My heart breaks for young Maisie as she lays crumpled over her husband, crying and rocking him. Hot tears prick my eyes at his sacrifice and her pain. But there would time enough for mourning later, if this didn’t work.
Darting up, I free the full-length mirror of it’s prison of scarves and other discarded clothes and pull it closer to the pair. This last minute plan came from the gris-gris on the belt I had stolen from the bokor. I only hope I am right about what it meant, what I could do with it. I hope I am right that Mr. Grady is meant for more than to die for the final time on my attic floor.
Quickly I scan the room, but everything I’d put out for the soul-freeing ritual was still in place. The veve I’d drawn on the floor with cornmeal was still perfect. There was little more I could add that would make a difference, except prayer. Under my breath, I start my petition to the Supreme Creator as I adjust the mirror.
Then I sit by Maisie, hand on her heaving back, waiting. My work was done, his soul released.
As soon as Mr. Grady’s soul appears, fluorescent blue, over his body, the Baron materializes from thick cigar smoke in the corner of the room, ready to lead this new soul into the underworld.
To me, he looks like the same old Baron, but I know to Mr. Grady, he probably looks like something else, something more in line with his expectations. A tall figure robed in black with a scythe perhaps? Or maybe even a glowing angel.
Mr. Grady’s ethereal form kneels at Maisie’s side and put his hand on her head. Then looks up to me with sad, sad eyes and nods to me in thanks, before standing and turning toward the Baron.
He was right, he had been ready to go. It is my hope that he will be equally ready to return should he get the chance.
Maisie looks up at me, and then frantically around the room. “Grady?” She can’t see his soul, of course, or the Baron. “Mrs. Josephine—,” she starts, but I put out a hand to stop her. I have no time for explanations. Grasping both her hands in mine, I say, “You must pray as hard as you can. Pray like you’ve never prayed before.”
She nods and clasps her hands over her husband’s body. I gather my heavy skirts in one hand and stand.
“Baron Samedi,” I begin by bowing low. I hope my deep respect is enough to get him to listen for a moment, and might sway him to consider my offer.
“Mambo,” he answers in a gruff voice, stalled for a moment from whisking Mr. Grady to the afterlife.
I breathe out a sigh of relief and then stand to face him. “Baron, I wish to once again bargain for you to reject this soul.”
He looks around, almost comically, and then bites down on his cigar in obvious dissatisfaction, joining both hands together on the head of his cane in a tight grip.
My palms sweat and I wipe them on my skirt. “I have no rhum to offer this time. No cigars, no coffee.”
“You make no offering, yet wish me to do this thing for you?”
“Not for me, no.” I have to make sure he doesn’t see this as a personal favor. Owing a spirit could result in a lifetime of servitude. And the favor always came due. “For Bondye, as his faithful servant. I too am a faithful servant, and I only wish to see his will done.”
I take his silence to mean he is waiting for me to elaborate. So I do. “Mr. Grady first died by the hand of man, not by the hand of God. This time, he dies as a sacrifice, for his family, and again not by the hand of God. You know of the magic that afflicts him.”
He probably knew the magic very well, indeed. The bokor had copied him in appearance and had likely petitioned him for his power and blessing at some point. But though Samedi has a changeable and mischievous nature, he is not evil. Some petro spirits must have been helping the bokor.
“It wasn’t his time then, and it isn’t his time now. If Bondye had put out his hand to claim Grady’s life, his entire journey from his first death would have been impossible.” I’d never taken such a bold tone with one of the spirits before, but I have to appear confident. “I have to believe that Bondye considers him valuable, or the other spirits wouldn’t have summoned me to him in the first place.” I’m making a lot of assumptions, but my words ring with truth. “Bondye is the Supreme Creator. He is the originator of all human life, and as such, it all belongs to him.”
“I need no reminder,” he says, voice sour around his cigar. Samedi would have to be certain Grady’s soul was meant to move on before taking it. After all, questioning and usurping the will of the Good God is what got the spirit Lucifer cast from Heaven. None of the current spirits would risk that, though they might walk the line. Yet the Baron seems reluctant.
“I have already rejected him once. Am I to turn him away when he appears on my doorstep a second time?” He sounds so reasonable, like he’s just doing his job, which he is. But a lesser-known fact is that while he is the Lord of the Dead, he is also a giver of life. He can cure any disease or wound, so long as he thinks the venture is worthwhile. So I have to make sure he sees it as worthwhile. “I am not completely without offering. I wish to make a trade for something you will find more valuable than this particular soul.”
