by Shanique Browne
Second place winner in 2021 H. Nigel Thomas / UWI Open Campus Fiction Competition
Flo Samuel was shelling peas on her veranda when she saw Maisie Woodley, the neighbours’ fourteen-year-old daughter walking up the garden path leading to the Woodley home.
Maisie waved at Flo, “Good afternoon Miss Samuel!”
Flo spared a curt nod of her head in acknowledgement but no one, least of all Maisie, could have known how much that small action belied Flo’s true feelings. Flo’s eyes followed Maisie until she disappeared into the house.
Anyone standing close enough may have felt the palpable animosity or certainly seen it in Flo Samuel’s eyes. As many West Indian matrons would say had they been given the opportunity to summarize Flo’s secret feelings toward Maisie, the former “hated the best bone“ in the latter’s body.
Nevertheless, Flo simply could not be blamed for how she felt. You see, Maisie Woodley was everything Flo’s own fourteen year old daughter was not. Maisie had the smoothest, most beautiful dark brown skin while Tallulah’s fair skin had been marred by chicken pox when she was five and the scars had maliciously remained.
Maisie had thick curls framing a face that people couldn’t help but take a second glance at. Tallulah barely had hair and she practically blended into the atmosphere for all the attention anyone paid her.
The stirrings of jealousy had made themselves known in Flo’s heart years before but they had metamorphosed into pure hatred when, three Septembers ago, as if her beauty was simply not fortune enough, Maisie had the audacity to do well enough at the CPEA exams to be placed at the top school in all of St Vincent while Tallulah was relegated to a “country school”.
Flo sucked her teeth, her mood soured in the aftermath of her sighting of Maisie. She gathered up the peas and shuffled inside to get started on dinner.
“Flo, yo nah see the evening news?” asked Bertram, her common-law husband, as she passed him where he was seated on a side chair as the opening credits of a movie played out on the television screen.
“Bertie, yo nah see me bin outside ah shell peas?” answered Flo, sucking her teeth in irritation.
“Gemma bin pan news. She and the people dem who renting the house fo Mister Quammie.”
“Eh heh? Wey Gemma ah do pan news?” asked Flo as she placed the tub of peas on the kitchen table.
“She say somebody break in by she. De people dem by Mister Quammie too ello! Gemma say dem thief two pair ah Nike shoes fo she son and ah tablet.”
“Good evening mommy!” Flo looked up to see Tallulah removing her shoes at the door.
“Good evening Tallulah. Where’s your brother?”
“He and he dotish friend dem still dey bus stop ah talk stupidness. He ain’t ketch the van”
Flo shook her head. Neither of her children had been blessed with any outstanding ability and when held up in contrast to Maisie’s brilliance, they were absolutely dull. Tyrone turned eighteen earlier that year and had managed to repeat Fourth form for the second time. Just last week, the school had called to recommend his transfer to a skills institute as he was now too old to remain in mainstream school for another academic year.
Flo huffed out a breath as her mind drifted to the Woodleys. They had perfect lives. Mya Woodley had the perfect husband, a government job at the General Hospital and the perfect daughter. To some, it may have made more sense had Mya, rather than Maisie, been the object of Flo’s jealousy.
Unfortunately for Maisie however, she reminded Flo of one Miss Clara Daniels. Clara had been Flo’s childhood neighbour and she had been perfect in every way, at least to Flo’s way of thinking. Flo had always been jealous of Clara. Now, in adulthood, she had unconsciously transferred her feelings of animosity to Maisie Woodley.
That evening while they ate dinner, Bertram would mention a detail from the news that would act as the final straw and catalyst governing Flo’s actions the following day.
Flo was biting into a well browned, juicy chicken thigh when Bertram suddenly said, “Tonight was a busy night fo Calder on the news. First Gemma then the Woodley girl.”
Flo paused in her chewing, “the Woodley girl?”
“Yeah. Maisie self. She win some kinda writing competition.”
Flo gently lowered her chicken to her plate as her appetite got up and left. She clenched her fist under the table. This was untenable! That damned Maisie Woodley was “overdoing it”. She was rubbing it in their faces!
“Good evening Ma! Good evening da!” Tyrone sauntered into the house with the mischievous confidence that only teenaged boys seemed to possess.
“Only now you coming home?” snapped Flo, seizing the opportunity to release some of her frustration.
“Ma. Way happen? I jus geh van”
Flo sighed heavily, not even bothering to argue the point, “Your food is in the oven.” She huffed as she distractedly waved in that general direction.
The following morning, Flo was out early hanging clothes on the line when Maisie came hurrying down the garden path. Tallulah and Tyrone were still inside sleeping. Flo sucked her teeth. Even Maisie’s punctuality triggered her irritation.
“Good morning, Miss Samuel” shouted Maisie brightly with a wave of her hand.
“Marnin” answered Flo, her fingers clenching tightly around a clothes pin.
Five minutes later, Flo had concluded her task and was stooping to retrieve the clothes basket when she noticed something shiny on the garden path. She bustled over to investigate and discovered a slim gold watch. She immediately recognized it.
