The American Hippie at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince wanted to know Carolyn’s story.
“I don’t think I have one,” she said. It was too early in the day for rum but she sat at the Hippie’s table when he suggested a drink because she had nothing else to do.
“Everyone has a story,” he told her. The warm Caribbean sun did not bother the Hippie. He licked moisture from his red-gray moustache and drank from his glass.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But mine’s not that interesting.”
His story she knew. Six days in Haiti and she had heard him tell it to everyone who walked by his table.
“Nutrition is my thing,” he told Carolyn as if this was news. “I’m trying to get the Haitians to eat better.”
“I’m sure they’d like that,” Carolyn said. She had asked for something cold to drink and the waiter brought over a bottle of Pepsi and a large church-key opener. She popped the top and watched the air release in a short stream of blueness.
The Hippie leaned across the table. “But I’m not going to be like the Red Cross.”
“No?” Carolyn asked.
“Not me. I’m not going to throw food at them. Those assholes are so afraid to land their precious planes on this island, they come in low and air drop rice and beans from thousands of feet up. Do you have any idea what that looks like?”
Carolyn imagined small bags of rice falling from the sky and thought it would be comforting, the way that rain was after a long dry spell.
“It’s a goddamn mess. Those people are sinners. They should be punished for their atrocities. They’re worse than war criminals. At least Hitler didn’t think he was doing good.”
“But that’s exactly what he did think – that he was right,” Carolyn said. “Why else would he have done it?”
“Like everyone else who’s educated, you’re in the dark about most things,” he said. He went on to tell her about conspiracy plans and blamed the CIA for not allowing the Haitians to plant spinach, which he believed was the one crop that could save the people from starvation. “There are five different kinds of spinach. It’s a miracle crop, except that the Haitians are scared of it. They hear epinards and they think fancy French cooking.”
The Hippie never left the Hotel. Not once since Carolyn had been there. Every morning he came down for breakfast, then moved to the lobby where he read passages from the Bible just loud enough to be annoying. An hour later he was back on the veranda with a drink and cigarette. He’d start in about the epinards and his plan to hand deliver it to the starving peasant. He thought the U.S. should make a distinction between the poor of Port-au-Prince and the non- working millions starving in the countryside. He had opinions on every subject, the kind of person who hadn’t been at a loss for words since he first learned to speak. Mid-afternoon, he’d stumble up to his room, where his deep guttural snores invaded every room in the Hotel. He wasn’t a charity worker; he wasn’t anything but a big bag of wind.
“So tell me,” he said suddenly leaning across the table. “Because I’ve been watching you these last few days and you’ve got me curious, something I’m usually not. What are you up to?”
A Jeep pulled in and Carolyn peered over the railing. She no longer really believed her sister would show up, but she still checked out every vehicle that pulled in. It was the strange looking woman, the one who had checked in the same day as Carolyn. Her skin was dark and wrinkled from too much exposure to the sun. Her face muscles were tense — her eyes and mouth pulled taut, as if she was ready to pounce on her prey. She was the only person in the Hotel, possibly in the city of Port-au-Prince, and maybe in all of Haiti who was in a hurry. She rushed around the place as if she was being chased. Her little heels clicked against the terrazzo floors. She was always out of breath.
“A pretty girl like you?” the Hippie said. “In Haiti? Alone? What’s with that?”
“I already told you why I’m here,” Carolyn said. “My sister’s not well. I’ve come to take care of her.”
He shook his head as if he disapproved. “That’s what you say, but I don’t buy it.”
“And that’s what you do, besides all the spinach stuff?” she asked. “You buy stories?”
“Your sister must be incredibly ill,” the hippie said.
“She must be,” Carolyn echoed. In the yard, the mange of palm and mango trees looked like a twisted forest. She thought of terrariums – miniature gardens inside big worlds they did not resemble.
“Haiti’s not on the way to anywhere else,” he said. “You don’t just fly down and pick someone up.”
She thought of the chaos at the airport the afternoon she landed. She had never seen people transporting so much stuff. Gigantic boxes of Tide detergent, baby strollers, mini-refrigerators, microwave ovens, artificial Christmas trees. It had taken nearly three hours to go through customs, everyone opening and unpacking these large crates and suitcases packed like miniature K-marts.
