Short Story: The Songs of Cholera


I have posted parts of one of my short stories here in an attempt to take more control of my intellectual property rather than wait 6 months to a year for publishers. This is part one of the story of a young Haitian boy whose life is forever changed when his mother passes away from an unknown disease. This is a story of the absurd, a story of hope and perseverance. 


Mother died today. Ever since she got this devilish disease, she lost her appetite. Lost a lot weight and her nice figure too. Not her faith in God, though. Even in her final hours she still held on strong and firmly to her black rosary beads praying to God for me and for my father who was gone working during the long hours of day. Father’s face always looked so serious. However, that morning, we hadn’t been woken up by the painful coughs of mother’s exploding lungs. The silence lied to us. It painted a dreadful facade as if she had been cured and was resting in peace. Father knew very well what had happened. Mother was gone forever while her existence was swept away by eternity and despair. He was now alone, and his faced looked fearful. It was the first time I had seen him like that. He left early that morning, still in disbelief that mother died due to her sickness and whatever had taken hold upon her soul. He tried to hold it all in, all of it. He rushed out into town to find help. Help for a funeral we could not afford. Help for the coffins we could not buy. His monthly salary could not cover the cost of a proper burial ceremony. I hadn’t gone to school for months now. I stayed home and took care of her. Towels after towels I placed upon her forehead. Just yesterday, I was asking her to eat small pieces of mango I had cut for her. Now, her black body, lifeless, lay frozen on of our small bed, motionless, half covered under a white sheet. It was the rainy seasons. The passing mosquitoes could still be heard buzzing in the room, searching for blood during our family’s darkest hours. I closed myself inside the bedroom with her. I tried to hold on to whatever was left of her while crouched on the side of this small house. A house made out of a metal rooftop, three windows and concrete cemented walls. It’s all we had living in Grand Saline, a small commune in l’Artibonite, Haiti. We had little, mother would make us “akasent” on Sunday mornings and we would scrap for what we could during the weekdays. If we got lucky, we would find some fresh bread, green bananas and eggs or white rice and black beans for the evening. I remembered the way she smiled, her long colorful dresses waving against the Caribbean winds. All the dust she would broom, day and day cleaning this little house. Now she was gone, out of this world. Many more people mysteriously died as the rain seasons picked up, especially after Hurricane Tomas had passed through our town. It was the most death we saw and heard of since the earthquake that shattered the capital city in hundreds of ways. Our cousin, Gasner, went out to University down there. He used to call us every Wednesday at two in the afternoon. We never heard from him since the earthquake and it has been over a year now. For the ones who died from this mysterious sickness affecting our region, many people blamed the hoogans, the witch doctors in town, those who meddled with magic as those who brought this curse upon us. Others in town blamed these deaths on the ‘Diable’, the devil, demons and angry spirits who ate away at their souls for doing something very bad. My mother was affectionate to me! Yet they painted her dying, her death, as if she was guilty. As if her death and her suffering were justified! Others in town said the white folks occupying our country did it? Henri, the old blind man in the neighborhood, dreamt at night and said he saw they did something to the waters. To the entire Artibonite river, contaminating it, infecting us and killing us slowly, as disposable poor black bodies becoming statistics with no souls. Henri said it was all to bend to their help and support, to colonize us like they have done so much over the years to our ancestors. I was lost. However, where was God, why did he abandon us and let my mother’s prayers wash away for nothing? I cried for hours, wishing she would be back; nothing else mattered, I cried so much I lost track of time, my arms were soaked from wiping these tears away, white markings began appearing after that on my arms. They tasted salty.


