Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 6 in a series)

Chapter 6

Saturday, February 9th, 1980

Could Jäcki win over the waitresses through flirtation?


Jäcki ran over to see Benjamin Nicholas.

He didn’t want to leave the family waiting for the rest of the money on market day.

–You made it, the painter said.

–He’s thinking about carrots, petrol, Ajax, Jäcki thought, and hurried off.

–Let’s talk more tomorrow, Benjamin Nicholas called after him.

–Tomorrow, yes. I’d like that.

–I’m always home in the afternoon. I hardly ever go out.

Jäcki bought a bottle of whiskey for Frank on the way back.

Frank took it, kissed it, and thanked him.

Nothing else.

Yobi started to effuse about the wake to which the widower Frank had obstinately refused to invite Jäcki.

Irma let him force her into studying Greek, and so they conjugated paideuo for the hundredth time–the same little mistakes in the imperative as before.

Antonio came by that morning.

–Why didn’t you come?

–I couldn’t. I found work.

–Wait. I’ll get you the money for the movies.

When Jäcki returned to the thicket, Antonio was gone.

Frank called Jäcki into the hotel workshop:

–They told me the buyei will be waiting for you at the temple at four o’clock.

Jäcki went to the beach and finished Washington Square.

In the manner of André Gide, whose reading notes always seemed so superfluous to him, he wrote down his impressions, next to those of the waitresses, of Benjamin Nicholas, of Frank, of Yobi, of Antonio.

–Finished Washington Square. The language a kind of hyper-English that betrays the sedulous American (The morrow!). Writing like a New Yorker talking about French wine.

Irma had injured her knee at a revolutionary gathering in Nicaragua.

She’d almost fallen into a manhole whose cover had collapsed.

–If the pain hasn’t gone away by this afternoon I’ll go see your Doctor Andersson.

–You can ask him about drugs in Dangriga too. I forgot. I’m just not on top of things.


No one was in the barn.

Old black women working next to the temple, boards and pots.

Saying nothing to Jäcki.

Regarding him, his questions in English, as though he spoke some sort of comical dialect.

They’d never heard the word buyei.


They shook their heads.

At four?

–Never, they said in English.

–It’s enough to drive you crazy!

–Where does the buyei live?

–See for yourself.

–These are Black Caribs.

–You don’t have any experience with Indians.


–She can fly.

–She flies all the way to New York.

–She makes potions.

The old women showed him the way.

–A green and red house.

Jäcki recognized it at once.

On that first walk through Dangriga, Irma had refused to take a picture of a parrot promenading on the fence.

–What a luxurious house! Freshly painted, that’s all.

Laundry hanging in the yard.

Two men and a woman standing on the steps.

A boy ran up to the fence in front of Jäcki and locked the gate.

Something Jäcki would rather not have seen.

He waited.

After five minutes he clapped his hands lightly.

A girl came to the fence and listened to him say how he’d been called to the temple to see the buyei.

–At four.

–She didn’t come.

The girl told the woman on the steps.

An older, light-skinned man, face eaten away by ulcers or intrigues, opened the garden gate, closed it again, and walked past Jäcki without a word.

–Like the Mexican who vandalizes a Mayan temple, it was clear to Jäcki.

The woman walked through the hanging laundry with the other man.

Standing far enough from Jäcki that he couldn’t talk to her, paying no attention to him.

He felt a sudden indifference.

There were other buyeis in the world.

There were other rites.

–What if I depended on her?

–What if my life’s meaning depended on her indulgence, on her flights?

The buyei leaned over the fence.

–You sent for me? Jäcki said.

–The snake eye! Eggshells, no iris. An eye for exorcising demons, out of this world, eternally, into the infinite. To walk around with an eye like that, every day. Who could wake up next to a grass snake every morning? That cancer-ridden old grave-robber, maybe.

The buyei feigned incomprehension.

–Three times you told Frank I should come to the temple.

