She paused, not so much to listen but to learn, to learn the feel of the day, for every day was different in her forest. Her forest—it lay along a steep valley through which rushed a river called “Shark”, halting only in selected places to make pools deep and sure with eddies that swirled backwards in their own placid repose, slick on the surface, secret in their tumultuous depths, where enormous, ancient trees stood sentinel. All fast asleep in ageless repose, same height, same girth, same breadth as though created simultaneously by some mighty hand that reached out from eternity and sowed their dreams in unison so long ago, before words like day or night were made to punctuate the passage of time.
Time had been invented by one of her ancestors, she was sure. Before she entered her forest, she left it, together with her shoes, down by the road. Papita had told her about the Caribs of long ago, their family, the old people who owned all the land. She had told her about the river and of the Oriyu, the water spirits. She always felt that she had just missed them and that, had she come a little earlier, she would have seen them. But she was always just in time to see the ripples they left on the water fade away into placidity. Sometimes, she heard a loud slap upon the surface of the pool. Once, she saw an enormous shape turn around and around in the water like a wheel. Today, she saw the face. A shimmer just beneath the surface of the pool, it seemed to call out with open mouth. A song, she thought. Now she knew for certain that there was a Maman Dlo living in Shark River.
After that, she would bring flowers and pretty buttons, a buckle from a shoe, a dolly’s head, quite pink, with staring eyes of blue and tiny holes where hair would have been implanted. She brought little gems made of red and green glass, pins and pretty bow clips. One morning, as she slipped in silence throught the woods, the river, coursing with a roar through the rocks and bolders, gray and striped with white lines, she saw something glimmer in the water. It was a lovely comb made of shell and silver, gold-tipped. She stood there entranced, the river foam, a lacy frock around her legs. She picked up the comb and ran it through her hair. At once, she heard music, a song, sighing, which filled her heart with yearning—for what? She had no idea. She knew she must keep this gift a secret.
She would spend her days sitting in the sunshine where the water fell from high up to crash upon the rocks, its spray a brilliant rainbow irridescent about her, combing her long, black hair and listening to Maman Dlo’s comb. She learnt that Amana was her true name and that she had a sister who was called Yara, “beautiful river”, which flew into a bay not too far away. Others were called Marianne, Madamas and Paria. She heard the sirens’ song of sailors who had been dashed to death upon the rocks at Saut d’Eau, and learned not to dread the deafening silence of the forest.
She saw the stranger come into her forest. He grew afraid at her sight, his eyes were startled. She did not smile but combed her hair, listening to the melody of Maman Dlo’s song. The river’s spray made iridescent colours swirl about her. He ran away. They laughed at him. He would return.
In the time that followed, whenever she combed her hair with the magic comb, she heard a voice that warned her of her curiosity for the stranger and cautioned her to dismiss him from her memory. Maman Dlo’s voice came to her like a mother’s plea to remain pure and not fall victim to curiosity. But she longed to meet the stranger and would dream him with her in the river.
One day, Maman Dlo rose up from the water to tell her “no”. She saw her terrible beauty, her feminine form conjoint with that of a massive anaconda that swirled about and slapped the water with its tail, making a sound like the cracking of huge branches. “No,” Maman Dlo breathed, “don’t go.” But go she did and as time went by, her comb no longer sang its silent song. Mr. Borde and herself would build a house at Cachepa Point and live a happy life.
Close upon a century later, as a very old woman, she sat to the back of a pirogue which was plunging through a turbulent sea towards Yara bay in the hope of beaching at the river’s mouth. The outboard engine wined and coughed, and the huge waves threatened to swamp the overcrowded boat. She sensed the terror in the group and took an old, broken comb with an unusual shape out of her pocket. Standing up in the plunging boat and steadying herself, she called to the tillerman to point the bow at the river’s mouth and asked the passengers to pray. In a voice at first old and frail, then strong and commanding, she began to sing:
“Maman Dlo, oh Maman Dlo, save us from this terror sea. Be calm, be calm,” she told the waves, “Be slow, lie low.”
The swirling waters seemed to pause and flatten into an insulent roll that fell away at her call.
“Ma Dolly calmed the sea,” they would later say. “She calmed the sea at Yara Bay.”
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