It was a hot summer morning in June, and the sun had just made its break into the dark of dawn. The roosters crowed in syncopation, and the sound of the sprinklers sang in the distance. The roar of the garbage truck collecting trash up and down the street, whistling at each stop alerted the day of the week: it was Monday.
I had graduated from Pre-school on Friday, and mom said that I was a big girl now. After Saturday and Sunday, I would go to a new school for the summer. I didn’t realize that I was the only one going to school. My siblings were still yet in bed. By Sunday night, excitement and fear kept me up most of the night; so I was well awake by the time the garbage truck rolled around to my block.
My brothers were in their rooms-still in bed sleeping. The room I shared with my sister was closest to my parents’ room, separating my brothers’ room from my parents’. The tenor-pitched rumble of my sister’s snoring rang through our wood paneled room and reverberated off the walls to coda with a sharp triplet staccato.
The expected humidity of the tropical heat smothered me, and I felt tired. The sweat drenched my nightdress, leaving my back wet and my neck tickled and sticky. The dust laden oscillating fan did little to invite the breeze we enjoyed the night before. Resolving to my fate, I finally sat upright. I surveyed the square-shaped, dimly lit room. The doo-doo brown walls were ugly to me. Why would anyone want wood panels inside of the house? Wood should be on the outside of the house. The wooden floors didn’t help brighten the place either. My mom’s decorating did little to help. The crisp, white cotton curtain panels, lined with lace and doilies hung lazily against each side of the open window. The once, wind-enhanced, scary-in-the-night, flying curtains found no wind to give it life in the heat of the morning gleam. Beams from the sun made dust and particles visible to my naked eye. The white highboy chest of drawers stood beneath the window. Porcelain figurines of white girls and boys playing graced the top of the white, lace doilies that covered the rectangular top of the drawer. My sister’s and my comb, and our white, gold-trimmed, hand-painted-pearl brush of little red roses held curlies of our hair; and our hair ribbons and barrettes were all neatly scattered on our chest.
Directly across the window and chest was the East wall, where the scary closet with no doors was positioned. I can’t remember ever seeing one there, but based on its exposed tracks along its perimeter, it needed one of those accordion doors, or the two-door kind which overlapped, and slid to close on either side. Either way, I just wished there was one there and I wouldn’t have to look the other way at night when the shadows from the moonlight casted upon the clothes looked like a mob of people from the 17th century, holding oil lanterns coming to take me away from my family. The room had an old Early Americana feel to it: From the foot stools, the white porcelain basin of water my mom kept next to my bed so that I wouldn’t have to go all the way, down the hall to use the toilet in the middle of night, to the Monet paintings, the curtains, the smell-it felt old. And I was convinced that ghosts lived with us.
I decided that it was morning and I didn’t need to be afraid anymore. I took a deep breath and stretched my arms up to God as if to say, Thank You for not letting them take me. I looked up and caught sight of a palmetto bug making its way up the wall. I blinked twice, to be sure because it was the exact same color as the walls. These monster roaches have tiny wings on their back and they fly. I plunged back under the covers and ignored the discomfort of my wet pillow as I tightly held on to the blankets. I couldn’t breathe.
You have to get up.
But the roach!…there’s a roach in my room!
I realized that my sister had left the window open. She might as well have put up a sign saying: Come on in, Roaches! Mi casa es su casa! She knows I hate bugs! Her tumultuous roaring continued and the smell of my breath was suffocating me under the covers.
I pulled the sheets off my head and sat up again. Mr. Bug was gone. Or so I thought. I swung my feet to the floor and allowed my toes to feel for my feather soft house slippers. If I could just get these on, I can make a dash for the bathroom. My little toes crept into the indulgent slippers, and I felt something move. Then I felt tentacles tickling my toes! I gasped in disbelief and horror-unable to move or utter a breath or sound, before gasping a short breath again to force a heart-curdling screech which awoke the entire house.
My sister’s symphony of tenor to bass snoring stopped abruptly with a climactic snort; and she jolted out of bed.
My mom came rushing into our room with her hands holding her sponge rollers, screaming: “Sak pase?! Sak pase?!” What happened?! Her Mumu was buttoned wrong, unaligned and haphazardly, revealing her caramel breast which hung like Haitian mangos when its pulp is sucked out through a small piercing at the top, leaving its shape oblong but flat.