–Frank, she said, and laughed.

–So Frank was the false one, the usurper, the cripple aiming to destroy her realm, throwing orgies with Yobi, subverting the order of the temple, her cheap airfare, her oil-paint domesticity.

–I understand you don’t wish to receive us, Jäcki said without moving.

The garden gate remained unopened.

–You have your masks. I have my masks.

Jäcki plied her with his oldest Hamburger Kammerspiel child star charm. He fluttered his eyelashes at her coquettishly and said:

–We’d be very happy to leave you a copy of our book for a present.

Jäcki startled by what this wrought in the buyei‘s face.

The good eye glittering out of that beaming face.

All the vanity vanished from her strong, regular features. Her face swelled with an expression of expectation, one shadowed by the other eye’s shattered eggshell, from which a black wick ascended toward the gods.

–I couldn’t come, she whispered, and:

–I’d love to see your book.

–Tonight I’m at the temple. Come see me there.

–Tomorrow night I go to the temple and I’ll work there until early Wednesday, without sleeping. I dance all day and night.

–You should come early Monday. When the sailors return from the reef, with fish, lobster, sea turtles.

–Tonight I’m at the temple. Come see me there.

–Blah blah blah, Jäcki thought. Tonight, tomorrow night, Monday morning.


Yobi ran up to Jäcki.

–I’ve been looking for you everywhere. The assistant manager is going to take all the guests out for Chinese food. I’ll pick you up at eight, and then we’ll go to Frank’s wake.

–Frank didn’t invite me.

–Everyone in town is going. You don’t need an invitation.

Irma said:

–The doctor gave me some pills. They’re not antibiotics. He told me that much. He didn’t tell me what they are.

–Here we are in a former English crown colony. Nameless pills in folded paper. We can only hope that the doctor and the pharmacist can tell Litrison from Librium. Did Doctor Andersson take a look at the book?

–Yes. He flipped through it. I think he was scared. By the way, drug use is increasing. Even in Dangriga. Grass, no hard drugs.


–I didn’t ask about that. Pot, coke, mostly.

–Yobi wants to drag me off to Frank’s wake. We’re supposed to eat Chinese food today. The assistant manager is taking us there. Can I go without you?

–And so the grieving widow heads back to the hotel.

–And while I’m interviewing the grieving widower, the assistant manager rapes you.

–What made you think I’d want to be raped by the assistant manager? I’m holding out for the thieving magpie!

–Terrific! I’m not entirely convinced that Yobi’s picking me up.

The assistant manager took Irma back to the hotel alone.

Yobi came at eight o’clock sharp.

Wearing a Tyrolean hat.


Jäcki saw that things were coming to a head, and that Frank knew it too.

It was why he had avoided inviting a stranger to his house. Behind the façade of baby fat, strong rum, and Chinese tea.

The Sophoclean drama would take place that night. Hitchcock.

The denunciation of the vile behavior of Yobi and Frank, the magpie.

The buyei stepping forward to face the widower.

The waitresses possessed by the dead mother, the ancestor spirits in the buyei herself, that murder should out.

Who would prevail?

Frank or the priestess?

The mother or the son?

The mother or the spouse?


Where was the father?

What had the father done?

The struggle to be played out before the entire village, its thousand inhabitants, before the ancient singers who for so long had been waiting with their cudgels to club the chosen one to death.

–Where did you get such an elegant Tyrolean hat? Jäcki asked.

–A man from England gave it to me. I’d like to take advantage of the wake and pick up a girl. My wife can’t say anything today.

–It seems like she never says anything.

–Sometimes she won’t let me inside in the morning.

First Yobi and then Jäcki, turning down an alley opposite the Chinese shop.

Jäcki saw the brightly lit house of the dead.

He heard the shrill hymns.

–They still sing the evangelical songs.

Yobi led Jäcki into a yard surrounded by four houses on stilts.

People playing dice in the carbide light, between the stilts.

