CSMS Magazine Staff Writer
At the edge of the canapé, the trail branches off to two alternates—one that goes straight toward the heart of the valley floor and the other is a little path that leads down to the bed of a shallow ravine framed by cashew apple trees on both of its banks. On the other side of the ravine and behind a ditch lies a lush green cornfield guarded by more than a dozen scarecrows. This raises Celine’s optimism even more. There should be people nearby, she ponders. She traces the path and heads straight toward the ravine. Along the way, she hits her right foot against a giant rock which sends her to bounce and land over the trunk of a young bread food tree. A flock of wood pigeons suddenly takes off from the branches, passing right above her head and quickly turning around to gain altitude. The shaking of the tree trunk may have disturbed the birds. Celine screams in horror, and a hound hastily reciprocates with a relentless fury.
The scary barking catches the attention of a group of barefooted children with ragged clothes returning home from the ravine currying water jugs over their heads. The barking lasts about one minute and then subsides only to be replaced by the hollering of the spooky children who come face to face with Celine and begin a skittish retreat that leaves her speechless. The children have never seen someone of such feature before, and they terribly think they finally come across the Simbie, the goddess of the underwater world that many people in the valley often lay claim to have seen sitting on a rock by the spring of the ravine, combing her long, raven stresses in broad daylight.
The children drop their water jugs and flee like wild, hunted mongooses that refuse to forsake their rights to stay alive. They head toward a wall of bushy banana trees and disappear, blend with the tropical atmosphere. Celine follows them behind the banana trees, which lead her to a humongous courtyard in which stands a modest three-room cottage adorned by Mexican headers, wild lilies, and a bunch of other tropical flowers. Green okras, lima beans constricting their poles, cherry tomatoes, and spinach make up a vegetable garden that grows in the backyard. An old woman who was squatting on the front porch immediately jumps to her feet upon hearing the rushing footsteps coming from under the banana trees and spotting Celine’s shadow advancing in angular motion toward the courtyard.
Before the woman has the chance to inquire about the unexpected presence of the stranger, Celine is already in front of her, trying to catch her breath before she opens her mouth while huge droplets of sweats stream down her reddish cheeks. “Bonjour,” she said with a timid smile, which triggers another round of barking from the hound—a young grayish-hued hound that perks up its large drooping ears, ready to launch an assault on Celine.
“Bonjour belle pitit mwen,” the old woman reciprocates with a little grin from the corner of her wrinkled lips. “Shut up, Lili,” she quickly says, ordering the dog to be quiet. The hound then runs inside, but quickly gets back out and stations by the door near the old woman, growling and holding its tail between its hind legs. With fierce eyes and its fur bristling, it seems to want to throw its bared yellow fangs on Celine, who appears not afraid for she is used to seeing dogs in fury. She grew up in a household with vicious dogs. Bourgeois families usually breed ferocious dogs as one of their lines of defense against revolting, disenfranchised people. The breeding of such dogs also enshrines peace of minds, appeases self-guilt and secures deep-seated hatred against those who live in the shadow of death.
“What can I do for you, my dear,” the old woman asks, looking totally bewildered. Her hair is completely gray, bound in a kerchief out of which loose edges hang down over her shoulders. She wears an old, wrinkled, bluish karako, a loose fitting garment traditionally used by peasant women. A large black scarf wraps around her waist, and she wears cow skin sandals and knee-length cotton socks to fight off arthritis and other old-aged diseases. When she throws her broad smile, her missing front teeth are clearly exposed.
“I’m looking for a young woman named Louisinette. I’m told she lives in this area,” answers Celine in a ponderous way.
“Louisinette? I’m not sure I have known of such person. What does she look like?” the old woman inquires.
“It’s been five years since the last time I saw her. So, my description of her may not be accurate. Anyway, she is a slim girl, not tall, not short, and she likes to smile. She has a strange birthmark on her forehead.”
The old woman does not give a quick reply. She bends her head down, resting her chin between her thumb and her index finger, pondering. Then with one single cry, she calls out for help. “Absalon,” she calls out to a young man, who is up on the cottage loft, stuffing up green mangoes to quicken their ripe. Ripened mangoes can be lucrative for these poor peasants. They can earn them much needed cash in the marketplace. Not only stuffing them up will make their yellow flesh sweeter, it is also a good insurance policy against the rats and the passerine birds like the Blue Jay that never seize to go after ripened mangoes in the branches.
“Oui,” replies Absalon who, with one leap, bounces to the floor and bursts out to the front porch, looking very muscular, well-built and wearing dark green trousers turning grayish, bleached by time. He is about Celine’s age—in his mid twenties. His white shirt striped in light blue looks brownish, forced by dust mixed with sweats that are welling down on his cheeks. Pieces of dry banana leafs freckle his entire dark, stunning face. The peculiar stranger standing in front of him totally flabbergasts him. Confounded, disconcerted and stupefied, Absalon staggers sideways to regain his composure.
“Do you know a young woman named Louisinette who lives in this section?” the old woman asks Absalon.
“I know two of them,” he replies with an instant air of reassurance, which forces Celine to edge closer.
“You do?” Celine questions him.
“There is one who lives at the bottom of Morne Château. She has three children, and her husband’s name is Levy, a tall man with a strange trail of white hair on his front head. She is a roadside bread seller, and she can be seen every Saturday standing along the road at the seaside marketplace in Berger, selling her breads. The other one is the young woman that was rapped and then kicked out of the place she was living in Saint Louis. She lives near a deep wooded gorge in Fond Philippe. Remember, granny? Her story was the big news in the valley five years ago. She……..”
Frozen in place, Celine becomes a transformed personage. Her eyes turn suddenly moist. Her heart is pounding inside her chest. The self-inherited guilt is too much to bear. With her voice shaking, she stops the young man in his blistering account. “Could you please show me the way to get to her? The second one is the one I’m looking for,” Celine begs.
“Okay,” Absalon replies, feeling quite intimidated by the presence of such beauty. “Can I go and wash my face. It looks dirty.”
“Yes, you can,” the old woman says. Then she turns to Celine, still standing in front of her. “Can I offer you something to drink?” she asks. Celine refuses; she has just drunk a bottle of water. But she feels uneasy to say no to the old woman’s drink offering, and before the old woman has another opportunity to make one more gesture of kindness by offering a chair, Celine is already on the floor, squatting next to her with her legs crossing. The group of kids who walked away earlier upon seeing Celine suddenly reappears, gleefully moving up to greet her. They had been hiding in the room, and listening attentively. Once reassured, like children everywhere, their fervid, feverish fear is now dissolved into a frenetic joy. They are moving all over her, touching her face to make sure she is real. One of them, a chubby girl with a copper complexion and slanted, black eyes looks straight into Celine’s glaring eyes without any shred of trace of timidity. “What’s your name?” she asks.
“Celine,” she replies, stroking the girl’s hair while poking her tawny cheeks.
An albino boy edges closer. “Do you live in the water?” questions the boy, waiting for Celine’s answer with eagle eyes of an investigator.
“No. But I’ll take you there if you want me to. In fact, I’ll take all of you,” Celine teases them.
“Nooooooo,” they all reply in unison. Then the copper-colored girl leaps backward, sizing Celine from head to toe and, with an unfaltering glance, she says, “I can go with you, but not to live in the water.” Celine smiles; she is totally amused by the sensual and willful expression that comes around the girl’s tiny lips.
Children are the same everywhere, curious, innocent, who accept both the blessings and the blows of life with an equal gaiety of spirit. They are full of life and seem poised to grow and multiply with an intrinsic, uncustomary, idiosyncratic naiveté, fully optimistic about the future only to be broken by the nightmarish vicissitudes that will certainly befall them. How useful these young wasted minds could be for Haiti? They have yet to go to school, if they ever will. If only Haitian authorities could remember that human intelligence is a country’s best natural resource. These thoughts are invading Celine’s mind as the children are rolling all over her.
End of Part 3
Note: Bonjour belle pitit mwen is Creole for “Good morning my pretty girl.”
Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is essayist and novelist. He is the author of Alicia Maldonado: A Mother Lost. Go the Poetry and Literature section to read some his works. This story is part of creative writing. CSMS Magazine welcomes creative writers.