In Alexandria Virginia, not far from the Old Town, a girl named Eglantine worked as a waitress at a restaurant hotel. She was the most admired among her peers, not because of her innocent demeanor—always shed the posture of a naïve character—but for her peculiar promptitude and her unforeseen assertiveness not usually seen among her co-workers. She showed up for work every day one hour before her starting time and she would not leave until every bit of her assignment was done.
She performed her task with a dazzling meticulousness that over time she had accumulated an unaware, unbeknown brand of customers always in the hunt not just for the food, but also for the fine service they felt they could only get from Eglantine. Some impulsive customers had gone even to misinterpret her faultless sense of hospitality, crossing their boundaries in an attempt to land in her heart. At first glance, she looked inoffensive against sleazy players, but she always foiled every overture with a strange form of attitude—buoyant, cheery while appearing untroubled or unconcerned by customers’ flirtatious moves.
Eglantine was 29, and she lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment few miles up in Washington D.C., but she never shared her private life with her coworkers. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she was the daughter of a Haitian woman and an Irish man from Syracuse. Early in her life, her father walked away after a nasty divorce, and Eglantine was left in the care of a single mother who did her best to raise her daughter in the truest Haitian traditions. Therefore, the girl grew up in the festive multicultural ambiance of Brooklyn in the midst of a vibrant Haitian community, and was remarkably fluent in Creole.
At work in Alexandria, no one knew of Eglantine’s Haitian heritage; not because she purposely concealed it, but because she was never asked, although her multiracial identity was quite obvious. She was of medium height with silky black hair and long lashes that shielded her sleepy hazel eyes. As soon as a customer showed up, her oval face flashed right aglow, and her Creole lineage was exposed under her radiant nut-brown tan.
One Saturday afternoon in the heat of a busy hour, a young man showed up dressed in a business suit. He was alone and he seemed lost and totally out of place. His big black eyes rove around to survey the people at attendance, their jolly mood, their uproarious laughter, and their wining in the glasses. His hands were folded inside his pants pockets, and he appeared grounded before two smiling female receptionists. “How many, sir?” One of the girls asked.
“Just one, please,” he said, pulling his hands out of his pockets while following one of the girls down the aisle to a remote table at the far-end corner of the room.
“Here is the menu, but someone will be right with you,” said the departing young woman on her way back to the front. He is left alone, flipping the pages of the restaurant’s rich menu. He looked perplexed and utterly confused in front of this colorful menu. His fine round face, crafted under the floss silk texture of his black hair, can easily mislead someone about his origin. Suddenly, Eglantine showed up, but seemed hesitant to inquire about the young man’s choice. “Gen lè li poko pare,” she muttered. It seems he’s not ready.
He raised his head, and there was Eglantine standing before him, her note pad in hand and ready to take the order. “Can I take your order?”
“You mean you’re not sure of what to order?”
“Wi—I mean ‘yes’.”
“No, no, don’t worry, I understand.”
“Creole or English is fine.”
“Are you Cre….?”
“Yes, I am—to the deepest end of my heart.”
“Excuse-me Monsieur.” She was back to reality. She was a waitress. “We serve a fish dip that I’m sure you’ll like,” she added with a broad smile.
“I’ll have it, but what is your name? If I may ask.”
Few minutes later, Eglantine brought the food, but for some odd reasons, she avoided his table. His face seemed familiar to her. She was trying to ring that bell from her recollection. It just did not click.
He sat there and ate his food quietly. Before he left, he handed his business card to her. She took it and, without looking, folded it into her apron pouch. At home that night as she lay in bed, she could not stop thinking about this fine young man she had met earlier. She was not sure who he truly was, but one thing was certain: He was a Haitian boy, and probably the boy she knew years ago who lived somewhere near Flatbush Avenue back in Brooklyn. If it was true, his name could be Pierre-Loti. If it was true, it had been ten years since the last time she saw him. If he was Pierre-Loti, he was indeed the boy and only boy she had ever loved—the boy who had gone astray and, with it, the entire urge for passion and romance at its purest.
