THE BISHOP’S HOUSE
(after The Colonel by Carolyn Forché)
We sat on the porch at the bishop’s house, two white women and a girl of thirteen, stopped in a town on our way to the Central Plateau. Père had told us to sit on the three wooden chairs as he disappeared through a faded curtain hanging in the doorway of the house. The air was heavy and wet. Coleus and fichus grew wild in the garden. Afro-Cubano jazz emanated from the neighborhood, a boy entered through the gate, sat on the low banister of the stair leading to the porch. We exchanged greetings in French. My body wanted to lie down as time stretched out like a long-tired limb. More priests arrived and we heard prayer. The girl looked for spiders and chased after a dog. After an hour the water was gone from our bottles and we had no food but felt reluctant to interrupt the meeting to get the key to the truck with our luggage and snacks inside. A woman came into the garden. She was tall and thin in a long dress and a black knit cap covering her patched hair. She sat near the boy on the stair. I melted into the table. My companion chastised her daughter about the dog. Just then the woman approached the table pulling down the neckline of her dress to show us a scar where her breast had been. She spoke in Kreyol pointing to her breast and her stomach. Pointing to her breast and her mouth. Pointing to her mouth and her stomach. We had nothing to give her. US dollars but no Haitian gourdes. We don’t know where we are. We expressed our sorrow and regret with our faces. The woman returned to her perch on the banister as we crumpled into our emptiness. The girl convinced her mother to interrupt the meeting to get the key to the truck. They found a carton of strawberry Yoplait and a muffin left over from the flight and gave them to the woman. She ate the muffin and gave the yogurt to the boy. I walked out past the garden gates and into the street. There was a market next door where a woman lay on a beach towel talking on her mobile phone. Behind her were cartons of bottled water. With my $4 I could buy three waters, a package of cookies, and a package of crackers. I brought the food to the woman and water to my companions. By that time another boy had joined the apparent family. They were all eating the packets of cookies and crackers together. After several hours Père invited us in. Lunch was served: a goat stew with potatoes and carrots, pickled cabbage, some fried plantains. We ate in in view of the garden. When we were finished Père said it’s time to go. We walked out past the fichus and the family on the stairs. Their empty wrappers caved in the heat, swallowing our footsteps.