The priestess’ emaciated friend among them, dilated pupils fixed on the peasant croupier.

–Gambling is illegal in Belize. But the police can’t do anything if they’re throwing dice for the dead.

Filling the windows, the plump backsides of the do-gooders and God-botherers.

In the yard the men had gathered around an elderly man brandishing a stick, preaching to them or inciting them.  He was yelling phrases in Carib into the night, and the old men started praying until he lunged at them again.

The old men cackled at Jäcki, shoving one another out of the way, clearing room for Jäcki on the bench.

They passed him the strong rum.

Frank came limping through the pious women.

Wearing his best suit, now too big for him. The fear of death had reduced him.

Sobbing, Frank turned from one elderly bosom to the next, watering the deep decolletés of the grandmothers.

–That old gangster, Yobi said. –He’s really just trying them all out. He’s just pouring it on, he’s got a good game. Excuse me. I’ve got to go warm my tea-pot.

Frank said nothing to Jäcki.

The old men kept the rum flowing for the white man.

Jäcki felt he couldn’t say no.

An Indian woman stood behind the preacher.

She had a Vandyke beard.  Shouting responses to the old preacher’s calls.

A drunk man started badgering Jäcki.

–Where are you from?

–What are you doing here?

–Show me your papers!

–You’re here illegally!

–I’ll have you picked up by the guards in Guatemala.

The old men in the audience tried to distract the drunk, translating the sermon of the Carib prophet.

–He’s talking about London.

–How he missed the bus.

–He was in London.

Yobi came back.

Wanting to steer Jäcki away.

–There’s one more wake. Should we go to it? They’re just going to keep singing here.

Yobi and Jäcki followed a large group of young people on their nocturnal stroll down Dangriga’s main street, talking too loudly, heading from one wake to the next.

–Do you sell drugs? Yobi asked.

–No. Do you?

–I smoke a little pot. I’ve tried it all. I’ll try anything fun.

–Do you have a position with Mister Borggrave?


–Does he pay decently?

–He pays me forty-two dollars a week.

–And he gets fifty dollars Belize a night from the tourists. You can’t buy much pot with that, not with a wife and four children.

–No. I used to. Not since I’ve been married. I work as a guide sometimes.

–I see. Well, think about what I should give you as a gift.

–That’s not what I meant.

The second wake was more sparsely attended.

A house on the edge of town.

Dangriga dissolving into swamp and bush.

–They still sing the old gospel songs here, Yobi said, and:

–Let’s go back.

–Did we miss anything at Frank’s?


–Does Frank wear women’s clothes?

–No. Where did you get that?

–Do you?


–Are there any men in Dangriga who dress up like women?

–No. The police lock them up.

–So there are some. Does the buyei dress up like a woman?

–The buyei is a woman.

–Does she dress up like a man?

–There are girls who don’t like men. Nurses, mostly. People in Dangriga judge you by how many children you have.

They went into a bar called the Star Club.

–Where the Beatles started.

Blue walls. Beer, strong rum. Old men. Bums. Toothless old drunks.

–Stiff young bucks all around. Young black Mexicans who might get five hundred marks from the widow of some shipping line magnate.

The drunks put the touch on Jäcki, the ceremonious good evening and an endless medieval narrative.

Yobi said:

–You were talking about a gift. You mean a bottle of whiskey or something. I’ve thought it over. I don’t want to finish up a bottle of whiskey. I can have more fun with some money, and I can feed my family.

I understand, Jäcki said. –How about twenty dollars?

–All right!

Yobi paid the bartender to play a record.

–Should we sit outside?

The bar opened up into a courtyard.

Crates, trees, chickens. The drunks and girls sitting in the corners.

Jäcki sat on a tree stump.

Yobi sat with his back to him.

–I was talking to this girl yesterday. She might come.

–How much do the girls get?

–Ten dollars. I hardly ever pay them. I buy them a beer, and when they say Buy me another beer I say Let’s go for a walk!

