Story: Le Cap

Please read the following story originally titled “The Sun is Shining on Independence” now “Le Cap” short for Cap-Haitien. This slave narrative takes place in the French colony Saint Domingue now Haiti many years before the Haitian Revolution. I am now focusing on writing & editing the third draft of my first literary fiction novel “The Labyrinth” (working title), but this following story is a much bigger writing project in mind that i will focus on thereafter, it will be interwoven within a broader narrative with plans to adapt into a screenplay. ‘Le Cap’ will follow the lives of many people but as of now the life of Emperor Henri Christophe many years later after the fight for independence as he tries to rebuild a divided country with the looming French, Spanish and English Empires. This story will also follow the life of the young mulatto boy born whose father this story below depicts as he reads from a journal of his father or hears stories passed down. Comments and feedback are always welcome on plot, structure and character – fabrice.j.guerrier@gmail.com

 

I

I crawled inside the large wooden barn, dirt filled with horse manure at my feet. I could smell it. I crouched below the large stable, held my breath as much as I could. Stood as still as I could. The light of the moon came through and lit the ground dry with hay. Loud barks of voracious dogs could be heard deep in the forest. They were coming, coming for me. It was cold, my feet punctured, bloody, darkened by the ground through which I ran to get here. They held torches in their hands, bright; through the holes of the wooden barn, I could see them. It looked like the many stars of the dark night, but these were death stars, crashing to my doom. I breathed heavily. My body could no longer feel the pain of a thousand lives. My brother taken just last year for the same things, for these accusations that ruined his life, his desolate life, working all days on the fields, his back facing the eruption of a painful volcano, his bloodied back, as the surface of his skin erupted with blood under the hot scorching sun. Brother Rousseau, what would you do at this moment? I cast upon your spirit, if you hear me, what would you do! The back of the barn trembled strangely as the falling hay descended, fell from the second floor. It wasn’t brother Rousseau, no, not his care, not his smile that Mother loved so much at times of melancholy, nor his sternness, when he told me to escape with him, “Come with me, man.” I didn’t and maybe if I did, maybe if I had gone with him, we could’ve succeeded. He wouldn’t have died in front of me. I wouldn’t have been in this agonizing moment. It wasn’t him nor his spirit in the barn; it came from the outside. The dogs closer than ever, it was a fiery bottle of gas, thrown against the back wood of the barn. I could smell it. It reeked of the flesh, memories, all the dead black bodies they often burn on the plantation. Oh, what horrors. Within the stillness of the night, the crickets sounded their chants, the flying bugs, within the silence between you could hear their screams, “Come out, Nigger! Come out!” they screamed loudly. “Come out or we burn you alive, Nigger!” I was ready to fight. Ready to fight off five men that each held the dogs that I took care of when they were just pups. They turned on you so quickly, these beasts. In the corner, I saw what looked like a shovel. I grabbed it. Should I fight? I asked myself desperately or should I dig my way out. I had no more time. With the stench of gas, I knew too well what they would do to me, burn me alive, burn me to a bloody crisp. They gave me two minutes. Two loud minutes to come out as they started to count down in seconds, “one twenty, one nineteen, one eighteen, one seventeen…” they stood right outside. “We know you’re in there, Negro!” a younger voice screamed. It was probably Esmeralda’s younger brother, Louis. I recognized his voice, and he was only fourteen. To the far right, I also could hear Father Andree, the town’s French catholic priest as he sounded various prayers and passages from the Bible. They threw their torches from the top, and the flames lit the barn. From within, the sleeping horses woke, startled, moving away from what looked like the very hell I had learned about from the bible. My life descended upon the ashes of hate. I did hit her; I did hit Esmeralda, a vindication for her kind. Hit her in retaliation for a world that had bestowed so