A Lucian Christmas Story

The scent of cinnamon lingered in the heat of the kitchen whilst Mama Rose stabbed cloves into the Christmas ham. Denver and Holly were up to no good, as usual, violently shaking all the presents under the tree, trying to figure out what was inside the perfectly wrapped boxes. A shattering sound exploded in the one they were currently wrestling for, causing Mama Rose to let out her tenth sigh of exasperation for the day. The eight year old twins were an endless hassle for her since her husband died and her eldest son, Claudius went to London to work. He helped her financially, but when he wasn’t around she never rested. Holly and Denver were energetic and curious, the tiring combination that healthy kids are made of. But, tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, Claudius would be paying a long overdue visit to Saint Lucia. The entire neighbourhood was excited and that’s why Mama Rose was already baking the Christmas ham. So that he could have a taste of the food he missed ever so much as soon as he arrived home. He would also get a good dose of the twins’ now perfected troublemaking.

“You think Claudius will tell us dese stories about Papa DJab and ladjablès since we big now?” Holly asked Denver as she flicked his left ear for attention. Mama Rose had sent them to pick some sorrel from the trees just outside their yard so she could make some fresh juice for the anticipated arrival. “Nah, when people go to England they does get stoosh. All he’ll want to do is wear his nice clothes and drink with the old fellas. Plus, I eh believe in ladjablès” said Denver.

“You sure about that manmzèl?” a husky voice mumbled behind them with a hint of humour. Denver and Holly turned around to see Claudius smiling at them, his eyes as warm as they had always been, with a fuzzy beard he’d grown since they last saw him. The trio greeted each other excitedly and the twins updated Claudius on the past three years in a matter of minutes. Then, they fought and argued about who should roll the suitcase to the house, allowing Claudius to observe quietly, how aggressive and impolite they had become, something Mama Rose always lamented when she called him.

When Denver finally got charge of the suitcase they walked to the house where Mama Rose stood in the doorway, teary eyed, face flushed from the heat of the oven and her fingers twisted in her food-stained apron. She missed her son terribly.

“You find these kankannèz, I been waiting on that sorrel!” Denver and Holly exchanged mischievous smiles because they knew they had had gone all the way to the river, trying to catch small crayfish before actually picking sorrel.

That night Mama Rose entertained plenty visitors, with the company of her son and her twins. The merriment of Christmas was bursting through everyone’s beaming smiles, as they shared stories, jokes, black pudding, cake, Christmas parang and rum. Claudius devoured a generous amount of ham and the Denver and Holly ate plenty fruit cake and sorrel juice, which Mama Rose finally managed to make. The night went on and hours flew by without people noticing because of the sheer Christmas bliss and the excitement of having Claudius back home. Denver and Holly, who had gotten restless, left the company of the other neighbourhood children and quarreled their way upstairs.

Not too long afterwards, the festivities dissipated and Claudius made his way upstairs, when he noticed the twins weren’t helping Mama Rose and him clean up. He arrived at the top landing, and heard a growl coming from Mama Rose’s bedroom and something clanking against the wooden floor. He opened the door, not knowing what to expect and let out an audible gasp when he saw Mama Rose’s forbidden pearl and glass necklace around Holly’s neck while Denver was trying to pull her to the ground. They were wrestling yet again. Both turned toward the door in surprise when they heard Claudius. Holly was mid-kick in Denver’s leg. His knee buckled and he grabbed at Holly, unfortunately catching hold of the necklace. Pearls began dancing about the room and glass beads shattered. The twins stared in horror as Mama Rose’s most prized, material possession lay scattered across her bedroom floor. It was the last piece of jewelry Mama Rose’s husband gave her before he died. They watched knowingly: this would break her heart.

The next morning was an uncomfortable, awkward experience for Denver, Holly and Claudius. Their mother, after losing her voice in a fit of quarrels the night before, was completely cheerless on Christmas Eve, something that none of her children thought they would ever see. She retired to her room during the auburn sunset, when the twins had apologized for destroying her necklace. Denver and Holly were deeply sorry and saddened by the event, and Claudius tried to lighten-up the mood, in the name of it being the holiday season.

“And now Papa Djab lives at the top of the hill hiding from people, and only coming out to do mischief when people behave badly” ended Claudius. Papa Djab or Djab Papa is the local name for the Devil. Claudius’ grandparents recited folklore to him when he was young and they relayed the stories of Papa Djab and his followers: ladjablès, ti bolonm, maji nwè and so on. These characters lured people into the forest, or appeared in their sleep to cause mischief. Claudius, being much older than the twins, took his job of passing down oral traditions with pleasure and sometimes added his own twist. He had worded a detailed story of how Papa Djab came to visit naughty children, since Santa got to give gifts to the good ones at Christmas time. Papa Djab would punish the naughty children by making them do hard physical labour or spend nights in the forest without their parents. The twins only seemed to be amused by his supposedly scary stories now. They told Claudius that they believed in neither Santa Claus nor Papa Djab, especially when he described Papa Djab as having horns, only black clothes and a pitch fork.

“What he doing with a pitchfork in the forest?” yawned Holly. “For his evil powers and to pick fruits and prick animals of course,” replied Claudius, a master plan forming in his head, “Y’all were very troublesome yesterday, I hope the djab don’t come for you,” he chuckled as the twins were being engulfed by slumber. They fell asleep on the sofa, while he sat on the carpet beside it just like old times. More so, Denver and Holly assumed that he would carry them to bed like he always did before he went to England.

