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Authors: Edwidge Danticat

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BOOK: Claire of the Sea Light
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“How you know Tiye?” The questions continued, sometimes from two or three mouths yelling in a deafening chorus in each of his ears.

“Lives in my neighborhood … He comes … He eats at my parents’ restaurant,” he stammered.

“You’re a big man, uh? Your parents have a restaurant in the slums. I’m hungry now. Feed me. Feed me,” one of the officers shouted.

The others were laughing even as Bernard hiccupped. To his now burning ear, there was no difference between their laughter, their taunting, and that of Tiye and his crew. They could all have switched places and no one would have noticed.

“How much did you pay the crew from Baz Benin to shoot at the station?” another officer yelled.

“Nothing … I …”

“So they did it for free?”

“Non …”

“You paid?”

“Non …”

“Which is it?”

“No involvement …”

“You trained with the police for a while, didn’t you, so you could become a big-shot criminal?”

They threw some ice water on his face and laughed some more. Panicked, he tried to rise from the chair, but someone shoved him back down. With the smoke and the vomit and the cold water, he felt as though he were drowning.

After the questioning, Bernard was left alone in the dank cell, still blindfolded and shackled. That afternoon, his mother and father came to see him. They were allowed to remove the strip over his eyes before kneeling down on the floor to get closer to him. His mother was quietly weeping over his body, which was curled up in a fetal position.

“Bè, could you have done such a thing?” his father asked. Bernard’s father sounded at once worried and stern, and even more distraught about scolding his son. An old facial tic, the quick batting of his eyes and involuntary twitching of his mouth, had returned to Bernard’s father’s face. Bernard had not seen it in such a long time that he’d almost forgotten it.

Bernard shook his head no.

“I did nothing, Papa,” he said, his throat aching as he tasted the chunks of vomit still lingering in his mouth. His father, he knew, needed a denial from him in order to proceed full-force with his fight.

His mother reached into her bra and handed him an inhaler. “Bè,” his mother said breathlessly, as though she were having an attack herself, “we had to pay extra to bring this in to you.”

“They’re not beating me too bad,” he mumbled. “Not yet anyway. You see I have no blood on me.”

The mother raised his filthy pajama top, covered with vomit and sweat, to look for cuts, wounds.

“The lawyer we got for you,” his father said, “her cousin is a magistrate. She says she’s going to try to move things quickly, in your favor.” Somehow his father’s mouth now remained a controlled line. “You might have to go to the pénitencier in Port-au-Prince, until we get you out.”

They’d talked to Tiye’s second lieutenant, Piye, a few hours before, his father told him. His father had told Piye that Bernard would have never asked Tiye to kill anyone. Piye had told his parents to stay calm. The case was a lamayòt, a vapor, he said. Nothing was going to stick. Give it a few more hours. Let it cool off.

With his father’s help, Bernard pulled himself up. Had they called his radio colleague and friend Max Junior? he asked. Max Junior was supposed to leave for Miami, but might still be in town. He too might have some helpful contacts.

He’d tried to see Max Junior at his home, his father said, but was told by Max’s father that his son had left the country.

Bernard raised both his hands to his face and began sobbing. Neither of his parents could remember seeing him cry like this before, not as a grown man. His body was shaking, the hopelessness sinking in. In spite of having his parents’ arms around him, he felt deserted and alone.

But it turned out that, in fact, he was actually on a fast track. An hour or so after his parents left, a black-robed magistrate came into Bernard’s cell—an exception to his having to go before a judge weeks and months or even years after being put in jail—and informed him of the charges against him. He was not only considered the mastermind of the radio station shooting, but was said to be a turncoat police rookie. Bernard feared that he’d rot in an overcrowded jail cell at the pénitencier in the capital or be disappeared before he even got there. He began plotting ways to get his story out. He would write something for the radio, for Radio Zòrèy. But would the people who ran Radio Zòrèy and the people who listened to it even want to hear his side of the story?

That same evening, in the interrogation cell, having slept through the dinner hour, as Bernard lay there with his face pressed against a particularly cool and hollow groove on the floor, he saw a line of black shiny boots march toward him. He was blindfolded once again, then thrown into what felt like the backseat of a car. He was shoved out on the street
in front of his parents’ restaurant, still blindfolded, at around 10 p.m.

