Kendra clutched Sam Zabuto’s hand as he led her deep into the dense woods of Cockpit Country. His hand engulfed hers and it felt strong like her father’s, but he was nothing like her father. Her father smiled all the time and his well-worn facial lines marked his love of laughing. Sam Zabuto’s expression reminded her of the well behind her house – placid and smooth, yet it hinted at darkness and danger. A tremble ran through her as she thought back to the last time she saw her mother yesterday.
Kendra watched quietly from the bed, her feet dangling over the edge, as her mother rustled through the dresser that held all of Kendra’s clothes After the strange man came to her door and said she had been ‘chosen’, her parents had celebrated and her father had joyfully scooped Kendra up in his arms. But now the strange man waited in the kitchen and her mother was moving anxiously through her daughter’s room, throwing various clothes and items into a well-worn suitcase.
“You listen to Mr. Zabuto. He take care of you now, train you,” her mother informed her with a nod as she handed her daughter the suitcase. Her face was calm but something lost and panicked shone in her eyes.
Kendra took the handle of the brown suitcase reluctantly. Everything had been happening so quickly that she was becoming confused. “Mudda, aren’t you comin’?”
A sharp intake of breath passed her mother’s lips as she fondly caressed Kendra’s face. “No, my little one. You are Delu reborn. You remember the stories of Delu?”
Kendra nodded. Of all the folk stories, she loved the ones of Delu and Granny Nanny the best. Both were saviors to her people.
Twin hands clasped her tiny shoulders. “You will become like Delu one day. Mr. Zabuto will train you to fight against the vampires, zombies, and other dark things. He says this is something you must do alone, so you will become strong just like Delu.”
Frowning, Kendra shook her head. “But Delu had her family with her!” she protested. She loved her family. Mr. Zabuto was a stranger – and talked funny. She didn’t like him.
Her mother clucked her tongue. “Kendra, you have been chosen to save our people. This is bigger than you and I. The world needs you.” Brown eyes glistened and then suddenly her mother had her back turned and beckoned back to Kendra. “Come. Mr. Zabuto is a waitin’.”
Kendra’s mother moved out of the room so quickly that she didn’t even hear her daughter’s whispered reply. “But I need you.”
Kendra had not spoken much after Mr. Zabuto took her, but he did not seem to mind during their travels. He seemed as ill-at-ease with her as she was with him. They had driven for several hours from her family’s side of the island to a town called ‘Maggotty’ – the name had her giggling until Mr. Zabuto directed a stern look in her direction. They had stayed in an inn that had bustled with a sense of life that Kendra could not feel at the moment. She missed her family too much.
After breakfast the next day Mr. Zabuto had driven north into the dangerous land of Cockpit County. Throughout the trip Kendra was caught in a vice of fear as she looked out the window – just mere feet from the road the ground would disappear for a hundred meters. The car climbed high into the hills and and twisted and turned down the narrow path. Then, without word, Mr. Zabuto had parked the car, strapped several packs to his back, handed Kendra her suitcase, took her hand, and began walking further into the jungle.
Kendra had grown up around farmland and was used to the sound of nature – the soft sound of sugar cane waving back and forth in the breeze, the whistling of birds, and the grunts of farmhands working in the fields. This was different. She had heard her father mention Cockpit Country and the wildness that existed there, but she had never imagined how noisy it was. Shrill birds called to each other from trees so tall they nearly blocked the sun. A brook babbled to her like a newborn seeking attention. Movements through the brush thrummed against her ears.
It was scary. She didn’t like it.
Then she saw a yellow snake wrapped around a branch and she screamed. Mr. Zabuto glanced from her to the snake and his eyebrows rose – in exasperation? Anger? Annoyance? She wasn’t sure.
“That is a yellow boa. They are not poisonous and no harm to humans,” he mentioned in his deep voice that made her think of the thunder produced during hurricane season.
“Mudda says they’re evil,” Kendra replied, her lip quivering. “She always kills them.”
Mr. Zabuto sighed. “Many people on the island think that but it is not true. Your mother is wrong.”
Kendra jerked her hand out of Mr. Zabuto’s. “My mother is not wrong. You are wrong!” she yelled, releasing her anger and fear at leaving her home earlier. For good measure she stomped her foot, too. At home Kendra would get spanked for acting this way, but she didn’t care. After all, what did this outsider know about the great Delu?
