The Company of Heaven

The Chapel

from The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti.

I am a chapel. A simple white pentagon of roughcast cement blocks aired through two wooden doors and cedar shutters. The past haunts and decorates me. The present crosses me from one door to the other like someone running after a second chance. The future takes its cues from the sky. Over the mountain ridge in the near distance, clouds emerge, mist and light, in patterns reminiscent of smoke messages the likes of which one might fantasize were sent by Caribs, first inhabitants of our Haiti. When the evening comes, God’s face then is a nightfull of stars that lay to rest on the nearby tadpole water.

It rained a short while ago. A loud tropical downpour the way I love them. Sometimes, I hear its gallop first, coming down the mountain. Then, progressively, rain is like drapes being pulled from tree to tree. Behind its stage curtain, nature rehearses this stock piece: the earth’s cells become engorged with water; holes darken; great succulent plants bow their wide-leafed heads to camouflage and store deep green belly laughs; mahogany trees bend long blackened necks; drums are at my doors; cymbals percolate on my rooftop.

Rain stops as suddenly as it starts. Maestro made a final gesture. But silence rumbles still. The stream running below the garden terraces has swollen immensely. Water spirits who inhabit me want to be revered and their hopeful sighs ripple through my blood. My ears are attuned to every life murmur in this great park where the one who built me only planted fruit-bearing trees, besides mahogany. Everything breathes in a heavy, moist smell of moss musk. It is the time when dizzied breadfruits will let go of the branch and the thud on my roof vibrates inside me like an ill bee.

It is then too that roosters feel they must announce the end of rain. Here, they’ll kick up a din for any occasion. It is much too joyful a feeling this throatfull of shrill to be let out just for the once-a-day-at-dawn affair. Afterwards, dogs think they must respond with a throatfull of bark. And so it goes on with no respite, this back and forth banter, because here, island territory, it would seem that roosters don’t sleep at night, though they perch. Dogs neither sleep nor perch. They are tied down somewhere in the nearby slums whose gray fossils’ framework hangs amidst bushes at the foot of the mountain. It is as if everything is held, somehow, at the foot of something greater, be it dogs, slums, people or me. I lie at the foot of the one I love.

Late afternoon is the time when she comes to visit. The time when woodpeckers return their russet heads to the home-holes stacked up in a straight line they dig for themselves into palm tree trunks. And while parrots are having their nonsense riot in high branches, the same woodpeckers will then peek out of their holes, fly out to some close by tree, and cackle breathlessly. Up and down and around the Cayimitte tree, lizards have a game of tag which they stop now and then only to swell their throats as if to gloat over their feats of gravity. They scatter their free-running fun in defiant contrast to heavy-loaded and humorless ants working in two opposite streams of industrious lines. Vingt-quatre-heures—black-bodied, red-winged, bee-size flying devils whose sting children believe will kill you in twenty-four hours—like to buzz over the carpet of dry leaves where iguanas prowl. And, hidden beneath the purple underside of malangas whose large, heart-shaped leaves proliferate around the vanilla scented spring, I know there is a rat.

You can tell I love this place! Specially, when she comes to visit the garden, she whom I love as if she were part of me, daughter of the man who built me here. She sits on the garden steps and lets her eyes float into me—God my heart, God my horizon, God much too vast for one to capture between two hands in a dream and so one looks for a being of flesh whom to tell words of love. The same words she used to tell him when he lived here: “You are my chapel”.