“Uncle Sagaboy vs. the Bushman” by Justin Haynes
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, Justin Haynes listens to a story.
Uncle Sagaboy vs. the Bushman
by Justin Haynes
Trinidad and Tobago; Papa Bois
Late one afternoon, while sweeping up, my uncle asked if he ever told me about how he almost make a jail, and immediately I thought: whoremongering.
“And it wasn’t whoremongering,” he said. Sweeping was bad luck after sunset, so he stopped, but I knew he feared the dark. He was a real sagaboy, so jail must have meant women.
He emptied the dust and said that one day he was out in the bush hunting quenk when it happened.
“You? Hunting?” I laughed.
“Yes, smart man,” he said fiercely. He had never hit me, but he had learned to box at QRC, so I ferme ma bouche.
He said he had tracked the quenk behind a silk cotton tree when he heard a crack that sounded like ten men clapping at once. A bushman as tall as a low-hanging cloud with a beard like bees stepped out from behind the silk cotton tree and slipped him into a headlock.
“Don’t struggle,” the bushman said.
The bushman marched him to a small wooden shack garroted by trees that blocked out the sun. Still headlocked, the bushman smashed my uncle’s head into the door of the shack.
“Watch your head,” the bushman said, then smashed his head again.
When he spun my uncle into the shack, my uncle searched for windows. The bushman laughed, and my uncle pieced together words from the Memorare. The shack held only a wooden chair near the front door and a low bed in the far corner. The bushman occupied the chair and gestured my uncle to the bed. When my uncle’s eyes got used to the darkness, he spied the cutlass draped across the bushman’s lap, along with two young women, completely naked, standing in the gloom not far from the bed.
“So you come to hunt my good-good quenk,” said the bushman.
“You’re not Papa Bois.”
“Papa Bois would have snapped your neck already.” Then the bushman ordered a sponge bath for my uncle, but warned: “If you get a cockstand, I will cut off your totee.”
The first naked woman approached my uncle with a big bowl of water and a washrag. The woman lowered the bowl of water and unbuttoned my uncle’s shirt. The second woman worked his trousers. My uncle felt the usual stirrings. There was no way to avoid arousal—the women were attractive, and he was a sagaboy. He wondered if the bushman would bury him or leave him for the animals.
Then my uncle recognized blindness: the woman’s eyes were welded shut with lightning-strike scars. The second woman, unlatching my uncle’s trousers, was worse: her eyes were heart-rending blisters. Rage bubbled like asphalt inside my uncle—he knew that the bushman had blinded these women to prevent their escape.
Pointing the cutlass, the bushman said, “Okay so far, partner, but time will tell.” He made his way over to my uncle, awaiting the inevitable. This was when the blood in my uncle’s head burned the hottest, and he closed his eyes and lost all senses, except for a heightened hearing that allowed him to listen to the bushman’s quiet footsteps pit-patting like a quenk through the woods.
My uncle wasn’t aware that he had thrown the 2-3-2 combination—the right cross–left hook–right cross jumped from his fists. Eyes closed, he had thrown it with such rage that the bushman was immediately knocked out, him spilling one way, his cutlass another.
My uncle quickly dressed and told the women to do the same; he would take them home. But, on their knees, they searched for the bushman instead.
“Oh God, mister,” the first woman cried. “Why you so wicked?”
The second woman wailed louder. They refused to leave. When they located the bushman, they cradled his head and wiped his face. My uncle, known for his low cunning with women, begged them. Think of your families, he pleaded, but they dismissed him.
Taking the bushman’s cutlass, he left them behind, serenaded by their grief.
My uncle said that he couldn’t tell the police about the women—suppose they found their bones? They would lose my uncle in jail.
“That is why you shouldn’t worry about jumbies,” he said to me, “because people evil enough. And you can’t kill evil.” He clicked on the porch light and slipped outside to smoke, listen to Radio Trinidad, and ignore the orchestra of frogs calling in the darkness in the faith revival field down below us.
JUSTIN HAYNES researches and writes about Caribbean literature.
—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: Mar 3, 2016
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