The Unholy Trinity
Hunched-backed and graying but with eyes that pierce the darkness, Bonita rises from her bed, steadies herself with her cane made of roughly-hewn poui, shuffles over to the rocker, and picks up her sewing. With so much on her mind, she finds it difficult to sleep tonight. Time is running short and she’s not ready. In two weeks they all have to leave this Socorro Valley -- the only home they have ever known .
Bonita wonders whyeveryone is so resigned to their fate. They say it’s God’s will. But not her God.
She pours rum in libation to Yemanya, and to her forbears who came here to clear forests, and give birth to all these cocoa estates. Indigenous Guarajuns, Spanish, French,
Indian, and African, all melded together in harmony for two centuries -- the living, the dead, and those yet to come. She brings the bottle to her lips, thinking, “This is our place, el lugar de nosotros, and if we must go, there’ll be hell to pay.”
In this cradling place, with its tall wafting bamboos, cool Immortelle shade, and the pungent smell of rotting cocoa leaves and overripe sarapia, she was born, lived her whole life, and raised eleven children. The first, Virgie, passed away during childbirth the same night of the pronouncement. Virgie’s unnamed stillborn has joined the unbaptized Douens, committed to roam in limbo for all eternity. Now she must leave them all to make way for the dam the governor says he is building.
Somebody will have to suffer.
Miguel, the husband Virgie left behind, no longer calls out to Bonita or drops in on his way home from work. He has started staying out late, drinking, running the streets -- no doubt scattering wild seed where he owns no garden, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Bonita wonders in whose bed he is tonight. She adjusts the white jersey headtie she always wears wrapped tight around her head, like a mapipire, coiled and ready to strike.
“Hmm. He better watch that reckless behavior.”
While her husband, Ignacio, recovering from the heart-attack he got on that fateful night, snores on, Bonita picks up the memory mat she is making. It is coming along nicely – almost done, but not quite. The underside is smooth, but the topside, with its knots and loose ends of many colors and textures, is the side that everybody sees and wonders what the hell she is doing. When it’s completed, it’ll make perfect sense. They’ll see. Virgie’s wedding dress, her shroud, a piece of the altar cloth from their now-dynamited Santa Ana church -- each strip represents a different vignette of their life in this place. This one is for Nella, Virgie’s firstborn, the one that reminds her of herself: the same feisty glint in her eyes and the same hot-blooded bacchac temperament.
Bonita glances over at the makeshift window.
Hmm. Full moon tonight. This is her favorite time.
There is an unnerving stillness around her. On nights like this all decent people remain ensconced in their homes. And every zandolee finds its hole. On nights like this, they say, the gathering of dark night people under the big silk cotton Ceiba tree at the Cascabel Junction near Bonita’s house, is especially populous.
Bonita feels the mat slip from her hands. Her needle falls silent. She nods off. Strips of cloth scatter across the floor. The rum bottle lies on its side, spilling its contents.
And now her three protectors emerge ready for action. The Unholy Trinity rises from the colorful swirl and beckons her to join their assembly under the silk cotton tree.
“Hmm. Everybody - toute moun -- better watch they arse.”
The matriarch, Sukuya, rum bottle in hand, draws herself up to full height. She has not sucked salt; she can fly. No longer the bocey-backed target of their jeers, she now flaunts by night the very power they deny her by day.
With one shrug of her bony shoulders, she frees herself of her old, shriveled up black skin and steps out from behind the thick trunk of the Ceiba tree.
Sukuya spreads her wings and takes to the sky like a batti-mamzelle, a fiery dragon-fly, whizzing away in search of that haughty governor and his hoity-toity wife. They say the abettor is worse than the thief. Her voice cracks as she sings her sweet lavway,
“Show no mercy.
Sukuya lands on the green sloping roof of the pretentious mansion wedged between the Savannah and the Botanical Gardens. She enters through one of the hundred windows they say it has, though no one has bothered to count – or close. The mansion erupts in pandemonium.