She had, after all, observed Maise Woodley to the point of obsession, certainly enough to immediately identify the watch as hers. She was tempted to throw it away just for the satisfaction of knowing she had gotten rid of something the girl owned and likely treasured. Instead, she returned to the house, watch securely in her possession.
That morning, after Tallulah and Tyrone had gone to school and Bertie, to work, Flo left for Kingstown to do some grocery shopping. She was en route to the bus stop and was passing by Pa Samson’s board house when an idea came alive in her mind. She pushed her hand in her shopping bag and pulled out Maisie’s watch. She’d considered selling it in town but at that moment the seed that had been lying in wait in her mind sprung to full bloom.
She veered off the straight path leading to the bus stop and covertly trekked through the tall grass in Pa Samson’s yard. With every step, she looked over her shoulder to confirm that she wasn’t being observed. Once she got close enough, she ducked around to the back of Pa Samson’s shack-shack and called.
“Pa Samson! Pa Samson!”
It seemed to take forever before Flo heard the undeniable beat of the walking stick on the floor of Pa Samson’s shack. Flo waited with bated breath, her body vibrating with excitement as she heard his approach.
“Ah who?!” shouted Pa Samson.
Flo didn’t know how to respond. Truthfully, although Pa Samson had lived there for as long as she could remember, she had never had any interactions with him. She had caught glimpses of him a few times and had made it her business to keep her distance.
It was almost laughable that she was seeking him out now, yet, there she was. The chimes at his door danced musically in the air as he seemed to suddenly appear before her. Flo’s eyes widened involuntarily as she saw him up close for the first time. He leaned heavily on his walking stick, his eyes grey with cataracts yet sharp in his angular face.
The tail of his black tunic rustled gently in the breeze as he waited for her to speak.
“Ah come fo yo wuk ah obeah gi me.” Flo vomited the words in one breath.
Pa Samson’s eyebrows rose as he looked at Flo for two beats before he finally motioned for her to follow him into the shack.
Flo followed meekly, her eyes wide, fingers trembling and heart racing as her eyes adjusted to the dark interior of Pa Samson’s shack. What looked like bones hung from the ceiling. Flo thought she saw a skull among them but she couldn’t be certain. The dirt floor seemed to undulate like a living breathing thing beneath her feet and there was the decided scent of burning incense in the air.
Flo followed Pa Samson through a beaded curtain into a small room featuring a red candle at each corner and a single black one at the centre. He instructed her to sit on the floor directly in front of the black candle while he sat on the other side of it so that the candle was between them.
“Tell me.” rasped Pa Samson.
“It have a girl. She’s me neighbour. Ah war obeah she.”
Pa Samson gave a nod of his white head, “It go cost yo three hundred dollars”
“What?” exclaimed Flo “so much?”
“Tek it or leff it” replied Pa Samson flatly.
Flo considered leaving but the perceived imminent sweet taste of victory was too tempting for her to abort her mission now.
“Ok. Ok.” nodded Flo.
She had exactly three hundred dollars for her groceries. She didn’t know what she was going to tell Bertram but there was no getting around it. She had to deal with her Maisie problem once and for all.
“Yo get something fo she?” inquired Pa Samson.
“Yes. Ah have it right here.” replied Flo with barely concealed excitement as she pulled the watch from her bag.
“Nah so me bin mean. Some hair or some thin” said Pa Samson “Dah nah nothing. It go work still. Gi me. You stay here”
Pa Samson rose and left Flo alone in the room.
Flo’s mind was racing. She almost laughed with pure, unadulterated joy. She was about to throw Maisie Woodley off her high horse. Sure, it had cost her three hundred dollars but in situations like this, one had to look at the bigger picture.
Pa Samson had been gone for at least an hour and in the eerie silence, Flo was beginning to get restless. She started to rise to her feet when Pa Samson suddenly returned with the watch. He slowly hobbled over and lowered himself to the floor once more. Once he had seated himself, his back rod straight, he spoke.
“Listen to me. To obeah she directly, ah go haffi get some hair, or a fingernail, even a teeth. Flesh or blood. This nah a direct link to she so the obeah car be direct. It go ketch the fuss person who put on de watch.”
Flo frowned but she dismissed her uneasiness. The watch belonged to Maisie. No one but Maisie would wear it. She’ll just make sure to return it to her and let the obeah take care of the rest.
Pa Samson continued, “Once she put on di watch, she go start fi vomit blood and she eye dem go start fi bleed. It go clear up not too long after but she go never be good fo she self again. She go cah talk nar walk. Nuttin she go cah do fo she self. Doctor nah go know wey do she.”
Flo smiled and paid Pa Samson the three hundred dollars. She left the shack hurriedly, the watch safely tucked away in her bag. Once in the yard, she took great pains to duck, weave and spy her way into the road to ensure that her meeting with Pa Samson remained secret. That afternoon Flo Samuel went home with an empty grocery bag but a full spirit.
Once home and settled, she retrieved the peas that she’d had yet to finish shelling from the day before, sat on her veranda almost with a flourish and started humming softly as she pushed each pea from its pod. Shortly, Maisie came walking up the garden path.