Father knew not what to do; he held on to a small construction job downtown. It was just enough to get us a bit of bread on the table. He would spend the rest of the money on liquor, rum and cigarettes. I followed him one night. The streets were filled with chatter as always. Passing cars and motorcycle taxi drivers honking on the dusty streets, shouting, looking for their next customers; they would often whistle at jovial women passing by. These men would flirt and try to reel back a sweet, timid smile of these black women’s pearly white teeth. A lively crowd making a living it seemed, and passing through it I entered an eclectic universe of smells from the stench of garbage to strong perfumes of people going out. Some women stationed on the corner with their businesses had scarfs wrapped around their hairs selling roasted pork meat Griots, fried plantains, and sweet potatoes. I passed one selling toiletries and hairbrushes while hearing the loud sounds of electrical generator lighting this street corners. Some men sold cold fresh plastic water bags taken from white buckets of ice that hung heavy over their backs. Safe drinking water was a rare commodity here. Others I felt fended for their lives to get out of this hellhole, to make enough to go to the capital, even if it had been destroyed and laid to waste. I had heard mother once say more NGOs came to the capital, so there were more opportunities in the center of our nation that had been obliterated by the force of nature and this planet. Hadn’t we suffered enough? There was nothing left for us in this town; the government forgot about us, the world forgot about us, no jobs, and only high prices with a high dose of misery. I saw father from afar; he didn’t know I had followed him to this building that had a large opening of a metal red gate that said “Mr. Rico’s Restaurant, Bar & Club”. It was a whorehouse. A club where people went to take away their sorrows, their lifeless souls in this painful, numbing world. I climbed on a tree in the back corner overlooking the whole space of Mr. Rico’s. Father sat there with folks I barely recognized, drunk, smoking and laughing awkward away, with sadness hidden behind his eyes. I had left soon after and wandered the streets. However, most times when he came home late at night, I knew very well where he had gone. His large drunk laughers and his jolly attitude at Mr. Rico’s remained there only. He always came home very serious and angry. With a sinister stare, he was in pain. Not living up to his dreams of going to school, he couldn’t read, he was stuck doing a heavy, labored job he didn’t enjoy, he grew up on the streets; his mother abandoned him at an early age he had told me once. Father would hit mother every time he got inebriated. With his perverse attitude, he had gone mad, and his movements became more erratic in this cramped space, as if the spirit of a Voodoo Loa took over him and had possessed his entire being. It was the pain expressing itself, never through words but violent endings. I tried to stop him. I always tried to stop him and always failed. I wasn’t strong enough. I barely got any food to eat. I feared him. I was not strong enough to protect her during those times. I was never strong.


The world turned upside down; today was the last day I would ever see my mother, her funeral, her descent into the earth, she went deep into the ground, never to be seen again. The day was full of blue, blues and sunshine, full of gloom with a full day of chants, cries and rusted trumpets singing loudly on the street as many gathered. It was the traditional Haitian way of a peasant funeral, the way of the past, they ways of century longs customs passed down. Hundreds of bodies from old to young came dressed in black sorrowed by the death of mother, it was so many in the community, father Jameson from the local protestant church, Ibert a local fruit seller, even Henri the blind man came. I seldom knew how she had affected so many lives. It was Saturday, and we all walked the long roads almost in line, together we screamed at this mad world we lived in, together we danced with the dried wind as we passed the long rice fields that surrounded us. A large woman right in front of me wore the largest hat I had even seen, her body fell to the ground, fell to her knees, she hit the floor hard with her bare hands, continually hitting, hitting the core of the earth, hitting all the ancestors buried deep in the ground. Her hands bloodied in disbelief at Mother’s death, the sharp tone of her sadness could be heard from far, far away. Others danced to the jazz, the music, danced with the rhythms that carried their heavy uncomfortable bodies, from left to right they all swung, they swirled to the ecstasy of connection, the musical lyrics, the groove of life, celebrating my mother’s life, her contribution, her spirit, up in down their hands extended out to the blue sky. Those that carried mother in the brown casket did so with serenity and strength, they were local rice peasants that had taken time off, sweat dripped down their faces as they suddenly went into circles with the body filled casket over their back shoulders as a means to trick mother’s spirit to leave this world for good, so she doesn’t try to come back. I was sent to the capital of Port-au-Prince right after they buried mother. Cousin Gasner had finally called after so long. He was alive, and the news of mother’s death had travelled far, far away to him somehow. I didn’t know the details, but why, why, why didn’t he come to the funeral when we needed him the most? Why? Father sent me to the capital to live with him, as he could no longer take care of me. Somehow, Port-au-Prince, a city in shambles, still had more opportunities for schooling than here in Grand Saline. Port-au-Prince had more work too, so I could send some money back home to help father, but I knew too well what he would spend it on.


