“The Churile of Sugarcane Valley” by Vashti Bowlah
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, Vashti Bowlah unveils the secrets of the East India churile.
Her long jet-black hair; unbound and disheveled, streams over her face as she wails sorrowfully, while her child cries for milk like a kitten’s meow. Ever since she died during childbirth she has been seen dressed in a white gown covering her ankles as she seeks revenge on those who wronged her.
Not that anyone believed in such things anymore, but a few elders in the village swore that they have seen her; sometimes standing at the side of the road, or under a tree. “A churile always gets revenge on those who hurt her,” everyone agreed.
Miss Neela first moved into Sugarcane Valley two years ago to care for her ailing grandmother. She was a seamstress and filled the void left by old Mrs. Dass who retired a few years earlier. But, the villagers had their reservations about the new arrival. It was suspected that she never spoke much because of a lisp, and had a birth mark across her right shoulder in the shape of the devil’s head. But, Miss Neela was never bothered by the rumors or the strange behavior of the villagers. At the ripe old age of thirty-three, she was the subject of old-maid jokes wherever she went. She was also the topic of choice when housewives met at the vegetable stalls or while they waited near the gate to collect their children after school.
“Poor girl, she never find a decent man to marry she,” commented one woman.
“Must be karma,” said another. “Maybe she do something bad in she previous life so she paying for it now. Why else she go have a birth mark like that.”
“Well, I still feel sorry for she, for letting a good-for-nothing man like Raj fool she up like that,” added the third woman. “If she did only ask somebody they woulda tell she about the other girls he fool up and then drop them like ah old shoe.”
Miss Neela rarely went out except with her grandmother to keep her appointment at the District Health Facility, or to purchase sewing accessories at the haberdashery store. She walked the two miles to the main road to catch the train to San Fernando, clutching a small handmade tote bag on her shoulder. Raj would be sitting at Jaikaran’s Bar near the train station after completing his early morning task in the canefield.
“I bet I could get she to go out with me,” he boasted to Jaikaran one morning.
“She only living here about five months now so leave the girl alone and don’t even think about doing anything stupid,” warned Jaikaran.
“Nah boy, if I don’t get a piece of that, then my name is not Raj.”
Raj wasted no time visiting her to hem his pants or sew on a shirt button he often ripped off himself. He was soon accompanying her to the haberdashery store and even hired a car at one time to take her and her grandmother to the District Health Facility. His quest took longer than anticipated, but there was a visible glow on Miss Neela’s face and a bounce in her step that could not be misconstrued for anything but love.
Some months later and much to everyone’s surprise, she suddenly refused new jobs and finished sewing all the clothes that were in her possession. She was never seen or heard from again until the news spread that Miss Neela had given birth with the help of her grandmother. Neither the mother nor the child survived. Her grandmother died heartbroken days later.
The villagers were convinced that Miss Neela’s grieving spirit would not move on until she had her revenge on Raj. Her vengeful spirit was announced at night by the continuous howling of the neighborhood dogs. Villagers carried garlic and lime in their pockets for protection, and threw salt in their doorways and windows to keep away any evil spirit which might have followed them home. Some even wore their clothes on the wrong side if they were returning home at midnight.
It wasn’t long before Raj’s body was pulled out of the rice lagoon by a farmer. It was rumored that the last thing he did was scream out Miss Neela’s name in the dead of the night under the huge mango tree. The churile was never sighted again.
Vashti Bowlah is a writer from Trinidad & Tobago. She was selected for the UWI/Cropper Foundation Creative Writers’ Workshop, the Craft of Fiction at UTT and the Mentoring by the Masters program hosted by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism. She is also a registered Author with the Cultural Division. Bowlah’s stories have appeared in The Caribbean Writer, St. Petersburg Review, Poui, WomanSpeak Journal, Signifyin’ Guyana, Tongues of the Ocean, St. Somewhere Journal and Jewel of the Caribbean as well as local newspapers. She was awarded The Caribbean Writer’s David Hough Literary Prize, and shortlisted for the inaugural Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize. Her debut book ‘Under The Peepal Tree’ was launched at the NGC Bocas Literary Festival in 2014.
—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.
—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: Oct 1, 2015
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Bronx Biannual: The Literary Journal of Urbane Urban Literature
- Sale Simon’s Cat Bundle
- How the Left Lost Teen Spirit
- Censorship Now!!
- Demons in the Spring
- Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group
- Seriously, You Have to Eat
- Seriously, Just Go to Sleep
- No One Told Me Not to Do This
- The Half That’s Never Been Told: The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Doctor Dread
- All the Power: Revolution Without Illusion