much suffering to my existence. I was angry. I could do nothing. She carried my child, and she wanted it. She had grown a liking to me over the past years. I would see her strolling on Sunday afternoon after she had gone to church. The church that gave her and her family the moral rights. The church that gave the moral superiority to the plantation owners on this island that fended our black bodies as products to be discarded. Our bodies like black charcoal or sold like bags of green bananas or these sugar canes we harvested all day. She had a plump face, soft and petite, freckled and brown eyes, her dress large, always with tints of orange and flowers. A Negro brother in the mansion would always grab her dress from behind as she walked outside to go downtown or to church, making sure it didn’t drag on the floor, and it still did. This was the absurd in sight. Saint Domingue was a lonely place, at times, a lonely yet brutal island full of rain. Full of the tropical frogs that chanted thereafter around the year as our soul cracked to the strong whips to our bare backs and our babies thrown to creole dogs as punishment. Esmeralda and I had met long ago. She was born in a large house and I, born around the same time, in a green field under the shed, where my mother still lived. Housed like a pig, with her gray long hair, telling old tales and long stories. Always remembering vividly her dead grandmother, Delia, who spoke of Africa, a mythical place. She told us that, once we died, our souls passed on to the spirit world; our souls would travel back and reach the deep woodlands of Guinea. But this plantation was no mythical land. The Leclerc Plantation, a brutal French family held us slaves on the north side of Haiti. Held us like the orange brown chickens and pigs that we harvested for them. I was a field Negro, and I stayed out of their way. I dare not stare nor cross their eyes, but she did. Esmeralda crossed my eyes and my path. We played so much under the breezy Caribbean winds as children. We played hide-in-seek in the afternoon when we were just kids, innocent, innocence removed from the horrors, just for a little bit. Out of everyone, she taught me so much. She taught me to read, while it was forbidden for slaves like us, products like us to learn to read and write. The last slave caught was father Edvard, my father, a foolish old Negro that I seldom knew. He berated everyone, declared himself to everyone that he was a writer, that he could write, that writing was a revolutionary act. His ego got the best of him. So did the one who snitched on him, probably one of those house niggers who felt they were better than us. The Leclerc’s made us watch again and again as they cut off his head, as his head fell to the ground and rolled, his eyes still opened, his negro face hitting the muddy Caribbean soil. Placed down on the corner was the large machete, metal and bloodied. I could not walk or think. They killed my father as if he was a symbol to thwart us to remain slaves and to deny our freedom, to know our place. I held resentment. I studied, studied more for his dying wish. Read more, and as we grew older, Esmeralda and I would visit each other in the late hours of the night. Often at the stroke of midnight, she would caress my black body. Filled with scars, as she tended my invisible wounds. I cried in her lap after I had witnessed the death of brother Rousseau right in front of me. His body was dragged and brought back to this Godforsaken plantation after he tried to run off. He was accused of rape. He was beaten. Kicked with force by heavy colonial boots. Hit in the head and his small stomach. He was hung high above in the tallest Acacia tree. They made me watch again, while another family member of mine butchered as the passing birds, the blue sky and clouds passed, all passed as the pain of the noose squeezed the little life that was left in him as his spirit went back to the mother land where the great kings and queens once ruled. I was angry and I wanted to get back at them. For that, I did hit her that night; for that, I forced her, forced her to make love, a love that lasted for hours. Love that she deeply enjoyed, her white, silky soft skin against mine, screaming at the joy of the pain. She felt it profoundly, felt my vengeance for my brother through the black eye I gave her, a black eye of death, one that would bring my death tonight, a black eye that gave it away. They forced her to spill our love, taboo, out in the open, love forbidden. “I could kill myself now,” I told myself as I grabbed the shovel from inside the barn and placed it on the ground in front of me. Right under my chin it was. I would go see my brother, my father again in Guinea. This afterlife would serve me only many great joys. The shovel’s rusted and sharp metallic edge grazed my soft throat, as the fire above grew stronger. I could feel its heat. What of my child growing inside of her, I ask myself. What of his future? Of not having a father, someone to look up to. