“A hoodie is what a Soucouyant give birth to when she trick a Midnight Robber.”
Or so Rose calls herself.
Passed off to orphanages. No idea who her mother and father were.
Didn’t know the source of herself.
Because she wasn’t given a proper foundation to stand in the world, Rose got resourceful.
She has a voice … she has a voice.
Go sing on the street, nuh, she says to herself one day. Maybe someone’ll give you money …
Can talk a good mile
But if yuh look at she once
Yuh say she de devil chile …
“Dollar dollar dollar, for a song, mistah?”
One hand shoved in the back pocket of her black jeans, the other cupped in supplication, as she asks so repeatedly to passers-by it was almost rote:
“Dollar dollar dollar
For a song, mistah?”
Most ignore her as they walk down Frederick Street in Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad’s capital. Some suck their teeth, and walk past, looking straight ahead. One man, in black knee-length pants and a buttoned grey shirt, takes one look at her, and stops.
“Dollar dollar dollar, for a song, mistah?” she asks him, the day three quarters done, her voice almost a complete monotone.
He scratches his head under his black hat, disturbing his short, bleach-tipped dreads.
“Why yuh here?” Like she was there on vacation.
Her hand lowers for a moment, then it comes back up. “Yuh want a song?”
“Why don’t you get off the street?” As if his suggestion was the magic pill that could solve why people end up on the streets in the first place.
“Yuh goin’ give me money or what?”
“Why don’t you smarten up and just get a job?” Like his middle-class living ass is the expert on homelessness.
“Get outta mih face before I hit you. Gwan. I said gwan. Gwan ‘way.”
He stands there looking at her for a second, then makes a sound with his teeth before heading off. “Stay ‘dere, then. The rest of yuh life.”
Judgmental, narrow-minded asshole.
She puts on a stoic face and lifts her red hoodie over her head in unconscious defensiveness against a coming threat, but these microaggressions always hurt. Just that little bit. Enough to register, and trigger the front she has to make.
Trying to kill sheself …
I woke up like this
Dishevelled, Depressed, Demoralized
Yes, you can wake up like this too
So Rose finds herself wandering a long, lonely road, mostly dirt, crickets chirping away in the gutters on either side.
A breeze that feels … out of place in the crisp night, makes her feel like someone’s walking over her grave … passes through her.
Rose looks about for the source of the breeze.
And finds it.
When she looks up.
She lets her breath out through her teeth, real careful-like.
Then realizes this could be her liberation.
But only if her knees could please stop knocking together in fear.
Rose takes in the cold air that smells of death, lets death fill her lungs, embraces it.
Because if she does this right, she will not be long for this world.
She looks up again at the ghostly white, impossibly tall Moco Jumbie straddling the road.
According to all the folklore, if she passes between those legs, they will clamp together, crushing her.
And that would be the end of Rose.
Rose tries her best to saunter up as close as she dares. The chill of death emanating from the Moco Jumbie seeps into her bones.
Do it, she commands herself.
Her voice isn’t as strident as she’d like, but she manages to get the words out, anyway:
“Dollar dollar dollar
For a song, mistah?”
The awful majesty of the towering pale white, almost pearlescent, figure straddling the path struck her almost dumb. But she lifts her chin defiantly, hoping that’s enough to anger it, stepping further on the path, underneath and between the Moco Jumbie’s legs.
Shutting her eyes in anticipation, she wishes silently, Let it end.
Rose almost loses her sense of place, her sense of footing, when she opens her eyes, wondering what’s taking so long, what’s happening. She sees the Moco Jumbie lower itself, come down to her level.
And it sniffs.
“I know who you are …” it says, its voice a hoarse whisper evoking images of wild winds dashing upon a rock by the Caribbean Sea.
“You smell of sss … Soucouyant,” it says.
“And Midnight Robber, yes.”
“I’m not a Soucouyant. Or a Midnight Robber …”
“You might not be. But your mother and father are.”
“I can smell it on yuh, I said …” sibilant words dropping from him edged in sharp irritation, anger.
“I know yuh mother. I know where she is.”
“Yuh listening, or wha’?”
“Yes, yes, I’m … listening …!”
And it tells her where she can find her mother.
As to Rose’s father, it couldn’t tell where he is. “I could just tell dat you is part Midnight Robber. I don’t know where he is anymore. But your mother could probably tell you,” the Moco Jumbie says.
