Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Collision - Free Today


Collision - Jean ducked under the roof of the market and made his way, by memory more than by sight, to the corner where Guy and the others waited in a loose huddle for him.  As he walked toward them, the people were one sussurating mass, a dark shifting shadow against the weak glow from the lights of the nearby police station.  When he got closer, the forms became more distinct.  A knife glinted in a man’s hand.  A cigarette flared.
“I thought you had changed your mind.”  Jean heard the critical tone in his brother’s voice.  It was something that was always present when Guy spoke to him.  The distrust was at the heart of their relationship though Jean did not know why.  He was the one who got Guy his job as a groundsman at the Oceana Hotel after Hurricane Jeanne killed the owners of the coffee plantation where he’d worked and it was he who had pulled Guy out, half-dead, from the rubble of their parents’ house after the earthquake. All his life, he’d looked after his brother to the best of his ability but still Guy continued to suspect Jean of planning to let him down.
“I am here,” he said, trying to sound patient.  I’m the one who decided we should leave, so why wouldn’t I come?  But while he’d been the one to make the decision, it was Guy who had planned everything.  Him and Henri, an officer with the Haitian National Police.
“Hush,” someone said.  “A car.”
The group twitched with excitement but the car flashed past the station and disappeared down a side road.  They relaxed again.  Henri leaned against one of the columns.  When Jean looked at the police officer he caught a flash of white teeth.  Jean nodded back.  Henri was a strange man who hit his wife whenever he was full of clairin but, if what they were about to do succeeded, it would be because of him.  He wore something that gave his head an odd shape.  Jean wondered if Henri really thought a hat would disguise him from his police friends. 
“You should stop,” a woman told the smoker. “They might see the light.”  Jean did not recognize the soft, urgent voice.  He peered in the woman’s direction, trying to make her out.  The handles of the jute bag made his neck itch but he didn’t put it down.
“They will not notice if a house is on fire,” the smoker, Yonel, replied to the woman.  “Their minds will be on other things.”
“How do you know?”  Jean placed her voice now.  Sofonie, the baker’s wife, which meant, Etienne, her husband, was here too.  Anything those two did, they did as one.  “How do you know they will not see and just shoot?”  People whispered among themselves, agreeing or disagreeing. “Remember last week in Jacmel?” Sofonie pressed. 
The group quieted.  Everyone knew about the drunken man who waved a toy gun at a pair of officers returning from patrol.  On the news, they’d said his relatives had only been able to identify him by his pinky ring because his face and the rest of the body were shredded by the Uzis and M16s the officers carried.
“I am not waving a gun, stupid woman.”
“Wa la, who are you calling stupid?”  The woman’s voice rose.  “You think I am your child, you can call me stupid?”
“Put it out, Yonel.”  Jean thought the man was right, the police would not notice the light, but one never knew and, anyway, it was a stupid quarrel.
Yonel brought the cigarette to his mouth and they all heard him draw the nicotine deep into his lungs. The group tensed.  Would he put it out or would he risk spoiling everything for them?  Yonel took another deep pull and then the cigarette flared as it dropped.  Someone stepped on it.  Seconds later, they heard a rumble coming closer.  Jean’s stomach clenched.  The rumble was both a sound and a vibration in the ground.  Jean felt both weak and hot.  “Run,” he wanted to cry out but he couldn’t open his mouth.  Run to where?  Bright lights suddenly swept around the far corner, near the new post office and Jean sagged with relief.  Not another goudou-goudou.  A pick-up truck.  The people huddled closer together.  Jean’s breathing grew shallow.  Something small and cold unwound in the pit of his stomach.
“It’s them.”  They repeated it to each other, psyching themselves up.  “It’s them.”
The white and blue pick-up bore the initials NCF on the side.  It sped up to the curb in front of the station.  The two officers in the back jumped out. Jean had expected them to have machine guns slung over their shoulders but they were unarmed. 


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