Months later she was living with her in-laws after a small wedding ceremony and a large dowry was given to the groom’s family who were also cattle farmers. Her husband decided right away that they would not have any children until she was older and also because he wanted her to help his mother take care of his elderly grandmother. His nani was bedridden after suffering a stroke and needed someone to bathe, change and feed her, as well as be her companion.
One afternoon, Asha almost collapsed under the scorching heat while hanging out a basket of handwashed clothes on the back yard lines. She had already finished leypaying the walls and floor of their tapia house that morning with fresh gobar she had collected earlier from the cattle pens. It was only while visiting her parents that week on her way to the village market that her mother observed her condition and recognized the symptoms. When Asha learned she was going to have a baby, she did not tell her mother that she feared her husband would be angry. Instead, she left soon after and snuck off to see an old woman who lived in the vicinity of the primary school she had attended not so long ago. Asha explained her predicament to the woman who gave her a variety of wild bushes and other ingredients with instructions on how to prepare and drink the mixtures in order to abort the baby. She needed to do this over the next few days.
Nothing happened after a week so Asha returned to the old woman who told her there was nothing more she could do other than to recommend she tell her husband and pray that he accepts the child. Asha waited for her husband to return that evening, rushing to the front door whenever she heard a voice or the ting-a-ling of a bicycle bell. Her husband turned up late in the afternoon when his shift ended at the sugar estate where he worked as a Watchman. Asha removed his sandals and served him his favourite sada roti and curried bodi with mango amchar. When he had finished eating, she told him about her pregnancy while observing his reaction.
He sat staring at her, unable to speak for some time. “Well it have nothing we could do about it now,” was his only reply. He shoved the enamel plate and cup aside, then rose and proceeded to the galvanized bathroom in their back yard to take his bath. Asha wasn’t sure of what her husband was thinking, but was relieved that he seemed to have accepted the news. She finally ate.
Whenever neighbors and relatives dropped by over the months, they rubbed her growing stomach and commented on how big and round it was. “Look how pointy your belly looking, that have to be a boy,” some remarked, while others would say, “Is a girl child you making, look how round that belly is, you better take it easy because girls does come early. You lucky your mother-in-law is a chaamine and masseuse so you don‘t have to look for no mid-wife when you ready.” Sometimes, they went on and on about their own experiences with children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
After they left, her mother-in-law would jharay her at six o’clock in the evening with five bird peppers, five pieces of coconut broom sticks, a pinch of salt and garlic and onion skins wrapped either in a sheet of newspaper or a piece of paper torn from an empty flour bag. She would say a silent prayer while moving the paper around her body in a circular motion from head to toe five times, and then set it alight until everything burned to ashes. “That is to keep off the evil eye.”
Her mother-in-law would do the same whenever she went for a walk and returned after nightfall. “You mustn’t go out in the dark, especially when you have to pass near them big bushes. It does have them churile and them waiting to take ‘way the child from them big belly woman and them.”
“I never hear about that before mama. What is a churile?” Asha asked one day.
“That is the spirit of a pregnant lady who die in childbirth and does be walking around in white clothes holding she fetus against her bosom like if is a living child. She does be making a strange wailing sound like if she always sad and crying. The spirit does be looking for big belly women so it could possess them, because they does be jealous and grieving. Long time it used to have one living under the mango tree near the rice lagoon, so that is why I telling you not to go nowhere in the dark because if it hold you we go have to carry you by the pandit to take out the spirit.”
Late one Sunday evening, while Asha’s husband was attending a wedding in the village, Asha gave birth with the help of her mother-in-law. Asha noticed that her mother-in-law’s face had turned white and she was frozen speechless when she asked to see her baby. A villager who was waiting for Asha’s mother-in-law to rub her son’s nara because he was complaining of belly pains after running around with his friends all afternoon, had seen everything through the window. Word quickly spread throughout the village that Rajwantia’s daughter-in-law had given birth to a raakhas child.
Asha’s husband rushed home from the wedding after hearing the news, followed by scores of curious villagers. They saw that the raakhas had jumped out of the window and was hopping from barrel to barrel, finally standing still on top of the galvanize that served as a spouting to catch rain water into the barrels. Asha’s husband ran inside to find out what was happening and saw his mother seated on the ground holding her head, and Asha shivering on the bed.
“I don’t know how this could happen but a raakhas child does only born to a mother who do something bad.” She eyed Asha with suspicion.
“You mean that hairy thing outside that looking like some kind of rat with two vampire teeth is my child?” he asked dazed and confused. “I feel I hear it squealing out mine and Asha name so I run inside to see what was going on.”
“They say it does threaten to kill its parents and even others with them sharp pointy teeth. It does die in a few days time but is best for the chaamine to kill it before it kill anybody. If you could catch it, your mother either have to strangle it or place a sil on the chest to kill it. Ent all you have a grinding stone because she mightn’t want to kill it with she bare hands,” explained a villager through the window.
Asha’s husband ran outside and rounded up a few men to catch the raakhas that had now climbed onto the roof. When the men surrounded it, the raakhas poised itself to attack. Whenever the men came closer, it jumped further away from them. Some of the villagers looking on were screaming in fear, others were cheering the men on, while a few were curious about what was happening
The men finally backed the raakhas to the edge of the roof while a few waited on the ground. The men moved closer and the raakhas opened its mouth to pounce on them letting out a loud squeal, but instead, it lost its balance and fell flat on the stony ground. Everyone gathered around while maintaining a safe distance. Asha’s mother-in-law came out to investigate and saw that the raakhas was still breathing. She asked her son to bring her the grinding stone which she placed on its chest. It soon breathed its last breath.
Asha’s mother-in-law had warned her not to get up or go outside, but she had managed to get out of bed and peep through one of the cracks in the wooden wall to witness what had happened. She returned to bed feeling sad and depressed as she remembered her mother-in-law’s words about a raakhas being born only to a mother who had done bad deeds.
As she lay cuddled up in a fetal position, she swore she could hear far away in the distance, from the direction of the huge mango tree near the rice lagoon, the wailing sound of a churile calling out her name¨
Vashti Bowlah is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago and a participant of The 2008 UWI/Cropper Foundation Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop. Her short stories and articles have appeared in various publications including St. Petersburg Review, The Caribbean Writer, Poui, WomanSpeak Journal, Signifyin’ Guyana (Caribbean Women Writers Series), Tongues of the Ocean and St. Somewhere Journal. She was awarded The Caribbean Writer’s David Hough Literary Prize and is a Pushcart nominee.