Literature / Sharlo's Strange Bargain

"Sharlo's Strange Bargain" is a short story written by Antiguan author Ralph Prince.

Sharlo, a local farmer in Glentis Village, Antigua, is well-known for his love of food and his skills with the fife. One day, he gets caught in the rain after returning home from working his farm-land in a nearby mountain; as he seeks shelter under a tree, he meets a mysterious man who offers him temporary shelter and food.

Arriving at the man's home (located in a cave underground), Sharlo is introduced to a mysterious magic calabash (a deep bowl-like dish) that can provide him with any food he desires, provided the correct rhyme is spoken. His benefactor then makes him a deal: Sharlo can have the calabash in exchange for giving up his fife, but the deal must be kept secret. To this Sharlo agrees after some consideration, and from then on he sates his gluttony with the calabash even as his neighbors are forced to subsist on the local sugar-cane crop in the midst of a drought.

But Sharlo's constant eating is about to catch up to him...

Tropes present in "Sharlo's Strange Bargain":

  • Based on a True Story: The disclaimer given at the beginning.
  • Big Eater: Sharlo is infamous for this.
  • Black Magic: When Sharlo demonstrates the calabash's power to Zakky in order to ease his hunger, Zakky assumes that Sharlo has become an obeah man—something which would make Sharlo a pariah in the village.
  • Deal with the Devil: At one point, Sharlo recounts that he has always heard that it is not wise to do this. Guess what he himself has done.
  • Downer Ending: The story's first paragraph hints that the ending will be this.
  • Exact Words: The benefactor's admonition to Sharlo to keep the deal secret. "Remember, Sharlo! Keep our bargain a secret—otherwise it'll be hell with me and you."
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: The mystery benefactor's home, though Sharlo doesn't know it at the time.
  • Food Porn: The benefactor convinces Sharlo to accept the deal by invoking a mental view of this trope.
    Benefactor: Even in hard times, this calabash will give you all the food you want. Think of the fungeenote  and saltfish, the dumplings and pork, the rice and meat, the pepper-potnote , the sousenote , the ackeenote ...all these and more are yours, all yours, just for the asking—and the eating.
  • Jerkass: Sharlo eventually becomes this, the longer he has the calabash at his disposal. He stuffs himself every day even while knowing that his neighbors and friends are close to starving from the effects of a drought ravaging the village.
  • Pet the Dog: Sharlo feels sorry for Zakky and feeds him with the calabash's power.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Zakky goes to Sharlo's house the following morning after he's been to see Sharlo and Sharlo has revealed the terms of the bargain to him. He finds the house open, the front door broken off, but no sign of Sharlo anywhere. Of course, knowing the true identity of the benefactor, we know what's happened—but that there's no description of what happened in between the night before and Zakky's discovery the next day is...chilling.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Sharlo fully realizes just what the terms of his deal really entail.
  • Secret Keeper: Sharlo is tasked to be this.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Sharlo's friend Zakky calls him out for keeping his feasts to himself.
    Zakky: But Sharlo, man, you wort'less.
    Sharlo: Wha' me do?
    Zakky: Man, you wort'less. You know me and me wife and ten pickney (children) and dem a dead fo' hungry, and you never one time say, "Here, Zakky, tek dis food fo' all you nyam (eat)!"