Yuh, yuh, yuh a-ah-affi walk wid m--m-m-ma-matches stick fi throw eena u mout… (You have to walk with a box of matches to throw into your mouth).”
“Smmmmuuuuuurrrrrrr (Hiss teeth). How you lie and wicked suh, Rohan (Why are such a wicked liar, Rohan, pronounced Ruhan)? A fool yuh a try tek mi fah, doan it (You must think I’m a fool).”
I sounded more confident than I felt, but I’m pretty sure my big cousin Rohan knew that I was paralyzed by fear. Now, I was beginning to second guess begging my mother to come to St. Ann.
“Eeenie, meanie, miney mo, wonda which parish me aguh go
School lock, but mommy have work, so...
Eenie, meanie, miney, mo ( This one, this one or that one, I wonder which Jamaican parish I'll go to. School is closed, but my mom has work, so...Which one will I go to).”
The good thing about school breaks and my family was there were so many aunts and uncles. There was literally a buffet of good choices of places to go.
This time around it was summer holidays and I had begged my mom to come to St. Ann, though I was seriously doubting that decision now.
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I had picked St. Ann because of all my cousins. I mean so many cousins. It didn’t really matter that they were all older than me, because I got spoiled dog rotten by all of them: Tracey-Ann, Kevin, Cheryl, Lisa, Rohan, but pronounced Ruhan, and Evan.
Not only were there all these cousins, but there were all these uncles and aunts wid corna shop (who owned small shops). Those small shops meant unlimited supplies of busta, Chippies banana chips, Catch, duplex cookies and as many tuff crackas, bullas, cornbread, bun (famous Jamaican sweets, cookies, crackers and snack pastries) and cheese as my stomach could stand.
As if that wasn’t more than anyone could handle, every one of my aunts and uncles had farms and farm animals, plus we got to go to the river, so I guess even though right now I wasn’t having the best time, you get why I begged to come.
Earlier that morning, I had been in paradise. Today was my third full day on vacation, since my mom and I had traveled from Kingston to St. Ann 2 days before. I was starting to perfect a schedule. I had woken up early, washed my face and brushed my teeth, changed out of my night clothes and then gone to see if anyone else was up.
My big cousin Tracey-Ann and Aunty Jean were always up. I really don't think they ever went to sleep, even though I saw them get ready for bed each night. Really, normally, Aunt Jean was long gone to check on her crops, go to market to sell her produce or whatever else it was that kept her so busy all the time.
Then, I’d be forced to drink some tea by Tracey-Ann and would finally be free to scamper along, down the road, to my grandpa Jacob’s house. Skipping down the red dirt road, I could see the water on all the plants and the darkened color of the dirt because of the morning dew. The heavy fog danced around my pigtails that bounced as I moved.
“Mawning (Good morning).”
There weren’t many houses between my Auntie Jean’s and my grandpa Jacob’s house, which is probably why I was allowed to go on my own. Back then, there wasn’t a "good road", so there were few motorists that weren’t on bicycles or a donkey here and there.
Out of breath, I ran into the house happy. I could smell it. I had made it just in time. A little part of me was disappointed I had missed going to milk the cow with him, but I’d gotten there in time nevertheless.
“Pah-pah, which part yuh deh (Grandpa, where are you)?”
So soft you could barely hear it.
“I’m round di back ere, baby (I’m in the back of the house,baby).”
As I rounded the corner, I almost ran in Papa Son, one of my uncles. Yes, his nickname was literally Papa Son, as in Papa’s Son.
“Sorry, uncle.” I gave him a quick hug and kiss and kept moving. I was on a mission. My nose told me it was almost finished.
As I finally brought Papa into my line of sight, bent over the dutch pot, carefully watching the milk fraught and bubble, I started to smile. My grandpa’s jet black, curly hair, earned him the title of coolie or Indian among most Jamaicans. To me, he was just the most soft spoken, gentle person I’d ever known, outside of my mom that is.
“Bring yuh cup come give me, Kim (Go get you cup and bring it to me, Kim).”
I didn’t have to be told twice. I spun on my heels and ran to grab my metal mug off the table. I guess at some time it had been a fully white metal cup, but now there were chips where the white had been that gave it character. My cup was much smaller than his, but I didn’t mind.
Papa, scraped off the fraught at the top of the milk and spooned it into my cup. As I was licking and enjoying the "cream" that came from boiling the milk, Papa added milk to his cup that already contained coffee and started to drink.
When I had finished with my milk cream or whatever it is called, Papa put some warm milk in my cup. Cooling it and drinking it slowly, I decided I’d have to wake up earlier tomorrow, so I wouldn’t miss going to milk the cow. Yesterday, Papa had showed me how to hold the udders and pull gently to get the milk to come down.
Now, sitting in the dark, listening to Rohan, my joy at drinking milk with Papa seemed far away.
I don’t even know why I was listening to Rohan, everybody said not to, even my Aunt Jean, his own mother.
Cousin Rohan was the trubble mekker (trouble maker or jokester) in the family. Rohan would come eena di house from grung, full a dirt and mud and guh straight inna di pot, open it and tief out peesah meat (come in the house from planting and tilling crops, filled with dirt and mud and go straight for the pot, open it and steal a piece of meat).
As if my aunt or big cousin Tracey-Ann had bionic hearing, one of them would appear to shoo him out of the kitchen wid him dirty self (with his dirty self).
“Yuh hear a tell yuh mus stay outta mi pot (I’m tired of telling you to stay out of my cooking),” this usually from my Aunt.
