"Believe what?" I would ask, when I was old enough to be curious about my name. Moma would always smile and provide me with a different answer each time.
"Believe that there will be food to eat tonight" as she salvaged discarded vegetables from behind the market.
"Believe that it will rain tomorrow" as the sun beat down mercilessly on our corrugated tin roof.
"Believe that your Fa will be home one day" as we stood watching the dilapidated jitney disgorge its human cargo and rumble away into the shimmering distance.
"What is my father's name?" I would ask, of any and all.
"Lout." "Fool." "Stupid." "Worthless." And they would laugh. Did they mean me, or him? I gathered these hurts and nursed them, carefully. In the back of our dwelling was a skin; matted, worn, scented by earth and my own unwashed body. Moma would threaten to throw it in the stinking canal, but I would scream and bang my head on the floor until blood filled my mouth and she would relent. The skin was magical. When I wrapped myself in it I was strong and hidden from the world.
On my sixteenth birthday Moma gave me a book which had belonged to my father. On the flyleaf were the letters CONRI. Inside were pictures of scrawled animals, no better than I could draw, as well as men with beards who wore furs, and gold, and wielding swords as long as I was tall. "Is this Fa's name?" I asked, pointing to the inscription. Moma grunted. "A foreign name. Yes. It means 'King Of Wolves'. Where he came from, it snows. He loved snow more than us."
That night he visited me in a dream. "Call a cat a goat and try to milk him. See what happens for your troubles."
The first child taken was Ifsa, a chubby bully with lank hair and protruding teeth. He was found with his throat torn out, his body already drawing flies in the watery dawn. After that it was the cheating crone from the market, then the village rent collector. People huddled beside fires at night despite the sweltering temperatures. Moma hung herbs and drew lines in the dust around our doorway.
"To keep the killing spirits away," she mumbled, ashamed of her inability to produce a better weapon.
"We are safe," I replied, fingering my fur and caressing my secret knowledge.
"Little fool. Believe what you wish, but stay in just the same."
And yet I went out, just the same.
At first I begged; a little bread from here, a little corn from there. "To keep the wolf from the door," I would say, and the man or woman would shudder. As time went on, something became apparent; whoever gave something to me came by no misfortune from the savage beast which stalked our community. I was quick with my hands, and so I patched wind-torn walls and makeshift cooking pots. I was strong and fast, and could catch a young buffalo by grabbing his horns, twisting his head and throwing him to the ground. I found that a steady gaze would always make a coward drop his eyes, and so I was called upon to pass judgement on the accused. "The wolf will come for you!" I would cry when the market seller placed a finger on the scale to cheat a customer.
And come he would.
There were murmurings of magic, but magic is an anfractuous thing, a tumbling of whispers, reason, legends and faith. If luck is a force, than like any force it is the reaction of interaction. Cry wolf, a wolf in sheep's clothing, werewolf, a king of the wolves. I ask you, which of these do you believe?
I will walk to the hanging place tomorrow, wrapped in my father's skin. Unlucky, Believe, Son Of the King Of Wolves - choose any of my names, and therein lies the reason.