12. Abo Mama

Rains was good to me. Ah, give thanks Mama River, for the wabeen I about to eat. Shado beni leaf in the belly that is the secret. Bit ah wild garlic too. Ummm, smell that. Johnny Groto was a fisherman son. Yeah, yeah, yeah m’boy. Hah. Johnny Groto was a fisherman son. A long time ago. … Wha?! … A voice? … A woman voice. Shhh. … Frog. … Cricket. … Nothing. … She follow you from the river. … Don’t hear nothing. Have a way bamboo could talk like woman. … Shh. … There. … Ahh! There! Ooh. Ooh. There! She there! I hear her.

What she want? What you want Mama? She crying. Don’t cry Mama. Leave me be. Not that name Mama. No Mama. Leave me be. Was only a bottle I went for. That was all. Oh gooood, Mama River. I went late. Night. Didn’t want nobody see me. Wasn’t looking trouble. Went late. Slip round the back ah the shop. Hear me, Mama. I was going in. I was going straight in. ’Cept she was there, Mama. Over the road from Ram shop. On she front step. She was smiling. Oh, Mama is the smile catch me. Oh lard, Mama. I stop to look see. Only to see, believe me. Never plan nothing. Never.

Ah, Mama, the smooth-skin pickni, was sucking at she breast. I see it. The pickni, and the smile. And a vexation flare up in me. Like this fire here. Log on a fire. Tight in m’chest. As if a spirit in me. In me, Mama. And I feel… I feel the bruise on m’thigh. And I feel… I feel sick with the rage. The smell of the frangipani. Everything turn upside down, Mama. Don’t vex with me, Mama River. Wasn’t my fault.

Oh, lard. Footstep! Stay back, Mama. Hear me. Was the jumbie. Was the jumbie, why I say, what I say. Mouth open, ‘tory… Oh, Mama. If she wasn’t ah sitting there that evening… If I had just go straight in Ram shop… If it wasn’t at that exact moment she sister Pearl bring out the oil lamp. And the glow from the lamp round Ruby head… Ahh, Mama, she look so beautiful. Mama, she look so beautiful.

But I didn’t have no control, Mama. Was the jumbie conspire against me. Tell me she sitting there like a blasted queen ah Sheba. No wedding ring on finger… Oh, Mama. Have mercy. The word come in m’head, and before I know it, it out m’mouth. Soucouyah. I never mean it, Mama. Soucouyah. Was only a word, Mama. Can’t blame me for a word, Mama. In the beginning. The word. What word? That word come in m’head. And come out m’mouth. Didn’t have no control, Mama. Was the jumbie.

Oh Mama. Don’t take me to the river, Mama. I was sure! Sure, sure. At the time, I was sure. Weep for me Mama. How I was to know it would’a catch fire. Would’a carry on the wind? Wasn’t me to blame, Mama River. Soucouyah. And that is the thing come forth. Soucouyah.

-Soucouyah take he wife. They say.
How I could know they putting flesh to word?
-Ruby is a soucouyah. They talk.
Talk spread like infection.
-Soucouyah suck she blood.
Gossip, Mama.

But Mama, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Oh Mama. I didn’t know.

But I did believe. Forgive me Mama, I did believe. I put rice. To protect myself, Mama. Everybody know that. Put rice. I put it round the bed. By the front door. Rice by the back door. Every grain she have to pick up. One by one. Everybody know that. Mama, understand. I was burning with a fever. Hot. Hot. Mama leave me be. Go back to the river. Wasn’t me to blame.

Oh lard! Hand wet on m’shoulder! No! Mama! I not looking. Not looking. No see. No see y’face. No lie Mama. Morning sun was wasn’t up when I went for the walk. Nobody shoulda be out that time. Mama, Mama, cock didn’t even crow yet. Take you hand off m’shoulder, Mama. It heavy. How is I to blame? What she was doing there? The soucouyah.

M’heart jump when I see her. Hustling up the Maraval Road. In a nightie. A nightie, Mama! No slipper on her foot, no scarf on her head. Damn it! Mama, I is a man. Just a man. What she was doing there? At that time ah the morning? -Ruby! I call her, and she look round and stop. Ah, Mama River, I was wrong. I know I was wrong. I call her a she dog. A bitch. I was wrong. I call her a hag, a ole whore. Up the Saddle Road. I blame her. Say she kill m’wife. Call her… Soucouyah! Suck m’blood, spread ole talk. And oh, Mama, she never say nothing. Nothing.

We was up the hill road when she stop. Why she stop? Turn round. Look me in m’eye. She brown eye shine with tears. She say how she don’t know who I is no more. How even if was my baby… Even if was, Mama. She would ah be too shame to tell people is mine. Oh, Mama, what she say… The jumbie flare up again. And I grab her. By the arm. Grab her hard. She breast all rub up on me. Ahhh, Mama. Why she was out there, that time ah morning?

She try and pull way. Pull hard. And I let her go, Mama. I never force her. I let her go. And Mama, I swear. Is only then I notice the bag she carrying. A brown paper bag. And as she pull way, the bag rip. And of all things, Mama. Is rice spill out. All over the road. Rice. And Ruby drop to she knees and start trying to scoop up the rice. Why, Mama? She look like a crazy woman trying to put water in a basket.
-Get up. I tell her. -Get up.
But she just keep trying to save the rice, Mama. And same time the dog start barking. Miss James dog.
I tell her, -Leave the rice. Leave it.

And next thing, Miss James come out to see what have she dog carrying on so. And she spot Ruby.
Is she say it, Mama. She say it. And Mr Austin look out he window. And was like everybody start come out they house, Mama. Shouting.
-Watch the soucoyah!
-Catch the soucouyah!
And somebody run up, Mama. Oh, Mama. One of them run up. And give Ruby a kick. Wasn’t me, Mama. And somebody have a broom stick, and they start hitting her, Mama. And people throwing stone. And people cussing her.
-Jamet! Jakabat! Jumbie!

Oh, Mama. They was shouting and slapping and kicking.

Oh, Mama River, I back away. Back away. Didn’t want no part of it. And sametime, Pearl. She sister. Pearl. She twin sister. Come running down the road. And when she see is Ruby they beating so. Oh Mama. She only family left, sister. Mama, she bawl. A one long, loud bawl. And she grab up Ruby. Oh lard, Mama. She hug up the body. And blood. Blood all over. She dress, on her hand, her face. Set me free, Mama.

Hugging she dead sister. Oh Mama River. Was a bad thing to see. And when she turn on them and call them, animal, and leggo-beast. Call down Ogun, call down Oya, call down Moko Jumbie. Mama, all them good town people take shame. And the crowd part. Red sea. And Pearl look up, Mama, and she eye catch me. And Mama, she point she boney finger at me, and she say…

-Is you to blame!  

            Don’t take me to the river Mama. Give me peace.

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