There was a soft amber-yellow glow from the street lamps accompanied by the lights from an array of shops that illuminated the wet pavement as Anita’s car pulled into the strip mall parking lot. I rolled down the car window from the passenger seat, letting the cool air escape and the Scarborough heat creep in with the rhythmic late-night chatter from the locals. My eyes scanned the various advertisements plastered in and on windows and signs in foreign languages and scripts – from Digicel calling cards and cassava and breadfruit to malai and kesar flavored ice creams and pickled mango achar imported from back home – before the car came to a stop in front of Indira’s Roti and Caribbean Cuisine. When we exited the vehicle I noticed Hamza, the Pakistani butcher’s son from the Halal meat and grocery shop adjacent to our auntie’s roti shop, deep in conversation with my brother-in-law Roy.
“Well, if it isn’t our favorite customer and my darling husband,” Anita announced, her slight Guyanese Creole accent clashing with her Canadian one, as the men approached us.
“Good to see you, sis,” Roy sang, a hint of his native Trinidadian accent escaping his lips, as he embraced me and pecked my cheek.
“Good to see you too, broski,” I said before he made his way over to Anita. I gave Hamza a once-over to which he offered me a mischievous smile and a small wave. “What are you doing here?”
“Hello to you too, kulfi comrade,” he said, his voice as silky as a Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafer. He slipped his hand in mine and with one swift tug, he secured my curvy petite frame in his muscular arms.
“Smooth as always,” I commented with a peck on his cheek.
“I try, I try. I heard you were in town for a few days and I couldn’t resist. I figured if I helped out tonight, we’d get to spend some time together…even if this date wouldn’t involve ice cream.”
“My sister told you I was coming to Toronto, didn’t she?”
He nodded sheepishly. “You smell good by the way,” he started, burying his face in the crook of my neck. “New scent?”
I giggled. “It’s eau de chicken curry…courtesy of Granny’s cooking.”
“Hate to break up the reunion but a little help over here, lovebirds,” Roy called.
At the sound of his voice, Hamza and I escaped each other’s grasp to see him clutching a crate of empty, corked milk glass bottles. We both muttered a childish ‘sorry’ and retrieved a box from Anita. She handed Hamza unripened green mangos. I got scotch bonnet peppers.
Several boxes and crates later, we finally settled into the small air-conditioned dining area surrounded by mangos, peppers, garlic, vinegar, and bottles. The front door sign had been flipped from ‘OPEN’ to ‘CLOSED’ and a calypso track echoed from the in-ceiling speakers. Beside me, Hamza checked his watch.
“Ten o’clock. Think we’ll be done by 12?”
I shrugged. “I hope so. Why? Is there somewhere you need to be?”
“Uh, yeah…your bed.”
I threw my head back in laughter. “I see you haven’t changed since last summer.” He stole a kiss from me before breaking the cloves off a garlic bulb. “But you know who also hasn’t changed?” I exclaimed, getting Roy and Anita’s attention as they peeled and chopped mangos. “Auntie Indira! I can’t believe she ditched flippin’ Bulk Barn for imported milk bottles from Guyana.”
Anita sucked her teeth. “Kavita, girl, you know Auntie Indira always extra.”
I grabbed one of the bottles from the crate to examine it. “What’s so special about them anyway?”
“They’re supposed to make the pepper sauce more authentic, Kav. Keep up,” Roy said. Hamza snickered.
I rolled my eyes. “Auntie Indira is an authentic chudail,” I mumbled, earning a laugh from the trio.
“They kinda look like the same bottles Granny used to tell me not to touch,” Anita said. Noting Hamza’s curious look, she continued. “In Guyana the story goes, at least the story Granny told me, that if you find a corked glass bottle, you should never pick it up and open it because then you’d release the trapped creature.”
“Apparently, he looks like a small man and feeds off of milk and bananas and grants you wishes and tings like that,” Roy chimed in. “They’re called ‘bacoo’ in Guyana but ‘buck’ in Trinidad…story slightly different.”
Hamza’s eyes glinted in fascination. “Almost like a genie or a leprechaun, right? What happens if you don’t feed it?”
“Bare mischief. Granny knew a few people in her village that had them as…pets,” Anita said.
Hamza turned to me, giving me a little nudge. “You’ve heard these stories too, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, only my whole life. It’s a load of nonsense, Hamza. I’ve been to Guyana once and never saw any entities.”
“You don’t need to see to believe. For all you know there’s one in that bottle you’re holding,” he joked.
As I went to remove the cork to prove to him there wasn’t, the bottle slipped out of my hand and shattered onto the floor. A sharp chill ran through my spine. The ceiling lights flickered and the kitchen door swung open – accompanied by its infamous squeak from the worn-out hinges – as if someone or something had walked into the kitchen. My eyes darted over to Hamza before we met Anita and Roy’s gaze. Heavy raindrops began to stain the window pane, followed by a deafening crash of thunder. I shuddered at the sound. Anita dried her hands and went to retrieve the coconut broom and cloth from behind the counter.
“You okay?” Hamza inquired, guiding me away from the pieces near my feet. I nodded.