Flo couldn’t wait to give her the watch and cheerfully greeted “Good evening, Maisie!”
“Good evening, Miss Samuel!” answered Maisie with a warm smile.
She was halfway up the path when Flo called to her, almost as an afterthought, “Oh Maisie! Yo forget something!”
Maisie turned and walked toward Flo, “Yes Miss Samuel?”
Flo dangled the shiny gold watch in front of Maisie, “Ah think you drop this this morning!”
Maisie smiled, “Thanks Miss Samuel. I was looking for it today. Thank God yo find it. It was a birthday gift from mommy.”
“No problem” grinned Flo, “tell yo mommy ah say good evenin”
“I have to meet her at church so ah goin get ready.” answered Maisie as she took the watch from Flo’s fingers and hurriedly walked back up the path to her home.
Flo was still shelling peas when Maisie came hustling out of the house ten minutes later, presumably on her way to church. Flo observed with irritation that Maisie was not wearing the watch. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that it was only a matter of time before she did. With that comforting thought, Flo finally gathered her peas and went inside.
That evening, Flo told Bertie that someone in a black hoodie and mask had held her at gunpoint and robbed her on her way to town. As farfetched as her tale sounded, Bertie believed her wholeheartedly and lamented the “mind-set” of the nation’s youth before commenting that the police had yet to find the criminals who had burglarized Gemma’s house.
Before leaving for work the next morning, Bertie noted with admiration, that, traumatic experience notwithstanding, Flo was in good spirits and he even spared a moment to marvel at her mental strength.
Flo had breakfast ready for Tallulah and Tyrone and insisted on waking them up extra early that morning. She wanted to be seated comfortably on her veranda when Maisie walked down the garden path with the watch decorating her wrist. As a result of her dedication to this aspiration, Tallulah and Tyrone were on their way earlier than they ever had in all their years of schooling.
When Maisie came walking down the path, Flo had already settled on a chair on the verandah, while a smug expression had likewise settled on her face. Unfortunately for Flo, the girl had her hand in her skirt pocket and try as she might, she found it impossible to get a clear view of her wrist.
Optimistically, Flo observed that there was a dejected tilt to Maisie’s shoulders and she almost chuckled with glee when the girl’s greeting lacked its usual joyful tone. Maybe the obeah was starting to work? Maisie was soon out of sight and Flo sighed as she went inside to do some cleaning. She was disappointed that she hadn’t gotten a view of Maisie’s wrist but she could see her victory on the horizon and nothing could dampen her spirits.
Broom in hand, Flo was en route to the bathroom when she spied the untidy condition of Tyrone’s room and impulsively decided to make a detour there. She had just finished making his bed and was stooping to retrieve a book from the floor when she noticed a pair of Nike shoes peeking out from under his bed.
She reached to pull them out only to discover that there was another, almost identical pair right next to them. Flo’s forehead creased in confusion. When did Tyrone get these? Just then, her eyes were pulled, almost of their own volition to a sleek black tablet peeking from beneath the mattress of his bed. She pulled it out and had just started to puzzle out the mystery of the Nike shoes and tablet when she heard someone in the yard screaming her name hysterically.
“Miss Samuel! Miss Samuel!”
Flo rushed outside to see Maisie standing in her yard, tears streaming down her face.
“Miss Samuel come!” sobbed Maisie, “something happen to Tyrone! He vomiting blood and he eye dem bleeding!”
Pa Samson’s words promptly sounded in her head. An echo. A refrain.
“she go start fi vomit blood and she eye dem go start fi bleed.”
Flo’s fair skin paled to ash white as her eyes snapped to Maisie’s wrist.
“Where’s your watch?” screeched Flo, panic rising up in her throat, almost choking her.
Maisie was too disoriented by what she had witnessed to consider the absurdity of the question and answered immediately, “Somebody break we house when we bin church last night. Them thief me watch.”
About Shanique Browne
Shanique Browne is the elder of two daughters, both of whom developed an interest in reading from an early age, having witnessed their own mother’s love for reading. Shanique recalls getting into hot water with her teachers on several occasions for sneakily reading in class while they were teaching.
Now, in her capacity as language teacher at the St Clair Dacon Secondary School, she wishes she had this problem with her own students as she believes that reading unlocks many cognitive doors.
The former Girls’ High School student and Miss SVG contestant entered and won her first writing competition at the age of 10.
At that age, she was ignorant of her writing ability and believes that if it hadn’t been for her then teacher, Mrs Belgraves, she may have remained clueless for a lot longer. Nevertheless, she views her love for writing as the natural consequence of her love for reading.
Shanique describes herself as more of a right-brained person, due to her creative bent. Some of her other interests include, drawing, singing, bullet journaling and practically any creative exercise.
Having placed second in the recent H Nigel Thomas fiction Prize hosted by the UWI Open Campus, Browne who hasn’t written for a number of years until now, views this as affirmation that her talent for writing is “here to stay” and she views it as motivation to write more.