Caribbean Paradise - Paperback

Caribbean Paradise

Caribbean Paradise - Kindle Edition

Caribbean Paradise – Kindle Edition

Pearl of the Caribbean - Paperback

Pearl of the Caribbean

Pearl of the Caribbean - Kindle Edition

Pearl of the Caribbean – Kindle Edition

Caribbean Freedom - Paperback

Caribbean Freedom

Caribbean Freedom - Kindle Edition

Caribbean Freedom – Kindle Edition

Caribbean Paradise (Book 1 in the Island Legacy series), Pearl of the Caribbean (Book 2 in the Island Legacy series), and Caribbean Freedom (Book 3 in the Island Legacy series) are available on Amazon.com as a Kindle e-book and can be downloaded to your Kindle, iPad, or iPhone; or you can download a Kindle app onto your Windows PC or Mac from Amazon.com for free (Kindle – free Kindle apps).

Island Legacy Novels are also available on Amazon.com in paperback. Or, if you would prefer to purchase a signed copy directly from me, the cost is $13.97 per book, which includes shipping and handling. Send a check or money order to Teri Metts, 101 J.B. Womack Road, Mendenhall, MS 39114. If you have any questions, shoot me an e-mail: terimetts@gmail.com.

Also, you can check out my Island Legacy Novel boards on PinterestCaribbean Paradise, Pearl of the Caribbean, and Caribbean Freedom.

 Third & Final Island Legacy Novel – Caribbean Freedom 

Back Cover Blurb: Caribbean Freedom 

Are some family skeletons best left buried?

Will a daughter’s return to the home of her birth threaten the freedom her father sacrificed so much to gain?

When as a six-year-old child, Mariela Ramírez left Viñales, Cuba with her parents, their departure was shrouded in secrecy. Eighteen years later, a chance meeting with a grandfather she barely remembers draws her back to Viñales, a beautiful valley smothered in tobacco fields and surrounded by peculiar mountains called Mogotes.

For Mariela, returning to her homelands is like a dream come true, but all too soon her reunion with family and friends unearths family skeletons fraught with bitterness and painful accusations.

Mateo Hernández was once Mariela’s closest friend, but over the years his heart has been hardened toward Mariela’s father.

Now Mateo seems intent on unleashing his unresolved anger on Mariela. Will his bitterness impede his and Mariela’s efforts to reestablish the friendship they once believed would lead to marriage?

Check out my Caribbean Freedom board on Pinterest 

Chapter One – Caribbean Freedom

In her peripheral vision, Mariela Ramírez caught sight of a woman standing just inside the door, a limp toddler draped across her arms. Mariela glanced over her shoulder at Doctor Brandt Mercer, the medical missionary in charge of the clinic they were conducting in the hamlet of Thiotte, Haiti. Doctor Mercer and his wife Nadia, who was a nurse practitioner, were busy resetting the bone of a young boy who’d been brought in less than fifteen minutes earlier. The child broke his arm as he attempted to fly off the roof of the family’s home.

Mariela turned her attention back to the woman at the door. The Haitian’s ebony skin glistened with perspiration as her eyes darted around the room. Although the child in her arms lay motionless, Mariela noted a slight rise and fall of the little one’s chest. She hesitated a few seconds longer before inching her way toward the woman. With each step she took, she prayed for the right words needed to communicate and, perhaps even more importantly, for the Haitian woman to be able to understand what she said.

“How may I help you?” Mariela asked in halting Creole once she was close enough for the woman to hear her.

The woman lifted her arms, extending the child outward as if she wanted Mariela to take her. Mariela stared at the toddler’s gaunt face; she didn’t appear to be more than a year and a half, two at the most. Dressed in a threadbare, pale blue dress, her arms dangled at her sides, and her breathing sounded labored. She reeked of urine and feces and wore no diaper or underpants. After sliding her arms under the child’s limp body, Mariela hurried toward an empty examination table, while waiting patients sitting in chairs along the side of the room watched. The woman, whom she assumed to be the child’s mother, followed in her wake. Once Mariela had the child settled on the table, she grasped her wrist, feeling for a pulse. As she counted the feeble beats, she studied the woman standing beside her. She couldn’t have been much more than a child herself, late teens at best.

“How long has she been like this?” Mariela asked, hoping she’d gotten the words right. “Other symptoms?” she added before the young woman had a chance to respond.

