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Thursday, September 29, 2022

From Appalachia with Love (Part 3)

roseBy Ardain Isma

CSMS Magazine

This is the last and final piece of this short story. A more condensed version will be part of a trilogy to be published in an in-print fashion. I didn’t want to break this part, although I’m well aware of its unusual length. Part 3 is a special dedication to Sylvy Cooper, Dr. Philicia Parker, Naomie Déliard, Dr. Delores Smiley, Ti Roro Guerrier, Dolores Telson, Reginal Dessources, “Haitians Living in Atlanta”, Constance Joseph, Emmanuelle Gilles, Myrlande Sauveur, Angeline Alexandre, “Haitian Living in New York”, readers in Nigeria, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Canada, Martinique, Guadeloupe, The UK, The Bahamas and all other fans scattered around the world. Thank you for choosing words over pictures.      

 

Si je savais que l’amour était une aventure parfois si rocheuse et même insurmontable, je vivrais ma vie comme des vautours qui volent dans l’ermitage. Je vivrais comme les pigeons ramiers toujours en quête de la plus haute altitude—loin de toutes les vicissitudes que la vie tient à nous offrir. Je n’aurais jamais imaginé, même pour une seule fois dans ma vie, que je pourrais être prisonnière de mon propre désir sentimental, prise au piège dans un aigre-doux, un sentiment de luxure et d’amour non partagé—ceci dans l’espace d’un cilllement. (Tatiana Célestin) If I knew that love was such a rocky and sometimes insurmountable adventure, I would live my life like vultures that fly in hermitage. I would be like the woodpigeons always in the quest for the highest altitude—away from all the alterations that life has to offer. Never once in my life did I imagine I could be a prisoner on my own sentimental craving, trapped in a bittersweet, unshared feeling of lust and love, in just a flicker of an eyelid. (Tatiana Célestin)

Entry 1

Her day has come and gone, and the elusive phone call has yet to materialize.  Tatiana now grows pessimistically optimistic that her life is at a turning point. She doesn’t at all lose hope, but each passing hour seems pushing her aspiration, her obsessive desire for love farther away. From the shadow of her hope, however, lies her growing understanding of a world filled with nuances and other subtle differences that forever shape human behavior. This current episode in her life also provides a golden opportunity to discover how helpless one can feel when the ability to move forward solely depends on the gratifying will of others. Just a week earlier, she never thought she would be so exasperated, for now her happiness can only come about if and only if the same stroke of luck that brought Alain Barlatier to the cross of her path could manifest itself once more.            

Days have turned into weeks and Tatiana, disenchanted and bitter, wishes she did not set foot in Café Lakay that night. She frantically begins to think she may never have the chance to meet Alain again, and the encounter there was just a random act of misadventure. If this is true, why is it so difficult for her to move beyond? Why can she simply see it as a footnote in what is shaping up to be a life story full of dazzling accomplishments? These thoughts have long been factored in her mind, but Alain’s first impression has already built a trench in her heart that is proving to be extremely hard and if not impossible to fill. Consequently, she is consuming it all within, alone. Solitude becomes her one and only true friend, along with Alain’s fading cologne that continues to fuel her thirst and her still reluctantly unwavering hope.

To maintain her sanity and a firm grip on her daily living, she keeps her mind busy with school works and sometimes pulling unnecessary all-nighters in a desperate search to regain her old frame of mind. Through this painful process, she starts realizing the limitless power of love—a feeling that once taken hold of your heart can effectively paralyze you. She is documenting it all in her diary that she writes solely at night, just before she flicks off the light and before Alain’s handsome posture comes to land in her pristine consciousness to lead her one more time through another fearsome night.       

Today is Saturday and Tatiana is up before anyone. She is down in the kitchen making coffee. On the kitchen table lays the latest edition of Amour Creole Magazine, her favorite Haitian publication. Standing right in front of the kitchen sink, she raises her hand, opens one of the cabinet doors and takes out a white coffee mug. She then paces over to the refrigerator, retrieves some filtered water and pours it in her cup, but leaves it on the counter without even realizing it. Her mind wanders off again. She steps towards the table and pulls a chair. Her attention is being redirected toward the magazine. She glances at the front cover which features an upcoming event—a fashion show—to be held in two weeks at the Hilton Hotel near Downtown Atlanta. The news seems to shed a bitter taste, and in disgust she lets the magazine drop off her hands.     

Her bittersweet story with Alain has transformed her into an anti-social who has been forced to embrace her loneliness, her broken-heartedness with great strides. Now, her new world is one quite empty crafted with a hollowness that only Alain can magnificently fill.  After so many nights spent in the shadow of her gloom, Tatiana is now convinced she is about to reach the front gate of a feared companion, a sincere and devoted friend: her solitude, which is as ever present as the shade of her dimness. It is present at every step she makes, at every hour, at every minute, and at every second. It’s a contrition she dares making to no one, not even to her close friends and relatives. Silence is golden, she thinks.  There is a constant fear she is becoming the phantom of her past—a not-too-distant past.

But Tatiana is a very intelligent young woman whose cognition is one that any intellectual would ache for. On top of that, her Haitian resilience—stemmed from a puckish wit—is a joy to watch. With her, Alain would strike a double header. When beauty is backed by cognitive strength, the result can only be ravishing. “I’m not sitting idle and let melancholy take hold of my body,” she mutters to herself. “I have to fight this unpleasant sensation.” She rises from her chair but now realizes that her coffee has not been made. “Oh well,” she mumbles. “Forget it.” She rushes back upstairs to her room and hastily trades her nightgown for her jogging outfit, and without waking up her dad, she runs down and walks out to her front porch.

In the morning twilight, it is still darkish turning gray under a moonless sky lit by sparkling, twinkling stars which glitter in the firmament.  Tatiana surveys her neighborhood consumed by the stillness of dawn. Not a single soul is spotted on the horizon. A tinge of inquietude comes flirting with her mind, but she quickly brushes it off by fixating on what needs to be done to give her day a somewhat positive outlook. She steps out of her porch just as a timid wind swifts through and starts caressing her slender posture and ruffling her hair loosely folded under a blue head-cloth, revealing the superb grace of her Creole body.

