Rollin’ Calf

Kedon Willis

First came the ball o’ blue fire bright like a Sunday morning sky. Then Massi realized she couldn’t move neither of her feet. She held on to a cane stalk and pulled hard at one leg, but it held fast to the ground. Massi looked over at her house on the rise overlooking the cane field; it burned like a brilliant dot from its distant mound. Massi could make out the light from the single candle burning in the window. Mamma, she wanted to say. But Massi couldn’t move her tongue. That’s when she knew, but for Jesus, she was gon’ get eat by a Rollin’ Calf.

Massi could remember when her mother used to tell her ’bout de Rolling Calf. But it wasn’t no calf; it was a big ol’ black bull, wit’ blood leakin’ from him mouth, and a chain ’round him neck

Some nights, sitting in her mother’s lap, Massi would ask: Why de Rollin’ Calf have a chain ’round him neck? The mother would be playing in the child’s hair. The crickets and cicadas blaring their night songs just outside the little square window. ’Cause a Jamaican bull is not no bull to be messed with. The mother would smooth the baby hairs at Massi’s temples or run her fingers through her fat braids. De owners used to think they could keep him tie down, the mother would say, but you can’t keep a bull tie down.

Rollin’ Calf, her mother would continue, only roam at night. Whenever you see blue fire in a field you should run, ’cause dat mean him on de hunt. You know him got you in him sights when yuh head start to swell like a tomato in de hot sun. You want to cry but yuh eyes gone dry. You want to scream but yuh tongue gone dead. You want to run but yuh feet can’t take you nowhere. The last thing you’ll hear is the rattling o’ de chain. The last thing you’ll see is him two eyes burning like coal from de stove.

This part of the story used to make Massi antsy. She would scratch her feet together or want to wriggle from her mother’s arm. She couldn’t understand certain things. Why him is de way him is? she would say. How him come to be? The mother did not like this line of questioning. She would let the croaking of the lizards outside pour onto the silence. It is what it is, she would finally say.

That was years ago now. Massi can’t tell the last time she sat on her mother’s lap. They’ve been quarrelling a lot lately; Massi’s been coming in way after the sun sets. Little girls not to be roaming outside at night, the mother would say, people will think unholy things. Is long time since anybody see me as little girl, Massi would say back. Ah doh share de same bed wit’ you no more.

Massi was looking at the light burning in the window of her wood shack home. Mamma, Massi wanted to say. But she couldn’t move her tongue. 

When she heard the distant rattle of a chain, she felt her palms get wet against her housedress. The sound was coming from behind, easing closer like a raking drawl. When she felt its breath, sweat dribbled down her thigh. She felt its breath for a long time against her back, sometimes barreling down in a sudden snort, billowing her dress, warming her thighs. 

She realized she could move her hand when she felt the bull’s wet nose in her palm. It was slick with leak, but she pressed her hand hard against the rubbery wet, digging into the hot nostrils. She ran her hand up the arch of his muzzle, careful not to get too close to the eyes; she was still afraid of his eyes. Breathing hard, he opened his mouth and ran a heavy tongue against the inside of her arm. She grabbed hold with her hand and dug her nails into the tongue’s marshy flesh. She still had her back to him, but she knew there was blood when she felt the warm stream ooze through her fingers.

Granny Nanny

My grandmother was a little thief; she could swipe a banana from de peel while it still in yuh hand. 

My grandmother was alone; her mother died when she was eight. 

My grandmother never had a family, but she say she never sleep on the roadside yet. She could sneak into anybody’s bed and rest her head on the same pillow and sneak back out before the cock crow.  

My grandmother never went to school but she could trace bible quotes in the black sand by the harbour. 

My grandmother never knew her father, but she got to know different men about town. That’s how she got pregnant with my auntie at fifteen. 

My grandmother was a soldier; she bared her breasts in the line of fire just like Bustamante did. 

My grandmother was a warrior; the morning she woke up and her husband was gone, she went to work anyway. When he stumbled up the dirt path a few moons later, she stood inside the front door with a machete. With my mother in her belly, she pointed the machete at him and dared him to take another step. 

My grandmother was Justice; when a street cock pecked after my mother, she snapped its neck with a sodden rag. She cooked it in browning and pimento seeds and gave my mother both breasts. 

My grandmother was uncompromising; she grabbed my Auntie by the throat and called her a whore. She pressed the machete into Auntie belly and asked who the father be. Auntie never did say, and to this day I’ve never met my Auntie. 

Grandma is a healer. When fever ’bout to kill me dead, she wrapped my body in blankets and doused it with white rum. The scent nearly choked me, but I woke up fine the next day. Grandma is a wicked woman. She grabs my hands when Ah cry for things sometimes. She lifts me in the air and asks if Ah know what life is about. She shakes me about and her hands burn like tar.

Image credit: Marinna Shareef. The God of the Underworld

Kedon Willis is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida. His research examines how queer Caribbean writers from different linguistic regions negotiate the politics of queer identity within their respective countries. His comparative work has appeared in English and French, and he has published both academic and creative works in publications such as the Florida Review and the South African journal Tydskrif vir Letterkunde.

2 thoughts on “Rollin’ Calf

  1. Thanks for bringing the folklore of the “Rollin Calf” to life. Was this folklore introduced by the African slaves? When was it? I remember when I was young girl and I would visit my grandmother in the country, my cousins would frighten me with tales of this figure. I hated walking home in the pitch black because I thought the Rollin Calf would kill me.

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    1. Thanks for your response 🙂 Yes I believe Rolling Calf is part of Afro-Caribbean mythology. Many Caribbean people have had your experience 🙂

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