By Christine Brown

THE NEXT MORNING when I arrived at the Baptistes?, I could not believe my eyes. They lived no better than us slaves. They had only five slaves: four slaves were used to cultivate the small garden, which was on the side of the chateaux, and only one house servant. The paint on the chateaux was chipped and the doors were cracked and noisy. I had never seen any whites who lived like this.

I was lead to the front door by Oliver-Melville, Monsieur Decadeaux?s carriage driver. Oliver–Melville was very dark-skinned, medium-build and had a kind smile. Once he left me at the door, I approached and knocked. “Open the door you pig!? I heard a female voice shout.

The door slowly creaked open and I was greeted to a dark brown-skinned woman with tattered clothes, a swollen face with missing teeth, and an eye that was completely shut closed. I became overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. As I entered, the stench of the chateaux struck me as if someone was assaulting my very face. I could remember thinking to myself, how could any whites live like this? Do not all whites live as Monsieur Decadeaux?

“Who is it?” I heard a woman say from a room located across the small guest room on the right.

“It’s Monsieur Decadeaux’s black mistress,” the house servant answered. I was taken aback and felt great shame and embarrassment.

“Bring that whore in here,” Madame Baptiste ordered.

The house servant led me to a room the size of one of the rooms in the servants? quarters on Monsieur Decadeaux’s plantation. Madame Baptiste was lying in a bed with her infant son beside her. She was a medium-framed woman with tarnished, stained teeth and a temper to match Monsieur Baptiste?s.

“Don’t just stand there, come and pick up this child! Don’t you hear him crying you stupid pig?” she bellowed.

I came rushing to the bed. The first three days were torturous. I ate once a day and I hardly slept. On the third day I was so exhausted that I slept through the cries of Toussiant, who was Madame Baptiste’s son. I was awakened by a blow to my face. “Wake up you lazy monkey, you need to feed my child,? Madame Baptiste barked. ?You are good for nothing else but lying on your back!”

Immediately I bled from my nose and became nauseous. I ran outside to vomit. “Get back in here, where are you going?” Madame Baptiste shrieked in my direction. I soon returned to care for Toussaint.

Around five in the evening that same day, I heard a knock on the door, and then I heard a voice that sounded like Jean-Claude. “Is my mother here? She is Marie-Claire. We have come to see how she is faring,” the voice said.

I was elated. I stuck my head out of the guest room where I was caring for Toussaint just in time to hear Madame Baptiste say, “This is not a good time, she is taking care of some house work.” Before she could even finish her last word, Jacqlyn-Sophie stuck her head from around Madame Baptiste and screamed “MAMA!” She and the rest of the children suddenly came running down toward me. I knelt down and opened my arms as wide as I could to fully embrace them. However, Marie-Monique?s and Jean-Claude?s smiles turned into frowns as they approached me.

“Mama, what happened to your face”? Marie-Monique asked in concern.

“Nothing, it?s nothing,? I reassured them. “Now come here and give your mama a hug.”

“I’m sorry, you cannot stay long because your mother has not finished her house chores,? Madame Baptiste interrupted, full of contempt. ?You have fifteen minutes. That’s all.”

“Merci Madame Baptiste,” Jean-Claude said apprehensively.

“Let’s go to this room. I have to keep an eye on Madame Baptiste’s baby,? I said as I took them to the small guest room where Toussaint was lying in a bassinette.

“So how are your lessons coming along”? I inquired.

“This house smells!” Rosemite-Anne complained.

“And it’s ugly,” Jean-Claude whispered.

“Watch your mouth!” I whispered loudly while glaring at them.

“But mama, what really happened to you? Are they mistreating you here”? Marie-Monique asked.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. How is Monsieur Decadeaux?” I queried.

“He is doing fine, but I do not like his mother, because she is not fond of us at all. She never speaks with us, only to Jacqlyn-Sophie. I think it is because she looks white,” Marie-Monique explained.

“Non, non, non you mustn’t think like that,” I implored.

“But it is true mama. She only speaks to Jacqlyn-Sophie when other whites are around. Last night, Papa had his soiree and we all were there but it was only Jacqlyn-Sophie she introduced as her grandchild. And when I tried speaking to her she completely ignored me. I hate her. When are you coming back home mama?” Jean-Claude bemoaned.

“Soon, soon,” I tried to comfort him.

“Mama, are the Baptistes poor?” Rosemite-Anne asked. I gave her a look to silence her before changing the subject.

“Are you three taking good care of Jacqlyn-Sophie”? I asked as I cradled Jacqlyn-Sophie in my arms.

“Oui, mama,” they collectively said in a soft tone.

“Mama, guess who came to papa’s dinner?” Marie-Monique asked excitedly. “The Blancs and their son Verral-Louis, was also with them. Remember we saw him at the Marketplace?on Friday? He gave me back my purse after it fell to the ground. I think he is really nice!”

A feeling of dread came over me. “Marie-Monique, you are a young lady, you must not allow yourself to be seen talking to boys too often. People will talk,” I admonished, hoping to deter further contact between them. I do not know why I always had an uneasy feeling about Verral-Louis. Maybe it was because he was white. Maybe it was because I saw how he stared at her the first time they met. Maybe it was because I knew that Marie-Monique had already developed strong emotions for him. Or maybe it was a mother’s intuition. In any case, he brought much misery to Marie-Monique’s life.

