“The Saapin’s Spell” 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 has a bout of bad luck.
The Saapin’s Spell
by Vashti Bowlah
Trinidad; The Saapin
It was hard to resist the lure of Miss Chantal. Her silky-smooth waist-length hair was as dark as her haunting round eyes, set a little too far apart in her heart-shaped face; her cocoa brown skin seemed as soft as a baby’s bottom, while her luscious lips were always . . . well . . . luscious. She was the envy of most women, young and old, who would do almost anything to be the proud owner of her Coca-Cola-shaped body, filled to proportion in all the right places.
Many of the elders in the village were convinced that Miss Chantal was a Saapin, and that once she cast her spell on any unsuspecting male, his days were numbered. This first became evident when, at the ripened age of nineteen, she was married to the pumpkin farmer’s son in a traditional three-day wedding ceremony. Her parents had sought a suitable match for their only daughter with the hope of providing her with a better life.
They were aware of the whispers of some women: “Like Miss Chantal having trouble choosing a good boy from all them proposals! Just now she go be ah old maid!”
The boy was a handsome young man in his early twenties who’d never even caught the flu, and who worked alongside his father and three younger brothers in their fields. Seven months after their marriage, the villagers were shocked by news of his untimely death due to a sudden illness. His family was even more confused when the doctors were unable to provide any conclusive diagnosis.
More than a year later, the blacksmith confessed to Miss Chantal that he had always been in love with her and had intended to ask for her hand in marriage, but had been too late. He was a fine young gentleman who learned his trade from his father and grandfather, who all made beautiful cooking utensils. They courted briefly and were married in an intimate ceremony attended only by immediate family, close relatives, and friends. They went everywhere together, and he seemed to have an extra bounce in his step, noticeable only after the wedding. He beamed with pride whenever a customer came to his workshop and paid a compliment about his lovely new bride. It wasn’t much longer when he also suffered a strange illness. He couldn’t explain the sudden numbness in his body or understand why he grew tired much more often than he should. His wife and family were all baffled. One night he went to bed and never woke up the next morning.
This left room for further speculation by the elders in the village—while on the other hand, poor Miss Chantal did not understand what was happening, or why it was happening to her. “What did I do to deserve this?” she cried, both hands covering her face while she sat on the dirt floor next to her husband’s lifeless body. “How could I lose two husbands just like that? What’s wrong with me?”
She was unaware of the reason for her misfortune, as no one dared to tell her that being born a Saapin meant that she could never keep a husband. It was believed that the snake was embedded in a Saapin’s spine and awoke during intimacy. This is something that was understood only by those who witnessed similar incidents or knew of women with the soul of a serpent reptile, reborn in the form of a beautiful and unsuspecting female.
But some remained skeptical, convinced that Miss Chantal could not have caused the death of her first two husbands. Narine, the son of the village pundit, did not believe in such things and sympathized with her. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a coincidence,” he comforted her. “It was their time to leave this world, and there was no way you could change that. It’s their karma.”
Everyone watched the new couple with keen interest, and thought Narine was a brave man for agreeing to marry Miss Chantal. But they seemed happy when they celebrated their first wedding anniversary, and all was forgotten.
It wasn’t long after, on a hazy morning, when all doubts were removed and the skeptics were converted to believers. It was the day Miss Chantal received news that her husband met with an accident on his way to work at the nearby sugar estate. He was run over by a jeep driven by the estate police while attempting to cross the road on his bicycle.
VASHTI BOWLAH is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago whose stories have gained her literary awards and nominations. She has been published in The Caribbean Writer, St. Petersburg Review, Poui, WomanSpeak Journal, Akashic’s Duppy Thursday (“The Churile of Sugarcane Valley”), Signifyin’ Guyana, Tongues of the Ocean, and St. Somewhere Journal. Her stories center on the humble lifestyle, culture, and heritage of East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as their tremendous sacrifices. She is the author of Under The Peepal Tree.
—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: Apr 14, 2016
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