The Pineapple Girl
by S. Evans
Anele’s first memory was of Aso Yaa creating two dogs from spit, goatskin, and cooking-fire smoke. The wise-woman’s fingers wove magic into the hairy hides with quick movements as she hummed under her breath. Anele watched intently from her mat in the corner of the small hut, but the smoke made her eyes sting and the sound of the chanting carried her off to sleep.
When she awoke, the dogs were there, brown eyes soulful. Pink tongues lolled from narrow muzzles, and whipcord-thin tails wagged ecstatically as she squatted to pat first one and then the other. Watching, Aso Yaa let forth a series of high-pitched giggles and sent all three of them out to play in the mud by the stream banks. The wise woman only laughed harder when they all returned filth-coated in the afternoon. Dogs and girl alike were scrubbed clean with a bit of cloth, down where the stream changed course and the banks grew sandy.
That night the dogs fought and danced, growling and tumbling over each other in the center of the village to the deep-voiced sound of the drums. People stomped their approval at the display, bare heels slapping against the sun-hardened ground as they mimicked the dance. Only Aso Yaa sat to the side, dark-eyed and aloof, with her hair hanging in matted locks around her face. Anele sat at her side, imitating the wise-woman’s posture. She thought her heart must surely double its size from sheer pride.
But when the dancing was over and the feasting had begun, the dogs were nowhere to be found. Anele ducked between the great stew-pots, pattering past bowls of cassava and cornmeal, searching for her friends. All she found were two goatskins, redolent with smoke-scent.
Aso Yaa found her crying by the remains of her friends. Squatting down, she put a hand on Anele’s shoulder. The girl looked up, her eyes puffy and her nose running.
“All magical things have a use,” the wise-woman told her. “Once their usefulness is done, they leave us. Their purpose was to dance. They danced, and now they are gone. That is the way of the world, foster daughter. Dry your tears.”
Sniffling mightily, Anele spat on the ground and then nodded. “Yes, Mother.” Her obedience earned her a smile, and a place closer to the firepit’s warmth. That night, Aso Yaa told her two of the ten thousand stories about the Spider, Ananse. Listening, Anele drifted off to sleep.
The night passed, and then the next. And in a rush the full moons tumbled by, one after another. The seasons changed, repeating themselves over and over again. Anele grew taller, older, stronger. Aso Yaa taught her to cook and weave, clean and sew, but she was not taught magic. That was not for a foster child, no matter how hard-working.
Anele was allowed to watch and wonder, as Aso Yaa created birds from yams and feathers to counter the locust plague from the west. She watched when Aso Yaa made a crocodile from riverbank mud and two dead fish, and set it swimming upstream to warn away its brothers. She watched as the wise-woman created dogs and pigs, monkeys and snakes. Each lived, served its purpose, and then left the world.
The years did not pass without touching the wise-woman; her body remained straight and slim, but a few white hairs could be seen among her matted curls. The scars over her breasts and belly that mapped out her power remained raised and dark, with no paling from age. She was still beautiful to Anele’s eyes, but she was no longer young. And although the men of the village visited her hut often, her belly did not fill with a child.
Four rainy seasons had come and gone when Aso Yaa announced abruptly that she was departing to travel for a time. Her words cut through the dismayed protests of the chief. The wise-woman would not be swayed. She was leaving, and she would be back when the rains started again. Her tone brooked no argument; the chief and his wife would take Anele in.
Anele watched from her mat in the corner and tried not to sniffle too loudly as the chief capitulated. Her cheek still smarted from the slap that she had earned earlier, when she would not stop crying.
In truth, the moons that she spent in the chief’s hut were not as bad as she had feared. The children of the village still refused to play with her or near her. Some of the adults made averting gestures to turn aside bad fortune when she moved past. But for all the jealousy and ill-will she encountered as Aso Yaa’s foster daughter, no one beat her. She grew even taller and became even stronger; the chief and his wife often let her fill her belly to bursting. She cooked and cleaned, wove and sewed, just as she had been taught, and she waited eagerly for Aso Yaa to return.
