A Conversation With Paul Bowles

Asha: Did you ever experience magic?
Paul: I most certainly did. Well, there was the story about Sharifa and the large plant which I still have, which Jane bought in 1960.
A: Has it grown?
P: Enormously, yes.
A: Can we view it later?
P: Yes, but you won't see Sharifa's magic.
A: What did she do anyway?
P: She made a myriad of blood, and dried skin and all kind of things you normally don't even want to touch or look at. And she put them all together in a rag, tied the rag and buried it all. There were fingernails and so on in it. Buried it all in the pot of this plant under the roots.
A: Did the fingernails belong to somebody else?
P: I don't know - I don't have any idea.
A: So they were just anybody's fingernails?
P: I don't know, maybe not. Who knows, she might have saved Jane's nails or her own. I think it's more likely that she knew who's nails they were, who's blood it was etc...It was a real mess, tied up in the rag, buried under the roots. I didn't know about it whatever it was. She used the plant to give messages to Jane, she was whispering to her everyday and saying,"Tell Jane I need money." That sort of thing. She also knelt by Jane's bed and whispered to her while she was asleep, "You must give me 50.0000 francs." So, the first thing Jane would do in the morning was jump up and say, "Oh I have to pay Sharifa." And I would say , "You gave her 50.000 yesterday." She said, "You keep out of this." So I couldn't do anything about it. And Sharifa would look at me with wicked eyes. She tried to pull my eyes out at one point, she rushed at me this way.
A: She sounds wicked, that woman.
P: Very...Yeah.
A: Why did you tolerate her being with you?
P: She wasn't with me, I didn't want her. But some time later when Jane went to Spain to the hospital, before she went as a matter of fact; I went downstairs where the plant was. And Sharifa said, "The plant stays here." Because she wanted to talk to it. And I sent Moravit down, and she tried to hit him, but he wasn't afraid of her anyway. And he carried the thing upstairs. So it was only a few days after that I went down and fired her, and said to get out. Then we decided the pot in which the plant was, was to small. Obviously we had to buy a bigger one, and the way of doing that was to break it and let the earth and the roots out. We broke the pot and looked in. There was the bundle in the roots and the servants screamed : "No don't touch it." They were very afraid of it . I wasn't afraid of it. It disgusted me it looked so dirty.
Of course, it was in rather wet soil, so it wasn't a clean looking object. And then someone said,
"Don't open it, its very bad!" I wanted to open it and I did open it. And then of course they said : "Don't touch it." And I didn't want to touch it. But I shook it and shook it over the toilet bowl and what was in the rag came out. And then I threw away the rag and that was it.
But that was part of Sharifa's magic. She would talk with the plant, the plant was her proxy. She had to go home to sleep and she was afraid to leave the apartment, not being sure what other maids were here. And she was afraid they would do anti-Sharifa magic. So she spoke to the plant, and said :"Don't pay any attention to anyone else, I am your master." She's crazy.
A: Did you try to do any anti-magic?
P: No, oh no.
A: She never tried to overpower you or manipulate you?
P: She couldn't. She could rush at me and try to poke my eyes out. That's about all.
A: Well it is fascinating, I believe in the occult...
P: Well...
A: You have the eyes of a man who has had psychic experiences.
P: I don't know. I'm not aware of having had them.