“Oui, I be yard man. I be he, Germaine Francis. Is dat the jardin?”
|Maybe he was from the Dominican Republic or from the Republic of Haiti – but certainly from one of those Caribbean countries. She wasn’t sure. He had been her yard man for the last three weeks and his job was for a month. He came every Friday and spent the whole day working in the big, no - in the enormous house’s back garden and around the swimming pool area. He was introduced to her by her quiet neighbor, Thomas, a single man that lived in the glass house next door with the most beautiful of gardens. She saw his tall figure. She said hello. He replied by slowly waving his hand. He was under a palm tree, working. Thomas told her that he was a good yard man, punctual and responsible – never missing a day’s work and something quite uncharacteristic of the people that lived in the Virgin Islands. His name was Germaine.
Germaine Francis was quiet, mysterious and very tall. He was slender but strong; had long arms and long legs. He had big hands and both his right and left pinky finger nails were long. How weird, she had wondered. His hair was dark, long and it was used in the typical Rastafarian style – braided into many long pieces of hair, all around his head and covered by a black, green and red woolen cap. His eyes were black, deep and the white of his eyes were kind of yellowish and big. His teeth were so white that sometimes it was difficult for her not to stare at them while talking to him. He always looked beyond you – as if searching for something – maybe something that was floating behind you; something evil or suspicious. This disturbed Betania immensely and she felt awkward when he continuously stared at her from outside the house’s glass windows which overlooked the swimming pool so, on Fridays, she avoided going for her long walks around the garden and admire the different color orchids in the nearby greenhouse.
She remembered the first Friday he arrived for work. She was alone, as always, in the big house. She was still in bed, reading. It was a dark, cloudy Friday morning and tiny drops of rain were drumming softly on the large windows of her room, upstairs. She thought she had heard a noise but the powerful Caribbean Xmas winds were blowing from the East and so she thought it was nothing. Everything was so calm, so peaceful – just as she wanted it to be. Then she heard a hoarse, demanding voice.
“Is anybody there?” She said; desperate.
“A minute, please.” Decisive and bold like master and slave. She slowly went downstairs and opened the glass door. He was smiling but observing her cautiously, carefully.
“Yais, be yard man. I be he. Germaine Francis."
“Thank you for coming.” She was cautious. Should she speak?
“Yais, lady. Yais, here to please you. Plaisir, lovely lady.”
“What does this “inside” calling me mean?” She was caught off guard, she needed to know.
“Way it be. It be our ways. Be calling inside. Be calling the lady or gent. Any gent here?”
“Oh I see. Oh no -- only me.” Should she have said that? Vulnerable.
“Ca va. Dit-moi, is dat the little jardin over there?” He pointed with his long index finger to the littlest part of a giant mist where the garden was full of falling vines, roots cascading from the cold shadows of the dark trees.
“Yes, it is. Oh! This is... fantastic. It wasn’t that way at all before, you know. It grows so fast, doesn’t it?”
“Oui, ma belle lady!”
He stared at her. He was so tall. So powerful. She crossed her arms, moved backwards, hesitating. She smiled, Then, she fastened her silk, white robe, nervously. It was colder now, and it was getting darker. Was it because of the dark clouds? It was still early morning. She swallowed hard and looked up at the overcast sky. She could smell rain in the air. She could smell the wet grass. She could smell the fragrance of sandalwood soap. Was it coming from him?
He walked toward the tall, dark green trees and caught hold of a long string of vines that was shining in the midst of the fair sun, falling into his dark face. Her eyes simultaneously captured the lust of the sun; the cool of the green and yellow vines. The sun was… bleeding. His dark face raised in razors of shimmering light, cool green murmurs of heat and cold, bouncing in sensational casts of molting. The sun continued to bleed on him. His face was so dark. Her heart was beating faster. Nervous? Why was she so nervous? She gasped for air. She was totally upset. Why? She breathed deeply.
He slowly walked into the big garden, deep inside, whistling - then… he was gone. She heard the noises of vines being cut and his whistling of a tune in the distance. She stared at the garden. She was feeling a rapture. It was colder. It was not. It was a rush of passing motions, things that bump in the dark, with her memory, but it wasn’t an affirming, but a longing, a quest for identity in the woods. Yes, it was just that. She wanted to go out there but she was barefoot. Look at that garden! It had been a smaller garden. Now and suddenly, it became a boundless harbinger of damp woods that spoke of nothing but… secrets.