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get myself to do it. I could not imagine a world where my child would be born without a father. Born within the grips of a mother who would not know the lived experience of blacks on this island. Could she even defend his dignity? Understand his true worth! I had to risk it all. I could not die today. As a horse from behind screamed because of the rising fire, I realized quickly before time ran out that I could ride them, leave on them, and have the advantage over the mad dogs and crazed men outside. The horse could lend me its strength and speed. I walked towards the startled horses. Towards my freedom within a barn lit in flames, red lights, orange flames, dark ash flowing, smoke was everywhere, a deep fog and toxic. Coughing with my hands over my nose, I quickly grabbed in the corner for the horse’s saddle. My feet stepped on horse manure; it smelled. I arranged it on his back with no problems. There were over seven horses then. I released all of them inside. I climbed the horse’s back, tried to hold on, held on for my life as the horse knew exactly what it wanted to do, fight or flight, a choice not to die within the flames fast engulfing this place. The horse, with me on his back, ran towards the entrance. He stood on his two back feet as I held on to the handle; it hit the front door of the closed barn furnace with his front feet. It was so sudden; all the horses ran towards their freedom. The men, many of them, their faces angry, their stares hateful and surprised as to my capacity to maneuver a beast that, in their eyes, only they could do. He fell on the ground. it was Father Andree, his prayer beads on his neck, his large white body on the rich black dirt. His bible had fallen in the mud; the horses had stepped on it. Father Andree must’ve taken a hit. His body looked lifeless on the floor, just a second, it all happened soon. The remaining man screamed, “Nigger, come back here!” and from their hands under the night filled stars that shined, they released the voracious dogs against us. The wind of the run, I wanted to see how fast the horse could run. I ran towards my freedom, hoping one day, I would return to the Leclerc Plantation to grab my mother, Henriette, and Esmeralda, the mother of my child. Through the woods, I escaped. In these vast dark woods, only the steps of the horse could be heard, the slush of the mud, the soothing crickets sound, light bugs swarming, flying everywhere, an orchestra playing only those I had heard from Esmeralda and the books she would lend me. The dogs could not keep up with our speed. From behind, I heard their barks that slowly faded away. With this horse, I was free and couldn’t believe it. I could not fathom I had surpassed these men and their vindictive ways and their inability to run fast. I went deep in the forest. The large tropical forest of this island. I went up on hills to forever. Left to where I had never been. Went to the highest point in the mountains, where no one would dare to climb or search for me.   Deep in the forest of the demons that lived there, the spirits and the loogaroos, they all lived in the mountains; they always told us slaves not to go there or we would get eaten. I arrived at a flat space and clearing. It was calm. I breathe the cool air fresh of these titanic mountainous regions. I was tired and afraid of the dark. It was the first time I had breathed in a long while. I constantly thought of my mother, my child, my Esmeralda. I rested there, free. Hid myself from the sadistic ways of men. I came back into nature, and she welcomed me. I stood up high up, looking down at the flames far, far away. Merely a dot, the flames of hate, the remanence of the barn still being torched and where I would have died. I stared at it deeply, at the sleepy moon that shined upon the smoke that rose in the air, at the smoky smell that invaded what looked like a large valley.

