Authors: Edwidge Danticat
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Family Life, #Cultural Heritage, #General
ante Atie was stretched out in an old rocker. Brigitte lay on her lap. My grandmother took her beans to the yard to pick out the pebbles. She fanned a small fire with her hat, washed the beans, then put them to boil in a pot.
Brigitte yawned in her sleep as I picked her up. Tante Atie got up, grabbed her notebook from the floor, and peered at the pages. She held the notebook so close to her face, I thought there was a mirror inside.
"I did not realize you would remember the words of my card this long," I said.
"When you have something precious, you do not forget it."
She pressed her notebook against her chest as she started for the road.
"Are you going to the maché?" my grandmother called out.
"You need something?" asked Tante Atie.
"The Macoutes were doing damage," my grandmother said.
"Fighting?" asked Tante Atie.
"You just wait awhile," said my grandmother. "Don't go there now."
"Fighting who?" Tante Atie looked worried.
"I did not ask," said my grandmother.
"They hurt anybody?"
"The coal man, Dessalines."
"When people hate you they beat your animals. I don't know'
"Old woman, I am going to get a remedy for a lump in my calf and it cannot wait." Tante walked down the road, racing towards the marketplace.
"You have a lump on your calf?" asked my grandmother.
By then, Tante Atie was already gone.
My grandmother and I spent the day watching the beans boil. The kite boy wandered into the yard with a slingshot. He aimed his pebbles at a few small birds lodged in the tcha tcha tree. He had no successes, but kept trying, encouraged by an occasional cheer from my grandmother and me.
"Eliab, come get some water," my grandmother called out.
Eliab crawled under the porch where my mother kept a clay jug full of water. He soaked his stomach as he raised the jug to his lips.
. . .
The beans were cooked as the sun set. My grandmother mixed them with some maize, which we ate with chunks of avocado.
Tante Atie did not come home for supper. My grandmother put some food aside for her and left the rest in the pot.
I bathed Brigitte in a large pan that my grandmother dug out from under her bed, then gave her some formula before sitting down for supper. I felt both fat and guilty after eating my supper.
Eliab and two other boys crawled under the porch for some tin plates and spooned out their portions of the meal. They sat in a circle and ate quietly, like a clan of midget chiefs.
Brigitte tried to bring her left foot to her mouth, in order to suck her toes.
"She's a quiet child," my grandmother said.
"She's been like that since she was born."
"Crabs don't make papayas. Your mother, she was a quiet child too."
Brigitte reached over to grab my grandmother's nose.
"Your husband?" asked my grandmother, "Why did you leave him so suddenly?"
"I did not leave him for good," I said. "This is just a short vacation."
"Are you having trouble with any marital duties?"
"Yes," I answered honestly.
"What is it?"
"They say it is most important to a man."
"You cannot perform?" she asked. "You have trouble with the night? There must be some fulfillment. You have the child."
"It is very painful for me," I said.
She pulled her pouch from her pocket, pinched a few dabs of tobacco and stuffed them in her nostrils.
"Secrets remain secret only if we keep our silence," she said. "Your husband? Is he a good man?"
"He is a very good man, but I have no desire. I feel like it is an evil thing to do."
"Your mother? Did she ever test you?"
"You can call it that."
"That is what we have always called it."
"I call it humiliation," I said. "I hate my body. I am ashamed to show it to anybody, including my husband. Sometimes I feel like I should be off somewhere by myself. That is why I am here."
"Crick?" called my grandmother.
"Crack," answered the boys.
Their voices rang like a chorus, aiding my grandmother's entry into her tale.
"Tim, tim," she called.
"Bwa chèch," they answered. "Tale master, tell us your tale."
"The tale is not a tale unless I tell. Let the words bring wings to our feet."
"How many do you bring us tonight?"
"Tonight, only one story."
