My clever, big sister says I was four years old when what I am going to tell you happened. I don’t remember exactly. I just know that this really scary thing happened:
My father is the head of a boarding school for boys, and we live in a white house that stands on pillars on the school’s grounds. We have a dog called Caesar who lies under the table while we are having our supper. My father had shortened his tail so that he does not annoy us. It’s terrible that he did that, but then it just seemed normal, and the dogs didn’t seem to mind too much while their tail stumps were healing. We also have a cat. His name is Timmy, and he lets me hang him around my neck. He lies quite still and doesn’t mind at all.
I like going to the beach with my family and my cousins on Sunday afternoons picnics, even though I don’t like it when my father takes me in his arms and walks into the sea to teach me how to swim. I like when we make ice cream and eat it. I like my daddy when he walks up and down our yard at night playing this thing with its special name, accordion. I lie in bed and listen to the music before I fall asleep. I like the sound of the boys’ voices as they yell and whistle to each other when they are playing football on the field not far from our house. I like the sound the big school bell makes on Sunday mornings, telling us it is time to go to church. I really like it when the white fluffy things from the Cotton Tree fall to the ground, and people gather up the bits to put in their pillows to make them soft.
I don’t like it when the men dress up in big furry things, put horrible wooden things with scary, ugly faces on their heads, dance around, chase children, and talk in deep voices. I don’t like thunderstorms. The lightning is so quick and sharp and bright, and the thunder is so loud! I remember one night when we all had to climb into our parents’ bed because the lightning and thunder were so scary we couldn’t sleep. I don’t like snakes. Not even the green ones that people say don’t hurt you. They slide up and down trees and stretch their long thin bodies from branch to branch, and they never fall. I especially don’t like Sammy though I’ve never actually seen him. People say he is big and black and dangerous and can kill you if he bites you! We get terrified, like when the lights go dim at night, as they sometimes do, and a belt that has fallen by the side of my mother’s bed looks just like a snake. Most of all, I don’t like it when the bird they call the Korkor that lives in the Cotton Tree calls, ‘Korkor, Korkor’ in the middle of the night people say the bird is calling the witches out.
I go to the Tabernacle School not far from my house. Not far means I can walk to school with a grownup beside me. In class, we sit still and don’t talk to our friends. The teachers call this good behavior. If we talk, the teachers hit us with a ruler for bad behavior.
I don’t remember what I learned at school, but I remembered this: One afternoon, someone tells someone who tells someone else who tells someone else who tells someone else until everybody in the school knows that Jaynɛt Bᴐndul is here. I don’t remember when she first came here or where she came from, but every child at Tabernacle School knows about her and is terrified of her.
She is called Jaynɛt Bᴐndul because she steals children, packs them in her bundles, takes them away, and does things (better not to think about that part) to them.
I am feeling hot and cold and trembling. I want to be at home with Caesar, Timmy, and my mother. She will be sewing or playing the piano, and my father, if he is back from school, maybe listening to Eartha Kitt on his ”no-one-touch-this-without-my-permission” HiFi set.
The school bell rings. Me and my friends grab our things and rush outside. Instead of going home, we decide to find Jaynɛt Bᴐndul. We want to see her bundles with maybe even a child or two making them huge and bulging. But most importantly, we have to make sure that she doesn’t catch any of us. We are afraid, yes, but suddenly it is all so exciting! My stomach is full and hot and wants to yell loudly!
We grab one another’s hands and stay very close and move slowly around the yard. She isn’t there…and she isn’t there…and maybe…no, mistake… she isn’t there either. We keep going round and round the yard and move more and more into the dark corners where we hardly ever go, and then someone whispers, ‘Look’, and we can see them. Bundles. Three of them. They are big and dirty and probably very smelly if you go up close, but we don’t. We can all see them. We can’t see her, but we don’t need to. We can see her bundles. We turn and bump into one another, crying and run and run and run all the way to our homes!
That night I couldn’t be alone in my bed. I shiver, eyes staring at the window, hardly able to breathe in case Jaynɛt Bᴐndul is outside our door. Even the Korkor bird is quiet. Maybe even the witches are scared of her and stay in their huts.
I don’t remember what happened after that day, the next day at school, or in the weeks to come. I guess nothing much. Otherwise, I would remember, and so slowly, slowly, Jaynɛt Bᴐndul disappears from our little girls’ lives. Maybe she is out there catching small children and putting them in bundles, and maybe she isn’t.
I know one thing. I’m glad I’m not a little girl anymore.
Smita Caulker-Tomalin spent the first 12 years of her life in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since then, she has lived and worked in many different countries of the world. Currently employed in alternative healthcare and wellbeing as a massage specialist, she is also a reporter and teacher.