Oh my god, Oh my god! I screamed silently at the terror upon my sight, I screamed inside of myself in shock at the horrors of this leveled city, of my dear little country Haiti. Large buildings colored blue, yellow and teal tilted to the left, large cemented walls fallen, the streets of Port-au-Prince were no more, it looked like a war zone, like those I had seen of Iraq in the small grey TVs that hung up high at the barber shop I used to cut my hair. It looked as if God herself descended upon this earth and with her hands slammed our black bodies dead, slammed and crushed an entire people suffering already. The Port-au-Prince I knew was gone, just like my mother, it had vanish, people seemed roamed with joy and despair in their eyes. I arrived to cousin Gasner’s home on Tuesday around noon. I walked through a small yard filled with broken bricks, metal window bars, large green flowery blooming bushes of Hibiscus that reminded me of mother who loved so much these national flowers. I passed a faded green colored wall full of cracks that seemingly stood still, the tile stairs were still intact, I climbed step by step unto them, I got into his home and there he was, a men in a wheelchair, my stomach sunk, it was cousin Gasner, he had lost both of his arms most likely during the earthquake, he had been turned into a helpless men. Yet he welcomed me with the brightest smiled, all the anger I held against him soon faded with empathy and the insanity of living in the world. I didn’t know what to do or say as he said “kousin mwen!”, to hug him? what do to I ask? I didn’t want to show him how shocked I was. He told me it was ok, that he had seen my reaction to many times, that he understood, that I didn’t need to fret but celebrate my welcoming.


Why was Cousin Gasner so happy all the time, he had the widest of smiles, but from me I saw a men that had lost everything. I for one could not imagine myself without my arms, without fingers to grapple this weary world, to build my own path that seemed to lead no where, to dig deeply into the sweetness of a ripe mango fruit, unable to build a kite like I used to in Grand Saline nor fly it into the large Caribbean sky, I would not even be able clasps my hands together and pray to the almighty God, what kind of world would this be? He was a man with dreams deferred who could no longer go to University nor make a living in this city of Port-Au-Prince, a city always changing, always challenged, beaten down by too many times and forces outside our controls. I could not imagine this for a second, the thought of his world made me cringe but why was he so happy? the more and more I saw the scars on his neck, the black round bumps coming out of his shoulders where his arms used to be, the more it made me realized how much I still had in my life, how much of my world was filled with things unseen to be grateful for, to appreciate, despite my mother gone, taken away so soon by something I didn’t understand. The sun rose smoothly that morning with chants of chickens from all corners of the neighborhoods, dogs too as they still barked into the early hours only this didn’t change from. My bed was small, my room cramped, tight as I slept in the back of the house. I desperately wanted to go to school, get out of my own head, meet new people, see this world through others and start a business, leave this world, but today I moped and moped the entire square tile floors, I filled the yellow bucket with cold water from the backyard and from there I could see behind the fallen cemented walls kids in uniform passing the dirt road behind the house, young girls with hair breaded with pink, white and blue plastic clippers, they held hands together some arm to arm, their shoes dusty, backpacks were large, their face joyful amidst the chaos of bricks and buildings crushed on the side of the street, I stood there as the water filled halfway, I more added soap and went on to mop the entire floors today, yesterday I cleaned the yards, the week after did the dishes and wash all of his clothes. I spent the next few months taking care of him, unable to go to school as father had promised, unable to work as father promised. On late evenings as the hot dusty breeze went through his house, Cousin Gasner often told me how much he had missed me, he told me long stories of mother, how brave she was, stories I have never known, stories of her outspokenness for the community In Grand Saline when he was young, when Haitian peasants were told to give away the creole pigs, lines of pigs passed down stable of food for the families of Grand Saline, told by the authorizes that they needed to be given away as they proclaimed they carried a deathly disease. Cousin Gasner said that Mother, out of everyone organized the town, she out of everyone managed the saving of hundreds of the towns’ creole pigs. She kept them hidden in the large caves that were far out in the country of the L’Artibonite. She out of everyone took a stand when no one would. Months and months went by, more and more I missed mother and seldom heard from Father. More and more I realized how much my life had changed without her since this devilish disease took her away from me, now without her love and nor her care my purpose seemed to have been sucked out of my life, lifelessly sweeping floors and cleaning clothes and dishes. Time, time, time was held heavy all the time for me in Port-au-Prince, I walked the streets and often passed the large Cathedral of our lady of Assumption that was laid to waste, there I often asked Why was Mother taken away from me? God, what did she do if she was a hero in her community? if she took care of us and our community? Why? Why God? Why? The broken Cathedral never answered, its French structures and mythic arcs in rubble after rubble, cemented brick and more mess. But It was there with the wind I heard a song and soft whistling of the tree as a newspapers flowed to my feet, I picked it up and the front lines read “KOLERA FROM UN”.

Please share your thoughts and comments with me as this is part one of an overall first draft –  

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