February 4, 2010

Angel in a Blue Dress

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1960, I was walking around alone in a marine tropical uniform, and a taxista hailed me. He said he would take me to a nice girl and I hopped in. He careened toward the edge of the city and about 15 minutes later deposited me on a dusty tree-lined street at a small store, that inside out of the torrid heat was dark and cool. I paid him a couple of bucks.

A friendly man sat me down in a room where a small group was playing dominoes and served a warm beer. I like warm beer. I was drinking it when a lovely young dark chocolate black woman came in and sat at my table and spoke vivaciously to me in French, of which I knew only como tale voux, bonjour, and merci. Don't ask me how to spell it; they didn't teach French in Louisiana though I grew up in Cajun country.

She made it plain that she was available and I accepted the offer, and she escorted me through a curtain into a small room with a single bunk-type bed. She smiled and put her arms around my neck and kissed me full on the mouth, and then she drew back and held my shoulders with her hands and laughed very sweetly. Her mouth was full of pretty white teeth, and she wore a bright blue dress and had white powder between her breasts. In a moment that pretty blue dress was on the floor beside my uniform.

We did what we were supposed to do with the dominoes clacking and voices raised in laughter less than 10 feet past a flimsy wall, and she laughed the whole time. I hoped she wasn't laughing at me. She seemed to enjoy it well-enough. It was one of the greatest short times I ever had in bed with any woman, and she was my first black one.

I never knew her name and she never knew mine.

Afterward we went out and sat at a table, and the man served us each a plate of rice and beans and small pieces of roasted chicken. I paid for everything with a $20 bill. That was a lot of money to them, and to me, since I made about $150 a month being a marine. When I left everybody was smiling and laughing and waving. I don't remember the taxi ride back to the ship, which was anchored near the yacht of President Papa Doc Duvalier, whose name meant nothing to me then. I was 18.

If she's still alive she's a grandmother by now and probably has no memory of me at all.

But I've never forgotten her that's for sure.

In 1962 I was back in Haiti with a marine battalion from California during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were sent to invade Cuba but nothing came of that. This time we went on a fast forced-march of about 15 miles carrying M-14 rifles, canteens, and a full backpack.

Haitians watched us solemnly. A few waved and smiled but nobody cheered. I was 21 then and still didn't know what it was about. It was the poorest country I have ever seen. I just went where they sent me and did what they told me.

We didn't have any liberty either.

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