Image Courtesy of Simon Monk. Shared via a Creative Commons license.
Tomorrow gon mark day fifty of rain in La Leña. First five days in, the village was crackin jokes. People blaming the Government for the downpour, saying, Mr. Honorable Prime Minister, this whole time we scruntin for a drop in the tap, but now you givin we water up to we waist! The weatherman was the biggest comedian for a while—every night, forecasting that we smack right in the middle of the dry season, the sun blazing hot like a scorpion pepper. Was funny till we actually went outside and look up. Look up right now, look!—there is the sun! Like a burning marble in the blue sky, and hardly a cloud in sight! Yet the rain continues. It ain’t make sense.
Round the tenth day, some start callin it is a sign of the end-times.
People who commuting in and out of the village talk bout comin back home in the rain, how it start to smell different in here. Outside of La Leña dry, dry, dry, they say. Didn’t take we long to figure out that this rain was only fallin here. Couldn’t even call it the end-times no more, cause the rest of the country was normal. Now, it was a curse, obeah on the village. Sometimes the mist get so heavy in the streets that you couldn’t see past your own front gate. People was just shadows in the distance. The village stand along a slope of dense clay and loam, high above sea level, so the flood take a while to happen. Still, the rain is of no concern to people outside of the village. On day twenty-two, we realize we had a nickname: Raintown.
On day thirty, people come to the conclusion that nobody was comin to save the village. We had to save weselves. This was when our neighbour, Mr. Jafree, organize the first hall meeting. Right before the first one, Grampa Aldo sit me and tell me: “You ever hear bout the Doomsday Clock, boyo?”
I shake my head. He use his cane to lift the blinds to look outside. “Talkin to Jafree this mornin. He tellin me they have this thing call the Doomsday Clock in America. Since them fellas drop the bomb on Japan, they hang up the clock.”
“What the clock there for?”
“Countin down to midnight.”
“Midnight? What happen at midnight?”
“The end of the world,” he say. “Midnight, crapaud smoke we pipe.”
I shrug. “So much years gone and we ain’t pass midnight yet?”
“Know what the clock readin today?” He tap his cane against the floor—thump, thump, thump. “Three minutes to midnight.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Every day, the clock read somethin different?”
“The scientists and them look at how the world goin. I assume they plug in equations to figure it out. Open up the clock and they move the hands accordingly. Y’know the world goin one way and the people goin the next. Y’know what Jafree say goin to destroy the world?”
“The climate—how we pumpin all that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide up there, he say. The clock tickin down as the temperature goin up. This is what bringin all the rain, he tell me. Say we have a hole in the ozone right above La Leña causing all this jhanjhat.”
“I ain’t think that is how the ozone work, gramps.”
“I ain’t think so neither. That Jafree is fulla shit, oui—just because he read them foreign newspapers, he feel he could talk.”
The first village meeting didn’t have much people. Out of a village population for four hundred, maybe twenty show up, Grampa, me and Mr. Jafree included. Everybody had a theory for the rain. We was getting all kinda terms toss round: relief rainfall, pressure fronts, air-mass storms. All of a sudden, every man jack in La Leña had a degree in meteorology. We had folks who was giving names to the clouds now—that one is cumulus, that one is cumulonimbus. Mr. Jafree himself claim to hear small planes zoomin through the sky one night. Artillery shells of silver iodide, he say they coulda be dumpin on the clouds to make rain. They do it to wash away the nuclear radiation from Chernobyl back in the eighties, he say. Cloud seeding, he call it.
Grampa Aldo’s voice was the loudest, though. He stand up and proclaim, “I will tell you what this is! You know how people always sayin how God is a Trini?” Everybody turn to him and nodded. “But that en’t true. Y’know what God is?”
Everyone shift in their seats, waiting for the answer: “God is a Chinee.”
The room fill with laughter. Mr. Jafree let out a scoff. “Why you say that, Aldo?”
