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News & Features » April 2016 » “Tamarind Mouth Comes Home” by Portia Subran

“Tamarind Mouth Comes Home” by Portia Subran

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, Portia Subran makes a new friend.

portia subranTamarind Mouth Comes Home
by Portia Subran
Caparo, Trinidad; Douens

The rain stops now and I shake my head to fling the last drop off my big straw hat. It have a freezing trickle of water running down my arm, a silver ball escaping down to the tip of my finger. Forest rain does be like that: cold in the humidity, shining like hell when the light touch it. I side-stepping down the hill, the root of the cedar tree forming a kind of natural staircase for me. When you walking through Caparo bush, it good to look at the ground every now and then to check if it have bachac running over your toes or if your heel going right into a picka plant. But when I look down, I can’t see nothing except the wrinkle skin of my backward ankles.

I reach the base of the hill; the towering cedar and mango trees disappear behind me. I pass the broad wet leaves of the unsupervised coffee trees, the berries rotting in black and red clusters along the stems. The man was getting slack now. He eh come here in a while. He used to come every weekend, spade and crocus bag in hand, following curling vines with dirt clotted hands to find yam and cush-cush.

But I know he here today, because I could smell she.

Like the spider lilies blooming in the night, I was smelling this child from on top the hill. Here now at the bottom, I watching she crunch dead branches under she boots. She busy taking the small round fruit of the Chinese tamarind tree and pushing it between her open lips. Under her oversized blue cap, she spit out the seeds and start pulling on the thick lianas wrap round the bois mulatre, testing her weight before using it to lower herself into the dry river bed. She stumble back suddenly seeing she land right under a maribone nest and slowly start to edge away from it.

“Maggie!” I call what the man does call she. She eh even turn she head.

“Maggie—Margaret . . . Magdalena . . . Magnolia—” She whip round fast and watch me dead in my eyes. With a twist-up lip, she ask, “How you know my name?”

I dig my toes hard into the dead leaves of the coffee trees and slide down into the riverbed next to she.

“That is because we is done friends, girl.” I raise up my straw hat and give she a broad smile. She smile back.

“But how your foot twist up so, and where your clothes? Chigger go get yuh.”

“Doh study my foot, girl, and chigger cah get me! I have immunity to that.”

She nod she head, making she cap fall off. She forehead have black sweaty strands of hair plastered against her teak-coloured skin. “They does get me bad-bad.”

I pick up she hat and she ask for my name.

“My friends does call me Fast Fingers.” I show she why, swivelling her cap on my finger. I toss it high in the air and it flop right back on she head. She scream with laughter.

“Maggie! Maggie! Where you gone?” The man voice was coming toward we.

She freeze, and the tamarind in she hand fall into the rotting leaves. I watch as she lips part and her breath come out short and sharp. I take she hand in mine and put my finger against the maribone wasp nest. The tiny creatures leave their little house and start to crawl up my finger forming a black line round my wrist. She staring at the moving circle now, mesmerize.

“How you doing that?”

“I could teach you. I could teach you plenty things.” The maribone walk down my finger and onto hers, encircling her thin wrist.

“Doh frighten because of he. Come home on top the hill, Tamarind Mouth, and I go show you how to tell them insect what to do. And I promise, no chigger go get you.”

I whisper to the maribone and they fly away from us in a swarm and down to the voice crying below.

Tears stream down she face as she hand tighten.

I can’t remember much before I get my own ankle twist backward, just like Tamarind Mouth eh go remember any of the time before this. Is only I who go remember she screaming in the forest, crying out for someone to save she from the heavy hand on she throat and the bitter taste in she mouth.


PORTIA SUBRAN is a Trinidadian artist and writer. Her artwork has been featured in Arc Magazine, children’s novels, and has been displayed at the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago end of year exhibitions. She was presented with the UWI Literatures in English prize for Creative Writing for the 2009–2010 period. In 2013, she was announced the winner of the Potbake Productions 2011–2013 Caribbean Short Story Competition for her work, “Unclipped Wings.” This work was later published in the Caribbean short story collection Jewels of the Caribbean. She will be featured in New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, which launches at this year’s Bocas Literature Festival in Trinidad. 


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Duppy Thursday flash fiction series? Here are thesubmissionterms and guidelines:

—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 info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Apr 21, 2016

Category: Original Fiction, Duppy Thursday | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,