“Naga” by Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming
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, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming has an out-of-body experience in Trinidad.
by Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming
Trinidad; The Saapin
Naga raced across the floor. She knew if she crawled, the pebbles would dig into her skin and make her sore. She made for the nearest pole and climbed to the highest rafter, where she curled up and watched the man on the crocus-sack mattress, grunting and writhing.
Naga discovered she could see in the dark. She looked at her mother and father in the adjoining room of the barrack, lying on a similar mattress on a creaky wooden bed. Her mother’s eyes were closed but her hands covered her ears, as if trying to block out the sounds the man was making. Her father’s back was turned away from her so Naga could not tell if he was asleep.
The man had a wooden bed, where he slept alone. He made the girl sleep on the mattress on the dirt floor of his room.
Naga was nine when the man came for her. He was taller and broader than her father—who was nicknamed Slim—and his hair was grey at the temples. Naga, who was sitting outside with her two brothers and two sisters, picking small stones from the paddy rice, eavesdropped as the man spoke with her parents.
“Is three months now, yuh telling meh, come back next month. Well, next month here now. If yuh cyar pay meh de money, then geh meh yuh big daughter.”
“No, not meh beti,” Naga’s mother cried. “Slim, do something, nah man!”
“Ah cyar do nothing, ah just eh have de money,” Naga’s father said with a trembling voice.
Naga had no idea who they were talking about. Then her mother and father called and told her she had to go with the man.
“No,” Naga yelled, almost doubling over in fear. She expected her father to slap her for shouting, but he stood still and said nothing.
As the man led her to his room, Naga looked back at her parents and pleaded, “Mama! Papa! Help me!”
“Shut up,” the man shouted, and slapped her across her mouth.
Naga covered her mouth with her hand and tasted blood as her fingertips traced the swelling on her lips. She sought her mother’s eyes, but her mother’s head was turned down, as if she was praying. Naga knew she had to go with the man, the man who looked like her friend Etwaria’s nana, except Etwaria’s nana always played with Etwaria and her brothers and never slapped them. Etwaria’s nani died before Etwaria was born, so her nana lived with Etwaria’s mother, his eldest daughter. All of Naga’s grandparents lived in India.
Naga’s mother used to tell her, “When the contract finish, we will cross back the kala pani. We will go back home.”
Naga did not know the kala pani. She was born right there, in the barracks, in Trinidad.
It was on that first night, when the man took her to his room, that Naga realized she could slide out of her body. It was easy, like slipping off her skirt to swim in the river. After the man returned to his bed and started snoring, Naga climbed down and slithered back into her body.
Then one night, when the man came, Naga could not escape. There was something sticky between her legs, holding her back. For the first time, Naga felt the great pain right there in the soft place between her legs. She screamed. The man punched her belly and covered her mouth with his big, rough hand, as he continued his pounding and grunting.
The next morning, Naga complained to her mother, “De man beat me and tear me up last night.”
“Yuh go have tuh get used to that. Yuh is a woman now,” her mother said, handing her a cup of hardi tea. “Drink this, yuh go feel better.”
Naga drank the milky tea, but did not feel any better. Throughout the day, as she did her weeding, she thought about how the man hurt her. Each time she thought there was nothing she could do, her spine undulated, like a snake. That night, Naga again could not escape the man. Her belly hurt, but she did not scream. She twisted and writhed, even as the man tried to pin her down. Eventually, she was able to wrap herself around his body and squeeze and squeeze until he went limp. Until he no longer breathed. Naga then unfurled herself and slithered away from the barracks, into the cane field, toward the river.
LELAWATTEE MANOO-RAHMING is a Trinidadian Bahamian Mechanical/Building Services Engineer, poet, fiction writer, and artist. She is the author of two poetry collections: Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems (Proverse Hong Kong, 2011), which contains some of her artwork; and Curry Flavour (Peepal Tree Press, 2000). Lelawattee has won the David Hough Literary Prize (2001) and the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize (2009) from The Caribbean Writer. She has also won the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association 2001 Short Story Competition, and was shortlisted for the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize for Fiction, in 2013.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 7, 2016
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