“Foreigners all have a reason for being here,” the Hippie told her. “Everyone, even if they’re not missionaries, have a mission in this country.”
“Then you tell me, Mr. Expert,” she said. “You who know everything there is to know. You tell me what I’m doing here.”
She reached across the table for his pack of cigarettes. He wasn’t pleased and tried to take them from her hands. “Those are very expensive and hard to get now that the US military is gone.”
If she had a dollar in her pocket, she would have tossed it on the table. Instead she took one and lit it before he could stop her.
“I owe you one,” she said and got up from the table. The French film crew was in the lobby playing cards. Emile had a cold and wore his jean jacket as if he was physically cold. Carolyn worried that he would melt in the heat. They asked Carolyn to join them. “Maybe later,” she said. She went up to her room and sat on the balcony. She smoked so fast she got dizzy. She stretched out onto the hammock and watched the gnats and mosquitoes circle overhead.
She was in Haiti because of Jackie. Jackie, her once funky and funny little sister who somehow over the years had become her born again, drug addicted, often breaking-down, wandering lost with no money or means of support little sister.
“Do you think Jackie asks them to contact me?” her mother asked her when the director of Helping Hearts called with the message that Jackie wasn’t doing well. “Or am I just a phone number on her emergency form?”
“You’re the President,” Carolyn told her. “The President?” her mother looked worried.
“Of the new club I’ve formed,” Carolyn said. “It’s called ‘How to Rescue Jackie in 8 Easy Steps’.”
“I’ve tried to send money, but you can’t wire transfer money into Haiti.”
“Doesn’t she travel with round trip tickets?”
“Those organizations are not well run.” “How bad is she?” Carolyn asked.
“Step 3,” Carolyn said. “Get comatose so your family is forced to come get you.”
“Fly down there,” her mother said. “Make sure she’s not a mess.”
“How many drugs can there be in Haiti?” Carolyn asked.
“Ask your sister,” her mother said. “It’s the one subject on which I’m sure she’s incredibly well-informed.”
Jackie’s religious conversion came in the Philippines while she was still married to her first husband, Dan. Their marriage had always seemed silly, at least to Carolyn. They were too young, like children playing house — Jackie actually used the wedding presents they got. They went to Manila for a family reunion. It was 1989 and as soon as they got to the country, there was a governmental coup. They were stuck four days in a fancy high rise hotel. There was very little food and no electricity. The phone lines never went down so Dan had called all his old friends and told them that they were in grave danger. Carolyn had heard the story so many times was sure she could recite it with as much perspective and emotional memory as her sister.
Soldiers surrounded the block and Jackie began to fear that the men would rape her when they found out she was American.
Dan agreed. “They probably will.”
“And what would you do about it?” Jackie demanded. “Nothing,” he said.
“Nothing?” she asked. “You wouldn’t do anything?”
“That’s correct,” he said. “It would pain me but in the end I couldn’t stop them,” he said.
“You wouldn’t risk your life to save me?”
“They would rape an American but it’s highly unlikely they would kill one.”
Jackie had been raised on romance; even under duress, he should have at least pretended to be noble.
They had yelled at each other for most of that afternoon, most of the next day and that night. Then word came that the coup had settled. The gunfire and danger passed. No more soldiers, no more strange men coming to kill or to rape anyone. No need for heroic stances, no matter how shallow. Jackie forgave Dan.
Christmas Eve, and they were dressing to go to the reunion. She had been gulping wine in relief all afternoon and was drunk and happy, anxious to get out of the room.
“I guess this will be our last Christmas together,” Dan said.
Jackie sipped more wine, then said she didn’t understand. “I figure we made it through this, as long as the plane doesn’t crash, we’ll make it through anything.”
That’s when he told her that he was unhappy. He was almost sure he no longer loved her. He had a list of the things she did that irritated him. Should he read it?
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Jackie told him and then she went down to the bar where the entire hotel seemed to have gathered. The relief of making it through the coup had changed the atmosphere entirely. A day ago, it had been a war zone, now it was a New Year’s party. The man on the next barstool was a missionary who had been separated from his Church group for reasons he did not want to go into. He bought her a glass of champagne and told her that she was beautiful. He invited her to his room where they celebrated alone. Four days later, she moved with him to Petaluma, California where they lived with his brother, his cat, his ferret, his avocado farm, his two kids, and his wife.
