“Hold she down dey!” her mother said to her two brothers. “Yuh is too much of a bad little girl, always lying and making up story. And now look what you gone and do!”
“Leh mih go! Leh mih go!” Emma Thomas screamed, twisting her little body this way and that. “Ah not lyin. Leh mih goooooo.”
“Hold she, allyuh, hold she and open she leg,” her mother commanded, striding back to the bedside armed with her instrument of torture. “Leh mih pepper she!”
“No, Mammy, no! Oh God, no!”
She might have been only eleven but her fear gave her the strength of a woman three times her age. She wriggled and kicked and bit and scratched and spat and screamed and bawled. In vain. She proved to be no match for her two unsympathetic brothers, eager to do their mother’s bidding. They eventually spread-eagled her on the edge of the bed, one sitting on each leg and holding down one of her arms.
“Oh God, Mammy, no!” she continued to protest her innocence. “Ah not lyin, ah swear! Ah not lyin!”
“Oh God, Mammy, please!” she continued to plead as her mother pressed herself in between the two boys and raised the congo pepper up to her chest for her to see, “Ah wouldn’t do it again! Ah wouldn’t do it again! Ah promise!”
“Oho,” her mother sang, “So yuh really do it? Liar, liar, you little liar!” And sucking in her breath loudly, she broke the top off the congo pepper and drove it forcibly into Emma’s vagina, pushing much harder than she needed to because there was no resistance, no obstacle in its path.
“Nooooooooooooooooooo!” The girl’s ear-splitting scream seemed to jolt her mother out of a trance and she made a wry face.
“Now ah sure yuh wouldn’t do it again,” the mother said, unapologetically. “And yuh go stop lying.”
She stepped back and, with a self-satisfied look on her face, wiped her palms against each other.
“Leh she go,” she added matter-of-factly a moment later. The boys complied.
Freed but not pain-free, Emma continued to shriek in agony. Her hands flew to the flaming area between her legs and her knees shot up towards her chest. For a brief moment, she lay on the bed, writhing wildly and screaming at the top of her lungs, trying in vain to extinguish the fire that threatened to consume her entire mid-section. Then, leaping to her feet like an uncoiled spring, she raced past her retreating brothers, made a beeline for the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind her, repeating as she went, “I not lying, I not lying.”
It was a Friday, Emma remembered, the first night the strange creature crawled into her room. She couldn’t have been asleep because she had heard the clock in the living room strike one. “The mouse ran down,” she remembered having thought to herself, “just like in the old nursery rhyme.”
Outside, the tempest raged, beating against the side of the house like drums on Camboulay morning, pounding out a warning to her, she thought now, of the impending danger. It had startled her. She lay there in the wan light of her room, half-awake, half-asleep, hearing herself breathing.
Suddenly, she thought she heard a creak at the door and she sat bolt upright. Tense, insecure, unsure, she gazed in the direction of the door. Her ears were straining to pick up the slightest sound. She shivered, tried desperately to control her breathing. Nothing.
“Mama? Elvin? Who dey?”
Silence. Only the sound of the rain pounding on the roof and the walls. She decided to lie down again. In a flash of lightning, she thought she saw a shadowy figure standing beside the door. Instinctively, she ducked under the covers and put the pillow over her head, her heart now racing like a prize stallion.
She didn’t feel brave enough to peep out from under the covers but she sensed that there was someone standing over her at the bedside. She wanted to scream for Mama. But before her lips could respond to the dread in her heart, a long outstretched arm arrived and placed a rough, clammy palm over her mouth. She tried to scream. No sound came except a liquid gurgle, like water running out of a bathtub.
She opened her eyes. The shadow put its right index finger on its lips to shush her. She did not want to be shushed. She tried once more to scream for help. But the pressure on her mouth and her neck was increased as the shadow roughly pulled her closer and tried to ensure that she would make no sound audible outside of the room in which she was now captive.