II

I woke in the middle of the night to the fresh wind and the moon bright, the stars, vast and infinite, and the sounds of a passing owl. I woke to the sound of leaves and wood crackling. I looked back, behind me, startled, a group of men stood there, black men, painted faces, with strange markings. They held me down, questioned me, asked me what I was doing here, if I was a spy, what plantation I came from, how I found this place. One of them had long hair, the longest I had ever seen. His hair was braided, like dreads. They did not allow us to grow our hair on the plantations. It was against the law. We had to present ourselves clean, clean for the nooses to hang us whenever we made a mistake. We had to be clean products. This man with his brown shirt and pants seemed to be the leader of his group. I told him everything, everything that happened to me. His eyes melted, watery, his gaze reflecting the moonlight above. It was then they released me. They called me brother. He called himself Biassou; he was the leader of this group and strangely told me I could exact revenge tomorrow. Exactly tomorrow, at the same time, a revolution he said, the revolution was upon us, his eyes caring, his language sure, his stance soulful, a leader, leading the men around him. I walked with him a few miles south in the middle of the night. One of his men grabbed the horse and walked it for me. I felt I could trust them. We arrived at a place deep in the woods. All I could see were men, women and children, some naked, some dressed, some with deep scars in their backs. It was a free camp. I heard of these safe havens for black slaves on the island. My father, that crazy fool tried to find one of these. I couldn’t believe my eyes; he was right. I couldn’t fathom how they had founded a life outside the tyranny. There were red people here too, the native tainos. I thought they were all killed. I thought they had been wiped out by diseases a long time ago. Some had survived as one looked me in the eyes with a smile, his body slim and hair tied by a small brown band. The huts made with a circular process of palm leaves to the top, their walls made with mud and clay. As we walked deeper into this small village, Biassou told me the clay from the caves below gave rise to this house, these structures that facilitated this unknown town in the middle of the woods, the woods filled with sounds of life, the sky becoming blue. It was early in the morning, the wet floor, the fallen trees, the light bugs still flying. I could also hear the sounds of falling water, the chirping of birds rising, another house was hidden there farther out. We approached it, and Biassou knocked, knocked with a rhythm like a secret code I could not understand. We entered. Inside, a man sat there with a green shirt, his hands filled with old veins. His stare, wise, full of wisdom, it seemed, a large woman also sat across as if they were waiting for Biassou’s arrival. For our arrival, designs and patterns of African things. A few golden vases were there to the left. A small carved wooden man figure sitting with his legs clasped. A large sea conch shell was next to him. Small figures made of palm trees and wood hung above the ceiling. The skin of what looked like a crocodile was also placed on the back walls. Different designs of blue, green, red, yellow patterns were across the room all lit by a gas lamp with glass over it. I had never seen something like these before, but it’s strangeness felt at home. Some I had seen in markets downtown or similar things in Leclerc plantation house. The man in green rose, saluted me with his hands clasped. He looked at me, told me, “Welcome brother, welcome to the beginning of the end.” As the women sitting on the side looked deeply at me, got up, introduced herself as Catherine Flon, she had soft brown skin, her teeth white, her accent melodic, her ways reassuring, motherly, she was a leader too. The tall man introduced himself as Bookman, Dutty Bookman. Biassou approached them, saluted them with their forwards touch, bowing down like they had met a king and queen of royalty. It all looked so surreal. We all sat back down on the ground of the house, a ground covered with what looked like dried banana leaves, as the sun outside began to rise, rising from his deep sleep, yet again. The rays of the morning hit the dew on the plants at the windows that grew like snakes, wrapping its vines around itself all over the house outside, morning glories blooming with their purple flowers. Bookman spoke of the visions, of the gods that had descended upon this land to tell him a future to show him the world needed to change. This system of slavery was far from normal; this global change would start here on this island. Bookman, with a serious tone, described what the Loa had shown him, of blacks building a society, living, thriving with the yellow, red and white people, a distant place of high rises, of buildings of men and women of these strange metallic machines, some flying, and others barely holding on to the ground hovering. I believed him, believed it, while I had never met them before. Just yesterday, I was shackled to the plantation when Esmeralda told me, told me what she had heard her father, her brothers, and some of the white workers