- Street of Lost Footsteps*
So. Monsieur, it began with a great gust of wind. Inevitably. All our stories start with gusts of wind as if in a whirl of lazy legends. We are a drift of idle birds, the imps of the unforgettable, master craftsmen of the counterfeit. A gust here, a gust there—we proceed by divination, accumulating incantatory fragments. Our history is a corset, a stifling cell, a great searing fire, an apocalyptic calypso conducting a tourist campaign. Ladies, gentlemen, come and see: This isn’t a country here, it’s a factory for epic failures, an excuse for a place, a weed lot, an abyss for tightrope-walkers, blindman’s bluff for people born sightless with delusions of grandeur, rank salt fish, a buried jar of zombie-guarded gold, proud mountains reduced to dust dumped, in big helpings, into the mouths of sick children who crouch, waiting in the hope of crazed epiphanies, behaving badly and swamped besides, bogged down in the devil’s quagmires. Hence, all our stories begin with great gusts of wind to give the slip to nothingness, to veil our isle in illusions. It seems there are still specters to stir up in the slime, possible parturitions, latency, the dormancy of birds sulking in anticipation of vengeful wings, human stories raising a ruckus in tropical Dolby, tambourines, intercoolers, Toyota, Creole lotto, passion fruit, patter songs for delicate dolls, in the mirror, all the boys and girls my age, I’m bad, bad, bad. These stories with a thousand sounds, strong and sightless colors, the odors of alkali and apricot jam.
Yes, it began one April day at the president’s state funeral: the wind even scattered the fifteen glossy pages of the minister of information’s speech, and the frightened soldiers even abandoned their guns to take refuge in the shoe-repair shops on the Rue de l’Enterrement, and the nine bishops of the nine dioceses of the nine geographical départements even took to their aged-dignitary heels, scampering toward the cathedral, clutching their ceremonial vestments with extortionate hands that were even stickier than usual, while a famous crooner with [End Page 134] the mug of a porter in a posh hotel brayed in praise of the great dictator Deceased Forever-Immortal—Hail to thee, Founding Father—in broken unison with the half-starved Troop of Found-lings, the National Association of the Sons of the Militia, and the Club of Revolutionary Unwed Mothers, who’d all taken shelter behind the tombs of the main cemetery.
Yes, it all began with this April wind that made us believe the days of dictatorship were over. Poets already saw the horses of dawn galloping across the vast spaces cleared by the wind, the lofty soul of Bohio-Haiti on the summit of Macaya Peak performing the pirouettes of a woman set free. Without squabbles or confabs, people were embracing in the streets like comrades, eager brethren, just as they had at the end of the occupation in 1934. They’re beautiful, the photos of the end of the first occupation. Even in black and white, you can see the colors of the flag, the trees were laughing, the women were throwing water and salt on the roads, while their husbands, sons, and fiancés all shouted, Never again! There’s even a picture of my mother smiling, it’s the most vivid image I will ever have of her, a queen-chanterelle coming into her own, she was thirty years old in ‘34 and didn’t have one wrinkle or a single gray hair, everything about her had been saved for this great moment. Now that the Americans are back she doesn’t move anymore, she doesn’t laugh anymore, she’s lost her memory, she doesn’t talk about anything but that morning in ‘34, she doesn’t know they’ve come back. Or she’s pretending not to know that they’ve blocked off the Rue des Miracles with barbed wire, that children run after them on the Grand-Rue, down all ten kilometers of Delmas Road, along dirt paths; that old men...