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Lolita Hernandez


But nobody paid attention to the tale, because the sun was traveling from East to West and the hours which grow on the right-hand of clocks must become longer out of laziness since they are those which lead most surely to death.

from Journey to the Seed by Alejo Carpentier
                             translated by Jean Franco

     Bush was everywhere in the house, beginning from a crack at the side door, and it was cold outside. I never saw anything like this. Bush was hanging from the ceiling, coming up from the cracks in the wooden floors, snaking round from behind the archway leading to the kitchen. Coiled round the banister leading to upstairs. I could only imagine the bush had taken over up there, too. But the house was dark and things were thick, and I didn’t care to work my way up the stairs just then. In the same way, I didn’t feel to work my way through to the kitchen, especially since the leaves had formed such a nice thick carpet, too nice for my footprints even though by this time I had taken off my boots and was still in the vestibule in my stocking feet. It was snowing outside, and I had one hell of a time coming to her house in all that mess. But I needed to see her.
      From where I stood in the vestibule just inside the front door, I could well see the side door and the vine coming into the house from under it. I suppose I could have gone outside and round the house to the side to check for sure, but I didn’t feel like putting on my boots again. I would check on the way out.
      Just then Tante’s soft and crackly voice said, Come let me chalk yuh foot, dahlin. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.
She see I ent move. Come in. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you.
      By this time my eyes still had not adjusted to the darkness, but to me as if I saw an anthurium growing up from a corner by the fireside. Then I realized it was some kind of silky silky fake thing she must have put there since the last time I was by to see her. Things change. In all my born days I don’t remember her having fake flowers or plants in her house. Then again, I don’t remember her having live ones. She was an outdoor lady for gardening. Every time I came to see her in summer she toured me through the yard to show off the roses and bleeding hearts and other bright petals and to show off tomato plants, and one year we stopped at a little spot right by the steps to her side door, the brightest spot in her yard, where she had planted a piece of dasheen, and you could see the bush growing thick and healthy right there on the northwest side of Detroit in a little piece of tough dirt. “This town ent never seen anything like this,” she bragged.
      “I bet you’re right.”
     So I realized this dark big-leaf thing that had taken over her house had to be the dasheen bush, and I didn’t know what to make of this. Dasheen bush doesn’t grow like vine. Still, things change. Who knows what they do these days to provisions. They does mix up things however they want. But how they could make dasheen bush come like this? Like a grapevine? Maybe Tante self did something to it.
      This reminds me of my friend’s philodendron. I have been to her house several times and seen the plant climbing from the pot via a trellis then finding its way along the path she set up for it. I saw the same thing in a boutique the other day. It was one of those places that sells candles and what nots and the philodendron vines gave it an air of mystery although I must admit that there were scarcely any leaves and the vine looked scraggly. It needed trimming back to thicken it up, but some people don’t want to realize that sometimes you have to make these sacrifices in order to have something better in the end.
      Not so in Tante’s house. She must be trimming this bush like crazy because everywhere I looked it was as if I was in the tropics. Everything was thick thick thick and steamy like a jungle. Like what they does call de bush over on the island where she came from. I was beginning to wonder how she could breathe in all this. I heard the other day you musn’t sleep with too much green plants in your room; they poison the air. And here I grew up thinking that green plants give you clean air by using the carbon dioxide you breathe out. Now they’re saying not to have any plants in the bedroom, don’t carry plants when visiting the sick and so on. I was sure the bush was in Tante’s room, so I was wondering how she could breathe while sleeping. Even how she could breathe downstairs because, if I could draw you a picture of how much criss crossing of vines there was in this place, you would be shocked. In fact, I was wondering how she could even move around in there. I myself had not budged an inch since I opened the front door. And when I heard her voice saying for me to come in, I still didn’t move.
      Inow come to realize I couldn’t even see her. And since she called out for me to enter, I hadn’t heard a word from her. So I called out, Tante? Tante?
     Yes, baby.
Is then I catch how the voice was really tired sounding, almost as if to cry.
      Tante, you O.K.?
      Yes, child.