Creases formed across the woman’s sweaty forehead as she stared at Mariela with watery, red-rimmed eyes. Mariela feared she’d not understood the questions. Just as she opened her mouth to try again, the young woman spoke. “She’s been vomiting and had diarrhea for two . . . maybe three days. She’s not eaten anything. Yesterday she refused to nurse or drink anything at all. This morning I couldn’t get her to wake up.”

Vomiting. Diarrhea. Lethargic. Symptoms of a number of possibilities, one of the worse case scenarios being cholera. Cholera outbreaks had continued to plaque Haiti, especially rural areas, since the first outbreak made the news following the January 2010 earthquake that caused widespread disaster in the Caribbean island country. Last Mariela had heard, over 7000 had died, and the disease had traveled across the border into the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic. Cases of cholera had also been reported in Thiotte, but they’d not treated any cholera patients in the three days they’d been in the area.

Mariela placed the eartips to the stethoscope hanging around her neck in her ears, then positioned the bell against the child’s boney chest, praying the little one had not been brought in too late. Perhaps she’d been stricken with a common stomach bug that had gotten out of hand due to the child’s age and malnourished condition. Of course Rotovirus was always a possibility, which would generally not pose a life-threatening situation if they were in the States. But they weren’t in the States. They were in Haiti, where even minor illnesses could turn deadly in the blink of an eye. One thing was for certain: she needed to get the child started on some rehydrating fluids, and fast.

After assembling all the necessary equipment, Mariela lifted the child’s left arm, then her right, before moving to the little one’s legs. The toddler’s body was so starved of fluid that all her veins had nearly collapsed, making Mariela’s task near to impossible. She stood erect, squared her shoulders, then breathed deeply as she offered up another prayer. Rivulets of sweat snaked down the sides of her face. If she couldn’t locate a vein soon, the next step would be a venous cutdown, something she didn’t feel qualified to do. All the while, this little one’s life ebbed away right before her eyes.

Mariela took two steps back from the table and nearly collided with the woman who’d brought the child to the clinic. Fear clouded the young Haitian’s dark, bloodshot eyes. Mariela offered her a feeble smile, hoping the effort would provide a small measure of comfort, then aimed her own panicked glance in Doctor Mercer’s direction. She breathed a sigh of relief when the young doctor looked her way.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

“I’m afraid we have an emergency here.” Mariela’s voice trembled as the words slipped from her lips. She nodded at the little one lying on the table in front of her. Once again the waiting patients sitting along the side of the wall watched her every move. Did they detect the seriousness of this child’s condition? “She’s severely dehydrated, and I can’t locate a vein.”

Doctor Mercer whispered something to his wife, then left her with the young boy they’d been treating and made his way to Mariela’s side. Minutes later, Nadia joined him. With a sigh of relief, Mariela relinquished her position and stepped to the head of the table next to the Haitian woman whom she still assumed to be the child’s mother. The woman clung to a dingy handkerchief she’d twisted into a knot, her eyes fixed on Doctor Mercer and Nadia. When the Mercers located a vein, tears flooded Mariela’s eyes as she lifted up a prayer of thanks. Soon a rehydrating drip flowed into the toddler’s gaunt body.

As Doctor Mercer and Nadia conversed with the child’s mother, Mariela   moved closer to the door. She desperately needed a breath of fresh air. When she glanced outside, a tall, hispanic man dressed in a pair of green scrubs caught her eye. Was he associated with one of the other medical teams serving in the area? She’d noticed him a couple days earlier as he’d sauntered through the local market of Thiotte. His height, along with his striking hispanic good looks and thick salt and pepper hair, had been hard to miss. He reminded her of many of the Cuban men living in Little Havana, the sector of Miami, Florida, where she’d grown up. Was he Cuban? He tipped his head in a brief acknowledgement, then turned and walked away. An image of a younger version of the man flashed before Mariela’s eyes, only to vanish before she could place it in a time or location. She stared out the door, grasping for another glimpse of the man, but he too had vanished.

Did she know him? Or did he only remind her of someone?

                                                                       ~~~~~~

Mariela sat on the concrete stoop of the faded-green clapboard house where she and the Mercers were staying while they conducted the week-long medical clinic in Thiotte. With knees pulled tight against her chest, she hugged the calves of her legs as she stared across the packed-dirt path running in front of the house. She watched with amusement a russet-colored chicken scratching in the dirt, apparently in search of something to eat.

