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Behind the Mountains

Thursday, December 21, 2000


I must write this before I sleep because I never want to forget it as long as I live, our first moment with Papa. It worked. The pact I made with myself worked. As soon as I saw Papa I knew that everything would be all right, that things would fall in place, that we would be okay.

We heard him before we saw him, a deep voice calling our names. We looked around everywhere trying to find him; then all of a sudden he was right there, a few feet away. He hadn't changed much except for some gray hairs and a beard he hadn't had before.

I rushed to him and grabbed him, almost coming up to his chest, which was a little strange since the last time I saw him, I was only as tall as his belly. I couldn't believe he was close enough for me to smell the scent of fresh soap on him, to touch him, to hold him, to see his smile.

When Manman embraced him, she ended up embracing us both. Squeezed between the two of them, I could hear her sobbing.

I removed myself from between them to give Moy a chance to say hello. Moy and Papa shook hands over Manman's shoulder.

Manman had that look in her eyes, too, the look she has only when Papa is around. Her eyes were shining, as though there were little bits of stars in them. It was as if every sad moment she had lived through these past five years, every second that she'd spent missing Papa, had been erased from her memory. She was so happy that even if I still had some doubts, her smile, the tears of joy flowing out of her eyes, would have taken them away.

A man came forward. It was Papa's friend, Franck. Manman greeted Franck and thanked him for everything he's done for us.

"Welcome to the Tenth Department," Franck said. (Haiti is made up of nine geographical regions or "departments" and those living abroad, in the Diaspora, are considered part of a tenth one.) We went outside, where Papa loaded our things into Franck's jeep. It was cold, cold like I have never felt before. There was snow on the ground and more was falling, like mountain rain with rice grain-sized hail, except the snow was falling much more slowly. The wind was blowing it around us and the snow was floating aimlessly, thousands and thousands of tiny clouds, which when the light hit them looked as though they had been dipped in liquid crystal.

I thought of Granpè Nozial's ice story. Granpè Nozial would have loved to see the snow, to watch bits of ice falling out of the sky.

I held out my hands to catch a few snow shavings, but they melted as soon as they touched my palm. Shivering, Manman and Moy rushed into the car, but I stood there watching the soft ice turn to water blots on my fingertips.

Papa reached over and took my hand.

"I was so excited I forgot the coats," he said as he helped me into the back seat where Moy and Manman were huddled together to keep warm.

As we drove out of the airport, Papa reached back and took Manman's hand. The snow kept falling, like moths swirling around the street lamps and car lights.

There were blinking lights strung over the trees on the roads and highways, houses gleaming with Christmas wreaths on the front doors, candles and Christmas trees in the windows, life-size nativity scenes on front lawns, and blown up Father Christmases riding carriages on rooftops.

"You are wet," Manman said to me.

By now the airport snow had penetrated my clothes. I could even feel the tingle of cold water sliding down my back.

"Cécé, are you cold?" Papa asked.

"Yes, I am," I said, my teeth chattering, "but I am fine."

And I was. Papa was alive to me again. I could feel, hear, touch him. He did not have another family. We were still his only family. Judging from the big smile on his face, he loved us just as much as he did before, if not even more.

Moy seemed happy, too, looking out of the window, taking in everything. I could finally understand what Tante Rose meant when she said the word "miracle". Our reunion felt even more wondrous than a miracle, a dream too large for even Franck's giant jeep to contain.

Behind the Mountains
by by Edwidge Danticat

  • hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0439372992
  • ISBN-13: 9780439372992