Embrace

Mwen pa renmen jan li ap pede gade mwen. 

Mama never bothers to ask the young girl why she looks at her so much. All she knows is that those wondering brown eyes against that dark skin make her uncomfortable. It’s not the first time her family has taken in a restavek. Her parents are most often who families come to when their children become a burden. In her 10 years of life she’s seen six children trot through the front gate with a bundled plastic bag extending from their bellies. The conversations are always the same.

Madame Bougiyon, mwen pa ka pran swen l ankò. 

Twelve years ago, when Madame Bougiyon turned over in bed restlessly, her husband knew something was plaguing. It had been almost five months since they’d stop trying to have a baby; ten years since they’d started.

Cheri, kisa w genyen? 

He nudged closer to her, embracing her round body.

An nou adopte yon timoun. 

She had been rehearsing an elegant line to bring her husband across the finish line, but at this late hour, negotiation felt forced.

Si se sa ki ap fè kè ou kontan. 

Many in the neighborhood often laughed at Monsieur Bougiyon. It seems he always lets his wife have her way. Tonight he felt her breath release upon agreeing to adopt a child. From the time he was a young man, Monsieur Bougiyon had a different understanding of love than the young man who ran through his front yard.

Madame Bougiyon is not an easy woman to love, she wasn’t the first day they met at the lunch counter. Monsieur Bougiyon had just finished his morning shift at the hospital. It was around noon. In those days he was training as a nurse and only worked the first few hours after dawn. Madame Bougiyon worked as a teacher at the all girls school across from Papa Gil’s, the most popular lunch counter in all of La Vallee, Jacmel.

Anvan yè ti bòl diri sa te senk dola. Kounye a li sèt dolla. Sa pa moral, Filip. 

Monsieur Bougiyon looked around the room, wondered if he should just walk the five miles home and eat there, but he decided to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

See Madame Bougiyon was quite a beauty. By far the best dressed of the new teachers at the school. Her breasts, like her attitude, stood firm, like melons underneath her carefully ironed dress suits. Although it was only her fourth year teaching, her students always scored the highest. Nuns would peek into her classroom with their wandering gaze. It is said they whispered that Madame Bougiyon was what they prayed for in silence. Others say, the devil sent her to play a sick joke on the catholic church. After-all, she was not a docile woman. Rumor has it that she once told the head priest to stick his cross in a place where the Holy Trinity does not belong. Oh no, don’t get the wrong impression. Madame Bougiyon is quite the religious woman; she’s first to get to church on Sunday and the most beautiful voice in the choir.

Standing in the doorway, Monsieur Bougiyon thought to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Filip, madmwazèl la gen yon rezon. Anvan yè m peye senk dolars pou ti bòl an diri sa. 

Madame Bougiyon stopped. Her eyebrows moved further apart and her fierce red lips stopped their wrinkle. Filip looked around his father’s restaurant in disbelief. Well, yes of course, the price for a bowl of cooked rice was merely five dollars yesterday. He upped the price, he’s allowed to do that, it’s his father’s restaurant. But see, Filip was not the kind of man who got so riled up on a Monday. He smiled at the woman in the gray dress suit and gave his soccer buddy a menacing look — what some friends will do for ass. His menaced look soon smirked, he wondered if Monsieur Bougiyon knew better than to seduce Madame Bougiyon. No man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Madame Bougiyon was still stopped. Monsieur Bougiyon offered to buy her lunch, she nodded, but she was still stopped. No man had stood up for her before, she simply never needed it. As a young girl, she was known to drag young boys from the waterfall and back to their mother’s wombs for no-good behavior. Rumor has it that she came out of her mother already a sturdy woman. She just sort of crawled her way out of the woman then scolded her father for not cutting the umbilical chord properly.

Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. She never hid any part of herself. Madame Bougiyon simply couldn’t hide much of who she was. Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. And as the story tells it, she fell in love with him too. He was the only one who could ever settle her down until she got soft enough to understand. Outsiders struggled to see her, but he got her soft enough to understand.

