“So that’s who made these murderous trails.” Puffing and sweat-drenched, swatting at mosquitoes, I pushed through pink-blossomed brambles onto a rock outcrop.
The spotted goat lifted his head, fixing me with a yellow stare. Kneeling beside him, Conrad echoed the movement, raising his light-brown freckled face and hazel eyes as man and goat merged for an eerie moment in the same watchful expression.
Conrad patted the goat. Bleating, it scampered off through the brush.
“Friend of yours?”
Conrad chuckled and stood, reddish dreadlocks swaying. “Jah say bless all de creature and de plant. I-an-I all come to Zion.” He gestured east over the panorama of distant sea.
I dropped my knapsack and stepped down beside him to look out over the steep flood of green to waves crashing on black rock far below. I took a deep breath of hot flower scents. My guide smiled and turned to point behind me.
“Conrad! It’s a beauty.”
For the past week, I’d followed him up and down countless steep, overgrown paths crisscrossing the mountain. I hadn’t managed to coax more than a few words out of the young man. He didn’t seem to require many. But I had a nice collection going, a variety of petroglyph designs from small, isolated carvings, most of them with a view to the sea. Conrad specialized in high, lonely places.
He’d saved the best glyph for last. A gem of a bird figure, well-preserved, etched in lively curves.
I finished taking a rubbing and sat down on the warm rock, leaning back into feathery mimosa shade. Birds rustled and chattered among the leaves.
Conrad sat cross-legged and pulled off his shirt, dreadlocks dangling over bony shoulders as he strung crimson seeds on a nylon line. He sold the pretty shell and seed necklaces at the tourist market where James had introduced us, telling me, “He study on dey Rasta-mans, but he no Dread. He keep you out of trouble you be nosin’ like dat cat.”
I offered Conrad my water bottle and he smiled, nodding thanks. Setting the string aside, he pulled out a reefer and lit it up, inhaling with a hiss. He raised it with a questioning movement toward me.
I started to refuse once more, then shrugged and accepted it, taking a musky pull. I settled back on my elbows in the drowsy heat, smoke easing through me. Silence but for the rustle of boughs and lazy bird-chitter. Lacy leaves glowed vibrant green against searing blue sky, and scarlet blossoms glimmered in sunlight. No trace of cloud. I sank lower against the warm stone, its deep mass cradling me.
*low hum, distant shush of the sea, dark stone soaking in the sun’s power. Light shimmering. Leaves sprouting, bursting lush from the plateau and its whispering secret springs. Burgeoning in Her hands the giant rock figure cups the vines and dripping blossoms, the goat, Conrad, me, the shiny red seeds. Immense carved face lifts to the sun eyes bottomless wells the leaves ferns trees clothing Her mountainous mass, flowing down Her flanks, rich green, rocking to the pulsing deep hum*
“Hmmm.” I blinked, drowsily sat up to see Conrad giving me a slow smile.
I rubbed my eyes. “Do many people visit these carvings, Conrad?”
A shrug. “Some do.”
“Is this a power spot? Do Jumbies live here?” I hadn’t seen any more ouanga-bags hanging beside the petroglyphs.
He grinned, shook his head, spread his hands. He rose to his feet and took my hand, leading me through the underbrush beneath the trees. He showed me how to pick pods for the crimson seeds he’d been stringing. Rooting through the bushes, he beckoned me closer, breaking open another pod. He held out two handfuls of the shiny red seeds.
As I reached out to touch them, he shook his head, holding up his hands side by side. The second handful had a tiny black spot on each seed.
He held up that hand. “Crab eye.” He threw them away into the bushes and wiped his hand down his pants. “Dey bad, dey poison. Make necklace and dey slow can kill. Chew one seed and die. But leaf foh cold be good tea, hot bath foh soakin’ ache.” From Conrad, it was a long speech.
I pointed at the handful he’d kept. “And these?”
“Foh Missy Sue.” He gave me a sly look. “Keep mischief clear. Jumbie seed.”
He chuckled and ducked his head, leading the way back to the petroglyph. He sprinkled the seeds over the bird carving, red gleaming wetly on dark stone. He murmured, “I-an-I do praise.”
With a shy smile, he lifted the necklace he’d strung that day, scarlet Jumbie seeds set off by flat black pods. He draped the strand around my neck. “Jah bless. Keep she safe.”
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