She struggled to get free. No chance. The creature’s hands were powerful, maybe even trained to lock sound securely in. Confusion enslaved her mind and tears streamed down her face. She shut her eyes tight, hoping that what she did not see would not exist. But the vice-like grip on her mouth never slackened and soon another hand was on her, threatening not her face but her innocence.
Roughly, it rolled her over onto her back and began the descent towards her Venusian mound. Then, climbing onto the bed and straddling her frantically, the creature began to force her little legs apart, breathing hard and grunting excitedly but all the while keeping her gagged with its sweaty palm. Emma fought with all her might to throw it off her, to keep her legs locked together. To no avail. It forced its manliness into her little body, sending waves of searing pain through her from head to foot.
When it was done, she lay there battered and bloodied, whimpering. He sat astride her, looked her right in the eye and raised his free hand to his chin.
“One word from you…,” he rasped, leaving the sentence unfinished. But the message was clear as he drew his index finger slowly across his neck, accompanying the gesture with a loud cluck of his tongue.
Outside, the loud pitter-patter of the rain still beat a steady tempo against the walls and the rooftop. Inside her head, she was screaming soundlessly at the top of her lungs for Mama.
“My life is perfect now,” Mama told Emma one day when the three of them were seated at the table having dinner. “What more can I ask for?”
She spread her arms wide as she spoke and Uncle Chad gently took her palm in his and kissed it. As he did so, he looked straight at Emma and smiled, a strange, unsatisfied smile. Emma felt a shiver run down her spine.
No one really knew why Uncle Chad had come back to live here in Fayanville after all those years in the States. Why would he come to settle in a place like this, a backwater town completely without opportunity or prospects? He was a man of means; he could live anywhere he wanted. Why had he turned his back on all the rest and let his bucket down in Fayanville? And why had a man of his stature never married? Why did he have no wife? No children?
Whatever his reasons, no one seemed to care too much, certainly no one ever put the question to him. He was seen as a saviour for the village, a kind of messiah who had come to save them all from perdition, to give the town a whole new lease on life. His newly opened company would provide work for most of the men. And those who did not want work had a good chance of getting a handout from him if they caught him in the right mood. That is why he was so loved and respected by all in the community.
Mama’s boys too loved and respected him. But then, they really had little choice. For Mama, Uncle Chad was quite simply “a blessing.” Long before he asked her to marry him, she thought of him as the most sought after bachelor – she didn’t care if he had a dozen wives secreted away somewhere in the States or even in some other part of the island – in the village, “a fine catch, a fine catch indeed.”
He was, she told him every time the opportunity presented itself, “a knight in shining armour.” If he ever got it into his head to marry her, she often told Emma and her brothers, “it would be a dream come true.”
He did get it into his head. And the dream came true for Mama. For Emma, it was the start of a nightmare that would last for months. In the months that followed their tying the knot, Mama and Uncle Chad became one piece of rope. For Mama, it was a lifeline, for Emma, a noose.
Theirs was the most beautiful wedding imaginable; Mama had never look prettier, Emma thought. On the day, she had looked truly radiant, more beautiful than in the beautiful wedding pictures of her and Papa Emma had fingered and gazed at countless times.
“Allyuh see how I bless?” Mama would say to her friends. “I not young and beautiful like allyuh, I wukking hard fuh years as a pinky in the hospital, doing night shift and day shift, and I have three children. But he choose me, me, not allyuh. Tell me I ent bless, nah!”
The sun was high in the sky when Emma finally found the strength to drag herself out of bed and make her way to the breakfast table.
“Hullo, little miss,” Uncle Chad greeted her airily, “how are you today?”
She muttered something unintelligible under her breath, keeping her gaze averted from the picture of familial bliss on display before her.
“Don’t be rude now, little girl,” her mother warned, clearly disapproving of her response. “Your father is talking to you.”
“He’s not my father,” she spat at Mama, spewing fire from her eyes. “My father’s dead!”
She burst into tears, turned and ran out of the room, hearing as she did so Uncle Chad’s voice urging her mother to leave her alone because she “maybe had a bad night.” She ran all the way to her room and flung herself on the bed.