After his own arrest, Tiye had made a deal. As head of Baz Benin, Tiye had collected drug-related dirt on everyone, from the lowest policeman in Cité Pendue to a few of the area’s judges. And now he’d talked to the police and exchanged his slew of records, including records of bank deposits for bribes, for both his and Bernard’s freedom.

Later that evening, bathed and clean, Bernard was lying on his bed in his red room, staring at the crimson ceiling. He had called Max Junior’s home and asked for him, and after he said his name, Max Junior’s father—Max Senior—had slammed down the phone on him. That’s when he began writing.

Yes, he’d write something for the radio, a report that would contain all the details of the experience he had just been through. He would make it clipped and fast, like a story told out of breath, but since he would no longer have his own radio program, or even sit in for Max Junior, he would have someone else narrate it for him. He would, if he could convince her, get Louise George, the hostess of
Di Mwen
, to read his story on the air. He could imagine her not interviewing anyone else the week she’d read it. His story, read in her signature down-tempo, yet passionately hoarse voice, would, along with the many sponsor spots and commercial announcements that only she was able to get, fill the entire hour of her show. Her boss, the owner of the station, would
probably not want her to do it, but, ballsy as ever, she would threaten to quit if he stopped her, and since hers was the most popular show on Radio Zòrèy, she would prevail. She would begin her program in the usual way that evening, as though he were actually sitting across from her inside the studio, at the radio station, from which he was now surely banned.

“Tell me, Bernard Dorien,” she would say to the empty studio chair. “We need to hear your story.” And then she would read his story and explain why he wouldn’t be there to talk to them directly about his experience.

But soon his parents interrupted his writing and fantasizing. They hovered over him, leaning over his bed as his mother handed him a hot cup of verbena tea to further calm his nerves.

Even though his mother hadn’t cooked, so as to discourage her regular customers from coming, people had still stopped by for drinks, and to express their relief and offer their congratulations about his release. His parents were also here to tell him that Msye Tiye was downstairs and wanted to see him.

Bernard handed the teacup, still full, back to his mother, then raised the edge of his mattress and placed his notebook under it, on the metal spring.

“Down soon,” he said.

“Don’t be tardy,” his mother said, as though he were about to be late for school.

His parents filed out dutifully, one after the other, their bodies tense with a new level of worry.

•  •  •

In the yard, Tiye and the lieutenants were already settled at a table with drinks.

“No need to pay tonight,” Bernard’s father said, before joining his mother in the kitchen.

Tiye had a few more guys with him now for extra protection. These men listened with rapt attention as Tiye described some of what he’d just been through. “I thought they were going to jack me up real bad,” he was saying. “Real bad.”

Bernard could hear Tiye’s slow and severe voice grow louder, drumming like the policemen’s voices, deep inside his head, as he walked over to Tiye’s table.

Tiye said: “You know how they take some of the guys to Port-au-Prince and you don’t never hear from them again. Or how they just beat the shit out of you. Then yeah, I thought I was done, fini.”

He said all this casually, almost matter-of-factly, with a kind of amused air, which indicated that, if this had happened, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. This was how Tiye and his guys faced the inevitable, Bernard thought.

Crossing the yard on shaky legs, Bernard realized that this was all a game to Tiye. He had turned Bernard in, then rescued him, and now he was having a few laughs and some beers. It was all in a day’s work. Still, Bernard couldn’t shake the feeling that one day they would all be shot. Like the fabric shop owner Laurent Lavaud and like almost every young man living in the slums. One day it might occur to someone,
someone angry and powerful, and maniacal—a police chief or a gang leader, or a leader of the nation—that they, and all those who lived near or like them, would be better off dead.

Bernard walked over to Tiye’s table and held out a hand to him. Pounding his fist on his chest, near his heart, in greeting, Tiye said, “No hard feelings?” Then Bernard noticed that Tiye’s gums were as red as the walls of his room, as though he had a perpetual infection or had been eating raw meat.

“Did they jack you up?” Tiye asked Bernard.

“Wasn’t so bad,” Bernard said.

Tiye wasn’t wearing his prosthetic arm and the sleeve of his shirt sagged. With his good hand, Tiye motioned for the guy who was sitting next to him to get up so Bernard could sit down.