If she is even in touch with him …
The one thing guaranteed to give you a fright
Is de sound of a soucouyant screaming in the night …
It was the screams that they talk about the next morning. Unholy, unearthly screeches that start out in the bush. That and the fire in the sky a couple of neighbours had seen during the night. A soucouyant is near. Danger is about. Stay in, they say to each other.
They didn’t know that the soucouyant’s one of their neighbours.
During this night, she gives live birth on her bed, all by herself. Her child is born with a caul—an occurrence that tends to be interpreted as a portent. Especially in certain African cultures.
She ignores it.
She pulls the caul off the baby’s face, casts it aside in a white enamel basin.
She staggers outside, discards the caul, the afterbirth, blood, under a hibiscus tree. Heads back inside.
When everyone was long gone, under the cover of the night, the soucouyant wraps the child in a blanket and heads unobserved out the door.
She walks to another part of Port-Of-Spain, to the St. Dominic’s Home for Children, formerly known as Belmont Orphanage. Inside the blanket that the child is wrapped in is a note with the name she’d chosen for it: Rose.
So she’d know there’s time when blood will be drawn. From a prick of the thorns, or something else. Blood also for the blood that she herself feeds on.
She puts the baby at the doorstep.
When she arrives back home, as she crosses the threshold, she dusts her hands off and says, “Matter fix, problem-solve.”
No more child.
And it’s over as fast as that.
You know how she dress
She dresses with red
Red like all the blood
She Soucouyant mother shed …
“What these bloody footprints doin’ at the front of your door, Olive?”
Dorothy stands at Olive’s—that would be the soucouyant’s—door, one plump hand on her hip. She dusts something off her dark teal dress, and leans her head back, getting ready to yell to be heard.
And indeed, there is. Two bloody red footprints on the plain concrete. Right at the doorstep.
“Is Dotty. I come to bring you some pilau, Olive …”
When there’s no response, she does a steups, a practised, drawn-out suck of the teeth.
“Come outside, yuh hear, Olive? Is see I done see de ting, Olive?”
“What de hell is going on with this woman dat she have this at she door …”
“Yuh think she hurt?” another neighbour asks tentatively from the hedge at the end of the soucouyant’s property. “Yuh think she inside?”
“Open the door, you hear, Olive!”
They wait, to no avail.
An ill-matched pair …
They clash from the very start.
They’ve got a job to do, which would benefit them both, never mind the cost of the human life they were arranging to end.
Whatever silent amusement that Olive gave herself when in the company of the … somewhat cloddish Midnight Robber, and his back was turned—him in his all-black getup, an oversized sombrero with numerous miniature skulls, garish designs on his flared pants and top, even the more chilling sigils on his platform shoes, elicits nary a response from a fellow creature of the night—it didn’t last long at all, and rapidly turns into boredom and vehement annoyance.
Then, he does what males who buy into the innate sexism, still around in the air … like a cold … do. He tries to take charge at her expense, putting her second in all matters of the job. That would not do. At all.
So the soucouyant decides she’ll teach his ass a little lesson. She decides to seduce him. She isn’t young, but she isn’t old, either. She was more than attractive enough, and wily enough. She tempts him, taunts him, torments him. Then leaves him, ridiculing him.
But, uh, there was one little thing.
She got pregnant.
The perfect … comeuppance?
What would you do
When you find out who you are?
What you’re made of …?
Rose’s fingers always peel at the fingertips, beneath her nails, at the cuticles. The skin would come away and curl back on itself, like a burnt page.
When she was told who her mother is, Rose gets an idea.
She experiments with pulling it off.
To her amazement, it comes off almost whole, and the peeling went far beyond her fingers. She was able to peel whole sections of herself off.
It does not come off whole like they say in stories about soucouyants. She is disappointed about that. But she is only half soucouyant, she reminds herself. She keeps trying. The skin underneath is wettish, damp, not quite ready for the outside world yet—but would firm up in time.
When nobody want you
You might very well end up not wanting yuhself …
Serendipitously, it is one of those rare days where Rose has no luck with asking for spare change, so that means … walking.
She shouldn’t have peeled. The walking irritates her new soles into blisters.
She walks up the hill, past the children playing cricket, the ones throwing nuts high in the air and catching them in their mouths, past the curious neighbours sitting on their porches, to the house at the end …
By then her blisters have popped.