She strolls toward the sidewalk and heads east all the way to where the street narrows into a hiking trail beneath towering pines. Her face bears no sign of lassitude, but prudently she stands here for it is too dangerous to brave the hollowness of the Appalachian Trail in this early hour. Suddenly, her phone vibrates and as usual, she quickly screens the incoming call. Bouche-en-Coeur is on the other end of the line. “Girl, what’s going on so early?” Tatiana asks, fixing her earpiece to her phone to free her hand while talking to her cousin.                    

 “Nothing. I just can’t sleep, worrying about you.”

“Why?”

“You’re not the same girl anymore. You rarely call me, unless it’s for something that’s absolutely necessary. And when I call you now, you simply reply in one-syllable words.”

“Really? You know I’ve been busy reviewing for a final exam.”

Tatou, this change in attitude may have been part of your school-related stressors, but I’m not convinced it’s all of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there’s more into it, and the boy you met at Café Lakay has a lot to do with it.”

“The boy has a name. Doesn’t he?”

“Tatou, don’t chew on me. I know his name—Alain. But that’s beside the point.”

“What’s the point, then?” Her heart pounds out of emotion. Bouche-en-Coeur is striking a chord.

“I can take the punch, but I’m not sure wrestling with me over the phone will do you any favor, certainly not so early on a Saturday morning. Whatever Alain said to you that night or whatever the imprint he left in your heart has to be faced head-on. You will not be crippled by your own emotions; nor will you be enslaved by Alain’s dazzling impression.”

Tatiana’s voice quivers. Her eyes now swell with tears which begin to stream down her golden cheeks. “I don’t know. I simply wish I didn’t go there that night,” she admits feebly. “I’m sorry cousin. Remember, you’re my best cousin and truest friend.” She is still withholding the truth, though, but Bouche-en-Coeur understands.

“Listen, Colette and I are going to see a friend in Augusta, and I was wondering if you could go with us.”

“Not sure. Augusta is more than a hundred miles from here. I don’t think I can make this trip today and compromise my weekend.”

“Anyway, Tatou, I’ll come to see you later.”

“I’m not home, now.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m on the trail for a morning walk.”

“Don’t worry. I’m myself hitting the gym, right now. I may see you in a couple of hours.”

“I’ll fix you breakfast.”

“No need to. Let’s go to the Haitian Dinner in Hyde Park.”

“The one on Collier Road?”

“Yeah.”

“That’ll be fine.” They hang up, and Tatiana notices the pattern of changes taking place around her. The grayish mist of dawn has long vanished, leaving the dew to make its final stand against sunrise before evaporating into the atmosphere. To the east, the trail runs up beneath a canopy of towering trees and sounds of birds chirping echoing in a dramatic crescendo. With furrowed brow Tatiana hikes up, crossing a tiny brook that wells down between a narrow gorge. Deeper down the gorge, a pack of coyotes takes shelter over a carpet of reddish mulch of magnolias and oaks. Halfway up on the mountainside, Tatiana reaches a sizable treeless area where the trail morphs into a pebbly walkway framed by moist undergrowth of wild flowers. A pair of benches anchored to the ground offers the young woman a chance to rest her tiring feet. She stops and then strolls over a bench where she sits facing west. The valley below comes in full view, ever greener and ever thicker. The suburb of Marietta seems buried under the green foliage.  Down the trail, a column of hikers advance uninterrupted towards her. As the last group of hikers finally reaches her, a young couple about her age comes resting on the other bench, exchanging wild kisses. Tatiana closes her eyes, and here comes Alain, omnipresent in her heart, her mind, body and soul. It is too much to endure. She briskly gets up and hurries home. 

——————————————————————————

Entry 2

  “Monsieur, which Sofitel are you inquiring?” asks a tall, oversized man behind the counter.

“The one in Issy Les Molineaux,” Alain replies, almost out of breath.

“Go down and take train 92. Do not get off until you reach the terminus. There, you’ll follow the path out of the subway which leads to Rue Camille Des Moulins. The hotel will be on your right,” the man says with a broad smile, tapping on his Spanish mustache with twisted ends while handing Alain a piece of paper with written instructions in case he forgets.

Merci and au revoir Monsieur.” He paces backward and retakes the steps out of the subway. He holds firm onto his camera and a leather folder he carries with him to jot down information about his journey.

“You’re going the wrong way, mon ami. Besides, you need to hurry up. Train 92 arrives in 3 minutes. The next one after that won’t show up for another 15 minutes,” the man calls to him.

“I know, but I just realize that I have to get to Fnac for a quick purchase.”

“Ah bon! So long.”

Alain reemerges from the subway station and strolls pass by several sidewalk cafés on Rue du Chevert. He just arrives from Villejuif—few miles outside Paris—doing a university research on Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche, the Haitian who died to let his family live in 1912 during the Titanic disaster. He follows the path that runs in collision to Avenue de Tourville which he cautiously crosses to reach the entrance of the Champs de Mars. Then he substantially slows his pace to rediscover Paris once more. It has been five years since the last time he was here. It is mid-afternoon and it’s early June. Paris is reemerging out of its wintery fold, and Parisians young and old have flocked into this exclusive park just at the foot of the Eifel Tower to savor the finest of what nature has to offer in this sprawling European city. Children blissfully play hide-and-seek in and around trees and newly bloomed shrubs, older folks sauntering around with great chats and laughter, and young men and women promenading with heartfelt Parisian pride. Some of them simply lie down on the green lawn that shapes the lush posture of the park, exchanging passionate kisses. Alain proceeds to the north-end of the park, where souvenir shopkeepers line up at the edge of Avenue Gustave Eifel to sell their products. Few feet away from the shopkeepers, he begins to hear the phonetic sound of Creole. Some people on the other side of the street must be Haitians, he thinks. The Creole gets louder as he moves nearer. The familiar sound is coming from a filtered voice reminiscent to that of Tatiana’s. Two young ladies in tight blue jeans are the exotic bearers of the Creole he is overhearing.

He quickens his march in hopes of reaching the young women who walk facing east passing the Eifel Tower and pursuing on to the marble terrace that stretches all the way to the entrance of Arc de Triomphe, gigantic monument majestically located between Avenue de la Grande Armée and Les Champs Élysées. Tourists and other pedestrians swamp the area, blurring Alain’s sight as he desperately tries to get ahead of the young women. In the rush, he bumps over a souvenir stand and smacks everything on sight. His camera falls off his hand in the process. A fat woman from Guadeloupe is the ambulant merchant owning the stand. Her face is suddenly turned furious and cold, like a Siberian tiger on a kill of the last hour. She is ready to jump on Alain. “Désolé, Madame. How much do I owe for the mess I just created?” He asks rushing to snatch his camera off the ground.

