CSMS Magazine Staff Writer
Ten minutes later, Absalon shows up, looking refreshed under clean, gray trousers and a tight-red, sleeveless undershirt with white horizontal stripes that literally exposes his raw biceps. He is riding a red chestnut horse, galloping graciously down the courtyard. An ardent flame in his eyes flares, upon seeing Celine. Wide-eyed, his white shining teeth sparkle when he throws an awesome smile. He pulls the leash, and the horse rears, neighs and makes an abrupt stop. A wide straw hat is firmly suited on his head. As he dismounts his horse, he takes off his hat and bows in front of Celine in pure showmanship fashion. “Sorry to take this long to come back,” he says with a broad smile on his beaming face.
“It wasn’t that long. You’ve only been away for about ten minutes, maybe,” replies Celine as she tries to free herself from the invading children.
“Timoun, stay away. The young woman has a long road ahead of her. She needs to get to destination before midday,” cries the old woman, ordering the children to get back inside the house. When they insist on standing there, she goes inside and walks out with a cow skin whip in her hand, stiffening her wrinkled face. The children scamper off like wild birds around the backyard and quickly get inside through the cottage backdoor. The young hound is being kept firmly at bay in the living room near an old clay jar in the corner, but it refuses to quiet down its barking.
“Are we ready to leave now?” asks Celine, eager to get back on the road again.
“Not yet,” reciprocates Absalon, who grabs a saddle pad from the front porch and places it neatly under the saddle itself which was already laid over the horseback. He folds a cinch over the saddle seat and then he uses a hook and a loop fastener tab to tie a D-ring on the saddle to hold it down firmly in order to dodge any danger as one rides. He then places the halter on and safely ties it. To insure proper safety, he has it in cross-ties using a lead rope with a panic snap. Finally, he carefully puts the bridle up over the horse’s nose while avoiding not to knock the bit on the horse’s teeth. Celine is definitely impressed by such meticulousness.
“It‘s for you, mademoiselle,” Absalon says with a grin.
“I’ve never ridden a horse before. How do I get on?” She replies, grimacing to show the anxiousness on her face.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you get on.” Absalon holds Celine by the waist and helps her mount sidesaddle. “This horse is as gentle as a dove. You’re going to need to hold the rope to guide it along,” continues Absalon.
Her anxiety is now suppressed; Celine throws a confident smile while sitting gracefully atop of her horse. She looks like Catherine Flon, the heroine from Haiti’s independence struggle, on a messianic mission. Absalon, in one leap, makes his way to the backyard and hastily returns, riding a strange sorrel mule with a grayish-white bushy tail. He takes the lead and, with his index finger, instructs Celine to follow him. Just before she exits the courtyard, Celine turns around and says goodbye to the old woman, who responds with a joyous smile. She then throws kisses at the children who sneak through the cottage window to wave at her.
The hooves clap as they swiftly gallop down the rocky pathway that leads to the main trail. As they advance steadily toward the heart of the valley floor, the atmosphere turns suddenly gray and heavy. Giant, mountainous masses of clouds effectively shield the sun which tries in vain to pierce through. But Celine welcomes the sun blocker as long as it does not start raining before she gets to destination. Sporadic thunderbolts lit the sky in the distance, and a capricious breeze is sweeping through the foliage, sanding the branches to rustle in sudden fury.
“Are you okay?” inquires Absalon, laughing at Celine’s riding with an air of serenity. He thinks she is afraid of the ride. He is wrong. She is rather deep in thought, pondering how she is going to face Louisinette. She has never felt this way before, belittled and ashamed, bearing the sins committed by others. “Will Louisinette understand when I finally try to express my gratitude? I’m not an ingrate, and I will never be one,” Celine keeps saying to herself.
Absalon tries one more time to get Celine attention, but realizing that she is very pensive, he quickly understands and turns around as they ride in silence. Only the galloping sound disturbs their monotonous march down this fresh-smelling valley coiffed by towering royal palms and a multitude of tropical fruit trees. But this attracts her attentive ears. She begins to pay close attention to her surroundings. Tall guinea grasses frame the embankment of the rocky trail. Further in and off the trail, clusters of small villages can be seen with their tiny mud-huts, and the harmonious voices of peasants working the fields while singing in acapella go wild and free with such undulating resonance, such megalophonous fullness that it perforates the deepest fibers of Celine’s heart. She is wholeheartedly moved by the natural exuberance and the acoustic sound of the singing which reverberates deep on the mountainside with an energizing tempestuousness, an innocent acerbity and a sincere delirium. Haitians are indeed an energized people, and despite other evidences pointing to otherwise, they can work happily and cooperatively.
