This story can only be found bundled with the Erotic Novella “A Real Doll”
Yves and I are walking because even if his Citroen were working, petrol is almost seven dollars a liter. He is wearing shorts, faded and thin, and I can see the muscles of his thighs trembling with exhaustion. He worries about my safety, so every evening at six he picks me up at work and walks me home, overall a journey of twenty kilometers amid the heat, the dust and the air redolent with exhaust fumes and the sweet stench of sugarcane. We try to avoid the crazy drivers with no real destination who try to run us off the road for sport. We walk slowly, my pulse quickening as he takes my hand. Yves’s hands are what I love best about him; they are calloused and wrinkled, the hands of a man much older than he is. At times, when he is touching me, I am certain that there is wisdom in Yves’s hands. We have the same conversation almost every day – what a disaster the country has become, but we cannot even muster the strength to say the word “disaster” because such a word does not aptly describe what it is like to live in Haiti. There is sadness in Yves’s face that also cannot be aptly described. It is an expression of ultimate sorrow, the reality of witnessing the country, the home you love, disintegrating around you. I often wonder if he sees such sorrow in my face, but I am afraid to look in a mirror and find out.
We stop at the market in downtown Port-au-Prince. Posters for Aristide and the Family Lavalas are all over the place, even though the elections, an exercise in futility, have come and gone. A vendor with one leg and swollen arms offers me a box of Tampax for twelve dollars, thrusting the crumpled blue and white box toward me. I ignore him as a red-faced American tourist begins shouting at us. He wants directions to the Hotel Montana, he is lost, his map of the city is wrinkled and torn and splotched with cola. “We are Haitian, not deaf,” I tell him calmly and he relaxes visibly as he realizes that we indeed speak English.
Yves rolls his eyes and pretends to be fascinated with an art vendor’s wares. He has very little tolerance for “fat Americans”. Just looking at them makes him feel hungry and feeling hungry reminds him of the many things he tries to ignore. Yves learned English in school, but I learned from television: I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, and my favorite show, The Jefferson’s, with the little black man who walks like a chicken. When I was a child, I would sit and watch these shows and mimic the actors words until I spoke them perfectly. Now, as I tell the red-faced man the wrong directions, because he has vexed me by his mere presence in my country, I mouth my words slowly, with what I hope is a flawless American accent. The man shakes my hand too hard and thrusts five gourdes into my sweaty hand. Yves sucks his teeth as the man walks away and tells me to throw the money away, but I stuff the faded bills inside my bra and we continue to walk around, pretending we can afford to buy something sweet or something nice.
When we get home the heat threatens to suffocate us. The air conditioning is not working because of the daily power outages, so the air inside is thick and refuses to move. I look at the rivulets of sweat streaming down Yves’s dark face and I want to run away to some place cool and dry, but I am not sure that such a place exists anymore. My mother has prepared dinner, boiled plantains and grit, grilled cubes of pork. She is weary, sweating, slouched in a chair. She doesn’t even speak to us as we enter, nor do we speak to her because there is nothing any of us can say to each other that hasn’t already been said. She stares and stares at the black-and-white photo of my father, a man I have little recollection of because he was murdered by the Ton Macoute, the secret military police force, when I was only five years old. Late at night, I am plagued by memories of my father being dragged from our home and beaten as he was thrown into the back of a large green military truck. And then I feel guilty because, regardless of what he suffered, I think that he was the lucky one. Sometimes, my mother stares at the picture so hard, her eyes glaze over and she starts rocking back and forth and it is as if he is dancing her across the small space of our kitchen the way he used to. In those moments, I look at Yves. I know that should anything happen to him, it will be me holding his picture, remembering what was and will never be, and I have a clear understanding of a woman’s capacity to love.
We eat quickly and afterward, Yves washes the dishes outside. My stomach still feels empty. I rest my hand over the slight swell of my belly. I want to cry out that I am still hungry, but I don’t because I cannot add to their misery with my petty complaints. I catch Yves staring at me through the dirty window as he dries his hands. He always looks at me in such a way that lets me know that his capacity to love equals mine: eyes wide, lips parted slightly as if the words “I love you” are forever resting on the tip of his tongue. He smiles, but looks away quickly, as if there is an unspoken rule forbidding such minor demonstrations of joy. Sighing, I rise and kiss my mother on the forehead, gently rubbing her shoulders. She pats my hand and I retire to the bedroom Yves and I share, waiting. It seems like he is taking forever and I close my eyes, imagining his thick lips against my collarbone and the weight of his body pressing me into our mattress. Sex is one of the few pleasures we have left, so I savor every moment we share before, during and after. It is dark when Yves finally comes to bed. As he crawls under the sheets, I can smell rum on his breath. I want to chastise him for sneaking away to drink but I know that a watery rum and coke is one of the few pleasures he has for the savoring. I lie perfectly still until he nibbles my earlobe.
Yves chuckles softly. “I know you are awake, Gabi.”
I smile in the darkness and turn toward him. “I always wait for you.”
He gently rolls me onto my stomach and kneels behind me, removing my panties as he kisses the small of my back. His hands crawl along my spine, and again I feel their wisdom as he takes an excruciating amount of time to explore my body. I arch toward him as I feel his lips against the backs of my thighs and one of his knees parting my legs. I try and look back at him but he nudges my head forward and enters me in one swift motion. I inhale sharply, shuddering, a moan trapped in my throat. Yves begins moving against me, moving deeper and deeper inside me and before I give myself over, I realize that the sheets are torn between my fingers and I am crying.
Later, Yves is wrapped around me, his sweaty chest clinging to my sweaty back. He holds my belly in his hands and I can feel the heat of his breath against the back of my neck.
“We should leave,” he murmurs. “So that one day, I can hold you like this and feel our child living inside you.”
I sigh. We have promised each other that we will not bring a child into this world, and it is but one more sorrow heaped onto a mountain of sorrows we share. “How many times will we have this conversation? We’ll never have enough money for plane tickets.”
“We’ll never have enough money to live here, either.”