DISCOVERING HAITIFREE WRITING

About the butterfly on my wall

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There is a small butterfly on my wall. I am not sure how long it’s been stuck; I have been looking at it for several hours now. It’s a light shade of yellow with some reddish dots on its delicate, powdery wings. And, against the purple paint, it is a harmonious fit. The butterfly remains sessile, as if glued to the wood of the wall. My eyes stare at it until it blurs into a familiar, almost quixotic scene. It takes me back to a time and a place that I had almost forgotten. When I still lived in Haiti, I spent most of the summer months in the provincial town of Aquin with my maternal grandmother, Manman Titi. She was a no-nonsense woman, of tall stature, with very fine black hair. A perennial beauty, I often envisioned myself in her body. She had gumption and confidence reigned in her voice. When she stood, she would tower over my clumsy, skminny body. “Jeune fille, she’d command, ferme tes jambes.” I’d promptly obey and close my legs. I always did as was asked (except when I was up to no good.) In her graceful gait, I used to search for traces of my own mother.

Manman Titi’s place had a beautiful and enigmatic singularity attached to it. Her home was always full with people. People she’d host. People coming from all over the country and abroad. Kids she’d kindly take in. Folk musicians, traveling professionals or missionaries; often stranded in the mysterious darkness of the rural Haitian night. She’d welcome them and harbor all. Most would stay for at least a fortnight. Neighbors had tea and coffee in her courtyard every morning. In fact, I considered the house as a quaint auberge where people stayed and ate gratis. The whole south knew of her. She was one those mythical souls that you rarely get to meet on earth. When I was little, I honestly suspected she was magic. Of course by summer’s end, I’d end up resenting her. She used to brush my teeth way too hard; force the spoon too deep inside my throat and spank me to eat. She was always running after me to eat, the poor woman. I hated eating. Eating was such a bore. Chewing and swallowing… such banality. I wanted to read and play. Of course, by the time I entered adolescence and gained a voracious appetite, I thought she was the most wonderful cook. And I loved her beyond measure.

This story isn’t even about her. She always finds a way to meddle and figure in my stories. This story is about butterflies. This story is about a time and a whimsical place that I’d almost forgotten. I’m remembering the month of June. I’m remembering the usual preparations for visiting Manman Titi. I’m remembering the road to the south. I’m remembering that the road to the south opened up to savagely beautiful panoramas. The sea engulfed the sky then. I’m remembering a place that in June becomes something that you’d find in a technicolor movie.  And I remember the butterflies. Hundreds of butterflies. Butterflies. Flowers in full bloom. A gamut of colors. The most beautiful spectacle. My uncle stopped the car for us kids. I ran with them. I don’t know how to aptly describe the moment nor the accompanying feeling. Only it was the closest to an ethereal world that I’ve been. They looked like fairies. The sort of thing from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” There, then, I loved Haiti. One of these days, if you become attentive, and you look deep inside my eyes, you’ll see an infinite range of mountains. You’ll see statues of legends. You’ll see a serpentine river. You’ll see a scroll of paper. You’ll see a tall, beautiful woman with long hair. You’ll see butterflies.

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.Naomie Labaty

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