Out in the Haitian countryside we came upon, I guess, a mud puddle, but it was an enormous Haitian one and there was no getting around it. It was just the two of us, me and Ti-Jacques, and I remember reconnoitering the puddle, and our reconnaissance was thorough, and it was true, there was no getting around it, and it was far too wide to leap, even at its narrowest.
Ti-Jacques said, “We’ll have to wait.” I remember knowing that he meant wait for it to dry up, but I don’t know how I knew that. Perhaps when I was there I knew such things.
“That will be hours,” I said.
“Only two or three,” he said. Or he might have shrugged, which is Haitian Creole for only two or three, which means four or five.
In Haitian Creole the word for “mud” is labou, which is French for “the mud.” So to say “the mud” in Creole, labou-a, always felt like saying “the the mud,” as if the mud was not content to be just the mud, it had to be the the mud, which was certainly true in Haiti in some awful way.
“Let’s go for it,” I said in English.
To be fair to the language, I should point out that the word for “love” is lamou, like the French for “the love,” and a lot of other Haitian words work that way, too. But I always remember that morphology first in terms of the mud. It was always everywhere, even where it hadn’t been a moment before.
When he realized I meant to splash through the mud, Ti-Jacques gave me a look that in Creole meant, “You are uncivilized. I refuse.”
But if the sun was hot enough to dry up that puddle in a few hours, it was hot enough to dry me up, too, so I insisted.
“Take off your shoes,” Ti-Jacques said. “At least.”
I had ruined better shoes in my life. People sometimes asked me for them on the street, but I had learned just to laugh and ask them if I could have their shoes instead. They never gave them to me, because everyone knows that you keep your shoes on your feet, no matter what.
Something about this memory is suspect, though, because what does that mean, there was no getting around it? Were we encircled by a lasso of mud? Had a mud moat contrived to rise up around us in the half-day since we had headed out? For there had been no mud at this spot in the morning.
But the shoes were ruined, and I know that for sure, because I still have them in the back of my closet. I take them out and scrape them now and then.11