Yes, this was the revelation of changing from a small thing to a huge forest of greenish gold blasts of long begotten growing in distant and far off rains. And hearing. The growing in the signs of light of sun, the hearing, right there in the heart of that lost paradise --- her lost paradise, the grandness of lust, the turning of a tiny inch of grass into a mansion of grace – the rain forest of other counties, her own country! Her rain forest. So far away, now. Why was she away from home? But… that change in that garden! What was this man… doing to her and to her imagination? She got all goose bumps. She closed the door. It had started to rain.
After that day, he would announce himself in that typical manner and she often wondered how he felt or if he was embarrassed to work in the yard… as he didn’t really seem to be a yard man. He spoke in that funny way – and sometimes she could not understand a single word he said. It was his Haitian Creole accent, spoken by much of the population of Haitian descent from his island. He was very careful and extremely polite but… those silent, dark, hungry and mischievous eyes followed her everywhere she went. She often hid inside the house. She was… sometimes afraid of him; maybe more curious than scared. Maybe not. She felt vulnerable. Vulnerability. Something that she was trying so hard to overcome during these last months in the islands.
Betania was home sitting Ms. Ardithe’s villa. She was in Europe now. She would be there for the next five months. Betania had seen her ad in Craigslist, months ago. She replied immediately, wishing that no one else had applied for the position. Ms. Ardithe had called her the next day and they spoke for 40 minutes. In the end of the conversation they had agreed that they were meant for one another and laughed about the coincidences of life; the mysterious signs we don’t see right in front of us - doors that painfully close but bridges that are immediately built for us to cross – yet we still keep thinking about the closed doors.
Betania, a recent divorcee, wanted to get away from Brazil, from the sadness of her story and from her former’s husband insistence in getting back together. But, after 38 years of accepting his womanizing and perfumed scented shirts in the laundry basket, she decided it was time for ending a belief, a belief that living a lie… is never simple. She remembered the days when she had felt like a used, discarded Kleenex in the waste bin. She would never feel that way again.
She had been living in the house – or grand villa, as Ms. Ardithe called it, for three months when she curiously noticed that the garden, so beautiful but so big, needed a man’s touch – tree cutting, grass mowing and fence fixing. It had grown so fast. She had enjoyed the quietness, the stormy nights, the solitude and the windy afternoons; swimming naked in the pool and drinking her white wine overlooking the sunset from the front porch while listening to Rachmaninoff, by the soft-lighted oval pool. She had even seen a shooting star… but she hadn’t made a wish. She should have. Maybe things would have turned out different, somehow.
She forgot about her sorrows and would sleep for hours, read books, write letters and poems or sometimes simply wonder about life in the quietness of her room. But once, when she saw a pink orchid bloom overnight in the most magnificent of colors and beauty - she had been so overwhelmed that she had… cried. She was healing.
She was becoming that Betania again – with her short blond hair, average built, sweet, deep green eyes, elegant and smart attitude and still looking quite young for her 50’s. She knew that she still attracted attention – from both men and women. She was kind and calm and liked people around her yet she needed peace sometimes and feel a great sense of freedom. She wasn’t tall but she wasn’t short, she had lovely legs and an elegant posture. She was polite and giving. She had a great personality but she knew that she sometimes forgot about herself and about her innermost wishes. She trusted in people yet, she often had those weird, strange insights about places and especially about people’s bad vibrations - she would avoid many of them – and she was often right about some of them as they turned out to be strange, mean or even evil persons (when she felt that sudden twist in her heart) --- only until she met the yard man, only until she met Germaine Francis in that dark, rainy morning in the villa. She never sensed or felt that twist in her heart with him.
On his last day of work, he walked up to her and asked her for water. She said she would place it by the pool. Smiling, he left, as if understanding her shyness. She took a cold bottle of unopened water and placed it by the pool with a clean plastic cup. She returned to the living room and closed the door. Soon after, he returned, knocked on the glass door and calmly said:
“Coop fills in da pool watar."
“Oh no, I won’t go for a swim in the pool now.”
“Coop fills in da pool water.” He pointed at the pool. The red plastic cup was floating inside the swimming pool. Had the wind blown it inside?
“Oh I see it. I’m sorry.” She turned around. Nervous.
She could feel his keen, dark eyes on her back, on her legs and on her waist while she walked toward the kitchen. When she turned back, he was sitting on the teak bench which was positioned by the front porch. She noticed that today, he wasn’t wearing his overalls. He was wearing a large (maybe too large) dark pair of jeans, a large, dark red shirt (why did it remind her of blood?) and around his neck, he wore a thick, heavy golden chain with a strange, round, funny pointed symbol at the end. He was cleaning his ears with one of his long finger nails and staring quite seductively at her.
