There was this Indian woman who had a daughter called Lillawattie. This woman was single and poor, so she had to work very hard to give her daughter a good life. Mammy said her family didn’t want her, due to the pit of shame she had emptied on them. Maybe she’d done something bad, but the way Mammy said it, it seemed as though this family-dumping split was her daughter’s fault. I wondered if this was why Mammy didn’t like me? If Lillawattie could bring shame to her mother, maybe I did too. Maybe little girls like me who bring disgrace to their family have to pay for it with their lives like she did.
A well-known lady in the village - a distant relative of Mr. Barry in the scheme - lived two doors from Lillawattie and her mum. This lady indulged in all kinds of Obeah on various things and people. Mammy said that she helped folks to become rich, and caused bad things to happen to her enemies.
Alright, maybe ‘indulged’ is not a strong enough word, considering that people went to her to cast evil spells, and to keep their husbands from cheating.
“Small world, eh,” Mammy had said when she told us the ‘Mr. Barry’ part.
Mammy had once told us that women came from all over the county, bringing their husbands’ hair and toothbrushes, so that Obeah lady could put a ju-ju on the men to stop them cheating. Oops! I’m straying a bit . . . let’s go back to the story I want to tell you.
One night Obeah lady had a dream. In this dream, a Dutchman ‘told’ her that he had buried fine treasure under a large, old tamarind tree that was standing at the top of the street (it was still there when we lived in that street, right opposite our house). It was the custom of Obeah ladies and people who believed in them, to claim dreams about Dutchmen and treasure, but this particular woman believed it with all her might.
Why didn’t she just dig up the treasure anyway, since she knew where it was? No, no, no, it doesn’t work like that, you see. As legend has it, if you came across a Dutchman’s treasure by chance, without his direct permission and ‘blessing,’ whatever treasure you found, would just be worthless pieced of rusty coins. The magic is in the offering and your gift.
Back to the story, The Dutchman said, that in order to lay hand on the treasure, she had to pour blood on the roots of this tree.
Now this is a true story. I have to remind you of this, because I know it sounds unbelievable.
Weird as it seems, Obeah lady decided that it was best to give the Dutchman human blood, even though he didn’t really say what kind he liked his tree roots to be soaked in. I mean, you would think that sheep’s blood would be an easier option with all the sheep and cattle roaming the main streets all day and night. Besides, the Dutchman was only a spirit, what did he care about whose blood it was? Dead people can’t see things, all she had to do was lie and say it was girl’s blood when it was really the neighbour’s old cow’s. But no, she decided that Lillawattie would be a perfect little sacrifice because she was pretty, innocent, and had nice long hair.
Besides, her mother was a maid. Obeah lady would be doing the mother a favour by removing her ‘shame.’ And she was so poor, she couldn’t really cause any problems, right? As a matter of fact, Obeah lady was a powerful person in the area, no one would fancy messing with her.
So the idea came about to have a party, in order to get Lillawattie, away from her clingy mother for a few hours. Obeah lady threw a nice, big party and invited Lillawattie, knowing that her mother always had to be at work. She convinced the mammy to leave the girl with her, and to pick her up after work. Lillawattie was dolled up in a long red dress (this was later described in the papers), with curls in her hair, and brought to the party. Her mammy then went off to work.
Obeah lady had lots of children at her party, but she soon sent them home, all apart from Lillawattie, that is. (Mammy said that everyone got these details from the long court case afterwards.) Obeah lady gave Lillawattie something bad to drink and when she fell asleep, milked all the blood from her tiny body into a bucket. She then folded her limp, lifeless body and dumped it into the latrine in the back yard, poking it so that it sort of got buried under some of the you-know-what, squelchy, mucky stuff in there. (In those days people had latrines in their yards, this was before they built indoor toilets).
Meanwhile, after a long day at work when Lillawattie’s mammy comes over to collect her daughter, Obeah lady tells her, “Oh, she’s sleeping, come back later, yeah.”
An hour later she comes back again. “Oh, come back later,” she’s told again.
Yet another hour later, same thing. So Lillawattie’s mum ends up at the police station in town.
They search for days until they finally find Lillawattie’s body in the latrine. Obeah woman makes all kinds of excuses but is found guilty. The saddest thing was, that the doctors found poo in the little girl’s stomach. They said this meant that she was alive when she was put in there. Obeah lady ran out of excuses so she tells the judge, “I am a very powerful woman, if you hang me, all the waters in this country will run dry.”
Judge says, “Madam, I would like to see this land of many waters run dry.” (The word ‘Guyana’ is an Amerindian word that means land of many waters). So Obeah lady loses her neck, right. Trouble was she never banked on Lillawattie’s mother’s boss spending all that money on their maid’s court case to find her daughter’s killer.
Well this is the suicide story I really want to tell you, because roll on about twenty years or so and the Abrams, some new people in the area, buy obeah lady’s house. (This is now in my real time because we were living three doors away).
Mrs Abrams’s grandchild comes to Mammy’s nursery school, but she has a grown up son who has some mental problems. He always sets two places at the dinner table, one for himself and one for a little girl, who he chats with, but who no one else can see…