In September 1963, misfortune was going to make deep cuts in the lives of thousands of men and women. Furtive silhouettes skimmed the walls during the night in Port-au-Prince to avoid the headlights of the DKWs. With their helmets, their guns, the blue shadows of the militiamen advanced in the DKWs, combing the insides of the city. They marched in the shadows, forming a hateful mob, chasing after the feverish, trembling shadows that slipped between the trees, hurrying themselves through the dark corridors, trying to blend into the doors, the fences, the windows. It was the beat of their own heart and the breath of their own throat that held up these frail silhouettes and made them go forward, blind, panicked. And all this whispering, this breath, these cries, this sghtcreeching of tires lifted the cruel spirits of the night. Then, the trembling shadows watched out for the steps on the asphalt, blood fixed with fear in their veins, until they were caught in the headlights of a DKW, like a prelude to their second death, the real one. Until a cry, a long sharp blade, slashed the night.
In September 1963, the man in the black hat and thick glasses covered the city in a big black veil. Port-au-Prince, blind, falling, on her knees, couldn’t even see her own misfortune and lowered her head amid the cries of stray dogs.
In Anse Bleue, we only knew afterward. By word of the careful and fearful mouths of those rare travelers who returned from the big city. We couldn’t see the shadows coming for us at breakneck speed. We were far. Really too far. Even so, it wasn’t going to take long for our life, too, to shrivel, for the ground to crack under our feet, for the light dresses of women to darken to the color of grief. Only later did we see death spread over us like a frightful sun.
At the very start of September 1962, Dorcélien had passed from one village to another to announce that the trucks would be coming to look for men, to bring them to Port-au-Prince. For rallies in honor of the man in the black hat and thick glasses. He repeated it every time with the firm voice of a man in control and the feverish excitement of a divinòr.* The confusion was made greater for us all, and the vertigo of young men like Léosthène deeper.
Dorcélien came to Anse Bleue one afternoon. After the usual greetings, he went to great lengths to praise the the merits of such a trip, which was going to nally cast away misfortune. “Port-au-Prince has that power,” thought Léosthène who, intrigued, came closer to Dorcélien. Some images already rose behind his eyelids. Dorcélien, guessing that his prey was ready to take the bait, carried on: “And who knows if, by luck, some will soon wear a blue uniform? Who knows?” He pronounced these words slowly, weighing the consonants and prolonging the vowels, making his words resonate as though they were the matter of a powerful and good lwa*. A fire burned in Léosthène’s eyes that said it all. This life that had dragged its feet all throughout his years had nally come to knock on his door. This door, he would open it very wide and let life take him and carry him away on its wings. Nobody would stop him. Nobody. Orvil’s eyes said the opposite, that Port-au-Prince was too far and that you couldn’t, without consequences and without regrets, ignore the past. The land. The blood. To make your own rules. Somewhere else. No, you couldn’t do that! Dorcélien, feeling that Léosthène was ready enough and on board with his cause, didn’t hesitate to spell it out for him: “Léosthène, I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow in Baudelet, in front of Frétillon’s store.” And added, avoiding Orvil’s eyes: “I want brave men like you. Real ones. Those who aren’t afraid.” To drive the point home and forever hollow out the distance between father and son, he concluded: “Men who do not wear their pants just for the beauty of the fabric.”
That same afternoon Léosthène went to Olmène’s.
“Sister, there’s a lot to do in Port-au-Prince.”
“Why Port-au-Prince and not Santo Domingo, where you could cut sugar cane, or even Nassau or the Turks and Caicos like Fleurinor, and return with pockets full of money,” Olmène retorted, not understanding Léosthène’s sudden rush.
Santo Domingo, she’d spoken about it to him so much, and, sometimes, it made her eyes shine. But the wait had gnawed at Léosthène’s patience, to the bone. And, just as he hadn’t found the words to explain his impatience, the words to announce his departure got all muddled in his mouth. He just wrapped Olmène in his arms and then went on to share his decision with his father.