As sweat cascaded down her back, Mariela longed for a real bathroom where she could take a nice, cool shower. She released a feeble sigh. As wonderful as that sounded, she’d have to settle for a spit bath using tepid water from a large pottery bowl provided by their hosts, the owners of the old house behind her. Or maybe she’d trek down to the river, roll up the legs of her scrubs and at least get her feet  wet.

They’d seen a total of thirty-seven patients that day, including the little girl with Rotovirus. There had been everything from skinned knees that needed bandaging to a man whose immune system had turned against him as he battled the last stages of AIDS — much the same as what she’d come to expect in this part of the country.

Mariela had spent the last six months working in a small medical clinic along the Haitian and Dominican border in Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti — a hot, smelly, desert town a couple hours south of Thiotte, sitting along the shores of the Caribbean Sea. Although the medical missionaries she worked with, Doctor Brandt Mercer and his wife, Nadia, lived in a one-room, concrete block house in Anse-a-Pitres, Mariela was thankful for the small, one-bedroom apartment the mission had provided for her across the border in Pedernales, Dominican Republic. Even though Pedernales was as hot and dry as Anse-a-Pitres, at least on the Dominican side of the border she had electricity and running water, luxuries the Mercers didn’t have.

Once they returned to the coast at the end of the week, Mariela would be entering her last two weeks of service on the island of Hispaniola — home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti . . . but unfortunately, she was no closer to determining God’s call upon her life than she’d been when she’d arrived in Pedernales six months earlier. She’d hoped the time spent on the mission field would answer once and for all whether God was calling her to missionary service overseas; but as of yet, she’d not experienced any blinding visions or heard a booming voice calling her name. She’d not even heard God directing her path through the still, small voice people often said He used.

As Mariela focused once again on the scavenging chicken, a memory of the hispanic man she’d seen earlier surfaced. She’d thought of him several times over the last few hours. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew him from somewhere. But where? Was he from Miami? Had she crossed paths with him somewhere back home? As far as she knew, there were at least two other medical teams working in Thiotte; perhaps one of them had come from a church in Miami. But if that were the case, where had the image of a younger version of this man come from?

Mariela raised her eyes as Nadia Mercer stepped up beside her.

“Mind if I join you?” the petite, blue-eyed blonde asked.

“Not at all.”

Nadia squatted on the concrete stoop next to Mariela. “We had quite a day, didn’t we?”

“A bit hectic,” Mariela agreed. “Don’t know what I would have done with that little girl if you and Doctor Brandt hadn’t come to my rescue. The longer I’m here, the more I wonder how you deal with the stress. I’m not sure I’m cut out for doing something like this as a career.”

Nadia eased into a sitting position, her legs hanging over the steep side of the stoop. “Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to make that kind of decision. You’ve been doing a great job. It just takes some getting use to.”

“But I’ve been here almost six months already, and still whenever we face an emergency situation like the one this morning, I think my heart is going to beat out of my chest. That can’t be good for you.”

Nadia chuckled. “If you don’t end up on the mission field, what are you plans after you leave here?”

Mariela shrugged. “Don’t know. I’d hoped this experience was going to  help confirm what I’ve felt was a calling to the mission field, but the water is murkier now than it was six months ago.”

“Before you came, you’d felt God was calling you overseas? Right?”

Mariela unfolded her legs, letting them hang over the side of the wall next to Nadia’s. “I had. I’ve felt drawn to overseas medical service since I was a little girl. It’s not something my parents have encouraged, but I’ve not been able to shake the conviction that God has plans to use me somewhere other than the States.”

“If you’ve felt that strongly about it, I sure wouldn’t give up now. Maybe He’s calling you somewhere other than Haiti.”

Mariela nodded. Except for this short six-month stint, she’d not felt God was calling her to Haiti. With her hispanic background, it would seem service in a Spanish-speaking country would be a more logical choice. That’s why her present assignment had caught her eye. Although her work was in Haiti, it had provided her the opportunity to live in the Spanish-speaking country of the Dominican Republic. Mariela lifted her hair, allowing a passing breeze to cool her neck. “I had hoped living in Pedernales would provide some insight into where God is leading me next,” she said. “When I was a little girl, my mother and I lived in the Dominican Republic for two years. We moved from Cuba to Santo Domingo when I was six years old, soon after my father made it to Miami.”