The breakdowns started shortly after her return to the States.
Jackie’s big thing was to get on Greyhound buses and get off when she ran out of money. She was very good at getting money from strangers. Maybe because of her religious conversion, maybe because she was naïve and neurotic, people gave her money when she needed it.
Guys in airports were not opposed to her money for airplane tickets. In Las Vegas, a Priest gave her three hundred dollars and a ticket home. People offered her jobs, they gave her food, advice, places to stay. Once a man bought her a leather purse.
“Did you do sexual favors for these men?” Carolyn had asked.
“You and I do not share the same world view,” Jackie said. “I believe in people.”
But Carolyn had a hard time getting people to tell her where Gate 11 was. She couldn’t imagine asking someone for help.
This was Jackie’s first international breakdown, and by the time Carolyn got down to Haiti, Jackie was gone. The Helping Hearts had not seen her for a week.
“We told her you were coming,” they said. “She seemed happy to hear that.”
“I bet,” Carolyn said.
It had been an arduous trip to the Helping Hands headquarters and her head throbbed in the brightness and heat. She had flown into the country the day before. She had stayed at the only hotel she knew — the Grand Hotel Oloffson. Once there, the manager, a young British guy with an alarming amount of energy for such a warm climate, arranged for a driver to take her to the address on the pamphlets. The Helping Hearts were a well-publicized organization. They had information on every aspect of their operations. The ride across the city was horrendous. The broken down car moved like a boat negotiating its way over turbulent waters. The driver stopped at the National Palace.
“The home of our Presidents,” he said. She only got out because he did. She was not particularly interested in tourist sites.
“Look. Look,” he commanded. The Palace was bright white and she couldn’t look at it. She had left her sunglasses in Pittsburgh, so she he stared at the ground.
“Take a picture,” he told her.
“I don’t have a camera,” she answered. Her mouth was dry and she wanted to stop for water, but the didn’t see anything that resembled a store. It was the first time she was in a city with no McDonald’s and she smiled at this. The driver was encouraged by her sudden turn of mood.
He took her to the market, where six or seven women surrounded her with cameras. He was pleased. “Now you buy one,” he said.
“But I don’t want to,” she said.
“How will you take photographs of President Palace?” he said. “How will you show people back in your home the room where Papa-Doc hid like a baby lion from bullets?”
“Will you take me to where I want to go?” she asked.
“After you buy a camera.”
Several 35millimeter cameras were shoved into her face. She imaged them belonging to tortured foreign journalists and she shuddered and pushed them all away.
“Take me,” she told the driver. “Or take me back to the Oloffson.”
Someone offered to take her to the Hotel. “For less money,” he said. Her driver grabbed her elbow and they were back in the car.
The Helping Hearts were generous. They offered Carolyn a meal of rice and beans, which she accepted, and a place to stay, which she refused. “I’ll be at the Oloffson,” she told them. “If Jackie returns, tell her I’ll be waiting for her there.”
“The Oloffson’s a wonderful place,” they nodded. “You’ll enjoy yourself there.”
Carolyn had first heard of the Hotel Oloffson in Graham Greene’s novel, The Comedians, which she had read in college. Before coming down, she had rented the movie – the one with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor: it was awful. The power in the novel was the violence and strangeness of the political situation, the narrator’s search for his own sense of right, which didn’t translate to film, but once she there, she realized that the movie had obviously been filmed on location.
The Hotel was charming and, judging from what she had seen of the city, completely out of place. The overbuilt white gingerbread house with the wrap- around veranda was perched above the city. The rooms and dinning veranda had a spectacular view of the bay and airport. The rooms were cool and always shaded, hidden behind the overgrown bougainvillea. The floors were sloped, the ceiling fans turned overhead and clicked away like soft background music.
Present day seemed far away. Carolyn felt that she was somewhere else, in other era — 1900 Malaysia, colonial Africa, the south of France. Like a junkie, she felt like she had been drugged into another dimension.
The Haitian soccer team was scheduled to play the Dominican Republic and the cook wanted the night off. He and the owner fought on the veranda. The English-speaking maid translated and explained the problem as she swept Carolyn’s room.
“Who won?’ Carolyn asked when their voices quieted.
“No dinner tonight,” the maid explained.
Carolyn went downstairs before it got dark. Night fell all at once in Haiti, and she found it hard to leave her room once the sun was gone.
