The Wan Zoreille
After making a brash exit from St Denis – the provincial capital of the French overseas département of La Réunion – the RN1 widens westwards into an anxious dual carriageway road, complete with worrying warning signs and dazzling danger lights. Thus alerted, it penetrates into a skinny coastal strip of strewn boulders that runs in the shadow of an imposing stand of sea-cliffs.
Cliff-witches brood in the high-flung crannies of these overhangs and spread decay. They egg on the evil giants that dominate the north-western elbow of this island which sits in volcanic defiance of the irrascible Indian Ocean, some 450 miles off the east coast of Madagascar.
Lives too numerous have been lost along that uninhabited stretch of road, for here the cliff face is as friable as it is miserable. Tropical rains and a humid sun loosen stones and boulders and hand them to the giants, who hurl them heavy-tumbling hundreds of feet down, seeking to crush any passing thing below. Car or creature, it’s all the same to them.
A massive engineering project nearing completion aims to enclose those angry cliffs in strong netting in order to prevent their murderous missiles homing in on their victims. The locals, however, remain unconvinced.
Many Réunionnais, be they Créole, Malbar, Zarabe, Chinois, Zoreille or Cafre, believe that the phenomenon can not be put solely down to natural causes. The problem, some say, stems from the fact that when this route was built in the 1960s, the island’s very first cemetery had to be bulldozed over in order to make way for the road.
To the way of thinking of the Créoles, in particular, unhallowing the dead in this fashion was a move the wisdom of which was hard to fathom. It was bad enough already, before the new road was built, when the old ‘corniche’ trail snaked through an unworldly, neither-here-nor-there place, in which, said the elders, lost souls erred in search of salvation but ended up hob-nobbing it with witches and giants.
One windswept night, as racing clouds veiled and unveiled Alpha du Centaure and Agéna, rendering those guiding stars but uncertain Pointers to the Southern Cross, a kindly motorist stopped his car at the roadside to offer a lift to a young woman he came across wandering there.
Finding her pale and shivering in the cold, he doffed his jacket and held it out to her. She slipped it soundlessly about her shoulders and, with a barely perceptible nod of her head, the pale lady smiled her gratitude.
The kindly motorist dropped the woman off at a flower-clad bungalow along a quiet street above St. Denis, the address of which she had shown him on a slip of yellowing paper upon which lingered a memory of the scent of Bougainvillaea. She smiled at him again fleetingly and then wanly she was gone.
Next day, the kindly motorist realised with some trepidation that he had forgotten to take back his jacket; so he returned quickly to the quiet street above St. Denis. However, where the young woman’s home had been he found but a creeper-clad bungalow, boarded up.
A neighbourly zarabe lady told him that not a soul had lived in that house for 10 years, not since its former occupant, a young zoreille woman who had not followed the rest of her family back to far off metropolitan France, had met with a gruesome death on the Corniche Road, crushed by falling rock.
Another woman, an aging Créole, whispered the zoreille’s name in his ear and said it was ten years to that very day that she had died, and described the very stretch of road where the kindly motorist had picked up a wan figure that previous night.
With foreboding dawning, the motorist went to the village cemetery not far away to discover if the neighbour’s whisperings had any substance and, as he feared, found that the wan zoreille was buried there.
As he approached her tombstone, he perceived an object lying starkly on the grave. Crisp and neatly folded, laid out upon it, was a jacket. His very own. And in the air there hung the faintest whiff of Bougainvillaea.Explore posts in the same categories: Blogroll, France, Macabre, Story