A story of Valentine
This is the final part of a collection of short stories rekindling Ardain’s younger years. A dedication to all those who still believe in the power of love!
It was early Friday afternoon, and I had just come home from school. My parents had not yet arrived from work. Being home alone dreaded me to the core; and going to my room did not bring the psychological comfort. Choune’s picture, displayed in a bronze frame on top of my end table, adorned the head bed; and the minute I stepped into the room, her anxious stare greeted me—a constant reminder of our vow, despite the odds. Dwelling in consumed solitude is the most nightmarish of all despondencies.
After so many sleepless nights, I decided to deal with Choune in expeditious gallops. The pain was too raw. I paced over the picture, grabbed it by the frame and took a nosedive under my bed where I kept an old suitcase. I violently pulled the lock and, in a swift gesture, buried Choune in effigy, along with all my French poetry collection and other sentimental missives. “I’m a freed man now,” I muttered to myself. So, I thought. But in the process, the bronze paper went adrift and carried away by the wind gust from the ceiling fan. I stepped backward and snatched the floating paper. A quick glance put me in a face to face with Dis, quand reviendras-tu?
Guilt-ridden, an avalanche of tears welled down my nut-brown cheeks. I couldn’t wrestle with the selfishness sprawling within me. Choune may have been a thousand miles away, but her words still felt like fierce cannon balls in a heated battlefield. Every word pounded my heart, and it felt like a double-edged dagger oozing its way into the deepest end of it. Beaten, I collapsed at the foot of the bed.
Few minutes later, the phone rang, and it was my childhood friend Tipous on the other end. “Sak pase, man?” (What’s going on?) I asked, stretching out of bed.
“Nothing, man. Listen, there’s gonna be a meeting at a house on 2nd avenue, near Pastor Robert’s church. I’m told Sansariq is expected there. You wanna go?”
“Sure, why not.”
“See you there, then.”
Tipous’call was a savior. It shifted my mind into something new, more concrete. Since the humongous gathering in front the Haitian Refugee Center, politics had been playing a pivotal role in my young life in Miami. Second only to my school obligations, I was always present in most afternoon gatherings there. The crowd was not always large. No matter the day, however, small groups of Haitians would be found congregating either on the sidewalk or inside a small room next to the Center’s office where Father Jean-Juste shared the latest news from immigration officials or news from Haiti.
In a haste, I took a shower, got dressed and walked out. Sansariq would be there at six. So, I decided to maneuver toward Liline’s, a cousin of mine who had been in Miami way before I came. She was a true Afro-Haitian-American girl with all the skills to blend in either culture. I liked her very much, and we were very close, but she was extremely extroverted. For that, I never shared with her my internal demons. She was short and curvy, but downright stylish with sparkling black eyes. To supplement her height deficiency, she wore high heeled boots in which she folded her tight blue jeans. Her hips swayed at every step, and young men flocked to her trail.
She lived 5 blocks down with her parents’, but her room was a bit jutted from the main house, in the back end. A little pathway led to it. That afternoon, when I got there, for some odd reason, I didn’t bother knocking. Instead, I tiptoed toward her room. Suddenly I started hearing the soft pitch of feline moaning, going high and then releasing as if in romantic destress. The closer I got, the louder the moan. I glanced through her window and I was stunned to find Liline naked from the waist up, her breast was in Jean-Marie’s mouth, sucking it. Jean was a friend from school. A shrewd young woman, Liline folded both hands in front of her panty and tightened her legs, leaving Jean-Marie no chance of unlocking them. I laughed deliriously. Despite her easy-going attitude, she was shockingly skillful in the game of courtship. She knew how to lure a man to her niche and keep him there. As she told me later, “He gets no piece of the pie until he does what’s right….He can only get it at the wedding night. I will never be an extra toy in a man’s collection.”
“You’re cunning,” I said.
“I may be cocoonish, but not cunning,” she replied, triumphantly.
And she was right. They got married few years later.