“One hundred euros,” she growls.

“Here, I give you two hundred.” He pulls the money out of his wallet and hands it to the woman whose furiousness is suddenly thawed. With tender-struck, the merchant watches the young Haitian bird pushing his way through the thick crowd of pedestrians. He’s lost sight of the young ladies, but he doesn’t lose hope. So, he switches from jogging to running and he nearly strips and falls at the edge of Les Champs Élysées. Heavy traffic keeps him from crossing, but his eyes finally catch up with the dull profile of the young women in a distance. “There, they are, entering Fnac,” he mumbles. He runs few feet down to where Fnac is located, adjacent to his side of the street. Here, he waits nervously, searching for the right moment to cautiously cross. At last, the traffic dwindles, and he traverses with his eyes pointing to the entrance of Fnac—a humongous department store resembled to that of Macy’s filled with window-shoppers and buyers. As he comes to the revolving doors, he glances down the escalators and the young women stand there on the first floor. “Tatiana,” he screams, and everyone suddenly freezes in place. He misses his steps while going down and comes crashing in front of two young ladies who finally turn around completely bewildered, but whose faces look nothing like Tatiana. “T’es singlé, toi?” –Are you crazy? An older woman utters, standing right behind Alain as everyone looks on, totally staggered.

“I’m sorry,” he says faintly. Astounded shoppers still stand here totally dumbfounded. Paralyzed by spook and blush, he rises from the floor, slowly walks his way out of the store and continues on down, passing the Republican Palace, the US Embassy and on to the Place de la Concorde. He circumvents the huge avenue and heads toward the eastern bank of La Seine, where he sits on a bench catching his breath. With repressed awe, he is contemplating the coming-and-going of small ferries filled with passengers in search of the romantic taste, the pleasure peak that Paris is known to shelter within its belt.

“What have I become, oh God? How do I regain my sanity? Can you please, God, lead me to the path of Tatiana? Oh Bon Dieu, show me the way to move forward.” His eyes turned watery and red.

“What’s bothering you so much, young man?” asks the deep and melodious voice of an old man who shares the bench where Alain sits facing the river. He is heavyset, dignified, with a barrel-shaped chest, pointy-nosed, and chin half-hidden in the embroidered collar of his antique-white shirt.

“Alain gets up briskly and, without looking, he says, “I’m in love with a girl I can’t reach. I’m not sure if she even knows how I feel.”

“You mean you don’t know where she lives?”

“Yeah.”

“Paris is such a big city. You might as well look for another girl.”

“I wished I could do this, but this story is far more complicated.”

“How so?”

“I met the girl at a party. We danced and she stole my heart on the dance floor. We exchanged phone numbers, but I lost her number. I don’t know where she lives. Nor do I know what part of town she lives on.”

“If that’s the case, your happiness seems rests at the mercy of that girl. You’re playing the dangerous game. She’s now the one and only player who can break the impasse. Chances are, she may never call. Chances are, she was never truly interested in dating.”

“I want more than just dating. I want a solid relationship.”

“Where did you meet this girl?”

“In Atlanta, United States.”

“I see, but how did you expect to find that girl from Paris?” He yanks out a silver pipe from his wrinkled dark jacket and sticks it in one corner of his mouth. He then takes a cigarette lighter and lit his pipe.

“I live in America, now.” He glances at his watch. “I have to get going. So long, Sir.”

“Wait, young man.” He drags off his silver pipe and releases the smoke. “If you truly love this girl, you need to do more than just praying for her to come back to you. If I were you, I would use every means at my disposal, including the internet, the school she attends, people who might know her etc…”

“Merci Monsieur.” He grabs his camera and takes some souvenir snapshots of the ferries down in the river. Then, he walks south toward the subway. Few steps down in the subway, a blind woman panhandling with her accordion performing the legendary Edith Piaf’s classic “La Vie En Rose.” 

“Quand tu me prends dans tes bras

Tu me parles tout bas

Je vois la vie en rose

Quand tu me dis des mots d’ amour……….”

 

“When I’m held in your arms

While you whisper in my ears

Life brings the infinite bliss

When you speak in romantic prose……”

 

He digs into his pants’ pocket, retrieves three silver euros and gently places the money in the blind woman’s bag. The music leads him all the way to where he waits for train 92.

—————————————————————————————–

Later at the hotel, he is in his room feeling lonely, lying face up in his full size bed, legs and arms spread like a Haitian falcon.  “When I’m held in your arms…” Those words resonate deep into his heart, and he wonders how thrilled he would be if Tatiana were with him along the breathtaking boulevards of Paris. He imagines strolling with her down a romantic ballad along La Seine, taking her for a frantic research at the Louvre Museum, meandering down the Latin Quarter with her Haitian queen by his side and with immeasurable pride he would stick his chest out each time he would present her to one of his uptown friends at The Sorbonne. He imagines how they would put on the Ritz in one of the fanciest venues in town, and later he would drive her to Château Rouge, where Milca would perform Simplement solely for the two of them.  “Life has some major twists. Doesn’t it?” He questions himself. His heart pounds with uncontrolled pulsations.  

Unexpectedly, the phone rings. With one bounce, he reaches for the phone. “Alain, my son. You haven’t called us in 2 days,” utters the eager voice of his father.

“Papa, I’m so sorry. I came down from Nantes yesterday and early this morning I went up to Villejuif. I was going to call tonight. I was waiting to do this after midnight when I know it will be 6 o’clock back home. How are mom and Fifine?”

“Everyone is fine, worrying about you. Fifine has been sleeping with us since you left and I have to do your job, now: reading with her before bedtime.”

“I can’t wait to be home on Tuesday, papa.”

“Tell me, how is Nantes?”

“Lots of changes.”

“Really? Tell me.”

“They’re just too many. I’ll tell you all about them when I come home. But Jean-François is no longer the mayor. He is now president of Chamber of Commerce. Patrick Imbert is the current mayor. Lucienne Chanlatte has been crowned the top model. Our old neighbor Maryse Lefèvre has moved to one of the newly built communities in Upper Nantes. Louise has grown into a beautiful, well sophisticated young woman.”