Léosthène got up in the middle of the night, resolute from that point forward to put an end to his fight with the earth, the waters, and the sun. He embraced Orvil, Ermancia, and Fénelon, and left. Nothing could have come in the way of his persistence. Nothing. Orvil inhaled the fresh air of the night and took time to close the door that his son had opened on the silence and the shadows. In front of Frétillon’s store, Léosthène pulled himself onto the back of a truck with other men like livestock. In piles. Squeezed against each other. Back to back. Nose to nose. The only thing missing was the cries of pigs, donkeys, or cows. But nothing could stop Léosthène. Nothing. Not the burning air. Not the odor of the sweat that almost suffocated him. Not the rocks and the dust on which the truck painstakingly advanced. Not the dangerous bridges of the Lavandou Morne. Which at any moment could send them down the precipice of eternity. Which had already sent many ad patres there.
Anse Bleue, Pointe Sable, Ti Pistache, and the towns, hamlets, and villages all around had been stripped of some of their bravest men. Among those who stayed, some tried desperately but silently to soothe a land that sulked, chasing the memory of the trucks. Those who didn’t silence themselves were caught up in blue fever of the militia and spoke out loud. For us, in the lakou*, there were, like everywhere, the silent ones and those who spoke.
Father Bonin, feeling our wavering, did his best to refresh our understanding of the nature of sins and the difference between them, the venial, like little lies, and the cardinal—except gluttony, which he took off his list because we hardly ate enough to stave off hunger. With the mortal sins, he stressed the horror of plaçage:* “A man and a woman must be united before God.” Then he went from house to house to speak of the blood of Jesus sacrificed on the Cross, the baptism of children of God, and the courage to weather the storm, no matter where it came from, with Christ as an example. He baptized at every turn, forcibly married two or three couples who accepted the bénir le péché in his church, and taught some children of Anse Bleue to read in his school, beneath the burning sheet metal roof next to the presbytery.
Neither the stranger who backed away, nor those whom he will have soon roused, men, women, old and young, can do much more to me. But I still can’t stop myself from mistrusting all of these strangers who will surely come out to examine me underneath my clothes.
After three whole days of scattering the animals, breaking of the branches of trees, blowing of the roofs, the nordé* lost its strength.
I feel the breath of the sea on my back.To the right, a sudden murmur, hardly perceptible, mixes with blurry colors. A noise rustling with odors and the first calls of the chrétiens-vivants.
I return from a long night.
Because of the water, the salt, and the iodine, my body becomes a sea creature and now, in my lightness, I follow the crest of the waves that elongate before receding far away, very far, to the deepest of the thick waters. And the enormous mass, fermented and brewed, climbing back again toward the mountainous foam to break on the rocks.
In the early hours of the morning, some other men, all bundled up in their clothes, come out of their huts despite the wind and the waters, and cry my name at the top of their lungs. Everyone outside. Out of their beds. Cowards in the wild.
These are the last voices that I heard before that of the stranger and those of two men out of their little houses the closest to the shore. They very quickly caught up to the stranger on the way. Look how they approach me. After these three days of the hurricane, like Lazarus straight out of the tomb, but without Jesus, like in the bible of Pastor Fortuné, to explain any of it. As lost as we were the first night when the plane flew over Anse Bleue. So much confusion these last weeks. What confusion!
I think of Cocotte and Yvelyne. It only took one look at me for nothing to be the same again. Jimmy, let me listen to a new song…
On the way,Yvelyne, Cocotte and I met Jimmy, the only foreigner in the five villages and hamlets around here. The only one. He wasn’t all that foreign anyway. Arrived a few weeks ago. To take back his rights to the land, and the land itself. The lands of the Mésidors. And I, I followed him. Little animal on the look out in the wild grass. I clung to his heels.
