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The Ole Higue
by Rosaliene Bacchus

Guyana Journal, July 2008

MANGO SEASON IN
GEORGETOWN, GUYANA


On a bright Saturday morning, I shouldn’t be chasing a cricket ball in the neighbor’s yard. This happens when you have a little brother like Sammy. He’s worse than a male mosquito.

“You do this on purpose.” I want to clobber him. “Granny say Missis Withers is an Ole Higue. She suck her husband ‘til he dead. She going suck you too.”

“Daddy say is not true,” says Sammy. “Ole Higue is only old people story. To frighten lil children.”

“Is that so? Keep pestering Missis Withers. You going find out if is for true or not.”

I march over to the Ole Higue’s house at the street corner. Sammy lags behind.

“I got better things to do than go after your stupid cricket ball.”

“Like kissing that smiley-face tall boy?

I turn around and glare at him. “You spying on me now?”

We pass the Ole Higue’s dense five-foot high red hibiscus hedge. No one uses the padlocked gate to the sun-beaten, water-worn front staircase. We turn the corner to the side of the house. A thick metal chain secures the corroding wrought iron driveway gate. The Ole Higue’s hearse waits under the house. The graying-white colonial-style wood house looms above us. It stands on eight robust ten-foot stilts like a giant black widow spider. Dark curtains trap the sunbeams piercing the glass windows.

I move towards the small service gate on the right. Sammy clutches my skirt; he hunches by my side. I shake the rusty bell. A young man, the Ole Higue’s grandson, sticks his head out a window overhead. His oily black hair gleams in the sunlight.

“Is what you all want?”

“My brother’s cricket ball fall in your backyard. We can go in the yard and get it?”

The Ole Higue’s head pops out another window. Her long plaited black hair brushes the window sill. Sammy twitches by my side. “Me not stupidy. You lil wiry brother only after me mangoes.” The dark eyes in the emaciated face hurls balls of fire at Sammy. He grabs my hand and glues to my side.

“Missis Withers, your grandson can look for the ball then?”

“Me tell you already, young lady. What in me yard is me own. Tell you big-eye brother to stop throwing things in me yard.” The Ole Higue and her grandson disappear inside the belly of the black widow spider.

“Don’t look at me with a long face. I promised to try. I didn’t promise to get your ball back.”

We return home. I can tell that Sammy is up to more tricks. I shove him in his back. “Sammy! No more tricks. You hear me? Or the Ole Higue going come and suck you.” I open our gate. He bolts into our yard as if the landlord’s two black Dobermans are after him. Cocoa barks from his kennel under the front staircase. He’s a big, sleek, cocoa-brown, mixed-breed dog. He belongs to the family in the downstairs flat. Since the day he attacked the postman, they keep Cocoa locked up during the daytime.

I take a deep breath and exhale. I hate talking to Mrs. Withers. A cockroach-crawly-feeling runs down my spine. She cursed us from the first day we moved in next door. Our modern two-flat, pink and white concrete residence must be blight to her. Everything that lands in her yard is gone forever. Dad can’t enjoy his Saturday-night barbecues with his friends. She calls the police to complain about the noise.

Without Sammy, the Ole Higue wouldn’t even know I exist. He’s always losing things in her yard. Her mango tree lures him. From our dining room window on the top flat, he counts the orange-red fruits hanging on the tree. It’s not easy for a sixteen-year-old girl like me to deal with a seven-year-old brother. He brings out the worse in me. Granny said I got the face of an angel but the heart of the devil.

“He’s a handful,” Mom said to the landlady the other day. Sammy had somehow managed to break the landlady’s crystal vase. She kept it on a side table in her living room. Sammy goes over often to their house. He plays video game with her young son. “Zina never give me so much trouble when she was small,” Mom said. “I ain’t got energy to keep up with him.”

Mom figures I got the energy to handle Sammy. Besides finding and catching him, I make sure he bathes, eats his food, does his homework, and brushes his teeth. I’m now Optimus Prime. One o’ clock can’t come fast enough for me. Mom and Dad will be home from work. Saturday afternoon is my time off. It’s my time to spend with my friends. No Megatron. No Ole Higue to suck my energies.

