The short stories included in Ethereal Voices by Shona Jabang are reflections of so many aspects of Jamaican life. However, with stories set in Africa, the UK, and America, each story has its own unique take on what it means to be from the Caribbean. The stories span the 1920’s to the 2000’s. The reader cannot help but become caught up in the drama and longing expressed in these colorful stories where themes of social mores and norms and struggles with and impact of emigration are all wrapped in the complexities of relationships in the Jamaican community. This collection of stories and poems overflow with vivid imagery, poetry, rhythmic tones, and symphonies of poignant moods.
The Devil and Lola
Lola had known the devil ever since she was a child, for the devil had taken shape and form and had morphed into the life-ravaged being of a trusted uncle. In the dead-time of late nights, when he should have been asleep, he had crept on cracked, calloused bare feet into the room she shared with her sister; he had lifted her from the warmth of rumpled bedsheets and taken her into the backroom that he had claimed as his own and from which he had evicted her four older brothers. And there, with an unwashed hand muffling her cries, he had shown her all the sins that she should never have known. Lola was a child for only a short time in her life. She no longer feared the devil, and she no longer feared the dark. She was too bad for the devil now. He had taught her well. She swagged as she walked with her lips pursed in defiance, and her hips swaying in temptation. She sat, and she waited in the grim comfort of the dark.
When Lola was born on that nondescript, Spanish Town street that ran behind the back of the market and was always littered with rotting produce and decaying animal flesh from said market, her father, balding, run-down, and painfully thin, took one drunken look at her and declared that she was not his child. She did not “favah” him in the least, and she did not “favah” any of his other five “pickney dem.” The only person she showed any resemblance to was Imelda and a dark skinned local man called Isaiah.
“Is bun, you trying to give me? Is fool you t’ink me is? Me will show you who is fool!” he shouted at her. Even though Imelda was only a few hours past childbirth, Cyrus punched her in the face. She fell back against the pillow, and blood escaped from the busted lip that now complemented her black eye and bruised cheek.
“Is your chile!” Imelda gurgled, “Is fe you pickney! Mi swear, Cy! Mi would never go with any man but you! Mi swear pon mi dead mama grave!”
“Lie! Is lie!” Cyrus said and thumped her in the head.
The afternoon was dank and humid, and the room reeked of birth-blood and sweat, stale sheets, bay rum, and the liquor and nicotine that oozed out of Cyrus’s pores. Imelda had given birth at home because Cyrus said that he had his suspicions. It was as if he thought that the hospital would somehow cover up the evidence of his wife’s indiscretion. He wanted to see the baby first hand.
“Mi not feelin’ dis chile. Mi not feelin’ it at all, “ he murmured for days before Lola was born. He drank more and smoked more of the rancid tobacco he seemed to love. The other children stayed out of his way – even the last one, a girl who was born a year before Lola and who was the only one, he said, he could positively identify as his child. This baby, who was already walking and trying on the taste of words, seemed to understand that there was rancor in this household. She hid under chairs when Cyrus’s rage inundated the house. The day of Lola’s birth, she stayed with the older boys in the yard.
A next door neighbor, Miss Sugar, was Imelda’s unofficial midwife. She stood by in a safe corner of the room holding the newborn baby and watching as Cyrus beat his wife. Afterwards, she wiped Imelda down with a rag soaked in a mop bucket full of icy water and tried to get her to hold the screaming little girl-child. Imelda pushed the baby away and turned her back to Miss Sugar. Miss Sugar, who had six children of her own and who was still breast feeding the last one, sighed, and then took the baby next door where she remained for two weeks or so feeding on Miss Sugar’s bountiful breasts until Miss Sugar’s man made her give the baby back. No one had inquired after the baby’s whereabouts. Miss Sugar called her Lola and when no one suggested anything different, the name stuck. A christening never took place, and two years later when Miss Sugar’s house was badly damaged because of a grease fire in the kitchen, and the family was forced to move, Lola lost the only person in her life who had ever tried to protect her. The sweet smell of rose water and Johnson’s Baby Powder which always surrounded Miss Sugar and the gentle touch of her rough hands rapidly faded from Lola’s memory and were replaced by the harshness of life in the Montrell household.
The day of her birth, Cyrus, after beating his wife and threatening to throw the baby in the trash, left for the local bar and linked up with a plump, heavy bottomed, big breasted, wire-waisted, brown skinned, wide-smiling girl of about the same age as his oldest son. He never came back home and throughout his drunken brawls and rants around town, he proclaimed that the reason for all of his faults and failures sat firmly in the ample lap of his mocha-skinned, dimpled-cheeked, long-haired common-law wife, Imelda.
“Woman no good. Never was good. She lay down with all kind a dry-foot man as soon as mi back turn. Long time mi start wonder if all a dem pickney dem she breed really fe mi pickney.”
Shona V. Jamadi-Jabang is a Jamaican-American. She is a 9th and 10th grade language arts teacher at Lakenheath American High school as well as a part-time writing instructor with the University of Maryland University College (UMUC – Europe). She lives with her husband, Lamin, and two dogs. Shona Jamadi-Jabang originally grew up in the UK but has lived in Jamaica, Canada, and the US before returning to the UK to work as a teacher. She has a BA in English, an MS in Education, and MA in Creative Writing (MCW). She enjoys writing stories, poems, and plays that are based on her cultural background – an amalgamation of all the in which she has lived. Shona has just published her first collection of short stories and poems entitled Ethereal Voices under her pen name Shona Jabang and was also recently awarded The Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize for her story, “The Sea Witch,” which was published in the The Caribbean Writer.
Get to know the author:
- Who is Shona Jabang? Shona Jabang is a Jamaican-American author who has recently released her debut collection of short stories and poems entitled Ethereal Voices.
- What are your hobbies and interests? I have always enjoyed writing and reading as many books as I can. I am a voracious reader, and I enjoy stories from all cultures that cover a variety of complex themes and issues. I love to travel, do my artwork, and I love animals.
- What has influenced your writing? My writing has been influenced by my Jamaican heritage, my upbringing, and my travels.
- Where do get the inspiration for your characters? I am inspired by stories my mother used to tell, Jamaican myths and legends, religion, and superstition. I also enjoy stories that are different in terms of their subject matter and somewhat fatalistic characters.
- Who would be your ideal reader? Anyone who has a thirst for learning about different countries, fantasies, and complex relationships will love my stories and my poems.
- Do you consider yourself a poet as well as a short story writer? Many of my stories are full of poetry and imagery. I have two stories that are written in a distinct poetic format, which is a very intriguing manner to write and to read a story – poetic fiction.
- What are your plans for the future? My plans are to keep writing. I would like to write a collection of short stories revolving around my ancestry, which I have managed to trace back to the 1850s on both my maternal and paternal sides. I already have a title in mind.
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