image source: pxhere.com

LA FORTUNE

 

None of the blancs noticed that the other prisoners at Krome always avoided Lafortune.  Lafortune himself did not seem to mind.  While the other prisoners washed or played soccer in the hot sun, he would sleep.  At night, Lafortune would walk the perimeter of the compound, only the tip of his cigarette glowing in the blackness of the camp.

The derelict fishing boat that had brought Lafortune to Florida from Port au Prince had once held 43 Haitian men, women, and children as well as 3 Dominican crew members.  But when the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the leaky Le Destin all were gone, presumed drowned, except for Lafortune.

After being questioned, he was taken to the Krome Service Processing Center, given an orange jump suit, and locked behind two sets of gates with 390 prisoners, all Haitians, in a facility built for 275.  Although the other prisoners all wore their jump suits, Lafortune instead used his as a pillow.  Dressed in his own black pants, black socks, black shoes, and a white long-sleeved shirt, Lafortune chose a cot and slept for 12 hours.  He woke as the sun was setting and ate alone at his own table in the dining tent.

After he had been at Krome for about a week, a manbo, a voodoo priestess, approached Lafortune.  An old woman with milky eyes and white hair, she walked with a cane that barely stirred the dust as she shuffled along.  She stood at the foot of Lafortune’s cot until he sat up and motioned for her to sit.  They spoke together for about 10 minutes, their heads very close to each other, and then the manbo got up and made her way back to her tent.

That night, Lafortune approached the old woman’s tent and drew a circle in the dirt near a sick child’s bed.  The boy lay with his eyes closed and a foamy white crust around his mouth.  The boy’s mother looked once at Lafortune and glanced away, biting her lower lip so hard she drew blood. The manbo handed Lafortune candles, incense, and a cup which he arranged inside the circle.

Then Lafortune produced a bundle of herbs which he quickly ground and made into a tea for the sick boy to drink.  Lafortune himself poured the liquid into the child’s mouth and blotted at the trickle of fluid with a spotless handkerchief which he then used to wipe his own shiny, bald skull.

In the morning, the boy’s fever had broken, and he sat up and ate solid food for the first time in almost a week.  Despite his healing of the child, however, Lafortune continued to be shunned by the other inmates.  Although everyone treated him with respect, that respect was now tinged with fear.  Rumors spread throughout the camp:

“He always wears sunglasses because it is too bright above the earth,” they whispered.

“He has five fingers on each hand, but no thumbs,” others said.

“I saw him take his eye out and polish it then put it back in its socket.”

“He has two sets of teeth.”

“He has no teeth.”

 

Then Lafortune disappeared from Krome.

Some said he walked right through the fences.  Others murmured that he had leapt above the razor-sharp barbed wire.  But the old manbo repeated that he had merely vanished like a trail of smoke.

Lafortune must have walked the entire 15 miles along the Tamiami Trail into Miami.  From there it would have been simple to take a cab into Little Haiti.

When he climbed out of the taxi, a group of Haitian women who had been arguing became silent as Lafortune approached the botanica and brushed past them.  From inside they could hear a sharp intake of breath from the shopkeeper.  A moment later, Lafortune emerged.  The shopkeeper trailed behind, a large roll of bills in one hand, and cocked her head to watch the receding figure, her one eye squinted against the sun.

One of the women, a young girl of fourteen named Jonquille, followed him down the heat scorched sidewalk.  Something about the man was familiar, she thought, but it was as if she only recognized pieces of him.

Around the corner, Lafortune stopped and spoke to a one-armed man.  The man shouted at him and pointed to his empty sleeve, but Lafortune spoke to him softly and handed him a brown paper bag.  Jonquille passed by and glanced at the tall, thin man with one arm.  She had known him from her neighborhood in Port au Prince.  But then he had had both arms and worked loading and unloading trucks.

In this way, Lafortune and Jonquille traveled through Little Haiti:  Lafortune visiting those with missing parts of their bodies and paying them rent and Jonquille spying on the transactions.  Next, Lafortune visited her father’s brother who had lost a leg before coming to America.

As Lafortune came out of her uncle’s store, he grabbed Jonquille by the arm and told her not to follow him anymore.  Then he smiled a terrible yet dazzling smile and ran his fingers through Jonquille’s hair.

Two days later, a man with thick dreadlocks who looked like Lafortune jumped from a fishing boat onto the docks of Port au Prince and melded into the crowds of merchants and shoppers, beggars and taxi drivers, manbos and priests.

Back in Little Haiti, Jonquille’s uncle knew he could never explain to the police why he kept his niece locked up in the back of his store.  Nor could the sight of a girl who had only fish for hair convince the immigration officials to grant him a visa to return to Haiti.  But he knew that only in Port au Prince could he sell his other foot or trade it for his niece’s hair.

As she began combing her hair, combing the fish, Jonquille smiled to herself.  “Uncle,” she cried and touched his damp, empty pant leg.

 

 

MICHAEL MINASSIAN’s short stories and poems have appeared recently in such journals as The Broken Plate, Comstock Review, Exit 7, Evening Street Review, and Fifth Wednesday. His poetry chapbook The Arboriculturist was published in 2010. His Photography Chapbook Around the Bend was published in 2017 by Praxis Magazine Online.  For more: https://michaelminassian.com

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