That night she cried in his arms. Legend tells it that Madame Bougiyon did not cry when she was born. But that night she cried in her husband’s arms. The tears were of joy. Many thought she was too hard to be a mother, but not her Filip.

A flower never grows in hard soil, the neighborhood women would whisper. A flower never grows in hard soil, her doctor thought that after the seventh miscarriage. A flower never grows in hard soil, Madame Bougiyon was beginning to think.

My wife makes nourishing soil, Monsieur Bougiyon knew. So that night he agreed to taking in other people’s children.

The next morning, with half of his stethoscope hanging from each side of his neck, he kissed her goodbye while she finished her espageti ak aransol. Madame Bougiyon started to eat it for breakfast every morning after her second miscarriage.

Ti bebe bezwen yon manman ki fò, cheri, mange sa pou mwen. 

Madame Bougiyon, Monsieur Bougiyon’s mother, patted Madame Bougiyon’s forehead. Her dotted white hand caressed the woman’s brown forehead. Madame Bougiyon was too weak to feed herself. This miscarriage had taken so much out of her. The baby had become so much of a baby that the doctor had her push it out. That thought kept her awake at night.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I bought a crib.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I sang sweet songs to it.

But that baby had become so much of a baby that I made it a jumper for its first night home.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye. 

Madame Bougiyon moved closer to Madame Bougiyon and held her close. She never had a daughter. Four sons is what she had. Two of her babies miscarried so she might have had a daughter, but she never had a daughter.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye. 

Madame Bougiyon held her daughter-in-law with softness. Madame Bougiyon was too hard for her to love when Monsieur Bougiyon brought her and Monsieur Bougiyon to the madmwazèl’s family home up where red earth covers everything. She was too hard to love for many years. Monsieur Bougiyon once heard his parents whispering about how the woman before Madame Bougiyon should have been their daughter. She was too hard to love for many years. Then one day the wise roots realized that hard soil is best for keeping weeds away.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye.

Two years shy of Madame Bougiyon asking her husband to take in other people’s children, she became pregnant. It is true they were not trying this time. It is also true that she often became pregnant. There were no celebrations. It is said that Madame Bougiyon simply cried when she found out. It is said she was known to be the woman with the most miscarriages in La Vallee, Jacmel.

This one carried itself the whole way. Madame Bougiyon would not let Monsieur Bougiyon convince her to go see Ti Jean, the medicine man. This one carried itself the whole way.

It came out covered in blood and howling at the moon. Monsieur Bougiyon knew it would come with a vagina, but Madame Bougiyon refused to name it. This went on for three months. Madame Bougiyon, the child’s grandmother, would walk the eight miles to see it everyday. When it was time to leave she would look at Madame Bougiyon in despair and ask her to name her grandchild.

Bay ti bebe a yon non, cheri. Ba li yon non. 

Madame Bougiyon had grown to love the aging root, but she shook her head in disagreement. She also hadn’t gone to church since it was born. It is said that the church lost members in those three months, some even became protestants. What is a catholic church without beautiful singing and what is a choir without its leader. The nuns at the all girls school would run across the yard in a frenzy. The head priest of all the head priests was on his way in a couple of weeks and their best was nowhere in sight.

Monsieur Bougiyon had a different idea about these things, but he let Madame Bougiyon be. Then one morning with it suckling on her breast she said, Mama.

Mama.

Monsieur Bougiyon repeated the name until it became Mama. It was always meant to be a Mama he thought. Mama.

The first time Madame Bougiyon left the house with Mama in her arms she did so with a firm step. No lougarou dared to come near the child. Not even when Monsieur Bougiyon left medicine and went into politics. Legend has it that the child was born covered in blood and howling at the moon so no lougarou dared to come near what was dear to Mama.

Even with her own, Madame Bougiyon, never stopped taking in other people’s children. She, Monsieur Bougiyon and Mama had plenty, and so she never stopped taking in other people’s children.

 

Written by: Flose Boursiquot