When she arrives at her mother’s threshold, she takes off her shoes. Bloody footsteps again on those steps, when the Hoodie comes to find the Soucouyant. She takes one look at the mess her feet are and flings the shoes away. Taking in a huge breath, she screams at the door, “MOTHER!”
The neighbourhood reacts to the unearthly scream by parents dashing outside to take their children off the path, and hurry them inside; others come out of their houses, some yelling to others, “What was dat? Wha’ happen?”
Rose thinks she hears movement inside.
The door unlocks softly.
The woman Rose sees at the door is dressed in a fine, loose, brownish-tan cotton dress, and wears an intense, wary expression.
“How did you find me.” Said more like a statement than a question.
“A Moco Jumbie told me,” Rose answers, the pain in her feet prickling the edges of her mood raw.
She hears the sudden hissing of an indrawn breath. For an instant, the soucouyant’s eyes blaze.
Her mother, the soucouyant, takes a calculated look past Rose, to the surroundings.
Mother don’t want she
Mother fraid ‘o she
Nobody like she …
Rose’s mother, the Soucouyant, looks out the window, arms folded while talking to her.
Won’t look at her.
Her gaze seems to be directed out at some hibiscus tree.
“So, what do you want to know?” she starts, at length, her tone one of disinterest.
“What’s your name?”
“Tell me about yuhself?” Rose didn’t know where her determination had gone. Her feet are busted up for something.
Olive looks at Rose now. She shrugs. Looks back out the window she is leaning up against. “I was an unhappy woman who became a less unhappy soucouyant.”
“What was your childhood like?”
“Not ideal, but uneventful.”
“Where yuh parents?”
“How did they die?”
She sighs. “I kill them.”
That trips Rose up. “Wh-why?”
“I never really liked them in life, we weren’t particularly close, and there seemed to be nothing stopping me from dispatching of them after I transformed.”
“Do— do you have any brothers? Sisters?”
The soucouyant sighs again. “Yes. But I not sure where they are now.” She looks out the window. “And I doubt they go be happy to see the daughter of a soucouyant just show up on they doorstep to say hello, family or no.”
Rose’s heart sinks. Her history lies with this woman. This soucouyant. Who is not forthcoming with any details. How is she to find out about herself, her past, where she belongs in the world? The woman is giving nothing.
“I need to know. Things. How many brothers or sisters did you have?”
The woman unfolds her arms in some irritation and seems to be tiring of the questions. “What good will it do? What you going to do, walk up to their door, like you did mine, an’ say, ‘Hey, I know yuh sister killed yuh parents, and she decide to become a soucouyant, and my father’s a Midnight Robber, and the folktales are true, but I just want to say hi and find out about my ancestry,” her tone becomes subtly mocking, “and maybe have a relationship with you, and I promise not to kill you, I not so bad as my mother.’?”
“How many!” Desperation finds some of Rose’s steel again.
“Two. One brother, one sister. Both half.”
“Where are they?”
“I don’t know.”
She virtually growls. “Where are they …?”
“I. Don’t. Know.” The soucouyant catches Rose’s gaze. “And I don’t. Care.”
“Why did you have me?”
The soucouyant blinks slowly and gives her a look.
Rose feels like she was swallowing the world with that nervous action. It hurt.
“Where’s my father?”
Her mother looks out the window again. Silence. “Yuh father dead, gyal,” she says bluntly, throwing it over her shoulder.
Rose couldn’t hide it anymore. She gulps air. Tears come down her cheeks.
The soucouyant takes in a breath of exasperation. She looks like she’s had it. Probably can’t understand why I’m hurting, thinks Rose bitterly.
The soucouyant heads to the door. Opens it. Gestures outside. “You have any more questions?” As if Rose is wasting her time.
She really doesn’t want me, does she, Rose thinks. Then realizes for the first time that she had held out some sort of hope that there’ll be … some sort of acceptance.
And her mother is busy stamping anything that resembles that, out.
“One more question. Where did you grow up?”
Her mother takes in a deep breath, lets it out. Is she actually getting angry? “San Juan. Again, I ain’t human anymore, and I wouldn’t advise just runnin’ up to anybody you find ‘dere, and saying who you are … and who yuh mother is.”
The soucouyant gestures outside again.
“I need shoes.”
“Take those.” Her mother points sharply to a pair of worn-in Converses at the door. “I don’t need them anyway. And neither will their former owner.”