My brothers came rushing in, already laughing…
I heard the shower stream stop and heard my father yelling, “Sak gen la?!” What happened here? (What’s going on in there?)
My younger brother, the youngest of us five, all of three years, and 11 months, and 28 days old at the time ran to the bathroom door to fill my dad in on the hysterics of his morning-“Addi crying because she has a roach in her sandal!”
“Ah!” my dad grunted before he turned the faucet back on, and continued his shower.
My mom asked, “Do you have to be so ridiculous? Inférieure! Meaning: acting of lower class.
My sister muttered, “She’s such a drama queen,” and turned around to return to her slumber.
My brothers laughed and walked back to their room.
Seeing that my wailing had not subsided, my ma said, “Get up. Levez! Levez! Mettez’w debout! Li l’heur pou’n allez.” It’s time to go. My mom would go in and out from Haitian Creole to French and sometimes, she’d throw in some English words.
My mom rushed to help me get dressed after a much hurried, cold shower.
“Why do I have to go?” I whined. It didn’t seem fair. I’m the fourth child of five children-and of all of us, I had to go? Not fair. I knew my siblings would have a gay old time without me there. Mom and dad wouldn’t be home so they’d get to play with the neighbors. They’d have a party and have fun playing pillow fights, kickball, Hide-and go-seek, Mother-may-I, Green-light-Red-Light, playing School, Shopping and Mommy and Daddy. But I would be stuck at school. It just didn’t seem fair. I’d just graduated Pre-School.
Without answering the question, she stated in our native Creole, “Et puis, fait vit!” For me to hurry up.
Soon, we were out the door, and making our one-mile walk down Northwest 2nd Avenue, from 34th to 26th Street- down the boardwalk of Wynwood’s busiest district. No, it wasn’t Midtown, then. They’ve changed the name to Midtown now that it’s gained recognition for its art galleries, alternative music clubs and can boast a fine dining experience from top chefs from around the world; it is adjacent to Miami’s Design district. Now that most of the younger generation has moved away in search of a better life, the older people have either died, or sold their homes; now that a huge mall has been erected in the middle of the town where an old truck lot and cement company used to be; now that High Rises costing more than anyone from the old neighborhood, except for Hector and his crew who controlled the drug cartels, could afford grace the outskirts of our little town with panoramic balconies overlooking good ole Biscayne Bay and beyond; and the old concrete homes are bought out by the booming artist community who has done a great job in giving the neighborhood a much needed facelift of beautifully painted, graffiti murals, renovated old-style, Miami homes with gorgeous curb appeals of well-manicured lawns; now that the bums and crack addicts are gone, it’s Midtown. But on this day, when the population of multi-ethnic families was poor to middle class, and everyone belonged, and all the children played in the street, and everyone knew everyone, and the stores were reasonably priced, it was Wynwood.
The smell of fresh Cuban breads and pastries tickled my nose and made my stomach growl. I could tell my mom was ignoring it, as we both inhaled the smell of rich, aromatic coffee beans being roasted at the coffee factory on 5th Avenue.
A dog barked at a cat that jumped away with a loud meow, just in time for redemption; the buzzing sound of the street lights faded away as the lights automatically turned off. A rooster shrieked the final alarm to wake up; and then the rumbling train made its travel down North Miami Avenue. Ah, the quietest moment of the day.
She tugged at my hand as we made it down the street-I guess it was important to get me there as fast as she could.
I allowed my eyes to follow Celia, the neighborhood drunk; I waved to her despite my mom’s eye-rolling and neck twisting to the opposite direction.
“Hola, mamita linda! Como estas?” Celia danced around me. Her heels seem to hurt, with deep cuts that didn’t bleed, five shades darker than her caramel skin tone. Celia smelled like she had just bathed in rum. Her eyes were bloodshot red and bulging; her speech slurred with smiling, crimson lips.
My mom stepped to the left to avoid a collision, never letting go of me as she yanked my hands. My mom didn’t grant the woman her customary smile or acknowledgement; instead, she kept her head straight, and face stoic with a slight frown on her face as if she smelled something foul.
I thought of Celia the whole way to my new school, Centro Catholico de San Juan de Puerto Rico- where I would learn Spanish in no time because no one spoke English; and I would be the only Black, Haitian girl.