Evelyne Trouillot's book, La Chambre Interdite, was published in 1996 by L'Harmattan as part of their Lettres des Caraibes series. In 2011, I translated some of her novellas for a graduate seminar, and found Trouillot's writing exceptionally beautiful. Since then, I began to translate the rest of her book, and hope to have it published this year.
A Small Card Stained Red
Her rebellious joy chased away the heavy sigh that escaped from her, and it gave a small shove to her legs, which needed nothing more to restart their bouncy pace.
As agreed, her cousin was waiting for her in front of the house. The two girls took each other arm-in-arm, and the double echo of their footsteps continued on to conquer the deserted streets, the closed doors, and the terrified looks hidden behind drawn curtains. From the neighboring street, a squealing tire ridiculed the girls’ bravado and threw them, frightened, against one another. They looked at each other, their eyes filled with the same fear, surprised by each other’s presence in these lifeless places, and resisted the strong urge to flee. The fear had crept along their hips and bent their backs like old women. But at the same time, a cold rage, so old that its genesis was unknown, swept over them. The cornered beast arched its back, and the thousand year old rage pushed them forward, towards the insolent serenity of a sun-soaked Sunday. They had almost reached their destination. The vitality of the street welcomed them, stopping the ravaging worry and jolting rage. All the activities were concentrated on the threshold of this building which, despite its scholarly functions had been transformed into an electoral office, and had not lost the soothing comfort of home. The two girls let themselves be swept away by the mass of people, the din of voices and the slamming of car doors. The conversations revolved around the shots heard the night before, the various press releases from political leaders, the gossip heard from a friend in the army, the worry of skulduggery, the more or less veiled threats, and the anxiety that had blanketed the entire country in an invisible haze.
The evening before and again early this morning, her mother had called from Miami, so frightened, on the one hand, by a sinking feeling of guilt, and on the other, by the panic that the grandmother was unable to control her granddaughter.
“Even just one person voting won’t change anything, I think. I don’t see why you feel the need to go.”
“Maman, I want to go. It’s my first time, you know. Have you ever voted? No? I’d really like to, at least once in my life. Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
“You know, Americans vote all the time, and nothing really changes in their country. It’s only a farce.”
“That may be so, but I want to go, at least one time, to get a taste of this feeling, to be able to choose freely. Don’t worry, maman. Grandmother, please don’t cry…”
Through the folds of her white skirt, the young girl touched the small voting card—her first—as if to remind herself that it wouldn’t be long. Balancing on one foot, she drew near the others to wait. The stampede of activity that faced the silent streets tightened many throats and caused nervous laughter. Silent and serious, the young girl preferred not to occupy herself with all the excited, impatient and anxious comments.
I hesitated a moment, then let myself be overcome by my curiosity.
“Okay, transfer the call.”
And that’s how one day, I began my conversations with Marguerite Aramon: a name that I will never forget, a voice that I will never be able to erase from my memory. Sometimes I wonder if Marguerite isn’t a part of me in some way.
Her voice was a bit shrill, but I realized very quickly that it was emotion which deformed it a little. It was rather deep, with soft, drawling tones, almost high-pitched only when Marguerite was unduly excited, like when she made a scene over another client who made fun of her. I heard all the echoes of the altercation through the telephone, which she left off the hook as of course, engaging me from time to time to bear witness to the client’s insolence.
The first time I heard Marguerite’s voice, my heart was beating rather strongly, despite Lydia’s reassurance.
“Yes, how many I help you?”
“This is the New York operator?”
I hesitated one last time, asking myself in what sort of mess I was putting myself, pretending to be in New York, even though I was right in the middle of Port-au-Prince.
“Yes, this is the New York operator. How many I help you?”
“I’d like to place a call to Jean-Gerard Alexis, at the number…”
She repeated the number that Lydia had already given me, assuring me that it was exact. Just to see, I tried the number and waited. As Lydia had predicted, the operator returned to tell me that there was no Jean-Gerard Alexis at that number, and that no one knew of Marguerite Aramon. They therefore did not accept the charges. I tried to explain to Marguerite what had happened. “Do you think he’s moved again?” she asked me.
If she had yelled, or if she had asked me with a tiny bit of arrogance or vulgarity, I would have perhaps smiled, but there was so much vulnerability and resignation in that voice that, despite myself, I was moved. I felt the need to console her, to reassure her and I was utterly surprised to hear myself reply, “You know, Marguerite, these things happen. People move all the time in New York. It’s a very big city. It’s not always easy to find a decent apartment.”
Everything my brother Clotaire had told me came rushing back to me, and I found myself saying the words so naturally. I told her about the cost of living, the risk of burglaries and the difficulty of getting around in a big city like New York.
“It’s true, you must be right. But Jean-Gerard could have told me that he was moving. You know, we’re getting married, he and I. We’ve been engaged for nearly three years. He’s going to send me the ticket soon, that’s what he told me the last time we spoke.”
The last time? I thought. Which last time? If I believed what Lydia told me, it had been months, almost a year that she had been calling like this, wrong numbers where no one knew of him. Was he real? Had he ever been? An urge came over me to know, to understand what had happened in her mind to lead her to distort reality like this, to deliberately shut herself inside a world with her own norms and convictions.