Rose chills at that. But beggars literally can’t be choosers, so she picks up the shoes and walks out the door.
The door doesn’t quite slam behind her, but it isn’t closed gently, either.
Poor little thing
Poor little girl
Trying to find sheself
All alone in this world
What do you do when you’re not exactly an orphan but you might as well be one, you grow up in orphanages and you find blood family, only to have them reject and discard you like an old bandage?
You pick up the pieces of yourself, broke and scattered on the floor like one of those numerous deyas they put out for Divali, broke and the oil leaking out.
And you start a new day.
Step, step. One step at a time.
Back to the beginning …
Rose goes below Curepe Junction, passes the little bridge leading up to one of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine’s campuses, keeps going, passes Rapsey Street.
Walks past a house where she can hear “Just The Two Of Us” playing on a television; there must be an interlude between TV programs to hear that.
Finds the road where she encountered the Moco Jumbie, stops at the spot where she had seen it straddling the road, and waits.
Eventually, it appears. It coalesces into view. It spots her and lowers. Its head snakes to her face.
“You are here again,” it says in its hoarse whisper.
“Yes. I went to find my mother after you told me where she was.”
“Did you find her?”
Rose’s head lowers, partially so she doesn’t have to look into those eyes, that face.
The creature is silent. “Ssshhee’s an evil woman,” it says, speaking up again, sibilant.
“She choose that path.”
Rose took in a deep breath.
“What did she tell you?”
“Not much at all.”
“What did she say about your father?”
“All she said was that he was dead.”
“Yeah … I figure you’d run into that sort of trouble, and I … ask around in the underworld. You were … a surprise form of … payback for she trickery on dat unfortunate Midnight Robber, yuh father. Trickery of a certain … sort. If you underssstaand my … meaning.”
Rose looks straight at the Moco Jumbie. She swallows hard.
“How did my parents meet?” she asks it.
“Aannn … arrrangement. A ‘job’, they had to do together, as humans would say.”
It leaves her to continue the conversation. “How did my father die? She said he was dead.”
“There were consssequences for what they did. She … let him take the fall.”
“Oh.” A thought — “Is he buried somewhere I can visit?”
“No. There are … no remains.”
Rose’s lip trembles.
“You were not expected. And your mother is in no way going to accommodate your presence in her life. You were born, and left at the door of that orphanage within the day.”
Rose suspected the worst, but to hear it said out loud … verified …
“Thank you. I think that will be all … for today.”
“Mmm.” It rises back to its majestic height.
Rose starts to half run away. She wants to get away from the truth …
“Ey.” A deep rumble from above.
Rose halts. Looks up.
“Jus’ because people don’ like you, people reject you, does not mean you can’t find worth in yuhself. Look at me,” it says. “Everybody ‘fraid of me, nobody like me, yet you talkin’ to me, you find I have worth …”
It helps, what it says — it is true; but she still feels like her heart was way down in the Converse shoes she’s wearing.
“Thanks,” she tells the Moco Jumbie, “I’ll … try to remember that …”
“Mmm.” It goes still, silent.
She walks away instead of half-running, this time.
A new beginning …
Rose discovers something else about herself: she can literally peel her (physical) pain away.
It starts with the loose skin around a blister on her foot.
Scratch, pull and pull, and it kept peeling deeper.
So deeper she went.
And she takes the whole bottom of her foot off.
Underneath, it’s like brand new, like before. Baby soft soles.
No pain, now.
So that’s why she can successfully sing for her supper, the vast majority of the time. Her father. His gift for gab — his voice.
And how she can peel.
She decides to go back and talk to the Moco Jumbie when she needs to let things out. If she has half a foot into the spiritual underworld, thanks to her parents, she might as well utilize it.
She has, always has, a hard, hard … “de hardest hard”, as people would say … life, but she wasn’t raised to be a monster.
Nor does she have it within her. The darkness in her heritage displays itself as self-destruction.
Where did the light come from?
People who are gone from her life now, but supplied a much-needed anchor at the time.
Like one of the women who worked at the orphanage who counselled behind the rest of the employee’s backs. Until she was outed. Then she disappeared soon after.
The lady who the orphanage hired to teach singing.
Who led Rose to understand she had a voice, in more ways than one.
And now the … Moco Jumbie.
She has worth …
She has worth.
She has worth.
Yeah, Rose feels it.
A definite response, from some part of her. She was believing it …