Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Thursday, June 24, 2010


by Kaye Linden

Ma just paid off her house and the café in back. She now earns more than enough with her shamanic cures for tourists, and can provide free biscuits and beer for homeless clients and dogs. Customers gather seven days a week at Ma's Place, drink warm ale, Turkish coffee and Bushell’s tea, served by Ma's brother, Midget, and sister, Possum. The middle aged, the elderly and the lonely, sit together and socialize, as was once their custom in outback towns.

Ma’s Place: Offering illumination through body art, alternative clothing, vision quests and ritual scarring.

So say the ads in the Morning Herald, so say the flyers pinned to the Ma’s Place bulletin board, and to telephone poles around the city's western suburbs. At one fork of the Shepherd's Highway, where the peak hour traffic halts, one massive billboard pictures Ma’s puffy, pale face, plastered with yellow paint and framed with a buzz of white hair.

Ma’s house and the cafe sit fifty feet from the highway where people toss garbage from cars. Ma combs through the front yard every day and collects discarded treasures such as hamburger wrappers, tarnished rings with fake rubies, used white handkerchiefs and half-burnt cigarettes that she smokes later.

At ninety-nine years old, Ma stays upright with the aid of a mixture she invented, one from rainwater and white cement powder gathered from the abandoned building site at the end of the street. Once a week she applies the goop with a painter's brush, and hangs herself out to dry on a clothes line on the roof. The potion takes twenty years off the way she looks and feels as it straightens the scoliosis she inherited from childhood hunger. Ma smokes her cigarette stubs in the gap between her two front teeth, even while performing daily meditation at five a.m. In truth, she has shaved off her remaining wisps of white hair. Ma prefers to choose from her collection of kangaroo fur wigs, so she might appear attractive in photographs.

In Ma's Place, neighborhood hanger-outers drink beer or black tea with cream and sugar. While customers eat homemade lamingtons smothered with wild honeysuckle jam, Ma passes around her menu of shamanic offerings that include non-clothing and clothing options. Three or four of her customers return each full moon to regain the sense of liberation and excitement they feel when naked at Ma's Place. Most clients choose to wear at least one body decoration such as the alternative choice of two white cockatoo feathers sewn onto each scapula like angel wings.

One regular hanger outer, a ninety year old gentleman, sits at the same corner table every day. He adorns his naked body with skeletal white stripes.

“We must remember what lies under our skin,” he says to Ma as she serves goanna stew.

“Well, I know what lies under your skin!” Ma teases.

The old man winks. “You’re a cheeky one, Ma,” he says and she hands him a free beer.

Tourists come to the café dressed in city clothes such as six inch stiletto heels and designer trousers. After a few hours, Ma transforms them.

"If you want to live, you must die to your old ways," she says. "Clothes hide your true nature, that of flesh and blood, of death to come. Wake up to who you really are!"

Ma sings to the courageous few who undergo the clothes stripping ritual. With a smile, they donate their clothes to her charity box. The gratefully awakened leave Ma's Place wearing only body art and tiny scars that will remind them of her words. Ma rips up the donated suits for use as bandages, offers the prettiest dresses to her neighbors, and gives the stiletto heels to homeless dogs who have no bones to chew.

When interviewed by The Shamanic, one British tourist said: “I couldn’t believe how much better I felt once my clothes were gone! I’ve ordered five jars of red body ochre.”

“I’m bringing my husband here,” a tourist from Perth added. “He works eighty hours a week in the used car business. I’m hoping Ma can help him remember me.”

The police in Australia voice concern over tourists who file into Ma’s house and file out wearing only body piercings and stripes. One officer voiced his complaint on the front page of The Rattle Nest: “They could catch their death of cold," he said. Later, the officer visited Ma to see for himself, and left dressed in feathers and red paint. A reporter wrote that he saw Ma wearing a man's police uniform the next day.

Sometimes, Ma decorates the neighborhood dogs just for fun. She dresses the naked mutts in white cockatoo feather skirts, feathered beards and shell necklaces. The dogs sit in her tiny kitchen and whine until she clothes them like uppity city dogs from the north shore. In return, they bring trinkets from the streets.

To maintain a steady stream of clients, Ma places another advertisement in the newspaper:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming city shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I offer transformation inside my shaman's door!

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