It was past midnight when Claca left the Andrieux’s home. Over and over she turned between her fingers the check that Archibald Andrieux had finally agreed to sign after hours of pleading. She heaved a sigh of relief. She was exhausted, but happy! She had finally obtained something from Archibald, a man reputed in the country for his stinginess.
Three thousand dollars! That was how much she’d been able to get to save the life of her beloved husband, Selondieu Legrand, from the claws of dictator François Duvalier’s henchmen.
Selondieu had confessed being hounded by the macoutes who wanted to kill him under the guise of communism. Two men, armed to the teeth, looking threatening and dressed up in deep-blue, had come by and asked to see the man of the house. Twice. It was common knowledge—being on the macoutes’ radar undoubtedly led to death. Claca was terrified. She had had to beg her brother Julien to hide Selondieu in his house for a few days. She’d also burned the book, Capital by Karl Marx, which her husband had brought home on a hot day in July, reading it religiously every night, like a bible. The gospel according to Saint Selon!
Bullets had smashed the house’s shutters in the early morning one day. Trouble. Claca’s anguish had grown stronger, slowly invading her head, her body, her heart and her soul, until she’d been completely overcome by it.
She’d had to debase herself to get the three thousand dollars. She’d once been engaged to Archibald Andrieux; she’d left him for Selondieu only two months before the wedding. As life’s irony would have it, Archibald was the only one who could lend her enough money to keep her husband safe. So, putting all pride aside, she’d mustered enough courage to beg for her man.
She had no idea how she was going to reimburse Archibald. Her job as a typist at the Taxation Office would not be enough, even over a long period of time. She’d promised that Selondieu would repay him as soon as he found a job in the Dominican Republic. All her husband needed for now was to be able to afford adequate lodging. With enough to feed himself, he would be able to throw himself wholeheartedly into the trade of bare necessity products.
In life, you do whatever you can with what you have at your disposal. She loved her Selon so much!
Selondieu had been living on foreign soils for the past two months. He barely called; in fact it’d been four weeks without a word from him. “Ah! It must be difficult to adapt to his new life,” Claca thought sadly, so sorry that her poor husband was in such a deplorable situation.
She would continue to do everything possible to save him. Being cramped at her mother’s (where she had to sleep on a makeshift, uncomfortable mattress on the floor at the foot of her sister’s bed) did not matter to Claca. Those uneasy moments were nothing compared to what her husband was going through against his will. According to God—the true one—paradise belongs to those who give of themselves unconditionally. Amen!
So, Claca endured her misfortune patiently. No one was more important on this earth than Selondieu, the future father of the offspring she’d always dreamed of.
One day, however, her anxiety reached its peak, to the point of impeding her breathing; two months without any news was alarming. Every day, she cursed the fact that the money borrowed from Archibald had not been enough. Her ex-fiancé was so stingy! Had he lent her a little more money, she would have been able to install a telephone line, and wouldn’t have to wait longingly and in agony for a call from her husband. Poor Selondieu! The nearest phone booth must be so far away!
Claca decided to travel to the Dominican Republic. She had to make sure that her beloved Selon was fine.
Every single penny from her last paycheck was used toward this trip. Well! What is the use of money if it could only be used to pay bills? It might be hard to get, but in fact, money is nothing, really. No matter how much we have, it is never enough anyway—a vanishing element that consistently slips through the fingers.
Bus trips from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic are always full of hurdles. This one lasted forever and got on Claca’s nerves, which were stressed to the limit at the time.
When she arrived at her destination, it was pitch black and she was pleased that the house was bathed in a soft filtered light. Ah! Selondieu was alive and well! Thanks God. Alleluia!
As she got closer to her man’s home, a mischievous wind brought to her the faint sounds of merengue music. She smiled, which she had not done for the longest time. Life was making sense to her again. Suddenly, her past burden lifted; she felt so light she could fly with her invisible wings.
With a heart filled with love, she ran to the front door.
She knocked three times and the door opened.
“Excuse me,” she said to the woman in a negligee standing on the doorstep, “I must have the wrong address.”
She was about to leave when she heard a voice say: “¿Qué está pasando, mi amor?”
She knew that voice too well.
Selondieu appeared, wearing shorts and an opened shirt that revealed a fat belly acquired from heavy drinking. He was holding a glass of whisky.
It was obvious that Selon had his own idea of what a “basic need” product was.
He was shocked beyond words for some long seconds. And then Claca and he stared at each other defiantly.
She expected him to beg for her forgiveness and give a plausible explanation for the woman in the house. Instead, he barked: “What the hell are you doing here? Didn’t I tell you to wait for my calls?”
Stunned, Claca could not say a word.
Taking advantage of her astonishment, he proceeded to insult her and accuse her of chronic jealousy. As if in a dream, she heard him call her all sorts of names. In a haze, she felt herself being pushed out of the house she had just stepped in.
Surprised by such violence, she fell onto the ground. The rest was a blur. Later, she would only remember being overpowered by anger and attacking her husband like a bull charges a matador in an arena.
A light-skinned hand violently slapped her across the face while a dark fist hit her nose so hard blood gushed all over.
And then… A black hole!
When she regained consciousness, she was in a small truck with two men who looked vaguely familiar.
It took Claca some time to recognize the two thugs who had come twice to her house pretending they wanted to arrest Selondieu for “subversive activities.” Fake macoutes!
They had made a total fool out of her, and she’d been stupid enough to fall into their trap.
Her bullies dropped her unceremoniously near the border like dirty laundry. She would manage on her own to get back home. After all, no one had asked her to come to the Dominican Republic. The terrible pain in her arms and ribs confirmed that she had been beaten up. The rubber band holding her hair up had long since vanished, making her look like Marie la folle.
How she got back to Port-au-Prince remains a mystery. Luckily, the travel fare was still pinned inside her bra.
When, still out of breath, she saw the black and red flag, with the guinea fowl—the Duvalierist symbol, fluttering in the wind, her happiness could be seen through her shiny pupils.
In the military barracks courtyard, the militiamen dressed in blue were performing complicated manoeuvres.
They ushered her to a dark and tiny room. A man wearing sunglasses despite the darkness of the obsolete office pulled out a blank sheet of paper from a drawer, which he inserted into the typewriter on the table.
In a laconic tone, he asked, “Name?”
“Nature and cause of the accusation?”
“Communist activities,” she replied without blinking while she wiped the beads of sweat forming off her forehead.
The sound of the typewriter kept going.
“Name of the accused?”
She frowned. “Selondieu Legrand.”
“Yes, three. A woman from the Dominican Republic and two men.”
“Address of the traitor?”
“4567, Calle 21, Avenida X, Santo-Domingo, Republica Dominicana.”
… Et selon les hommes… Amen!
Margaret Papillon was born in November of 1958 in Port-au-Prince (Haiti). She is the wife of famous artist Albert Desmangles and the mother of two children, Sidney-Albert and Agnès-Coralie. She found success upon the publication of her first novel, La Marginale, in 1987. In 1995, she gave up her career as a P.E. teacher and closed down her fitness center (GYM-ÉLASTIC) to devote herself entirely to writing. The author now lives in Miami, Florida, where she continues to write.