Authors: Edwidge Danticat
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Family Life, #Cultural Heritage, #General
asked Tante Atie if Brigitte and I could sleep in her room with her, the night before we were to return to New York. We put down some sheets on the floor and stretched out with the baby between us.
Tante Atie turned her back to the wall as though she did not want me to see her cry. We heard my mother pacing the front room's floor, back and forth waiting for the sun to rise.
"Louise would have found her money, somehow, someway," I told Tante Atie. "She would have done anything to make that trip. Sometimes, when people have something they want to do, you cannot stop them. Even if you want to."
"I was a fool to think she was my friend," Tante Atie said. "Money makes dogs dance."
"At least she taught you how to read your letters."
"Anyone could have taught me that. A lot of good letters will do me now."
"Sometimes I wish I could go back in time with you, to when we were younger."
She closed her eyes, as though to drift off to sleep.
"The past is always the past," she said. "Children are the rewards of life and you were my child."
The next day, Tante Atie led the cart that took my mother's and my bags to the marketplace. The sun was shining in Tante Atie's eyes as she carried my daughter for me. My grandmother and my mother had their arms wrapped around one another's waists, clinging as though they would never see each other again.
When we got to the van that would take us to Port-au-Prince, my grandmother just stepped back and let go. My mother kissed her on both cheeks and then walked over and kissed Tante Atie. Tante Atie tapped my mother's shoulder and whispered for her to be careful.
As Tante Atie handed me my daughter, she said, "Treat your mother well, you don't have her forever."
My grandmother tapped the baby's chin.
"The faces in this child," she said, fighting back her tears.
My mother paid the tap tap driver for us to have the van all to ourselves. It was all ours except for the old hunchback, whose charcoal bags had already been loaded on it.
Tante Atie was standing under the red flamboyant tree, clinging to a low branch, as the van pulled away. Slowly, everything in Dame Marie became a blur. My grandmother and the vendors. Tante Atie at the naming red tree. The Macoutes around Louise's stand. Even the hill in the distance, the place that Tante Atie called Guinea. A place where all the women in my family hoped to eventually meet one another, at the very end of each of our journeys.
t was a rocky ride to the airport. The old hunchback lowered her body onto a sack of charcoal to sleep, as though it were a feather mattress. My mother kept her eyes on the barren hills speeding outside the window. I wished there were other people with us, chatty Madan Saras, vendors, to add some teeth sucking and laughter to our journey.
My mother reached over and grabbed the cloth bells on Brigitte's booties, sadly ignoring the skeletal mares and even bonier women tugging their beasts to open markets along the route.
In the city, we were slowed down by the heavier traffic. My mother looked closely at the neon signs on the large pharmacies and American-style supermarkets. The vans hurried up and down the avenues and made sudden stops in the middle of the boulevards. My mother gasped each time we went by a large department store, shouting the names of places she had visited in years past.
The old hunchback got off at the iron market in Port-au-Prince. A few men with carts rushed to help her unload her charcoal bags from the roof.
She waved good-bye to us as the van pulled away.
"Find peace," she said, chewing the end of an unlit pipe.
"Find peace, you too." answered my mother.
Brigitte grabbed my blouse when she woke up. While I changed her diaper, my mother held my back and her head as though she was afraid that we would both crash if she let go. Brigitte slept peacefully through the rest of the trip.
"She's a good child," my mother said. "C'est comme une poupée. It's as if she's not here at all."
The airport lobby was crowded with peddlers, beggars, and travelers. We tried to keep up with the driver as he dashed towards a short line with our suitcases. My mother had no trouble at the reservation desk. Our American passports worked in our favor. She bribed the ticket seller twenty dollars to change us into seats next to one another.
I looked up at the murals on the high airport ceiling once more. The paintings of Haitian men and women selling beans, pulling carts, and looking very happy at their toil.
My mother's face looked purple on the flight. She left to go the bathroom several times. When she came back, she said nothing, just stared at the clouds out the window. The flight attendant gave her a pill, which seemed to calm her stomach.
"Is it the cancer again?" I asked.
"It's my discomfort with being in Haiti," she said. "I want to go back there only to be buried."
She picked at the white chicken they served us for lunch, while I gave Brigitte a bottle.
"You don't seem to eat much," she said.
"After I got married, I found out that I had something called bulimia," I said.
"What is that?"
"It's when you don't eat at all and then eat a whole lot— bingeing."
