When I was four years old my father was a jumbie. I was the only one who knew. Mama said he was dead. That’s what she said that day when he walked out of our house. They were fighting, as they always did, and she chased him out the door and into the yard. She saw me when she came back in, sitting on the floor with my knees tucked under my chin.
“Your father dead. You hear?” Mama’s nose flared. I looked at the closing door and she said it again, “He dead!”
Gramma had told me stories about jumbies—people who had died but could walk about in the night. They lived in dark shadows and all the bad scary places. But my jumbie daddy was different. He could walk about in the daytime. I would see him standing by the shop on weekday mornings, waiting for me and then walking behind me all the way to school. Gramma said we mustn’t talk to jumbies, so I pretended not to hear him when he called my name. He would watch me playing in the schoolyard, and I would pretend he was not there.
If you don’t want jumbies to follow you into your home, make sure to enter your house walking backward. That’s what Gramma said, so that’s what I did. Some nights, when Mama was at work, we would see shadows behind the fence and hear noises in the yard. Gramma, her mouth in a line, would march outside waving her broomstick and pick up the pebbles wrapped in dollar bills and pelt them back over the fence.
“We don’t want your money!” she would shout to the darkness. But I knew my jumbie daddy was out there.
When I was eleven, Daddy stopped being a jumbie. Other people said they could see him. They said he was cracked. Mama still didn’t talk about him. Gramma said he would die soon. I knew, when he died again, he wouldn’t become a jumbie this time.
Neala Bhagwansingh writes to understand the nature of light and shadow in her surroundings, in herself, and in others. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the online and print publications Upful Journal, the Boca, Maco People Magazine, the New Local, and Elephant Journal.