From his new, ashy 4×4, the voice of Wyclef Jean at full blast called 911—“Someone please call 911”—and Mary J. Blige responded: “This is the kind of love my mother used to warn me about.” A sound-system to burst your eardrums. And Cocotte,Yvelyne, and I, we couldn’t keep still. We approached in lockstep, legs restless, bodies cool. It was nothing like the Invincibles, the orchestra in Roseaux. Shabby. Lousy. Just two guitars, three drums, a keyboard. And that’s it. A singer with a reedy voice, a prominent Adam’s apple, and short-sightedness like you wouldn’t believe. Without any taste of the outside world. Without any taste of the big city. Without any threat and without danger along the great meandering of life.
A little longer and we would have danced on the bumpy road just like in the discotheque. Like at the Blue Moon in Baudelet where we, Cocotte,Yvelyne, and I, dreamed of being taken one day. One day… So we just laughed under our breath, quickening our steps. Being the most curious, I was the only to turn around.
Jimmy lowered the window and revealed a face that was neither handsome nor inviting. And me, neither beautiful nor inviting, I wanted to turn on a flashlight.To see… Nothing but to see.
I called him “Monsieur” and that pleased him, but deep down, I wanted to cry out to him: “Oh, Jimmy, my love! I make it seem like I don’t see you, while for weeks, I only see you.”
We are getting to know Baudelet well. We spend the weekdays with cousins. The big school is a few blocks from Blue Moon. No way for Cocotte, Yvelyne, and I to avoid it. And then, after school, we had agreed to swap our closed-toed schoolgirl shoes for the sandals of flirts. On the morning in question, like always, two of us would agree leave the field open to whomever Jimmy looked at first. I swore it would be me. I had spoken to him in silence so many times. More clearly than if I had cried with all my strength. He wanted to let us stew in our own juices. Me more than the others. In this affair, Jimmy had too advantageous of a role. He knew it. Coming from the city. His only job to scour the countryside, for reasons we didn’t know. And, in his hours of idleness, to show off and flex his muscles.
So we pass before the Blue Moon, our hearts in our throats. And there, suddenly, he stretches out his leg and we nearly fall at on our faces, and he laughs. A laugh like a drunk man looking for the way home after a wild night. We walk faster. But me, he catches me by the arm, leans over my ear: “You seek me, you will find me.” Jimmy whispered, bending to the point of touching my ear.
I don’t say anything. I don’t utter a single word, but Jimmy reads my thoughts as though he was drinking them from a glass: “Come here my love, come my love. My mouth drools with words for you.”
Jimmy took me by the arm and led me to the stage at Blue Moon. What to say of the place except that the diffuse light reminded me of the moon. A moon in the broad daylight, I told myself.
Jimmy took me under the influence of alcohol. On the ground. On the bare ground. He undid his zipper that opened upon an already erect and menacing member. He took off his pants, twisting to get out of them. And without the least consideration, making fun of hurting me, he opened my legs and penetrated me with an atrocious tear. I really thought that my vagina was going to explode. When I pushed out my first cry beneath him, he just said in words that I wanted to be reassuring but weren’t: “You will end up loving this.”
Cocotte and Yvelyne waited for me for a half an hour, not far from Blue Moon.Yvelyne was right to remind me that I looked into men’s eyes too much. And that made peculiar thoughts hatch inside of them. Cocotte, she told me later that it was because of the color of my sandals. Red. That it wasn’t a color that you wore to work nor in the middle of the day. I told her that it was the exact color of my mood: red passion, red hibiscus. Both of them told me that I would regret it. Immediately I thought that they were jealous. And I kept quiet, like a queen.
I would like to return to this body from before, my prison populated by songs, by hunger, by the sun of Anse Bleue, by my childhood that still sleeps there.
Mother, mother, where are you ? Altagrâce…Aunt Cilianise.
Chrétien-vivant: A human being.
Lakou: The dwellings of an extended family.
Lwa: A divinity in the voodoo religion.
Nordé: The wind of north.
Plaçage: The most common type of marital relationship, a form of concubinage.