He squatted down, arranging the fire, shouting back over his shoulder into the hut, ‘My grandfather was the greatest sorcerer in Dongou, Uncle. Everybody knows. They all know the story. The Chief of Dongou, now, he also was powerful in the spirit way, and in the night, every night, he would kiss all the men, all the boys in the town. Yes. Everybody knew. And when you woke up in the morning and you found sperm in your turds when you went to make a shit you said, “Aha! The Chief of Dongou has been here!”

We laughed.

‘Wait,’ said Nze, getting to his feet and holding up his hand theatrically, ‘I haven’t finished. He visited my grandfather once, but my grandfather won the battle in the night and he took away the Chief of Dongou’s clothes – and in the morning he made the Chief of Dongou walk in his sleep from one end of Dongou to the other and back again, in the nude, with his dick standing up. That taught him a lesson.’

‘It’s not as funny as you think,’ said Manou, ‘all this. Take that poor father – all he did wrong was at his uncle’s wedding, long ago. He arrived without a present of drink or money, so his uncle the sorcerer said, “Right, when you get married and have children of your own, I’ll kill them all. I’ll wait until they’re fourteen or fifteen years old, each one, and then, when you love them more than anything on earth, they’ll die slowly in front of you.”

‘That’s not what I heard,’ said Marcellin. ‘He certainly killed his own children, but he didn’t mean to do it. He visited a feticheur to get a fetish for his own protection, and that was all right; but then he asked for a fetish that would make his a great fisherman, and that was his mistake. “Put so-and-so in a bottle,” said the feticheur, “something that you really value, and then throw it in the river.” When his first child died he went to a second feticheur, who said, “Yes, well what did you expect? When you cut those locks of hair from all your children’s heads and put them in that bottle and threw it in the river you threw away their futures. It’s simple. All you have to do is get your bottle back at once, or all your children will die.” But it wasn’t simple. The river here is a blackwater river and you can’t see into it, and he spent three months trailing the mud with his nets and he found nothing. And now his last child is dead.’

‘So what do you think it is really?’ I said. ‘Hereditary leukaemia? Haemophilia? Something like that?’

‘You and your white man’s questions,’ said Marcellin, pouring himself another mug of palm-wine. ‘That’s not what we’re talking about. You yourself – you know very well. That’s just the mechanism. That’s not what really matters’