As I stood on my uncle’s porch a few miles north of Port-au-Prince, a quiet darkness descended over the town. Feeble streetlights struggled to illuminate the features of passers-by whose friendly greetings floated towards us. The veil of Night was thick as a burlap sack now and filled with crumbling charcoal. The street-lamps sputtered then took their light away, leaving the air shrouded in the blackest shade of black. I could not see my own hand: my skin had so fused with the sable night. I could not see my uncle standing a few inches from me, but somehow he knew the name of a silhouette making its way home. “That’s Tonton Chauvette,” he said. No matter how long or dark the night, he recognized a passerby by the shuffle of the feet, the rustle of the clothes, the sway of the shadow. “In Haiti,” my uncle said, “a man must learn to see in the dark.”
Night sounds surrounded the thicket around the porch. The long fronds of the coconut tree crackled in the breeze. Lonely laughter floated from nearby porches. An infant’s cry pierced the spongy fabric of the tropical night. Above us, the infinite black sky was dappled with shimmering stars.
Two days later I was in the States, remembering Haiti. It was morning. I was on a balcony, looking at nothing in particular. I noticed how the winter morning had reclaimed its grayish hue from the night sky; and even though a darker gray still skirted the horizon, a new day had come.
My eyes waited for the orange blush from the East to overtake the gray, when an enthusiastic light flickering above the city caught my attention. I thought it was an airplane. I notice them more now since Sept. 11th. However, this plane did not move. A minute elapsed, but the sparkling light — a guest of Night, a star, reluctant to accept the fact that its time had passed — refused to budge.
While the grayish-blue of the sky turned an opaque white in some places, sanguine in others, the dark sarong at the horizon slowly vaporized. Clouds of translucent pink and a regal tint of lavender drifted from east to west, compelling the star to concede.
A new day had come, annihilating the darkness, displacing the moon and the stars–even Night’s most brazen guests must surrender to the dawn.
The clouds continued to sail above the city. I looked again where the star had been, and there it was. The flicker had become an unflinching silver beacon. I wondered if it had not been told–this star–to leave graciously when morning arrived?
Light wielded its glory, conquering the sky entirely, and expelling the last star. Crows perched on rooftops flocked toward and around the purple island hovering miles above the naked trees. Morning celebrated its victory with golden streamers cast by the rising sun. Night was somewhere else now, and that dedicated star’s light was wanted there — in the same sky covering the world like a roof over a single-family house or a tent city.
Whether the tenants are divided among themselves as the peoples of the earth are divided, whether they shake hands, kiss, or kill one another, all deeds are done within the same four walls, under the same nonchalant sky.
I had not seen a moon so full in many years, or a night so supreme that it looked as if the dawn might never come. It was difficult to imagine that all the stars would find another night somewhere when morning came, but they did. Even in Haiti, Night cannot last forever. However unwilling a star is to relinquish the sky to the sun, it must surrender to each new day.
KATIA D. ULYSSE is a fiction writer, born in Haiti. Her short stories, essays, and Pushcart Prize–nominated poetry appear in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including: The Caribbean Writer, Smartish Pace, Phoebe, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism; Mozayik, The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, and Haiti Noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat. She has taught in Baltimore public schools for thirteen years, and served as Goucher College’s Spring 2017 Kratz Writer in Residence. Drifting, a collection of short stories, drew high praise from literary critics. She is currently at work on another short story collection. Mouths Don’t Speak is her latest novel.