“I sit down here listenin to the rain. Hear it patter-patter-patter against the galvanize whole day, the sound gettin louder and louder. Anytime I walk out in the yard, the raindrops feel heavier and heavier on my shoulders. Drizzle feelin like hammer in my head.”
“What you getting to?” Mr. Jafree ask.
“This is just like Chinese water torture, folks. Write it down. Look it up.” He purse his lips. “Them say when Judgment come, God gon send down fire and brimstone, eh. Locusts and plague. But naw, this is Judgment right here. Drip, drip, drip in your head whole day, till it feel like the sky crashin down on you. This is why they use to say that the world end not with a bang, but with a whimper.” Grampa’s speech had everybody talkin the next day. Word spread. Seem like he seeded some clouds of his own.
At the next meeting, Mr. Jafree suggest an experiment. He get together with some other fellas and they stick flags in the dirt right at the edges of the village—from the slagheaps near the rickety squatter settlement to the east, to the western boundaries of the rusted steel pasture in the auto graveyard. They stick them right where the rain end. I mean, you could be straddling a flag, back to the pole, one sleeve wet, one sleeve dry. Three days pass, and the rain didn’t move. Jafree couldn’t come up with a scientific conclusion for the situation.
So, despite all the theory and ole-talk, most people return to the hypothesis Grampa broadcast: This is Judgment. This is the Almighty lettin the people of La Leña know that something is wrong. That we have scoundrels and crooks here. Maybe the rain was trying to wash this place clean. Purge the sin, and the rain will stop.
This was the real countdown to midnight. I coulda picture it, each sin shifting the minute hand little by little. Each transgression, tick—each trespass, tock.
The hall was flooded with people every evenin now. But it wasn’t meetings no more. It was battle royales. The hall was an accusation chamber, a kangaroo court. People screeching out names like crazy, convince that they know who is the ones that bringing the rain.
Grampa get to decide on the first name: Dr. Rahamut. Dr. Rahamut had a room set aside in his house, that Grampa call the Slipslide Office—where the doc could pull out babies from wombs. “It have a metal clamp he like to use!” Grampa proclaim. “When he have to remove the baby, he pull it limb by limb! And he use the clamp to crush the skull! Then he would piece together the baby on a table, like it is a broken doll, like it is a jigsaw puzzle! Tell me what kinda sick village would allow a man like that to practice his business here?”
The next night, somebody damn near torch Dr. Rahamut’s practice to the ground. Grampa never tell anyone to do that, but you coulda depend on somebody doin it, anyway. We rush out of their house to look at the tendrils of fire fastenin to the house, even as the rain pelt down on it. Thing is, the rain didn’t stop. So the people needed another name.
The next one they pull up was the bar-owner, Gordo. Everybody know he use to deal coke on the side but nobody say a word till Grampa bawl it out at the next town meeting. “This is the kinda vice we allowin in this village?” he say, planting another seed for the next storm. The next night, a gang surround Gordo’s bar and break all the windows while he was in it. They tie him up and call the police for him. All of a sudden, they had enough evidence to lay charges on the man. Nobody fraid nobody no more.
The next day, the rain stop for a half hour. Only a half hour, but it was a sign. They was on the right track. It was pandemonium whenever the next name had to be decided. Names of men callin for any little indiscretion. This one late with the sou-sou money, that one pickin my sapodilla tree dry. Anybody who you ever watch wrong or owe money, you best bet your bottom dollar your name and place of business going up on trial. You had to fraid the people with the biggest mouths—they cry out the most names and they shout them the loudest. Everybody givin bad-eye at everybody. Whenever a name call, a fight erupted, spillin out of the hall and into the downpour in the road. The cramped, humid space didn’t help the congregation of madness.
