She was the girl next door, the little restavèk everyone overlooked. She was the shy midget who walked in an unsteady profile, whose ragged dress floated in the tropical wind, whose cow-skin sandal clapped underfoot like hooves on graveled pathways. She was tall, slim, a jet-black coffee with an innocent, oval face that seemed hidden under the shadow of her existential realities. She was always sad, but few people had noticed her sadness, her infinite solitude.
Crizo lived in the fringe of everything deemed mainstreamed. At home, she was not allowed to sit at or near the dining room table. A tiny wooden low chair glued to the corner of the room was her seat on which she could sit only after she was done with every single chore assigned to her.
At dusk, when the sun sank deep behind the thick gray clouds in the horizon, and darkness engulfed Saint Louis du Nord, the Haitian town where she lived, Crizo retreated to her low chair swamped with leeches that relentlessly stung her tired little behind. She wouldn’t dare cry, wail or complain about her never-ending plight. Her leg turned numbed, and she felt no pain, no relief until she slowly drifted to her makeshift bed—a little nat, a mat made out of dry banana fronds rolled onto the floor. The nat is only covered by a flimsy bed sheet. Stuffed under her head was a Spanish moss pillow without a pillowcase. There, she spent the night lurching sideways until dawn came to the rescue, and she would get-up in a fog of nightmarish existence, hopeless as the day before.
I was not sure of her age, but without a doubt Crizo was the youngest soul in a household of five individuals: Josélia, an oversized woman whose both cheeks got swollen from chewing tobacco power; Monsieur Norméius, Josélia’s husband, a fat-belly politician who was the Justice for Peace in town, but whose contempt for the wretched ran so deep that he could not even see or contemplate the daily injustice that was taking place inside of his own private home.
The couple had two girls. One of them was Pierreline, a young woman with a golden tan in her early twenties who had yet to learn how to pick up a broom to sweep the front porch of her home, the very spot from which she made uncontrolled love with her elusive boyfriend under the starry sky of Saint Louis. Folks in the neighborhood claimed Pierreline’s boyfriend was a playboy aficionado, the greatest gigolo from Vertus—the northernmost part of town.
The other girl was Inata, an aloof character who appeared lost in her surreal world, the world of French movie stars, the frenetic world of the uptown girls, and the world of a petite bourgeoisie unaware of the crumbling world around it. Wrapped in the tan of a creamy coffee, Inata was the oldest of the girls, but Crizo, the youngest by far, had to be the one to execute all everyday necessities—from carrying water jugs from the nearby creek of Ti-Rivyè to cleaning, washing and cooking.
Over time, Crizo had learned to tolerate her dehumanizing condition. She had gotten very skillful at concealing whatever hellish pain that dwelled inside of her. She took in stride the blows, the kicks and the blatant humiliation. She never shared with anyone her profound suffering.
Every morning, when most children headed south toward their respective elementary schools with their starched ironed little uniforms well tucked in, Crizo would be heading in the opposite direction, toward the marketplace in Ti-Rivyè, dressed in total rag with a dirty head-cloth wrapped around her uncombed hair. As the morning sun rose over her jet-black face, no traces of happiness were detected. One could only see a broad smile, a completely disengaged one.
Her mind may have found a way to cope, but her body was not so forgiven. When she reached her late teens, Crizo became totally disfigured, her body aged beyond recognition. Useless, she was forced to return to her biological parents, folks she barely knew for they had given her away when she was only five years old.
Consequently, Crizo entered the world of the unknown in a December morning, on the eve of Noël, just as Santa was ready to commandeer his sleigh filled with beautiful presents for yet another trip into town. Not a single tear was shed, when Crizo’s weather-beaten body threaded down the rocky riverbed of La Rivière Des Barres and soon took the sugar sand trail of the valley of Forge to reach her relative who lived in a hut deep in a mountain gorge near the village of Casalie.
Those of us who knew her were truly saddened by her departure, but as children everywhere who could not understand complex problems of society, the story of Crizo sluggishly faded from our minds until the little restavèk simply plunged into oblivion. Although many years have gone by, Crizo’s silhouette continues to flash across my mind, and I wonder how different life could have been, had Crizo given the opportunity to live a productive life? Her wasted mind, body and soul could have been so useful to our motherland of Haiti! Who knows? How many Crizos are we losing every day?
Note: Restavèk is child who lives in servitude, like a modern-day slave.
Dr. 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:email@example.com