Pursing his thick lips, Mr. Zabuto gave her a stern look. “Kendra, I will not tolerate this behavior. Now, come on.” Seeing her refusal to budge, he let out an irritable sigh. “Fine, I will prove it,” he snapped as he walked over to the snake. Kendra stared in horror as her new caretaker gently picked up the snake and wrapped it over his shoulders, then pivoting to present the sight to her. When Mr. Zabuto set the snake back in the tree and took her hand, she didn’t stop him.
She didn’t stop him because now she knew Mr. Zabuto possessed Obeah powers, the powers of sorcery. And anyone who could tame an evil snake was clearly an evil Obeah man. That was why her parents had given her away! He had performed a wicked spell!
So it was decided. As soon as she was able, Kendra would run away before the Obeah man did something bad to her.
After walking for hours through the karst landscape riddled with crevices and death traps, they approached a small shack of a house built into a looming hill that cast the area into shadows. The exterior of the house was made of dilapidated wood that whispered neglect and it was with a swell of courage that Kendra followed Mr. Zabuto into the house.
Once inside, she could see that the area was covered with thick layers of dust and several animal nests. The front of the house featured a room that she assumed was a kitchen and two doors that presumably led to bedrooms. The humid air, coupled with an infestation of dust, had Kendra coughing and Mr. Zabuto looking at her with a somewhat guilty expression.
“It requires some cleaning, I know, but it will be a good home.”
Whether it was from the dust seeping into her eyes or the sense of abandonment by her family, tears began falling from Kendra’s eyes.
“Stop that,” Mr. Zabuto stated firmly with a hard look. “Tears will never make anything better. Only actions can change a situation. Now, come here and begin sweeping while I take the furniture out to clean.”
Frightened by the Obeah man’s harsh words, Kendra nodded and did as she was told. Besides, she told herself, she would figure out a way to escape soon.
Throughout the next week Kendra helped Mr. Zabuto clean out the house and assisted with meals. There was a closed well to the east of the house that Mr. Zabuto fixed up so they could have access to the plentiful fresh water underground. For meals he had brought a great deal of food but also picked mangos and other plants from the outside. He certainly could not cook like her mother but it was food and she was hungry.
At the end of the week, after dinner, he took her outside onto the hill and sat down with a book on his lap. He crossed his legs and placed both hands on his thighs as he stared across the bright green valley. “Now with the house taken care of, we shall begin training tomorrow.” His voice sounded funny and nothing at all like her parents. Not for the first time she wondered where he came from. Clearly, he was not from Jamaica. Well, probably not. She had not seen much of the island but she assumed he was from a foreign place.
He was almost as tall as her father – who was a giant among other men – and he had widely set nostrils like her father. His skin was a soft brown, like the bark of the Blue Mahoe tree in her backyard – slightly darker than her own, but not as dark as her father. Typical ensembles were upper-class in nature; light khaki shorts and a white polo shirt that inevitably would get dirty before the end of every day. Mr. Zabuto appeared unused to the heat and would sweat profusely in the thickness of the Jamaican humidity. Although, the top of the hill brought a welcome breeze and she assumed that’s why he liked it.
Mr. Zabuto continued to speak. “Your training will consist of an education in reading and writing, research on fighting techniques, weapons, and demons.”
Kendra shivered. She didn’t want to know what the evil Obeah man wanted her to learn when it came to demons. She had to get out of here.
He looked down at her, brown eyes studying her closely. “Do you have any questions?”
She was too afraid to speak so she just shook her head.
He nodded, pleased with himself. “Excellent. While I finish writing in my journal, why don’t you spend some time outside? I daresay you deserve it after such a hard work.” Mr. Zabuto gave her what some would consider a kind smile but Kendra didn’t trust him for a moment. “Just don’t stray too far,” he cautioned as she got up.
Kendra nodded and began her descent down the hill – but she had every intention of straying as far away as possible.
Story notes: After thinking on it for a few days, I’ve decided this story will fill in the holes in Kendra’s back story before eventually directing her into Sunnydale – and into the arms of a potential love ;)
I’ve been reading a lot about Jamaica and, thanks to DeepBlueJoy, researched some things I would not have thought of. Thanks darling!
Any questions/suggestions/corrections to Jamaican culture or historical mistakes are welcome!References
: Patois for ‘mother’
: Although not dangerous, it's said that Jamaicans have a high prejudice against the snakes http://www.cockpitcountry.com/yellowboa.php
: The landscape of Cockpit Country, described as yellow and white limestone that has eroded in places, sometimes as deep as 360 feet.
*Blue Mahoe (Nat’l tree of Jamaica)