It was the last day of class before school closed for Christmas. Excited to be out school, I ran right out the school gates as soon as the bell rang to signal the final dismissal. Racing down the road with grave urgency I got home in a matter of minutes. It almost felt like my feet never touched the ground. Either that or I lived a lot closer to school than I had originally thought.
Regardless, I was home safe and excited. Excited because it was time for yet another family road trip. Every year, on the last day of school, daddy packed the entire family up in his little blue Suzuki van and we drove off into the country – deep into the ‘Valley’ we would go. Mammy would often stay up all night cooking food so we could take along with us. She also ensured that we, my twin older brothers, Jacob and Johnny, and I, Jasmine went to bed early so there would be no trouble when it came time to get ready for our last day of school. She always insisted that we left school promptly when the time came rather than stay and dilly dally around the school yard with our friends.
School let out at its usual one o’clock and we were all home before one-thirty that day. By the time we got home, mammy and daddy had all ready loaded everything in the van. Mammy helped us pack the clothes and other necessities that we would need to last us the week, the night before. Daddy loaded the pots of food in the back of the van, and after we had changed out of our school uniformed we hopped in the back of the van with our uncle, So-so and his daughter, Sammy. They came on every family outing we went on and without them no adventure would be complete. Uncle So-so was daddy’s youngest brother, and daddy had five brothers and three sisters in all.
It was about quarter to three, when we set off. Pretty soon we were on the highway and the real fun had just begun. Uncle So-so was noted for his famous jokes that made us laugh not because they were particularly funny but rather because he was the only one who got them. He had a hearty soulful laugh which in and of itself was a joke. It was hard not to crack up whenever uncle So-so started laughing.
Samantha, or Sammy as we called her, was quite different from her dad. She sat quietly off to the corner of the van reading one of her very many novels. That girl was in a world of her own. She always said to me that books were her escape to worlds and places she may never go. Sammy was three years older than me but same age as my brothers who were twelve. I always longed for a sister and so I looked up to Samantha as my big sister because she was so intelligent, beautiful, kind and wise. To me she seemed to know everything and she was my personal walking library, computer and every other thing you could derive knowledge from. But she had one rule: “Never interpret her journey to another time, place or world” or in layman’s terms: “When the book is up, the questions stop!” So we all left her alone, while we continued to have fun in the sun, sinking our teeth into juicy grafted mangoes mammy left us. I loved grafted mangoes. They were my absolute favorite type of mango and I savored each bite. Every drop of it’s sweet juices was too precious to go to waste and so I licked my arm from elbow to fingertips, to mop up the juices which rolled down my arm.
We had been on the road for about an hour and weren’t much further from our destination; Layou Valley. It took us another half hour or so before we finally arrived. Daddy drove the little van into the yard and it felt like we had entered into a forgotten but enchanted lust green fantasy world. I absolutely loved going to the “country”. I felt like I had finally begun to live and each time we left the country to go back to the city a little part of me always died. But we were finally there and just as quickly as we hopped in before, we all hopped out and started to unload the back of the van.
Mammy’s sister, Shirley waved from the window of the wooden house which sat on the large plantation that we were about to inhabit for the next couple days. Two of her aunts, Tita and Tadi who were also twins came out to help, as well as our grandpa, David. David or Pampouti as the villagers called him, was a tall strapping man in his prime and even now he still towered over us like a mighty and strong giant. Truth is though as strong as he was, he was a big ole’ softy and we loved him. The sweetest man we’ve ever known and we were proud to call him my grandpa. Mammy took the large pot of broth which she had pre-cooked and place it on the coal pot, Pampouti himself had made. One of our grand-aunts brought over some coal while the other carried a box of matches to light up the fire. The rest of us carried our belongings into the house.
The house was a carpenter’s dream come true. Made entirely from treated lumber, it was of an impressionably size and stood as a force to be reckoned with. It needed to be that big because there were so many family members who would flock to the house during the holidays, including but not limited to, Christmas. It seemed like we were the first real group to arrive as the house was pretty much empty, but I knew for a fact that pretty soon this house would be packed as there were others on their way. As soon as we had our sleeping arrangements situated we headed back outside. It was time to go explore the ‘forgotten forbidden garden’.
After we had convinced mammy that we were old enough to venture off on own, with a little help from grandpa Pampouti, we set off, searching for adventure. It was only the four of us; Jacob, Johnny, Sammy and I. The first older of business was fruit picking, and believe me, there were simple just too many choose from. There were cherries, mangoes, oranges, grapefruits, sugar apples, carambola or star fruit, plums, tangerines, kenips, and so much more. We were like kids in a candy store. There were some jelly-nuts laying neath the shady of the coconut trees and Johnny drew his little pocket knife from his key chain, and a stone and went right to work trying to crack them open. And he was successful. We hung around for a while eating fruits, sipping on jelly-nut water, and hiding from the rays of the sun under the naturally formed tree branch canopy.
