Weekend in HaitiPadgett Arango
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Jim swiveled around in his seat to look at me. "Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
He didn't wait for an answer, but turned around and began shouting instructions at the pilot, some seventy year old Cuban Jim had picked up in Miami.
"Just head it straight for the runway. They'll get out of the way."
I leaned forward over the two front seats and looked out of the cockpit window. The runway ahead of us was filled with rioters, most of whom appeared to be in the midst of some sort of lynching. I started to form an argument against landing on the rioters, but before the words could leave my mouth, the plane descended sickeningly and I found myself clutching the arms of my seat, trying to maintain consciousness.
As Jim had said, the rioters pretty much moved out of the way once they realized they would be facing a propeller were they to hold their ground. I relaxed my fingers, which had long since turned white, and leaned forward again. Jim was chatting with the pilot.
"You'll be in Haiti for a while, right?"
"Hell, no. You'd be insane to stay here!"
Jim paused for a moment and turned his head to look outside the plane. I followed his gaze and saw the crowd outside the plane. Most of them had clubs or rakes in their hands and were waving them over their heads. A good number of them appeared intent on ripping the plane to shreds, apparently to get to us.
Jim turned back to the pilot. "This place is perfect. I love it."
"You're mad. Look, I can't just dump you two here. I'll come pick you up next Monday."
Jim smiled and dove for the pilot's hand. "It's a deal!"
He undid his seat belt and turned back to me. "Grab the bags. We're going to have to make a run for the town."
"Why am I here?"
Jim didn't answer, just smiled and reached across me towards the bags.
We heard the plane take off right as we made our way through the crowd. Most of the rioters were fairly peeved at our attempt to land on them, but the men Jim had hired to clear a path for us were quite effective.
Jim and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the airport for a while.
Jim turned to look at me and fixed me with that look of his. "Now what?" he replied mockingly. "Man. We're in a god damn revolution! We'd be fools not to ride this crazy train all the way to the top."
I stared back at him, then laughed. "You're mad."
I had often thought that Jim was, in fact, mad. I had known him since high school, when he decided that he wanted to be a bad influence on someone and chose me. We spent the rest of high school and college together, drinking, carousing, sometimes just getting in the car and driving across the country under the influence of a variety of foreign substances.
After college we didn't really see much of each other. I got a job in a law firm while Jim got occasional work as a journalist for a number of second-rate magazines. We talked occasionally, though the conversation usually evolved into Jim asking me when we were going to go on another one of our mad rampages to some wacky locale. I put him off as much as possible. I had finally found a place for myself in the world, good job, pretty girlfriend, nice apartment. Full time yuppies don't have time for drug-induced gallivanting.
By the time Jim called me last week, my full-time position had slipped down to part-time, or maybe even temp status. I had lost my seventh case in a row, forcing the head of the firm to bar me from appearing in court. I could say that my demotion set in motion all the other events, and, while one could argue that my girlfriend's hasty departure was related, I would be hard pressed to explain how my demotion caused two men to grab me on the way home from work, steal my wallet and keys, and cut off two of my fingers.
I spent a couple days in the hospital while they sewed up the stumps on my hand, then got home and found the note Jane had left for me after I called her and told her about my loss of status at work. Apparently her boyfriend had gotten out of prison that day, and she would rather go live with an ex-con than with a desk clerk.
I couldn't really blame her, but it didn't make life any easier when I finally returned home and found that my furniture had been removed. The apartment was bare, no paintings, no chairs, nothing.
Except the phone. It started ringing a few minutes after I stepped through the door and it took me seven rings to locate it, as Jane had stuffed it in a drawer.
"Yo, Rog. It's me, Jim."
"Jim. Good to hear from you."
"Right. Life's been going well, I hope."
"No. Things have been pretty bad right now. My fingers..."
"Never mind about that. I've got a honey of a deal for us. Found a Cuban to fly us into Haiti."
"Why would I want to go to Haiti?"
There was a slight pause from Jim's end of the phone before he spoke. "Why not? Baby Doc's been ousted. Never a better time. You'll love it."
I stood by the bags while Jim haggled with the Haitian cab driver. It seemed to be taking a while, but Jim spoke no French, which was, I suspect, the root of the difficulties. When he returned, he was counting his money nervously.
"I don't trust these people. They're blood thirsty right now. I've never seen such rampant anti-Americanism."
"Weren't you in Nam?"
"Yeah, but that's different. They didn't really hate us. They were just doing their job. These people? Personal hatred."
I nodded, then grabbed the bags. We were standing in front of La Maison Vert, one of the old tourist hotels outside of Port-au-Prince. Jim hefted his bag, and led the way to the motel.
Things went black pretty soon after that. I remember opening the door, then hearing a dull thud. Alphonse told me later he had clubbed me with the butt of his rifle, as a precaution. I figure he was just looking out for himself, so no real harm done.
Alphonse was a Tonton Macoute who had been holing up in La Maison Vert since the first signs of the revolution. I suspect he was a very nice fellow, though he did seem to be under a fair bit of pressure.
I first saw Alphonse standing over me when I recovered consciousness. He was a large man, maybe six foot four, and appeared even larger as I was lying down when I came to. He reached out a hand and helped me up.
