If this were fiction, Titanyen would come either at the beginning or the end of this narrative. Or both. That’s the sort of weight it drags around with it. But, as it is, this isn’t fiction, and Titanyen comes buried someplace in the middle.
Titanyen is a dusty nothing a 20 minute drive north of Port au Prince. From what I could tell, there wasn’t much more than some sort of quarrying operation in the hills and a long stretch of almost unnatural blue coastline. I gave myself a minute to daydream diving it.
About at the halfway mark between the skirts of Port au Prince and Titanyen, Sandro pulled the car over and asked if it was all right with us to stop here for lunch. He knew, we knew, that appetite is a finite resource. He also asked us for a surgical mask, and I obliged.
Titanyen had little marking it as Titanyen. Just more coast and more road cut into the hills. We pulled up alongside a Haitian out on the roads. His name was Saintilus, he told us, he was from around here, worked in one of the quarries, and would lead us to what we came to see. Titanyen had become a popular site for journalists. Saintilus told us to pull off the road at a point with visible tracks leading up into the hills. The main path off the road and onto the tracks, however, had been plowed over- blocking access to the crossing point.
“The people here did this,” Saintilus explained, “to stop the trucks from coming in.”
We left our car on the side of the road and set off up the track and into the hills. A short walk, we were assured.
“This is where the trucks came in.”
“How many trucks came per day?”
“Several times a day.”
“How big were these trucks? Large trucks?”
Big trucks, we later found out, meant dump trucks.
Walking into the hills, Saintilus explained that just over the rise was where the general hospital in Port au Prince had buried their john does. He pointed out the kiltered rows of simple white crosses. I’m not sure if it was by accident or intention that Titanyen became Titanyen.
All along the path were ephemera spilled out the back end of jostled trucks. A bracelet that Saintilus picked up from the dust before letting it slip back from between his fingers. A single shoe. Scraps that had been ripped of whatever definition they had previously maintained.
We saw them from the crest. Seven mounded anthills in the distance. A half ring of them. There were already other journalists, a pair from the AP, snapping, noting. Their fixers stood at distance. We walked down the hill, the one we knew already, into the flatlands of the seven anthills. That day was warm, not hot. The sky. The breeze.
Sandro stopped when the smell started- stayed there halfway down the hill as we went on. I didn’t notice it in my nose, not firstly. I smelt it inside me. My lungs. Then the flavor of it sliding on my tongue. Then its putrid stuffings in my nose. I decided not to mask, feeling some stupid notion that I would testify by scent.
It was awful, of course, the smell. It isn’t only odor or putrescence or these words we’ve created to convey the awfulness of stench. It was sweet, in its way. Possessed of a richness, a thickness like cheesecake, that reaches down inside you and fills your insides out. Thickness that forces itself in you, impregnates you, seeds your mind with its memory. Now, even now today, this day, this now, I can smell it hiding under other smells, poking out to remind me of it.
“Sometimes. I hate this job.” I hear this. Nod.
At my feet is half a child. Less than two. He’d been shorn in half at the waist. His arms are raised above his head, looking for a lift up from his mama. Except he can’t grab hold cause he doesn’t have any hands anymore. Can’t cry out for her cause his face is sliding off into the dirt at the edge of a hole. Two weeks before I was playing catch with my college roommate’s kid, Max. He’s this age.
The anthills are mounds of churned earth filled with bodies turning shades and drip dropping their liquids away forever. At this point, it’s a week and a day since January 12th. A week and a day is a long time in the space between alive and not.
A man has leaked through the white sheet he was wrapped in. Someone has gifted him a small measure of dignity. He is alone in this distinction. A woman is splayed crooked, her eye sockets and mouth agape and filled up and over with sand. A clawed hand ruptures from under a mound in horror caricature.
One woman is lying face down, bent over the peak of a mound wearing a tank top and a thong. She looks like she’s presenting her sex to the Sun. Waiting for him to take her, fill her with his divinity so that his blessed issue will rescue us all from filth and famine.
This was all the impromptu funerary customs of customs undone. Nothing so malleable as tradition in catastrophe. A short drive took us to the place set aside by the Haitian government for the official provision of the unnumbered dead. Here, earth-moving behemoths had plowed a 200 meter long u-shaped trench in the earth. At its deepest, the trench ran six or seven meters into the ground. I’m no geometrician, but I have eyes and sense enough to know that this was an enormous volume to fill up, and I don’t doubt that space in Haiti’s Grave is already hard to come by.
It’s been a month since the last time I posted here.
I could say:
“I’m trying to forget”
Or I could say:
“I’m trying to remember”
Really though, because this isn’t fiction, I’m not doing either. I’m going to work every day where I sometimes work and sometimes don’t. I take the subway. I watch stupid television and eat food of varying quality and drink too much and say ridiculous things to people I scarcely know.
But also. Also, I am on that flatland ringed by hills and the sky is incandescent and the breeze shifts my shirt around and that little boy raises his arms above his head. And I lift him up. Let him cry into me until he’s done and whisper him lullabies and carry him around with me everywhere I go. Buried in a u-shaped trench in my chest.