Martins’ Placebo

A Christmas tale.


Martin disembarked from the bus and just stood there staring at the bag in his hand.

This was not him.

He’d never taken these things seriously. Instant, temporary remedies – if at all they worked – for overly superstitious, small-minded and guilt-ridden peasants. No one in their right mind would pay attention to such drivel. But here he was. Sigh.

* * * * *

He hadn’t been prepared when the man beside him suddenly stood up and in a loud voice which scraped into every cranny of the dead coaster bus, boomed…

“Yah having problem and I have di ansa foreet.”

Martin had visibly but inaudibly groaned even as the man reached into the old rugged bagco bag he was carrying and pulled out a jar of red pills.

“You see dis one here, it do cure hedik, diarrhea, shit block… dat is dat one somepipple are calling constipation, or pile, typhoid, malaria, running stomuck, staph, gonoh, piss piss…”

With every ailment he reeled out, the man fiercely gesticulated with his right hand, rattling the jar of pills in his left as he did so. As he mentioned ”hedik”, he’d rested the knuckle of his open hand on his forehead. “Diarrhea” had seen his hand go behind and signify pulling something out. Possibly for the benefit of those who sat behind but had him in their line of vision. When he said “shit block” and clenched his fist right to his behind, Martin had had to look away to keep his sensibilities from being offended any more than they needed be.

Still though, he could do nothing to unhear as the man went on and would even pull out two more jars from his sack. Martin wanted badly to be incredulous when people began pulling notes out of their pockets, purses and wallets in exchange for these magical pills but he knew his people. They believed anything they were told, no matter how ridiculous it sounded.

He was still looking out the window when he felt the peddler fall back heavily into his seat. He hadn’t noticed the transacting stop and he was about to blissfully forget the man’s act when he heard his name.

His reaction was slower than you’d have expected. You would imagine he would whirl around in shock but instead, he turned in a somewhat lethargic manner, like it was a companion sitting next to him and he’d expect them to know his name. He had not fully processed the import of hearing his name in a crowded bus in which he was absolutely sure he knew no one, until he was staring in the eyes of this stranger who looked back at him. Then his eyes widened in shock as he gathered his wits.

He first looked down to see how this man could have possibly recognized him. He had no ID card on him. He used to dangle it proudly from his belt hole on his way to and from work until it was taken from him many many months ago by the telecoms company who, as stated on the back of the ID card, it had always truly belonged to. He wasn’t wearing the work shirt he was required to at his present and far more lowly job. That shirt had his name displayed on a scrap of cloth sewn above the left breast. Everything else was in his wallet. Nothing visible could have given his identity away to a stranger. He looked up and forward, trying to convince himself he had only imagined hearing his name.

The peddler leaned in a bit and spoke to him in a voice far different from the grating one he had used earlier. This voice was well-spoken, unaccented, cultured and steady at a volume that he was sure only he could possible hear…

“Martin, you don’t believe in my pills do you? You don’t think this is real.” He very slightly raised the worn bag hanging between his legs for Martin to throw an uncomfortable glance at. “I used to be like you, you know? I believed everyone like me was a fraud, until I was shown the truth. Now, I make a ton of money from hawking these…” He reached into his bag and pulled out a full jar of brown pills and a wondrous thing happened. As he looked up to finish his statement, Martin thought the word, even as the peddler said it, both looking right into each other’s eyes.


Martin could feel certain gears in his head come to a grinding halt and suddenly begin turning in the opposite direction. He looked at this man from head to toe, his terribly faded, oversize and worn out yoruba traditional attire sewn from inexpensiveankara and then took into consideration the voice which had moments ago been directed solely at him and how greatly it contrasted to the one which had been used to confidently address the rest of the bus and came to the conclusion that while this drug peddler sounded pretty convincing, he wasn’t buying whatever he was trying to sell him.

The man chuckled and continued,

“You haven’t even heard what I have to say yet and you have already come to your conclusions?” More chuckling “I’m Martin by the way.” He extended his hand for a hand shake and Martin, the one in the faded shirt and jeans, tentatively shook it, a puzzled look emblazoned across his face.

“We don’t have much time left, we will soon arrive your bus stop” This was true. “I have a christmas gift and a message for you.” He reached into his bag and continued rather rapidly now as he pulled something out.

“You’re on your way to Shoprite to look into the windows of toy stores at items you cannot but wish you could afford to buy for your son and two daughters. You’re even contemplating stealing them. It will not work, they will catch you. The charm bracelets you’re hoping to add to your wife’s collection as you have every year except for the last, you cant afford or steal those either. Yah having problem and I have di ansa foreet.” He grinned at Martin in the jeans.

Martin in the ankara was now holding an interesting contraption in his right hand while extending his bagco bag to Martin with his left. Martin took the bag, not eagerly, but not tentatively either. He was sold.

“The jar of pills will never empty out. Sell them the way you’ve seen me do today and with the sales you make, you should be able to live a moderately good life until christmas next year. Who knows, you may even be able to buy those gifts for your nagging wife and her annoying children by the end of today. You have exactly one year to fulfill this exercise after which you will hand this bag and advice to another Martin on the next christmas day, in another bus just like this one. Never sell on fridays or sundays, because those are the days people have the most faith in their… other religions. All the other five days of the week, you’re in business. Those are the only conditions you must adhere to to attain the immense wealth I am about to walk into. It has taken me a while but I have now been able to determine exactly what kind of wealth I want. With this.”

Martin handed over the contraption. Martin took it with a puzzled look on his face.

“That is a camera. It’s a 1960 Diana. Google it and read up on it. It’s pretty cool vintage stuff. I never even knew I could be interested in photography until I handled this baby. I’ve amassed quite a few great pictures in the past year. I like to consider myself something of a luxury photographer. Wish I could show you my collection but we’ll probably never meet again…

Oh, we’re almost at your bust stop now…

“Anyways, what you do with the camera is photograph the things you want to receive for christmas next year. One way or the other, you will definitely receive them. Wash the film, keep the pictures. If you’re wise, you’ll be sure to invest your photography in things that should sustain you for a very long time afterwards, if you know what I mean.

“That’s pretty much it. I would take questions but you do have to get off here, don’t you?

And at that, ankara Martin sidled over to the left with not a word more while denim Martin shuffled past him, trembling from head to foot, and staggered out the bus, hassled all the way by the bus conductor and driver.

He was still pretty shaken when he checked the bag to see the 3 jars still filled to the brim with pills, despite all the sales the other Martin had just made.

He took the interesting looking camera and turned it over and over trying to figure it out. He was a novice when it came to photography but he had handled a few analogue cameras as a teenager and knew there should at least be somewhere for film to be loaded.<

He had only just begun to wonder where the hell he would find more film for a camera which was designed in the 60s once the one in the camera finished when he found the latch. He was thinking perhaps that was the catch here, finding more film for a camera which had gone out of production decades ago, when he sprung the latch to open the film compartment.

There was no film in there.


This story was published on TheNakedConvos a year ago.