and wrong give me slap in the face to come back my senses.”

“Really…. you won’t slap me back?”

“No…. but if you do it too hard with too much enthusiasm…. maybe I will.”

Both laughed together. Ha…ha…ha.

Wanda starts to mumble something that was not clearly understood, alarming Bertha.

“What are you doing, girl! Hoodoo?”

“Yes, it is something Sister Adwoa gave me for protection and luck; a chant, I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.”

They dramatically repeat the mantra over and over.

I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.
I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.
I use money for good purposes, and it always returns to me.

Walking past an alley, a rat scurried over and under careless overflowing beat up garbage cans.
Bro Death on Sister Adwoa’s instruction followed at a distance. It was dusk so he plenty of dark spaces to be incognito.