A short story by Margaret Papillon
Translated from the french by Suze Baron
The weather in Port-au-Prince was pleasant despite all the sadness that permeated the air. Sacred Heart Church of Turgeau was crammed. On either side of the coffin, people in mourning clothes were disheartened. A few feet from the altar, a young woman wept the loss of her beloved mother.
The funeral of Mama Ideniese was today.
Ideniese’s children surrounded her. She had as many boys as girls. Six of them, now living in Canada and in the United States, made the trip home despite the exorbitant cost of the plane tickets. They travelled to pay their last respect. The passing of this mater familia, unrivalled, put them all in a state of pain.
The wake was but a lengthy recollection of childhood and adolescence memories, and these were years of comfort and happiness enjoyed under the protective care of Ideniese. They remembered these years as the marvelous moments of their life, and the children couldn’t cry enough to appease their grief.
Tracas Fenelon, the deceased’s husband, was inconsolable. He felt reduced to nothing. He did not only lose a wife, but he lost his partner, his lover, the mother of his children, his homemaker, and a lifetime friend and companion. They’d been through a lot together, and she helped him overcome many challenges. Now he found himself alone in the battle field. Rosy, the youngest, just graduated and will soon leave for medical school. The thought of impending aloneness overwhelmed him and threw him into a panic. He cried and called the name of his beloved aloud.
The daughters tried to comfort him, but their efforts failed because they were more affected by this death than he was. The sons tried their best to put up a good front and not cry, but that didn’t work either. Never was another woman more loved than Ideniese Fenelon.
Needless to say a person of such distinction could not be buried like anybody else. She needed a proper and formal burial. The older sons chose the most expensive coffin, ordered flowers to cover the altar, paid a professional gospel singer, and hired a cameraman to videotape and preserve the service. They would then make multiple copies of the tape for family members here and also for those abroad who were not able to make the trip.
The daughters, on the other hand, thought that the brothers’ choices were excessive and felt this wake was more like a jamboree, a shivaree, but the others replied that nothing could be considered an excess when it came to a pillar like Mama Ideniese.
The funeral celebration was at its peak with specially selected musical arrangements set for this service when, all of a sudden and to everyone’s surprise, eight hooded well-armed men bolted in.
- No one moves, a voice said behind a masked face.
It was a shock! And before the family and the funeral staff became aware of what was happening, six men as solid as any thick wooden piece of furniture grabbed the coffin and carried it away before anyone could breathe a word in protest. In the street, a vehicle awaited and took off after the slamming of its four doors. Another smaller vehicle screeched and followed after it. At first, there was silence. Total silence. Then all at once, like water that rushes against its levees, everyone started to holler, to talk all at once, and to run about in every which way in an attempt to catch the escapees. Some ran toward rue José Marti, and others toward Avenue Jean-Paul II without any results.
The police officers called for this emergency came half an hour later because they believed it to be a prank. As proof of its reality, the cameraman who captured every bit of the whole scene handed his film over to the police. The Magistrate (or justice of the peace) who was to take the police report didn’t show up for another hour. And when he came, he had sleep in his eyes. Mind you, he lived just a skip away on rue Duncombre. The walk would have taken him less than five minutes, but he chose to drive his brand new shiny four-wheeler. It was ridiculous. He drew up his report and detailed it as the most bewildering event of his long career: The kidnapping of a dead woman. Who ever heard of such a thing?
The Fenelon family members regained their composure but one question remained: Why would anybody want to kidnap the remains of Mama Ideniese? She was not a celebrity, nor a politician; she was just a wife and a mother. They will never figure it out. They were drinking vervain tea to calm and settle their nerves when the ring-ring-ring of the phone startled everybody.
Tracas Fenelon, still shaky from the loss of the corpse of his wife, picked up the phone. Within seconds, he turned pale, deathly pale; he hang up after a brief conversation. Everyone else wanted to hear.
-They’re asking 20,000 American dollars for her return. This is a real kidnapping, he said turning to his children.
After the first seconds of amazement passed, Andre the oldest said with anger:
-No, no, no. It is not possible; this is unheard of! Haiti is one strange country. Everywhere else on earth they ask for ransom, and you rush to meet it in order not to have a body in your hands but here, it is the contrary. They make you sing for the return of a corpse. This is incredible. We’re not going to pay for someone that we intended to bury. They have the body, let them keep it. Papa, call back and tell them so.
Tracas did not move. He felt lost and hopeless.
-How insensitive of you Andre! You’re hurting Papa, said Denise the oldest daughter. She walked over to her father and put her arms around him.
-How am I hurting him? Andre asked in amazement. Mama is already dead. There is nothing that they can do to hurt her.
-Dead or not we cannot leave her in the hands of these money hungry hoodlums, a second daughter said. We don’t know their intentions. It would be terrible if they let her body decompose. They could have taken her for use in black magic, or to turn her into a zombie. I don’t trust these crooks. We must get Mama back as soon as we can.
-I feel the same way. I cannot imagine her in the hands of these good for nothings, said another son. It would be terrible to never see her again.
-Andre could not believe this. See her again? We’re talking about someone who’s dead. Dead. And, you’re talking as if Mama could get herself raped. The people who pulled this job are smart; they are counting on the fact that we are superstitious.
-All is possible with them, said the youngest daughter with certainty.
-Go right ahead; make a fool of me Rosy, Andre said to her.
-Not at all; there are even some in this country who believe that raping a dead woman could bring them luck.
With these words, Tracas Fenelon came out of his stupor; he was then alert.
-What a silly idea! Andre said. You’re funny. So to prevent them from raping Mama, we’re going to make them a gift of 20, 000 dollars. This is insane.
-Shush Andre, said the oldest daughter. To begin with, this is somewhat your fault. If you weren’t so set on having such an extravagant affair; if you were wise enough to spend less for the ceremony, we wouldn’t be where we are now. All the showing off that you did convinced the thieves that we’re filthy rich. They found the best way to relieve us a bit of our problems without spending a cent. The corpse is deaf, mute and blind, thus unable to see them and much less report them. They don’t have to give her food or drink. She needs no shower, no soap, and no toothpaste. She will never have the need to urinate or the need to … do… the rest. She cannot try to escape; she is an ideal prisoner. A dream of a prisoner. In addition, they know that the thought of her rapid decomposition will push us to meet their demands straight away. This is the perfect kidnapping!
-Andre felt outdone by all these remarks. He said to his father: Papa, the ball is in your court; I know that you’re a practical, rational man, and…
To his big surprise his father stared straight ahead and said with a firm voice:
-Start with the negotiations. Rosy’s right! All her life, my Ideniese knew no other man but me. I will never allow strange men… to lay a hand… on her. No never. Not today and not tomorrow.