“But m-m-ma-mama, hungry a kill mi enuh. J-ju-juss, gimme one dumpling and sum gravy fi gwaan taste up mi mout (But, mommy, I’m dying of hunger. Just give me a dumpling and some gravy to hold me over).”
“Gwaan outta mi kitchen a say, Ruhan, and stop run up mi pressure (Go out of my kitchen, Ruhan and stop upsetting me).”
At this point, she would have started poking him with the broom handle and escorting him out the kitchen to which he would start tickling her.
“Ruhan, stop it nuh man and gwaan bout yuh business. Yuh tink mi ave time fi ramp wid you. Di dinner soon ready (Ruhan, stop it and go away. I don't have time to play with you. The dinner will be ready soon).”
It was always special watching my Aunt and cousin. She seemed so serious and intent on getting him out, but would laugh uncontrollably once he was out the door and couldn't see her.
“N-nu-nuh guh outta door a night time by yuself u hear, Kim. Dem will tek yuh way. Yuh waan yuh modda bawl when shi come back and cyaan find yuh (Don’t go out at night by yourself, you hear me Kim. They will take you away. Do you want your mother to cry when she comes back and can’t find you?)”
“Rohan, juss leave me alone, man. A try yuh a try frighten mi (Rohan, leave me alone. You’re just trying to frighten me).”
It was way too late for the try part, he had already succeeded. The feeling I had now was much worse than when my brothers Kirk and Greg had played duppy tricks on me.
As I tried to sleep that night, the words played over and over in my head, Rolling Calf .I had heard other people talk about it before, never directly to me though.
Rohan said they were a mean spirited animal that could shape shift and look like a dog, cat, cow or many other types of animal. They had mismatched feet parts, some human and some animal. Their eyes glowed red and they made this deafening rattling sound as the chain that hung from their neck dragged on the ground.
He said not to let them roll between my legs or I was doomed. They could take control of you, kidnap you and all types of other bad things. Rohan said that the only way to stop them if they tried to roll in between your legs, which was how they paralyzed you before hurting you, was to light a match and swallow it lit, because they were afraid of light and smoke.
There's no way he's telling the truth. Rohan was notorious for stirring up trouble. I finally nodded off to sleep thinking it didn’t even matter because I didn’t go outside, at night, by myself anyway.
That morning I woke up earlier, just like I planned and started changing out of my pajamas. It was hard to find my clothes, but I finally did. Gulping down my mint tea, I was off, barely saying goodbye to Tracey-Ann as I ran out the door. As soon as I stepped outside, I realized why I had struggled to find my clothes, it was almost pitch black.
I was confused, but it was morning. Looking up, I saw that the sky was terribly overcast. I was just about to run back in the house and stay when I remembered I didn’t want to be late today. With what looked like bad weather on the way, Papa would probably go milk the cow and make the milk earlier to avoid the rain.
Rohan’s warning was not far from my memory though, so I ran back into the kitchen, swiped the box of the matches that was beside the stove. I figured no one would miss it because the stove was already lit and bubbling with porridge. I ran off before I changed my mind.
Today, my skip was more like a panicked run, but it was working, I was almost the…
Clank, clank, clank.
What was that?
This time, louder.
Clank, clank, clank.
No, it can't be.
Straining to see in the dense fog and overcast weather, I could see two red eyes coming into view, right at eye level for me. I was so scared I almost peed my clothes, but I remembered what Rohan had said and grabbed the matches out of my pocket.
I had a moment of worry about what a lit match might do on my insides, but decided it would be much better than what would happen if the rolling calf rolled between my legs.
Clank, clank, clank.
As the eyes got closer. I realized I was almost out of time, so I lit the matches, opened my mouth wide and threw the lit match in the back of my throat. I coughed as I forced myself to quickly swallow the match.
Just then, the bicycle finally came into sight. It was an old rusty one, making all that clank, clank, clank noise as the man pedaled faster, hidden by the overcast sky and thick fog. The red reflectors on the front of the bicycle that warned other motorists of approach was what had convinced me I was about to come face to face with a rolling calf.
My knees almost buckled with relief realizing I would not need to see a ferocious rolling calf today. I ran into my Papa’s house like I was being chased and almost knocked him over putting his boots on.
“But yuh early dis mawning, man (But you’re early this morning)”
“Yes, Papa, I…”
I started to tell him what had happened... about Rohan, about the Rolling Calf, I mean bicycle, about the matches, but I decided to keep all that to myself and just hugged him tight instead.
All the same (Nevertheless), for the rest of my stay, I started begging other people to come with me from house to house. I’ve managed to go the rest of my life never having seen another rolling calf or a rolling calf, and I’m gonna (going to) try to keep it that way.
If you enjoyed Rolling Calf, then take a moment to explore the other stories in the I am an Island Girl series. "Fix Yuh Face," is a story about triumphing over an injury. Story 5, Bad Dawg Dem is a story of how an island girl handles a run in with some bad dawg. Story 4, Verandah Key takes you to the parish of St. Thomas. Story 3, If Ah Poop Yuh Dead, is a hilarious account of why Fridays were my favorite days of the week. The second story in the series, A We Say Acrobat: Chinese Skip, gives a glimpse into one of my favorite childhood games growing up in Jamaica and the first story in the collection,Duppy Business, is a tale of the evil genius of siblings mixed with a popular Jamaican superstition (belief to some).
Read the entire series and share with anyone who loves Jamaica, the Caribbean or who's curious about what life was like for island girls. Come back soon!