Nadia dipped her chin in a quick nod. “I remember you telling me that. Could God be calling you back to the Dominican Republic, perhaps Santo Domingo . . . or maybe somewhere else on the island?”

“I’ve asked myself that same question.” Mariela lifted her shoulders in an exasperated shrug. “But I don’t know. Although you’d think it would make sense, it doesn’t feel right.” She glanced at Nadia. Could she trust the young woman with a long-held secret? Since Nadia had lived in Haiti until she was fifteen, then returned eleven years later, maybe she would be the very person who could relate . . . or who would at least understand.

A fine ridge formed across Nadia’s tanned forehead. “What?”

Mariela blinked. “What? What?”

“You’re wanting to ask me something. I can see it in your eyes.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Yep. Spit it out.”

Mariela drew a deep breath, then released it slowly. “I’ve never breathed a word of this to anyone . . . other than God. My parents would absolutely die if they knew.” The rough concrete scratched against the back of her scrubs as she shifted. “But for several years I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to Cuba. I know that must sound crazy. Maybe I’m just romanticizing it all because that’s where I was born and it’s where my family’s from. But the more I pray, the stronger the desire to return seems to grow.”

“And why would your parents absolutely die if they knew you were feeling this way?”

“Oh, you just don’t know. I can hear my dad now.” She lowered her voice and added the Hispanic accent that still flavored her father’s English. “I didn’t risk my life to provide you the freedom you now have as an American citizen so you could throw it all away and go back to that godforsaken, communist country.” Despite the heat, Mariela shuddered. “Neither he nor my mother have corresponded with, much more talked to, any of their family since the mid 1990’s. It’s as if that part of their lives never existed.”

Nadia’s eyes narrowed as perplexity clouded her face. “Wow. I can’t imagine living like that. I understand why they left Cuba, but to cut all ties with family . . .” She shook her head.

“I know.” Mariela drummed the side of stoop with her fingertips. “And whenever I’ve tried to ask questions, they’ve always cut me short and told me it’s just as well I didn’t ever know any of our family. But the strange thing is, I remember my mother crying at night back when we lived in Santo Domingo. When I would ask her what was wrong, she’d say she missed her mother and father.”

“Do you remember anything about your mother’s parents or leaving Cuba?”

Mariela chewed on her lower lip as she struggled to resurrect a memory, but as always happened, the fragile images dissipated before they had time to adequately form. “Not much. It’s all vague. And my parents, as far as I know, don’t even have pictures of our family. I do remember hearing my mother arguing with my grandparents the night before we left Cuba. I also have a foggy memory of my grandparents standing with their arms wrapped around each other as my mother and I got on a bus . . .” Another image of the younger version of the man she’d seen earlier in Thiotte flashed before Mariela’s eyes and she gasped.

Nadia’s hand rested on her arm. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.” Mariela turned to look at Nadia. “Earlier today, when you and Doctor Brandt were working on that little girl, did you happen to see an older hispanic gentleman standing just outside the clinic? He was wearing green scrubs.”

“Can’t say that I did. Why?”

Mariela shook her head, hoping to clear the cobwebs of impossible possibilities from her thoughts. “Never mind.”

“No never mind. What about this man?”

Mariela turned wide eyes in Nadia’s direction once again. “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think he may be my grandfather.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’d seen him a couple days ago and thought he looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen him before. Then today, he was just standing there not far from our clinic doorway. At first I thought he was observing you and Doctor Brandt as you worked on that little girl, but then realized he was actually watching me. When I looked in his direction, he nodded, then walked away. As he did, an image of a younger version of this same man flashed before my eyes. I’ve been trying all day to figure out where I’d seen him before, and now I think I know. He’s my mother’s father.”

Island Legacy Novels

I spent the better part of 2009 working on my first Christian fiction novel — the first in a series of novels set on the mission field in the Caribbean countries of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.

My debut novel, Caribbean Paradise, is set on the island of Hispaniola in the country of the Dominican Republic where our family served as missionaries for eight years.

Pearl of the Caribbean, which is set in a small Haitian town along the southern border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is the second book in the Island Legacy Novel series.

Back cover blurb: Caribbean Paradise 

A dream come true or a shameful nightmare?

She thought she was prepared, but is her faith in God strong enough to see her through?