After we had, had our fill we resumed our journey. Our destination was the mighty river that cut the Valley in with we now dwelled. Layou river was a beautiful masterpiece created only by the greatest artist of them all, God. Deep and wide and long. It was a blessing to have this magnificent piece of nature flowing not too far from the house. We heard rumors of mysterious creatures such as Mama Glo lurking in its depths and stories of how creatures like Loogawoos and Lajabless which are pretty much one and the same thing carried children off into the forest never to be seen again. With a little fear lingering in the back of our minds we proceeded with much bravado. Out of all of us Jacob always acted like he was the most fearless, running far ahead of us a daring us to keep us, less we be captured by one of the foul and evil creatures that lurked in the woods. Sammy as always was the one who kept a level head didn’t seem to be phased by Jacob’s challenges.
I thought since she was obviously the smartest and most tactful and resourceful, I thought it wise to stick near her, and so I did. It wasn’t long before we finally made it to the river, and of course Jacob had to be the first one to dive into the water. What a show off that boy was. By the time Johnny, Sammy and I made it to the river we meet Jacob swimming around with his clothes tossed messily on a large rock which rested on the river bank. Soon Johnny and I joined him, tossing our clothes in the same fashion on that rock, and diving right into the sweet little pool the river had formed.
However, Sammy decided to stay on the bank where it was dry. She wasn’t a very strong swimmer and felt it would be safer is she just watched on like a mother hen. We spent most of the after noon just playing by the river. At one point Jacob and Johnny started a game of cricket while Sammy and I cheered them on. We were so lost in our little world that we paid no attention to the fact that it was getting late and the veil of darkness that engulfed the Valley had begun to lower. Not even Sammy noticed. It seemed like she was having fun without a book in her hand for the very first time and didn’t see the sun dip below the sky. Before we knew it night was upon us, we hurriedly started on our way back. Dressing as we go, fear started to trickle down from our minds and into our hearts. All the stories that our grandparents, uncles , aunts, and parents told us about jumbies suddenly flooded our minds. Timid and frightful, our quick step turned into a quick run. We were almost home. Joyful and a little relieved a smiled when I started to see the house in the distance.
But that joy was short lived though as the thought of how furious our parents and loved-ones must be, not to mention worried. But that thought too was short lived as something happened that stop us all dead in our tracks. The most putrid stench one could imagine assaulted our nostrils, and for that moment all our minds where in sync as we instantly knew what it was. There was only one thing that could have smelled that bad; a jumbie. Jumbies are evil spirits that live in the forest and will attack anyone who stays in the forest after dark. Before we could utter any words we saw the vile creature with glowing bright eyes advancing towards us, forcing us to retract back into the ‘bush’.
That’s when we heard Sammy say the most offensive phrase I dare not repeat. She told us that she had read in a Dominican folklore book that should you encounter a jumbie you can repelled them by cursing or offending them or their mother, and so she encouraged us to repelled the jumbie with her. While we were doing this, she also told us to turn our shirts inside-out and put it on backwards, while she poured dirt on our heads. Our efforts appeared to be working as the creature started to back off. Just then we heard a commotion to our left; opposite to the side where the jumbie was. Fear crippled our lips and we stopped repelling the jumbie.
There I was, thinking, we’re getting rid of one creature and we’re attracting another. But as the figure drew closer we could here it uttering the same words as us. It wasn’t a creature, it was our grandfather Pampouti, along with daddy and Uncle So-so. They were all wearing their shirts backwards and repelling the jumbie.
Just then, I felt a hand tugging on my arm but it was only daddy grabbing each one of us and pulling us to safety. They kept at it until we were all safely home. When we got back to the house we saw mammy, aunty Tita and aunty Tadi saying prayers, burning special herbs which they said would ward off evil creatures and blessing the doorway to ensure that the jumbie would not come into the house. We were instructed to enter into the house backwards.
After the adults and finished up outside the came into the house in the same manner. It was then that we noticed aunt Shirley was nowhere to be found and so Jacob asked for her. The emotions expressed on their faces was mixed across the board. Grandpa and our twin aunts looked worried, Uncle So-so looked relieved and happy, daddy looked upset and mammy looked disappointed. No one really said anything apart from offering us something to eat. We went to bed that night but didn’t really go to sleep. We were lucky to make it out of there with our live but we knew from then on our country vacations would never be the same. Not because we now knew for a fact that the stories of the mythical creature we true but because we knew we had lost every ounce of freedom and leeway we had when it came to all our mini adventures, and it’s possible that our own aunt tried to attack us.
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