Jacques Fleury: The Haitian Firefly
[Excerpt from my book Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir]
Imagine this jumpy scenario if you will. The house was full of activity. Five sisters, four big country husbands, four cousins, three stalwart maids and about four tenants with kids who rented parts of the house from my mom. And believe me, we were NOOO Brady Bunch; we were more like “The Horny Bunch”! The maids were not that much older than us kids. Most of them were in their late teens or early twenties. Some of them were quite lovely, in a grotesque sort of way.
There was one particular maid who loved mangoes, carnivals and meat. As a matter of fact, one of her favorite sayings was “Map pran zozo pou viann” meaning “I’ll take dick for meat.” Simple as that. So my cousin Tibob and I took glorious advantage of this notion. She’d moan and groan in what we later discovered was feigned pleasure just to appease us. Even at such a young age, the maid knew how to fake to pacify a man who needs to feel like a capable and masterful lover. We only learned that Lina was faking when we became old enough to know better. But we did not only fool around with Lina.
We fooled around with other boys and girls from the neighborhood. Particularly during black outs. We lived for black outs. We’d have one at least once a week. The minute the lights went out so did we! We’d rush down the street to this girl’s house. Her name was Chantal. She was what the adults called “loose.” She was only mimicking her mother, whom she had seen prostitute herself to put food on the table. A litter of men coming in and out of the house was “Les Affairs Du Jours” at Chantal’s. When we weren’t copulating, we were playing soccer, marbles, wrestling or flying a kite. Kites and soccer are really big in Haiti. But we spent a great deal of time wrestling. As a matter of fact, wrestling became our chosen religion and I’ll tell you why.
On Sunday mornings, our parents often sent us to church. Yes, sent us. They rarely went with us to worship services. I remember that on many occasions my mom would groggily roll out of bed, give me money for the collection plate and a rancid kiss to keep me company along the lonely road to God’s house. She preferred to stay in bed to have morning sex with my stepfather rather then accompany me to worship service at Saint Perpetuelle. The service was as boring and dusty as an abandoned factory. Even the saints on the glass windows were seemingly snoring!
Soon enough, my cousin Tibob and I grew tired of this ridiculously futile ritual. So we started hanging out at the local movie theater. Jackie Chan was at the height of his popularity in Haiti, so he became our matinee idol. We thought it was funny that we were worshiping Jackie Chan instead of Jesus Christ on Sundays. Our parents never found out, not even to this day.
Tibob and I enjoyed wrestling each other and the other boys. This was probably because of the homoerotic element, though this was unbeknownst to us then. This was my life for quite some time before my mother married disaster in the form of my horrific and abusive alcoholic stepfather. He was okay for a while before and shortly after the marriage. But soon his insecurities swelled up like a dead body immersed in water in summer weather. You see, he knew that the only reason that my mother married him was because my biological father didn’t, because at that time my mother was deemed too young.
One of the problems for woman in Haiti is that regardless of how much extensive and expensive education a women has, she’s still kept under the rotten toes of male dominance and oppression. Men often define women’s roles. If a man decides that he wants you barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, then that’s what your role becomes. Most often, if a woman wants a career bad enough, it’s not too farfetched for her to compromise herself to get to where she needs to be on the economic ladder.
Since my mother was not willing to engage in this charming ritual, she resorted to being a society wife. Her days were spent throwing parties, at the beauty salon or gardening. She rarely went out because every time she did, particularly if she came home after my stepfather came home, a physical fight would ensue between them. Actually it was between the three of us because I would always step in to defend my mom. I hated that S.O.B.! Sometimes, he would be chasing us in the streets with an iron bar at three in the morning threatening to kill us both!
He was always grappling with overwhelming suspicions that my mom was unfaithful. Eventually, he drove my mother to succumb to a self-fulfilling prophecy, and she actually did cheat on him. Essentially, my childhood from that point on began to evaporate like water in the hot Caribbean weather. I started to loose my fire, as I mentioned earlier, when my mother married the step-monster! Which brings me to the issue of fireflies.
My aunt, one of my mom’s sisters, told me this story. I was maybe six or seven years old at the time when they came for me. No, not aliens, but fireflies. You see voodoo is a very common ritual in Haiti. My aunt said that while I was sleeping, a frock of fireflies came down my bedroom window. Now fireflies, according to my mother, are said to be associated with evil in Haiti. She says that voodoo kings and queens masquerade as fireflies at night so that they can trick young children into playing with them. Catching them in jars and taking them home. I was particularly vulnerable because I was the first-born son in my family. For some reason, they always want the first-born son and not the first-born daughter.
So as the fireflies came down my window, my aunt, who was in the room along with my mother, gasped in horror. She tried to speak, but her tongue swelled up inside her mouth and she could only utter “hmmm…hmmmm…hmmmm….” She was desperately trying to wake my mother. But my mom is a deep sleeper. Then my aunt resorted to using her ingenuity during the calamity. She started to bang loudly on the wall. So loud that my mother woke up and she too stared in horror at the superfluity of fireflies against my window.
My mom has always been a screamer. So that’s exactly what she did. She screamed at the top of her lungs, like a virgin on the run from a rapist. Only then did I wake up. I bolted from my bed and ran into my mother’s desperate and flailing arms. Then slowly, ever so slowly, the fireflies began to die off. One by one, as if deliberately. My mom said that I started crying endlessly. Even when night gave birth to day. I just wouldn’t stop crying. I had never done that before, ever.
My mother was in a total fog as to what to do with me. My biological father, who believed in conventional medicine, suggested that she take me to the doctor. But the doctor couldn’t find anything medically wrong with me. Eventually I stopped crying. But my mother became a nervous, nail-biting wreck and watched me religiously after that incident. It took a good two weeks before she would even let me venture outside by myself, and even them she had the maid watch me frantically. It wasn’t until later that I discovered what the fireflies symbolized.
To Be Continued…
Jacques Fleury is a Poet, Author and Columnist; his book “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For personal appearances or comments contact Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org.