Hanna Truly’s dream of becoming a missionary is finally realized when she accepts a teaching assignment in Paraíso – a small fishing village located along the southwest coastal highway of the Dominican Republic.

Although Paraíso means paradise in English, Hanna soon discovers living on a Caribbean island is nothing like she read about in the travel brochures. When her confidence is attacked on every side, including opposition from Jake Mason – a widower, also serving in Paraíso – Hanna realizes how quickly dreams can be shattered.

While visiting the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Hanna and Jake discover a common bond in their love for the Haitian people ; But . . . is it strong enough to survive  an unexpected visit from Jake’s high school sweetheart or overcome  their fears of being hurt?

Check out my Caribbean Paradise Board on Pinterest

Chapter One: Caribbean Paradise

Sweat poured down Hanna Truly’s back, pooling around the top of her shorts; her bright red t-shirt clung to her damp skin. She would not have thought it possible, but the heat and humidity of that mid-summer day rivaled what she and her mother had left behind in Alabama. If only there’d been a breeze, it would have helped. But not even a ripple stirred the sultry air as they stood at the base of a rut-riddled, cobblestone path winding steadily up the mountainside.

Their journey had begun an hour earlier in the garbage-strewn, traffic-clogged streets of Cap Haitien, Haiti, transporting them over poorly constructed, unpaved mountain roads and dumping them in the small hamlet of Milot. Hanna was still trying to figure out why this side trip to the poverty stricken, politically unstable country of Haiti had been included in their Caribbean excursion.

Using her hand as a visor, she shaded her eyes against the glare of the sun while listening to their tour guide – a lanky, ebony-skinned Haitian named Jean-Claude, who lived in one of the weathered clapboard huts near the base of the mountain trail. He spoke English with a heavy accent and was a self-proclaimed local historian bubbling forth with a wealth of information. Hanna shifted her gaze, focusing in the general direction of their destination: La Citadelle Laferriere – a massive stone fortress built between 1805 and 1820 as a part of fortifications designed to keep the newly independent nation of Haiti safe from possible French incursions – attacks, which ironically never materialized. With dramatic flare, Jean-Claude informed them La Citadelle, sitting atop the 3000 foot Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain, provided a view of the city of Cap Haitien as well as the Atlantic Ocean. He claimed that on a clear day even the eastern coast of Cuba – ninety miles away – could be seen.

At sixteen, Hanna felt certain she could walk the five-mile trail to the top of the mountain; but others in their group, mostly middle-aged and older, opted for riding the bony, undersized animals Jean-Claude called horses. Hanna thought they more closely resembled a pitiful mutation of pony, mule and donkey. Most appeared half-starved, many sickly. How any of the spindly, malnourished beasts successfully made the trek up the steep incline while carrying mostly overweight tourists in the hot, tropical climate of Haiti was beyond her. They’d been on the trail about thirty minutes when a guide repeatedly whacked the sluggish animal upon which Hanna rode with a stick. Her heart beat in time to the clop-clop-clop of hooves as she debated what to do. She dismounted the horse minutes later, claiming a need to stretch her legs.

Gravel crunched beneath the soles of Hanna’s tennis shoes as she hiked up the mountain trail, surveying the rows of houses scattered along the rocky edge. For reasons she couldn’t explain, she felt drawn to the women and children standing in many of the doorways. Most of the children’s dirty feet were bare, their baggy clothes stained and tattered. The women, dressed in thin, faded dresses or mismatched blouses and skirts, their flip-flop clad feet calloused and covered in dust, stared at the caravan of tourist as they plodded past their homes. The cracker box dwellings, no bigger than most laundry rooms in an average American house, were constructed of concrete blocks or rough-hewn clapboard and painted varying shades of blue, yellow or red. The roofs were made of corrugated tin; some floors were concrete, while others appeared to be dirt. The only men Hanna saw, other than Jean-Claude and the other “tour guides” helping lead and push the horses up the cobbled pathway, labored in open fields, laying out coffee to dry.

