The Buck of Cotton Hill
One cold October morning, our village was awakened by news that a buck was loose. This came as a shock because Cotton Hill was an unassuming place, tucked deep in the hinterland of the island. The most that people knew about us were the fields of pineapples that blanketed the hills bordering our homes in a haze of orange. Now, all of a sudden, we were befallen by claims of an evil presence.
The news came from Pulwattie, who told us that in the middle of the night, a male voice spoke to her. “He tell me to lie down on my belly and to open up my leg like a scissors so he could come on top me,” she said.
Our first assumption was that her husband, Baldeo, was the true culprit. Baldeo was twice Pulwattie’s age and half her size. He also resembled a corbeaux because he was black. However, the couple’s solitary child, Zaitooon, said he too had heard a voice demanding that he also perform illicit acts. Zaitoon was an overweight eighteen-year-old who had dropped out of school after he learned how to spell his name. He helped his father tend their pineapple fields and was by all accounts a slow but harmless young man. We saw no reason for him to lie.
Talk spread quickly, and very soon every man, woman, and child made it their business to visit the unfortunate family’s half-rotted wooden house in hope of spotting the creature. After that, the men would often gather by the village bar to regale childhood tales involving supernatural forces that roamed the forests of Trinidad.
“It really does have them thing you know,” they said.
“Buck does come from Guyana. They does come up with the Venez them.”
“I see one a night when I was watchman-ing a house in Woodland. The thing was short and black and hairy. It used to thief tin sausage and eat.”
Satyam Gobardhan, a fiery man who came from a long line of pundits whose lineage traced to Bihar, India, took the matter quite seriously. While most of us in Cotton Hill only made it to secondary school and never traveled farther than Port of Spain, Satyam was a university graduate who had been to Toronto twice. His English was efficient and his voice registered a deep timbre. Whenever he spoke, everyone listened. “This place full of evil!” he said. “We all have to take a good look at ourselves. If we not careful this buck will start attacking everybody in this village!” The following week, the buck was at it again. A hysterical Pulwattie said that she was missing personal articles of clothing. Zaitoon complained that a tin of sausages had vanished from the cupboard. Baldeo wept.
Taking matters upon himself, Satyam contacted a reporter he had met during his university years, telling us that bringing attention to the buck would frighten the creature away. That day, the reporter came with her crew, and we were all excited to see the bright red TTT logo plastered on their large cameras. They went inside Baldeo’s creaky home and stayed for about an hour.
Everyone tuned in to the seven o’clock news that night. The top story was about a teenager who was hacked to death by her boyfriend, which was followed by a story of a pastor charged with operating an underground prostitution ring. None of us cared for them; all we wanted to see was Cotton Hill on TV.
After the first commercial break our story finally aired. All three members of the afflicted family sat on a worn sofa, squeezed tightly against each other. Baldeo did most of the talking. Half sobbing, he said the creature was tormenting his entire family and he feared for their safety. Footage was shown of Baldeo pointing to his television set, which was tethered to the stand that held it. “I have to tie the TV down ’cause the buck thiefing everything in this place. It thief sausage and cheese in the fridge. Last night it take my wife panty,” he lamented. When questioned on the veracity of the family’s claims, Zaitoon revealed that he outwitted the creature and had in his possession an audio recording of the demon.
Collectively, Cotton Hill raised the volume on their television sets.
A smiling Zaitoon clumsily held his undersized phone in his massive hand and pressed play: “I eh ’fraid no pandit and I eh ’fraid no priest,” the voice drawled. “I come from Jamaica to cause trouble because I working for the boss. He tell me he will give me milk to drink.”
We then heard what appeared to be the faint mewing of a cat followed by a deep cackle. Then the recording stopped. We all found it strange the buck broke tradition by saying it wasn’t from Guyana. It was also odd that the buck did not sound anything like a Jamaican but rather had our familiar Trini lilt.
“It mussbe staying here long time and acclimatize,” Satyam told us.
Baldeo concluded the interview by asking the country to pray for his humble family.
Not once did Pulwattie speak.
The next morning, the village awakened to the sight of a multitude of vehicles. There were reporters from all the media houses, as well as representatives of various religions. A Catholic priest from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Agony walked the entire length of the residence, sprinkling holy water he said was drawn from Mount St. Benedict. Also present was a retired communications manager who gave up his dull life as a Presbyterian, grew a beard, and turned guru; a pastor from Chaguanas who claimed to have wrestled demons and conquered them in his sleep; an Orisha woman who read Psalms 23 and rang a large brass bell seven times; and a man by the name of Quinton Briggs, who had achieved a doctorate in parapsychology from an online university and who also moonlighted as a security guard at a primary school.
“People taking this thing serious boy!” Baldeo said proudly.