It is a while before she notices that the sheets have been freshly changed. The yellow ones on which she had gone to sleep the night before would have been blood-stained; these were yellow too but without stains.
“It had somebody in my room last night,” she told herself out loud. “And he hurt me.”
Her name might be Thomas but she didn’t need to put her finger in the wound; she was very conscious of the damage down there. The discomfiture, the dull ache in her face and the searing pain between her legs were impossible to ignore. But her mind refused to accept the evidence of her eyes, refused to allow her to believe what she knew in her heart.
Gumbo Glissé! It was Gumbo Glissé, the ugly, evil creature that loves to feed on little girls while they sleep. She had had a visit from Gumbo Glissé!
Now she would not have to lie to Mama. After all, Mama has finally found some happiness again and we wouldn’t want to take that away from her, would we?
But the visits never stopped. Gumbo Glissé kept coming in the dead of night and having his way with her. But it was different after that first time. She wasn’t quite as scared and not nearly as uncomfortable. And although he soon realized that he didn’t need to cover her mouth to keep her from screaming, he never, never forgot to remind her with the eloquent index finger across the neck of what would happen if she should ever tell anyone what he was getting up to.
Soon, she didn’t feel like a child anymore although she didn’t feel like a woman; she just felt dirty all the time, certain that she would never ever be able to feel clean again.
“I is a bad girl, a dirty, wicked little girl,” she would say to herself. Her secret festered inside of her. She longed to tell someone, anyone, but most of all she wanted to tell Mama. Mama would save her if she knew. But she dared not risk it; Gumbo Glissé would harm her for sure. And harm Mama too.
And she retreated further and further into herself until one day her secret began to swell inside of her…
Mama would have none of it.
“Emma, stop! Stop!”
Asked to explain why her belly was swelling, Emma had not wanted to hurt her mother and had begun with the Gumbo Glissé story.
“Gumbo Glissé doh exist outside ah your head, sweetheart. Try again.”
Emma hesitated, took a deep breath.
“Is… is… is…,” she stammered, “is… Gumbo Glissé is Uncle Chad!”
The force of the blow turned her head parallel to her shoulders.
“Go to yuh room, yuh dutty little liar!” Mama yelled. “Yuh always lying and making up stories to get your own way and now yuh doing it again. Yuh just trying to break up my living, that is all. Go to yuh room!”
Petrified and in pain and with blood flowing freely from her mouth, Emma simply stood there, unable to move, unable to make sense of what Mama was saying.
“Mama,” she began.
Mama was livid. “Go to your fucking room, chile!”
“Since the day yuh born,” she flung at Emma’s back as she finally found the wherewithal to beat a retreat, “yuh does only bring mih shame and bad luck. First yuh make mih lorse mih husband and now yuh want to take away the one man who love me!”
“Go to yuh room, ah say,” she bawled, “and stay dey! You trying to break up my living? Well, that not happening; I will deal with you because I not going back to that life again for you!”
“Elvin! Way yuh?”
No sooner had Ernest got home than his mother summoned his younger brother, briefed the pair fully about the sins of their little sister and convinced them without too much effort of what the appropriate sentence was.
Uncle Chad had got home from work a couple of hours later to be confronted with the claim that he had been molesting Emma. He had feigned the most violent anger and threatened to choke her to death with his bare hands. But assured by his wife that she had already taken care of business, he agreed that no further punishment was necessary.
“But I still want to talk to she in the morning,” he had said, “just to make sure she understand how serious this kina ting is.”
He knew that Gumbo Glissé couldn’t have his way with the girl that night; he didn’t dare risk the stealthy departure from the marital bed to make the dead-of-night walk down the corridor. And maybe the brother, now that he knew or suspected, would be a little more vigilant. He lay in bed wide awake for much of the early morning, assessing, calculating, scheming, waiting…
What he did not know was that a visit after midnight would have been a complete waste of his time. He would have found her cold to his touch, dead at 11, the coroner decreed, from a massive overdose.
Editor’s Note: The author of this short story asked to remain anonymous.