Searching for the truth, she pulled out the card from her purse, and there it read in bolded letters –Pierre-Loti Lacroix, Neurologist, Novelist. She was stunned. Immediately, she picked up the phone and dialed his number. At the second ring, his voice was already at the other end of the line. “Eglantine,” he uttered, as if he sensed who was going to call him.
“Pierre-Loti,” she reciprocated. “My gosh, I thought I was never, never going to meet you in my life again.”
“I don’t know how I ended up in your restaurant. I guess it was meant to be.”
She said nothing. She lay there, alone in her small studio apartment pondering. “In ten years, you’ve accomplished quite a lot,” she uttered briskly, wanting to redirect the conversation.
“Yeah, but my historic novel, if you remember, has yet to materialize.”
“Wasn’t it the one about Haiti?”
“I couldn’t finish it. I think I never will. Haiti is going from bad to worse. But tell me, what have you done all these years? Married, children….?”
“None of these, Pierre. After high school, I attended college, but I couldn’t finish because my mom was sick and she needed constant care that only a daughter could provide. She is fine now. I moved to D.C. 3 years ago because of a scholarship at George Washington University. I’m completing a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. Meanwhile, I have this minor job at that restaurant. What about you? Married? Children?”
“I had a failed marriage, but I have a 5-year old daughter.”
“Pierre, do you still read the French newspaper? The HaitiProgrès?
“I still do, although not as much as I used to. The paper’s position has not been sharply drawn as before. I read it online now. It helps me a lot in keeping up with my French. “
“I remember that fired up title: La lente et dificile marche du socialisme haitien (The long and treacherous march toward Haitian socialism).
“Yeah, it was by Franklin Midi and Gyslaine Charlier.”
“You translated every line for me. Those days will forever remain the best of my life.”
They spent the whole night talking. Only daylight forced them to stop, and they hung up. Before they put away their phones, Pierre asked her for a date the next evening and she agreed. Pierre was overly excited, telling his friends and whoever wanted to listen to him that a stroke of luck had taken him to the love of his life.
He had gone in retrospect to remember this charming girl with whom he rode the same bus to school every day, the girl with squinting eyes with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. That afternoon, Pierre showed up early for the date. His dark chocolate face beamed in the slanted sunlight. He had never been so happy. He parked his car right in front of her apartment building, and strolled to her front door. He rang the bell, but there was no reply. He rang again, and again and again…
Totally stupefied and utterly disappointed, he strolled back to his car. Just then a woman walked out of the apartment next door. “Pierre,” she called to him.
“Yes,” he muttered timidly.
“I have a note for you.” She handed him the note and quickly returned to her apartment without giving Pierre the chance to inquire about Eglantine.
Pierre took the note, paced to his car, unlocked the door and feebly got in. “I’m sorry, Pierre. I know what you would probably wish to accomplish with me. I wholeheartedly want the same thing, but I don’t think I’m able to rise to your expectations—I still love you. In fact you’re the only man who has ever been this close to my heart, but I’m afraid I will be a burden, not an asset for you. For that, I have to sacrifice my love so you can live your life the way you would want it. I want you to be happy with all that happiness has to offer, including a free and democratic Haiti so all of us could be proud of. No need to search for me. Bye, my love.”
Completely baffled, the young man ignited his car and drove off, speeding all the way to that restaurant where he hoped to find Eglantine. It was wishful thinking. As he got there, he was told Eglantine had resigned earlier in the day. He began to touch everything around him to make sure he wasn’t in a dream. When he finally realized it was indeed his Eglantine he had found and spent a night talking to, he got in the car, and as his heart sank, he retook the road back home to suburban Maryland where he lived. Eglantine, his never faded sweetbrier, the breathtaking spring flower that only blooms luxuriant buds, was now gone forever.
Dr. Ardain Isma is essayist and novelist. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at UNF (University of North Florida. He wrote this piece to appease the thirst of many of his readers thirsty for a new novel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also see: From Appalachia with love part 1
You can also read many of Dr. Isma’s essays in his section titled: Ardain’s Corner