‘It dead?’ asked six year old Desree.
‘It dead, ’ her cousin, Landell, removed the lifeless piglet from its nursing mother. Eleven other piglets scrambled over each other to access a teat and food.
‘She squash it?’ Desree took the limp grey body, she was being offered, and cradled it. It had been the smallest and weakest of the twelve piglets born two days earlier.
‘She not squash it. It jus dead.’ Landell moved a couple of the scrambling piglets into a feeding position.
‘Why it jus dead?
Her cousin was twelve years old and, as far as Desree was concerned, he knew the answer to every thing.
‘The Jumbies come for it.’ he said.
Desree knew about Jumbies, well, she knew what they were. They were the flickering lights that floated about in the night sky. Not stars, not as high in the sky as stars. Lights that looked like candle flames dancing in a breeze.
‘Why? Why did the Jumbies come for it?
‘Because, that is what they do,’ he patted his chest, ‘they sit here, and breath in and out with you.’ He demonstrated, breathing in and out slowly and loud. ‘Then they take hold of your out breath and pull on it, and pull on it, until there is no breath left inside you.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘Then, you dead.’ He fell to the ground feigning death.
Desree hugged the dead piglet,
‘Why they do that?’
Landell remained on the ground.
‘Jumbies are angry dead people and they float around Antigua sucking the life out of people.’
Landell sat up. ‘Why what?’
His story wasn’t having the impact he was aiming for.
‘Why the dead people angry?’
‘Because they dead. Stupid.’
Desree started sleeping with her face under the bed cover so the Jumbies could not get at her breath. The thought of Jumbies frightened her and she wondered whether her recently departed Granny was one them. Her granny use to say,
‘Sing for me child. Mek me heart full of joy.’
And Desree loved to sing and make her granny happy. Was Granny was one of the angry dead people?
Night after night Desree stood on the veranda watching the flickering Jumbies lights in the distance. She believed they were floating above the sugarcane field just on the other side of the woods. May be if she sang to them they would be happy. Yes that is what she would do, she would go sing to them and they would be happy and they would stop sucking the life out of her piglets.
The sugarcane field was only a short distance from the house. She had been there many times with her farther. But on her own the path through the woods didn’t look like a path at all. It was just a series of broken branches and trampled vegetation. She stopped many times to peer through the bushes to see if she was nearly there.
The cane field was mostly cleared. Much of the sugarcane had been cut. Only little stumps were left, still rooted in the ground, short stalks of cane making the field look like a giant yard brush.
Desree could see no sign of Jumbies or dead people or any lights. She sat in the clearing and waited. As darkness replaced the sunlight the flickering lights started to appear. Like fairies dancing above her head. She was nervous, but not frightened. She thought of Granny and began to sing,
‘Jesus want me for a sunbeam to shine for him each day.
Every way try to please him at home at school at play.’
She repeated the two lines over and over. The lights still just floated above her head. It was some time before she noticed the thick dark cloud slowly reaching across and covering the moon. Something touched her head. She put her hand up, there was nothing there.
‘Jesus wants me for a sun bean to shine for him each day.’
Then she felt it touch her face, it was a drop of rain.
As she finished singing, the moon became completely obscured. She stood up and looked around. Total blackout. It was so dark that she could not even see the ground beneath her feet or the outline of the woods, nothing. Now she was scared.
‘Landell, LANDELL, L.A..N..D..E..LL.’ She called in her loudest voice.
Total silence, even the crickets had gone quiet,
The rain fell in tiny pitt-patt droplets at first. The lights flickered off as the rain got heavier. The droplets turning to a full torrential down pour drenching her tiny body in seconds.
‘Jesus wants me for...’ she could not sing anymore.
Shivering she sat down, buried her face in her lap, and waited for her father to come find her.
She woke with a start. Sitting up in bed she flapped her hands in front of her face, knocking away any Jumbies. She jumped off the bed and ran into her father’s room,
‘Dadda, Dadda . Jumbies, Jumbies.’
Her father grunted in his sleep
As he rolled over Desree climbed onto the bed and slipped in under his out stretched arm which wrapped around her.
Laying still she listened to her father’s breathing, slow and laboured. It was so loud she couldn’t hear herself breathe. She lay for a long while perfectly still. But the weight of her father’s arm got heavier and heavier. He stopped calling her name and lay perfectly motionless. Eventually the weight of his arm got too much and she extracted herself and went back to her own bedroom.
The moon cast a dim light through her bedroom window. Highlighting the shape of someone in her bed. Someone was on her bed covered from head to foot with her bed sheet. Pulling back the sheet Desree was not surprise to see herself laying there with eyes closed and arms at her side. Climbing onto her bed she laid down exactly where her sleeping self was. She closed her eyes and pulled the cover over her face, and listened for her breathing,
‘Jesus wants me for a sum beam…’
Higly Commended in Elmbridge Literary Competition 2018