******

Saturday night, after 8:00 p.m. I’m in our study-room, chatting with my girlfriends online. Sammy is in the living room on his Playstation2. He’s fighting the Decepticons on Planet Cyberton. Don’t ask me what he sees in that silly Transformers video game. But the game keeps him in one place for half-an-hour. The Transformers movie is another thing. That is non-stop action. And the main star is real cute.

Mom appears in the open doorway. She is dressed up in her new glittery tight-fitting red dress with fine straps. She looks real chick and curvaceous. She promised to let me wear her dress to my best friend’s birthday. Mom and Dad are going to the Pegasus Poolside for a wedding-anniversary celebration with some friends. Open air, candle lights, barbecue, and live music. I’m stuck at home. Babysitting Sammy.

“Zina, I don’t want you and Sammy fighting again,” says Mom. “You hear me, Sammy? No fighting.”

“She the one who start it, Mommy.”

“Sammy!” says Dad from the living room. “You gotta listen to your big sister.”

“Okaaay, dad. I going behave.”

I follow Mom and Dad to the front door. After they drive off, I lock the door. Time to lock up. No thief-man is going to get in. I close and bolt the sitting room windows. Before closing the dining room window, I glance at the Ole Higue’s house. A light is visible in one of the bedrooms. The mango tree stands guard in the gloom of the street light. I turn off all overhead florescent lights. I check the latches on the back door. The high windows in the kitchen, toilet and bathroom are secure. I leave on the table lamp in the living room.

Sammy is still waging war with Megatron. Duhduh-duhduh-duhduh. The sound of Megatron’s arm-mounted fusion cannon echoes in every room. Sammy and I share the front bedroom, near to the L-shaped living room. Our study-room occupies the middle bedroom. It opens into the dining room. Mom and Dad sleep in the back bedroom, close to the bathroom and kitchen.

I settle down again at the computer. The Guyana Forum awaits me. Yesterday, HeartBreakKid complained he could not find a girl with a good personality. BrownSugar responded: “Maybe you are looking in the wrong places.” Registered as AngelFace, I add my comment: “I got a similar problem. The boys in my class are too childish and boring.”

Over half-hour elapses before I notice the recurring sound of the ‘Game Over.’ The living room is now in darkness. Sammy is up to mischief again. I tiptoe to the open door and slip out. Sammy is out-of-sight. I peep over the four-foot high divider between the dining room and living room. Sammy is standing at the window near the divider-wall. I sneak up behind him.

“What you doing, Sammy?” He jumps back, almost hitting me over.

He whips round to face me. He’s hiding something in his left hand. “I not doing nothing. I just looking out the window.”

“Let me see what you got in your hand.” He opens his hand to reveal several small white balls. About the size of genips. I snatch them from his hand. “They wet! What’s this?”

“Is just toilet-paper.”

“You soak toilet paper and make it into balls?... Sammy? What you been up to?
“Nothing. I ain’t do nothing.”

I lean out the window. Light from the downstairs window brightens the concrete yard. I don’t see any toilet-paper balls. I let the curtain fall and turn back to Sammy. “Don’t tell me you throw them balls in the Ole Higue’s yard?”

“She take my cricket ball.”

“So you think it right for you to dirty her yard with toilet paper?”

“No.” Sammy looks down at the floor.

“The Ole Higue should suck you dry.”

“I not frighten of the Ole Higue. She can’t catch me.”

“Yeah? Is who hide behind my skirt this morning?”

“Don’t tell Mommy and Daddy.”

“If you go to bed now, I not going tell them.”

Sammy brushes his teeth and changes into his pajamas. He settles in his bed on the bottom bunk. “You promise not to tell?”

“Yeah, I promise. Now go to sleep.”

Sammy hugs his green stuffed frog, puts his right thumb in his mouth, and is soon out like a light bulb. I wish I could fall asleep so fast. Before my brain shuts down, it has to process everything that happened during the day.

******

On Sunday morning, I awake around eight o’clock. I climb down from the top bunk. Sammy is still asleep. I open our bedroom door and head for the toilet. I return to our bedroom and make up my bed. Sammy rolls over in his bed, exposing a bloodstain on his white pillowcase.

“Sammy.” I shake him awake. “What happen, Sammy? Blood on your pillow. You cut yourself?”

“Blood?” Sammy sits up in bed, rubbing his eyes. “Where?” He turns towards me. “What you staring at?”

“You got blood on your pajamas, too.”