I thought back to what Grampa Aldo say. The rain was torture and La Leña was goin mad from it. This was a friendly, orderly village before the rain. People was always in the street, children with bats and scrap metal wickets, old ladies chattering at the gates. The oyster man’s flambeau used to measure the night shift. The only sourness these folk use to know was borne by the grosella tree, the only butterness was a paw-paw gone bad. The roosters ain’t even know when to crow no more. The wind ain’t know which direction to blow. This ain’t La Leña anymore. This is Raintown. People desperate to bring things back to how it was.
Last month, just round when the rain start, Gordo had take in a young girl named Dill. Spanish, skin like bronze. Thick, dry fossilized hair. Early twenties, dress like a streetwalker from uptown—red, scooter skirt, bodice exposed and bosom tryin to bust through a sweaty black tank top. He clear a backroom for her to sleep in. She was good for business, he use to say. He let her pay the first month’s rent by smearin lipstick on a dozen drunkards’ balls. Mr. Jafree end up taking Dill back to his house, claimin he used to know her father once upon a time.
“Y’gone senile, Jafree?” Grampa Aldo ask him when he first see Dill sitting in his porch.
Mr. Jafree just let out a chuckle. “She ain’t have nowhere to go.”
“She had half the men in La Leña, eh. Just so y’know.”
“I know the gal have a lil demon in she. She just need help.”
“Next t’ing you can’t help y’self when the time come!” Grampa Aldo warn him.
Ain’t know how Dill end up in La Leña or where she dredge herself out from. But I never feel right bout her. Truth is, though, nobody never feel right bout her. She never speak. I ain’t think she understand English. Even when men use to pay good money to have a taste, they say she never make a sound. She lie flat on her back and watch the wall, unblinking, until they was ready to come. Never blush, never giggle, never wince. Her eyes was always dilated, like an animal caught in a headlight.
But she seem happy when Mr. Jafree take her in. She was always wanderin his backyard barefoot, crunching grass, face up to the sky, licking the rain. Every night, she use to fill a bath basin to the brim with water and lie spreadeagle in it. Though the basin walled by an uncovered shed of four layers of galvanize, I coulda still see it from upstairs in my room. Sometimes Dill sink her whole body into the basin and stay there for what seem like minutes. Just when I thought she bout to drown, the body would resurface with a renewed shimmer.
Last night, she went down and never come back up—not as a human, anyhow. Floating in the water was a long, twisting coral snake. Red and yellow bands weaving in the water. The rhyme immediately call back in my head, Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, friend to Jack. A fear strike me—I don’t know how else to describe it—and I dive straight in bed. When I wake up this morning, I look out my window and Dill was there again, in a soaked nightie, sitting on the lawn in the rain. The bath basin was empty.
Then she turn to look up at me. She know I was watchin.
I shut the curtains quick. In a panic, I run down to Grampa. Like a stupid scaredy-cat child, I tell him what I see the night before. I remember there was a time, he would laugh off any story like that—ghosts of little girls causing car accidents, people losing their children to river duennes, cows dying from soucouyant bites. He would wave his hand and say, “What craziness you tryin to push in my head?” But a grim look come upon his face as I finish this story. I had forget how much power he hold now.
“Y’know, is everyday, that Jafree comin up with some cock-and-bull story for this rain,” he say, sucking his teeth. “The man is blind.”
I swallow hard. Was only then I wanted to take back my words. Maybe it really was just a snake.
“You en’t see?” He look right in my eyes. “We savin this village, boyo.” He had a scary twinkle in his eye when he say that. I didn’t realize how the impact the rain had on the man’s brain. As he say, drizzle was startin to feel like hammer in his head. The rest of the afternoon he spend sittin by the window, watching Mr. Jafree’s house through the blinds.
In the evening, Grampa Aldo call Dill’s name at the meeting. “Wasn’t long after this jezebel walk into La Leña, the rain start! Tell me if I wrong!” The villagers grumble in unison. I wanted to tug on Grampa’s sleeve and tell him to sit down. He continue, “Even before the rain start, she come with mischief in mind!” Two rows of housewives twisted their mouths and nodded—half their husbands and sons had their way with Dill, after all.
