Vague in Conversation (an excerpt), by Mahalia Solages
The pockmarked walls that enclosed the mass of faded women was no place for someone like me.
The bell rang.
I trudged out of the Haitian prison with the other inmates for the hour-long airing allowed in the guarded courtyard, the only highlight of the day. They had been glaring at me, the newcomer. The one where time and circumstance hadn’t imprinted its outrages. The cycles of anxiety, however, were staggered in dried rings from the armpits of my blouse. I had endured four sweaty nights; the moaning women had cued my tossing. Now that I could smell the nauseating stench of uncleanliness, I avoided abrupt movement, careful of disturbing the ripe odors.
Feeling the regards, I had dared only a few sidelong glances at the dilapidated buildings with narrow gates. Otherwise, my attention remained on the pattern my heels made when they weren’t catching on the tufts of grass crowding the pavers. I had quietly scoffed at the blatant commentaries made at my expense.
“She even got blanket with her atemiyó,” one guard had said when I clicked by.
“Oh? She must have money,” another had replied.
My back burned with aches. My muscles felt clenched from choosing to sleep in a seated position rather than lay on the roach-ridden mat. The straw runner, atemiyó—meaning “the floor is better” and moldy swatch of fabric were hardly amenities in my private cell.
My cell had a block missing, high, near a corner as if the brick mason shrugged off his miscalculation, therefore creating a window. The chalk green walls were flaking, revealing a dried blood color of a previous decade. One wall was marbled with fissures; another had chunks missing exposing veins of rebar. The bathroom was a tin bowl in the corner. The bowl was battered as if it had been given to a dog as a toy. The ration of square sheets masquerading as toilet tissue had the texture of construction paper. The gutter, as concave as a saucer, ran along the front of the cell. My bowls, daily rations and body secretions both were delivered through a small opening at the bottom of the gate.
My father was forced into early retirement as an ambassador; his revealed addiction to kleren and other hard liquors had disgraced him in Haitian society. My father drank with purpose. Slowly, friendships took spills and lending hands emptied. I had become a teller at a local bank where I met popular socialite I was acquainted with from school. Axelle, also a teller, befriended me and started betting me to higher positions. As I reached my pending promotion as a foreign accounts executive manager, my mother and I agreed the extra income would send my father overseas in one final attempt to dry him out.
Last Friday afternoon, my “friend” Axelle, had passed me her pin to withdraw money from her account as she occasionally did. She had usually asked for the favors at the end of the workday. This time she had been delayed with a client and the five hundred dollars, she claimed, were to treat me to treat me to drinks and the spa to celebrate my promotion. “Frederique, soit un coeur,” be a heart, Axelle had said every time she asked.
A silhouette of cold closed over me when I had felt guards dragged me back into an office, while Axelle slithered out of the building.
According to my boyfriend, Thierry, an account was created in my name to filter cash advances from the corporate credit accounts we were in charge of. During an audit investigation, a few days before, apparently Axelle had claimed innocence. She had suggested that given my family’s history, perhaps the debts and expenses my father had been incurring caused me to go rogue. The second layer of shock and sweat came with the accusation: I had been withdrawing thousands of funds, regularly. Clearly, Axelle had set me up with the last few hundred dollars as proof of my culpability.
Kanmarads fe pann—comrades can hang you, they say in Haiti. They also say Haitians are like crabs trying to climb out of a bucket. Jealousy will make crabs yank at each other so no one gets ahead. Axelle was a crab.
My mother, after getting word about the incident, had been my only visitor. My boyfriend, Thierry, had simply arranged that I be placed in a separate cell, alone, while I awaited the judge who would see me in four days….
(To read “Vague in Conversation” in its entirety, buy Fall today!)
Mahalia Solages is the author of two children’s picture books. Her fiction has appeared on WritingRaw and Onè?Respè? and she’s a regular contributor to Haitianista. One of her short stories received an honorable mention from Lorian Hemingway. Her ongoing projects include two women’s fiction novels and a young adult book. Before settling into the study of the literary world, Mahalia received her degree at the New York School of Interior Design, but continued her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Florida International University, and Nova University. She worked as a flight attendant for over a decade, then became a pilot and a flight instructor. Mahalia studied creative writing through various courses, including Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Mahalia continues her life in Florida with her family and roommates, Misha and Mr. Nelson—the cats.