by Shane Fitzpatrick
I flex and close the fist of my right hand. My fingernails dig into the flesh. It doesn’t hurt to inhale deeply and my stomach isn’t doing cartwheels. My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth.
The steady bleeps of machines drown out my sorrow. My mother Judeline, died a few days ago in the ocean crossing. I clung on to her as the waves crashed over us like they were trying to swallow our pain.
We must have reached Boca Raton. They talk fast here and everything is very clean. My head hurts from the boat. I can see my bruised face in the reflected television screen high up on the opposite wall.
I do not speak their language, yet I recognize some words. They treat me nicely, or as my mother would say “tres gentille.” They say the name Rose, but I repeat my name is Rosa. On the second day someone comes and speaks French. It is not Creole, but is close enough.
The food is different but tastes good. I taste many little miracles on my tongue. Flavors make me cry.
They are always asking questions. Needles come in and out like sea breezes over the ocean. A bag of water on a stand is attached to me.
A lady called Esther with kind brown eyes and dreadlocks translates. She has a daughter about my age.
Esther says they want to put me into a big machine that will scan my body. I will have to stay still. This will find out what makes me weak. I have been sick for nearly all of my thirteen years.
Men and women in white coats visit me. Serious faces click pens, nod a lot and tell me little.
One has princess stickers on her clipboard. She is the only one who smiles. She wears red glasses, has big ears, pulls funny faces and is hunched over. I try not to laugh and yawn instead. They all shuffle out.
Doctor Funny Face sneaks back in and says her name is Anna. I wave to her unconsciously. I feel a shudder in my chest, and a warm feeling comes from my stomach. Someone else speaks from my mouth.
A softly spoken, commanding voice speaks. My hand lifts on its own from the bed in a salute and my fingers are spread wide.
Anna tentatively kneels in front of me. My outstretched palm drops onto her crown. My body is moving without my will. I don’t know what to do.
My eyes close and images flutter behind my eyelids.
A wooden heart beats fast within my chest. I bite down on a bitter lemon and smile. A flag of blue over red with a coat of arms tickles my face. I hear metal being dropped loudly on a tiled floor. The smell of lavender is comforting. A young girl with a blue dress runs through a meadow of knee-high yellow rapeseed.
I wake briefly, seeing Anna crumpled on the floor. She is crying. Esther comes into the room and helps her into my bedside chair, as I drift off.
Many bleeping machines greet my open eyes. I am connected to lots of things. I smile at my familiar friend, the water bag. There is a cap on my right index finger that pulses and flickers each time my heart beats. My chest has several sticky pads with wires.
Flexing both hands is quite easy. I feel my upper arms contract and relax. This kind of strength is wonderful and unsettling.
Esther enters the room with her head down. When I say hi, she drops her stuff. She smiles the brightest smile. Esther pulls up a chair and tells me that I have been asleep for two days.
Anna is in a hospital bed too. Esther senses my anxiety and reassures me that she is okay. Anna had surgery on her lower back that went very well and they are doing lots of tests on her.
As Esther checks me out, I stretch my legs and arms. My veins protrude, something I have never seen before. Esther notices my agility without saying.
Esther organizes food for me. I gorge on yogurt, toast and orange juice. Doctors visit me with faces of amazement and bewilderment. Esther stands off in the background, biting her nails.
They ask if they could perform another test in the machine that whirrs and whistles. I expected the question. My sight is sharper; as I notice details I had not seen before.
Inside the chamber I calm myself. It is oppressive, so I close my eyes.
My mother appears, pleading forgiveness on her knees from a swordsman who is wearing a pale red loincloth. Wrestling with inner demons, she is pulling her black hair out in clumps. A flaming volcano, with its lava burning bright orange, spits acid and vitriol in the background. As he slices his sword through the air I get a waft of freshly baked cupcakes. I hear Esther’s voice.
My heart races and I hear blood rushing through my ears, filling the channels.
Esther approaches, hands quivering and nostrils flaring. She tells me that the second MRI confirmed their initial guess of a slight incision on my bladder. A simple laser procedure will solve it, she reassures.
I sense disquiet in her step. Esther will not meet my eyes.
My arms feel heavy and lifeless. The warm feeling washes over my upper torso.
“Bring Rafaela to me Esther.”
Esther nods in silence like a scolded child. I have no idea who Rafaela is.
Later that evening, I rest after a two-hour snooze. A young girl with black pigtails in a wheelchair comes into my room. She speaks some French and asks where I am from. I tell her that I am from outside the city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti.
Those words are barely out of my mouth when my head droops to my chest. I shiver, shake and the balmy sensation spreads outward from my chest down my fingers.
“Come to me child!”
I feel my heart rate slowing down. My arm stretches over the crown on her head.
Sailors appear in a mist swallowing slippery oysters down their open gullets. Their teeth are blackened, nails caked in dirt. The excess fluid slides off the shell, burning clothes with rainbow acid. The smell of warm rum and feet is making me nauseous. I hear the loud chop of a knife on a wooden board and the taste of ginger tickles my lips.
Esther has been watching from outside my room. I wake to see Esther shouting “Merci! Merci!” to me. She is clutching her daughter. Rafaela is standing for the first time. My eyelids are heavy.
I wake to a camera trained on me with a steady red light. The room is filled with balloons and ‘Get Well’ cards. I am thirsty. I guzzle a full glass of water before the door bursts open.
Esther and Doctor Anna, who is standing upright with the aid of a cane, enter with the widest of smiles. They hug me and I notice that Anna has a bandage on her head.
Esther tells me that I have been asleep for four days. Anna oversaw the laser surgery on my bladder under local anesthetic, and it all went seamlessly. I would get better quickly.
I wouldn’t have to endure the pain of kidney infections anymore. Anna says there will be no further bacterial infections in my bowel, headaches or vomiting either. No more daily antibiotics, so my stomach acid issues would go too.
Since surgery was successful, Social Services wanted to chat. They wanted to know what I wanted to do. There is nothing left for me back on the island.
“There is something else Rosa. Take off the bandage Anna and show her,” said Esther.
Anna revealed her partially shaved head. The scorched imprint of a small heart with a crown on top of it was emblazoned like a tattoo.
“Esther has something similar on her head too Rosa,” added Esther.
I said nothing. I didn’t need to confirm their suspicions.
“I am happy that you intervened in mine and Rafaela’s sickness, but we need to understand more about you Rosa. We tried to retrieve your medical records from Haiti. We went through the birth registry and couldn’t find any trace of a Rosa Aveline Sanchez. Is that your full name?” asked Anna.
“That is my name. But I am more likely under Rosa Aveline Bokor.”
“No!” said Esther, clutching her face.
“What does that mean?” said Anna.
“Yes Esther. I am the daughter of Bokor and a woman with lineage from the love goddess Erzulie.”
“What does that mean Rosa?” asked Anna, confused.
“Bokor is the French Haitian name for witch doctor. Erzulie was the love goddess of Vodou. I am their child of love and powers.”