Read Breath, Eyes, Memory Online

Authors: Edwidge Danticat

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Family Life, #Cultural Heritage, #General

Breath, Eyes, Memory (18 page)

We soon collected a small procession, people who recognized my grandmother and wanted to share her grief. The vendors ran and dropped their baskets at friends' houses, washed their feet and put on their clean clothes to follow my mother. School children trailed us in a long line. And in the cane fields, the men went home for their shirts and then joined in.

The ground was ready for my mother. Somehow the hole seemed endless, like a bottomless pit. The priest started off with a funeral song and the whole crowd sang the refrain.

Good-bye, brother. Good-bye, sister.

Pray to God for us.

On earth we see you nevermore

In heaven we unite.

People with gourd rattles and talking drums joined in. Others chimed in with cow horns and conch shells. My grandmother looked down at the grave, her eyes avoiding the coffin. Some of the old vendors held Tante Atie, keeping her body still.

My grandmother threw the first handful of dirt on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Then Tante Atie, and then me. I threw another handful for my daughter who was not there, but was part of this circle of women from whose gravestones our names had been chosen.

From the top of the hill, I saw our house, between the hills and the cane field.

I couldn't bear to see them shoveling dirt over my mother. I turned around and ran down the hill, ahead of the others. I felt my dress tearing as I ran faster and faster down the hill.

There were only a few men working in the cane fields. I ran through the field, attacking the cane. I took off my shoes and began to beat a cane stalk. I pounded it until it began to lean over. I pushed over the cane stalk. It snapped back, striking my shoulder. I pulled at it, yanking it from the ground. My palm was bleeding.

The cane cutters stared at me as though I was possessed. The funeral crowd was now standing between the stalks, watching me beat and pound the cane. My grandmother held back the priest as he tried to come for me.

From where she was standing, my grandmother shouted like the women from the market place, "Ou libéré?" Are you free?

Tante Atie echoed her cry, her voice quivering with her sobs.

"Ou libéré!"

There is always a place where women live near trees that, blowing in the wind, sound like music. These women tell stories to their children both to frighten and delight them. These women, they are fluttering lanterns on the hills, the fireflies in the night, the faces that loom over you and recreate the same unspeakable acts that they themselves lived through. There is always a place where nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms. Where women like cardinal birds return to look at their own faces in stagnant bodies of water.

I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to. My mother was as brave as stars at dawn. She too was from this place. My mother was like that woman who could never bleed and then could never stop bleeding, the one who gave in to her pain, to live as a butterfly. Yes, my mother was like me.

From the thick of the cane fields, I tried my best to tell her, but the words would not roll off my tongue. My grandmother walked over and put her hand on my shoulder.

"Listen. Listen before it passes. Paròl gin pié zèl. The words can give wings to your feet. There is so much to say, but time has failed you," she said. "There is a place where women are buried in clothes the color of flames, where we drop coffee on the ground for those who went ahead, where the daughter is never fully a woman until her mother has passed on before her. There is always a place where, if you listen closely in the night, you will hear your mother telling a story and at the end of the tale, she will ask you this question: 'Ou libéré?' Are you free, my daughter?"

My grandmother quickly pressed her fingers over my lips.

"Now," she said, "you will know how to answer."

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