Each one of the divine ambassadors offered to assist with ridding the family of the buck, but one man remained distant from the crowd. It was our very own Satyam Gobardhan.
Satyam pulled Baldeo aside. “Plenty of them will say they want to help, but they have other plans. It have a verse in the Gita that say, ‘One may smile and smile, and be a villain,’” he said.
“What that mean?” asked Baldeo.
“It mean they really want your money.”
“But I eh have no money. The buck gone and eat out half the pine.”
“Doh worry, Baldeo,” Satyam said, as he put his arms assuredly around his neighbor’s petite shoulders. “Leave the prayers to me. I will deal with the buck.”
That evening, when the seven o’clock news aired, Cotton Hill’s buck featured as one of the lead stories. Satyam also made it into the story. This time he did most of the talking.
“What is really happening to this family is not something new,” he told the camera. “As someone from the village, and as the son of pundit Chandradesh Gobardhan and grandson of pundit Bhansie Gobardhan, I believe it is my duty, nay, my calling, to protect my village from evil.”
Satyam leaned in, as if he were about to reveal a great secret. “And let me tell you this: I will wage a great spiritual battle against this creature. And I promise you, this family will have peace!”
As the week passed, Cotton Hill became a circus of mystical performers, and at the center of the ring was Satyam. More interviews were conducted, and numerous articles were written in the local newspapers. Some people said that the whole thing was one big ’Nansi story. Others theorized that the entire family was mentally sick. But Satyam kept his word to keep watch over Cotton Hill.
Each morning, when the dew still glistened on the dasheen leaves, Satyam would arise, stroll to the ashram in his backyard, and perform a pooja. He collected bottles of fresh cow’s milk and would feverishly rinse his head and arms with the sacred liquid. He no longer wore garments of Western fashion but was instead seen in a cream dhoti, with his torso bare and his hairy belly jangling with each step he took.
One morning he strode to Baldeo’s residence. “Today, today we getting rid of that buck,” he said.
His weapons were camphor and sandalwood, a bag of sea salt, garlands of garlic, leaves of red lavender, a thin red candle, and faded pictures of Sai Baba and the Christ, for good measure.
“Hari Krishna. Hari Hari Ohm,” he chanted, while he smoked the house with pungent incense.
For five consecutive days Satyam’s chants echoed throughout the home of Baldeo. Talk of Satyam’s battle against the buck spread, and within a week people from across the country flocked to our little village to see the buck. From as far as Sangre Grande in the North and Cedros in the South, people came. Satyam noticed this. He took on a different role now, becoming more like a messianic figure for anyone who ailed spiritually. He live-streamed lectures on Facebook and encouraged people to visit his home, where they could receive the blessings he offered, all for the cost of $1,500 a session. Day and night, Satyam blessed the masses.
All this activity did not go unnoticed by the men who sat at the village bar.
“Satyam good smart oui. If you see people going by him to get bless,” they said.
“I hear he mussbe make almost a quarter million dollars from this.”
“I wonder what he go do with all that money, boy?”
However, as Satyam grew in popularity as a spiritual figurehead, interest in the buck began to wane. Two months passed, and Baldeo no longer complained of unwelcome visits from the buck. By now, most of us had accepted that even if there was a buck to begin with, it was most likely gone by now. We thought of the story as harmless and were content with our fifteen minutes of fame in the news. Eventually the buck was no longer seen as a threat and instead became a joke. There were no more articles in the papers, the well of curiosity had dried up, and buck memes on social media were few and far between. Even Satyam himself told Baldeo that the buck had retreated and that he had nothing to worry about anymore.
In time, Satyam became a regular at Baldeo’s home. He would often spend the day with Pulwattie while Baldeo and Zaitoon returned to the daily grind of their pineapple fields. Pulwattie would feed the pundit hot roti and white eddoes, his favorite meal. Satyam would often be seen under the wooden floorboards of Baldeo’s house, rocking peacefully in a hammock. Sometimes Pulwattie would sing Bollywood songs for him.
Christmas approached and we went back to our struggling lives, hoping to earn enough to buy the necessities of the season. Then, when the buck was well and truly forgotten, it returned.
During the middle of the night we awoke to the sound of crashing glass, followed by a piercing scream. We scampered outside. It was Pulwattie. She was dressed in a white nightgown and sat in the middle of the road, her long black hair flowing wildly in the wind. Zaitoon was at her side, wiping strings of mucus from his eyes. Baldeo stood at a distance, weeping.
“The buck come back!” Pulwattie moaned.
Satyam was promptly contacted.
Bhagavad Gita in hand, Satyam strode toward the growing crowd. He knelt next to Pulwattie, took her quivering hands, and whispered tenderly, “Tell me what happen.”
Pulwattie’s eyes glistened in the moonlight. “I did lying down on the coach watching TV. Then I start to feel a feeling like if I did drifting in a pirogue. I never went on a pirogue, eh, but I was feeling like if I was on one.”
