By my forty second birthday, it looked like my most passionate pleas would be ignored. I didn’t kneel so often by then. I was already the towns’ crazy old woman. I kept mostly to myself and only went to market and town when absolutely necessary. And I travelled to Mr. Frank’s cottage, down the hill, to work. Mrs. Frank had passed on five years ago, and now he was just waiting to join his wife in heaven.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I suspected that there was no heaven; there was no God to answer prayers. I was tired of praying.
It was time to try something else.
I trudged down the hill to work, using the heavy stick I walked with to scout for snakes in the grass before they had a chance to strike. The sun had just settled beneath the horizon, and the island was dark. I wasn’t afraid, although the island folks didn’t need much prompting to discuss their jumbies and other evil night spirits. I knew not to stop for strangers, and not to approach strange animals. I had my trusty pocket flashlight to spot predators before they could attack.
What I had not been prepared for was the large ball of fire that slowly flew over my head. I saw brilliance and expected heat, but instead there was an icy chill in the wake of the ball. I turned to watch where it would go next, transfixed by the way my womb ached as it passed, and my heart called after it. The ball circled my torso several times. I could hear the coos of a baby, and longed to touch the softness of its skin. I reached out to it and was overwhelmed with dread. I drew my hand back and turned on my flashlight. The ball rose upwards and dissipated.
I reached Mr. Franks’ house to find him seated on the porch. He seldom came out, so I knew he must have been having a pretty good day.
“Good night, Ingrid.”
“Good night, Mr. Franks.”
He sucked his teeth. “Look, de spirits flying tonight.”
“What are you talking about, Mr. Franks?”
“I glad you ain’t run into one because it would probably take you away.”
I thought about the ball of fire, but didn’t tell my employer.
“Dey looking for somebody to trick into taking dem on.” His eyes gleamed with an unusual fervor.
“Come now, Mr. Frank. Let’s get your dinner.” I helped him up out of the chair and guided him into the house.
I usually took my dinner with him, but I had no appetite. I sat by the open window while he slowly ate.
A soft whimpering floated through the window. I looked at Mr. Franks, but he seemed not to notice it. It came again, louder, with cooing. I stood from the chair and headed to the door.
“No, Ingrid. Dat’s no baby. Stay here.”
“You hear that baby, too?”
“I hear what pretending to be a baby. Sit down, girl. Don’t go by de door.”
My feet obeyed him, but my heart filled with anxiety. I twisted my sweaty hands in my lap. I can’t leave that baby out there.
“Girl, ain’t nobody gonna leave no baby on de doorstep.” Mr. Franks eyed me steadily. “I ready for bed, eh? I tired.” With a strength I had not seen from him in years, he pushed his chair back from the table and walked to the door, where he flicked on the porch light.
On the way to the bedroom, he instructed me to pull some candles from the cupboard and light them.
I got him dressed and settled into bed and took my regular seat in the chair next to him. The flames flickered from the hallway and across the room.
“Why didn’t you let me go to the door?” My arms still ached to hold the baby I’d heard.
“Dat was no baby. Dat was a soucouyant, trying to get you to open de door so she can come inside. She would have sucked you dry after you invite her in.”
“You believe in those jumbies and thing?” I asked.
“Yeah, girl, dey real.” He spoke with conviction, and fell off into a coughing fit.
“But don’t they grant wishes, too?” I remembered all the stories my parents and town elders had told me my entire childhood. I believed them, too. The evil spirits could be used, if you were smart. Of course, a devout person would never entertain making acquaintance with the spirits, and would instead pray them away.
“You gotta go look for dem and see where by de river dey leave dey skin, and if you take it, dey gonna beg to get dey skin back so dey grant you a wish.” He reached out and grabbed my hand, and the years old calluses pressed against my skin.
“But dey is very dangerous. Don’t mess wit dem, girl, please, because you more likely lose your life instead of get any wish. And even if you get a wish, it gonna be a payback.” He squeezed my hand until it hurt. “You hear me girl? Topic done.”
(c) Copyright 2016 by RJ Joseph. All Rights Reserved.