“Are you kidding? And she is still madly in love with you?”

“Same old, same old—head over heels in love. And I’m the one—“

“Don’t tell me you walked away from Louise.”

Oui, papa. She picked me up from the train station. She drove me around town and showered me with jokes and laughter.”

“And then?”

“And then she drove me back the train station and we kissed goodbye.”

“That’s all.”

“Yes, papa.”

“I thought you were your papa’s boy.”

“I don’t know, papa. Maybe I’m different. She leaned on me, wrapped her arms around my neck and I felt nothing. No chemistry what so ever. I tried hard, looking for T—” He started to say Tatiana.

“Tatiana, the girl from Atlanta?” He snarls. Papa doesn’t appear pleased. Louise is from one of the wealthiest families in Upper Nantes—the Ribault family, direct descendants of Jean- Ribault who discovered Florida 400 years ago. They own several vineyards and wineries. On top of that, her father is an investment banker in Nantes. 

“Isn’t love all about feelings, papa? Louise is a great friend, and I cherish her friendship deeply. Believe me, papa. I don’t wanna give her false hopes, and then turning her into my biggest enemy. It would be a disaster. Also, if I give her what she may have dreamed of, she would always be happy. As for me, I’m absolutely certain it would be just the opposite.”

“You’re right, my prince. Did you get the things from Fnac?” He changes the conversation.

“Not yet, I’ll be there tomorrow.” He wouldn’t dare telling him his story earlier in the day.

“Bye, my son. Stay safe.”

“Love you, papa.” 

“Love you too, son.”

______________________________________________________________________

 

Si la foi peut soulever les montagnes, l’amour le peut aussi. C’est cette croyance si profonde qui me donne le courage de se réveiller chaque jour et être moi-même. C’est cet espoir qui garde toujours mes émotions bien vivantes. C’est cette détermination qui m’emmenera encore un jour à la croisée de ton chemin. Oh Alain, je rêve de ce jour où toi et moi pouvons nous rencontrer à nouveau, pour faire revivre ce moment de bonheur don’t j’ai tant rêvé, où tu me prendras bien serrer dans tes bras…… (Tatiana Célestin) If faith can lift mountains, love can equally do the same. It is this profound creed that gives me the strength to wake up every day and be myself. It is this hope that keeps my emotions from withering and dying. It is this determination that will someday bring me to the cross of your path.  Oh Alain, I dream of the day when you and I can meet again to relive this unforgettable moment of happiness. You will take me in your arms and squeeze me once more….. (Tatiana Célestin)

Entry 3

The summer heat of Appalachia has long faded, and Tatiana is still here hoping for a San Salvador to usher Alain to her solitary path. She misunderstands that love could sometimes go at odds with human resilience. All the while she’s been agonizing over Alain’s seemingly indifference, she overlooks the fact that she and perhaps she alone holds the key to her sentimental ordeal. Her Haitian pride simply blurs the rationale she would need to break free. She has Alain’s number, and for nearly 6 months she prays day and night for deliverance to occur. Pride reaches its zenith only when it can be shared and understood. Otherwise, it is nothing but a recipe for social disaster.

During the day, she keeps her mind very busy with school and others chores of her existential realities. At dusk, she becomes the illusory lover who can’t wait for darkness to invade; and in the midnight stillness and in her solitary bed, Alain is rendezvoused one more time to lead her through the mist of bewilderment until dawn cracks open and her dad wakes her up for another round of exercises at the gym.

It is now November, and the chill of Appalachia is back. It is also the most wonderful time of the year when Christmas shoppers are all out in force, swelling every venue in and around Atlanta, including its high-class, elegant suburbs. Today is Saturday, and Tatiana and her stylish mother Germaine are at the Lenox Square, one of the most exclusive shopping mall in Downtown Atlanta. Germaine is a passionate for exotic spectacles. At a boutique down the hall, they run into a window where the Louis Vuitton trademark is displayed. An extremely choosy woman, none of them seems pleased her, and Tatiana suggests that they walk over to Bloomindale’s where the best Channel glasses are exposed. She agrees, but Tatiana has her own game plan. Alain’s cologne on her Taffeta dress is wearing thin. After 6 months she can hardly smell it. Now, she is resorting to sniffing the dress to bring Alain closer to her at night. For a week, she has been courting every mall in town to find the Givenchy brand Alain had on that night. Most people quickly identify the fragrance, but all of them claim they don’t carry it. So early in the morning, she secretly folds the dress inside her purse in hope of finding a solution to her agonizing pain. She knows her mom is a lavish squanderer when it comes to fashionable items, and going to Lenox Square would be the best place to find what she is looking for. 

They are just leaving Cartier on their way to Bloomindale’s when Tatiana’s phone vibrates. It is a text message from Bouche-en-Coeur. “Pitit, m’gen zen pou ou.” Girl, I have news for you. She’s instantly being transformed, and her anxiety level shoots right up. Prudently, she walks with her mother across to Bloomindale’s and lets her move few paces away to where the Channel glasses are. She tries to text back, but her fingers won’t reciprocate. “Manman, when you’re done, find me near the cologne department,” she says, walking away.

“I won’t be long, Tatou.”

She pulls her phone from her purse, and dial Bouche-en-Coeur. “What is it?” she lowers her voice as if her mom is right next to her.

“Do you know a boy named Claude?”

“I know several of them. Which one?”

“He lives in Forsyth, in some communities north of Cumming. He goes to MU, the same school you told me Alain goes.”

“No, I don’t know him, but anyway tell me the story. What does he have to do with me? Does he know Alain?”

“Yes, but that’s not the whole story. I just found out he and Colette went out to Maggiano’s last weekend.”

“They did?”

Yeah.”

“Since when Colette was interested in Italian cuisine?”

“God only knows, but her aim is Alain; and she’s using Claude to get to him.”

 “Wait a minute. Let me try to get this straight. I’m extremely confused right now.” She sees her mom coming, and a tinge of disappointment pops up on her face. “Let’s talk about this later. I’m currently in mono.”

“Who’s around?”

“I’m at the mall with mom, and she’s coming. Are you home now?”

“No, I’m not. I’m at Publix, grocery shopping. Do you know when you might be home?”