One of the old ladies from Frank’s wake had moved on from Anglican hymns and brushed by the clumps of drunks.

Yobi brought her over.

The fat woman turned to Jäcki and pulled on his beard.

Yobi pulled the woman over to him and kissed her on the ear.

–I’m thirsty, she said.

Yobi got her a beer.

She finished it in one gulp:

–I’m going back to Frank’s wake. You come too.

She said it to Yobi and looked over at Jäcki.

Yobi did not follow.

He leaned against Jäcki’s shoulder and said:

–Her husband’s been gone for two and a half years. In the US or Peru, chopping down trees. She goes to the bars at night looking for men.

–You don’t like her?

–Of course.

–Why did you let her go?

–I’ll pick her up later.

–What if her husband comes back and finds out?

–That’s her problem.

–Girls like you?

–Of course. First I kiss them on the ear. They get all excited. I can hold out for an entire month. A week maybe. But then I’ve got to go all night long. The first time it’s always the same.

–Have you ever done it with a man?


The big girls walking past them.

The drunks with their bottles.

People spaced so that one couldn’t just jump from one conversation or activity to another.

Yobi lifted his head.

Jäcki felt a coldness on his shoulder.

–Let’s go, Jäcki said.

They walked through the bar.

An old Black Carib, face gone pale, stiffly toppled backwards off the bench.

The other drunks kept gambling.

The street was empty now.

–Once there was this man and he showed me how to jack off.

–Did he jack you off?

–No. Ever since I’ve been able to I’ve always done it by myself. I always had my own room. Three times a day sometimes.

–Was Schneider just fantasizing? Jäcki wondered.

Frank’s guests had formed a circle.

In the middle a man and a woman performing complicated contortions.

–They’re Bunda dancing, Yobi said. –It means that they shake their asses. Watch!

That the women would get themselves aroused by dancing out the motions of conception and childbirth was to be expected.

But the men.

In tight flared trousers they shook their asses as if the fate of the world rested upon their quaking, rounded cheeks.

–Do you want to? Yobi asked.

–No. You?

–Only when I’m drunk. Once a week. On Saturday. Then I don’t care. I can shake my ass until my pants split. Not today.

The couple danced until one gave up, and then another couple jumped out of the circle.

–It’s young people showing off.

An old man started shaking.

–That old rooster can still bring it on!

The Indian with the Vandyke pushed herself between the couple and started dancing around the woman.

She was ordered out of the circle by the pious overseer.

A young man started to twitch.

He was pushed away.

–What was that?

–The dead woman is his aunt.

Frank jumped into the circle.

Forgetting his crippled feet, or ignoring them.

–That young man committed an offense against the dead, so now Frank has to make his wife laugh so that she’ll forgive the wake’s attendees, Jäcki thought. –Or is that an unscientific extrapolation?

Antonio came.

He glanced at Jäcki.

Antonio didn’t dance.

Jäcki was hoping that Antonio would swivel his pelvis, stick out that ass in green gabardine, offering up what he’d denied Jäcki in the weeds for the movie money.

Frank had gotten hold of a shepherd’s crook and now walked slowly up to Jäcki.

The gathering formed a kind of sluice that allowed Frank to walk in his drink-hobbled gait up to Jäcki.

Frank bowed down and showed Jäcki his feet.

–He’s apologizing for not inviting me.

–Why did he tell me about his flight and the ladder? He tells it to anyone who has the patience to buy the tearful widower a schnaps.

–Frank’s not happy I’m here. I probably made him dig up his wife too soon, drag her around in this sticky heat–quick! Before the gringo comes back! Yobi helped him by luring me away.

The waitresses were there.

–They don’t understand English, you should know, Yobi said. –They’re from Guatemala. It’s not both of them, you must have noticed.  There’s only one. The other is her mother. Look. The mother looks younger than her daughter.


Jäcki didn’t think so.

