For many years she stands here, alone, under this old fig tree right outside of town. She is shapeless with a gaunt and scaly face that no one wants to look. To be precise, she is almost faceless with the hue of a fading florescent light bulb. Her dress is always in complete rag under which a deep depression is spotted in her breasts. She usually leans against the tree trunk, crossed arms, and when one looks down, a scary laceration around her toenails bursts in full view. She seems a mother in distress, but I’m not sure if she’s really a mother. I’m only 10 years old, and it’s difficult for me to understand when a woman, especially an old woman, has children. For example, grayish-white haired Aunt Paulema is very old and has no children, and I only knew this last week when my brother told me.
Therefore, this inexplicably sad and obviously deprived woman always leaves me dumfounded. No one seems to know her name. Or maybe they know it and they’re simply not sharing it with children. My friends hungry for a clue about this mysterious woman simply call her Solitude, and she smiles broadly when we call her this name—a smile so disengaged that I wonder if someone has ever given her the tiniest of attention.
She appears an individual lost in time, left to fend for herself. No matter the time of the day, here she is, weathering the sun, the rain, and the wind gusts with an unexplained passiveness, as if nothing matters anymore. In the morning twilight, before the sun rises from behind the mountains, she would stand here, few feet away from the tree trunk, just off the main trail, pondering.
Anxious to know more about this mysterious woman, this afternoon I wander off with my friend Catherine, just as the last ray of the sun sluggishly grows dim and substantially dwindles. We head east toward the fig tree. We walk passing the fringes of town and trailing off toward a pristine river spring at the edge of a creek where butt-naked children roam with water jugs hanging over their heads. Some of them call to me, but Catherine and I ignore them as we fasten our march toward where the old woman habitually stands.
Few meters off the spring, we begin to spot the dull profile of the old woman who, for the first time, appears to be smiling. We circumvent a serpentine area of guinea grass-covered marshlands behind of which lies a sandy cove where on its west anchored the huge fig tree. Colonies of bushy-tailed mongooses rove around. So, we slow our walk and begin to stroll toward the tree. The last vestige of daylight has been extinguished. Darkness is now the sole master of our universe, but we’re not afraid, although the old woman has long been rumored to be a werewolf. I think childhood’s innocence and curiosity blur our fear.
“Solitude,” we call to her in unison.
“Oui,” she utters, with an unforeseen bliss, and because it is too dark by the trunk, the old woman paces forward to where the overhanging branches rustle in the night breeze. “I expected you guys to come see me,” she adds.
“How did you know that?” Catherine hastily asks.
“Because I know,” she says.
“Is your name really Solitude?” I ask.
“No, but you can call me Solitude. These days, this name suits me well.”
“Where are you from, Solitude?” Catherine asks.
“Near and far, but ever since I can remember, I have always lived here.” She’s not in rag tonight. A face aglow and she wears a white garment that floats about herself. She holds our hands and strolls with us down toward a sandy shoal where the creek narrows into a shallow passageway. Here, we can hear the taptap blasting away down the dusty highway.
“Solitude, how old are you?” I ask.
“I’m very old, more than 200 years old. I am 210 years old to be precise.”
“I don’t believe you, Solitude. Nobody can live this long,” Catherine affirms, sizing Solitude from head to toe as if to vet her unusual demeanor.
“You don’t have to believe me. You just need to listen, although I’m not sure how much longer I can continue to go on,” she utters with a grin. “I was born out of a violent reaction led by my father. His name was Jacques Duclos, but I don’t remember him. I was only 2 years old when he died,” she continues.
“How did he die?” I ask. My eyes glitter in the ascending moonlight.
“His brothers killed him,” I was told. I went on to have children of my own, lots of them—millions of them.”
“But if you have so many children, how come you don’t even have a place to sleep?” Catherine asks.
“Unfortunately, my children are in a deep sleep. And they seem to be enjoying it, too. Meanwhile I go hungry every night. They all claim to love me unconditionally, but they have yet to take the first step to remove me from under this tree. “
She then scoops us up and carries us all the way to our parents’ front door. This is the last time I see Solitude. I can still remember her silhouette waning in the tropical night. My parents say nothing as I walk into my bedroom. It seems they know where I have been. The next morning, I rush near the creek to have another chat with Solitude, but she’s nowhere in sight. Not a single of her traces remains under the fig tree. The meadow seems flattened. The guinea grass has gone dry along with the spring. Gingerly, I reclaim the path to my house—a lone boy lost in bewilderment.
Note: Taptap= commuter vehicles in urban Haiti.
Jacques Duclos is Jean-Jacques Dessalines earlier name.
Dr. Ardain Isma is essayist and novelist. He teaches Cross-cultural studies at University of North Florida. He is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org