“In about an hour.”

“I’ll stop by after I’m done.”

“I’ll be waiting on you, now.”

Bouche-en-Coeur hangs up, Tatiana joins her mom.  The name of Alain in the story has totally changed her day. She is no longer interested in the cologne. She wants to see Bouche-en-Coeur now, but her mom’s shopping pins her down. Germaine has yet to find the Channel glasses she is looking for. Besides, she needs a fashionable Milano knit jewel neck, a ¾ length sleeve jacket to go in perfect harmony with a hand-beaded sheath dress. Those have to be found at Macy’s, the next mall away. She doesn’t want to go home without them, for tonight she accompanies Monsieur Joinville to a friend’s party in North Fulton. Knowing her mom, Tatiana thinks she will be in Downtown Atlanta, the rest of the day. A magouy (trick) has to be done. “Manman, I feel I wanna throw up and my head is spinning,” she bellows, holding her stomach and grimacing her face.

“No, Tatou. Don’t tell me it’s your period again.” She rushes to hold her daughter. She wraps Tatiana’s arms around her shoulders and holds her by the waist while carrying her to the food court where they sit at a table. “Do you want something to eat, Tatou?” She’s stroking her hair.

“No. manman. I feel my head is spinning.”  

“You want me to take you home?”

“Yes, manman. I can always come back here with you later when I feel better.”

“Okay, Tatou. Let’s go home.”

“I’m sorry to have to make you leave in the middle of your shopping.”

“Don’t think this way, my cutie. I’ll go later to the one near home. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something there for tonight.”

“Thank you, manman.” She eases herself from her mother’s grip as they walk sluggishly toward the car. Throughout the ride, one name dominates her mind: Alain. She keeps touching the car seat to be sure this latest episode is one that is real, but not another wild round of her nightmarish dilemma. She can’t believe after all these months, it’s truly real she is finally hearing a story that involves Alain. She is now convinced the gentleman who took her to the dance floor weeks earlier was not after all the ghost of the night in the hunt for young blood. He is in fact the young man she has fallen in love with. Is this the fruit of countless nights of prayers? She is questioning herself. She has been in a secret 7-day novena, rolling her rosary beads every time anxiety strikes. Only the parish priest and the wall of her catholic church confessional know the depth of her sentimental ordeal.    

Forty-five minutes later, they pull into the driveway, and Tatiana goes straight upstairs to her room. As soon as she closes her door, she texts Bouche-en-Coeur. “How long am I gonna wait for you to bring your tail up here?”

“Come on, Tatou. I’m already on I-75. Give me 15 minutes.”

In about ten minutes later, Bouche-en-Coeur pulls in. She is younger than Tatiana, but she has the street-smart assertiveness that Tatiana badly lacks. Her Creole is far more substantial than that of her cousin’s, and, believe it or not, she has an acute grasp of French after having lived in Quebec in her younger years. She usually throws a grin, not a smile because of the shape of her lips which curves like a heart—here comes her nickname Bouche-en-Coeur which means the girl with the jovial, hearty lips. Bouche-en-Coeur’s face—when smiling—glitters like sunshine through raindrops, behind of which hides the puckish wit that dwells beneath her ebony complexion. She is not flirtatiously kittenish, but she is downright prudish, and it is her prudishness that always places her one step ahead of Colette’s shadowy maneuverings. 

Here she is, exiting her beige Corolla. Her face is adorned by a sizable pair of hoop rings which heightens the charm of her Creole beauty. She gently shuts the door of her car, and her tight blue jeans well tucked in her winter boots seems far-fetched as she eloquently strolls to the front door and rings the bell.

“How are you Bouche-en-Coeur?” Germaine quickly asks while opening the door to let her niece in. The young woman is her baby sister’s only daughter. She holds her by the cheeks and plants a kiss on her forehead. “I just talked to your mom. I’ll be seeing her tonight.”

“I know. My folks are all uptight, getting ready for tonight’s big event.”

“Tatou is upstairs, not feeling well. I’m glad you show up. I have to go up the road to the Town Center for a quick shop. I won’t be long.”

“Okay, Auntie.” She runs upstairs to Tatiana.

Pitit, I couldn’t believe my ears when Colette called me late last night to tell me about her plan,” Bouche-en-Coeur immediately utters in low tone while closing the door to make sure Germaine is not overhearing.

“Where’s mom?” Tatiana asks.

“She’s downstairs getting ready for a last minute shopping at the Town Center.” While talking, they hear the car’s muffler reverberates in the driveway, as Germaine pulls away. 

“Let’s go down by the fireplace. I wanna hear it, I wanna hear it all.” She wraps herself in her night robe and, with gigantic strides, she paces down. “How did Colette manage to meet that Claude?”

“That was my first question. She said she met him at Banbou Restaurant on Cherokee Street. She told me it was a stroke of luck when Claude approached her and offered her out.”

“How Alain came to all of this?” Tatiana is quite intrigued.

“When Claude told her he goes to MU, Colette’s first question was ‘Do you know a Haitian guy named Alain Barlatier?’And, according to Colette, his answer was a gleeful Yes.” 

Kisa?”  What?

“And that’s not all. Claude gave her many descriptions about Alain’s home, his parents, his origins etc…”

“How do you know Colette is using Claude to get to Alain? I’m confused. Why would she do this, knowing how close we are and, although, I never share my pain with her, I’m absolutely positive she knows the impact Alain has left on me.”  

“Why did she call me, not you? And she insisted last night that I meet Claude next weekend before Christmas. Throughout the conversation, never once she used your name. She knows damn well how you feel. Doesn’t she?”

“That’s what puzzles me.”

“She had her eyes on Alain the very same night we met him in Café Lakay. I didn’t want to tell you this because I thought it wasn’t important. Now I know what kind of a sly, mischievous, and pathological liar she is. She’s a dangerous pigmy rattler trying to creep her way into your love story. She knows if she can hook me up with Claude, I will have a strategic interest to keep this whole vexing dirty novel under wrap. ”

Tatiana’s eyes turn cold. “Did she put you in contact with Claude? You need to call her and ask her for Claude’s number.”

“What for? We can and we will get to Claude, but not through that loser always in the hunt for the dangerous game. We’ll find Claude through Alain Barlatier.”

Tatiana jumps off the sofa where they sit in the family room. “How?”

