Cècilia swept her hands inside the coat pockets, accumulating loose threads, dried tissues, a corner piece of a Swap Shop ticket, and a rusted penny. She continued down the aisle, sifting through numerous pockets, until it was time to venture into the next aisle.
She didn’t mind the stares; the egotistical prying eyes that questioned her movements. She knew what they were thinking: hurry up, because some of us are actually trying to buy things, or she’s too lazy to work, but has the energy to pickpocket at somebody’s place of employment, interesting…. Her personal favourite was: that’s so embarrassing; she could’ve at least acted like she was buying something. She could just see the thoughts written on their faces.
But it wasn’t that simple. Cècilia knew the value of opportunity, and she would do anything to make it back to Fonds-Parisien.
Three years ago Cècilia bought a coat on sale for fifty cent, and when she went outside during her lunch break at the warehouse, she dug her fingers into the breast pocket and found $150. She was so excited that instead of microwaving the cup of noodles in her locker, she joined her co-workers and bought the spicy chicken meal they frequently ate.
‘Cècilia, how you doing? You never hang out with us,’ loud-mouth Lourdes exclaimed, as a small group of them sat outside eating.
‘I’m doing fine. I can’t complain.’
‘Well, let me tell you, at least you’re not in the call centre. Every day I have to deal with these silly people calling about their accounts, and the trucks not getting there on time, I mean, come and get the packages yourself if you can’t wait. And if Jerry comes to me one more time about tardy-this-tardy-that, I’m going to tell him something. They know I’m the best, I have given…’
As Lourdes rambled on, Cècilia sank her teeth into the freshly fried chicken patty, and thought about what she would do with the rest of her spending money. Maybe buy a flight home to Haiti since she hadn’t been in so long. No, the money wasn’t enough. Maybe a pedicure. No, she wore sneakers everyday. Maybe a six-month bus pass. No, a friend had given her three thirty-day passes, so she was good for now.
She decided to go to Wal-Mart after work and bought a canister of iced tea mix, a three pack of deodorant, solid black slip-resistant work shoes, a bag of leg quarters, a Coming to America DVD from the sales rack, two packs of gum, rice and beans, a tube of ground meat, Equate maxi pads, a bag of rollback bread, and a jar of honey peanut butter. She went home and dumped the iced tea mix into a clear plastic container, and put the rest of the money into the now empty canister.
Cècilia turned that small stroke of luck into a weekly challenge.
Cècilia continued down the aisles, thumbing through clothes to find those with pockets, all the while counting from 100 to one to pass the time. Nearing the end of the final aisle she caressed the cool fur of a mock mink coat. She searched the inner fabric for any concealing pockets and couldn’t find any. A coat looking that nice had to have some type of pocket, Cècilia thought. She lifted the hem and admired the jacket for a while.
She imagined herself wearing the coat, shades masking her sleepy eyes, in a grand marble foyer, feeling the cool air-conditioner. Looking at her fingers she could see herself with a champagne glass full of fresh iced tea, her lips pressed against the rim, as she did a pretentious laugh that came straight from her throat.
As she rubbed the bottom of the coat, she noticed it separate a little, and followed the seam until an opening was found. Cècilia slid her hand inside the coat from the bottom, and searched in between the lining of the fur and coat. Her fingers grazed over what felt like a small booklet. She clenched it between her thumb and fingers and pulled it out.
Cècilia cringed at the dated pamphlet resting at the palm of her hands; its deteriorating body stiff with dark spots and what she thought was the faint presence of smeared red lipstick. Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and Expressly to the Coloured Citizens of the United States was etched in black ink along the cover. Cècilia looked to see if she knew the author. David Walker. Never heard of him, Cècilia thought. She began to put the pamphlet back and count her losses for the day, still admiring the coat, when her stomach growled so loud she thought a person would leap from her belly and slap her silly.
Why would someone have a little booklet sitting in such a fancy coat she thought? Must have been important to someone at some time. She pulled the book back out, and looked for a print date. 1829. Whoa. She took her glasses off and rubbed it against the fur. She looked at the pamphlet and read the date again. 1829. Damn. The thing was older than her granny’s granny in Haiti. She laughed at the thought; she wasn’t actually sure if that was true. In any case, the paper in her hands was aging gracefully, and she became curious, wanting to know why this pamphlet was in the coat. She put it back in the coat, pulled the coats tag off, and went to the register to bargain the price.
‘My mom said we’re selling it for ten,’ the girl at the register said.
‘Ten? This old coat?’
‘Oh no, I will give you two dollars fifty cent.’
‘But it’s ten ma’am.’
‘Okay, five. Look,’ Cècilia showed the tear in the coat. ‘The coat is unfinished.’
‘Thank you, sweetie. Don’t forget the student discount.’
‘You have student ID?’ The young girl said, more out of shock than necessity.
Cècilia laughed a little, pulled out her ID and gave it to her, along with the four dollars and twenty-five cent she had already mentally calculated.
Cècilia considered going to the library to check out the value of the pamphlet, but didn’t want to pay for the bus if it wasn’t worth anything. There was however a pawn shop nearby, and she figured since it was a place where lost things ended up, maybe she would be able to find out if the old pamphlet had any real value. She knew that original printings of American literature were treasured, and finding such an old text in a fancy coat made her curious, and hopeful.
At the pawnshop, she took the book out from under her arm and gave it to the freckle faced older man at the counter. Cècilia stared at his dark brown hands as he examined the text. She saw a sliver of light in his eyes as his cheeks rose, and his lips spread over his teeth. He hurriedly gestured for her to stay put, and lightly jogged towards the back of the store to what she assumed was an office.
