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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