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African American Contemporary Fiction

The plane ride from Florida to Haiti was shorter than I expected. It was forty-five minutes of clear skies, sunshine highs, and windy lows. Since leaving months after my eighth birthday on a humid summer night under the full moon’s light, I have not been back. The last time I looked up at the moon was from the rooftop of my grandfather’s house. I promised myself and Patrice, my cousin who was more of a sister to me than a cousin, to be back. I figured if I believed it hard enough and made promises with every fiber of my being, this change would be temporary. I thought that luck, fate, God, or whatever I believed in as an eight-year-old would drive me to keep my word. As the plane tires skidded and bounced on the runway, it jerked me around and awakened the little butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Though I do not remember much about this home and have been losing bits and pieces of it for years, I was happy to finally be home. 

What I remember are the stories from home mama read to me each night before I went to bed. We arrived in a country where we did not belong, with all of our worldly possessions packed neatly into one suitcase. My uncle, who had been living in the United States since I’ve known him, hosted us in the spare bedroom of his seven hundred and fifty square-foot apartment. He lived minimally, with bare walls and little furniture in the common areas. When I asked him about it, he’d say, “my child, all I do is work and sleep. I do not have the time or money to buy furniture for an empty apartment.”

On the other hand, Mama did everything she could to make our little corner of the apartment feel like home. She kept pictures of Patrice and grandpa on the nightstand. She made Friday and pikliz while playing Kompa, at least once a week. When we ate them, we took turns telling stories like we used to back home, under full moons on grandfather’s rooftop. But what I enjoyed most was the bedtime stories mama read every night. The book she read from was one she stashed in her belongings while deciding which parts of her life to carry with her and which parts to leave behind. 

“Epi, yo tandé maman yo chaque jou avan yo al dormi” She’d read to me, aloud. The creole, her mother tongue, poured out of her effortlessly. They were stories about an obedient little girl who kept country and culture close to her heart and never lost her sense of self. But after a while, I suspected they were pep talks masquerading as bedtime stories because of how frequently they changed and how much they related to the day’s events. 

“Mama, read another one,” I’d plead. 

“No,” she replied, almost instinctively. “Now is time for sleep. Never forget where you come from, but never tell others either,” she’d remind me as she pulled the covers to tuck me in.

“Because it’s not safe,” I’d reply like a little chorus. These words became our mantra. I longed to understand why our home in Haiti was no longer safe, why we had to leave in the middle of the night, why Papi could not come with us and why grandpa cried and held me tightly as if it was the last time he would see me. But I did not ask any of those questions. Obedient and respectful children did no such thing. Instead, I listened to Mama’s breathing as she fell asleep next to me on the bed we shared, and I stared out of the window, looking for the moon until sleep eventually found me.

As I made my way off the plane towards baggage claim and customs, I tried my best to stand, walk, and talk like I belonged. But when I got in the immigration line, the officers took one look at my passport and pointed me towards another line for American citizens. I walked over, deflated, and stood in the queue. 

“He was just checking IDs,” I whisper to myself, trying to check the hole forming in the pit of my stomach. “I belong here, and this is my home.”

Once outside of the airport, I searched the crowd for a taxi. I tried to force my body to relax, but the bustling crowd, the faint smell of smoke in the air, and the sounds of cars just beyond the gate kept me on edge. 

“Delphine! Delphine!” I whipped around at the sound of the voice but could not make out where it was coming from. 

“Delphine! What are you doing here?” I heard the voice say again as someone grabbed my arm from behind. 

“Patrice?” I could not believe my eyes. Immediately I grabbed her. “Is it really you?” 

“What? Of course, it is. Have you forgotten already?” She responded, and I felt a sting. I stared at her, still and numb, looking for the words. When you finally see a person you have mourned stand before you again, what do you say? 

“Come on, let’s get out of this crowd,” she said after looking around a bit. “I parked my car with some friends a few blocks away. Come this way.” She grabbed my bag with one hand and my hand in the other, and I remember this feeling, her hand in mine, gently pulling and guiding me. I remember how she’d pick me up from school after her last class, and we’d point out people in the streets and imagine stories about who they were and what they were up to on our walk home. 

The drive was bumpy, chaotic, and quiet. After what felt like an eternity of driving, it looked like we had left the noises of the city center behind us. 

“They told me you died in the earthquake.” The sound of the car rattling along the road every so often filled the gaps of silence between us. 

“I guess, in some ways… I did.” She responded, never taking her eyes off the road. “Are you an American now?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied, realizing I had never been asked this question. “How did you know I was at the airport?”

“I work there. You walked right past me on your way to the line for American citizens.” I couldn’t tell if her words came out with a tinge of accusation or if I had imagined it. “I didn’t think it was you at first because I never imagined a reunion where you would walk past me and not recognize me.”

“And I never imagined a reunion,” I retort. It was silent again. 

“So, what was the plan? Where were you going to go when you got here?” She asked tautly. 

“I was going to go home to Delmas, to grandpa’s house.” She pulled the car to a slow stop on the side of the road and turned off the engine. 

“Why? What are you looking for?” She turned towards me, searching me for answers. At that moment, sitting in the passenger side of her Renault, I felt the distance between us.

“What do you mean? I’m not looking for anything. This is my home. I belong here. I’m going home.” I was trying to convince myself with these words as much as I was trying to convince her. 

“Delphine. That house was vacant for a long time after grandpa died. You never even attended his funeral. And I told aunty. I sent letters, I called. I told her he was getting worse, and she had to come back!” She was almost screaming, turning red at the base of her neck, and waving her hands in the air. I wanted to answer, to interject, to explain myself at least. But the words were caught in my throat, manifesting themselves into tears that gathered at the corner of my eyes. 

“I’m sorry” was all I could muster, and it came out as more of a whisper and sob than words. 

She was silent for a while before speaking again. “The house collapsed when the earthquake hit. I was sleeping in one of the back rooms when the ground started shaking. The house swayed from side to side with me in it. When I woke up, I ran as fast as I could out of the house with nothing but the clothes on my back.” She paused. “I barely made it out.” 

I wanted to reach out to her, touch her, hug her, and tell her I was happy she made it out of the house, that she was alive, and that I wanted to come back many times. But I felt stuck as if my guilt had fused me to the seat, and we became one. 

“Where are we going?” I asked, wiping my face. 

“You can spend the night with me. I have a place a little further up. But tomorrow, I’m taking you back to the airport. I’m not sure what you’re looking for or why you’re here. But I’m almost certain that whatever you’re looking for is not here,” she responded flatly.

After a while, she put the keys back in the ignition, started the car, resumed the drive, and we settled back into our corners of silence.


April 22, 2022 01:33

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4 comments

Philip Ebuluofor
16:05 Jul 28, 2022

Interesting story line. Dialogue so real.

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Riel Rosehill
13:45 Apr 22, 2022

Hi Dora! Oh, I feel so sorry for Delphine. I bet that's not how she imagined her return home. How can Patrice fake her death and get offended for not being notice? SMH (I assume she knew Delphine thought she was dead..?) I loved the line "Never forget where you come from, but never tell others either," Nice work , thanks for sharing :)

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Dora Acosta
23:26 Apr 22, 2022

Hi Riel! Thank you for your warm feedback 🤗. It was definitely a bit of a reality check for Delphine. She’s looking for a place to belong and just did not feel at home like she wanted to.

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Wally Schmidt
04:28 Dec 01, 2022

Well as the saying goes, "you can never go home again". I love your work. Look forward to reading more of your stories

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