The French guys were still sitting in the lobby. They had gotten bored with their card games. They offered Carolyn a glass of rum. She shook her nose at it. “I’d rather have a cold beer,” she said.
The Puma lady scurried through the lobby. Her heels clicking like an accelerating train.
Emile looked up. “What is she doing all the time? What can she possibly be doing?”
“Something illegal,” Sebastian said.
“Killing animals? Sacrificing them? What?” Emile went on. “Why is she always so damn busy?”
“Whatever she does, she does it fast,” Jean-Francois commented. They were bored of each other and demanded that Carolyn join them.
“No word on your sister?” they asked.
“Not a thing,” Carolyn said.
“All of us are stranded here,” Jean Emile said. “Lost in this terrible country.”
The French guys hated Haiti. They were miserable and blamed all their problems on the country. “You can’t imagine a worse place than this. It’s really the end of the world.
“It’s awful. It’s dirty and crowded and filthy and those are just some of the highlights.”
Carolyn was entertained by their honesty.
The Frenchmen worked for Point du Vue, a French news program. They were in Haiti to film an orphanage that helped French couples adopt Haitian children. The only problem was they couldn’t find the orphanage.
They had planned a five-day stay in Haiti, but the man who had promised to come to the Hotel never came. The manager of the hotel called them all Pierre. The Frenchmen had found it amusing at first, but the joke was wearing thin. They didn’t want to leave the country without their film footage.
They spent their days in the lobby of the Hotel waiting for someone to take them to the orphanage. They called France when the phone lines were working. They were instructed to take a cab to the orphanage, and when they explained to their director that this wasn’t as easy as it sounds, he told them to ask someone at the French embassy for directions. “Someone there must know where the orphanage is.” But no one did. They sat complaining about the country, afraid to venture outside the Hotel in case their contact person showed up. They thought Carolyn was brave, because she went to an art museum one day. It had been an awful trip, not to a museum as she had understood when she accepted the offer, but to an art warehouse. The man had pulled up to an enormous building. He unlocked the door, and had to search several minutes to find the light. There was a scurrying of movement when he finally flicked it on – geckos, mice, and other small creatures ran into the corners and disappeared from sight. Their droppings were still in view, and she turned to the man. “I don’t want to buy anything,” she said.
“You haven’t even looked,” he said. “Go slow. Go slow.”
There were thousands of brightly colored paintings stacked along the walls. The blues, reds, and greens showed scenes of what she supposed was typical Haitian life, but the depictions had nothing to do with anything she had seen so far.
She had to buy three before the man would let her go. She gave him cash, her head aching. She had never said the word “no,” so many times. The Frenchmen were impressed. “At least you’ve seen some of this god-awful place,” they said. “This is all we know of it.”
The desk clerk at the Hotel Oloffson thought the Frenchmen were wasting their time.
“Who would want to adopt Haitian children?” he asked Carolyn. “Haitian children are skinny and poor. They have terrible futures.”
It turned out that there were Quaaludes in Haiti.
Jackie showed up at the Hotel sometime after midnight. Stoned, but denying she was on anything. She was tired. She had been traveling all over the country looking for Carolyn. The soccer game at the Stadium had drained the city of electricity and the Hotel was in complete darkness. She didn’t remember how she got there, but she was on foot, and when she came up the steps of the Hotel, the guard dogs went crazy. The noise woke everyone.
Jackie hugged Carolyn. She kissed her ear, licked her face. “Here you are,” she shouted. “My sister.” She hugged Carolyn again. She cried and carried on. “I love you,” she said. She said it several times, until Carolyn wanted to slap her.
Everyone came out of their rooms to see the reason for the commotion. A combination of flashlights, candles, and the Hippie’s cigarettes filled the lobby with enough light for everyone to see how messed up Jackie was.
Carolyn dragged her upstairs.
“Can we get a drink?” Jackie asked.
“I don’t think these rooms have mini-bars,” Carolyn said. She lit a candle and set it on the edge of the nightstand so Jackie wouldn’t bump into it and set everything on fire.
Jackie had her own supply, a flask of rum or something. She found it in the dim light of the room, but must have had a short supply as she did not offer any to Carolyn.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Jackie said. She smacked her lips, an awful noise that made her sound like an old woman.