“You have his number, don’t you?”

“Yes, but we can’t__?”

“Can’t what? She snaps. “We can’t call him because of a stupid tradition, because of an egotistical trivia? Pitit, I’m not interested in a prolong saga. You can only strike the iron when it’s still hot.”

Tatou walks toward the kitchen, feeling completely downhearted, like someone who is being pushed before a fait accompli; but she loves Alain too much to ignore the resounding truth coming out of her cousin’s mouth. She raises the window curtain and takes a peek through the yard, as if pondering. The image of Colette’s face comes flashing across her mind, and she wonders whether her now estranged friend really deserves a second thought. She is trying to put into perspective the rationale behind a great friendship. She is looking for the reasons that could push Colette to go to such extreme, going after a complicated love affair even if it means hurting her best friend. She doesn’t want to be perceived like a desperate girl fighting for her man. She wants to give Colette the benefit of the doubt.

However, when she reanalyzes Bouche-en-Coeur assertions, she knows she has to act on the moment, otherwise the many solitary nights she has spent thinking about Alain would be all in vain. Her cognitive instinct now zeroes in all the wonderful things she would have liked to do with him, spending their lives together raising little ones to be replicas of their entwined minds, bodies and souls. She turns around facing Bouche-en-Coeur.  “Yes, cousin. I agree with everything you said. Yes, I still have his number, but I don’t have the strength to pick up the phone, and you know that.”

“If you give me the number, I’ll make the call.”

“I feel like I’m trading my dignity in exchange for a peace of mind.”

“If Alain was never serious, today you’ll know.”

“And I’ll be devastated, but over time I’ll be okay.” She strolls back to the couch, retrieves Alain’s number from her phone and hands it to Bouche-en-Coeur.  She then lies face down on the couch as a river of tears spring out of her eyes.

————————————————————————————————————-

Entry 4

While all this is going on, Alain and family have been on the Florida First Coast, where Monsieur Joinville has a brother who has long made this region his home. They are now on their way back home, driving north on Interstate 75. It hasn’t been long since they crossed the Florida-Georgia line and the town of Valdosta is only 50 miles away. All of a sudden, Alain’s phone rings and Joséfine quickly grabs it. Alain is dozing off in the backseat where he and Fifine sit. “Alo,” Fifine says.

“Alain, please,” replies a voice from the other end of the phone.

Who is this, Fifine? If he’s Loubert, tell him I’ll call him when we get home.”

“I’m afraid this is not Loubert. It’s a woman’s voice.”

Alain sits right up. “Who is she?”

Without replying, Fifine hands him the phone. “Oui alo,” he answers in his sarcastic French.

“It’s Tatiana’s cousin, the girl you met in Café Lakay few months ago.”

“It’s Bouche-en-Coeur, am I correct?” He is fully awake now.

“Yes, I am.”

“Am I dreaming?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been dreaming for months, and over time I’ve become quite comfortable in my dream which has long been the only venue left in my life to relive these unforgettable moments with your cousin.”

“Really?”

“Bouche-en-Coeur, please could you lead me to her path?”

“If you were truly sincere, why you never picked your phone to call her, not even once since then?”

“It’s a long and complicated story, but I will summarize it for you in 4 words: I lost her number. But just by talking to you, I know I’m now living the best moment of my life?”

Alain feels he’s been put on a speaker phone. So, he senses someone is listening in the background, presumably Tatiana. “Please, don’t give me false hope. I’ve been living in a roller-coaster since that night in Café Lakay.”

Fifine has fallen asleep on his laps, but his plea catches his mother’s attention. “It sounds you’re begging for something. Who are you talking too?”

“It’s a friend from school, manman. I’m not begging.” He throws a repressed smile.

“Alain, are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m just speechless. If I ever get the opportunity to speak to Tatiana again, I will make the honest plea. I’m sure she’ll understand. She’s a person of good heart.” His voice breaks between words.

At that moment, Bouche-en-Coeur hands the phone to her cousin. “How are you?” she utters, almost faintly.

Ça va un peu. I’m okay. And you?” Alain briskly glances at his surroundings. He wants to be sure he’s not in a dream.

“By the grace of God, I can’t complain.”

“Happy to know this. As for myself, I can only wish I could make such statement.” The line turns stilled, for 30 seconds or so with no one is able to break the silence. Then Alain continues, “Your voice hasn’t changed. It’s the same one that makes my mind and heart vibrate every night.”

“Yours is the same, also.”

“Do you know how long it’s been since I had a good night sleep?”

“No.” She turns off the speaker, and Bouche-en-Coeur has the message. Her mission has been accomplished. It’s time for her to depart. She rises from her seat, paces over to the kitchen counter and grabs her car keys. A gratifying bliss pops up her oval, ebony face. “Tell him, tell him how you feel. Call me later,” she mutters while exiting the front door.

“You know I will,” Tatiana mumbles between tight lips.   

“Are you still there?” Alain asks.

“I’m right here with you. I’m going up to my room. Bouche-en-Coeur just left.”

“Without giving me the chance to say goodbye? I wanted to thank her for putting me back on the perfect track to paradise. I asked you a question earlier, but you didn’t……”

“About the number of days you’ve been without a goodnight sleep?”

“Yes.”

“I already replied. I said ‘no’. Honestly, I don’t.” She lies.

“It’s been 6 months, 2 weeks, 4 days, 11 hours—–“Alain ascertains. 

“16 minutes and 45 seconds,” Tatiana reveals, finishing Alain’s statement. Halfway through the stairs, she turns around, comes down, strolls toward the front door, and checks it to make sure it is properly locked. She then runs upstairs and shuts her door.

“Tatiana, I have a confession to make. Love is no easy game to play. True love, I mean. When we met last time, I was in a mission. I went up to Atlanta to find my Haitian queen, and the spectacular circumstance in which we met solidified my conviction that I found her in you.”

“Alain, who do you think you’re talking to? A child in candy store?” She now sits at the foot of her bed, quite disconcerted, in a flustering manner. She feels her love story is being played right here, right at this moment. Alain is finally in her ear, something she’s longed for more than 6 months. 

“No, I believe I’m talking to the young woman who has stolen my heart, the deepest fibers of my soul.”

Assez. Enough. Fantasizing love only brings the purest of pain. With you, I’ve learned that. If you were so serious and if I were to be the queen you pretend to have found, why did you disappear after that night, walking away as if I was one of the conventional regulars that guys go after just to spend a one-night, macho moment on the dance floor?” Her voice grows firm and swells with emotion.

“Oh, Tatiana. Don’t treat me this way.”

“Alain, I may have never been in a sentimental wrap before, but at least you should give me the benefit of the doubt.”

“I’m not interested in a persuasive discourse, for I always believe in deeds, not words. It just so happened that I lost your number. The unforgivable mistake I made was to be led by my emotion that night, and I stumbled over what was needed to be done, which was to quickly secure the only means I had to link me back to you again. When I thought it was a done deal, destiny has decided it was not. Clumsily, I stored your number………”

Quite a story! But it’s hard to believe in such a tale. You know I’m no gullible.”

“Tatiana, please. Don’t morph the happiest moment of my life into my biggest nightmare.”

“How come?”

“I know it sounds stupid, my explanation. But I know you’re a generous person, and your heart has no place for rebuke, especially in something so strategic and so soulful. A semantic discussion can only hurt us—me. Oh, I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“For putting you into this ill-explained, unbelievable predicament I’m in right now.”

“How do you know your predicament is not being shared?” She is caving in. Alain’s words are striking the chord like the sun on the horizon, shooting its ray of love into the deepest end of her heart. The stiff resistance is being dissolved and melted away as bright emotions lit her golden face. “I don’t know Alain. I’m confused,” she utters, feebly.

“No, you’re not, my queen, my Haitian queen because you know what you want. You’re simply too afraid. This incertitude goes both ways, my dear. It wouldn’t matter to me if I were only interested in wild adventures. But, I’m not.  I have to admit that I’m being led by the chemistry that runs in my veins, like a river in fury in search of your breathtaking smile—a smile that has the power to tenderize the coldest of hearts, to usher the secret language that shares trust and emotion, to shoot aglow your saintly Creole beauty. If faith allows, how lucky will I be to be the one at the receiving end of your pure and simple honesty? Oh Tatiana! I love you more than I can ever describe.” His voice softens. Teardrops begin to fall down his reddish cheeks; and Tatiana hears and heeds his struggle from the perfect wording to convey his sincerest of expressions. 

“Please, Alain. I’m scared. My heart is pounding.” She places the phone to the left-end of her chest so Alain could hear the pounding. He can’t, and besides Fifine is awake.

“Alain, when do you think we’ll be home?” Fifine inquires, lovingly lays her head over her big brother’s laps.

“I don’t know Fifine. I’m sure before the sun goes down, we’ll be home.”

“Is that your little sister?” Tatiana asks him.

“Yeah.” Suddenly they seem happy to switch the subject and turn down the volume of their emotions. So, the prospective lovers chat until Alain reaches the front porch of his exclusive home. “We’re home now; but before I go, I have one more favor I’d like to ask you.”

“What is it?”

“I’d like to take you to Café Lakay this Friday night.”

“Why Café Lakay?”

“Any venue would be fine. This is to say that I can’t wait to see you again.”

“I don’t know. I’ll let you know.”

“Please, let me know now. I’ve already lived through too much of uncertainty.”

“Okay,” she says softly.

Bisou.”

Bisou to you, too.”

 ——————————————————————————————————

Perspective

They say love is pure only when it grows naturally and stems from no materialistic strings. They say love is the only magnet with the power to change human behavior. They say love is the embodiment of an intense feeling of fondness—so intense that when mismanaged could produce a fatal effect. They say love is the antithesis of hate, and when reached its highest peak could be the sweetest bearer of the perfect warmth, the tenderness, the intimacy, and the altruism of all affectionate utterances. The story of Alain and Tatiana is perhaps the mirror reflection of what we need or what is missing to create a decent world free of all the despondencies that are the catalysts of all societal trivia. Like Tatiana and Alain, true love will survive, endure and overcome insurmountable odds only and only when it is leveled, when it is mutually inclusive, but not when it is lopsided, asymmetrical or slanted toward the icy coldness of despair. However, when equally shared, intense love will definitely spill over to solidify our long and unbreakable chain of human existence.

————————————————————————————–

Friday, the day of the historic meet

Alain has spent his night restless, pacing up and down his bedroom and recreating in his mind the images of his first meet with Tatiana. By 5 o’ clock Friday morning, there is a strong urge to pick up the phone and call her, but he quickly brushes off the urge, thinking it wouldn’t be fair to do this. So, he goes down to his home library and sits at the desk where he is putting the final touches of his diary that he plans on sharing with Tatiana. Before daybreak, he puts on his protective gear, walks out and heads east toward the lake where he anchored his canoe on the side of the bank which frames his parents’ property line. It is cold and snowy when he strolls toward the thick shady slopes swamped with wild undergrowth that usually hold the dew until sunrise. This morning, the dew has turned into frost, whitening the landscape as far as his eyes can see. He cautiously steps down to where his canoe is moored on a small wooden dock. As a fervent naturalist, Alain is a in a morning hunt for the symbiotic relationship between human’s energy and the innocence and power of nature. As he reaches his canoe floating in the murky and misty lake, a beaver darts by and forces him to redirect his attention toward his backyard. The next few hours are crucial in his life story. He walks back to the house, toward the sliding doors, where Fifine waits for him for their regular Saturday morning story telling.

——————————————————————————————

Friday evening

Avoiding the traffic jam of the last time, Alain shows up around 8:30. The parking lot is practically deserted. Few early birds were ahead of him. So, he parks his car at a strategic location where he could be easily spotted as soon as Tatiana shows up. In fact, anyone who enters the parking lot will not miss his mother’s shiny BMW. His impulses are beyond control. He tries in vain to suppress his fear. Each entering vehicle sends him nerve-wrecking. “Oh God, I want it done once and for all,” he mutters. By 9 o’ clock, the lot is already half-full but Tatiana is nowhere in sight. Anxiety swells to the core. Irresistibly, he calls Bouche-en-Coeur. “Have you talked to Tatiana today,” he asks, trying to keep a firm impression.

“Yes, I have. We’re here driving on I-75,” she replies bursting out laughing, attempting to ease the tension.