Bernard looked more closely at the space where Tiye’s missing arm would have been. He thought he saw something white, as though a polished piece of bone were protruding from under thinly scarred skin. He tilted his head to see it better, while trying not to seem obvious. For a flash of a moment, Bernard looked over his own body to see if anything of his was gone.

The restaurant was unusually full for the hour. Above the din of voices requesting drinks, Bernard could hear people asking his parents whether it was true that he had been released, then walking by the table where he was sitting with Tiye to see for themselves. Some even shook his hand, a few women kissing him on the cheek.

He was now a kind of everyman hero, someone who had seen the bowels of hell and returned.

He now imagined beginning his own radio program with a segment on lost limbs. Not just Tiye’s, but other people’s as well. He would open
Chimè
with a discussion of how many people in Cité Pendue had lost arms, legs, or hands. He would go from limbs to souls—to the number of people who had lost siblings, parents, children, and friends. These were the real ghosts, he would say, the phantom limbs, phantom minds, phantom loves that haunted them because they were used, then abandoned, because they were out of choices, because they were poor.

It was nearing closing time. His mother brought the final beers to the table. She avoided their eyes as she lifted the bottles from her tray and put them down. Bernard waited for her to return to the kitchen before raising his drink toward Tiye and clinking the top of his bottle with his. Tiye’s bottle struck his with force. Bernard saw a brief spark, and the top of his bottle broke apart, leaving a jagged gap in the glass. A shard landed on the table with a splash of beer; another fell to the clay floor.

Tiye laughed, a loud, haunting laugh that reminded Bernard of the officers at the prison, a laugh that flashed his crimson gums as he pointed his beer bottle in Bernard’s direction. “If you’re doing a little piece on the radio,” he said, “can’t be some homo masisi bullshit like that
Homme à Homme
. Needs to be real.”

Tiye stopped laughing, then filled his mouth with beer, swishing it around loudly, as if he were gargling.

“Don’t worry,” he said to Bernard, but also, it seemed, to himself. “As long as I’m here, nothing will happen to us tonight.”

The next morning, Bernard Dorien was found dead in the bed of his red bedroom. He had been murdered in the same way that Laurent Lavaud, the owner of the fabric shop, had, with three bullets expertly, and, in Bernard’s case, silently, administered to his heart.

The restaurant had already opened for breakfast when his parents found him, so the neighborhood girls continued to serve the food they’d cooked, as a Cité Pendue magistrate and an anti-gang prosecutor came and wrote up their reports.

“An eye for an eye. Another bandit has been erased from the face of this earth,” began Radio Zòrèy’s morning newsflash. It was a piece that, were he still alive and working there, Bernard Dorien might have been assigned to write.

Home

Max Ardin, Jr.’s girlfriend was missing. Crowding his father’s vast ring-shaped living room were the hundred or so guests who’d come to greet him on the first night of his first visit home in ten years.

On the phone from Miami, Max Junior had told his father, Max Senior, that he was coming home with a girl.

“What kind of girl is she?” Max Senior had asked.

“Just a girl,” Max Junior had said.

“What family?” Max Senior insisted, hoping his son would rattle off the cognomen of one from their milieu, from Miami or the capital or some other respectable town. But instead Max Junior had replied in jest, “The human family,” causing his father to confess that he was worried Max Junior was bringing home a poor foreigner.

“She’s Haitian and she knows where Ville Rose is,” Max Junior said, in an attempt to console his father.

“Mon Dieu.” Max Senior feigned a gasp, then laughed. “A poor blan who’s also Haitian and knows where Ville Rose is.”

From the lowest step of the old rosewood staircase, which had been buffed and shined back to life for the special evening, Max Junior now scanned his father’s book-lined living room for familiar faces. He spotted two of his father’s oldest friends, Suzanne Boncy, ageless beauty queen, and Albert Vincent, the town’s funeral director and now also its mayor. Around Suzanne Boncy were a slew of other aging beauties, most of whom had too much rouge streaked across their cheeks, and the one or two representatives from the other group of his father’s friends that Max now found most bearable, the children of these women and their Ville Rose men, the Canadian-, French-, Mexican-, or U.S.-educated sons and daughters, who preferred the capital, but made the occasional quick trip to Ville Rose to check on their parents.

BOOK: Claire of the Sea Light
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