In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata first published as part of the The Bed Book of Short Stories by Modjaji Books SA in 2010 was shortlisted for the 12th Caine Prize for African Short Stories in 2011. It is also part of the Caine Prize anthology for 2011, To See the Mountain and other stories.
When alive McPhineas Lata was a lover of married women. He was an expert in making women happy, sexually. In fact, he died having sex with another woman. This makes the husbands in the village of Nokanyana an angry and bitter lot. They were therefore glad that he was dead. Consequently, whereas the women were
full of dramatic fainting and howls of grief echoing as far as the Ditlhako Hills
the men were so much so happy that some carried their own shovels to the cemetery and when the time came to cover up the body, it was carried out in record time. But another problem remained
a dead and buried McPhineas Lata didn't mean dead and buried McPhineas Lata memories. [emphasis not mine]
Every morning, the men see their women running to and humping the grave of McPhineas. Worried by this sight, they set out to investigate what made this dead man famous with their wives. They grilled Lata's friend: Bongo and Cliff but found nothing worthy of experimentation and subsequent use. The men of the village therefore set out to find it out for themselves. Each one was given a task to experiment on his wife and come out with the results for discussion during their meeting.
In the course of these investigations we found that the men had lost all that they used to do. Others were also clumsy and know of nothing, infuriating the women even more. But RraTebogo found something. He discovered that rubbing his wife's shoulder for three minutes followed by four strokes on the right worked on her. This he shared with his fellow men who also practised it on their wives.
With time and more learning and experimenting, visible changes were seen amongst the women. Less and less of them were trooping to McPhineas' grave. The women began speculating of McPhineas' ghosts inhibiting the bodies of their husbands. For there was no other means of explaining why all their husbands should change overnight; and all loving them in similar ways.
'He's here ... with us. I knew he couldn't just leave like that. McPhineas Lata has taken up the bodies of our husbands. He has taken spiritual possession of the husbands of Nokanyana.
Henceforth, both men and women live in anticipation of night to explore their new discoveries in between the sheets.
Written in a folktale-like narrative, In the Spirit of McPhineas tells the gradual decline in sexual life that beset marriages. In a convoluted way, Lauri advises men to be sexual explorers, to not relent on that which they used to do when they were young men. Reading this story after McEwan's On Chesil Beach (to be reviewed soon), I was surprised of the stark similarities and differences. The differences lie in the place of sex in marriage and the similarities, in the vindication of women and the freedom to pursue whatever they want. For this novel, written in a tone similar in refinedness as any of Mia Couto's short stories, requires the suspension of belief to appreciate. On the other hand, Lauri might also be testing the pulse of feminine adultery, though this direction of exploration did not go farther enough for any reaction or conclusion to be made.
In the Spirit of McPhineas, like Soulmates by Alex Smith is a different kind of short story. But having not read all the short stories in this shortlist I am not sure if this would be my favourite, though I must say I appreciated this very much. The story could be downloaded here.
Brief Bio: Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer from Botswana. She has thirteen published works of fiction. She has also written two television series for Botswana Television and her short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines around the world. She has won numerous writing prizes including the Golden Baobab Prize junior category (2008/2009) and senior category in 2010, the BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest (South Africa- 2007) and the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture’s Orange Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing (2007). She was recently chosen to be a writer in residence in El Gouna Egypt for the month of May 2010. She blogs at ‘Thoughts from Botswana’. (Source)