by Anita Olson
Rony waits for it. The sense of belonging. He remembers it. That feeling of being of a place. Being able to safely assume you understand how the world works. He knows it was left behind. Now he is waiting to see if it's still there when he lands. His mom insisted on coming with him. She said the trip was a graduation gift. College had been hard for Rony. She said it is because she was proud of him. He feels it is to prove herself as his mother. Even back in Haiti her motherhood title can't be set aside. Rony can't stop her. She put the tickets and hotel on her credit card without hesitation, booking a set for her.
Life in Florida was weird for Rony, being black with a white mom. He wonders if it might be even stranger in Haiti to have a white mom. He wanted to come alone however his ability to fund the trip was limited. As much as he hates it, he still needs her to make the trip possible.
It's all just weird shit, if he is being honest. It's weird being adopted. It's stranger when race, culture, and about 67 other differences between Rony and his Mom are added in. It's safe to assume that whatever she was hoping she'd accomplished in his adoption has been derailed. Rony didn't get a voice. He just was on a plane one day with her, headed to a place she kept calling home. Rony knew better. He knew he was leaving home. She started out telling him lies. It wasn't a good start and it never really got better.
Rony steps off the plane into a blast of heavy air. Heavy with foul odors ranging from petroleum to poverty. He steps out of the marching line and breathes deeply. Waiting for it. The stench does nothing. It just smells and makes him gag. It's mountain air that always brings him a sense of home. The rush of cool air as he enters the airport feels more familiar than the air outside.
Sitting in the hotels lobby enjoying breakfast Rony looks over to her and says "Mom, I got two things I need to do today. A hair cut and some clothes." Rony doesn't expect a vote of approval on the haircut, but the dark look he is given tells how she feels about the removal of 15 years of dreads. The dreads were her idea. Rony doesn't hate them. The girls love them and he loves that the girls love them. He notices that no men wear dreads here. Three days here and not one man with dreads. Clearly Haitian men do not do dreads. He knows that the dreads have to go if he will ever be seen as Haitian.
Mom opens her mouth to say something and silently closes it. She hands him a fresh cup of coffee, picks up the dirty dishes and heads back to the room. Stretching out and inhaling the stream of Haitian Blue and Rony knows this is how coffee should have smelt all these years. Smells brings him a sense of home more than anything else, once he got out of Port-Au-Prince into Kenscoff. The air smelled right in the mountain village. The wafts of neighbors' dinners make him hungry for food he doesn't know he remembers. They say smell is the last sense to go. It's also the first sense to bring you back too.
Rony hopes to find clothes at the local marketplace. A vender selling GoodWill cast offs at least. He walks by a man selling shirts of the losing Superbowl team on a street corner and laughs. Rony sees a young man wearing a shirt that proudly announced he was the grandmother to Isabelle, Isaac and Meagan. He is quickly finding himself being picky, more than he expected. He thinks he wants something that doesn't announce his mom buys his clothes at a high priced department store but is proving to be pickier than the average Haitian male.
Rony manages to get along using the French he took in High School. The market is for locals and he hopes he can buy at least a few things by pointing and paying full price. He is not prepared for the assault of Creole. His brain searches for the meaning for words. Most words come up blank. His brain finds them familiar enough to keep trying. Each individual vender competes to be loudest. Words forcibly filter through his mind, trying to find traction.
Walking past the fruit stall an old woman leans over the table of fruit, her unrestrained bosom threatening to send mango's rolling. He smiles at her but she quickly waves him by. The disdain for him rolls off her hand as she dismisses him. Rony tries to produce the words to ask for the barber. He knows his brain holds them but finds them slippery and unwilling to come out his mouth. No one returns the eye contact he is attempting. The dreads and preppy outfit call out to those around him what he feels, while he may have been comfortable here, he no longer is. Their words get louder around him. Turning slowly, he looks for anything that might indicate a barber. Instead he finds a freshly butchered goat; it's head hanging lopsided making jarring eye contact with him. His stomach turns as he stumbles backwards and careens between stalls, coming out facing a crowd of young men around a barber's chair.