Cècilia waited for a while at the counter looking at oversized TVs that would never fit in her apartment. There was a small rack of clothing and Cècilia considered examining the possible contents in the pockets, until she saw the freckle faced man rushing back to his position behind the counter.
‘I’ll give ya two thousan fa it.’ He took out his receipt book and placed it on the counter.
‘I said I’ll give ya two thousan fa it. Ya can’t find a piece a history like dis here jus anywhere. I been lookin fa an original print a dis here pamphlet fa the pass fowty seven years.’
‘Ok,’ Cècilia said, not convinced the man would actually hand her $2,000 for an old worn out piece of paper.
The man called out to a younger gentleman who made his way to the counter. ‘We done jus got a hold a da appeal!’
‘David Walker’s appeal?’ the young gentleman said. His eyes got bigger and he took the small booklet from the man’s aging hands. ‘Well look at that!’
‘Look jus like da one daddy use ta carry and talk about ta his buddies. If it wasn’t fa da house in Mississippi floodin afta Camille, I woulda still had me a piece of daddy left, but this right here will surely do,’ the man said, and shook away emotions that attempted to creep out.
‘Well, pop, you got a piece a gramps right here. Let me run and cash ha out.’
Cècilia gave her identification for the payment and receipt, and watched as he went to the back. As the man began carefully flipping through the pamphlet, the young gentleman came back with twenty crisp $100 bills in an envelope and a copy of the receipt.
‘Thank you so much. I hope you all enjoy the book,’ Cècilia said as she made her way toward the door.
The man, barely able to peel his eyes from the book, warmly responded, ‘no, thank you sweetie. God bless.’
Once outside she opened up the envelope and peeked inside to make sure all of the money was there. Yup.
Twenty crisp $100 bills.
She looked up to the sky, pointed a finger and a smile at God before laughing to herself.
Cècilia had forgotten about her growling stomach until the scent of fries danced in the air in front of her. She saw one of the chicken chains across the street and went in to have a sandwich – this time with fries and a milkshake.
She sat with her food out on the patio to avoid the toddlers with Polynesian Sauce dripping from their chicken happy mouths. As she took a sip of the thick milkshake, she thought about what she should do with her money. Maybe buy one of those big TVs, or a case of cup noodles. Or maybe she could pay up her rent for the next year, but then she remembered she already had part of her check going to rent every week. She thought about getting a car, but she didn’t know how to drive yet, and she was scared of the road.
Cècilia took a bite of the sandwich and smiled with her teeth mid-chew.
A ticket to Haiti.
That’s what she would do. Buy a ticket to Haiti. She wanted to see her dad and mom, because the last time they saw her she was a teenager going to live with her aunt in Lemon City. Now she was in her late thirties with no kids of her own, with no way to call without loading her phone with minutes, and no one to share a genuine laugh with because all she did was work. Then work. Then take two buses to send a CAM transfer. Then eat, wash her laundry for work, and finally rest. She saw herself in a two-piece coconut bikini, pedicured toes caressing the sand at her feet, and her fingers stroking the sun kissed chest of a new friend. She grinned as the taste of shumshum melted in her mouth, and she washed down another pineapple bowl filled with rice, shrimp and griot with a jus grenadia.
Cècilia danced with excitement until it dawned on her that she didn’t actually have enough to go to Haiti. After being gone for so long, she would have to come bearing gifts for all of her friends and family back home. Her four cousins had been asking her to send them all iPads for almost three years now. Her mother had told her of the things her family in Gonaïves were saying: Cècilia is werkin in a big wherehouse. She has big money! When is she comen? I know she will have someten fo me. Big money! My cousin Cècilia. Grande dame!
She couldn’t show her face without at least getting the iPads, and to buy them she would have to get a refund on her meal. Even then she still wouldn’t have enough money to book a flight.
Cècilia cupped her hands below her chin and contemplated going or staying until her head spun around like cats chasing mice. Money. She came to live with her aunt for an opportunity to have a better life. She didn’t realise a better life meant she was constantly chasing and losing money paying for things like bills and rent; to fix gas leaks, to send money home; and to get old uniforms cleaned. Then there were her attempts to save for: citizenship; a car; an apartment so she could live alone; and of course for her family. And sometimes her family just told her where to send it: to Port-au-Prince for a trip to the embassy; Gonaïves for a wedding; Fonds-Parisien to improve the house; Jacmel to pay for a car to take them back to the province, because who knew how beautiful Bassin Bleu was during the summer? Cècilia, that’s who. They didn’t ask her where she lived, how she ate, who she was meeting, or if she wanted to come home to take a break. They didn’t ask, and she didn’t tell, because that’s just how it was.
She picked up her milkshake, but by then it was just froth. Looking at her watch she hurried to throw away her trash and jogged to the empty bus stop to catch the bus that almost zoomed right past her.
She went to Wal-Mart that afternoon and got a new pair of solid black slip resistant shoes, a three pack of deodorant, a bag of chicken breasts, a small mp3 player for bus rides, two packs of gum, a plateau of ground meat, a box of cup noodles, Equate maxi pads, bagels and cream cheese, a bag of rice and beans, and a bottle of Arbor Mist.
The next day she took the rest of the money, including what she’d saved in the canister, and put them in a savings account.
One day she’d be on a plane in her fur coat, shades covering her tired eyes, signaling for the stewardess to get her a spiked tea to calm her nerves before going home.