The night grew silent under her commanding tone. I lay on the bed with Brigitte, the open window allowing us a clear view of the sky. The stars fell as though the glue that held them together had come loose. They were not the stars you could wish upon. In Dame Marie, each time a star fell out of the sky, it meant that somebody would die.
"The story goes," said my grandmother, "that a lark saw a little girl, who he thought was the most beautiful little girl he had ever seen, from the top of his pomegranate tree."
She clapped her hands to the rhythm of the words.
"Now the lark, he wanted more than anything to have the little girl. So one day she was on the road, going to school. The lark stopped her and said to her, How would you like a nice sweet pomegranate, you pretty little girl? When she looked up at the tree, the girl was charmed by the lark. So handsome it was, with its red and green wings and long purple tail. It was a sight. And the pomegranate, it was a beauty too. Big as your head, it was. The girl thought she could eat for weeks and not be done eating that pomegranate, so she told the bird, Yes, I would like to have that pomegranate. The bird, it said, I will give it to you for the honor of just looking at your face.
"Every day it went like this. The girl got a pomegranate and the bird, it looked at her face. One day, the bird, it said, I will give you two pomegranates if only you would kiss me. The girl thought of how sweet the pomegranates were and how everyone was nice to her at school for her sharing the fruit with them, so that one day she kissed the bird and from then on always got two pomegranates.
"This went on for a while until one day the bird, it said, Would you like to go to a faraway land with me? You are so sweet and lovely. I would like to take you to a faraway land. The girl, she said, I don't know if I want to go away. The bird, it says, We will go by sea. The girl was afraid. She said, I do not want to leave my family, my village. The girl, she says, It is wet in the sea. You can go on my back—that is what the bird says. The girl, she said, I will not go. The bird, it got mad. It said, I am good enough to talk to. I am good enough to kiss. You eat my pomegranates, yet you will not go with me across the sea. The bird looked so sad, it looked like it was going to die of sadness. So the girl, she gave in to the bird and let him have his way. She said, I will go.
"As soon as the little girl got on the bird's back, the bird said to the girl, I didn't tell you this because it was a small thing, but in the land I am taking you to, there is a king there who will die if he does not have a little girl's heart. The girl she said, I didn't tell you this because it was a small thing, but little girls, they leave their hearts at home when they walk outside. Hearts are so precious. They don't want to lose them. The bird, clever as it was, it said to the girl, You might want to return to your home and pick up your heart. It is a small matter, but you may need it. So the girl, she said, Okay, let us go back and get my heart. The bird took her home and put her down on the ground. He told her he would wait for her to come back with her heart. The girl ran and ran all the way to her family village and never did she come back to the bird. If you see a handsome lark in a tree, you had better know that he is waiting for a very very pretty little girl who will never come back to him."
The boys cheered and applauded the pretty little girl's cleverness.
"Is your story true?" they cried in unison.
"As true as this old woman's hair is blue," answered my grandmother.
They pleaded for another story, but she told them to go home before the werewolf on the sugar cane cart came out, the one who could smell you from miles away and would come and kill you, unless you ran in a rage through the fields and hollered a list of all his crimes.
Tante Atie's feet pounded the porch a few minutes later.
"Would you read me something?" asked my grandmother.
"I am empty, old woman," she said. "As empty as a dry calabash."
ante Atie was very cheerful as she stood in my doorway the next morning.
"Did you sleep all right?" she asked.
She was wearing her i LOVE NEW YORK T-shirt, this time with a long white skirt. Her hair was brushed back and tied in a tiny bun, resting like a porcupine on the back of her neck.
"Are you going somewhere?" I asked.
"Atie speaks to city folks today," she said. "Louise asked me to go with her to have her name put on the archives as having lived in this valley."
My grandmother crept up behind her, gently brushing a broom across the cement.
"What's the use her getting registered?" asked my grandmother. "She is leaving soon, non?"
"Her name can be on some piece of paper for future generations," said Tante Atie. "If people come and they want to know, they will know she lived here."