“These forecasters saying one thing but is always something else,” Anita whined. “And friggin’ Auntie Indira still won’t fix this blasted door and light.”
“Storm or no storm if your cheapskate auntie wasn’t paying us overtime, I’d have my ass in bed,” Roy told her as the two of them tended to the glass.
My eyes were glued to the window as Hamza checked me over.
“What are you looking at?” he whispered.
“Anita closed the trunk and locked the car, right?” I asked, matching his tone. He nodded but before he could turn his head to take a look, the trunk slammed shut.
“I’d rather be in bed too so the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can all leave,” Anita said, regaining both of our attention. “Y’all don’t touch the bottles. Let Auntie Indira worry about them tomorrow morning.”
Without another word, I began plucking the stems off of the Caribbean peppers.
The live cricket match resounded from the television while Hamza and I lied in the guestroom bed with a pillow wedged between our bodies. Since we all crawled into Roy and Anita’s abode at 1AM – walking in the front door backward as our elders taught us so that spirits didn’t follow us in – I still couldn’t get over what I’d seen. I had spent the entire car ride in the backseat with Hamza making sure nothing was following us, while Anita kept glancing at me in the rearview mirror every so often. Roy admitted that what happened back at the shop was freaky but assured me that once we got home he’d burn incense so we’d all be able to sleep before facing Auntie Indira’s wrath about the broken bottle.
I glanced over at Hamza to discover that he was sound asleep but the knock from the Pakistani batsman recaptured my attention. It sounded like it was either a six or he’d been caught. The Australian commentator’s enthusiasm with, “What a knock from Uddin to finish things off!” confirmed my suspicion.
“Good for nothing,” I whispered out of frustration as the camera panned to a few of the West Indian players. I sighed and turned off the T.V., setting the remote on the nightstand near the digital clock, but in a flash, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I convinced myself that I was seeing things due to the lack of sleep. I checked the time on the clock for validation – it was an hour past the devil’s hour – and sank further into the bed, pulling the covers over my head. I took a deep breath and said the Lord’s Prayer to myself but before I could even get to ‘heaven’ I heard a cynical chuckle from the closet. I peeped out from under the covers to see small pebbles striking the windowpane in haste like hail. Getting a hold of the pillow in between Hamza and me, I threw the covers off, pelted it at the closet, and then retreated. Hamza stirred beside me.
“Jesus, Allah…forgive us,” I said, moving my body closer to his with a grip on the covers.
The floorboards groaned as something gingerly neared the bed. My skin felt so hot with fear that I wanted to vomit and my unsteady breathing only increased my anxiety. In one swift movement, the covers slipped from my fingers and were pulled off. With the help of the moonlight breaking through the window, I was able to see what I had exactly been face to face with: a bacoo. He was the size of a toddler with pointy ears, sickly dark skin, and a potbelly. There were a few strands of hair atop his head but he had no kneecaps. It looked like if I gave his short, skinny limbs one good yank they’d detach from him in an instant…not that I dared to test him with his large hands and feet. His big, round black eyes stared into mine and as he opened his mouth to speak, I could see his white razor-sharp teeth.
“Feed me,” he said in a thick accent that I couldn’t decipher. “Now.”
I tried to scream but it was no use. Hamza screamed instead as I blacked out.
My eyes fluttered open to find my feet propped on Granny’s lap on the living room couch with her Bible in one hand and trusty bottle of mentholated Limacol in the other. Anita and Roy had their weapons – a coconut broom and cutlass, respectively – secured tightly in their grip while they paced back and forth in front of their designated areas – the kitchen and the front entrance – discussing a backup plan for if “he” returned. Hamza, seated on the floor with an arm over my abdomen and a prayer in Arabic on his lips, adjusted his posture as I tried to sit up.
“She’s awake!” he exclaimed, slipping his hand in mine to help me up.
“Oh, thank God,” Granny cried, as Anita and Roy joined us in the living room.
“How long was I out for?” I inquired.
“Almost two and a half hours,” Roy answered.
“I’ve already filled Granny in on everything,” Anita added. “And before you ask, yes, we all saw the bacoo. He’s gone.”
“But not for good, right?” Hamza asked.
Granny shook her head. “I think I might know where he went.”
Anita killed the engine in the parking lot as the five of us – Granny in the passenger seat with me squished in the backseat between Roy and Hamza – watched as Auntie Indira exited her car with a plastic bag containing a gallon of milk. She quickly inspected the area before snatching the tiny banana peels from her windshield and running into her roti shop.
“She had an affair with a ‘science’ man from Suriname,” Granny said.
Anita coughed. “You mean obeah man.”
Granny continued. “He must’ve shipped the bottles for her. No wonder the business has been thriving.”
“I told y’all she was a witch,” I said. “No offense, Granny.”
Roy turned to me. “And what’s the moral of this story, Kavita?”
“The bacoo is now Auntie Indira’s problem?” Hamza laughed as Roy shot me a look. “He’s real…I believe, okay?” I said. He patted me on the back, satisfied. “Anyways, the real problem now is how you and Anita are going to announce your resignation to Auntie Indira.”