“They called Mom,” Carolyn said. “That group you were working for. They were worried about you.”
“I love Mom,” Jackie said. “I really do.”
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“It’s the way I love her. I do love her, but not in the way she wants me to love her.”
“I don’t think she has any agenda,” Carolyn said. “I think she just wants you safe.”
It didn’t matter what she said. Jackie was too messed up to listen.
She had things she wanted to tell Carolyn. “You know I love you too,” Jackie slurred.
“I’m glad,” Carolyn said.
“Do you remember that time we went to the movies?”
“I don’t,” Carolyn said. “It’s late. Let’s go to bed and talk about this in the morning.”
“You drove,” Jackie said. “And I put the popcorn box on the windshield wipers and the popcorn went flying all over the place like snow?”
Jackie had three or four childhood memories, which she brought up over and over again as if these were the only things they had ever done together.
“Wasn’t that fun?” Jackie asked.
“I don’t remember it,” Carolyn said.
Jackie cried. “Don’t be mean,” she told Carolyn. “I love you.”
Jackie slept like the dead for ten hours without moving. Carolyn worried that she had suffocated or died of too many strange substances. She slept until late the next afternoon, ignoring the heat and stuffiness of the room.
When she woke, she turned several times. She stared at Carolyn in complete surprise. “You,” she whispered and Carolyn realized that she did not have a clear recollection of her arrival.
She got up slowly and asked Carolyn if there was any coffee anywhere.
“Downstairs,” Carolyn said. “You’ve missed breakfast. And lunch. But maybe I can get the cook to make you something.”
Jackie waved her away. “I’ll go,” she said. She left without showering, without changing her clothes. She didn’t even bother to look at herself in the mirror.
When Carolyn finally went downstairs, she found Jackie sitting at the Hippie’s table. The drink in front of her was not coffee. She was smoking his cigarettes. Their conversation was animated. Carolyn did not have to hear it to know that it was nonsense.
Carolyn told Jackie she was going for a walk. “Why don’t you come?” she asked.
“I’m good here,” Jackie said. Two days later, Jackie resurfaced.
Jackie and the Hippie were in love. “How can that be?” Carolyn asked.
“I don’t like talking to you about the men in my life,” Jackie said. “I would, but we don’t share the same world view.”
“I don’t want you to talk about the men. Just about your life.”
Spinach, it turned out, was one of Jackie’s favorite foods. They had made plans to travel to Cap Haitien. That’s where they were going to start their farm.
“Great,” Carolyn said.
“You don’t really think that,” Jackie said.
“Of course I don’t,” Carolyn said. Step Seven when rescuing Jackie; don’t fight. If she doesn’t want to go, she won’t go. Think of a three-year old in a toy store. There could be tears and tantrums, but the result will still be the same.
“I’m a Christian. He’s a health worker, with a desire to see that the poor get food. What could be more noble than what he’s trying to undertake?”
“Tell me his name.”
“Tell me you know his name and I’ll leave.”
“You’ll leave anyway. What are you going to do, live at the Hotel Oloffson for the rest of your life?” Without drugs or alcohol, Jackie was not a nice person.
“It’s not a bad place. You’d be surprised. Some interesting people come through here,” Carolyn said. She was going to miss the French film crew, though she thought of them as a crew. When they returned to Paris, they would certainly split up. She was not sure she would be as fond of them as individuals.
Jackie put on Carolyn’s straw hat and admired herself in the mirror. The glass was smoky, but she must not have liked her reflection, because otherwise she would have asked Carolyn for the hat.
“Franklin,” Jackie said and tossed the hat across the bed like a Frisbee.
“That’s his name?”
“It could be,” she said. “Who cares? He’s a nice man. He’s got a generous heart.”
“But not a brain cell in his head.”
“Plenty of stupid people do great things.”
“Then you admit he’s stupid?”
“I admit I don’t know him that well.”
“And yet you’re going to travel around Haiti with him?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“He’ll slit your throat and take all your money.”
“Where did he find my money? Tell me, because I don’t have any. If he took it, I want to at least be a bit upset at the loss.”
“You’re a fool,” Carolyn said.
“Then let me be one,” Jackie said. “It can’t matter to you who I am.”