Sammy gazes at the bloodstain on his pillow. I sit down on his bed and examine his face, mouth and neck. I find a tiny red mark on the right side of his neck. It looks like a mosquito bite. I unbutton his pajama jacket. No cuts or marks on his chest and back. I get up and go to Mom’s bedroom. I knock on the door.

“Mom… Dad… Something happen to Sammy. He got blood on his pajamas and pillowcase.”

Mom appears. She buttons her housecoat. I follow her to our bedroom. Sammy is still sitting in bed with his finger in his mouth. Mom examines Sammy, the pillow and bed sheets. She touches the tiny blood mark on his neck. “Zina, you sure you and Sammy didn’t get into a fight last night?”

“No, Mom! You think I would lie about something like this? He stay up ‘til 9 o’clock playing video games, then I put him to bed.”

Mom returns to her bedroom to wake Dad.

“Must be a vampire bat,” says Dad. He fingers the mark on Sammy’s neck. “Mosquito don’t leave bloodstains like these.”

“But the bedroom door and windows were closed,” says Mom.

“Then it got to be hiding somewhere in this room,” says Dad.

“Sammy, go lie down on the sofa while we search your room,” says Mom.

Sammy leaves the bedroom, clutching his green frog. Not at all like Sammy to do as he’s told without an argument.

“Zina, you stay and help,” says Mom.

“Ugh,” I make a face. “I hate bats.”

“Help me remove the bedsheets,” she says.

We remove the bed sheets and pillow cases. We shake everything. Dad checks under the mattresses. I drag our shoes from under the bed and bang them on the floor. Thank goodness! No vampire bat hanging under the bed.

Dad opens our wardrobe. As usual, Sammy had left the door ajar. Mom removes the hangers with our clothes, one by one. I lay them out on my bed. Dad peers inside the empty wardrobe. He jerks the wardrobe from against the wall and inspects the back. No vampire bat.

“Zina, bring the stepping stool,” says Dad. He sees no bat from his perch on top of the stool.

The bottom drawer of our chest-of-drawers hangs open. It’s Sammy’s drawer—where he hides all his junk. As Dad removes the four drawers, I edge to the open doorway. I’m ready for a fast getaway. No bat is going to collide with my face. I find Sammy standing near the door. Mom goes through the clothes in each drawer. Dad inspects the empty chest. No ugly bat. He pulls the chest from against the wall. Nothing clings to the back.

Our bedroom is now a mess. Mom sits on Sammy’s bed. Dad stands in the middle of the room. Sammy and I remain in the doorway.

“I don’t understand what happen,” Mom tells Dad. “If is not a vampire bat, what cause the bleeding?”

I hold Sammy’s hand and pull him to the kitchen. “Sammy, if you didn’t cut yourself, if a vampire bat didn’t bite you, then it must b–“

“The Ole Higue,” whispers Sammy. “Don’t tell Mommy and Daddy ‘bout the toilet-paper balls. You promised. I going get ban again from playing video games.”

“So what we going do now?” I say.

“Let we call Granny and ask she what to do.”

“No, she going want to know what happen. Let we search on the internet.”

“What the two of you whispering about?” Sammy jumps at the sound of Mom’s voice.

“I just telling Sammy he gotta help me tidy up our bedroom.”

“That’s a good idea,” says Mom. “Zina, when you change your sleeping clothes, come help me make breakfast.”

“Come Sammy,” says Dad. “Let we make sure you ain’t get bite anywhere else.”

After breakfast, Mom washes up the dishes. Sammy helps me to tidy our room. Later, in the study-room, Sammy sits on my left in front of the computer monitor. I google the words ‘Ole Higue.’

Sammy fidgets in his chair. “Anything yet?”

“The Dictionary of Jamaica English say the Ole Higue is a witch who could take off her skin and fly at night to suck people’s blood, especially babies.”

“What they say we gotta do to stop the Ole Higue from sucking my blood?”

“They only mention a blue cross to use on the ninth day after a baby born. This not going work for you.”
“What else they say?”

“Here’s more.” I click on the link for the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage.

“What it say?” Sammy leans forward, squinting at the screen “The writing too fine to read.”

“In the countryside various fetishes are still used to keep Old Higue away.”

“What is fetishes?”

“Must be things that protect you from the Ole Higue…” I continue reading out loud: “‘Guards might be fitted round the children’s neck, a cube of blue hung over a doorway or chalk marks made on the stairs.’”