there would do to me. I had to leave or suffer the painful death of being burned alive, a death felt by many, the slavery of the mind. I stood there inside the shed of the large plantation hurrying, gathering my things, ready to leave everything behind. My mother, with her old body embraced me, her smell, I would never forget, neither the bracelet she made for when I was just a young boy, dreaming I would be part of something great. I always felt so, but too often, I denied myself this future, unable to move beyond the pain, the cries, the screams and sorrows dripping from my soul. I denied myself, denied what I felt might have been crazy to even think about, when the entire world told me and my body I was nothing, nothing, just something disposable, something ugly, to be despised. Just yesterday, I found out that Esmeralda was pregnant. She told me as she cried out loud to leave and come back for her if I could! I promised her I would! Even her, she wanted to escape this place, a place of luxury. How sorry she was for her race, for her entire family’s devilish ways, for their monstrous ways. Bookman and Biassou seemed to be commanders, leaders of this revolution for Ayiti, the spirit of the island breath through them, the spirit of freedom, the land of mountains, they called it. They described all of it passionately; over the past ten years, they had been meeting, planning in the darkness, in the shadows of slavery’s dark vices. The revolution in France was heard many years ago, the dissent from the white plantation owners to be free and independent. They also gained support from the freed slaves, those with lighter skin, those born with their blood mixed with those of the whites. They told me they were crucial, an important ingredient, crucial to build a society stable enough to thrive. Bookman told me he was from Jamaica. He had seen too many horrors, and this island was the worst. A dream led him here, the spirits guided him. This revolution, the revolution of Ayiti, would spread around the world. Rhythmic knocks from behind were heard; two more walked in. I sat silent, as Biassou said, “Dessalines! Toussaint! Welcome brothers.” They were tall men, darker skin. Both looked like ancient god warriors from the deep Congo, large hands, long posture, they looked at me in the eyes. I saluted them. The men called Dessalines asked for horses, good horses that could travel miles. I hesitated but told them that south of here, deep in the valley, a group of horses had been freed near the Leclerc Plantation. “You might find them roaming around if you leave now,” I told them. He responded, “Ok good” and asked, “Can this man be trusted?” to Bookman directly, “Yes,” Bookman answered in an urgent manner. I seldom knew who these men were and what was going on. The morning quickly rose, the sun’s heat arrived, the tropical weather, the hot humid of the forest settled in. Toussaint, with his large circular black hat, mentioned the Spanish would get south of the island, preventing anyone from fleeing tomorrow. He continued, “The sun will shine on independence,” an expression I would hear him use a lot throughout the rest of the time.

III

At the stroke of midnight during an ancestral ceremony, Bookman, with his large sea conch, spikes pointing out, held firm in his hands, sounded off high the signal heard around the world, through the ages and across time. Soon after, the loud yet low humming sounds of Shell Sea conchs could be heard across the island of Saint Domingue. They rung on all directions of the endless horizons. The leaders, angry slaves, black men and women seeking revenge. Atoning for their sons and daughters killed, all sounded the start of the revolution. A struggle for independence against the French, their slave masters, and the ones who had inherited the evil that killed so many of my ancestors. I left right after, headed towards the deep woodland forests, towards the Leclerc Plantation. The chants of slaves, the hums of sorrowed souls, the beating of drums, all could be heard. I had to go back there. I had to go back to the Leclerc Plantation, back to my sweet mother, my sweet Esmeralda, my baby, the life growing inside of her. The sky was lit red, pitch red, orange, and yellow from all the fires burning. It opened wide to a full moon, the brightest I had ever seen. The air was hot and electric, flowing, fast, moving, ashes from the burned field of sugar canes, sadistic spaces, wooden houses, old colonial buildings being destroyed. I ran, ran and could hear the screams of people dying, running, the slaves’ masters afraid and repenting for their committed sins. The gates of hell to which they had condemned themselves, condemned by the racist views and racist actions. The souls of all black folk revolting, of negroes past, deceased, all awakened that night. I felt as if they all came to bear witness. I ran, ran deep in the woods before it would be too late to save her. I heard Biassou specifically speaking of the Leclerc Plantation, all plantations a target, to cut of the snake, their heads, so they would not rise again. Cut all of them off. In the forest, the glows of shadows, of passing ghosts, I saw them, saw these strange soft figures with my own two eyes. They looked like spirits, roaming, dead slaves they