Varsha 2020 Issue, Stories - Melissa Jerry-Stoute


The Jumbie Bud

By Melissa Jerry-Stoute


In our sleepy Bois Jean Jean village, I heard strange tales of the ‘Jumbie Bud’. It was a mysterious, nocturnal bird that came to carry off souls to the underworld. The first time I heard of the Jumbie Bud was from our neighbour Terrance and my grandmother as they spoke in whispers one day.


“It take Cecil las week,” Terrance muttered, “An’ fly way before we see it, we only hear de song it make.”


Mama gazed into the grey sky as they spoke, “Terrance why all yuh eh shoot it?”


He shook his head, “How yuh shootin something nobody ever see?”


The next morning, I awoke to see a crowd in Ma Nagasar’s yard. I crept down the creaky wooden steps of our house and ran across the road to see what was taking place. I crawled between the legs of those gathered there and got to the front of the house, what a ghastly image!


There was Ma Nagasar, dead as a doornail on her front porch. “De Jumbie Bud did come”, someone was saying, “Ah hear it, but by de time ah come out, it did done gone, and she did already dead.”


I felt a chill deep deep down in my bones. I ran all the way back home and hid under Mama Sumintra’s bed. I was careful to not wake Papa who was still resting in his bed. The voices of my cousins calling me for breakfast brought me out. The rumbling of my belly surpassed any fear I felt that morning. Sada roti, tomato choka and hot cocoa tea temporarily erased any memory of the dreaded Jumbie Bud.

That night I refused to sleep with the other children in our room, I took up my bedding and put it down beside my grandparents’ bed. Theirs was a bed made from a rough wooden frame which housed a hard fibre mattress. I drifted off to sleep on the hard floor but it didn’t matter, I felt safer there.


“Gyar-gyar-gyar-gyar!” around two in the morning I was awakened, by a hellish sound.


I saw Mama standing by the wooden window peering out, she was trying to chase a bird away…the Jumbie Bud! I scrambled onto the bed next to Papa and hid under the covers. I don’t know which urge was stronger, the urge to see this devilish bird or the urge to release my heavy bladder.

Here was my chance to boast to my cousins. I was regarded as a scared weakling. This was my chance to boast that I saw the Jumbie Bud. I pulled down the covers just in time to see the bird spread its wings in morbid ferocity.


The expanse of its wings was vast and the sleek black and brown feathers were speckled with fire red spots. My eyes locked gaze with the creature and it moved its head slowly so slowly in a perfect circle. I jumped off the bed ready to run away when it raised its prickly head and opened a short black beak as if to pounce on us. I felt the hot urine run down my legs as my eyes bulged out of my head in absolute horror.

Mama decided to chase the demonic messenger back to hell or the underworld or wherever it came from.


“Shoo! Gone!” she shrieked at the Jumbie Bud which seemed to mock her, “Gyar-gyar-gyar-gyaaaaaar!!!”


The screeching devil refused to move off the calabash tree.


“You eh catchin no soul here tonight!” she offloaded every curse word she could remember.


I trembled where I stood, still unable to move. Then, in what seemed like desperation, she dashed the contents of the chamber pot towards the unwanted visitor. Whoosh! The odour of stale urine filled the room as the enamel pot made a dull ringing sound as it hit the wooden floor. It was gone, the bird disappeared, but how? I did not see it fly off. My body felt numb.

When I dared to look at Mama, her pink cotton duster was now clinging to her sweaty body, and in her eyes I saw fear. Her wild grey uncombed hair and the way she mumbled under her breath made her appear mad. In that moment I did not know if to laugh or cry. It was then I saw the red gleaming eyes of the Jumbie Bud, it was now on the window sill. I had to hold my chest for I swore my heart would come through it.


I was cornered where I stood at the foot of the bed. It was the devil on the window sill, Mama then me. No way could I move, not even if I wanted to because my feet refused to cooperate.


Papa groaned in the bed behind us, “Leff it!” he commanded, “It go go way jus now...” his body shook in pain as these few words took a lot of effort from him. He suddenly burst into a fit of coughing. Papa was suffering from cancer of the lungs. In his young days he worked on the cocoa and coffee estates in Moruga.


When they closed down the estates he was thrown away like a used rag. He was already sick so no one wanted him. We watched as the cancer slowly took over. Was it Papa? Did the Jumbie Bud come for Papa’s soul?

I reached for Papa’s knotted fingers and whispered, “Papa?”


He managed to wink at me knowingly. His act of bravado in itself was oddly comforting. That night I prayed every prayer I could remember, I wished on stars and universes afar. Mama remained like a sentry at the window admonishing the bird who refused to budge.


When the cock crew Mama sank to the floor in relief. The Jumbie Bud left but she was exhausted. I hurriedly changed my clothes and huddled next to her trying to console her as best I could.

The Jumbie Bud returned every night for over a week. Beckoning to the soul of one of us in the house and I was beginning to think that perhaps it was me…for I was wasting away with worry. Mama was obsessed with killing the Jumbie Bud. She believed that killing it would erase all our problems and bad luck would disappear.


I took care of Papa however I could as all my other cousins abandoned us. They refused to be a part of Mama’s foolish plan. On the morning of the ninth day, Mama put on her tall boots and grabbed a cutlass and axe. I could hear the chopping sound of the blade against the calabash tree.


Neighbours came out to view the spectacle, I could hear their comments.


“Like Sumintra gone off?” they questioned.


“Poor ting, de stress finally trip she off, ah feelin so sorry for she and dem chirren.


"I kept my face serious and did not let them know I heard anything. Tears rolled down my cheeks when I heard Mama say, “Yes! Leh we see where yuh landin tonight!”


As evening neared, Mama sat on a wooden stool at the foot of her bed. The window was barred shut and as the bewitching hour descended, she started humming in a barely audible voice. “Go way devil…go way! No place here for you to stay!”


Then a piercing sound disturbed the peace of the quiet night, “Gyah-gyar-gyar-gyaaaar!” The Jumbie Bud had returned, it seemed angry as it circled and screeched. Papa groaned and the pitch oil lamp cast shadowy phantoms across the room. Papa started mumbling and tossing in the bed. I tried to move but I couldn’t.


I tried to scream out, “Stop! Stop! Take me instead!” but no voice, no words came. My tongue was heavy; I refused to look at Mama. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and pulled my pillow over my head.

Papa’s voice came to me in my dreams urging me to get up, “Mari…Mari…” I jumped up. It was daybreak, but what a strange silence there was. Papa was lying there breathing in his normal raspy voice.


A lonely ray of light came through a hole in the galvanized roof and illumined the face of my grandmother who was still sitting on the stool in the corner. Her eyes were wide open as if she had seen a ghost. This facial expression of absolute horror chilled my very core. Her body was cold and dead. In the distance far far away I heard a triumphant blood curdling cry, “Gyah..gyah..gyar..gyaaaaar!”


“Jumbie bud??” Papa asked feebly, “Is morning?”



Melissa Jerry-Stoute from Trinidad & Tobago graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature with Education from the University of The West Indies. Her passion for writing began as a teen and she is working on her first book of poetry.


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