On a Balcony in Port-au-PrinceBy M.J. Fievre
April 10, 2010
This story was first published in The Southeast Review (Issue 29.1)
On a sidewalk in Port-au-Prince, a girl wearing a golden evening jacket fried griyo in a pot of oil over a tiny fire and made jumbles of tablèt out of brown sugar and shredded coconut. Chickens squawked and pecked the concrete ground cracks, and children with bloated stomachs and orange tinted hair ran barefoot down the muddy path.
The children fled when the angry mob gathered in the street, yelling, “Kill the Macoute! Kill the murderer!” They were pushing a man whose body was covered with wounds, bruises and blood. A loud voice ordered to hold his legs and arms down as a tire was necklaced around him.
Before I could say, “Jésus, Marie, Joseph,” flames were licking his body and clothes with their burning tongues. Oh, the pretty colors, I thought before my brain finally registered that the man was screaming, jerking with flames that stripped flesh from his hands. He stretched his neck, wept and twitched.
I imagined his skin crackling from the heat, the fire sucking the oxygen out of his lungs to help feed his inferno. Sweat grew like crystals across my brow as the man’s hair shriveled and tore away.
From the balcony, I couldn’t see all of it, but I knew his muscles were melting, and that he would soon be a pile of dark grey ashes next to sewage washing through the shacks. His clothes burned and smoldered around the bare, erupted meat of his back.
I stood there on the balcony, gasping, throbbing and covered in sweat, and a weak sob leaked from me. I suddenly became aware of another warm, living body next to mine. My mother reached out and hugged me.
The man’s skin was gone. From his hands, his arms, his chest. His shirt had melted into him, taking skin with it as it dripped onto the ground. “Popular justice,” my mother murmured. “They kill all the Macoutes.”
I never learned who this man was. They didn’t reveal his name on TV that night, but they did mention that he had been one of Baby Doc’s spies.
That’s when I started having the dream. I’m always standing on the roof of the Palais National, watching the girl making tablèt. I know that safety lies behind me. But I always step off the edge and fall.
Moving and tragic. I want to hear more.
A haunting debut.
Welcome to TNB, M.J. Chekhov is one of my favorite writers also.
Thank you, D.R.!
Welcome to TNB… I second Duke above – a haunting debut.
Striking story. Horror in reality, part of the life of so many kids in Haiti.
Wow. It is hard to imagine such hell. Beautifully and tragically rendered.
Wow. Very surreal. I like that this blends into dreams that continue to haunt the narrator (I like this in the literary sense, not in any real sense.). This is very beautiful in its ugliness.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, MJ!
This is not the kind of memory that should every be seared in a child’s mind.
Welcome to TNB, you’ll like it here, we’re a nice group.
Just for me, though, could you make the next one a sort of light story to break things up?
You can tell some other scary-ass thing after that.
I’d take some pill to try to erase what you put in my head, but I don’t have any.
Not sure such a thing exists.
Wish there were, so you could forget this.
Well, Irene, I’ll try to come up with a “light” story… at some point… My writing is usually pretty dark. Thanks for reading!
It’s pretty obvious how that came about, eh?
So go ahead.
Write what you’re good at.
I’ll just be a bit afraid to read words so powerful.
Thank you for writing this, it speaks volumes about a piece of history never to be forgotten in Haiti. Plus, the vivid details and the language in which you describe this event certainly speaks on your behalf of your talent. More please…
I felt this little story through and through. I hope it’s a snippet of a longer work. More, please…
Powerful and mesmerizing, MJ. Welcome to this group of sweethearts.
Welcome aboard, MJ. Nice to have you with us.
“but I knew his muscles were melting,”… I think that’s going to be the thing that stays with me for a while. Grisly and visceral – and an undeniably powerful image.
Thanks for the comment, Simon. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.
Welcome aboard! Talk about starting off with a bang!
The imagery is described in such a vibrant, yet succinct style, that I noticed I hadn’t breathed for a couple sentences. What an amazing image to describe, let alone to witness.
I look forward to reading more!
Marvelously told. Welcome to TNB.
I’ve seen one necklacing in progress, and the aftermath of necklacing on two occasions. It is indeed perhaps the most awful sight imaginable. The one I saw in progress was a thief at a marketplace in Owerri, Nigeria, IIRC. He had apparently been caught a couple of times before, and given his final warning. The punishment for habitual theft is dire. I was probably fifty meters away, having been, with my friends, attracted by the commotion. I saw them douse him, put the tire around his neck, and set him alight. I of course looked away in horror, but I couldn’t help peeking once or twice. The effect of clothes and flesh all melting together was as you mention it. Just ghastly. What’s infuriating is that the crowd was very somber, and i wanted to scream at everyone “don’t you dare take a stupid ‘this-hurts-us-more-than-it-hurts-you-stance’! You are an abominable rabble!” But of course I was terrified.
Twice, later I’d encountered bodies that had been through the treatment, including one floating down a stream not far from the US Embassy in Lagos. “Ojura fish” a nearby observer called it, and laughed. If it had truly reduced to ash it would have been better, but no, the remains are surprisingly complete.
Oh wow! Just perused your works, and came across:
Il me faut l’acheter pour decouvrir “le secret du Rocher des Martyrs.” Hmm, but I’m not finding a lot of options for making the purchase in the states.
Wow. The things you have seen.
Thanks for sharing, Uche!
This piece is beautifully haunting. You convey so much here in so few words. Thanks for sharing this piece.
Beautifully told MJ. It reminds me of riding down the street in Addis Ababa when a mob started to form. We were safe in the taxi but there was something about the crowd that seemed scary. I asked the driver what was going on and he said, in the most casual way, they were beating a thief. It was at that moment that I noticed bloody bats & sticks rising out of the middle of the crowd. I was stunned that the wonderfully warm & friendly people I was encountering in the city were able to cross over to this place where they could cheer or participate in something like this. But its no different than the Jim Crow South. Mob rule is mob rule.
This speaks to something I’ve thought a lot about lately: how for all the violent images in movies and TV shows and video games, American children, overall, are exposed to less actual violence than probably any children in any nation ever.
No one should have to see that.
As Duke and others said, a haunting debut. Welcome aboard the Good Ship TNB.
This was so heavy, but so colorfully told. It’s a pleasure to have you here, MJ.
M.J. I always enjoy reading your stories.
I’ve seen some death. But not in such a ghastly form. Haunting, gorgeous prose; though so deadly…