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  • (Haiti, in the 1990's)

    The eclipse was coming.

    The TV weatherman urged everyone to remain calm, providing essential facts. The eclipse will last approximately one hour. The sun will be totally obliterated and then return. As long as you don’t look directly into the sun during the eclipse, everything will be fine.

    But it didn’t matter. The day progressed, bringing more stories of people closing and blocking all the windows and doors, cutting off all ventilation inside their cinder block homes. Some lit fires inside to cook. One family suffocated. Others were hospitalized. Yet all the pleading didn’t change the simple and absolute conviction that this recurring event of nature was the beginning of the end.

    After all, this was a people who had always done everything they could to survive the day. They had lived through two centuries in constant turmoil. They tried to meek out an existence on land ever losing its capacity to fend for itself. The trees were cut, the rivers ran dry, and the soil turned to dust. There was nothing left but to move to the city and find a room to call home. Some could find single or two room homes for them all. Many sought rooms they could share with others equally destitute, setting sleep schedules to share the single bed. With so many others in the same condition, jobs were as scarce as food. How then could they be asked to deal with yet more drama?

    Besides, no one was listening to what the TV men said anyway. In earlier times, one had said there was no coup while soldiers took over the National Palace. The radio man had told them there was nothing to fear, even as the policeman outside barged into the neighbor’s house, grabbed their son, and threw him into the back of the idling truck never to be seen again. They watched helplessly as the judge promised to hear them out, then stopped listening as soon as he saw a fat envelope. And the foreigner who promised more jobs didn’t mention they would be for one US dollar a day.

    The only people they could trust were family and sometimes the neighbors; the ones with whom they cracked jokes and shared the little food available. You could hear them in the streets. The preacher thumped his bible as his voice boomed over market’s din. It is time to repent! The Day of Judgment is upon you! Confess your sins to God, or be swallowed by the Devil’s darkened light! Market women, tailors, and shop keepers whispered dire warnings. If we let the light touch our skin, we will turn to dust. Our families will suffer; our children turn barren in their adult years. The spirits are angry. We must appease, and give them rum less they land on our houses in the dark hours and steal our breath. Or drink it ourselves.

    They could do nothing but prepare for the worst. The street markets, already swollen beyond capacity, spilled further into the path of speeding cars. Purveyors quickly sold their stocks of rice, ice and bottled water, at a nice profit. Gas prices went up as the lines to fill tanks got longer. And stores owners rushed to restock shelves with what they had left before closing early.

    And then nothing. The streets stood abandoned; the familiar waves of foot traffic gone. Even the ever-present rats and dog packs had disappeared. Perhaps they were confused by the complete lack of activity. Or maybe they, like everyone else in this place, knew.

    That of course is when we went out. We heard the reports and had to see for ourselves. Indeed, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Not. A. Soul. We drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince in awe. In our four years there, we had never made it into the center of the town from the hills above that quickly. Nothing moved.

    Except for one big box in the middle of the street.

    We slowed down and watched it a moment. We thought it was a breeze that had given it a push. But there wasn’t one.

    We started to move on. Then it levitated and sprouted bare, crusty feet. The feet moved gingerly across the gravel studded road, taking pains to avoid coming into contact with any of the eclipse’s shaded light. The box was intact; there were no sight holes. And the man inside kept the box as low to the ground as possible. But he made it across the road nonetheless.

    Clearly he had somewhere to go.
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