“Oh, Lord, sir! It don’t look good for she at all,” Priscilla, ebon black and buxom, cries, hustling necessities into Lady Audrey’s ornate boudoir with its heavy gold brocaded drapery.
“That big blue mark on she leg. Is Sukuya that suck she. Open a scissors in the form of a cross under she pillow, sir.”
“What nonsense, Priscilla!” Si Liam Lester says. “You people are so superstitious. Come. Check her temperature while I call Dr. Sellier. And stop mumbling all that primitive rubbish.”
He paces the room, worry lines complicating the look of permanent aloofness on his face. His navy terry-cloth robe and his blue pin-striped pyjamas seem in disarray; his hair lacks its customary severe, slicked-back shine.
He cannot explain the mark either. Lady Audrey’s hallucinating and running a fever that isn’t responding to Paracetemol. Priscilla hovers over her applying cold compresses to her forehead.
“Sir, you want me rub she down with warm soft-candle and put more blankets to sweat the fever out?”
“No more silly old wives’remedies, Priscilla. The doctor’ll be here shortly.”
Lady Audrey lies curled in a fetal ball in the middle of the huge canopy bed. Her hair is tousled, her face wan, her eyes dark, sinking into a vortex of ever-deepening circles. With unexpected strength, she leaps toward Liam and latches on to him with the tenacity of a tree frog. Priscilla pries her away, and guides her back to the bed.
“It must be about 102 or more now,” Priscilla says, touching the back of her hand to Audrey’s forehead.
Liam pours his fourth stiff drink of the night-- Johnny Walker Black on the rocks -- and downs it with one loud gulp. Strange things have been happening since he revealed his plans for the dam project.
“As soon as this crisis is over,’’ he tells Sellier, “ I’m requesting a transfer.”
Sellier, a short, rotund man with horn-rimmed glasses, yellowing teeth, and a balding, mottled scalp, shows none of the local deference for Liam’s gubernatorial authority. He slaps Liam on the shoulder and shouts, “Cheer up, old chap. It’s just one of the usual viruses. This is the tropics, you know. She’ll be up and about by tomorrow, I guarantee.”
Audrey is asleep now. Priscilla escorts Dr. Sellier out, and Liam goes to the decanter again.
Sukuya watches while he downs four more, before slumping into an almost supine position in the Victorian wing chair, barely aware of his surroundings. She takes the glass from his hand, finishes the contents, then dashes it to the floor.
In glee, she mounts him and begins her slow, sinuous ride. “Sans humanité.”
He does not hear her raucous laughter when, sated, she lets herself out through the same window by which she came; he does not see the ball of fire zinging across the midnight sky.
Back at home base, Sukuya begins to sing her verification formula to re-enter her discarded skin.
“Skin, skin, you know me? You know me old skin?”
Then she stops.
“No. Not yet. We still have work to do.”
Not too far from there, near a mossy rock jutting out sharply from the Socorro River, Madame Mamaglo surfaces, fortified with rum, and lifts her full bosom to the wind.
“Woohoohooohoohoohoo!” Her warbling laughter is as rippling and chilling as the river that is her home.
In her diaphanous seaweed-colored negligee, she throws back her head, and shakes pearls of water from her waist-long, tangled tresses. She sits on the rock drying her scaly backside. La vie est bon. Life is good.
She has accomplished much today –things that could neither be postponed nor delegated – water sources to guard, water courses to traverse. There’s always something. If it isn’t a greedy fisherman, it’s some untrained schoolchild who has not been taught the virtues of conservation, or some over-zealous colonial offical out to gain political mileage from dam-building.
But this dam . . . is damned.
“Whooohooohooohooohoohoohoo!” Her laughter is scandalous, bacchanalian even.
She had fun today: prodding every subject to come to life at her bidding, caressing every leafy green lizard fond of enjoying its mating rituals in the sun.
