Moosa stirred the soup around the pot like she was stirring her soul. Slow, steady, a tumbling hum caught under her lip that soon spilled into a wordless, lilting song. Beejap listened. She heard the rib-ribbets of toads in the trees outside. The leg-rubbings of crickets. But there was something else her mother was tapping and sliding her toes to. She couldn’t put a finger on it. A slow, hum-tum beat that Moosa stirred the soup alongside and swayed her hips with.
Moosa always told Beejap this: listen, you can feel the music anywhere. It’s in all the animals, all the trees, all the bugs. When you start listening you lend your own song out. Then you join the symphony.
And Beejap believed now. She didn’t until she saw Abraxas.
“Everyone beforehand has got it all screwy,” Moosa explained months earlier. “Abraxas,” she had said breathlessly, “was a beautiful, irresistible man. His body was so perfect, so lanky and lean, some even said he had the legs of a snake.”
Beejap raised an eyebrow at her mother’s hocus pocus.
“Now, his head is where everyone gets it all messed up. But my grandma- your great grandma, rest her soul, saw Abraxas with her own eyes. He hadn’t a head upon his shoulders! What he does,” she said quietly, “is he picks up the head of an animal and places it upon his shoulders. Then he can see through the soul of an animal. He picks up every animal in the world to see the truth through their eyes. And that’s why he is called the god of good and of evil. He swallows up every heart just the same. The predator and the prey. He stood right in front of gram and plucked a fox from the bush, plopping it right upon his shoulders just like that!”
“Ma,” Beejap sighed.
“Now hush your tone,” Moosa snapped, “I didn’t believe in none of this voodoo nonsense either so slow your judgment and open that heart of yours to the truth. Goodness, Beejap. Closed up like a damn clam. What’s the world gotta do, pry you open?”
Beejap said nothing.
“Good. Now, Abraxas is said to have the head of a rooster. But that’s wonky, we both know, because he picks em’ up without a mind for what animal they are. But one day he took the head of a cock and the legend was passed down as that. You know how people like their symbolism.”
There was a note of unsure finality in Moosa’s voice. She chewed the inside of her cheek, looking for any meat from the story she left out. Finding nothing, she cast a glance over her shoulder at her daughter. A blank face. Oh, Moosa me. What to do with that closed-clam girl.
The woods were twisted and knobby, brimming with southern live oaks that crept through Mississippi cautiously but thoroughly like tongues exploring the mouths of their lovers. Spanning the distance from tree to tree hung the Spanish moss, dressed generously on every branch. And in the midst of it all, picking through dead leaf and fern, were Beejap’s two little toothpick legs heading homewards. It was sundown and muggy, the stench of just-about-to-rain air so thick and heavy that she kept shielding her head with a palm, thinking the storm was about to start.
The heat persuaded her to take a seat on an old stump midway through, breathing out the day’s heat as the horizon swallowed the remnants of orange sunlight. Then, only darkness. A toad breathed its first call somewhere in the woods. A hundred followed. Beejap closed her eyes and listened.
She opened them when she heard the crackle and scuff-scuff of someone walking over leaf and twig. Looking around, she spotted a man. One with hair wild and crazy like hers, except instead of a curly afro like Beejap’s, his was stick-straight. At first she felt nervous, but her skin was dark, as were the trees behind her. She blended in seamlessly into the nighttime and she knew it. So she watched.
He was tall, but not gravely. It seemed most due to his thinness and the fluid way his body postured itself. When he turned Beejap gasped. His face was small– tiny, even. She squinted, but could not see. But lord, did she try. Leant forward inch by laborious inch, hoping to catch the faint resemblance of a nose, a mouth, eyes.
Meanwhile, the man made no effort to come closer, but instead stood rigid, watching with wariness the whites of the eyes of the little black girl perched like an owl upon a sodden stump. He seemed not to have noticed her until she erupted in surprise a moment before. Now, he stood quietly, body tensed for sprinting, the fine hairs on his neck erect and bristling.
He was listening to her.
And then she knew.
And then, of course, she listened too. She closed her eyes and heard the rapid thrum-tum-drum of an animal heartbeat. When she opened her eyes he was gone.
“I saw Abraxas!” Beejap burst into the house, eyes wheeling, feet carrying mud into the house.
“Oh?” Moosa cooed incredulously, sipping coffee with her readers perched on her nose. “That’s why you were so late from school, is it?”
“He had the head of a porcupine, I saw it myself in the woods,” Insisted Beejap, reminded by Moosa’s look (a moment too late) to pull off her muddy shoes.
“Little girl,” sighed Moosa, “Abraxas doesn’t come around here. C’mon now, c’mere,” she beckoned her daughter with the flick of a hand. “Now, I can’t say what you saw, but next time you see a man in the woods you come on home right quick, you hear me?”
Beejap opened her mouth to speak, but her mother stopped her.
“The point of me telling you that story was not to make you believe in voodoo stuffs, but to respect it. Respect your great gran, respect your history. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But unless you’re sure- are you absolutely sure? Awfully dark out there, baby”
Now, Beejap wasn’t. She was confused by her mother’s eyes. Her mother’s sureness in Beejap’s mistake. She nodded her head no.
“Mmm,” Moosa nodded sagely, “I just want you to be safe. Chasing after men in the woods is gonna get you hurt. They’ll snatch your beautiful self right up. If he was really Abraxas, you’d know. You’d know how great gran knew. But for now, let’s have some dinner, okay?”
Beejap half-heartedly smiled at her mother. She was sure she had heard the thrum of a porcupine. But, could she really remember it? The spiked hair, the tiny face- could it have been a trick of the eye?
She supposed so. She sat down at the table for dinner, running her fingers thoughtfully through the tight curls in her hair.
While Moosa poured the noodles into the colander, she chuckled to herself. Oh, Moosa me. Next thing she’s going to be saying she saw the damned tooth fairy.