The red of Celestine Batiste’s nails glistened in the sun as she sat quietly, her hands clasped together as she waited for the man before her to accept the gris-gris he’d begged for. His eyes watered, showing fear he’d tried so hard to hide as he conveyed the stress and agony he’d been feeling for months on end.
Her anger was rising, though she would not allow herself to sound off at his indecisiveness and waste of her time. That was bad for business, and the last thing she needed was another tale adding to her already sullied reputation around St. Marteen.
Her thick accent rang out, the richness in her deepened voice startling the young man before he finally placed his hand on the neatly folded pouch. “You come to me speaking of ill-fated dreams. You fear an early death, for it surely comes your way the more you get yourself into these outlandish situations about the parish.” She nodded towards his hand, smirking a bit as she watched him thumb the leather she’d stitched together just hours before. Inside were charms and such, things he need not peek at, only trust in. “That there holds all you’ll need. Keep it on you always, and you shall never have to worry. Wicked your way, no come.”
“It’s just that, I’ve heard that these only bring evil spirits, Madame Batiste.”
“If you believed such a thing, what did you come to me begging for? And empty handed, no less.”
“Then be glad I didn’t turn you away. Take it, and do as I say. Keep it on you always.”
Without another moment of hesitation, the young man nodded, thanking Celestine as he stumbled out of his seat and walked off, the gris-gris clutched closely to his chest. She kissed her teeth, groaning as she sat back in the seat that no longer felt comfortable beneath her large bottom.
She was tired, had seen clients from the time the sun began to rise. Judging from the way the temperature was beginning to drop, it wouldn’t be much longer before it set behind her and cast a blanket of darkness over the land she owned.
“Mama, I think you should come inside and eat now. You’re spending your mornings and afternoons in this hot sun, with not so much as a glass of water, and lately you’ve been bathing and going straight to bed without supper. I’m worried you’ll starve yourself.”
Celestine smiled, acknowledging her eldest daughter with a simple head nod. She didn’t turn around to face the front door where she knew Tresse was standing. Didn’t need to, not to see that the twenty-four-year-old undoubtedly had her hands placed at her hips, an authoritative look stretched upon her pretty, rich ebony face. What bit of weight she had on her was probably shifted to the left side of her body, her head tilted to the side as her small, jet-black and neatly coifed curls rested atop her head. Tresse’s almond shaped, dark brown eyes were probably lowered, and certainly she was trying everything in her power to remember that she was indeed the child, and not the parent. Celestine already knew it was taking everything Tresse had to refrain from scolding, from speaking out and sounding like an identical copy of herself just a few short years before.
It tickled Celestine. And while she normally brushed off her eldest daughter’s worries, today she would oblige. Today, she felt famished and couldn’t wait to savor what she knew would be a delightful meal. “Is there anything else you think or feel, my dear sweet child?”
“Yes. I think you should stop wasting your time with this stuff Nann passed down to you. If I can be honest; you’re starting to act like her more and more, and it’s not drawing kind words around St. Marteen. Certainly not with us still being hidden out here in Sutton Bayou. Quite a few folk would love to lock you away too, and finally cut off all travel out here.”
“Only the ones that don’t follow or stop following the directions they were given get mad and want to lock others up. You cannot fault someone else for what no longer works when you stop following the essential steps of what was working.”
Standing to her feet, Celestine took a moment to stretch her tired body and limbs before turning to face her beloved daughter. She knew Tresse meant well.
It hadn’t been too long since Tresse witnessed parish officials carting her grandmother away, thrown into one of the newly built mental institutions atop the northern half of the state. It affected Tresse deeply, something that rushed to the front of her mind anytime she came across a psychic or practitioner of Voodoo or Hoodoo. Celestine being considered one of the more prominent voodoo ‘queen’ and fortune tellers made it no better.
While Tresse, and many others within their Black and Creole communities knew differently, others outside would always see these beings as dangerous or crazy when things for them didn’t go as expected. Being presumed crazy was just as much of an offense as being born black. At least, in St. Marteen it was.
“Child, what is it you think pays for all of our comforts, and the peaceful seclusion? The part-time secretarial work? The dresses I make or hem from time to time? Sure, that pays enough to get by sometimes, but other than that it’s the spiritual religion passed down from many generations ago that feeds and clothes us.” Celestine paused, giving a tiny smile. “It’s what has afforded our family everything, for the past few generations; from our freedom, to our home, to our education, to our ability to be and do anything we’d like. They can deem me as crazy as they wish; but I’m not crazy enough to turn my back on what keeps my family out of poverty. Not when there’s nothing else for me, nothing that doesn’t demean and diminish my existence as a black woman. So, I tell a few fortunes, sell some gris-gris and potions, call forth spirits to ease grieving hearts; it pays much more than being a maid and making enough to barely get by.”
“I understand that Mama, I do. It’s apart of our family and our ancestry. Hey, sometimes Eva, Genny and I have a little fun with it, but never publicly. I just worry that…”
“I’ve seen fields and picked from them long past the days of slavery. Seen the love of my life murdered before my very eyes. Been persecuted, shamed, and blamed for some man raping me. Had my life threatened numerous times because I dared to accuse the white man that did it. Been called unfit, and nearly had you taken from me, for daring to keep the babies that came from that rape instead of getting rid of them to preserve his name and reputation. Nearly died during childbirth because some nurses didn’t deem a black woman worth saving. Been beaten and jailed for speaking my mind, and so many other horrendous things. Child, there isn’t anything else them folk can do to break me, because I cannot be broken. Not then, not now, not ever.” Tresse nodded, dropping the discussion altogether. “Now stop worrying so much about me, and worry about the next time you’re going to see Jean-Paul.”
“I don’t want to worry about Jean-Paul. I don’t even want to see him.”
Celestine laughed heartily at the lie she’d been told. The tone in Tresse’s voice gave it all away. “Then I guess it doesn’t make a difference to you that he’ll be here shortly with the things I asked him to pick up for me.”
Tresse stood up straight, scratching her scalp lightly between curls with the tip of her nails. Willing them to remain blank, she tried her hardest. But nothing could stop the sparkle of light that flashed in her eyes at the thought of Jean-Paul arriving. It had been months since he’d come around, flashing smiles and doing whatever odd jobs her mother had for him. Though she wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, she kind of missed him and the positive energy he always brought.
Noticing that her mother was grinning a little too hard, Tresse gathered herself quickly, smoothing the bottom of her dress as she spoke sternly. “It most certainly does not.”
Celestine cackled, gathering her candles and other items from the little table she set out in her front yard for her clients.
Slowly marching towards and up the steps of their quaint and modest home, she stopped in her tracks just as she reached Tresse. A bit shorter, she looked up at her young daughter and spoke softly. “Then I guess it also doesn’t matter that he’s coming up the road at this very moment.”
“Mama, stop it. You can’t even see the end of the road from here, so you know good and well you can’t see Jean-Paul coming, IF anyone is coming at all.” Besides, she thought to herself, he must make it across the water to get to the road first.
“Don’t need to see it from here. I know he’s coming.” Celestine gently nudged her daughter out of her way, speaking again. “Might want to fan and calm yourself before he arrives, you’re looking a little flustered.”
As Celestine walked away, Tresse huffed, refusing to pay any attention to her mother’s unusual excitement and pushing over an old family friend.
Connect With Me :