The furniture in his room includes a small television set from which he watches a Haitian news station, a radio and a rectangular table where he keeps an old Bible, forever opened to Psalm 23. In the shoebox next to the Bible is a photograph of his parents. A framed picture of his wife and children is placed next to his mattress. In the closet is the suit that he wears every Sunday to attend the Catholic mass, a black pair of shoes, and one of two pairs of jeans that he owns. He is wearing the other pair along with some sneakers, Karochu, he calls them, that he had brought from a 99 cents store. Along with a few shirts and some undergarments, those were the only clothes that he allowed himself to buy since he is so focused on sending every cent to his family.
On weekends, he works as a waiter in a Haitian restaurant in Queens. A few short blocks away on Nostrand Avenue is the barbershop he frequents even when he doesn’t have the need for a haircut. It is there that he is able to get the news behind the news from the experts on Haitian politics, the local patrons. His only major expense occurred last month when he paid for a dental extraction after experiencing intolerable pain from an impacted wisdom tooth. Since he didn’t have any insurance to pay the dentist, he left with the understanding that he would make occasional payments until his bill was fully paid. At night, when the mice would allow him to sleep, he dreams of his Haiti Cheri, his darling Haiti. As he dreams, he feels the soothing sensations of her gentle breezes on his face and smells the aroma of fried fish being cooked on the white sandy beaches bounded by her beautiful clear blue sea. But he is only to be awakened in the early hours of the morning, needing to urinate and realizing that he is in a small room, alone in a foreign land wrestling with a strange language.
The dream often evaporates before the taste of the salty fish leaves his mouth. Recently, he has been waking up more often than usual by the presence of an emptiness in his chest and tears under his eyelids. It is as if a hole was left in his chest where his heart should be. More than once while lying on the mattress that was placed on the floor for him to sleep, he found himself wondering if in some way he wasn’t experiencing a folie or obsession, in hoping that he could do something more for his family while in New York than if he had stayed lacaye, back home. He wanted to remove them from the dead end poverty that was the very fabric of their existence. The generosity of his parents, in-laws and friends allowed him to collect enough money to leave the country for America, a country known for its opportunities. He left with tears in his eyes and a promise on his lips to reunite his family. On many nights while lying on his mattress, awake with his eyes closed, the whisper of a thought kept resonating inside his mind; that maybe he made a mistake.
In New York he managed to get a driver’s license and learned the route of the B35 bus all along Church Avenue, even beyond Utica Avenue, where most of the people from the Caribbean live. Although the car he is driving is not his own, he has an agreement with the owner to return the car with a full tank of gas and a fifty dollar bill upon completion of each of his regular evening tours. After a couple of months, he even learned how to detect the undercover police cruisers and would purposefully avoid picking up passengers when he saw them from a distance. He grew up hearing the many stories of people who had “disappeared” while in the custody of the Haitian secret police, the macoutes, and he had no desire to disappear in America in the hands of these uniformed white men with his family’s future at stake.
There was also word out on the streets that the mayor, the magistrat of the land, someone named Giuliani, wasn’t one to play with. He had already heard of what had happened to one unfortunate Haitian man named Louima who wound up in the hands of the police one night. He knew that he was taking a chance in doing what he did, but he couldn’t pass up this opportunity. The need was there and so was he.