Mr. Jafree shoot up from his seat. “Aldo, you en’t know what you brayin bout! Leave the girl alone!”
“Sound like she chain-up Jafree too!” a man shout out from the back, followed by a loud clamour.
Grampa Aldo tap his cane against the floor. “We was reckless,” he say. “We let this devil girl into we village and into we lives. Wives, we let she tempt your husbands and break part your families. Y’en’t see that she is another one bringin this rain upon La Leña?”
“We have to run she out!” a woman screeched.
“Yes, run the bitch out!” another woman shout out.
“Run she out where?” Mr. Jafree say, stamping his foot. “Out into the streets?”
“Not we streets!” a man shout out.
“But listen!” Grampa Aldo exclaim. “We en’t dealin with no normal girl here! My grandson here—” and he hurry over to me and raise my hand up for me, “—tell me he see the girl transform right before he eyes!”
I take a deep breath, keepin my eyes to the ground. Grampa continue, “Say he see the girl turn into a snake!”
Mr. Jafree held his belly and laughed, but stopped when he notice that nobody else followed. An attentive silence loom over the room and all eyes was train on Grampa. “Was only when he tell me this, I remember the old stories. And then I was thinkin—Dill… Dill… Dill. Mama D’Leau!”
And the room exploded with commotion. But Grampa kept talkin over the din, “Mama D’Leau, Mother of the River! Witch of the Water! She here! She here in La Leña! And she bring the water with she!”
And it was with them words, the march began to Mr. Jafree’s house. The rain was lashing down by then, but the villagers tread right through it. When we reach Mr. Jafree’s house, a line of women call out to Mama D’Leau while another line pelt stones at the windows. Mr. Jafree try to keep the men from entering his gate, but with a swift elbow, they knock him to the ground. They trample through the house, flippin over tables and flingin open every closet door. But the girl was long gone.
Still, they needed something to destroy. Had nothin nobody could say to stop it. So they tear out the slats from the house and smash Mr. Jafree’s windscreen open with his mailbox, all while the man lie unconscious on the ground. I stood from a distance, where everybody just look like shadows snapping and snarling in the mist. Grampa was just standing there against a lightpole, hands in his pockets, overseeing the destruction. I leave them there and walk all the way to the auto graveyard, where they had lain down the flags. The floodwater reach up to my shoeheels and was now trickling past the flag. But still, the rain didn’t fall past it.
Behind the flag, I see a figure. She’s watchin me. It’s Dill. She doesn’t say anything, and neither do I. The rain can’t touch her from where she stand. Then, for a minute, the rain stops and dwindle into silence. At the same time, the wind blows the mist away. We get a clear view of each other. But I look away—I can’t look at her. I gaze down at my toes, at the water, at the bubbles stirring from the soil. As soon as she turns to walk away, the rain returns, prickling my skin like tiny needles of ice.
Tomorrow will mark fifty days of rain. I look up and she’s gone. I don’t feel sorry. She’s lucky—the girl can leave here and save herself. I see a fork of lightning rip cross the sky. As I wait for the thunder, I think: Maybe if the flood go far enough, someone out there will come save the rest of us.
Kevin Jared Hosein currently resides in Trinidad and Tobago and is the Caribbean regional winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His first book, Littletown Secrets, was published in 2013. In addition to having fiction published in the Hugo Award-winning Lightspeed Magazine and The Caribbean Review of Books, his work has been featured in anthologies such as Pepperpot, New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, Jewels of the Caribbean and the Akashic Books series, Mondays are Murder and Duppy Thursdays. He has also been shortlisted twice for the Small Axe Prize for Prose. His poem, “The Wait is So, So Long” was adapted into a short film that was awarded a Gold Key by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. His novel, The Repenters, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in 2016.