“And they better not touch one scale on anything that swishes a fin in these watery depths.”
Mamaglo settles down to await her serpentine lover, Monsieur Macajuel. Whenever they come together all who dare disturb the peace of her watery home are sent skating on their way to forever.
This is where Andrews unwittingly encounters her later as she lies intertwined in Macajuel’s love embrace.
Andrews, the tall lingay one with the raw pink complexion, red bushy beard and angular body, pauses, takes off his hard hat and wipes his brow where his sweat-soaked hair has dripped its excess.
Although it is late, the heat is still punishing. Mamaglo knows him well. His name is really Andrew. But he has come to understand that for a nobody to get some respect among these British expatriate workers, you have to add an ‘s.’ Immediately thereafter, the name stops sounding like that of a mischievous brat. Now, when the word ‘Andrews’ is uttered, the ‘Mr’ automatically attaches itself as fitting prologue. He likes that.
But the tropical heat here does not care where one stands on the social ladder, and neither does she. “Sans humanité.”
Andrews shrugs off his khaki shirt and bares his scrawny chest. He hacks up a wad of yellowish brown phlegm laced with tobacco juice and spits it as far as the wind will carry it. Mamaglo, still basking in the afterglow of her amorous entanglement, ducks sideways and lets it whizz past to land inches from her tail-fin. Narrow-eyed, she watches as Andrews stoops to test the temperature of the water. Frigid and refreshing, she knows, just the way these Northern types like it. Andrews splashes some of the icy water on his face and calls over his shoulder,
“Taking a swim, Cor Blimey!” His pallid body slices its way into the murky pool and disappears.
“Ça c’est couyon! What a fool!”
Deep within her, excitement bubbles like fizzy champagne in celebratory ascent. Andrews doesn’t know it yet, but tonight he will mate with her in her watery bed. She will instruct him in many things. She knows Macajuel, now stretched out somewhere deep in sleep after having his fill, will not mind.
Mamaglo throws her head back, licks her lips, and traces her fingers lingeringly along the voluptuous lines of her cleavage, all the while shivering in anticipation. Let him ramajay, show his motion now; she is not in any haste. Poke-a-poke, little by little, she will catch up with him.
Then, with élan, and sleek, unhurried grace, Mamaglo slips under in pursuit of him. Unlike Andrews, she has plenty of time.
Right there on the Cascabel Junction bridge that marks the Crossroads entre la vie et la mort, between life and death, Mademoiselle Lajablesse sits waiting, cross-legged and demure.
Her sisters have taught her well. Lajablesse likes the shady comfort of night and its element of surprise. She takes a swig from the petit-quart she carries hidden in her bosom, adjusts her frilly skirt to conceal her one cloven hoof and serpent tail, and snickers as the time draws near.
This is the moment she has been salivating for. Tonight he will be all hers. She will teach him a lesson he’s not likely to forget. “Sans humanité.”
But wait. He is nowhere in sight. Always the impatient one, she goes in search of him.
She finds Miguel lying spread-eagled on his back in that woman’s bed, his naked body draped haphazardly across the bed, the covers long gone. He is staring at the ceiling, letting his thoughts ascend to what he thinks is the nothingness above.
“Man, that was a wicked session last night,” he shares aloud with the emptiness. “You ain’t see how Virgie come alive? Since when she enjoy this thing so much? Time for Round Two.”
“Round Two? Eh eh! You’re mine now.” Lajablesse cackles.
She cannot resist his olive skin, soft curly hair, his god-like features, his hard muscular body glistening in evidence of earlier exertions. She bends down and touches her lips to his, letting her tongue linger a while to lap up his sweetness. She moans as the tips of her breasts brush against his chest. It’s torture to wait any longer.
“Levé! Levé! Get up, m’sseur lover-boy, get up!”
Miguel stirs as he feels what he must think is a little bug of some sort roaming on his body, tickling his moustache. His free hand goes up to brush away the disturbance. The woman nestled in his arms stirs. Miguel is fully awake now.
