An overworked and under appreciated Sri Lankan housewife decides that a demon is to blame for her personal and familial woes.
Hiruni had been haggling over spices at Pettah market one morning when she had the strangest feeling that she was being watched. A scan of her surrounds – red-gummed vendors spitting betel nut, irritated shoppers elbowing one another out of the way for a shot at the ripest mango, and steam rising up from hopper pans – turned up no familiar faces. She had sensed the phantom presence every day since: hovering closely over her shoulder as she counted the money for the servant girl, or sitting back and observing her sweep the porch from a respectful distance. Somehow it hadn’t occurred to her that she had been hexed until her demon practically tapped her on the shoulder, sending a teapot flying off the shelf with reckless abandon one morning as if to scream, “Notice me! I exist!” Honestly, she knew how her demon felt.
Of course, Hiruni couldn’t tell anyone what she had discovered. If she told Dhuwa she was being dogged by a demon she’d be accused of being an uneducated villager and told to see a psychologist. Go blab to a stranger in exchange for a week’s salary? As if that were a solution to any of her problems! Plus, a Sri Lankan was a Sri Lankan, head doctor or not, which meant the whole of Colombo would probably know about her cheating husband before she’d hailed a tuk-tuk. No, the only doctor she’d be seeing was a voodoo witchdoctor.
Hiruni snuck off early one morning, claiming she was off to visit her akka in Rajagiriya. The traffic was so bad in Colombo these days that she knew she had at least a few hours before anyone got suspicious, if they even noticed. Dhuwa would have killed her if she found out she’d spent over 50,000 rupees on seeing the healer, but you can’t put a price on shedding a demon.
As soon as she walked through the door he gasped and declared that Mohini, the vengeful seductress herself, had followed her in. Hiruni had been warned about Mohini as a child, and all her life she’d been careful not to walk near cemeteries alone at night and to watch out for women dressed in white who asked her to carry their babies, no matter how beautiful. Yet somehow Mohini had found her.
They set a date for the exorcism, and Hiruni left the healer with a lighter wallet and a slightly heavier heart. She’d seen devil dances in the village as a little girl. All that chanting and hissing had scared her, and she’d never imagined she’d be the one chasing out an unwanted spirit visitor. And though she didn’t care to admit it, she’d been quietly grateful for the recent company, even if it was in the form of a vengeful spirit. It was flattering that a demon as feared and revered all over the island as Mohini would care to darken her little life. Maybe she really was as crazy as Dhuwa was always saying.
On the morning of the big day, Hiruni rose before the sun and carefully prepared the dark foods – fried eggs, fish head curry and arrack – as instructed by the healer. She nervously fiddled with her sari in the tuk-tuk on her way there and worried she had not put enough chili in the curry to lure Mohini.
She’d been trembling by the time she arrived, but had managed to lie down on the healer’s cool floor and hold her breath while he summoned up the protective spirits that would ensure Mohini did not overcome her. She looked on as if observing the scene from above as the healer placed a potato on her stomach, repeated his mantras, and called on Mohini to enter the vegetable. Hiruni felt a surge of energy flood her body as the healer’s eyes rolled back in his head. Before she had time to run, he’d grabbed an enormous knife and brought it down hard on the potato, just missing her navel.
Just like that, Mohini was vanquished and Hiruni would never look at a potato the same way again. She headed home, wondering if this meant her husband would return to her and her daughter would stop treating her like a fool.