This is the closest thing to a barber he is going find. The chair and barber are equally on their last leg. Young men with crisp hairlines talk over each other as the barber works on a small boy with a straight razor. Rony decides he seems capable. Approaching the chair the group turns toward him and there is no invitation to come closer. Distrust rolls off of them and Rony gets the message. The weight of the truth washes over him and he knows he doesn't belong here anymore than he belonged in Florida. A haircut and used clothes isn't going to change that. The young men yell something to him, but it's all mixed in and fading as he turns quickly and walks away.
* * *
Frenel wakes in the morning. A lush morning after a night of rain. Waking Papa will mean a delay in leaving. The market is far enough that an early start means home before lunch. Slipping shoes on and buttoning his shirt, he shoos away the rooster from the front door. A bird for dinner would be nice. Papa won't let him kill the rooster. He says he is saving it for a celebration. Perhaps he is planning his own funeral, thinks Frenel. Reaching for his slingshot, his hand brushes the second one hanging there. He made them both. For his brother and him to hunt birds. He still uses his. Rony's hangs there.
Frenel was 10. Rony was 7. Rony always got as many as Frenel. They'd bring them home and Papa would declare them fed for a week. Then Rony was gone. His brother just wasn't here anymore. He never knew how to ask. Papa never said. He came home from school with Papa one day, and Rony didn't. But Frenel knows he had a brother, his sling shot still hangs by the door.
Frenel walks to the market. He stands and buys plantains. Papa's gut will be helped with plantains, he knows. The old woman laughs at him frying plantains. A man standing over the fire cooking is a rare picture. But since Mama died leaving a family of boys, a man has cooked at their house. Turning to call out to the fruit woman, Frenel stops. Seeing Rony he thinks, " That is me. A version of Me, with long knotted hair. In fancy clothes. The slope of the nose and the set of the chin I know from the small mirror I use to shave." He shakes his head to clear the image. The young man turns away from the hair man. He walks defiant with the arrogance money buys. The hook with the sling slot comes to mind. But that is even sillier than a man cooking plantains.
* * *
"Dammit Mom, There has to be more to it." He says to the back of her head. Like every conversation they've tried to have about his history. He talks to her and she doesn't really answer. He is hoping this trip allows for some long awaited answers.
"I don't know, I simply don't know." She replies.
"Tell me what you do know then."
"I've told you everything I know. The agency sent me a picture of you. I fell in love and said yes. Then you were mine."
"No, Mom. What about me? What did they tell you about me?"
"That your family couldn't feed you. Your family wanted you to go to school. You needed a mom."
"Didn't they tell you more? Why did I need a Mom? What about my Dad? I remember having a Dad. What about him?"
"I didn't ask. I believed what they told me. You needed a new family. I wanted to a child, and there you were. And I fell in love, and then you were mine."
"God, Mom. I was a kid. You were suppose to be the grown up. Instead you took what you wanted and didn't care if it fucked me up." She held her hand up to stop him, but his words were like vomit that wouldn't stay down.
"You should have asked. You should have found out about me. Not the cute kid they dressed up to impress you. Me, the scared little kid with a dad. I had a dad. I know I had a family. You bought me and didn't bother to find out if I was for sale. I wasn't. I don't know much, but I know that. I wasn't that boy you fell in love with."
She stared at him and started to say something. He wanted her to give him a satisfying answer. To admit she was in the wrong, to acknowledge her wanting him meant he's been hurt. That is expecting too much. He can see she has no answers.
* * *
"Papa, I have plantains. And coffee. Come in and rest," Frenel says to his father's frail body bent over a bed of peppers. He unfolds and walks slowly towards him. Frenel can see it there. The slope of the nose. The broad forehead and set of the shoulders. The man with the dreads has his face and his Papa's shoulders.
"Papa, what really happened? With Rony?" The weight of this unasked question weighs him down as he turns to him.
"I'm sorry." He struggles to get the words out.
"I lost him. No, I know where I left him. I took you both to school that morning. But that day he wasn't there when I came back. No one would tell me where he was. They said since he was 7, he was old enough to go to a better school. I couldn't make them tell more. They wouldn't tell me anything and my words against the blanc man meant too little to make them."
"You only left us at school though."
"Yes, at the school. I came for you both. You were there. He wasn't. I argued, but they said I signed a paper. No one would tell me anything. And I had you to feed. I could only do so much."
"Papa, what better school?"
"I don't know. They would not tell me. All I got was silence. I kept asking until I was afraid you'd be gone too one day. So I stopped asking."