"How does that happen?" she said. "You are so tiny, so very petite. Why would you do that? I have never heard of a Haitian woman getting anything like that. Food, it was so rare when we were growing up. We could not waste it."
"You are blaming me for it," I said. "That is part of the problem."
"You have become very American," she said. "I am not blaming you. It is advice. I want to give you some advice. Eat. Food is good for you. It is a luxury. When I just came to this country I gained sixty pounds my first year. I couldn't believe all the different kinds of apples and ice cream. All the things that only the rich eat in Haiti, everyone could eat them here, dirt cheap."
"When I saw you for the first time, you were very thin."
"I had just gotten my breasts removed for the cancer. But before that, before the cancer. In the beginning, food was a struggle. To have so much to eat and not to eat it all. It took me a while to get used to the idea that the food was going to be there to stay. When I first came, I used to eat the way we ate at home. I ate for tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, in case I had nothing to eat for the next couple of days. I ate reserves. I would wake up and find the food still there and I would still eat ahead anyway."
"So it is not so abnormal that I have it," I said.
"You are different, but that's okay. I am different too. I want things to be good with us now."
My daughter was asleep by the time we landed in New York. My mother got our suitcases while I waited in the lobby.
"Will you spend the night at home before you go back to Providence?" she asked, struggling with our bags.
I told her I would.
"Don't you have someone you can call to pick us up?" I asked.
"The only person you have to count on is yourself," she said.
We took a cab back to Nostrand Avenue. I looked around the living room while she listened to the messages on her answering machine. There was still red everywhere, even the new sofa and love seat were a dark red velvet.
Most of her messages were from Marc. His voice sounded softer than I remembered it.
"T'es retourné?" Are you back?
"Call me as soon as you get back."
He even sounded excited on the "I love you." She moved closer to the machine, blocking my view of it, as though he was there in the flesh and she was standing with him and they were naked together.
I walked up the red carpeted stairs to my old room. Aside from the bed, the room was completely bare. She had removed all the jazz legend posters that Joseph had given me. On the far end of the wall was the sketch of her and me at Coney Island. The sketch emphasized the merry-go-round but shrunk us in comparison, except for our hands, which seemed like the largest parts of our bodies.
My old bed no longer creaked when I sat on it. My mother had fixed the noisy springs that had made it so much fun, so musical.
Her messages still echoed from downstairs. A final declaration of love from Marc and then one of her friends, asking where she was.
I opened my old closet. It too was empty. I went to the guest room, where she had a desk and a cot to do her reading and sewing. She had said that she would make it more homelike if ever my grandmother or Tante Atie decided to come for a visit.
The bed in her reading and sewing room squealed when I sat on it. My daughter liked the sound and laughed as we bounced up and down on it.
"Some things never change," my mother said, watching us from the doorway.
"I think we'll sleep here," I said.
"And your room?"
"The mattress there is too stiff."
"You can have my room," she said.
"Don't worry. It is only for one night."
"What about the baby?"
"She'll be okay with me."
"You're wondering what I've done with your things, aren't you?" she asked.
"I don't need those things anymore."
I am sorry.
"Please don't be so sorry. I can always get others."
"I was passionately mad," she said.
"And you burnt them?"
"In a very frustrated moment, yes. I was having an anxiety attack and I took it out on those clothes."
"Better on the clothes than on yourself," I said.
"In spite of what I have done to you, you've really become an understanding woman," she said. "What do you want for dinner? We'll have no more of that bulimia. I'll cure it with some good food."
"It's not that simple."
"Then what are you supposed to do?"
"For now, I eat only when I'm hungry."
"Are you hungry now?" she asked.
"You didn't eat on the flight."
"Okay," I gave in. "I'll eat whatever you make."
"I need to go out after dinner," she said. "It's very important, otherwise I wouldn't lose this time with my daughter and granddaughter."
"We'll be fine."
I gave Brigitte a bath in the tub while my mother cooked spaghetti for dinner. The cooking smells of the house had changed.
We ate at the kitchen table, watching through the low windows as a little girl skipped rope under a hanging light in a neighbor's yard.
Brigitte tried to dig her pacifier into my plate. I cut off a strand of spaghetti and put it in her mouth.
"After you left home," she said, "the only thing I ate was spaghetti. I would boil it and eat it quickly before I completely lost my appetite. Everything Haitian reminded me of you."
"It didn't have to be that way."