A woman, squatting in front of a cook fire farther up the trail, her head bound in a colorful turban, glanced up as Hanna passed, her deeply lined, coal black face expressionless. A younger woman stood beside her, a scrawny child on her hip. The little one’s gaunt face and bloated belly told a story Hanna didn’t want to hear. A ditch, emitting a strong stench of urine and human waste, ran along side their house. Distraught at the sight of children playing along the water’s edge, Hanna swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. Their laughter seemed out of keeping with their surroundings. She wondered how it was possible this sea of poor, hungry humanity lived along a path frequently traveled by well-fed, well-dressed foreigners, who individually paid more money to visit this one tourist attraction than most of the locals would see in six months. The scene reminded her of one of those commercials displaying pictures of starving children, which always seemed to come on whenever she and her parents were eating supper in front of the television. Only problem, there was no remote and no way to change channels.

Hanna glanced around at the others in her group, but no one else seemed to have noticed the squalid conditions and pervasive smell. Or maybe they simply chose not to. But how could they ignore the haunting eyes of the people? She knew she couldn’t. As strange as it may have sounded, she felt a tugging on her heart, a desperate urge to find a way to bring a ray of hope into what appeared to be a bleak and dismal existence.

Once at the top, while everyone else oohed and awed over what Jean-Claude referred to as a breathtaking panorama of unfolding mountains, river pierced valleys and the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Hanna gazed back down the mountainside – an inescapable longing in her heart.

“Lord God,” she prayed, “if You’ll let me, I want to come back to Haiti one day, not as a tourist, but . . . as a missionary.”

Back cover blurb: Pearl of the Caribbean

Healing salve or deeper wounds?

Will returning to the site of her disgrace bring healing or plunge her deeper into a pit of shame?

The daughter of missionaries, Nadia Roberts lived in Thiotte, Haiti until she was fifteen. A series of bad choices resulted in the worst nightmare of her life, leaving her emotionally scarred, and forcing her family to return stateside. Eleven years later, she returns to Thiotte where she plans on using her training as a nurse practitioner to help meet the medical needs of the people and hopefully rid herself of the shame she has carried for far too long.

Doctor Brandt Mercer has recently arrived in Pedernales, Dominican Republic – a small hamlet near the Dominican/Haitian border.

As a medical missionary, he is assigned work in a new clinic on the Haitian side of the border near Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti.

Although not fond of male doctors, or men in general for that matter, when the Haitian family she’s living with relocates to Anse-a-Pitres, Nadia finds herself working along side the young Doctor Mercer.

Will this unexpected twist of fate prove to be the healing salve she longs for or her ultimate demise?

Check out my Pearl of the Caribbean board on Pinterest.

Chapter One – Pearl of the Caribbean

Dust rose in little puffs with every step Nadia Roberts took on the dirt-packed, rut-riddled road, turning her flip-flop clad feet a yellowish-orange. She’d been wandering up and down the streets of Thiotte, Haiti, for close to an hour, searching for a house she’d vowed she never wanted to see again. The small hamlet on the far eastern side of the country of Haiti had been ravished by several hurricanes since she left eleven years earlier. Many of the dwellings, most nothing more than shacks and shanties, were either gone or looked as if they needed to be torn down. The overall landscape barely resembled what she remembered of her childhood home; but if her memory served her correctly, the concrete block dwelling she dreaded finding should be somewhere nearby.

Nadia stopped for a moment, fisted hands on hips, and looked first up the street and then back down. Across the road, an elderly Haitian woman kept an eye on her while maintaining a rhythmic removal of clothing from a line strung from the corner of her house to a nearby tree, then folding each item before placing it in a large straw basket. A trio of ebony-skinned young girls dressed in matching school uniforms — navy blue jumpers and sky blue, button-up, short sleeve shirts — passed Nadia, holding hands three across. All three heads, hair tied in numerous ribbon-bound pigtails, swiveled in her direction. When she smiled at them, shy grins graced their beautiful faces. She knew for a fact, light-skinned, blue-eyed, blond Americans were an uncommon sight. Moments later a chicken scurried across the street, and a couple women walking in the opposite direction from the children passed, both balancing large baskets of fruit on their heads. With eyes full of curiosity, they too glanced at her, although a bit more discreetly than the girls. 

Nadia lifted her hand, shading her eyes against the late afternoon sun that would soon descend like a giant ball of fire behind the mountains on the outskirts of town. Already, shadows played hide-and-seek in the rocky crevices. As she drew her attention back to her original quest, she wondered if the house she was looking for had been destroyed in a hurricane. If so, her mission would prove fruitless. She took a deep breath, inhaling the pungent aroma of simmering chicken and vegetables overlaid with the woodsy scent of burning twigs, as thin fingers of smoke curled upward from cook fires sitting in front of several of the houses along the street. It was almost dinnertime, and Matant Chante would be looking for her. Maybe it was time to give up the search.