Disappointed, I decided to go back home. Along the way, I ran into a group of expatriates from Port-de-Paix and Saint Louis. “Ti kouzen!” exclaimed a boy named Bertin. Ti kouzen was how young folks from Saint Louis called each other. With him were Ronel, Lanlan, Guy and some others. I was thrilled. We chatted all the way to 65th street, where Bertin was seeing a girl named Doudoune. Bertin was very athletic and jovial. He was molded in a chocolate tan. He loved to stroke his wavy hair combed backward, as a way to show intellectual relevance. Bertin was different from the pack, for just like me, he was struggling to find the perfect balance between revolutionary fever and school obligations. Contrary to the rest of the boys, Bertin and I found common ground in discussing politics—our great disdain for the fascist regime in Haiti and our fired up attitude guided by an awesome sense of revolutionary feverishness.
He and I and the rest of the lads joked to the very front door of Doudoune’s place—an imposing white building that housed four complexes. Doudoune lived upstair. We went in through an iron double door. As we walked in, Doudoune met us at the bottom of a stairway anchored in the middle of the house. She had squinting eyes and thin lips. A jet black coffee, her hair waved down toward her shoulders. She threw a subtle smile as Bertin presented her to me. A light-skinned girl with strange purplish brown eyes stood a pace behind her. Doudoune pushed her forward. She smiled timidly, and Lanlan drifted apart while instructing her to follow him. Later, Ronel told me her name was Monnette and she was Lanlan’s sweetheart. We chatted there until it was time for me go joining Tipous at the Sansariq gathering.
It was early evening, around 6 PM when I arrived at a small house fenced in by a chain link on Northeast 2nd Avenue. I found Tipous and an old friend Abner standing by the fence eyeing on the road, waiting for me. When they saw me, they quickly unhinged the gate to let me in. We hugged each other and we went in. About a dozen folks were inside, but Sansariq was nowhere in sight. A chubby man with a scarred face was entertaining the people inside. Pous told me his name was Paul Sylvestre, Sansarip spokesperson. About 15 minutes later, the front door pushed right open and a tall mulatto gentleman with trimmed beard and mustache waltzed in. He wore a green olive uniform and black shining boots. An M-16 rifle was clinched firmly in his hand. Four well-armed men guarded him, all dressed in military fatigues—two on each side. Sansariq seemed to tower over everyone in the room, which suddenly went stilled, as all eyes now glued on that mulatto gentleman. “Brothers, I’m here to let you know within a few days, the Duvaliers will be history. We’ve just led a successful “drop” over Port-au-Prince, where the entire population was showered by thousands of leaflets, telling the people that Duvalier will be arrested on January first.”
I rose to my feet and everyone followed with rounds of applauds. Naively, I believed the man, but when I heard nothing on January 1st, I was extremely sad. I got on the phone and I called Sansariq operation headquarters. A gentleman named Richard Brisson picked up the phone. “Don’t worry young man,” he said with an air of profound assurance. “In a matter of hours, Jean-Claude Duvalier will be under arrest.” I knew Brisson, a quadroon mulatto who was expelled from Port-au-Prince in November of 1980 for being part of a leading movement headed by journalists who were not afraid of taking on the brutal regime in Haiti.
Few weeks later, came the shocking news of the death of several folks, including Richard Brisson, who went on a failed mission with Sansariq. I was devastated, but I quickly learned Bernard Sansariq was none other than a mercenary, a Haitian Rambo, who took these men on that suicide mission.
|Le printemps s’est enfui depuis longtemps déjà, Craquent les feuilles mortes, brûlent les feux de bois,
A voir Saint Louis si belle dans cette fin d’automne,
Soudain je m’alanguis, je rêve, je frissonne, J
e tangue, je chavire, et comme la rengaine,
Je vais, je viens, je vire, je me tourne, je me traîne,
Ton image me hante, je te parle tout bas,
Et j’ai le mal d’amour, et j’ai le mal de toi,
|Spring has long gone,Dry leaves are rustling, wood fires are burning,
Seeing Saint Louis so beautiful in late autumn,
Suddenly I’m sick, I dream, I shiver,
I pitch, I capsize, and as the old song says,
I go, I come, I turn, I twist, I drag myself,
The memories haunt me, I whisper to you,
I’m lovesick, and I want you.