“I can get chalk from Charlie downstairs,” says Sammy.

“Hey, Sammy, they mention Guyana. ‘There is a folk legend in Guyana about an evil spirit that sheds her skin and takes the form of a ball of fire or some such, and then sucks the blood of the living.’”

“How she turn into a ball-of-fire?” says Sammy.

“How I must know? Stay quiet. Let me read… On April 28, 2007 a group of villagers in Bare Root, East Coast Demerara, beat a woman to death. They thought she was an Old Higue. They throw rice around her.”

“Mommy got plenty rice. She won’t miss it,” says Sammy. “It say where we got to put the rice?”

“Yeah, we gotta put a heap of raw rice near the foot of our bed. The Old Higue gotta count the grains of rice. While she counting the rice, we can sneak out of bed and call Dad.”

“Then Daddy can beat she with the pointer-broom,” says Sammy.

******

Sunday evening. Mom and Dad are watching TV. Sammy and I are on the back landing. We draw a chalk line along the bottom of the back door. We draw another line along the bottom of the front door. For extra protection, we mark each door with a large cross.

At bedtime, after Dad turns off all the lights, Sammy and I get to work. With light from Sammy’s flashlight, we place small piles of rice at each bed-foot. I climb up onto the top bunk.

“You can sleep in my bed tonight?” says Sammy.

I’m glad he asked. I don’t want to sleep alone tonight. I take my pillow and join him on the bottom bunk. Sammy covers me with his sheet. I hide the flashlight under my pillow. Sammy snuggles up under my left arm like he did when he was a baby. I hug him to my chest. Tonight, no Ole Higue is going to suck my brother’s blood.

“What we going do if the chalk lines and rice don’t work,” says Sammy.

“I going stay awake and start screaming when I see she.”

My brother struggles to stay awake with me. But within half-hour, he falls asleep. I keep watch in the shadowy room. My body stiffens at the slightest noise. Men walk by on the street. Cocoa barks from the front gate. They curse him. The landlord’s Dobermans bark and growl. A cat hisses. Cocoa runs up our front stairs. During the night, he lies on the landing. Mom complains all the time about the stink dog smell on her doorstep. She’s asked Dad umpteen times to build a gate at the top of the landing to keep the dog out. I suppose it gives Cocoa a good view of our yard. According to Sammy: “He pick up scent better from high up.” I don’t care about these things. But tonight, it’s good to know that Cocoa is on guard. He’ll bark when the Ole Higue appears. He’ll take a chunk of her flesh like he did with the postman.

Cocoa barks. My brain comes alive. It’s after midnight. I must have dozed off. A mango falls from the Ole Higue’s tree. I hug my brother. Cocoa growls. My muscles tense. I tighten my grip on Sammy. I pull out the flashlight from under my pillow. I flick the switch and beam the light around the bedroom. Cocoa moans. Silence. I wait. My body is so rigid, I can’t move. No ball of fire appears. No skinless, raw flesh apparition. I wait. I survey the room. All is still. Cocoa must be asleep. I should get some sleep too. I listen to Sammy’s slow rhythmic breathing. I feel the gentle heaving against my chest. It’s the last thing I remember. Sleep conquers me; it carries me off to the belly of the black widow spider.

Monday morning. Our weekend break is over. It’s back to school again. The Ole Higue is not in our bedroom counting the rice grains. There’s no blood on Sammy’s neck, pajamas or pillowcase. Sammy and I hug each other. The Ole Higue could not come near us. We are safe.

“The chalk marks work,” says Sammy. “Is true what they say: Ole Higue can’t cross the chalk line.”
Sammy and I get ready for school and have breakfast. I help Sammy to pack his school bag. Mom sits at her dressing table, putting on make-up.

“If you all want a lift to school, you better get moving,” says Dad. “I going downstairs to warm up the old Ford.” Dad opens the front door. “Zina! Sammy! Come here quick!”

I freeze. Sammy and I stare at each other. Sammy rushes to the front door. I follow.

Dad stands in the open doorway. “Is who would do a thing like this?”

Someone had moved our doormat to the center of the landing. Cocoa lies on top of the doormat. His head rests in a pool of blood. Toilet-paper balls adorn his lifeless form like a corpse prepared for the pyre.

I reach out and squeeze Sammy’s hand.

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