Darla and the Jack-O-Lantern
“Cockadooldeoo!” was the alarm clock that awoke Darla every Saturday morning and alerted her that it was time to get ready for the market. Darla quickly jumped out of her grass bed and hurried to her outside bathroom to get a quick bath. After bathing and brushing her teeth, she hurried inside her little wattle and daub hut and quickly ate her breakfast of fried dumpling and shad. After this, she drank a large enamel cup of bush tea. She placed her tray with neatly packed fruits and vegetables on her head and made her way down the dusty narrow road with thick vegetation on both sides. Soon she reached the clearing where her other neighbours’ huts were.
“Morning Darla, me a come a market later so mind you spare me a likkle yam fu me nah an one a dem sweet potato. Me’d really appreciate it,” called one of her neighbours.
“No prob, me a go be de till bout…4,” Darla called back.
After a long walk from Swetes, Darla finally reached the St. John’s Market, hardly breaking a sweat because she was accustomed to this long walk. She set up her little stand and placed the fruits and vegetables that came from her ground on a large crocus bag. She observed everything that was happening around her and absorbed the sweet aromas of the fruits on the nearby stalls. Her stall neighbour Zola was biting into a succulent slice of an Antigua Black Pineapple and Darla’s mouth watered.
Darla was excited. She was always happy when she was at the market. Maybe it was the exciting atmosphere with a vendor shouting, “Get you widdy, widdy bush for you pepperpot!”
Darla also found the market exciting because it was the place to get the latest gossip and hear all the Jack-O-Lantern and jumbie stories.
When it was 4:00 pm, Darla called to her friend at a nearby stall, “Punchy, me a go now ok, me hab to stop by de hairdresser and get me hair press fo chuch tomara. Bye.”
Darla put away her stall and took up her tray, which was empty now because she had sold all of her market produce. She was very pleased with her sales for the day because she had made eight shilling and three pence. She took off her flour bag apron and packed it carefully in her straw handbag.
Five minutes later, Darla arrived at the hairdresser’s place. When she got there, she called out in surprise, “Lawd, wha all these people a do ya, it might be after dark by de time me finish an how ah go get home!”
Darla reluctantly decided to sit on a wooden stool and wait for her turn. Next to Darla was her friend Pearl who lived in St. John’s. Pearl pulled her stool close to Darla and whispered, “Gyal wa you a do out so late? Me muma say that last night some people been see Jack-O-Lantern in Swetes, you nar fraid fo walk home by you self so late?”
Darla was really scared, but she replied, “Me na afraid no Jack-O-Lantern, You think them thing de real.”
Darla sat and talked with Pearl until it was her time to press her hair.
Darla’s hair was finally finished at 6:30 pm. While admiring her hairdo in the looking glass, she noticed that it was already dark. “O Lawd! How me go get home now, me nah walk in no dar!” she exclaimed, but of course she had no choice but to take the long dark journey back to Swetes.
Darla felt uneasy as she traveled back to Swetes. It was very dark and she did not have her flambeau. She walked slowly along the dusty road as if she had the trigger foot disease. When she was almost in Swetes, she began to have flashbacks of the Jack-O-Lantern tales that she heard at the market and at the hairdresser. She tried to stop thinking of them so she took out a bambula from her straw bag. She was so lost in the delicious flavor of the bambula that she did not notice that a bright light was approaching her.
By the time she noticed the light it was twenty feet away from her. She started to panic and wondered if this was the Jack-O-Lantern that everyone was talking about. She began to whisper the Hail Mary prayer. The light got closer and brighter and very soon it was in front of Darla. The figure had lights coming from different parts of its body that were too bright to look at. Darla covered her eyes and froze in fear as a strange feeling came over her. She tried to scream but no sound came from her mouth.
The next morning, Darla sat up in her bed and realized that she was surrounded by her family and the priest who was sprinkling holy water over her. “Wha happen?” she asked.
Her sister Gertrude told her that last night the men in the village heard some loud screams, went to investigate and found her at the top of the sugar mill tower. Everyone listened in awe as Darla told them the experience of the bright light that she believed was the Jack-O-Lantern. From that day, Darla pledged never to walk again late in the night. In fact, there was a rumour in Swetes Village that every day Darla went to bed at 4:00 pm.
[Winner of the Friends of the Antigua Public Library 2010 Short Story Competition]