|J’ai beau t’aimer encore, j’ai beau t’aimer toujours, J’ai beau n’aimer que toi, j’ai beau t’aimer d’amour,
Si tu ne comprends pas qu’il te faut revenir,
Je ferai de nous deux mes plus beaux souvenirs,
Je reprendrai la route, le monde m’émerveille,
J’irai me réchauffer à un autre soleil,
Je ne suis pas de celles qui meurent de chagrin,
Je n’ai pas la vertu des femmes de marins,
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.
|I still love you, I will forever love youI love only you, I’m thrilled with it,
[But] If you don’t understand that you must return
I’ll make the fondest memories of our love story,
Then, I’ll reclaim the lone road, the world still amazes me,
Seeking a new niche, a new horizon,
I am not one of those to die of grief,
For the virtue of sailors’ wives have never taken hold of me.
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.
Only a faint memory of Choune still lingered in my mind as I grew more American and courted by many girls at school, almost three years later. I had managed to erase all traces of vivid reminders from my bedroom and I avoided meeting friends from Saint Louis. I had succeeded in taking control of my sanity, harboring deep in my selfish heart a well-behaved fatalism with which I used to shred the bittersweet memories of a time long gone. For months, she stopped writing me, and I became totally oblivious to the fairytale.
On a rainy day in Downtown Miami, I thought I ran into Choune when I went into a shoe store. A girl of a medium height walked up to me. She worked there and she wanted to help me find the perfect size of a Pierre Cardin pair of shoes. Although she was speaking English, her filtered voice quickly triggered the long kept-at-bay memories. I began to take a frantic aim at this girl, searching Choune through her hazel eyes, her stretched-out boobs, her delicate feature, voluptuous, coquettish and flawlessly exuberant. She was a dark-skinned mulâtresse with a divine sense of humility. I struggled feebly to maintain my composure. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Michaela,” she replied, widening her eyes as if taking a deeper look at me. “And yours?” she added, turning her face sideways.
“Do you still want the pair of shoes?”
“Yes, but I want something more.”
“What is that?”
“Sure, why not? I’ve seen you before—at school in the cafeteria chatting with your Haitian buddies.” She burst out laughing. She led me to the cash register where I paid for the shoes. She then walked me outside all the way to the parking lot, zipping up her parapluie to shield me from the pelting raindrops. The rest? Just another love story…One thing was certain: Choune had been resurrected through Michaela, and I was as happy as children waiting for Santa’s sleigh.
My eccentric behavior left me no room to rationalize love in its true form. More and more I was entering the icy cave of sentimental ruthlessness. One Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of Valentine, I came home from school and I saw a little brown envelope on top of the kitchen table. I became suspicious because letters from Haiti—usually wrinkled and bruised—could easily be identified. I purposely ignored it and, like a stealth chameleon, I sauntered to my dreaded room. As soon as I stepped in, the melodious voice of my sister called out to me. “Dinco, didn’t you see the letter on the table?”
“No,” I replied feebly. Little white lie.
“It’s from your anmourèz, I’m told.” Your little girlfriend.
I didn’t reply, for I could not. My heart was beating so hard. I sat at the foot of the bed, wrestling with my fear. There isn’t anything in the world that is more nerve-wracking than the feeling of guilt. When I finally mastered the strength, I pushed the door open, paced over the table and plucked the envelope, but still lacked the fortitude to open it up. With buckling legs, I strolled back to my room. I managed to open, despite the elusive stoicism that I searched in vain. There, she was in her lovely floral dress, sitting on a rotten branch under the old sea grape tree, alone facing the island of La Tortue. I could see the immutable foams ballooned in the distance under the colorful splendor of the tropical sky.
Her little picture was clipped on the top of a folded paper. In it were the words of Barbara she had used once more. I suddenly morphed into a beaten man. Choune will always be Choune: the girl with the pristine character.
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