"People don't need their names on a piece of paper for that," said my grandmother.
"I will list my name too," Tante Atie said.
"If a woman is worth remembering," said my grandmother, "there is no need to have her name carved in letters."
Louise hollered Tante Atie's name from the road.
"That child has lungs like mountain echoes," said my grandmother.
"You have lungs like mountains echoes," she shouted from the house.
Tante Atie rushed out to the porch. My grandmother followed closely behind her. I watched through the window, while Brigitte moved her head in all directions, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about.
Louise was standing in the middle of the road, waiting for Tante Atie. She had on a crisp lavender dress with a butterfly collar. "Atie, you come now," she shouted, ignoring stares from the men on their way to the fields.
"Atie, can't the girl walk up to the house?" asked my grandmother. "We're not a spectacle. You tell her to come to the house. She's frightening the leaves off the trees."
Tante Atie motioned for Louise to come. Louise dashed across the road and entered the yard.
I walked out on the porch with Brigitte. Louise ran up to play with her.
"I remember you," Louise said, grimacing. Brigitte pursed her lips, trying to copy Louise's facial expressions.
The broom fibers whistled as my grandmother furiously raked them in the dust.
"If a person is worth remembering," mumbled my grandmother, "people will remember. It need not be cast in stone."
"We should go," Atie said, taking Louise's arm.
My grandmother went on with her sweeping as Tante Atie and Louise rushed down the road.
My grandmother walked around the yard, collecting sticks and dry leaves. I let her hold Brigitte while I walked across the road to throw some of Brigitte's used diapers over the cliff.
Later, I took my camera out of my suitcase and took a few pictures of my grandmother holding Brigitte.
"They do scare me, those things," she said. "The light in and out. The whole thing is suspect. Seems you can trap somebody's soul in there."
I took a few more shots.
"Now how many is that?" she asked. "Are you afraid that your grandmother will blend into thin air?"
"I want Brigitte to know you when she gets older," I said. "I want her to know how much of each of us is in her."
"Do you suppose she will have any recollection of today?" asked my grandmother.
"You can ask her yourself in a few years."
"If I live so long," she said. "Now go on and put your daughter down. Let her rest a bit."
I took Brigitte inside and laid her down for a nap. While she slept, I looked through my wallet for some pictures that I had brought with me. There was one of Brigitte, all shriveled up, a few hours after she was born. I almost refused to let Joseph take pictures of me with her. I was too ashamed of the stitches on my stomach and the flabs of fat all over my body.
I looked at a small picture of Joseph's and my "wedding." The two of us were standing before a justice of the peace, a month after we had eloped. I had spent two days in the hospital in Providence and four weeks with stitches between ,my legs. Joseph could never understand why I had done something so horrible to myself. I could not explain to him that it was like breaking manacles, an act of freedom.
Even though it occurred weeks later, our wedding night was painful. It was like the tearing all over again; the ache and soreness had still not disappeared.
Joseph asked me several times if I really wanted to go through with it. He probably would have understood if I had said no. However, I felt it was my duty as a wife. Something I owed to him, now that he was the only person in the world watching over me. That first very painful time gave us the child.
When Brigitte and I woke up, I took her to the old rocker on the porch. Eliab was flying a kite in the yard. There were a few other colorful kites in the sky, but his was the closest to the ground. He shuffled around a lot, trying to maintain his balance and keep the kite in the air. He slowly released the thread, allowing his kite to venture closer to the clouds.
Another kite swooped down like a vulture. There were pieces of glass and broken razors on the other kite's tail. One of the razors slashed his thread and sent Eliab's kite drifting aimlessly into the breeze. The kite drifted further and further out of sight. Finally it dived down and disappeared, crashing like a lost parachute at an unknown distance.
Eliab reined in his thread. He pulled it with all his might, tying it around the stick as it came to him. The thread suddenly seemed endless. He got tired of coiling, dropped the stick, broke down and cried.