The teacup rattled in the saucer as I brought Massaís tea to him. I was used to being a washerwoman, but Massa had sold off the parlor maid last week, so he promoted me to her place, and my younger sister Hera took up my old position. Hera was twelve and I was fifteen.
Massa glared at me as I set down the tea. He certainly would remember what had happened last time, when he had slid his hand up my leg and I had dropped the hot tea all over has brand new britches, scalding him.
"You good fer nothing clumsy hulking gyascutus!" he had yelled. "Donít you know youíre my property, girl? You want to say you have morals?"
I fled to the kitchen where my mother was baking a ham and humming a hymn.
"Mamma, Massa jest tried to rape me," I gasped, bending over to catch my breath. Mamma avoided my eyes and went on humming. Was I missing something? Why wasnít she racing out to whack Massa or at least give him some sharp words as she did to the slave lads who tried to pester me?
"Mamma, did you hear me?"
"Of course, Anna, and Iím wondering if you know who you is."
"I know who I is, Mamma; Iím your chile," I said, bewildered.
"Wrong, honey, you is a slave, and you belongs to Massa." Mamma tried looking at me, and then looked away. "I been saving you fer him. You already high yeller, so your babies will be nearly white. He goní make sure they larn trades and maybe even send them to school."
"What?" I could not believe Mamma. I figured she must have gone mad, but the shrewd look in her eyes told me she had my future well mapped out.
A few days later, after my spirit struggled out of my limp, broken body, I met Jesse for the first time. He too was a spirit, and he told me he was in hiding from the angel guides, beings that took spirits to the Other World to await judgment. He said his mother had been a witch doctor, and he had inherited some of her magical powers, so he was terribly afraid of meeting God. Whenever the guides came to lead a spirit, he changed himself into a spider and hid in the broom cupboard.
"Donít they see us?" I asked, looking at my sister sobbing quietly in a corner.
"No, not unless they special," he said. At my puzzled look he explained. "Some people, like my mammy for instance, is gifted to see spirits. That crew out there," he gestured at the slaves in the backyard, "they donít see a thing."
"How come I donít have an angel guide?" I asked Jesse
"Well, your spirit must have left your body before its time," Jesse said. "Was you murdered?"
"I donít want to talk about that now," I said, turning away hastily. I could still feel the bite of the whip as it tore open my flesh to teach me that I was a slave, and Massa had full control of my body. Mamma rubbed ointments and salves and this and that into my wounds, and when I could walk again Massa summoned me to him. Just the thought of seeing him made me pee myself, so I had to change, and the delay annoyed him.
"Where the hell you been, girl?" he roared, his broken yellow teeth looking more crooked then ever. "Donít you know you síposed to come when I calls you?"
"Yassuh, Massa," I mumbled.
"What you say?" Massa yelled.
"I says yassuh, Massa. I sorry to be late," I said, speaking up.
"You better durn well be sorry. Now drop your frock."
I did as I was told, and Massa ran his hands over the welts on my back, his hard fingers making them hurt so badly I wanted to scream out. I did scream the first time he hit me, wham across the face. Then he hit me again, and I fell, spitting blood and tooth fragments. Massa knelt over me, and I drove my knee upward with all my remaining strength, catching him in the groin.
Massa clutched the front of his britches and gasped for breath. He rolled and moaned loudly, and when he could finally stand up I knew I was in for it. He called Hercules, his massive overseer, to haul me outside and whip me within an inch of my life. I could only remember the first five minutes of that whipping, because I fainted and never recovered.
My spirit, now free, looked on as my mother threw herself upon me, crying and scolding me even as I lay dead. The other slaves had to drag her away from my slippery, bloody corpse so they could bury it.
"Yes, Jesse, I was murdered," I said, biting my lip. "And now I Ďfraid, cause my sister is the new parlor maid."
I crossed my fingers, hoping that Massa would not touch Hera, and he didnít, for the first month at least. Then one morning I heard a yelp from Hera, and I rushed at Massa. I was unpleasantly surprised when I went right through him, and he went right on stroking Heraís thigh. Jesse led me away and tried to calm me down.
"You not solid, Anna. You canít rush at people like that," he said in his soothing voice.
"Well you see what he was doing to Hera. I have to stop him," I shrieked. "I canít let her die like me. No, Jesse, do something!"
"All right, calm down. Iíll show you how to animate."
"Ani-what?" I asked him.
