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Ardain Isma

CSMS Magazine

There was a time, one migration could be felt: leaving as far as one could to get away from it all. For over thirty year, it stayed that way, until now. In Saint Louis, there is new migration: a reverse one, that is. The town’s expatriates could only talk about one topic when they meet: Saint Louis and its newfound glories. Is there really gold buried in the meadow? Not sure, for the town, as any other in Haiti, represents the mirror reflection of the unbearable conditions in which millions of Haitians live.

Intricacies of life in foreign lands have taken its toll, and home seems to be the bittersweet salvation for wayfarers yearning for a glimpse of paradise. Where one was born and has lived part of his childhood will forever remain sacred to him. That is precisely what is happening to many of my peers, who never fully brook away from this town inhabited by one of the most regionalists Haiti could ever produce.

Folks in Northern Haiti would say Cap Haitien—the country’s second largest city—as the bastion of regionalism. To some people, this assertion may be true, until they move into Saint Louis. Myself included, Saint Louis is never far from the heart. Entrenched in my mind, body and soul, Saint Louis du Nord has always been a source of inspiration for my writing career. So deep is the trench that when I wrote Midnight at Noon, a 500-page manuscript with politically charged novelistic prose, it was Saint Louis du Nord that drove the source of inspiration. Don’t ask me for a release date. I do not know.

I also wrote The Young Woman Who Goes Astray, a 250-page socially-driven, gut wrenching manuscript with a strong advocacy on behalf of those who live in the shadow death. Its setting is of course Saint Louis. Here is an excerpt.

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After a few minutes of chatting with the short woman, Céline continues her march, passes by the congregational schools and finally enters the suburb of Sou Fò. Lines of coconut palm trees, on both sides, frame the narrow streets. To the east, the cloudless sky of the morning is now filled with foams of clouds, and Céline’s shadow has shifted, tracing the pattern of the sunbeam being pushed to the west. Here, the atmosphere turns eerie, but Céline could still hear the sounds of engines rumbling and horns blowing of passing vehicles from the town’s Main Street, echoing in the distance. But, the noise from the square no longer plays music to her ears.

Sou Fò looks deserted. No one is spotted promenading along the quiet streets, but at every four or five houses or so, Céline can hear the sound of a radio playing, rather in low tune. She now slows her march and begins to stroll. It rained the night before in that part of town and the sodden street seems to shed a tinge of disappointment in Céline’s mind.

By the end of the first street, she takes a pause, still holding firm on her parasol. As she twists her head to give a quick glance at a rumbling sound coming from behind, her eyes quickly spot a moving vehicle, sluggishly advancing in the same direction, towards her. It is a convertible Jeep Wrangler. When the jeep reaches her, the driver steps on the brakes and makes an abrupt halt. “Bonjour Céline,” utters a gentleman gracefully seated behind the wheels. His sharp, piercing, sapphire eyes glue on Céline.

“Bonjour,” Céline mutters timidly. She continues her march, but at a slower pace. Her heart begins to race. She recognizes him.

“We met yesterday behind the mountains. Remember?” he says as he raises his voice a little to make sure Céline hears every word. His black wavy hair shines under the sunlight. He is stroking it with grace to show signs of confidence. Keeping up with the pace, he steps off the brakes and lets the jeep move slowly. His head slants toward Céline.

“Yes, I do,” replies Céline with a timid smile. She is still walking. This time, she raises her parasol higher and slants her eyes to get a glimpse of the gentleman. She notices the beam, enlightening his neatly trimmed goatee chin.

“If I may ask, where are you going?” The gentleman asks with a grin that shoots his boyish face aglow.

“Seeing a friend.”

“Can I offer you a ride?”

“No. But, that’s very kind of you.”

“Why not? I’m just cruising around with no specific aim.”

C’est gentil.” But I’m almost at destination. That’s quite nice of you.”

“Can I please ask you a question?”

Céline now stops and faces him. “Sure,” she mutters.

“Isn’t your name Céline?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you remember me?”

Céline becomes hesitant. She looks sideways, avoiding eye contact. “I think I do.”

“What is my name?” he quizzes her.

“Don’t you think it’s quite an odd place to quiz a stranger?” she regains her march, and he remains stationary.

He then moves the jeep toward a large mango tree shading the side of the street and parks it there. He pushes the driver door open, gets out and follows Céline. “Sorry, I was kidding. But you’re no stranger to me,” he says as he reaches Céline. He is trying the repair the gaffe he has just committed.

“No need to.” She smiles.

He lands his hand to her and bows. “I’m Ludovic Labranche.”

“I know. And you’re the friend of Jean-Marie Poitevien,” she reciprocates. Her hand is now locked, and her fingers intertwining with his. A well of cheerfulness suddenly escapes her heart, and they both burst out laughing. Céline quickly releases her hand and tries to reclaim her previous form of serious demeanor. She fails badly in that attempt. Ludovic understands and wants to forefend at all costs her uneasiness. He is clumsily trying to conceal the bliss overrunning his soul. They are now walking side by side. His hands are folded into his pants’ pockets while Céline raises her parasol and shields him from the piercing sunray………..

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As one can see, Saint Louis is deeply rooted in me, but I’m also a realist. I’m first and foremost a Haitian, and Haiti as a whole should come first, not the other way around.

NoteDr. Ardain Isma is editor-in-chief of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of North Florida (UNF). He is a scholar as well as a novelist. He may be reached at:publisher@csmsmagazine.org

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