Tiny pieces of gravel crunched under Nadia’s feet as she drifted back up the street. She’d traveled less than half a block when a little boy sitting in a pile of rubble caught her eye. He stared at her with large brown eyes, his snot-crusted nose in desperate need of a tissue. Fragments of dirt clung to the orange-tinged black fuzz on top of his head. A much too small T-shirt barely covered his bloated belly and, typical of toddlers in Haiti, he wore no diaper or pants.

Stepping toward the child, Nadia greeted him in Creole. As soon as the words left her mouth, the child rose on unsteady legs and toddled through an opening that apparently served as the door to the crumbling house he had been playing in front of. Nadia chuckled as she stepped into the street again. As young as he was, she may have been his first encounter with someone of Caucasian descent. When she glanced back at the shabby excuse for a house, she could see the child peeking through one of the many holes in the wall. She started to wave and then stopped, her hand suspended midair as an involuntary guttural gasp escaped her lips. Although in a sad state of disrepair, something about the home looked familiar. With sickening certainty, she conceded it was the house for which she’d been searching. It appeared the little boy’s family was homesteading the property, now nothing but broken pieces of what once was a concrete foundation, with blocks missing from the walls, leaving gaping holes.

Nadia gazed upward where thatched palm branches had replaced the terracotta shingles that once graced the home’s roof. She stared in shocked silence, her feet like lead, refusing to move. Her parents had told her it was not a good idea to return, but she’d known it was something she had to do. She thought she would have cried at this moment, but her eyes remained as dry as a creek bed during a long summer drought.

“There you are.”

The words, spoken in Creole – the unofficial, official language of Haiti – drew Nadia’s focus away from the rubble. She turned to find her best friend, Bijou Dorsainvil, jogging in her direction, the hem of her paisley red skirt swatting her knees as she ran. They were the same age and, almost from birth until they were fifteen years old, had grown up together. Nadia grinned at the memory of telling people they were twins. How funny, considering they were as different as night and day. Bijou’s rich, dark chocolate skin, mocha brown eyes and black wooly hair stood in stark contrast to Nadia’s light complexion, yellow curls and blue eyes. Although they had not seen each other in eleven years – not since that tear-filled day her family hugged and kissed the Dorsainvil family good-bye – Nadia had never had another friend like Bijou. From the moment she’d arrived in Thiotte two days earlier, it had been evident Bijou felt the same about her.

“I was just heading to the house,” Nadia responded, also in Creole, a language as natural to her as English.

Bijou eyed the crumbling structure in front of them. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve been walking around . . . remembering.”

Bijou gave a quick nod toward the ramshackle house. “Isn’t this where that Christian soccer player lived the summer you and your family returned to the States?”

Nadia allowed herself one last glance at the fragments of concrete, still shocked that not much remained of what had once been a relatively nice house – especially for Thiotte. “Oh, is it? I don’t remember,” she said, the lie coming much too easily.

“It’s changed a lot, but I believe it is.” Bijou shook her head. “Must have been hit hard by one of the hurricanes. We spent a lot of time here that summer. Remember?” She smiled at Nadia. “It was great to have someone closer to our age to plan activities for us.”

Nadia chewed on her lower lip. Spending time in that house was not something she wanted to remember. She slipped her arm in Bijou’s. “Why don’t we head back to your house? I’m kind of tired.”

They walked arm in arm for several blocks, a comfortable silence between them. Hoping to break free of the troublesome memories threatening to pull her under like the powerful tug of a riptide, Nadia watched a group of children romping in the street, a small black and white mutt nipping at their heels. His yelps, and their delightful squeals, told her it was all just a game.

“Did you ever see him again?”

Bijou’s question interrupted Nadia’s pleasant diversion.  “Who?”

“You know . . . the missionary – the soccer player who lived in that house. I don’t remember his name.” Bijou’s shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Do you?”

Nadia stared straight ahead, the erratic beating of her heart pulsating in her ears. She remembered, but wasn’t willing to allow the cursed name to pass through her lips. Another lie quickly formulated, the second one in less than ten minutes. “I don’t remember,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “And no, I never saw him again.” She hadn’t ever told her best friend the truth about the man and had no intentions of doing so now.

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