"Animate. Turn into a beast," Jesse replied. "I always turn into a spider. Maybe you could turn into a big snake and bite Massa foot."
This sounded good, so I decided to try it.
"Would they see me as a snake?" I asked.
"Yes," said Jesse. "They always see animal spirits, but I donít know why."
I let Jesse chant his African-sounding incantation, and then I wiggled across the floor as a tree boa. Before I made it halfway across the room, Hera spotted me and screamed.
"Snake, snake!" I think she was glad to escape Massa, because she ran across the yard screaming and laughing. Hercules came and chopped off my head, and I was afraid that I would become a snake-spirit. I was elated to find myself as a person spirit once again.
"I donít want to just bite Massa foot," I confided to Jesse. "I want to kill him."
"Why?" Jesse asked. "What good would that do?"
"It goiní make me feel good," I said. A spirit has loads of time on its hands. No Massa to harass it and send it hither, thither and yon, no Mamma to yell and scold, no chores, nothing. I used my time to think and remember. I remembered the stories my Mamma told Hera and me about Mamma Maladie, a woman who died in childbirth and who appears on dark nights calling her child. I remembered her stories of Soucouyant, female vampires. And of course I remembered La Diablesse, the she-devil with a cloven hoof that lures men to their deaths. An idea came to me, and I pondered how I could get Jesse to co-operate. I tried late one evening.
"Jesse, can you change me into another kind of spirit?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he asked with a puzzled look.
"For instance, can I become like La Diablesse?"
"Why?" Jesse asked. "She has one good leg and one cowís leg."
"Itís part of my plan to do away with Massa," I said.
Jesse agreed to change me, too readily I thought. It made me a bit uneasy, but why should I complain?
Every Saturday night Massa went to the Islander Inn and got drunk. I was waiting for him the next Saturday, fully decked out in a long calico dress that hid my cloven hoof. La Diablesse is always beautiful, and several men came up to me. Finally Massa walked in, and his eyes were immediately drawn to me. I knew that with his looks he would be afraid to approach such a beautiful woman, so I went up to him first.
"Good evening, sir," I said in my most cultured voice. "May I join you?"
"Of-of course," Massa stuttered, looking bewildered. "Might I buy you a drink?"
"Yes, please, a glass of wine," I answered. I sipped that one glass of wine all night, while spinning a yarn about how I was from New Orleans, and was only visiting the islands for a few weeks. Massa got deeply interested, and deeply drunk in the bargain.
"You must show me what your beaches are like," I gushed. "I would love to see one by moonlight."
"Oh, I can take you there now," Massa slurred, leering at my figure.
"Yes, letís go," I replied, letting him take my arm. We walked for miles, Massa chattering mindlessly and not seeming to notice the distance. I was choosing my cliff carefully. After an hour or so I found a steep one with the waves crashing thunderously on the rocks below. Perfect. I got behind Massa and gave a mighty shove. I heard a thin wail and then nothing.
I thought I would rejoice after that, but I did not. I just felt wretched, and I could not understand why. Jesse came and found me sobbing and dabbing my eyes with the calico dress. I could not meet his eyes.
"So how do you feel now?" he asked.
"Wretched," I replied.
Thereís something I must tell you," Jesse said. "We trapped you for awhile to test you, see how much anger you held against your killer. We do that to all murder victims."
"What Ė so you meanÖ" I gasped.
Jesse looked at me sadly. "You cannot go to the Other World until you learn to forgive. I must leave you here for the time being."
"What about him?" I said, gesturing down the cliff.
"Oh, heíll be all right," Jesse replied. "His angel guide caught him and laid him safely on the beach near here. Tomorrow heíll wake up with a massive headache and swear not to drink so much again.
"What about Hera?" I wailed as Jesse turned to go.
"Leave the living to fight their own battles," he said and left.
I haunted the cliff after that, not wanting to go back to the plantation that had brought me so much trouble. My cowís leg became human after about a week, but without Jesse I was lonely. I hoped he would come back soon, even if he came with another test. I decided to use my time wisely and try to learn the forgiveness thing, because I was decidedly unhappy with my existence and myself. If Jesse ever came back, I was determined to leave with him, no matter what.
Bio: Astrid Bullen is a freelance writer living in Grenada. As a child she listened in horrified fascination to stories of La Diablesse, or She-Devil, as this creature is part of the folklore of the Southern Caribbean. You can visit Astrid's website at http://cyberesources.com.
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