"Papa, you told me he died. That isn't true."
"I pray not, but how do I know? It is easier to live with that."
"I miss him."
"I miss him too."
* * *
Rony left before his mom wakes up. He doesn't have anything to say to her. He isn't hers. He doesn't belong to her. Maybe he never did. He knows he needs creole to start asking the locals. Until then, he can start with the names that signed his adoption paperwork.
Standing outside the gate, he practices asking. Nerves build and he turns to walk away. A voice stops him, asking if she can help him. An older woman, with long hair wrapped up in a severe bun, stands inside the gate with a toddler resting on her hip. Her voice jars Rony. He turns and stands while the memory overwhelms him. With the gate open he can see to the schoolroom, full of children bent over notebooks. He knows there is a bathroom out the back door and a small playground past the main house. He stares at her demanding she remember him. She steps back closing the gate. Rony's hand stops the gate before he knows he has moved.
"I used to go to school here. I was adopted. I'm looking for information about it."
" I can't help you. We are just a school. We don't do adoptions."
"I remember you. You were there. At the airport when my Mom came and got me."
Forcing the gate shut, she says "Go away or I will call the police."
"Wait, I just want to ask you a few questions. You're Ann, aren't you. You're name is on the paperwork. I remember you. I know you were involved in my adoption. Please, I just want information about who I belonged too."
A young man came around the corner, carrying a rifle around his back instead of a child and faced Rony. "Man, she's said go away. So go away. Ann is a good woman who does good for these kids. You are one of the lucky ones. That is all you need to know." He says as he shifts the rifle to the front.
Rony backs away with all the confirmation he was looking for. This place is familiar and a place to start. His memories are vague, but he is sure he felt at home once in the schoolroom. He is sure he walked here daily. He is also sure he had a family near here.
Despite the lack of success he can feel the weight of the possibilities and finds himself hopeful. He will start with a hair cut. Once he looks like he fits in, he will be able to practice creole. Then he can start to ask questions of those without so much to protect. Rony can belong here, he knows that much.
Starting towards the market, Rony stops at an opening in the trees. This path feels known. Taking it in, he knows he's walked this path before. Rony turns down the path making a decision that the haircut can wait but this can't.
Rony sees him. Frenel is crossing the path ahead. His slingshot is primed as he scouts the trees. Rony steps back to watch unseen. The rock flies and he knows it will hit its target. He knows the young man doesn't miss. He also knows he will go home and roast it up and eat it with fried plantains. He will share it with his Papa, who will declare them well fed. Rony recognizes the set of his shoulders and stance of Frenel's feet as he takes the shot. Rony mimics the stance without thinking. He knows with a slingshot he'd shoot the same.
The suddenness of the moment makes Rony inhale sharply and Frenel turns towards him. Ducking behind a tree, Rony can see his face. His mind reels with the thoughts: His face is my face. His day old stubble follows the same line as mine. I know if I traced his widow's peak it would match mine. Taking another deep breath Rony calms himself, he needs to be quiet to follow him. He has a good idea where the path will lead, but it's just too much to believe.
Frenel picks up the bird walking toward the mountain village. Following him is Ronys only option. He forgets he is wearing khakis and a polo shirt. He forgets he has dreads and speaks another language. All he can do is follow. He can feel the pressure of grief following him. Losing sight of the young man means the grief will catch up.
Frenel stops at the edge of a small garden, pulling a few carrots and onions. The small one room house, made of cinderblock with an open doorway doesn't seem right to Rony. He can picture the small two room thatched roof house that used to stand there. He can hear the water running through the dirt floor and smell the charcoal fire that burned in the corner.
Frenel hears a rustling from the edge of the path and looks over expecting to see the goat or rooster rooting for food. Instead he sees the man. The one from the market. The one who looks like him and stands like his Papa. He locks eyes with Rony and is met with uncertainty. Neither moves. Rony is afraid it's not true or even worse, it is true and he is unwelcome. Fearful and unsure Rony shifts into the stance and lifts his arms, pulling back the pretend slingshot.
Rony hears Papa call from the inside. "Son, are you home? I've been waiting for you. I hope you brought dinner." Rony's body obeys before his mind can stop it, stepping out of the path into the yard and smiles at Frenel.