The mother had the palsied mouth, the downcast and dispirited yellow eyes, the varicose veins, the gray hair of every thirty-eight-year-old woman around here.

The daughter smelled of rum like every other girl out here tonight.

–If I only knew why Yobi would say the mother looks younger than her daughter! Then I might start to get a handle on the ethnology of the Black Caribs.

–I think I’m going to go home now, Jäcki said.

If the unutterable was going to happen it was going to be put off anyway, and if there was nothing unutterable then he’d seen enough.

If he stayed any longer his impressions would get blurry, and he’d start gettting mixed up in his notes. Schneider took three pages to describe the entire dugu ritual. This wake was going to take ten for Jäcki.

–I’ll go with you, Yobi said.

–A final caution before some ghoulish mother lurking at the crossroads like Eshu and Hecate? At Pedro de Batefolha’s wake we had to wait until sunrise, until the dead were at rest.

–You don’t need to.

–I know.

At the fork in the road by the cemetery Jäcki said:

–Should we go by the water or along the main street?

–Along the water.

–At the cemetery, Jäcki thought: –Yobi isn’t afraid of the dead. After this he has to go back alone. Or did he set everything up so that I could finally be robbed by the dam?

–Do you go to the cemetery with the girls on Saturdays?

–I usually don’t have to go as far as the cemetery.

–Are you well-endowed?

–Yes, but it has more to do with what you can do with it.

–When your wife has a child do you stop working?

–No, Yobi answered.

–Does anyone?

–No. It depends on the job. If it’s manual labor. Woodcutters.

–Do they lie in bed? Do they groan? Do they feel pain?

–Leading questions. According to Schneider it just freezes things up, Jäcki thought.

–I don’t groan when my wife has a child. Maybe the woodcutters do. Sometimes the woodcutters don’t work for an entire month when their wives have children. Before you asked me whether Frank wore women’s clothes because he wanted to be the buyei. In all honesty, I don’t know exactly.

Yobi spoke quickly:

–Just a couple more yards to the army post and the hotel. I’ll turn back here.

Jäcki stumbled over rocks and pieces of wood.

–Yobi’s stories might have been just stories. Or women might find a deep voice in that tiny body comical, and he’s compensating?

Yobi hadn’t turned back.

He stood watching Jäcki’s return.

Occasionally whistling.

Yobi called:

–You’ve got it.


–Can you see?

–What we did when we were boys. Jürgen Kühl. In the bad winter after the war, scared of child-killers in the ruins coming home from school. Jürgen stood by the garden gate whistling until I’d passed the Knickweg.



Hubert Fichte

Self-identified as half-Jewish, illegitimate, and bisexual, the German writer Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) lived in Hamburg for most of his life. After spending part of the war in a Catholic orphanage, he later worked as a child actor on the Hamburg stage, an apprentice agronomist, a shepherd in Provence, and a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents in Sweden. He turned to writing full time in his late twenties. His first novel, Das Waisenhaus (1965) (translated as The Orphanage by Martin Chalmers), was a critical success; his second, Die Palette (1968) was a succès de scandale and a bestseller. While continuing to publish novels, plays, essays, and journalism, Fichte spent the remainder of his life exploring syncretic religious practices among peoples of African descent in the New World (e.g., santería, voudun, candomblé, etc.). This “poetic ethnography,” as he called it, resulted in more than a half dozen volumes (none translated into English): Xango, Petersilie, Lazarus und die Waschmaschine, Explosion, Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão, and the novel from which this excerpt is taken, Forschungsbericht, which is also one of the high points of his posthumously published projected nineteen-volume roman-fleuve, Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (A History of Sensitivity).

Adam Siegel

Adam Siegel is Languages and Linguistics Librarian at the University of California, Davis. His translations from the German, Russian, Czech, and Polish have appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Context, InTranslation, and elsewhere.

Forschungsbericht. Copyright (c) S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Adam Siegel, 2013.