Someone groaned. “But how the ass you go feel like you was on a pirogue and you never even went on one? What kind of dotishness is with allyuh this hour, boy?”
“The buck busy!” another shouted.
“Hush allyuh your mouth!” Satyam hissed at the hecklers. “Let the woman speak.”
“Anyway,” Pulwattie continued, “I was dey drifting and then I start to feel like my foot getting wet. When I look down and watch, I see a man sucking my big toe! Well, I start to bawl, and then the thing fly out and break the glass and run outside.”
“How did the man look? Can you describe him?” asked Satyam.
“He was small and black. He was good hairy, too. Oh gosh, you have to help me Satyam! You have to help all ah we!”
Pulwattie covered her face with her hands and started making sobbing noises.
Satyam stood up and addressed us, his chest swollen and his gaze focused. “Is a serious fight I have on my hands. This thing much more powerful than I thought it was.”
He walked over to Baldeo and put both his hands on his trembling shoulders. “Have no fear. I will deal with that buck once and for all this time!”
The next day Satyam informed Baldeo that he would take Pulwattie to the mouth of the Bocas, a tempestuous passage of water off the northwest coast of Trinidad. He reasoned that Pulwattie acted as a type of lure to the creature, and his intentions were to draw the buck to her, then capture it. “And when I have him, I go drown him in the sea. He eh go be able to swim in the Bocas,” he explained.
Baldeo’s face furrowed.
“You eh ’fraid she end up drowning instead?” he asked.
“Don’t worry. She wouldn’t even be near the water. She is just the bait,” Satyam replied.
“Or hor. But what I go be doing?”
“Baldeo, listen to me closely, and this is the most important thing,” Satyam said in his deep voice. “You and Zaitoon are to remain right here for the entire time. During that time I want you to light some deya inside the house. Put a bowl of fresh cow milk by the fig tree outside but soak some garlic in the milk. Then when the night fall read a passage from the Gita . . .”
“I cyar read good, Baba.”
“Well, doh bother to read. Just chant Hari Krishna for an hour straight.”
“You sure you remember what I told you, right?”
“I remember. Light deya, soak some garlic in milk, leave it by the fig tree, and say Hari Krishna for an hour.”
“Make sure is fresh cow milk,” Satyam reiterated.
Until this point Zaitoon had remained silent, but now his eyes squinted and his hand rose slightly.
“Yes, son?” Satyam acknowledged.
“How long ma go be gone for?”
Satyam looked away to a passing cloud.
“A week for the most,” he said.
He returned his eyes on Baldeo. “Doh worry. I will make sure she calls you all the time. I promise you, everything will be ok.”
It was just before Christmas when Pulwattie left with Satyam. Baldeo did not receive a single call from her the entire week.
Stricken with panic, Baldeo contacted the media and told them he feared the buck had killed his beloved Pulwattie. The headline that Christmas morning was, “Zaitoon, Where Your Mother Gone?”
The entire country laughed.
Baldeo called the police, requesting a search party, but they said Pulwattie had left willingly so there was nothing they could do. The men in the village sat in the bar, drinking whiskey and beer, ruminating on the entire situation.
“Buck, my ass. Baldeo too stupid,” they said.
“Satyam must be gone Guyana with she, all you know.”
For months Baldeo tried looking for Pulwattie. It was rumored he traveled as far as Toco in search of her. He returned to the village empty-handed, his face shriveled from despair. His hair grew long and matted. His tattered clothes were caked with mud and his skin stank of sweat. He would wander the streets like a lost dog, making frightful noises and baying at the moon.
Zaitoon took full responsibility of the pineapples, working daily as his father slipped further away. As the years passed, Zaitoon eventually married a girl from Tunapuna and left his village, home, and father behind. One time someone said they saw him working at Chang’s hardware in Arima, but no one knew for sure.
Baldeo had since then entirely abandoned living at his house, preferring to haunt the streets of Cotton Hill. In time, he took on a legendary status, becoming the topic of chutney songs and comedy shows.
On occasion, when all was quiet and a cool breeze blew through the hills, we would hear footsteps shuffling in our kitchens. We’d look inside our cupboards, only to discover a tin of sausages or a carton of milk had vanished. Sometimes a child would say they glimpsed a small, shadowy figure darting away into the bushes.
And we’d tell them the buck of Cotton Hill had passed through.
Kirk V. Bhajan is a writer and journalist from San Fernando, Trinidad. His work has been published or is forthcoming in several venues, including Alba magazine, Moko magazine, sx salon, Aké Review, and Akashic Books’ Duppy Thursday flash fiction series. He is pursuing his MFA in creative writing at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and is a columnist for the online magazine My Trinidad: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. He writes to understand society and himself.