House of Rougeaux by Jenny Jaeckel Read Online (FREE)
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French West Indies, Island of Martinique
Sitting here under this grand old tree, her skirts spread about her in a wheel. The blue cloth carries up the earth in light red dust and so the earth is part of her cloth. The children come. They lay their cheeks against it, now that they’ve had their midday maize. They cast their eyes up at her, waiting for a story.
A hot breeze stirs the long grasses and the broad leaves that shade them. It makes a whistling noise in the high arc of branches and hushes for a moment the whirring of the insects. She brushes those tender plump cheeks with her rough old fingers. She tells them of the one-eyed dog and the three-legged cat. The gourd that ate a man and kept him prisoner, until it rolled into the ocean and was broken by a sea-goddess. Of the sugar estate that grew people, the cloud boats, the toads that wore clothing, and many other things.
She has more than eighty years, she knows. Among her people few live even half as long as she. These little children are among the first born out of bondage. But as their mamans must work the fields, they still need Mémé Abeje, and so she goes on living.
Darkness lay close around the child, save for the light of the cooking fire and the canopy of stars.
“Abeje!” called Iya, stepping out of the hut and closer to the firelight. “Where is your brother?”
The little girl had been charged, for the moment, with looking after the cooking pot, but had become distracted, playing at throwing twigs into the embers. She stood up and pointed at the foliage that edged the Quarters.
“To-to, Ma’a,” she said. Iya laughed, scooping up the child and setting her on her lap as she sat down at the fire. The boy had gone to pass water.
The boy returned and crouched beside Iya. He smiled up at her, showing the gaps where his milk teeth had newly fallen out.
To Abeje, Iya’s face was the most beautiful thing. She and her brother Adunbi hardly saw her in daylight. Iya’s arms wound around them and Abeje soaked up the humming her voice made, and her dry-grass smell every night before sleeping. When the fire was out and it was too dark to see, she reached up and touched Iya’s face. Her fingers traced the two grooves on her broad cheeks. Each had two shorter grooves springing off to the side, like the sticks for threshing grain. The grooves were smooth, like river water carved into stone. These were the marks of her people.
Iya’s voice was high and sweet like a bird. Every night she named the fire, and the children said after her, “Fire!” She named the cooking pot, and they cried, “Pot!” Iya named their feet, the ground, the food, and she named her two children, Adunbi and Abeje.