"I didn't realize you would call my bluff. I thought you would come back to me, humiliated."
She got up and cleared the table, leaving my full plate of spaghetti in front of me.
"I have to go now," she said.
"Are you still seeing Marc?" I asked.
"I want him to have dinner with you and your husband soon."
"So you're still seeing him."
"Very much seeing him."
"Are you going to marry him?"
"I have not even told Monman and Atie about him. At this point in my life, wouldn't it be senseless for me to marry?"
She grabbed her purse and started for the door.
"The sooner I go out, the sooner I can come back. I won't be long. If my phone rings, you can pick it up."
I dialed my home number from the living room phone. The answering machine picked up after the third ring. I heard my own voice, joyfully announcing that "You've reached the Woods residence. For Joseph, Sophie, or Brigitte, please leave a message."
I hung up quickly, not sure what to say to myself. I called again a few minutes later and left a message.
"Joseph, I'm back from Haiti. I'm in Brooklyn at my mother's. Please call me."
I left her number.
He called back a few minutes later.
"What's up?" he asked, as though we were just having a casual conversation.
"I'm okay and you?"
"Fine, except my wife left me."
"I am back. I'm at my mother's," I said.
"Is Brigitte okay?" he asked. "Can I speak to her?"
Brigitte grabbed the phone with both hands when I put it against her face.
"Is she okay?" he asked.
"Sophie, what were you thinking?"
"Is this how we're going to handle all our problems? I was afraid something awful had happened to you. I call at all hours and you're never there. When I rush back to Providence all I get is a note. 'Sorry I needed to go somewhere and empty out my head.'"
"I wasn't away very long."
"What if your mother hadn't gone back for you? Wouldn't you have stayed longer?"
"I am back now, aren't I?"
"And what if you feel like leaving again?" he asked.
"Can we please talk about that later?"
"Are you coming home?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't really know," he said. "What is it? What did I do, Sophie?"
"You know my problems."
"The therapy, that's helping you."
"I don't think it is."
"You'll have to start over, but you're okay."
"I don't feel okay."
"You're a beautiful woman. It's natural. You're desirable. Nothing is wrong with that."
"But we can't even be together."
"That's all right. I told you after the baby was born. As long as it takes, I will wait."
"But, what if I never get over it? What if I never get fixed?"
"You're not a machine. You can't go to a shop and get fixed. It will happen slowly. I've always told you this, haven't I? I will be there for you."
"Why didn't you answer the phone the first time?" I asked.
"I was practicing," he said. "Should I drive down and get you?"
"I told my mother I'd spend the night here with her. I'll rent a car and drive home tomorrow."
"All this traveling, isn't it rough on Brigitte?"
"She's got Caco blood. She's a strong one; she'll be fine."
"I want you to have the pediatrician check her out the minute you get home."
"How's your mother?"
"She wants us all to have dinner with her male friend soon."
"You mean her boyfriend?"
"I wouldn't have guessed that you went to Haiti. I wouldn't have known at all if it weren't for her. I was going to fly down to get you, but she wanted to find you herself."
"She didn't find me. I wasn't lost."
"You know what I mean."
"I know. My mother can be very overwhelming sometimes."
"She wanted to see you very badly. Did you work things out?"
"We talked," I said.
"Is she home? I'd like to thank her."
"You can thank her when you see her."
"And when will I see you?" he asked.
"Are you sure?"
"There will be no pressure or anything," he said. "I promise you."
He wanted to hear Brigitte one more time. I tickled her feet and she laughed on cue.
"Does she speak Creole?" he asked.
"She didn't speak very much."
"She might have said Daddy and I missed it."
"Is she walking on her own?"
"We've only been away a few days."
"It seems like ages. Does she still reach for people's food?"
"She does that."
"Can I come for you? I'll drive down there right now."
"It's better for me if I find my own way back. I am the one who left. I should come back myself."
I laid out a comforter in the guest room. I put the baby down on the guest bed, surrounded by four large pillows.
My mother walked in to check on us when she came home.
"Is everything all right?" she asked.
"Fine," I said. "How was your visit?"
"I went to see Marc." Her voice cracked. "I had something to tell him."
"Was it good? Was it bad?"
"Depends on how you look at it. Did you call your husband?"
"He will be happy to see you." She cradled the door as though she wasn't sure what to say next. "The baby, she's okay?"
"Fine," I said.
"Well, good night."