“Okay,” Alain says, and immediately walks out his car to keep a firm grip of his bravado. He is tall, built and slender, standing erect, gloves in hands inside his dark overcoat. A Persian foulard is wrapped around his neck. All this is being fragranced by his unique Givenchy cologne. He looks no griffe, no quadroon, but for sure he is a sang-mêlé. He is eyeing on the road, eagerly waiting for his Haitian queen. He now realizes that he forgot to ask Bouche-en-Coeur for the description of her car. He wants to call again, but fear paralyzes him.

Back on I-75, Tatiana sits next to her cousin, completely crippled by fear. She is crying and she doesn’t know what to make of her cry—whether if it is cry of joy or fear. As Bouche-en-Coeur veers toward the exit to Café Lakay, Tatiana asks her to slow down. She refuses. “Tatou, I’ve never known you to be a coward.”

“It’s not that. I feel I’m signing my heart away, surrendering to someone I barely know. What if he walks away from me later? My head is spinning.”

“Look at you, Tatou. I’ve never seen my cousin looking so pretty. I’m so proud of you.”

“Don’t try to change the conversation. You heard me.”

“Tatou, life itself is about taking chances. If it doesn’t work with Alain, you’ll be okay. It will not be the end of the world as you know it.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

They finally pull into the driveway. “Where’s Alain?” Tatiana asks. Her heart races.

Alain’s eyes miss the car for he doesn’t know in which one they are riding. His eyes continue to remain glued to the parking lot. Suddenly his phone vibrates. “Where are you?” Bouche-en-Coeur asks.

“I’m here by the front steps. Tell me where you are.”

“Hold on, let me get out.”

Bouche-en-Coeur steps out of her car, standing faultless under a Zara basic faux fur and Alain quickly spots her. He steps off the front entrance and begins to stroll feebly toward Bouche-en-Coeur.

Tatiana instantly sees him, as charming as the Haitian prince she’s always dreamed of. She then walks out of the car, wearing a velvet coat with leopard print sleeve. A pair of leather boots adorns her straight long legs, moving tenderly to meet Alain halfway. She is strolling with grace with a feline outlook and a Creole elegance that all men will undoubtedly desire. In the heat of the moment, she left her scarf on the backseat, and Alain notices the oversight. In a sharp gesture of showmanship, he takes off his Persian foulard and warps it around Tatiana’s neck as they meet. “Bonsoir Tatiana.”

“Bonsoir.” Her heart pounds in quick and uncontrolled pulsations. “I really don’t how I got here. All day long I kept saying no to myself. And here I am.”

Bouche-en-Coeur walks away after greeting Alain, leaving the two Haitian birds to bury their fear, alone. Tatiana and Alain, despite of the cold, find themselves unable to move beyond their perimeter. He takes off his glove to hold Tatiana’s bare hand. His unique fragrance comes in full bloom, and she is tempting to wrap her body inside his dark overcoat. She resists this latest temptation. Then, she peers into his eyes, as if trying to catch the perfect honesty she is hoping in Alain. They continue to hold each other’s hand while flurries of snow fondle their faces. “I’m cold,” she utters timidly.

“Me too, mon amour,” he replies, softening his voice. Understandably, they amble along, passing the entrance, dodging the partygoers on the dance floor and walking upstairs to go meeting Bouche-en-Coeur. As soon as they reach the final step, Tatiana holds him. “Alain, I have a confession to make.” His eyes immediately widen. “Vas-y.” Go ahead.

She frees her hand from his, leaving a small space between them while looking at him straight in the eye. “I’ve never been in this position before. No man has ever touched the forbidden parts of my body. I’m my parents’ only child and they think highly of me. I can’t disappoint them. Before I met you, I could speak with absolute certainty that I could never betray the trust they have put in me. Now that I’m about to commit myself to you, now that I’m about to cross a line full of uncertainties, how can I be sure that I will still be in compliance with my folks…..”

“Tatiana, you’re asking for something that only time can deliver.”

“I just wanna be sure I’m not giving up my heart in exchange for nothing.” Her eyes now swell with tears.

“What if I tell you I have the same concerns? I trust you at first glance because I sense you’re unique, and honesty is the cornerstone behind your sentimental decision. Maybe, I’m too naïve. I know I love you with an immeasurable depth and passion, and I don’t know why. Of course, the possibility to deceive still exists, for human heart is such a complex thing. But I’m absolutely sure of one thing: As long as my heart continues to beat, it will always beat for one person, for you, Tatou.” For the first time Alain uses the word “Tatou” to call her name.

Now, she feels completely overcome. She turns sideways, arms crossed, refusing eye-contact. She has definitely fallen. Alain edges a step closer, unlocks her arms and, with her eyes closing, she opens up to him. Within his warm embrace, she trembles in fear. Her legs buckle and she strips. Alain dives down and holds her by the waist just as she is about to fall. Tatou is now down under, facing his charming prince while being held firmly in his embrace. Alain goes mesmerized. His biggest prize possession is at last at hand. “Tatou chérie,” he utters lovingly while steadying his Haitian queen finally in his arms.

Oui, mon coeur.” Yes, sweetheart. 

He then begins to caress the nape of her neck and starts licking her face.  In the quest for pleasure peak, they shed their overcoats right on the floor, and Bouche-en-Coeur, from her seat, watching the story unfolding, rushes over and grabs the coats before they get lost in the mist. Tatou’s Taffeta dress comes in full view as she holds tightly onto Alain. When their lips finally meet, a barrage of French kisses charges in. “Tatou!” he blissfully exclaims, almost out of breath.   

“Yes, darling.”

Fanm dous mwen.” My sweet lady.

“Yes, darling. From here on now, I wanna live by you and for you.”

“Let’s blend our bodies until one heart will suffice to keep both of us alive.”

“Yes, darling, yes my heart, my sweetheart…….”    

The End

Note: The expression “in Mono” is an in-house slang these girls have developed to tell each other that they can only speak in mono-syllable words when others are around.

Merci and au revoir Monsieur: Thank you and goodbye, sir.

Mon amour: my love

Mon ami: my friend

Fanm dous mwen: My sweet woman or lady. It’s a sexually charged expression in modern day Haitian Creole.

Oui, alo: Yes, hello

Ça va un peu: I’m okay.

Bisou: a kiss

Sang-mêlé: A person of mix blood.  

See also: From Appalachia with Love Part 1

From Appalachia with Love Part 2

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 publisher@csmsmagazine.org

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