But it did. Carolyn couldn’t help it. Jackie was her only sister. Why couldn’t she be normal? Why couldn’t she be less problematic and more normal? Had she had a slew of siblings, she was sure she wouldn’t be in Haiti arguing like an idiot.
“I’m not as bad as you think I am,” Jackie said.
“The two of you won’t last long,” Carolyn told her.
Jackie raised her eyebrows. “What’s this?”
“You and Mr. Rum-head. You won’t last but a few days. You’ll leave him or he’ll leave you.”
“Statistically speaking almost all couple break up at one time or another. I’m not bragging. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.”
“Then why bother?”
“It gets me out of here.”
“I can get you out of here.”
“You’ll take me back to Pittsburgh,” she said. “I don’t want to go back to Pittsburgh. I like it here. I’m different here.”
“You’re using a country for your own needs.”
“I’m certainly not the first.”
Last step in rescuing Jackie: Don’t wear yourself out. If she doesn’t want to go – there’s nothing you can do to force it. You cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
Carolyn handed over her straw hat. “Take it.”
Jackie handed it back. “It looks better on you.”
“I don’t need where I’m going,” Carolyn said.
Jackie gathered her things. “All right, then. Thanks for coming down. I really did think it was the end for me.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“I’m glad to hear you had a good time here.” “I don’t think I’d come again.”
“Tell Mom,” Jackie started, then stopped to think about what she would tell their mother. Her words, however sentimental or loving, would not convince Carolyn to give her money.
“Tell Mom that when she dies she should leave the house to me.” “I’m sure she’ll find that comforting.”
“Is she dying?”
“No Jackie. She’s not.”
The Hippie was gone. Despite Jackie’s insistence that they were off to do good in the countryside, it was a surprise to see that he had actually been motivated. The place felt oddly empty without him there. The Hotel manager came out of his office with a stack of papers in his hand. Carolyn wanted to hide under the wicker chair. She knew what he was holding. Of course, it was how it always worked out – she was going to get stuck with the Hippie’s hotel bill. She was certain he had left without paying. She could see the bill, all those bar charges, one rum punch after another until they added up to a sum she could not afford.
He looked directly at her and she got up. The wicker stuck to her legs and she pulled away from it, feeling the pinch as it let for of her skin. “I won’t pay it,” she said.
Have you seen the Pierres?” he asked.
She wasn’t responsible for the men her sister picked up.
“The Frenchmen, “ the manager said. “Their contact from the orphanage has arrived. Seems they got the dates mixed up. He’s finally come to fetch them.”
Carolyn looked at him blankly. He hurried past and stopped the maid, who was halfway upstairs.
“M’ta vle pale ak lezom franse.” The woman nodded and a few minutes later, Carolyn heard her knocking on the Frenchmen’s door.
Sebastian was down first. “Can you believe it? Our luck has finally changed.”
Emile had just showered. He finished dressing in the lobby. “What a crazy country.” They lugged out their film equipment from behind the desk, four or five neatly packed black bags. The driver stepped out of the Jeep and loaded the matching black bags into the back of his dusty Jeep.
Jean-Francois was last. He sneezed just as he hit the last step, the sound echoed in the cavernous archway and Carolyn felt tears come to her eyes.
Sebastian noticed. “You’ve got Francois’s cold.”
“I do” she lied.
They did not know how long they would be gone. Her airplane ticket home was for the next day. She had no reason to stay in Haiti.
“This is good-bye then?” Sebastian asked.
Carolyn hugged them both, but had to turn away because she was crying. “I’m so happy you don’t have to go home without your film of the orphanage,” she said. “That’s great. I’m so glad it’s all worked out.”
“Good luck to you,” they said. “Your sister’s here. Everything does work out for the best even in this Godforsaken country.”
They did not know about Jackie and the American Hippie. And Carolyn was just as glad not to have to tell them about the new development.
“Give us your address,” Emile said. “We’ll send you a copy of the show.”
She pulled out her wallet for her business card. It should not have been a shock, but it was. Her wallet was empty. Dollars, credit cards, all gone. Even her driver’s license. Jackie must have done it in a hurry; she took everything – her library card, her discount card at Blockbuster.
She went to the desk and wrote out her information on one of the Hotel’s cards. Her tears were gone.
Their driver honked. A week late and now he was in a rush. The Frenchmen thought it was hysterical. They left in a hurry of good-byes, see you laters, and good lucks.