After about an hour ride, they edge the end of the rocky trail which dies on the bank of a small but pristine river. Few half-naked women are washing clothes further down near the river basin. Waves after waves of tiny catfish congregate in the shallow of its crystal clear water. The rushing current seems to scare the horses which begin to snort and shake their heads, displaying an unexpected stubbornness. Absalon strikes several lashes into the beasts behind, and within minutes, total obedience swiftly returns. They cautiously cross, and the trail turns into a sugar-sand road that leads them all the way to the foothill of Morne Château, where the valley ends. They wait for a moment to energize their strength before climbing upward. Tidy coffee fields blanket the foothill, and from a distance, the picturesque valley lies dormant like a carpet of lushly green grass punctuated by small houses adorned by exotic, tropical wild flowers. The scenic landscape truly has the frame to hide squalid poverty. A visitor like Celine could spend hours contemplating this natural beauty. But to the inhabitants of this valley, whose life is a constant nightmare, this green décor is practically meaningless. The daily struggle to make ends meet leaves them very little time to contemplate nature at its best.
Clappers of hooves, all of a sudden, are rushing from under the bushes. A giant white horse with a strange black mark on its forehead emerges, bearing a man wearing a huge Mexican sombrero, an open collared shirt and white trousers. He is smoking a silver pipe. His Spanish mustache with twisted ends and his broad shoulder make him look extremely robust. He twitches his eyes in surprise upon seeing Absalon and Celine. The horse rider rears up abruptly, forcing the beast to falter on its hind legs. The other two horses also totter violently, braying defiantly while swinging and zigzagging.
The gentleman on the horseback is a light-skinned fellow named Jean-Marie Moreau, about thirty years of age, who lives in downtown Saint Louis. He is the son of Decimus Moreau, a respected grandon—a wealthy landowner—who owns thousands of acres of lands in this section, which makes him the most important members of the dinosaurs. Jean-Marie, like Celine, studied abroad. He is a young lawyer, a Sorbonne graduate, who speaks flawless Parisian French, but who is also a writer with an acute affinity for the Haitian flora.
In a calm but forthright gesture of respect, the stranger removes his hat and bows in front of Celine. “Bonjour,” he says, dragging on his pipe and then quickly releasing the smoke to portray an intellectual demeanor. He raises his eye-brows and a subtle smile pops up on his lips.
“Bonjour,” reply both Absalon and Celine in unison.
Then, without saying a word, the horse rider spurs his horse and rides away, disappearing in a cloud of dust.
“Who is this man?” inquires Celine.
“I don’t know. This is the first time I see him.”
“He seems strange. Doesn’t he?”
“I don’t know. I think he is all right.”
Celine seems puzzled by this encounter. His peculiar profile reminds her of someone she has met before. But she is not sure of when and where she met him. But Celine does not intend to deviate from her self-appointed mission to meet Louisinette. She is certainly not interested in finding out about the stranger she has just met, at least not now. “How far do we have to go to get to Louisinette’s house?” she asks.
“Not far at all. She lives behind this mountain. As soon as we reach the mountaintop, you will be able to see her house down, near the gorge in Fond Philippe. We have to leave the horses here because it’s too dangerous for us to climb on horseback. Are-you ready to climb?”
“Are you sure we can live the animals here? Won’t they get stolen?”
“Don’t worry. No one will dare touching these horses. Are you ready?”
“I think I am. But, could you please give me a couple of minutes?” Celine is about to face the moment of truth. Will she have the gut to make the plea for forgiveness as she has been wanting to do? She knows that Louisinette will never rebuke her gesture of sympathy, but she is not sure how much of that will be sincere, for Louisinette has spent her entire life concealing her true feeling to people. To her, not to express her true desire is a matter of survival. Growing up, Louisinette was made to believe she was destined to live a precarious life, wallowing in poverty, humiliation and repression as a restavek until the day she dies. Although, she is well aware of all the cruelty of life—its unfairness—for she has lived it for almost sixteen years, she seems resigned to that faith. Her hopelessness sinks deeper after she bears a child from a rapist.
Celine tries several times to recharge her energy to climb upward, but her legs buckle each time, and she has to return, pondering how to face what seems inevitable.
(End of Part 4)
Note: Timoun: children
Restavek: a child slave
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.