appeared, bearing witness of the revenge of a generation, the vengeance of a future world. That night, strange lights occupied this midnight air, strange lights up in the red burning sky of this struggle for independence. I did not know what they were nor where they came from. The field of Sugarcanes in which I worked all day was burning, fiery splash, crackling noise, smoke, large tall flames, my face hot, hurting from the heat that held an immensity I hadn’t sensed before. The smoke blinded my eyes, watery, I could seldom see. I felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my left leg, my flat muddy feet. It was a burning piece of wood I had stepped on. It looked like coal. The pain I felt was sore, painless compared to what I had felt my entire life, living like a caged animal, while witnessing my mother pushing herself beyond her limits and all she did for me. I walked inside the large house. Louis, the young brother of Esmeralda was lying on the floor, his body compulsively moving, bloodied everywhere, red blood gushing from his neck, his head missing, not far, near the stairs it was. I was shocked, shocked at the possibilities of what might happened to her. His body still moved, meaning I still had a chance of saving her. I quickly ran up to her room through the smoke. The Leclerc house was in flames, the smell of burnt wood, the Victorian paintings, the precious wooden chairs and tables, the golden purple curtains, the ceramic blue pots of French design, the family books, the large tables, the burgundy colored sofa chairs, all had been turned up in large flames. Even the large chandelier, broken, and some of everything had burned. The house was no more. Its sadistic allure disintegrated. I ran towards her room. I heard screams. It was Esmeralda. A black man holding a large Machete approached her. She crawled back in the corner. Tears in her eyes, fear, she screamed, “No, no, no, no, I’m pregnant. I’m bearing a child of your kind.” I ran behind the man as he still walked toward her. I clenched my hands behind his neck. Held it tight, as we both wrestled on the floor, the hot second floor, as the roof below had probably been engulfed by flames and could cave in any moment. I squeezed, squeezed as he dropped his machete. He kicked, kicked me hard in the back of my stomach with his legs. My grip on his neck was loosened, the tight grip almost released. I grabbed the machete, stuck it right through his soft stomach, deep in his gut. I had killed one of mine to save my child and her mother. I felt his warm blood dripping slowly onto my hands. He looked at me in the eyes, dying. He had one ear missing. I was consumed by guilt. I didn’t know what this man, this brother had experienced, but I knew it was hell. Hellish, and Esmeralda’s death represented his justice. His sweet freedom and satisfaction to move this revolution forward. I held on to Esmeralda, consoling her on the grounds engulfed by heavy smoke, engulfed by the rising heat. We had no time and told her, “I am here; everything is going to be alright.” She cried, cried in deep hate, hit me hard on my shoulders, pushed me away, screamed, her dress ripped, darkened by the ash in the house, her hair frizzy and messy. “We have to leave, we have to leave,” I told her. “My father, my father, my mother, I can’t leave without them. I heard their cries and I couldn’t do anything.” She was out of breath. The smoke got deeper and deeper, we descended upon the front entrance of the house and she fell to the ground. “Oh god! Oh no, Louis.” An ocean of tears gushed out of her already red face. I could no longer make out what she was saying as she stared at the dead lifeless body of her younger brother lying on the floor, his head probably cut off by the slave I had just killed to save her life. I dragged her body on the floor, pushing her, telling her this house would crumble down any moment now. That it would be no more, that it was history happening. Slaves had revolted. She was being hunted. She was on the wrong side of history. I placed her on my back, held her tightly, held her white pale legs, crossing both through my arms. I carried her outside, a fog of smoke blinding us, but I knew too well this plantation. I grabbed a large towel and placed her under it, on my back fully covering and hiding her. The pain I felt, it made me remember everything of this place, even through this thick smoke. I walked as she cried on my back. I looked for my mother, walked fast towards the back, evaded people I saw. I opened the metal shed in the back of the plantation. Her body was there. Mother was sleeping, so carelessly during the revolution. If someone would find the time to sleep like this, it would be my mother, only her. She was now free, and I wanted to tell her. I shook her entire body, expecting her to wake up. She didn’t. My mother’s body was still, her dark soft skin, her large nightgown, her white hair, her wrinkled skin, she laid there; she was dead, had most likely died from asphyxiation. I was furious, furious at the fact she, out of everyone who worked so hard from morning to sunset, never got to bear witness to this new day, out of all days, as the sun rose and shined on this independence day.

THE END

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