The rains had begun when Aso Yaa returned. The sky dropped torrents of water daily to swell the stream beyond the confines of its banks. Anele was tending to the chief’s goat herd and listening to the sound of summer thunder when she saw the wise-woman walking barefoot through the pasture, a bundle strapped against her back. She dropped her herding-stick and ran forward, mud sucking at her toes.
Aso Yaa smiled broadly but fended her off with a deft turn of the shoulder. “I missed you too, Anele. You have gotten taller! No, now, be careful of my new little one.” She turned, allowing Anele to see just what it was that was strapped on her back. Not a bundle but a baby, drowsing amid folds of orange and red striped cloth.
That was her first view of Maniqua.
Soon, she wished that it had been her last. Resettled in the hut at the edge of the village, Anele found that there were more tasks than ever. More cleaning to do, as Maniqua soiled herself and her blankets. More herding to do, as Aso Yaa gained a she-goat for milk to feed the baby. More cooking, more mending, more sewing.
It would have been all right, Anele told herself, if only Maniqua had shown any sign of affection for her. But every time Anele picked her up to tend to her, the baby stiffened up like a walking-stick and screamed until the whole village could hear her, great dark eyes fixed on Anele’s face and the improbable scent of pineapples in the air. It would have been tolerable, if Aso Yaa had not seemed to forget that she existed except for the work and the chores. There were no songs or stories for Anele at night anymore; now Aso Yaa chanted lullabies and spell-songs to Maniqua, or mixed oils to make the baby sleep soundly. She was too tired even to observe Aso Yaa at her creation-magics. Anele dropped to her mat every night and went straight to sleep.
Things only grew worse as Maniqua got older. At even the slightest touch, she screamed, stiffened, and shoved Anele’s hands away from her skin, trying to bite and claw. She did not speak. She just screamed and bit. When appealed to, Aso Yaa clicked her tongue against her teeth and reprimanded Anele sharply for the disturbance.
When Maniqua learned to crawl she began to exhibit a fascination with her own dung, painting it over her body in smeared patterns, or on the walls of the hut, or on the sleeping mats.
Anele tethered the child by an ankle to a post in the yard to keep her from soiling the freshly-scrubbed hut; Maniqua screamed and bit, but her teeth met only empty air. When Aso Yaa came home that night and found the tether-marks on Maniqua’s pineapple-scented ankle, Anele was told to sleep outside the house. There was no dinner for her that night.
Lying hungry and cold underneath the stars, Anele wondered what purpose Maniqua had been made for. Surely she was made in the image of a demon, although her feet were attached forwards, not backwards. Surely she would be good for something… and then she would leave. Whatever that purpose was, Anele wished with all her heart that it would be fulfilled quickly.
She did not get her wish.
The full moon visited several more times before Maniqua learned to walk. As soon as she could toddle unassisted, she began doing a shuffling dance, tracing spiral patterns in the dust of the yard. She danced for hours at a time, mouth slack and eyes distant. Anele let her dance, relieved to find that there was something that kept the child from screaming.
Maniqua screamed when the sun rose and when it went down, when she was fed stew and when she was fed fruit. She did not speak or point. She just rolled her eyes back in her head and screamed. Surely, Anele thought, there was no worse sound in the world than that demon-scream. But Aso Yaa did not seem to notice, and did not put Maniqua to any use that Anele could see, for Maniqua did not leave.
Then Maniqua learned to talk as well as walk, and Anele changed her mind. There was something worse than the sound of screaming. It was the ‘huh-uh-uhhHHH’ that preceeded the child’s song, always sung to the same tune.
“Huh-uh-uhHHHH. I am dancing, I am dancing,” Maniqua would sing, shuffling her slow spirals in the yard. Over and over again she repeated, “I am dancing, I am dancing.”
Worse was when she watched Anele working. “Huh-uh-uhHHH. Anele is feeding, she is feeding. Feeding the goats. She is feeding, she is feeding. Feeding the goats.” The melody wore Anele’s nerves cornhusk-thin.
