The Beginning...


Eyes That See

  The bright summer sun shattered off the rippling waves lapping the docks along the shore of Lake Ponchartrain. The shimmering pieces seemed to spread then reform with each wake rolling off the boats crisscrossing the busy waterway. Captivated, the little Haitian girl watched the living kaleidoscope flow and ebb before her until a rough hand on her shoulder snapped her out of her reverie.

 Concerned eyes met her dream-filled ones as she turned. "Celeste! I been callin' you for 15 minutes girl! Scoot now fo' de massah come lookin' fo' us. You don' want HIM to find you daydreamin' here do you?"

  "No mama," the child replied, stealing one last longing gaze at the water. "I don'..." Quietly she accepted the basket of fruit the older woman thrust into her small hands. It wasn't that she was afraid of the master. She was too young to come under his notice. Her mother now, that was a different story. If they were late, he'd come looking for her all right. A glance up at the full mouth, held stiffly, and the tight frown resting unconsciously on the high, unblemished forehead told her exactly why she didn't want him to come. Mama was worried. Though she was in her early 40's, there was still an air of grace and lingering beauty in the proud woman. Her lean body, firm from hard work beneath shapely curves, was taut with stress as she pushed through the market crowd of slaves, sailors and freemen going about their business.

  Celeste trotted along beside her, one hand clutching the wicker basket and the other wrapped in her mother's skirt, trying to keep up. As the older woman wove deftly through the press, the child let her eyes wander where her feet could not. Dark thirsty pools drank in the bright blue sky and sharp contrasting shadows of an August sun on all the colors of skin and clothing in the roiling sea that flowed around them. Pungent odors of salt, sweat, food and animals assaulted her nose and sent her eyes searching for all their myriad sources. If not for the tenuous leash of a handfull of skirt, Celeste might have stood still, a watchful eye in the middle of a hurricane of humanity. As it was she crashed clumsily into her mother's long legs when the crowd seemed to disappear suddenly and her mother's steps slowed. The girl fell awkwardly on her behind, a small cry announcing the fall of the basket from her fingers. She looked around fuzzily, confusion replaced with understanding when she realized they'd turned a corner that marked the unofficial entrance to the marketplace. No sound but an exasperated sigh showed the dipleasure of the woman as she hurriedly gathered the spilled fruit back into the basket.

  "I'm sorry Mama," Celeste said softly as she moved to help retrieve the contents of the basket.

  Mama shook her head, a slight sag to her shoulders speaking of frustration. "I know chil', you always sorry..." She did not need to shout.

  "I know, I shoulda been payin' better attention," the child finished. "I promise I'll be good so we can get home an' Mistah don' come lookin' fo' us." There was a tremor in her voice, and when strong arms wrapped around her, she tried to hide the tears from her mother.

  "Sh, s'allright now, chere. Mebbe we can still get dere fo' he miss us. Don' you worry now..." The frown had spread from Mama's forehead to between her fine black eyebrows. Celeste worried, biting her still-trembling lower lip between her teeth.

  As they hurried along the more open streets, Celeste kept her eyes focused closely on her mother in a supreme effort of childish concentration. Before long, though it seemed like ages to the eight year old girl, they were walking up a dusty carriage road, the driveway to a large house. Crouched catlike atop a small hill, it seemed to watch them creep up the road like mice toward oblivion.

Sonja Torres 1999


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