Scarface - Part 1
First there was the time when I insisted on riding Thaba Nchu (*), a mad horse that we used to stable for a mad German woman in Maputo (formerly Lourenco Marques). I was nine at the time. Both she and my mother tried do dissuade me from riding the horse after he’d had a long workout but I was particularly head-strong that day. As soon as I got into the saddle, he bolted. I didn’t have the strength to restrain him as he tore around the paddock, jumping over jumps, oblivious to the shouts of the women as he streaked past. On his third dash past the stables, Daniel, the ‘horse boy’ (forgive the term – another time, another place), was coming down to the stables from the kitchen, banging a bucket, his way of calling the horses for their supper. No amount of screaming from me or shouting from the women had penetrated Thaba Nchu’s brain but that bucket worked wonders. His u-turn was immediate and dramatic. My flying off in the original direction was immediate and dramatic.
I hit the stable wall with my head.
I don’t remember being concussed or knocked out in any way but the amount of blood that gushed out was considerable. By the time we’d got to the house, I was drenched in the stuff. I couldn’t stop wailing, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die!’ Several hours later I was still alive but part of my head was shaved and I had a strong metal clip embedded in my scalp.
The scar is quite impressive but it’s hidden under a thick head of hair these days.
Next there was skin cancer. I first had a basal cell carcinoma cut out of my nose and top lip when I was in my late twenties, a very young age for that to happen. But, not entirely unexpected when you combine a very fair skin with a childhood in the tropics. I was meant to have my skin checked annual after that and I was quite good for a few years until complacency set in. In 1996, three years after my last check-up, I noticed a slight lump on my nose and went to see the dermatologist again. A week later I was having a large lump cut out of my nose again. A week after that, I underwent the entire procedure again as the surgeon hadn’t managed to get rid of it all the first time. On both occasions, the procedure was done under local anaesthetic – there was no pain but I could feel him digging and tugging. And I could feel the blood trickling down my face and neck.
A few months after having had the operation I was at a work function when a rather obnoxious woman who found herself amusing said, ‘Hey, looks like I’d better not meddle with you.’
The scarring was much more obvious at the time. I just smiled and said, ‘You’ll be ok if you don’t knock over my drink.’
‘So, what happened to you?’
I knew that I was going to embarrass her by my answer and I was only too pleased to. ‘I’ve got cancer.’
She looked aghast. The dreaded ‘C-word’ took the wind out of her sails. Her face a deep crimson, she mumbled, apologetically. I let her suffer a while before telling her that it wasn’t life-threatening and I was perfectly healthy.
For a few years, I was very self-conscious about my bumpy, carved-up nose. It reminded me of the ‘cubist nose’ talked about in Tom Robbins’s ‘Even Cowgirls get the Blues’ (the book, not the film!). It settled down ages ago but I now have two different profiles instead of the lovely Roman nose I used to have. I suppose it could be said to lend me a rugged, quirky look that isn’t unpleasant. The scar is obvious enough for me to get away with claiming to have got it in a barroom brawl or in a scrap over a man.
The next scar happened two years later when I did my Agatha Christie interpretation and disappeared for 10 days. No amnesia was involved and I didn’t have the world’s eyes on me but it caused a lot of concern amongst people I know.
Go here for Part 2.
(*) place of Execution in Sotho