The Haiti stories: my name is Joseline

“Ok, time to go.”

Uncle Albert was home. I can usually buy myself another hour by asking him about his day. Who he met? What type of business were his customers in? “Did they give you any stock tips? What did they say when you told them you own your cab? They must have been really impressed.”

“Time to go,” Uncle Albert repeated. He wants something from Aunt Jackie and none of my questions could distract him?

“Did any of your customers ask if you’re from Africa?” This question would usually anger him enough to tell the story about the customer he kicked out of his cab for assuming he is Nigerian. But not tonight, Uncle Albert had a few drinks and his eyes were heavy and fixed on Aunt Jackie’s breasts.

“Ok. It’s time to go.” Aunt Jackie knows what he wants.

I walked to the door and waited for Uncle Albert or Aunt Jackie to walk me home. They never told us what could happen between the first and second floor, but we girls were never allowed to leave or come home alone.  When I went to visit Aunt Jackie for tea, one of my brothers would walk me down or stand at the top of the stairs until she let me in.

“You’re not going to make sure I get home?”

“Ah, you big girl now. You go.” I could hear Aunt Jackie giggling as I shut the door. Ten steps, a landing five steps to our apartment. I counted the steps each time I went up and down. As soon as my foot landed on step one, I could hear another set of footsteps coming down from the third floor. If I ran, I could race them to my door. One, two, three, four, five, six step they beat me. I froze on step seven. They paused at the landing. Eight steps to shelter.

I should have worn pants. But Aunt Jackie likes me to wear a dress when we meet for tea. She buys me dresses every year for my birthday. Four dresses, always four dresses to last a year of teas. She tells me which one to wear. Tonight she chose the yellow dress with little green bows. “Oh, I love yellow against your skin. I wish I had dark skin,” she lied.

He walked down to step five. I am still frozen at seven. He put his hand on my shoulder, turned me around to face him and made me sit on step eight.  He wanted something from me but unlike Uncle Albert, he was asking for it, not taking it. He knelt down on step five. What he wanted did not belong to him like Aunt Jackie was Uncle Albert’s.

I should have worn pants. One hand on my shoulder pinned me on step eight while the other hand searched for what he wanted. I stared into his eyes and did my own searching, but there was no place to hide. He kissed me on the forehead and smooth my dress down. “My name is Joseline,” was the only thing I could think to say.

I sat on step eight until father came home.

stairs 21

“Joseline? What are you doing here? Joseline, what are you doing here?”

He must have heard the voice in my head because he started to cry. Father wrapped me in his arms. Step six, eight, the landing. “Pappy, I want to go home.”  His tears fell onto my scalp. Five more steps.

“Pappy, I want to go home. Take me home. Take me home.” I cried as we entered the apartment. There was no going back to Haiti. There was no leaving this building. The only defense my father could offer was a bed.  We passed my snoring brothers, thru the dining room and into father’s bedroom. He put me down on his little twin size bed and took off my shoes.

“Sleep. Sleep Joseline,” he cried and locked me in his room.
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