He laughs, deep and mirthful, head tipped back. “And what could you possibly offer me of more value?” His eyes shift to Maisie behind me, and he removes his cigar from his lips. “Are you offering me the pretty blan?” he asks through a lecherous smile.
Maisie can’t see or hear him, and since he asked me in English, I should reply in the same. But I don’t want to embarrass or scare her. His more lustful traits can be uncomfortable for those who don’t know him.
Instead I pull from the pocket of my dress, the inconspicuous bottle that had been hanging on the belt with the soul-ties of the zonbi goons. The Baron’s eyes flash to it immediately, and he makes a hissing inhale when he realizes what it is.
But the Baron hedges, chewing on the end of his ever-burning cigar. “What makes you think I would want that soul more?”
Only Samedi or one of the other spirits can see who the soul inside belongs to. But I’m judging by his reaction that I must be correct. And if I am…it’s the soul-tie of the bokor. “I’ll wager this man has bargained and schemed to cheat death many, many times. And cheating death is cheating the Baron, is it not? He also possesses a soul and magic so dark, that he must have taken many lives. Mr. Grady’s is one. And how many souls has he stolen from your hands?” I take the pieces of the broken gris-gris of the minions out of my other pocket and allow them to clatter to the floor. “I know of at least two. Whereas, Mr. Grady has lived a good life, and would rather sacrifice his life than shed any unwilling blood.” My arguments seem to be working. Samedi’s head and shoulders are smoking with anger at the reminders I am tossing at him. “One soul darkens this world, and one soul brightens it. Bondye would surely smile upon you for making the right decision.”
Still, he hesitates.
“If you are not interested in this soul, take Mr. Grady.” I make a show of putting the bottle back into the deep pocket of my skirt. “I will find another loa to exchange favors with.”
The Baron taps his can on the wooden floor twice. “I will honor the exchange. Give me the soul.” He holds out his hand.
I take the bottle once more from my skirt but hold it in my hands. “Swear by Papa Loko.”
Loko hates injustice and can sometimes help keep the other spirits in check.
I can’t risk Samedi lying to me or playing a trick. This is my one chance to bring Mr. Grady back. If Samedi takes his soul, he is lost to us.
Baron Samedi takes a long drag on his cigar, and then takes it out and releases a cloud of gray smoke.
“I swear by Papa Loko.” He holds out his hand. He is displeased, and he may discipline me later, but it is worth it. I take the bottle to him and place it in his palm.
He closes his hand around it and it disappears.
Then walks to Mr. Grady’s form while his bemused soul looks on, and bends down. He swirls his fingers over the body, gathering strands of black mist around his fingertips. He clears the death from the body like cobwebs. He then rubs his hands together until the mist disappears and stands. He grins at Mr. Grady. “Are you ready, Cousin?” Then with a sharp rap of his cane over his corpse’s heart, Mr. Grady’s soul is sucked violently back to his body.
For a second, his soul wavers as a bright blue outline above his skin, before settling like a falling feather into his earthly abode.
A smile of grim glee around his cigar, the Baron twirls his cane and dissipates into a thick cloud of gray smoke that then flows from the room out the same doorway the bokor had fled through.
Quickly I kneel by Mr. Grady, Maisie’s desperate, desolate eyes seeking mine. I’ve forgotten that she could only hear and see my side of the conversation, and it had been in kreyol’.
She hasn’t let go of her husband yet, and I gently pry her hand from his chest and place it at his throat. I take his wrist, my fingers pressed to the pulse point, my breath held.
I feel nothing beneath his cooling skin. But then—a gentle thump against my fingertips that begins slow and reticent, but then speeds up with strength and courage.
“He’s really alive? Like really, really alive?” Maisie asks.
Her gaze then flashes to me for confirmation, and I nod, grinning. And then I laugh. “Praise Bondye! God has blessed you!”
And then I stand and I sing and I dance while Maisie rubs her husband’s face with bated breath. “God is good! Praise Bondye!” She is the only one surprised when he finally opens his eyes.
She sharply inhales and the cries out, kissing him and crying and incoherently babbling.
He puts a hand to her cheek and pulls her down for a kiss, and I cannot help but clap. They rock on the floor in each other’s arms while I sing my praises and dance for Bondye and Samedi.