February 04, 2013
Tet Fe Mal
Only the rushing traffic of tap-tap trucks and motos loaded to the brim with passengers stirred the stale and acrid air of the bustling city of Cap Haitien. Clouds of smoke rose from the cluttered gutters, spewing out a miasma of burnt plastic -- the country's sole way of waste disposal -- as toxic fumes.
Small currents of wind trailed behind the vehicles that swerved precariously around each other, weaving braids of smoky eddies in their wake. Paul-Jean, a small boy of 9 years, stared out the back of one such tap-tap named "Love Jesus." His eyes were transfixed by the smoky patterns and the noisy chaos of the street side merchants. It had only gotten busier in the weeks leading up to the coming of the festive Kanaval. It was a big celebration throughout Haiti as their special version of Mardi Gras.
"Love Jesus" pulled over at the corner of a busy intersection after two brisk thumping strikes were authoritatively delivered against the side of the vehicle as a signal to stop. PJ got out and waited at the side of the road while his manman paid the driver, and then climbed out over the half-dozen passengers also stuffed in the seats.
He heard the thubbing of the moto barreling down the road before he saw it -- the vehicle weaving and dodging the stodgy slower tap-taps and narrowly missing their side mirrors and passenger limbs sticking out the windows.
But the moto didn't miss him.
The world whirled around in a roaring redness... then black.
A week later, he still flinched whenever a moto zoomed by -- and his protective manman folded him close into her bosom on this leg of their journey. This tap-tap (named "Bon Fet") weaved drunkenly back and forth on the path. The road was dusty and riddled with the pock-marked memory of monsoons past. On some of the deeper unavoidable potholes, PJ had to hold on to the railing and clutch at his floppy fishing cap to avoid losing his seat. His mother had saved up and given him the cute hat as a present since the accident.
He still hoped that he would get to see some of the parades of Kanaval, but manman insisted that that this trip was just as important.
"Eske ki pwoblem ou genyen jodiya?"
"Tet fe mal."
The doctor asked why he was there in the hospital and his mother had blithely replied that he had a headache. He concentrated on drawing "Bon Fet," complete with a birthday cake on the top to complete the tap-tap. The adults chatted more and his mother swept off the floppy fishing cap without any dramatic flair, but by the inaudible gasp and silence that followed, she might as well have shouted and pointed.
PJ's head had been partially de-scalped and on the corner of his forehead, above his right eyebrow, a motorcycle handlebar's length off the ground, was a shiny patch of skull like an offset unblinking third eye.