“Lovely lady haz a mon?”
“Excuse me?” Had she heard him ask that? Upset.
“Lovely woman haz a mon?"
“No.” Why couldn’t she ever lie? So naïve; worried.
“Lady mast rite my telefon nambur, lovely lady. If ya need moi again.”
“Al right.” She wrote it down on a tiny piece of paper. She would never call him again though, she thought. She was feeling uncomfortable with his presence. She felt watched, observed – followed. She felt as if he read her mind. Could he?
“Kan he, Germaine Francis hav lovely lady telefon nambur if toi need moi?”
“No, Germaine Francis. I don’t think he can. Never -- ever. ” Should she have said that? Upset. Desperate again. But decisive.
He frowned. Serious. Disturbed. He didn’t smile this time; had she noticed a dark shadow over his eyes. And so he got up and left, softly walking away, moving his long, awkward arms, nodding his head and moving his long, Rastafarian plaits, under his black, green and red woolen cap as he nodded again and again and walked by the pool. Was he talking to himself? He never looked back. She followed the trail of his big, heavy black boots on the wet, brown soil and he slowly disappeared into the woods, whistling softly his usual, weird tune. It was always that same whistling tune… hypnotizing. She quickly closed the door.
No! No! No! She woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and screaming. She heard the echo of her own scream when she jumped up in her bed. She looked around. Darkness. Stillness. What happened? A nightmare! Yes, she remembered the nightmare. Horrible! She remembered it slowly now, as if in a film, moving in front of her green eyes; it showed her the facts. She felt it on her skin. In her soul. Oh so strange. So… real.
The moon was the third night before the calming of the sea, the third or the fourth, she thought, and into the calm, the rains still came, but it was windless, and the pelts of soft rain turned quickly into hard hammering rain, lifting the skyline, calling out, and then, in a sweeping moment, the vines in the forest, engaged her body, trapping her in ravels of twine, loose, enough to breath, but gripping her tight enough to draw her breath in rapid shovels of heaving and gasping, like a bicycle pump, up and down, and wheezing at the end of the last push down, and into this, she circled, looking for a piece of warm sun. Or was it a bonfire? Drums? People. She saw deep, black eyes. Then, more faces. Evil ones. Witchcraft. Sorcery. Faces like demons. Zombies. Voodoo dolls, yes, Voodoo dolls. Dark eyes. She would obey those dark faces. She felt a sharp pain in her stomach. Such Pain. It was a keen demolishing of her woman, the falling and the trap of vines, and, without help, a sense of giving in to everything overcame her. A goat’s head! Satan. He is coming in! He is thrusting in. Footprints of the Devil! Then into the last point of light, the seconds ticked into her beating heart, the small glimmer of sun in the middle of a mid-night moon, there came the man, there came the man, there came a dark man. Oh, my life is a horrible thing. Help! She cried! She gasped for air. She screamed! I... screamed.
She got up. She was sweating, she needed a bath. She walked around the bed and noticed that it was raining hard outside. The wind was blowing the dark, red leaves that had been collected into piles on the wet grass. It was dark, very dark. She looked outside and all around. The pool was black and somber. Suddenly, a lightning crossed the dark sky like a bolt of fire and she saw it… him – standing right there by the pool --- naked, tall and black, holding a shiny machete in his left hand and looking intensely at her from down below. He looked so different, so powerful, so mean.She screamed in horror. She covered her mouth with her hand. She wanted to run but… where to? Another lightning crossed the troubled sky. He was closer to the house now, as if he had floated over the garden and over the oval pool – as if over the rain forest and the wide, dark river, like an omen, like a ghost, like an anaconda, hungry, preying, and hunting in the sky’s night. She saw his thick, golden chain hung around his neck and she surprisingly recognized the symbol of what was hanging on that chain --- a pentagram. It looked much, much bigger now. What had happened to it? It was an inverted five pointed dark star and it was encased in a circle, and one was pointing downward. She saw in horror, an animal’s head in the middle – no, not an animal’s head - it was a horrible, disgusting Ram’s horned head, smiling a victorious smile of ownership and possession over one’s forgotten soul. Hers? Was he conjuring up the bad, evil, animal forces of the occult? Satanism! Black Magic! Yes, it was this. I have to escape, run, go! When the third yellowish-white lightning struck and thunder shook her naked body, she saw his carnal, dark, twisted lips smile with lust and desire while he grotesquely and furiously screamed, right there, in front of her and directly across from the thin window’s glass: