A story of Valentine
A dedication to all those who still believe in the power of love!
“What time is it?” my cousin Jean-Dennis growled from the base of his throat. I never bothered to reply, for the alarm clock hooked onto the wall was adjacent to his bed. I simply strolled to my room and shut the door, leaving him to wrestle with the time. From the warm quietude and serenity of my quarter, I heard him bolt out of his bed, sniffing the air as if looking for the magic strength to face the brand new day. I could hear him spreading his arms, stretching and shrieking like wildfowls in the morning twilight. Then I heard him tiptoeing toward the bathroom. Within seconds, he switched on the shower, which sprang like a river in full fury over his robust, jet black body. Then the shower stopped as abruptly as it started; and the whole place turned cold, until his hums came in to perturb the dull stillness of an unwanted existence.
Five minutes later, he was gone; and I’m left alone—to my self-engulfing solitude. I lay in bed, eyes closed, and Choune, the girl with whom I was madly in love, was all over me. She was tall, slender, with her unexplained form sentimentalism. Her ginger lips quivered as we ambled hand and hand down the sugar sand beach of L’ester Dere. But Choune lived in far off land, some one thousand miles away, and I had no means to reach out and hug her, to squeeze her in passionate, bewildered embraces. I wished I could morph into a migratory bird and fly to her. These sentimental stirrings only enflamed my suffering.
Jean was both a cousin and close friend, the only person I could share my seemingly everlasting misfortune. But he was hardly home. When he was not at work, he was chez Augusta, a sleazy, oversized woman who lived on 55th street and who managed a nighttime flourishing fritay business. Jean was always on the go. Like domesticated chickens, when he finally came home to roost, it was already wee hours in the morning. Each night I waited in vain just to be drifted into the misty fog of sleep, dozing on the couch until my sister came and dragged me into bed.
But I was never a coward. Never was I going to let myself being consumed by the purplish-blue of outright melancholy. Dwelling in the fog of elusive love was a monopoly I never wished to hold. I believed nothing could better drag the sanity of a man into moral and intellectual bankruptcy than his awkward habit of romanticizing his vicissitudes. So, I got dressed and ready for a morning promenade.
The sun had already risen behind the towering buildings across the street when I stepped onto the front porch. Hordes of pedestrians crisscrossed each other down the sidewalk, going on both directions. Chatting and laughter echoed in a cacophony of weird sounds, blending Spanish, Creole and English. I made my way west towards North Miami Avenue and then south to 59th Street to see my friend Yvner. In gigantic strides, I walked down, passing few cottages built off the ground, which looked ostentatiously out of place for a fast moving boulevard like North Miami Avenue.
At the edge of where North Miami Avenue intersects 59th Street, a tall young lady with splayed belly and tanned skin suddenly grabbed me by the arm and planted a kiss on my left cheek, leaving a stamp from her fat moist lips on my face. My heart jumped in a feverish spook. I widened my eyes to get a good glimpse of the stranger. She did not let go of my arm. Nor did I want to wrestle with her. “Dinco,” she castigated. “So glad to see you. Look at you! Still have this cutie, handsome face.” She finally set my arm free, but now started poking me in both cheeks like children do to their baby dolls. I didn’t know what to say. “How’s Royo doing?” she asked. I’m now reassured. She knows my little sister’s name.
“Royo’s doing great,” I replied between half-open lips, with a broad smile on my nut brown visage.
“You live around here, Dinco?”
“Do you have a phone number?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. But if you give me yours, I’ll make sure I’ll pass it on to my sister.”
She quickly wrote it down on the back of a business card and handed it to me. I folded it on my shirt pocket without looking. She then strolled north, but just before she reached the next block, she called to me, and I turned around to face her. “Tell Royo my sister Suzette would love to hear from her,” she said, throwing kisses to me.
The reference of Suzette helped me solve the puzzle. She was Caroline, an empty-headed bimbo who lived in some communities near Miami’s Over-Town. Later, Royo told me she befriended her because she had an eye on me. But Caroline is related to Choune, and that was enough to reactivate the deep sadness that I thought I had just left at home.
I decided to forego Yvner’s. Instead, I sauntered toward a little park just off the road. There, I sat on a rough, rusty bench, head bent down, and Choune’s shadow once again took a nosedive to land in the deepest end of my heart, sweeping my soul. She and I, I could see, on a romantic ballad near the shorelines of Saint Louis, where L’Ile de la Tortue faded in the distance. Beneath clear blue sky and over turquoise water, sea birds flew in stunning formation. Choune’ s oval face, golden honey, shed a faint glow over my chest as we sat below the sea grapes, contemplating the shallow waves, near and far, sending foams to crash against our naked feet. I could hear the whimper of her feline voice making the infinite vow to win against the odds. I could, I could, I could feel the tenderness of her……….
Suddenly, some children on a swing set behind me made a sharp scream which brought me back to reality. I leaped off the bench and left in a haste. Dodging the avenue, I meandered east towards Northeast Miami Court which stretched all the way to 54th Street. In a distance, I saw a huge crowd of dark profiles, growing steadily in slow motion before my eyes as I marched on. This prompted my attention. I quickly took aim at the crowd. I quickened my steps, and at every intersection, a legion of people mostly dressed in red and blue, the color of the Haitian flag, herded down towards 54th Street.
Groups of home dwellers congregated in front porches on both sides of the street to watch the proceeding. Petrified toddlers in swollen bellies and ragged garments held onto their parents, who watched with blazing eyes lines of Haitians herding down to where the main event was being taken place. They looked no different from those who live at the raw-edge of poverty. As I reached 54th Street, my eyes began to lurch in restless glances, watching a sea of politically charged people stretching to more than a mile, singing patriotic songs and throwing insults at the Duvalier regime in Haiti.
In an instant, a feeling of joie de vivre took hold of my body. I had never been in an ambiance like this before, where everyone converged into one location to express their anger, their emotion and their determination to get rid of the Creole fascists in Haiti. A tall woman everyone called Jésula who wore a knee-length, high-collared blue dress held at her waist by a red leather bell suddenly rose from the center of the gathering and pushed her way toward a makeshift stand and took up position, facing the crowd. A pair of large hoop rings adorned her coffee-colored face. She kept a firm grip on a cordless microphone and, like an imposing songstress, began to twist and stir. She was singing:
You’re like the old bamboo
You can only be bent
But never be broken….
I felt completely thawed. That song had definitely kindled my heart and built a deep trench in it. A kind of patriotic romanticism suddenly descended in my fragile being, bringing with it feelings of awe and shock, love and hate along with an instant thirst to avenge the thousands of victims of the Duvalier’s brutal regime.
The gathering was the latest reaction to news reports coming out of Haiti confirming despicable atrocities being committed by the tonton macoutes, Duvalier secret police, against an increasingly embolden Haitian people virtually unafraid to take on the fascists from their niches.
When Jésula was over, Father Gérard Jean-Juste, Head of the Haitian Refugee Center of Miami, moved in and took up position near her. She handed the microphone to him. Father Jean-Juste was a real enthusiast who spoke with meticulous utterances like a legendary connoisseur, an aficionado of the Prime hour. His oily face aglow under the harsh, piercing ray of the late-morning sun. Wearing a black jacket over his Roman collared shirt, he was preaching a kind of Renaissance humanism while leading the fight against immigration officials on behalf of thousands of Haitian refugees, myself included. I was fired up. The father spoke for about 15 minutes. The ambiance soon resumed. It lasted until the sun went down, and the crowd dispersed. Then, I reclaimed the road back home.
|Voilà combien de jours, voilà combien de nuits,
Voilà combien de temps que tu es reparti,
Tu m’as dit cette fois, c’est le dernier voyage,
Pour nos cœurs déchirés, c’est le dernier naufrage,
Au printemps, tu verras, je serai de retour,
Le printemps, c’est joli pour se parler d’amour,
Nous irons voir ensemble les jardins refleuris,
Et déambulerons dans les rues de Saint Louis.
Dis, quand reviendras-tu?
Dis, au moins le sais-tu?
Que tout le temps qui passe,
Ne se rattrape guère.
Que tout le temps perdu,
Ne se rattrape plus.
|Look how many days, look how many nights,
Look how long it’s been since you’ve been away,
You’ve told me this time would be the last
Then our torn hearts felt like a painful shipwreck
In the spring, you’ll see, I’ll be back
Spring is nice to talk about love,
To see the gardens bloom again,
And wander down the streets of Saint Louis.
Tell me, when are you coming back?
Or, at least, do you know?
For it’s hard to catch up
With the passage of time,
For tide and time
Wait for no man.
The last time Choune and I met under the starry sky of Saint Louis, she folded these lines taken from the old classic of Barbara, written in a golden piece of paper. In the heat of wild caresses, she slid it down inside my shirt pocket. Then, my sadness was too raw to take a serious aim at the narrative displayed on the wrinkled paper. We said goodbye more than a thousand times, and each time was reinforced by barrages of kisses which further deepened my gloom. That night was exceptionally florescent under the glow of the moonlight. A faint breeze blew just enough to caress our visages coated in the trademark of innocence. I held her firm against my chest, trickling down my hands under her beige garment and desperately trying to find a pair of imaginary wrings to fly with her—to the unknown.
Choune was a girl with an odd stoic form of resistance and an admirable sense of kinship. Once she told me that the feelings she harbored in her heart for me were indescribable because she always felt small and vulnerable in my presence. It was something she’d never experienced before, she told me. Every time we were together, she felt totally thawed, melted in a sweet surrender, and that her sudden furrowed face was just a farce, a weak line of defense in the game of love and chivalrous romance. “I can’t believe I’m revealing this to you,” she muttered timidly. I said nothing. I was too moved to utter a word, for I went through so much to win her heart. I thought I was in a dream. One can imagine, after a win like this—the greatest of catches—I was in crimson delight!
There was a quick silence after such dazzling revelation—the meticulous words that had just escaped her mouth. Then I started to lick her face, clumsily trying to wash away the tears springing out of her eyes and streaming down her golden face. But these were tears of mixed emotions, ushering a sense of liberation, despite the ever-present cautions of optimisms that shaped her character. Since then, her capriciousness faded. (End of Part 1)
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