Time passed. Maniqua shuffled and sang, and sometimes hit herself or screamed. She did not explain what it was she wanted except in the words of her repetitive song. She did not play. She sang and danced, or she screamed. Or bit; she still did not accept Anele’s touch. Aso Yaa watched with tired eyes, and changed the lullabies that she sang over Maniqua’s bed. Seasons came and seasons went. The chores grew heavier, and Anele grew taller, and Aso Yaa grew greyer. There were lines on the wise-woman’s brow, from frowning and fatigue.
Anele watched and gritted her teeth, and waited for Maniqua to be put to use. But she never was. She just continued onward in demon-fashion, growing larger every day.
It was the singing that drove her to it, not the screaming. Aso Yaa had gone to weave charms into the fetlocks of the sacrificial goats and Anele was trying to feed Maniqua breakfast. The child screamed, turning her head away and beginning to sing. “Huh-uh-uhhHHH. Anele made the breakfast, made breakfast wrong, Anele made poison. Maniqua will not eat!”
Feeling her teeth grind against each other, Anele put the cornmush to the side for her own breakfast, if she should have time to eat. She diced up a yam, and Maniqua screamed, tilting her face toward the ceiling and singing to it. “Anele cut the yam, cut the yam. Cut it wrong, made it poison! Maniqua will not eat!”
“Shut up, you… you…. pineapple girl!” The words popped out before Anele had time to think about them. But what made better sense than that? Maniqua smelled of goat’s milk and pineapple juice. She was likely made of both things, and spit and magic besides. “If you don’t like the way I cook, then go back to the pineapple field where you belong.” She had never spoken that way to Maniqua before.
The child went still, and looked through Anele with dark eyes. “Huh-uh-uHHHH. Anele calls Maniqua, calls her pineapple. Maniqua will go, will go, will go, will go to the pineapples. Anele says go, to go, to go where you belong.” The child sprang up, bit at the hand that Anele put out to stop her, and then raced out the door of the hut and away.
It took her a moment to get over the pain in her fingers; blood dripped from several deep tooth-marks. Once the tears that pricked her eyes had been banished, Anele ran out the door after her foster sister, cradling her hand to her chest. She could see Aso Yaa’s figure, striding across the pasture where their goat cropped the dull green grass.
Maniqua’s song was faint, but audible, drifting up from the stream-banks. “….will go, will go, will go to the pineapples. Will go, will…..” And then there was a scream, and a splash. Anele forced her legs to move faster, seeing Aso Yaa start and begin running this way, necklaces of charms slapping against her chest.
She was too late; by the time that she slid down the mud of the stream bank, the swollen current had swept Maniqua away, pulling her head under the water. There was no trace of her left, except for one single muddy footprint on a nearby rock. Aso Yaa slid down beside her and screamed, going to her knees in the mud. “My child. My daughter!” There were tears in the wise-woman’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean to call her a pineapple girl. It was an accident! But…you can make another,” Anele said, feeling her skin prickle with the force of the wise-woman’s grief. Her toes felt numb despite the mud that coated them. “You can, Mother. You can.” Aso Yaa had not become any less powerful over the seasons. She was sought out more often than ever by those needing charms and protections, chants and spells.
The wise-woman turned a gaze gone flat on her foster daughter. “I will never bear another child in my belly. My bloodline ends here. My daughter is dead. I cannot make another.” She stressed the word ‘make’. There was no forgiveness in her face.
Anele felt the numbness spreading up her fingers, toward her heart. Spots danced at the edges of her vision, showers of green and blue and red blurring together as she heard Aso Yaa speak. “And as for you, I told you: all magical things serve their purpose, and then they leave. Your purpose was to tend my house, so that my child would not ever be without care. Now, I have no child.”
It was the last thing she ever heard. The wind carried away the corn husks and goat hair that lay where Anele had been, while Aso Yaa wept.
Born in the year of the Rabbit, Stella Evans was supposed to be lucky and popular. Last in line when popularity was being handed out, she compensated by inventing an army of imaginary friends to take on imaginary adventures. This inevitably lead to the writing of speculative fiction. Ms. Evans lives in St. Paul with her spouse, her son, several cats and a forest of bonsai trees. She is a pediatric resident at the University of Minnesota.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish