Wind say is time for a break. Ahh, papa. Time for a rest, Oya, say. Best place for a sleep. Right here on this rock. Ahhh. Is what warm afternoon and cool breeze make for. Let the bush whisper a sleep song… Wind stroke you, til you half-asleep. Ahhh, the trees singing a chorus. Hush. …Sound like somebody call m’name. Ahh, wind like to play. Is only the bush.
Ahh, papa. Long, long time since a body say m’name. Neville. Ahh. Pass over river, and pass over river again. Look at the flowers and look at the flowers again. Hah. Ain seen nobody in days. Brown skin girl. Hah. Brown girl in a ring. Tra-la-la-la-la. Look like Ruby. Brown girl in a ring. Trahhh la-la-la-la-la. But before that. Not a body. Not since before the dry season. The dougla fella, come in the bush to hunt. Hah. Pull some vine round he foot and he fall. Watch him the whole way down the hill. He never see me once. Hah. You sure you ain dead? Ah-hah. Nobody to say no. Kill m’self off a cliff. Was the story in town. Hah. Well if I dead, I dead. Make m’peace with that. The trees, the sky, the earth. Is enough to have the bush call m’name. Don’t need no other.
Ahh. Hear him sing. Hah. Hmmm, Hmm-Hmmm.
Up high in the mango tree.
You sit all alone like me.
Ahh. Wind in bamboo rustle. Oya say, of m’old friends, none remain. Lloyd used to say Pearl was bad luck. Mam Schuck say bringer of tears. But wind say, -What done, done. Rather listen to the sound of the bee, Oya. Sound like peace. Don’t want to remember no more. Is time for rest. Ahh. Ananse, you build a house here too? You not frighten it blow way? Pearl old house always look like it would blow way. One good hurricane and it gone. But it still there. Down the hill.
Ahh. Warm stone feel good on m’back. Ahhh. Could lie here whole day. Did watch it and watch it. Ahh. What it matter now? So what, I hide in the bush and watch. Watch her hang clothes. Watch her feed fowl. Watch her sewing at the window. Days. Nights. Hah. I watch and watch. And then one day she carry the chile and go out. And I went in. Hah. Look in cupboard. Look under bed. Wardrobe. Lift up floorboard. Ahh. Look in Ruby bedroom. Smell like baby powder. Little little dress, little little vest. Had a bassinet. Where Ruby get bassinet? Ahh. Under the sink. By the ceiling. Nothing. No pestle, no calabash. Not even a empty biscuit tin. Hah. Couldn’t think where she was hiding the skin.
She hide it good. And wouldn’t ah find it, neither. ‘Cept she come back. And I had to dash out the back door and duck under the house. Cobweb in m’face. Mud and chicken-shit smell in m’nose. Looking to see if she coming out in the yard. Hah. And she stop in the kitchen. Right on top m’head, papa. Hah! I hold m’breath. Ahh, ahh, ahh. And who would ah guess? She start to sing.
-doh doh, petit popo, doh, doh, petit popo…
Hah! Pearl. Singing, papa. And each step she make send dirt down on m’head. Ahh. Ahh. Never hear Pearl sound so before.
Ahh. But is then self I find it. Hand slip on the ground. Dip in a hole. And a old crocus bag come up. With a box make from wood. Have a woman carve on it. Nice work. Smooth. Look like she dancing in a long skirt. Nice work. Eh-heh. And I open the box. And was only some dust inside. Some kinda dust. But I know. I know. That is where she does keep it. In that box. Ahh, I get full up, with a kinda excitement. Me heart race. But I feel a kinda dread too. Wanted to laugh out loud, and bawl, all at the same time. Reach to get the salt. And papa! Pain dig in m’foot. Feel was a nail or something. At first. But no papa. Snake. Mapipire. Small and brown, but the dirty yellow tail say poison. Ahh, ahh, ahh. It latch on to the side of m’foot. Teeth dig in hard. And the damn thing wouldn’t let go. Hold on tight. Papa. Had to grab it by the head and pull it off. And two drop ah blood rolling off m’foot. And all the salt waste in the dirt.
Push back the box in the hole. Foot was burning bad. Crawl out from under the house. Didn’t care if she see me or not. M’breathing get heavy. Head feel dizzy. The poison move fast, papa. Had to get back in the bush and find the moringa. Eat about ten, twelve seed in one go. Vomit and shit whole night by the river. Hah. Hah. But I know. I know. I know.
I watch. I watch. First night, I see Lagahoo come down the road with he coffin. Chains dragging in the dirt. Lanmo! Next night. A pig was squealing in the dark. Kouchon! Maljo! Papa, I watch til sun up. She never come out. Third night. Ahh. Third night. Hide behind the croton bush. Moon was full. See her step to the yard. Like she dancing. Disappear under a shadow.
Try to see. Couldn’t see nothing. Then a flapping I hear. L’spirt danse. And a red flash, dash up in the mango tree. Fire! First was big. Like log fire. Then get small. Shrink down. And drop to the ground. Ah, papa. Long trail of fire. Move round Mavis mother house. Papa! And move up the road. Ahh. Papa.
Didn’t waste no time. Cross back to the yard and slip under the house. Sly mongoose. Dog know you name. Ah-hah. And the dog next door bark. Hah-hah. Sly mongoose. You ain have no shame. I creep round in the dark. Hah. The plan was simple, papa. Rice to slow her. Salt to kill her. I did throw rice on the road to slow her down. I was to take the box with the skin in it. Take it back to m’camp. She woulda have to trail the scent to me. Night growing short, she woulda have to come and find me. Had me slingshot and rock salt. Right on m’hip. Ready. Then, when I had her on the ground. Hah. Was going and open the box. And let her watch, as I pour salt all over the nasty, nasty, nasty skin. All over. Til it shrink and dry up. Hah. And the morning sun woulda catch her. Ahh, papa. Burn her out, like she burn out my life. Ahh, ahh. I make m’plan and Ogun laugh. Hah.
Papa, I see that night clear, clear, clear. Big moon. Everywhere bright, shiny. Sillouette of the pawpaw tree, shadow of the house. Sky full ah stars. Ahh, papa. Had the box. Plan in motion. Ready for action. Ready for action. And then just so. The baby flash in m’mind. Ahh, papa. And like everything slow down. I look to the fence, m’escape to the bush. I look back to the house. Faces rush round m’head. Ruby. Rosemary. M’mother. Mamie Rosa. Ahh, papa. Was trying to make sense of what in m’head. Ahh, ahh. I hesitate.
Things speed up after that. Whoosh. Woosh. Sound like bush fire blowing. Big ball ah fire come out the dark. Fly over the house and into the mango tree. Fire at the top of the tree. Tree not burning. Papa! Hot iron in m’chest. I reach for the slingshot, and the sack ah salt with it. Didn’t take one eye off the bitch. The flame get long. Stretch and lean down like she reaching for me. Take a two step back. Raise the slingshot and aim. Universe stop. Was just me and the fire. Shoot a salt ball. Bloodsucker! Right in her belly. Hah! She drop. Like breadfruit. Tumble down through the branch, and land on the ground. At m’feet.
Ahh. Papa. The flame was big. Licking the air, like she trying to eat me. Feel the heat like waves. Like a pulse. Breathing on m’foot. Take a next two step back. And inside the fire. Ahh, papa! Inside the fire. Black and red. I see her. Ahh! I see her. ’Cept. ’Cept. Inside the fire. She look so skinny and weak. Not like in m’vision. Trying to pull herself off the ground. Pull herself up. But keep dropping back down. Ahh. Ahh. Feeble and weak.
Eh. Watch, the cobeau. Like kite. Circling. Cirling. Something dead to eat. Ahh, ah, ah. They say a soucouyah own by the devil. Control by the devil. Papa, I don’t know. Don’t know bout that. All I did know was, plan was in motion. Only one thing leave to do. Shoot the cobeau.
I tell m’self I ready. -You ready, I tell m’self.
The box did fall bout two foot from where she was lying. I snatch it up. And she, like she trying to crawl out the fire to reach me. Papa. Ahh, ahh, ahh. M’hand tremble. Her face was pushing out the flame. Pushing the fire. Papa, anybody see that, they hand tremble. Couldn’t find how to open the damn box. Trace the wood, ridge of the skirt. Push, and it open. And as soon as the lid come off… Ahh, papa. The skin… The skin. Like it have it own life. It slide out the box. Just roll out. And as it roll, it unravel onto the ground. Never see nothing so. Eh, eh. Face, arm, body, leg, foot, toes, fingers. Ahh, ahh, ahh. A whole skin. Cold, and soft like leather, when it brush m’fingers. Papa. Make me scalp crawl.
But I was ready. Pull out a next bag ah salt. Ready, I was ready. Send the jan gaje back to hell. And she know. She know. Cause, she grab m’foot. Same foot with the snake bite. She two fire hand. Grip m’foot. Hold m’ankle. Hold on tight. Face like a skull. Coming for me. Teeth grinning. Big eye. Black eye. Red fire, papa! M’foot was hot. Like a shackle leave on the coals to hot. Ahh, ahh, ahh. I grab a handful of salt. A full, handful. Ahh, papa. A full handful. I was ready.
‘Cept, a wind rush down the hill. Just rush down the hill. Make the trees shake. Make the bush grumble. Even the old fowl wake up and make a cluck. The mood change. Like the night get vex.
Hah. And the baby cry out. Like a ocelot in the night. Cry out. A worrying sound. A baby in the night. M’head start spin. Spin round. Feel like a dream. Hear a voice. -What bout the baby? And m’hand come like statue. Couldn’t move. And the wind in the bush asking the same question. -What bout the chile? Ahh. And the ocelot-cry on the night again.
Clouds now. Moon gone. Everything dark. Live a eternity. And the wind say, -Dark path on dark path treading. I hear it! I hear it, papa. And I drop to m’knees. Knees just collapse, papa. Drop the salt in the dirt. And turn m’head from the sight ah Pearl, burning in the flames. And she know. She know. She let go m’foot. Drag herself cross the ground. And from the corner ah m’eye. I see her jerk, and slide. Back inside the skin. Sound ah the flame just go out. Fire just shrink, and dim, and disappear. Inside the skin.
Ahh, papa. Was darkness round us after that. Darkness. And she sit up. Naked and hunch over. I couldn’t say her name. I open m’mouth. But… She stand up. Straight. Shoulders back. Lift her chin. Ahh, she didn’t look at me, papa. Didn’t look to me. But, ahh. Papa. She look like Ruby then. With she back to me, in the darkness. Like Ruby. Watch her limp to the house. And go inside.
Ahh. How many seasons since? The past is just stories now. Ananse know. Hah. I see his spider web in the window when the light come on in the bedroom. Hear Pearl. Voice hoarse, but gentle.
-Come po-po. Don’t cry. Shhh. Aunty save you from the hairy man.
Hah. That’s what she say. The hairy man. Hah. Was the first time I look, and see m’self. Ahh, papa. Me was a jumbie too. Me. Ah-hah hah! Ah-hah-hah! Me was a jumbie too! Papa! I leave the box with the bele dancer, right there on the ground. I take up me staff. And I went back to bush. Me was a jumbie too. Ah-hah hah.
Rainy season. Dry season. Ten rains? One hundred? Eh, eh. What it matter? Lying on this rock, as the sun set, that is for me.