Mosquito bites caused Denver to stir in his sleep. He felt itching and crawling all over his body and sat up. What he saw when he opened his eyes made him wake Holly in a state of hysteria. The twins were sleeping on the shrubby floor of the forest. The foliage of tall trees surrounding them rustled in the wind, and they could hear the sound of water churning nearby. They heard the scuttling and climbing of animals in the trees, both near and in the distance. The moon was bright that night, but the thick trees prevented it from being any help. All the moonlight did was cast scary shadows of branches. Of course, the twins’ immediate thoughts were questions of how they arrived in the forest. It seemed like they were deep inside, and it was so eerie in the dark. Little did they know, they were actually very close to home and not too far away from a part of the river they were familiar with. They even made a basen there a few days before.

They decided on trying to walk around to decipher where they were when a figure stepped out from the other side of a big tree trunk they were approaching. Denver and Holly both screamed and stepped back in fear and recognition. Whatever it was, was wearing black and was holding a pitchfork. “Where you think y’all going” the voice grumbled from under the black hood. “It’s Christmas Eve and you two have been very rude, disobedient and naughty all year,” he continued, “I keeping you in the forest tonight, in fact I may keep you here many nights… alone!” the twins trembled at the thought of having to stay in the scary forest at night. “Now, I have to deal with other naughty children tonight, just try to escape, I go find out. Merry Christmas Eve, Denver and Holly.” He cackled and disappeared behind the tree.

The twins were unable to speak for a while, they were in complete shock from the short speech they just received and completely terrified that Papa Djab was actually real. He had tiny horns and all.

After a few minutes the fear wore off Denver. “Mate lie if he think we staying here all night” he said. Holly’s courage boosted a little when she heard him “Let’s go”. They got up to walk once more, took up sticks, and began running towards the river. “Look our basen!” Holly shouted when she noticed it. Denver and Holly knew which way headed to home now. They began running again, Holly was trailing behind Denver, when she heard the thumping of someone else running behind her. Before she could turn to see, her feet lifted from the ground and she started screaming while dangling in Papa Djab’s grip. With his pitch fork in the other hand, Papa Djab reached for the back of Denver’s shirt pulling him backwards.

“I tell ya’ll don’t try to escape you know.” Papa Djab grumbled as he carried them deeper and deeper into the forest, Denver and Holly wiggling with all their might had grown tired of screaming. Papa Djab dropped them in a small clearing where a fire was crackling and a wooden cage not too far away. Papa Djab lunched them through the open door of the cage and they toppled inside. “You cah escape now! If you try I’ll cook you in that fire.” he growled from under his black hood. If they were not terrified before they definitely were now. Papa Djab walked away and left them alone in the cage, this time they were frozen with fear.

Finally Denver spoke, making his way to sit closer to Holly, “It’s because of Mama’s necklace. We know we not suppose to be in her room,” he said. Holly answered, “Yeah, I know, but we are really sorry. Mama was so sad.” She was very lonely and scared in the forest without Mama Rose, so was Denver. Sounds of crickets, flapping of bats’ wings, and moving shadows kept startling them. The twins both contemplated what Papa Djab had told them and they discussed how they could behave better if he let them go. “I don’t want to stay here, and I won’t be troublesome ever again” whined Holly. “We have to be good because I too scared of the Devil now” replied Denver. They promised to not use mean words, and to try to get along so Mama Rose would not get frustrated. Then Holly began to cry and Denver comforted her until they fell into a very deep sleep, for they were now exhausted.

On Christmas Day, the twins did not wake up in the forest, but to the familiar sound of Mama Rose’s clattering in the kitchen, and the smell of a feast. Denver and Holly shared puzzled expressions, confirming they were not just dreaming the events of the previous night. “How did we…” Denver started “Get back home?” Holly finished, looking at him in disbelief. “Did Papa Djab carry us like he bring us in the forest?” Denver offered half asking, half stating.

Mama Rose came in to wish them Merry Christmas and they apologized profusely once again. She was happy on Christmas Day and it really pleased them. But they still didn’t understand what had happened … until they saw Papa Djab entering their bedroom doorway. The twins immediately stepped back, screaming, and stumbling over the beds behind them.

Papa Djab pulled back his black hood only to show Claudius’ face, as he let out a hearty laugh. The twins’ faces sold their realizations. Denver and Holly had learnt a few lessons that Christmas, and they had Claudius to thank for it.

End.

Papa Djab

Glossary

B

Basen – river basin, deep part of a river or sea.

Black pudding – blood sausage. A delicacy made with pig’s intestines and its blood.

D

Djab (Jab) – N devil.

K

Kankannèz (var: kankanndèz) N troublemaker.

L

Ladjablès – (var: adjablès) N female bewitching spirit that may cause someone to lose his way.

M

Manmzèl – N unmarried young woman.

Maji nwè – “black magic”, the use of supernatural powers to abuse women sexually in their sleep, or the person who practices “black magic”.

P

Parang – Trinidadian folk music. This art form evolved and spread in different ways, but in Saint Lucia it’s mostly played around Christmas time.

S

Stoosh – stuck up

T

Ti bolonm – a supernatural character who looks like a child with a big head and makes a crying sound like a cat.