From Akashic Book . . .
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
This week, a phrase from the past reenters the present . . .
Doh Let Jumbie Hold Yuh
by Krystal M. Ramroop
Dutchman Jumbie, Vreed-en-Hoop, WCD, Guyana
Despite her initial first-generation confusion towards the phrase, it had been embedded in Sonia’s ‘reserved for home’ Guyanese Creole vocabulary. It was commonly uttered in seriousness by her immigrant parents before she retired for the night, of course, after being reminded to say her prayers, or jokingly by her extended family upon bidding farewell to them and the ‘fam jam’ bacchanalia that always carried over into the wee hours of the morning and irritated her fellow American neighbors.
She blamed herself for the terror she obtained growing up, consequently listening to vivid, first-hand experiences and digging up stories surrounding these entities. Even when she became the cousin that refused to go to the parties, thus no longer hearing “doh let jumbie hold yuh,” she had managed to convince herself that she was burning enough calories in her own house every night she raced upstairs to her bedroom in order to avoid what she knew as the ‘boogeyman’ chasing her tail.
But it wasn’t until last week when Sonia found herself in Guyana for the first time that the phrase not only reentered her life but came with a gift of its own.
Sonia’s sapodilla-colored skin embraced the rays of the afternoon sunset as she sat in between Rooplal and Motilal on their saffron-stained villa veranda. An infectious tune from Dave Martins and the Tradewinds echoed from the rum shop across the road, drowning out the drunken gaffing from patrons. Sonia sang along: If I get a chance lemme tell yuh plain, I don’t want to come as no man again…
Awaiting her turn, she retrieved a handful of sal sev, coated them in mango chutney and then shoved them into her mouth. She then took a sip of her Banks and contemplated the two dominoes cupped in her hand. On her left, Rooplal’s hand furiously tapped the edge of the wooden square board. On her right, Motilal furrowed his eyebrows, studying his next move.
“Eh, Moti, abee deze nah got all day. Lash yuh ticket nah,” Rooplal told his older twin. Motilal slammed his domino on the board. “Oh, gad, is why you had to go and lash dat ticket?”
“I look like I playin’ fuh you win?” Motilal asked. “Now you knock yuh hand dey, budday.”
At first, Rooplal hesitated but so said, so done. Accompanied by an eye roll, the younger twin’s knuckles tapped the edge of the board twice.
Motilal nodded to himself in approval and then turned to Sonia. “You gah knock yuh hand dey too, stargyal.”
“Oh, c’mon! Eh, Roops, you gonna let him take advantage of me?” Sonia asked, helplessly looking between her cousin and her dominoes.
Rooplal went to answer but Motilal interjected. “Just ‘cause you come from ‘Merica nah mean you get free pass.”
Sonia repeated Rooplal’s move. Motilal grinned and motioned everyone to reveal their remaining dominoes. When Sonia saw Motilal’s blank domino, she mumbled a ‘kiss me rass,’ grabbed her beer bottle and got up from the table. Leaving her cousins, she descended the veranda steps to notice a boy running frantically towards the villa.
“Ayo run!” Motilal’s teenage son, Sugrim, screamed. “Dutchman ah come!” He grabbed Sonia’s arm and dragged her back up the veranda steps.
Chaos erupted throughout the street. The rum shop tunes abruptly ceased and the men floundered their way to safety. Rooplal and Motilal jumped up from the table, rushing Sonia and Sugrim inside. Doors were bolted, lights were turned off and window shutters and curtains were closed and pulled in a melodic urgency.
“Every time me send you fuh bring back ting from the market, you always ah bring back jumbie,” Motilal whispered harshly to his son, as they all huddled together on the ground. “I tell you doh let jumbie hold yuh.”
“Tek Sugrim to Pandit Bisram,” Rooplal said a little too loudly to Motilal before turning to his nephew. “You climb that old higue looking lady mango tree dis marnin’?”
Sugrim gave a sheepish nod. “I been hungry bad bad.”
“Shhh,” Motilal instructed. “Yuh hear dat?”
Sonia gripped the curtain and pressed her ear against the window. The steady ‘clip-clop’ of hooves on the pavement, followed by the man’s faint murmurs in Dutch left her body numb and palms clammy.
Why this man and his horse couldn’t come back as puppies, she thought.
KRYSTAL M. RAMROOP, better known as Krys, is an innovative Indo-Guyanese American creative writer and aspiring professional film and television actress. A music, film, and tea junkie at heart, she hopes her curiosity and niche for cross-cultural writing will allow her to share her research and experiences and create a realm for readers to join her in. Her writings have been featured in Promethean Literary Journal. You can connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.