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SCHOOL'S OUT

(Lèkol lage...)

Keyboardist and flutist softly play Haitian lullaby: "Dooo do, ti pitit manman m. Do-o do-o do, ti pitit manman m. Si ou pa dodo, djab la ap manje w. Si ou pa do do, djab la ap manje w. Manman ou pa la, l ale larivyè. Papa ou pa la, l ale cheche krab. Si ou pa dodo, jdab la ap manje w..."

SCHOOLS OUT

(A little girl in pigtails, bright multicolored ribbons and barrets:)
When i first started going to school here, i went to Roger Elementary School, on the East Side of Town. And you know, English is my second language. So, when i first came, the first couple of months, i didn't really understand some things. But i was always kind of a thinking person and people took it to mean that i didn't like them or something because i was always sort of inside my head.

if you guys have ever seen the playground at Roger School? That's where i was one afternoon, with not one of my sisters in sight.

i'm the type of person who could be doing one thing. But two, three, four, FIVE things are going on in my head. When school's out, i've got places to go, inside my head.

****

Voiceover
"SCHOOL'S OUT" Echoing. "School’s out….L’ekol lage". Keyboardist/flute playing Haitian lullaby. kids playing and playground sounds.
******

Down the corridors of time, there's a grade-school playground where a crowd of Black - African American and Jamaican girls - surround a "Frenchie," don't-speak-English-stuck-up-me.

There i am. Nine years old, Q-tip-thin, under attack with not a sister in sight for back-up. i'm feeling as deserted, small and without support as i would feel each night in my large twin bed, with the pink painted-over cast iron headboard, where father says i must sleep, by myself, without my sisters. "You're an American now," he says when i protested. "American children do not sleep two to a bed." "Wi papa."

i ignore the belligerent crowd. i push at the asphalt with my sneakers to swing higher. i like being American. My father says it's a good thing to be because "Haiti se chien" - is dog-eat-dog, eat or be eaten.

Father curses Haiti often and very loudly, especially when he has to go to work at the restaurant to wash piles and piles of other peoples' dirty dishes, or to the white people's hospital where he's a night guard and where the white nurses all ignore him and give him a wide birth, or worse, whisper on about him in an English that's incomprehensible to him.

The group of coltish-thin but mean girls had been on the other side of the street the last i looked. But i'd been swinging lackadaisically back and forth on the swings, moving further away in my mind with each swing, thinking.

(i'm thinking) Each night when father gets home from work, he curses Haiti some more. But Haiti's not here. it feels like he's cursing me. He yells at me for reading, for doing my homework, for going to the library, for being too loud or for nothing at all. The whole neighborhood hears him shout, "I'm the boss, if nowhere else, in this house, I AM THE BOSS." “Wi papa.”

Father left Haiti, but Haiti had cast a shadow and locked him inside.

i thought, if America means a big bed alone and a constantly angry father, i like it not. i started covering my head at nights, even in the summer months, with my blanket, leaving just a small space to breathe. i could get myself to brighter places under my blanket. i got away even when not in bed asleep.

The neighborhood girls, snot-nosed brats, are upon me, fed up with my daydreaming quietness, crowding my thinking space. "Can't you talk, you stuck-up or something?"

Truth be told, my English wasn't so good yet. But i didn't need a translator to know i was being ganged-up on. Their asking the question, demanding my attention but unhurried i'm still somewhere else, i'm asking a question. My reverie takes no more than a flashing second. i listen for the footsteps. The nun makes no noises in my head, has no answers. i watch myself go down the corridors of time.


(Musical Stops. Except for accents. Sax/flute give sound of time fading back. Keyboardist and flutist then softly play Haitian lullaby: Do do ti pitit manman m. Do-o do-o do, ti pitit manman m. Si ou pa dodo, djab la va manje w. Si ou pa do do. Djab la va manje w. Manman ou pa la, l ale larivyè. Papa ou pa la, l ale cheche krab. Si ou pa dodo, jdab la va manje w…..)

i am four years old, a kindergarten pupil. “Why?” i want to know, “does 2 humps come before 1?” “What do you mean?” replies Soeur Susannah, the confused, narrowed shouldered French Catholic nun. "I looked-up my name last night in the dictionary. "M" comes before "N." “Why is that? M is two N's put together, don't you see it too?" "Two "Ns" shouldn't come before one?" She saw no such thing. i was exiled to the punishment corner to kneel, back facing the classroom, supposedly for over an hour.

(Lullaby music stops. No music except special effect and percussionist accents)

i see the tormented toddler clamping her teeth tightly together. She won't cry. But a minute in the corner and she turns to face the class, happiest taunting the teacher, speaking-up, wailing out "why?" and "this is not fair" non-stop. She stamps out each word with her feet and arms as if doing an ancient African fireside dance. The harried Gallic can't stand it. Let's her rejoin the class.

(Steady percussion beat resumes)

The leader of the pact steps in front of the swing, abruptly ending my reverie. i push at the asphalt with my sneakers going backwards to swing in her path, thoughts about that ugly nun in Haiti, trying to shush me up, fading into the ethers of my mind. She moves right before i smash into her. On the next volley, i stop swinging, irked now.

Someone pushes me from behind, forcing me to collide with the gang leader in the traditional manner we Black girls used to conduct our schoolyard fights back in the day.

i pretend i'm in my hated twin bed alone. i cover my head and entire body so none of the punches will touch me as though my pretended blanket ringed a defensive force-field around me. i think of my beloved Haiti cheri and take a small blissful space to breathe. "Things are different if you are American" i hear father say in my head. i'm outnumbered, small and deserted. i don't like this difference. it feels like when the nun said i was bad for asking her "why"? i don't want to be bad in America and be thrown out. Or worse, get a beating from father for fighting the way he had punished me in Haiti for being bad to the nun. i've got to get out of this.

There's too many of them. And i know giving a bloody nose to the fat and ugly leader of the band is out of the question. So looking around, i pick-up two of the sharpest, largest rocks i could find and sauntering over to the leader, my pretended blanket securely on, i forgot my father and the nun. i borgarded straight in her face.

That's when that regular walking oooh-we'll-kick-your-butt-afterschool-posse heard:

"You guys don't know this, but i'm not really American. i am Haitian. And if y'all don't get on up out of my face fast, i'll not only bury you with these rocks. i'll put a hex on you and make you die!"

That line worked, when i was in the fifth grade.

****


(c) 1997 Ezili Dantò, excerpt from the Red, Black and Moonlight monologues, based on Kenbe La: Crossings of a Vodun-Roots Woman. All rights reserved. (See RBM Video Reel for a brief performance excerpt of "School's Out.")
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