The maid had just washed the floors and Carolyn walked slowly to her room. She dreaded the discovery, dreaded what she would or would not find.
She pulled out her backpack from under the bed and opened the side compartment, the one with the hidden zipper. It was empty.
Jackie had taken it all – the extra cash, the airplane ticket. Even her silver earrings, the ones she had bought at the flea market in Paris as an undergraduate traveling across Europe.
Jackie was a real thief. Quick, thorough, damaging.
Carolyn sat back on her heels, her head dizzy with what she would have to do next.
But then for the next several hours she did nothing. She sat on the veranda in the Hippie’s chair, sipping warm Pepsi. She didn’t really believe her sister would return, but there was always the chance. The click–clack of the shoeshine boys on the streets pounded nearby. They came up the drive and called to her, until finally the security guard chased them away.
Something wasn’t right. It didn’t make sense. Jackie was messed up, but she wasn’t mean-spirited. She wouldn’t have left Carolyn stranded. Carolyn went back up to her room.
In her make-up bag was everything she thought Jackie had taken. The airplane ticket, the driver’s license, even the silver earrings. Her sister had taken $300.00, but there was more than enough left to pay the hotel bill and to get home. The note was written in Carolyn’s eye pencil. “Scared you, didn’t I? Don’t give up on me. I’m never as bad as you and Mom think I am.”
My sister is a freak, Carolyn thought. Save her? You couldn’t even catch her long enough to have a decent and sober conversation with her.
Carolyn repacked her bag, putting all her valuables in the secret pocket. She zipped it up, then hid it under the bed. She was relieved, but not happy. The weight of a week in a strange country made her weepy. She forced herself to get up and do something. But there was nothing to do. She tidied the room once more.
It would have been nice not to travel home alone. However strange Jackie was, Carolyn missed her.
It took her three hours to pass through customs. The airport was even worse than when she had arrived.
The guard stopped her at the door that lead to the tarmac. Carolyn couldn’t understand why.
“You don’t want to get stuck here,” the voice behind her spoke English.
It was the Puma Lady and she was shoving Haitian gourdes into the guard’s hands. “Take it,” the woman commanded and the man nodded without any argument. “For the both of us,” the Puma Lady said. “Take it.”
Carolyn waited for the man to tell her it was okay, she could go on, when the puma lady pushed her forward. “Hurry,” she said. “It’s not like the States. Booked seats mean nothing.”
She pulled Carolyn by the arm and lead her through the next room, another mass of confusion. “This way,” the woman said. “I know a short-cut.”
She dragged Carolyn across the tiled floors, pushed open a door that looked like it went to a storage room, but instead went out to the tarmac. The flight crew was there grouped around the doors smoking cigarettes and they nodded at the Puma Lady as if old friends.
The plane was full — two hundred people fighting for seats and space in the overhead compartments.
The woman was still pushing Carolyn forward and Carolyn, anxious to find room, didn’t protest.
They found two seats in the very last row. “Nightmare,” the woman said. “It never fails.”
The man on the aisle did not move. Carolyn climbed over his long legs to the window seat. Puma Lady sat in the middle. The pilot welcomed them on board, and asked the flight attendants to prepare the doors for take-off.
“That was as close as I’ve come to missing my flight,” the woman said to Carolyn. Up close, the woman looked even more like a cat. Her eyebrows were painted with black eyeliner.
Carolyn was just about to ask for the woman’s reason for being in Haiti, when the woman motioned across Carolyn’s face to the window blind. “Would you mind?” she asked.
“Not at all,” Carolyn said.
“I’m exhausted,” the woman explained. “I never sleep well in third world countries.” She covered herself with one of the dark blue airplane blankets and positioned her head against the back of the chair. So much chatter down here. So much noise.”
Carolyn saw no reason to answer. She pulled down the blind, closing off the ocean waters, the bald mountains — she barely glanced at her last view of Haiti.
A minute later, the plane taxied to the runway, and accelerated into take-off. They were airborne.
© Copyright 2016 Sharon Dilworth
Sharon Dilworth is the author of two collections of short stories: The Long White and Women Drinking Benedictine, and a novel Year of Gingko. Her novel, Another Riviera is forthcoming in 2017. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she is the director of the creative writing program at Carnegie Mellon University.
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Read our author interview with Sharon Dilworth here.