      It was still taking a long time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but to me as if I saw a few strands of silver a way back in the living room off to the right from where I was standing. Could be Tante’s hair I said to myself. What else could it be? Normally there was a little table with curios in that corner, an arrangement of porcelain cats and dancing ballerinas. So I began looking to see if I could catch a glow from her eyes. I figured if I see the hair, then I should see the eyes soon enough. I ent see nothing. Tante, you there?
Look me here nuh, child.
      Still I can’t see her. By this time so I don’t want to seem as if I’m chupid, so I make like I’m taking off my coat and making small talk prior to coming into the living room. Tante, my mouth feel for callaloo. Is a long time since I had any real callaloo. Now I was ready to put my coat in the closet right there in the vestibule. It was the first time I ever thought to put my coat in the front closet. Usually I came in by the side door. Usually I went as far as the kitchen. Usually I throw my coat over a chair in the dining room or over the back of a kitchen chair. Things change. She had a set of junk outside on the path leading to the side door. I figured she was cleaning house and maybe someone was coming to remove them. Tante always had a set of young boys and men coming to remove or install something. Her husband died so many years ago. She could very well do for herself way back then, you know, but now that she is older she needs help with pounding nails and moving heavy things and so on. Now and again when I come by, I even help her clean up a few little things. But it’s been so long. How she have all this bush inside the place here?
      I can’t open the door to the closet. I pull and I push, push and pull. The damn door still won’t open. Is how it hasn’t opened in so long, I figure. I push and pull again, trying to be so quiet. I don’t want to arouse her suspicion. You know how folks are about their homes? Sensitive? They don’t want you to find any fault with anything in their homes. Times before if I would say something like, “Hey, Tante, this chair is looking a little unstable. You want me to see if I can fix it for you? I think a bit of glue here would do the trick.”
      “Nothing is wrong with that chair, nuh. You gain some weight? Just the other day Mr. Ting was here and he ent find no fault with the chair.”
      Case closed. You see why I was afraid to say anything about the door? She well pick me up the other day about the chair. So it was better for me to stand by the door, holding my coat in my hand. I even thought about putting the coat back on, but it was hot for so in there, even by the door where a little of the January cold could seep in. The other thing is if I put my coat back on, she would think I ent come for a real visit, to sit down and ole talk for a while. I don’t want to make her feel bad. So I figure I would hold my coat in my hand and when I get in there, I would throw the coat over a chair in the living room or even sit in the dining room because I never use to throw a coat in the living room or even sit in the living room because her living room was always clean like a whistle and nobody ever sat in there. It was just for show. But things change, you know. Now the living room has so much bush and thing in it I don’t even know if I can get through. I was wondering if this coat would hold me back. I might need both my hands to push through. Something like Indiana Jones hacking his way through jungles.
      Oh Lord. Now my mind is really leaving me. But Tante well liked the Indiana Jones man, you know. Even more so she loved Waylon Jennings. His voice thrilled her. Myself, I ent see nothing in him. Before when I came by she would be listening to him on the TV or on the radio. Waylon Jennings. What kind of name is that? Then I would come in and see her doing some kind of hokie pokie thing and singing, “We closing in on the fire. We reaching up; we reaching down. We burning up; we burning down.” And I would say to myself, “What is this atall? This is weird. This old island woman dancing hokie pokie to Waylon Jennings? What kind of name is that?”
      Then I would think this man must be her Mr. Ting. In all the time I was coming by to see her, I never met Mr. Ting. I ent even know his name. All the time she was calling him Mr. Ting. Make me believe he didn’t really exist. Still she would give concrete details. He was so and so tall, dark hair, sexy eyes. That’s why I think Mr. Ting was only in her inmagination. Then again how could she be telling me about Mr. Ting sitting in the chair and so on? Unless she’s well crazy? Or lonely?
      What Dou dou?
