I grabbed my ipod, left my shoes behind, and simply started running. I ran out the front gate, leaving a trail of children behind me, yelling to my back questions of my frantic state.
I wasn’t even sure where I was going until I had already crossed three rivers, climbed 4 steep hills, and winded up out of breath in front of a tiny hut. Madam Morijen squatted by the side of her house, her frail, breakable hands working harder than they seemed capable of at some type of cloth; scrubbing and rinsing and scrubbing some more. I plopped down beside her, disgustingly sweaty and bright red. She barely lifted her head to acknowledge me, just smirked to herself and gave the slightest shake of her head.
“I thought you forgot about me,” she says, still smiling.
Before I can answer she grabs her cane and smacks my leg, quick as lightening, which is absurd for an 80 something year old woman. She starts to laugh, puts aside her washing bin, and uses my leg to push herself up. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”
Before I know it I’m unraveling to her, spilling all the things I had kept inside me for months, all the fear, all the frustration, all the love I didn’t know I had. She listens intently, working through my Creole at some spots, hitting me at others, but taking it all in.
This tiny woman, who lives in a house the size of my bathroom with straw for a roof and dirt for a floor, has become one of my best friends. She raised sons only, so she adopted me as her daughter, and my grandparents all passed away when I was young, so she became my grandmother. It happened over years of visiting her, until eventually we realized that we breathed life into the other. Her wisdom and trust in Christ shaking my own faith each time, and I think my youth and my whiteness gave her a sense of comfort. We loved each other, we knew that much. After each mission group would visit her I’d always be the last to say goodbye, and she’d whisper to me, “how are things with Michel? When are you going to give me a baby?” And I jokingly tap her wrist, tell her to cut it out, but she didn’t care. Michel and I would go to visit her and she’d dance around us, sing praise to Jesus in her absolutely terrible voice, one of the most beautiful sounds there was, and tell me my lips were red from kissing. I’d blush and tell her she’s crazy, because sometimes I really thought she was, but she always knew things. She pulled secrets out of people’s eyes, out of the glances and side stares. She’d watch for sighs, for in betweens, and she grabbed onto them and decoded them, always right.
When Michel and I would go to leave she’d stand at the end of her “driveway”, a small path overgrown with corn and millet, and shout to us, “go bathe in the river of sin you kids! Give your grandma what she wants!” Michel sat her down many times, explained the first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in Haitian cloth. She’d click her tongue at us and shake her head, barely letting him finish, and in big dramatic movements rock an invisible baby in her arms and say, “a baby is love. It’s the first and the last of all things.”
I’d braid her hair, wrap it in her scarf, never doing it right but she pretended to love it every time. On this particular day I was coming to say goodbye, but the words hadn’t formed yet. Another woman, a neighbor, came by carrying water for Madam. She saw me and decided to stay and chat. I stayed with her for hours, listening to the gossip of the village, helping her prepare her dinner, taking a nap while she napped before I returned to the orphanage. I never said goodbye, never told her the secret I was carrying.
We had made a deal five years earlier. She would die once I was married. She changed it three years in, saying she’ll die once she sees my first child, because it would be the joy of her heart. She often threatened to die on me. Once she sent word to our orphanage via a child that she had passed away, and when I frantically showed up at her house, expecting to be met by her son and others mourning, she sat on her bed slapping her knee and cracking up. She said she was testing me, making sure I still cared. If more than a week went by without my presence she’d start to lose hope, she told me, so I always returned, although it was she that gave me strength, not the other way around.
I have so many things I wish I could tell her. So many things I regret. I had held my tongue when I saw her last because there was other company, and I didn’t want the whole village to know. If only I had pulled her aside, shared with her what she had prayed for every day, (specifically the first decade of every rosary, she said, in case you were wondering) her rejoicing would have been so loud, so grand, that maybe it would have healed a part of me, a part that refused to accept my decisions until far too late.
I wrote Katie once I was home, asking her to go share the news with her. The next day she passed away, before Katie made it there.
Michel and I laughed to each other when we first realized it all. We looked to the sky and shook our heads, blaming it all on Madam Morijen.
I like to think that she received the news. That a whisper climbed up the mountain to her hut, carried by the wind, and told her there was a baby. She knew I was leaving, I had told her that. I told her my father needed me, because he did, after his open heart surgery damaged his brain, causing him to lose a part of his memory. I explained I was needed somewhere that wasn’t Haiti. She cried and held my face and told me I was a brave girl. I didn’t think about this until later, why she chose the word brave. She wiped my tears and let her own flow down her cheeks. I never told her the real reason why. But I like to think she knew.
And maybe, once she found out, she felt ok to slip away. To go meet her Maker. Her own husband passed away when she was only 19. I had asked her once, “weren’t you lonely after that? Why didn’t you seek another spouse?” She nodded, understanding the question, but simply said, “because the rest of my life belonged to Jesus.”
That little woman changed the lives of so many. Her simplicity, her fierceness, her sacrifice of prayer. What a lady. What a freaking lady.
I know you’re up there Madam, praying for us all down here. Thanks for teaching me patience when I’m folding my clothes or washing my dishes. Thanks for teaching me so, so much.