“But wait! Ain’t Virgie dead? So who the hell is this?”
He looks down and his face grows pale. It is Schoolteacher Dorothy, the one they call Uglita. She has been pining after him for years.
Lajablesse can tell he is wondering what he is doing sleeping with this woman he can’t even bear to look at by day. He springs up from the bed, pushes her to the far side, hauls on his faded dungarees, and bolts without a backward glance. He has forgotten to take his boots. But no power on earth could make him go back now.
At the Cascabel bridge, he rests his eyes on this gorgeous caramel-colored creature sitting there in red satin dress with cinched waist and long billowing black petticoats that kiss the ground. Her wide-brimmed straw chapeau shrouds much of her face. Despite his resolve, he feels the usual tightening in his trousers. Lajablesse lowers her eyes. Miguel whistles a low catcall, but says nothing.
Lajablesse jumps up and comes to stand within a hair’s breadth of him, rubbing her palms up and down his thighs, her expert fingers teasing him with the promise of more to come.
“I could walk with you?” she asks, her voice coy, coquettish, seductive; her eyes downcast.
He nods, his heart romping apace like lappe on the run.
They fall into silent step. His manly hackles are on alert; she feels the heat emanating from his loins. He is breathing hard, no doubt racking his brain for something clever to say. Lajablesse is eager to plant her kiss of death. But she must wait. After all, this is only the foreplay. Her love nest, from which no man has returned to give report, awaits just beyond the mountains.
The wind stirs up a whiff of her faint powdery perfume. It is the unmistakable scent of death flowers these villagers have wisely learned to fear. She must be careful.
But too late.
Beads of icy perspiration appear on Miguel’s brow. His eyes search for a way to escape.
Then he remembers. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out an Anchor Special and puts it between lips that tremble under the unaccustomed weight of long-forgotten prayers. He strikes a match. He must know she is afraid of fire -- and even more, of prayers.
Instantly, she vanishes from his sight.
Miguel rushes home in record time and collapses just inside the front door, her eerie, mocking laughter still ringing in his ears.
“Kya-kya-kya! You lucky you ain’t talk or I would have gone with you.”
Way past midnight, Bonita awakens, rubs her blurry eyes, stretches, twisting her neck this way and that to lubricate the bones along her aging spine. A haunting talcum aroma teases her senses. She gathers her rum bottle and scattered scraps. Across the way, she sees the lights go off in Miguel’s house.
“Hmm. That strange. He home already?”
She folds away her precious handiwork and crawls into bed beside her Ignacio, who never strayed even after all these years. She is feeling aroused tonight -- like on all full moon nights.
Next morning, Bonita is sitting on the low wooden bench in her front yard, sewing and sipping her rum-laced coffee, when Miguel comes through on his way to work.
“Hmm. Long time no see. Early night last night?”
“Yes, ma. Ain’t no use running from grief. Only get you into more trouble.”
Her chuckle mingles with the last sweet drops in her demi-tasse.
“Another worker drown in the dam last night,” Miguel says. “ And the news say the governor’s wife pass away in her sleep, and he self in hospital. Like somebody put a good cut-arse on him.”
“Hmm. They musn’t mess with what they ain’t put down. I tell you, that place cursed. They will never finish that dam. Mark my words.”
He shrugs. “Well, later, Ma.”
Bonita wonders why everything she has just heard has such a familiar ring to it.
She knots the last pieces into place – strips of gold brocade, sea-weed colored rayon, navy terry-cloth, blue pin-stripes, khaki cotton, faded denim, white jersey -- all tied together into the crocus bag base with threads that look like strands of corded hair.
Bonita holds up her tapestry to the light.
There, in a blaze of vibrant color, la trinité sans humanité appears in circular mosaic, faces uplifted as if in exultation.
“ Se acabo. Fini. It is finished.”
©K.P. Lewis (Kalypsoul)