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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 983-990

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A Return To Jacmel

René Depestre

Doctor Hervé Braget arrived in Jacmel one Saturday afternoon on a big red motorcycle with sparkling metal and making the noise of an assault tank. He took a turn around the little southwestern Haitian city before stopping at the Place d'Armes in front of the villa that his father had just turned into a clinic for him. Dr. Braget was the first Haitian from Jacmel to bring back from the University of Paris the title of hospital intern. His arrival at the handlebar of a Harley Davidson was seen as scandalous. People had been expecting to see him return home in his father's Buick. At the very least, they would have accepted seeing him come back in a taptap. They would have understood it if a young doctor wanted to mingle with the common people, chickens, and other animals using that means of transport.

The young cyclist's costume was another reason for indignation: the son of Timoleon Braget, the honored coffee exporter, was wearing golf pants, a salmon-colored shirt with a polka-dot bow tie, black stockings, dark aviator's glasses, and leather gloves. In that attire, nobody could recognize the studious young man, the athlete of serious elegance that they had seen leave ten years earlier.

In Jacmel that night, Mistress Scandal did not sleep on an empty stomach. On the benches of the Place d'Armes as in living rooms, she drank as much as she fed. No doctor who has interned in the hospitals of Paris can travel on a motorcycle in such an outlandish costume, with stockings matching his dark glasses. Hervé Braget must have picked up such habits in the gutters of Barbès-Rochechouart. His apparel confirmed the rumors that had circulated from time to time about the student's escapades. At one point, he had followed a former dancer from the Ballets Russes to Tangiers. From Tangiers, he was thought to have gone on to Casablanca where he spent some time in prison as a result of some drug affair. Later, he appears to have been seen in a Polish city where he was ostensibly teaching Kreyòl to the niece of Marshal Pilsudski. In the winter of 1935, he was thought to have been playing clarinet in the orchestra that his cousin Théophile Zelnave had organized in Liverpool. Then he disappeared in the hold of a New Zealand steamer. His trail was picked up again six months later in the kitchen of a palace on the Italian Riviera. And, without warning, here he was coming home looking more like a stunt rider from a circus than like a doctor of medicine.

Gathered in the salon of Madame Cecilia Ramonet, the cream of Jacmel decided, out of regard for the Braget family, to put Hervé on probation. They would keep an eye on him during the period that it would take for him to build up a clientele in town. [End Page 983]

In less than six months, Doctor Braget won over his fellow citizens' full confidence. He successfully cared for flu, whooping cough, fevers, stomach ulcers, hernias, fibroids, gonorrhea, asthmatic attacks, and nervous depression. At the Sainte Thérèse Hospital, he was called on a number of times to test his mettle. He successfully carried out extremely complicated operations. As for child delivery, people said he did beautiful work.

As a citizen, nobody could find the least fault with his conduct. At the Café de l'Étoile, Didi Brifas's place, he joined in the poker games with gusto. With great simplicity, he talked about the good or bad weather, without ever bringing up any memories of the hospital or the Folies Bergère. He did not brag about frequent afternoon cocktails with Professor Henri Mondor or having spent weekends in Normandy in the arms of a granddaughter of Louis Pasteur.

Deeply involved in the work and daily life of Jacmel, Hervé Braget was just one more Jacmelian: he attended cockfights and giant kite-flying sessions afternoons...


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