NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 56

And before the sun had even risen, before the scent of coffee had overtaken the house, the last breath, a very loud gasp, was heard by everyone in the compound. Woy. Woy. Woy. Screams pierced the wooden walls of the house. Woy. Woy. Woy. Bodies convulsed in fits of pain. I sensed the the mosaic floor of the verandah shaking, as if an earthquake had struck. I heard wailing from deep within the bosom of someone. “Li ale. She is gone,” a trembling voice yelled. “Woy. Woy.” That’s how I learned that GrandAngele had died. Li ale, those two words would transform my world and everyone else’s close to me. That day, so well engraved in my memory, I lost my grandmother. She was 88, I was eight. I saw the white shadows walking through the compound. I was half asleep and looking frantic, but for once, the adults didn’t care. As the day fully opened its eyes, as light seeped in, the forms of the people dressed in white with distraught faces became clearer. Incessant visitors, tearful sighs, uncomfortable silences, far away glances. It was like a soundless ballet, with ebony bodies in white sleepwalking throughout the house and on the verandah. Coffee perfumed the day, as it was feverishly roasted, ground, filtered and sipped. I was happy not to go to school, and I mingled freely through the white skirts and pants. Some visitors bent down to kiss me or tried to console with a “Condolences.” Inside the house, GrandAngele’s decrepit body, crowned with her full head of white hair braided around her jet black face, was dressed in white. She lay on her bed for the last time. TanteYvonne’s large bosom seemed almost flat, enveloped, as it was, in a demure white dress. She sat by GrandAngele’s head crying softly. Papa stood next to her with eyes filled with tears. Silence. Life stopped. Soon after, her body was moved from her bedroom to the living room. The house was totally silent, as if no one was breathing. TanteYvonne stared into space with her red swollen eyes. I stood by the door and peeked in every once in a while, not sure I should enter. Finally, with a trembling hand, she waved to me to come in. “You can kiss her goodbye,” she urged us with a whisper, as if she didn’t want to wake her up. Viola and I approached. I had never seen a dead person before, but GrandAngele looked like she was sleeping. Viola kissed her first. Then, it was my turn. The face that I had kissed so often was now stark cold and hard as a brick. I wasn’t prepared for this rigidity. It was not my GrandAngele nor Papa Loko. She was transformed overnight into someone else. My soft wrinkled-skinned grandmother was gone, imprisoned in ice. That was my nightmare. I understood what death was. I hated death. I hated that she had died. I wanted her to be immortal. So that evening, GrandAngele’s wake was organized, per tradition. I watched small little groups, made of family and friends, gathered everywhere. The men with reddened eyes drank klerin, a local alcohol, while others played cards surrounded by others anxious to replace them. Hushed voices filtered from the louvers of the living room. While the noise satisfied some, I craved silence and sat in a corner, observing everyone. That’s when I overheard conversations about her, and one man said:“Se yon mapou ki tonbe la wi, Angele Paul, sete you gwo mapou.” That had great impact on me, because he had compared GrandAngele’s death to a gigantic ceiba tree falling. I knew even then about that tree being the epitome of the strongest spirit in the Haitian mystical universe: whenever we went in the countryside, we were told not to get close to its huge roots, because they had life in them. 27 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE S H O RT STO RY Auntie Nwakaego, who refused to get married, wore her bright eyeshadow, her purple lipstick, and unlike all the other women, her trousers were sewn from red and black wax prints. She wore a hat to cover her skin from the sun. She stepped out of her car with her sandals showing her neatly manicured toes. My mother’s only sister, a newly appointed manager at one of the recently merged banks in Lagos Island, had her hair neatly braided into two braids, finished at the end with a red ribbon, and her skin was covered from head to toe in her most stylish fashions, trousers she had made from wax prints instead of making skirts or wrappers like the other women in the party. She had albinism and was nicknamed, “onye ocha”, which made her laugh. White person. The irony. She hugged me tightly and gave me sweets, chocolates from her most recent trip to London. Mother is beautiful like those women in the magazines she buys once a month. She wore a yellow and blue wax print, opting for a flowing skirt and a blouse, which her favorite tailor, Mama Oge, had sewn for her, and she wore a matching head wrap, her black skin a contrast to the bright colors. Her red lipstick matched her red nail polish, a favorite color she buys from the old Yoruba woman who hawks in our street every Wednesday. 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