      All this time so I’m still fumbling with this blasted coat, shifting it from arm to arm. Finally I let it slip to the floor and with my foot stuffed it in the corner of the vestibule. There, that was done. I could begin to find my way into the living room. Still I couldn’t see clearly enough to just walk in, and, too, I couldn’t figure out how to pass through the vines hanging right there in the archway without breaking a leaf. I could even break off a whole long piece if I didn’t pass through gently. Now I’m not fat, but I couldn’t figure how I could fit through the little slits of space in the tangle. These vines were hanging right down to the floor. Actually, I would have to lift my leg and climb through the one spot with an opening possibly big enough for me to pass. So this is what I began to do and immediately got caught in the vines. I couldn’t even get my foot on the floor on the other side of the vines, the floor of the living room itself. Oh God, now what to do? I stood there for minutes with my right leg cocked up over the cluster of vines. I made several attempts to thrust myself forward so I could hop into the living room but nearly fell backward. Fortunately, I managed to catch myself by placing my left hand against the closet door. I pulled my leg back through and planted it on the vestibule floor. What a mess.
      What you doin there gyul?
      Nothing, Tante. I’m just looking for something in my purse.
      What? What you have there you looking so hard for?
      Nothing really. I think I may have left my car keys in the car. I hope I didn’t lock them up in there.
      You going already?
      Is the same thing I didn’t want her to think, that I was leaving already. I’m so chupid sometimes. Why did I have to say something about car keys? I could have told her anything else. Oh gosh no, Tante. I’m just checking. I’m coming right in to visit. I comin, nuh, Tante.
All in a sudden she calling out, Doudou? Doudou?
I play along with she. Yes, Cocots.
Doudou? Yes, cocots. Dahlin cocots.
      Kômâ ou jodi?
      Biê, cocots. Biê.
      Doudou? Allé. Poté pip. Alimé pou mwê. Mwê vlé fimê.
      Oh gosh, I can’t carry she the pipe. Me ent got none. All in a sudden I hear she belch. One long loud belch, like a man working on the docks. Buhhhhhhhh. Oh gosh, I never hear anything like this before. Then she say, Doudou, mwê faim. Moit vlé pwasô é pi diri.
     Cocots, sa mwê piti callaloo.
I shoulda known she hungry. Who feeding she all this time. Where is she? Oh God, nuh. I looking all around me like a pierrot grenade and I realize all I have is the bush. Is then I begin picking the bush self. What was I to do? I ent think to bring food for she. Of course she hungry. Who been feeding she? Oh gosh, how could I be so chupid?
      I drop my purse and pick pick pick the leaves all around the archway. Me ent even know what to do with the leaves. When I ever make callaloo? I only eat it when tante or mummy makes it. How I going to make callaloo now in someone else’s kitchen? I don’t know my way around she kitchen. But I pick pick pick the leaves. As I picking I seeing a way clear to where she’s at, and my eyes are now accustomed to the darkness. She’s lying there with her hand down between she legs.  
     What the hell? What going on here I say to myself? Then she start singing Closing the fire. We reaching up; we reaching down.
Then all in a sudden I smell something stink. As if a sore foot. Maybe I smellin my top lip? But in truth this is stink beyond top lip. Like a dead cat or dog lying around.
      Tante, you all right?
      Oh, he did love me so. Never never never a man love me so.
      I wondering who she’s talking about. Waylon Jennings? Mr. Ting? She husband? No, he dead so long ago. She can’t be thinking about him. Then she laughs, a crazy cackling.
      Tante? Tante?
      This. This.
      What she mean, this? This what? All now I’m standing with my hands full of the leaves. I ent know what to say. Here I am looking at my aunt lying on the couch with she hands poking around between she legs. To besides I seeing a dydee on her. Is that the this she talking about? What de arse?
      Tante, Tante? What going on here. Look I coming to help. I’ll be making callaoo for you to eat.
      I know you. I know you. You are…
      Yes, Tante. Yes, Tante. Is me.
      Oh ho. Yes, is you. Yes, Dou dou, dohn bother coming nuh. Look me muddah and me faddah is here already. All dem is here. Me tante and all dem is here. They bring me a big set a callaloo. Just how I like it. A big piece a salt pork floating in the ting. No child. I’m all set. We all here going down on this callaloo. Is a long time since I see all these folks here. But I have a feeling we’ll be sharing this callaloo for a long time, gyul. A long time. It’s O.K., you know. All dem is here. No child, don’t worry to come again. I’m O.K., you know. Dohn worry. You dohn worry.
      I stood there couyont in truth, my hands full of the leaves. Is now I’m wondering what to do with them. I ent have no salt pork, no crab, no nothing, and here she is already talking about eating this callaloo.