As Ray and I strolled along the sunny streets of Mahajunga,
snapping photographs and looking for a place to grab a bite,
we noticed that the locals all appeared to be avoiding us,
lowering their eyes whenever we glanced in their direction.
They seemed to be doing the same to the other white tourists
as well, even crossing the street when one approached.
Only one young girl smiled as we passed, and so we stopped
to chat with her. She was quite friendly, and in impeccable French
explained the legend of the mpakafo, the heart-stealers;
pale, slender beings whose greatest joy is to rip out
the beating hearts of its victims to feast upon.
Ray and I glanced at one another. This country was infested
with superstition. We'd heard plenty of tales
of other outlandish creatures as we'd crossed the island:
tiny beastlike men that crept through the forests on all fours,
fearsome flesh-eating oxen, seven-headed serpents sprouting horns...
We asked the lovely girl why she was not afraid of us like all the others.
Because, she whispered, I am what is known as a kinoly.
After I died, I came back to replace my rotted entrails
with fresh ones torn from the living, using my long, sharp fingernails.
She wouldn't show us those nails, no matter how much we pestered,
hiding her hands deep inside the folds of her patterned shawl.
She let us take her picture though, to help us remember
this charming girl with her wide, bright eyes, her brave smile,
her pounding heart, remember her long after we'd moved on
to find our dinner elsewhere.
[inspired by various bits of Malagasy folklore]