"Sorry about that." He spoke with a thick Haitian accent.
"No problem," I said, rubbing the lump on the back of my head. "Where's Jim?"
Alphonse used his head to gesture towards Jim's unconscious body, which was sprawled out on a divan in the hotel lobby.
"He looked more intimidating than you. I figured I should hit him harder."
I smiled nervously. Alphonse walked over to the bar and poured two drinks, one of which he handed to me. "Don't worry. It's not poisoned....or is it?"
He laughed maniacally, then downed his drink. I stared at him while he drank, then, for lack of anything better to do, drank mine.
"Thanks. I think your friend is waking up."
Jim and I spent the rest of the afternoon with Alphonse, drinking and, when we tired of booze, ingesting a number of the pills Jim had brought with him. Alphonse encouraged us not to leave the hotel. The other men in his cadre had been torn to pieces by the packs of rioters that prowled the landscape of Haiti like wild dogs. He had been trying to figure out a way to leave the country, but was terrified to head into town.
"Why not just disguise yourself?" I asked.
Alphonse laughed. "Tonton Macoutes do not use disguises. We are instruments of terror. We hide from no man."
"But you're hiding now," Jim reminded him.
"I know. I'm not happy about it."
Alphonse began to cry, though that might have been the pills.
The next morning, I was awoken by a scream, which, judging by the timbre, was that of a woman, probably the maid. I rolled out of bed and headed towards the maid, who was standing in the hallway, screaming. She was staring at the doorway of Jim's room, so I figured I should look in.
It took a couple minutes for me to realize Jim was dead, but, once I did, I felt a little woozy and must have collapsed, as I found myself on the floor with Alphonse standing over me.
"I'm sorry about your friend."
"It's all right. What happened to him?"
"Don't know. Didn't look at the body much before I buried him."
I sat up suddenly. "You buried him?"
"He was dead. Why not?"
"I don't know." I paused. "It just doesn't seem right."
Alphonse nodded and placed his hand on my shoulder.
We spent the rest of the day on the verandah, drinking heavily and dipping into Jim's medical bag for chemical comfort periodically. At around five, I saw Jim walking along the shoreline toward us, the gentle waves lapping against his feet. I waved to him, but he failed to wave back. I turned to Alphonse.
"Say. Is that Jim out there?"
Alphonse squinted into the light of the setting sun, then nodded. "It looks like it. I was afraid of this."
"Of what? This is great! Jim isn't really dead."
With one swift motion, Alphonse threw me to the ground and pulled a shotgun out from under the table. He raised it to his shoulder and pointed it at Jim. I clawed at his feet, screaming.
"What the hell are you doing? That's Jim!"
"Your friend is dead. I recommend you get out of here."
Pulling against the corduroy of Alphonse's pants, I managed to gain my feet to see Jim staggering toward the hotel. Alphonse squeezed the trigger of the shotgun, and I could see the buckshot rip chunks of flesh off Jim's frame. He jerked back a step, then continued walking toward us. Alphonse opened the shotgun and slid a slug into the chamber.
"Get out of here. I'll take care of your friend."
I looked at Alphonse's face, noting the hard determination that had set into the creases around his jaw, then turned and looked out at Jim, his left arm no longer really attached to the rest of his body, his skin slightly decomposed and devoid of color. I turned and walked away from the verandah.
As I packed my bags upstairs, I heard three or four more shots ring out, none of which were followed by any screaming. I grabbed my bag and headed down towards the lobby, where I met Alphonse, shotgun still in hand.
"He's dead for sure this time. Took his head off."
I nodded at him and looked over his shoulder towards the verandah, where Jim's body was staggering about, searching vainly for his head. I craned my neck to see if I could spot the head, and Alphonse, diving my goal, reached into his trench coat and pulled out the head.
I stared at the head for a while. The muscles on the face were twitching, each eye would open for a moment, then clench itself shut tightly. The cheeks spasmed periodically, causing the jaw to open and close rhythmically. I started to reach out to touch the skin, but was interrupted by a loud noise from the front door.
Alphonse and I turned simultaneously to see a huge crowd of rioters tearing apart the front door. Alphonse dropped the head, which rolled along the wood slats of the floor, finally settling against the bar. It squealed momentarily, then was silenced as Alphonse fired a round of buckshot into its left temple, dislocating the jaw bone.
He turned his attention suddenly to the door, which had since come apart letting in a crowd of angry citizens, who, upon seeing Alphonse, charged him. As they seemed to have ignored me, I dashed for the door, clutching my bag as well as Jim's head, which I had picked up off the ricochet from the shotgun blast. As I left, I heard Alphonse firing into the crowd, pledging his undying allegiance to Papa Doc and cursing those who would oppose the sacred reign of the Duvaliers as damned swine.
The rest of the trip was fairly noneventful. I spent months rebuilding my life, working to regain my status among my co-workers. I found myself a new girlfriend, a new apartment, and found a doctor to make me some superb fingers. Life has been going well. And I get to spend a lot of quality time with Jim. I've made a lovely little mount for his head in my living room, and, since I sewed his jawbone back on to the tendon, he has been quite talkative. It's good to have Jim back in my life.