Marie-Monique was an extraordinarily beautiful child. She had medium-to-dark olive complexion depending on the season, beautiful light brown almond shaped eyes, full lips and long curls. When we first attended the mulatto picnics she was around the age of ten. She would come home with several gifts from the young men. I strongly disapproved of this; however it never seemed to concern Monsieur Decadeaux. On the contrary, he actually found it amusing. Since Marie-Monique was his firstborn, he was very lenient and generous with her. He bestowed her with very lavish jewelry and saw to it that she only wore clothes made in Paris and custom made shoes. This made her the target of jealousy from white, mulatto and black girls.

Most masters would never flaunt their mulatto children in the manner Monsieur Decadeaux did. However, Monsieur Decadeaux was an unusual man. He seemed to have done what he desired even if society disapproved. I always felt that undermining the Code Noir was Monsieur Decadeaux’s way of asserting his independence from France. At that time the Grande Blancs or white planters had become very dissatisfied with France’s authority. They felt that they had the right to rule and control Saint Domingue however they wished. Unlike the planters, the Petite Blancs, who were the lower middle class whites of the island, were very loyal to France. They needed France to ensure some sort of hierarchy of power on the island. France would make certain that the Petite Blancs would always have social privileges over the free people of color, the mulattos and freed blacks.

Madame Baptiste then stuck her head into the guest room and said scornfully, “It is time to go. Your fifteen minutes are up.”

“But it has not been fifteen minutes,” Jean-Claude protested.

I quickly barged in. “It?s fine, I’ll see you soon.” I gently rubbed his back. Afterward, they all hugged me with the exception of Jacqlyn-Sophie, who started to cry.

“Jacqlyn, stop crying, I?ll be home very soon. If you stop crying, when I get back I will give you those candies that you like so much. Fine?” I tried to convince her as I embraced her and kissed her forehead.

She shook her head yes as she wiped the tears from her eyes. I placed her on her feet and handed her to Marie-Monique. “Je t’aime mama,” they all said, causing tears to flow down my face.

“I love you too, my children. Take care of Jacqlyn-Sophie for me,? I replied.

“Oui mama.” They responded. A feeling of emptiness enveloped me as I watched them walk out the door into a carriage awaiting them. Soon after Pascal, the house servant, closed the door Madame Baptiste approached me with her finger pointing at my face and said, “Don’t you ever have your half-breeds come to my house ever again.” Then she stormed off, leaving me in the guest room with Toussaint.

That night as I slept on the floor in Pascal’s room, which was located in the rear of the house, I heard a knock on the door. Pascal rose up and went to open the door. Soon I heard a male’s voice, Monsieur Decadeaux’s voice.

“Where is Madame Baptiste?? I stood up from the ground and peered down the hall leading to the front door.

“I will get her for you Monsieur, please wait,? said Pascal, with her head bowed. As she approached Madame Baptiste?s room, the door swung open.

“Who is it at this time of night?” she screamed at Pascal.

“It’s Monsieur Decadeaux, Madame Baptiste,” Pascal stuttered.

“Oh, Monsieur Decadeaux I am so sorry!? Madame Baptiste apologized as she rushed to the front door. ?I thought it was one of those monkeys pestering me. Please let me know how I can be of service to you.”

“I am taking Marie-Claire back home,” he declared with agitation in his voice, before yelling out for me.

I emerged from Pascal’s room, quickly walking toward him. That was the first time I was sincerely thankful to see Monsieur Decadeaux.

“Let’s go,” he ordered.

“Oui Monsieur Decadeaux,” I complied.

“Is there anything wrong Monsieur Decadeaux?” Madame Baptiste beseeched him.

“Nothing,” he replied while marching away. As I paced toward the carriage, to my delight I noticed that Jean-Claude was inside.

“MAMA!” he said joyously as he jumped out, ran toward me and threw his arms tightly around my waist. “I told papa about your face and that we thought she had beaten you and papa got upset and decided to come. And I told him that I wanted to come and he said no but I said that I wanted to come to rescue my mama! So he finally allowed me to come.” As he spoke, his face beamed with pride.

“Oh my son,” I exclaimed while embracing him wholeheartedly.

“Everyone, get into the carriage,” Monsieur Decadeaux commanded. As we pulled away from the Baptiste?s chateaux, I could see Pascal looking back at me with a desperate expression on her face that moved me to pity her. At one point on the ride back to Monsieur Decadeaux’s home, my eyes caught his. I quickly looked down since it was inappropriate for slaves to make eye contact with whites, especially with his or her master. In that brief moment, the hatred I felt for Monsieur Decadeaux had begun to dissipate. I began to see him as a person, a person who was trapped in a system that had him wielding all the power and me as having none at all. A system that allowed those who were lighter skin to tear families apart, sell mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, fathers, brutalize other human beings, enslave women, and sell our children. But that night I saw Monsieur Decadeaux differently. Though he was the father to my beloved children, I had always seen him merely as an evil white man who was six foot tall, with a nose as pointy as an African Spoonbill and lips as thin as paper. But now I truly saw him for the first time as a protector. I had never loved Monsieur Decadeaux as a wife loves her husband, but that night the seed of respect was planted in my heart for him. That summer night, I realized that Monsieur Decadeaux had a heart. Who would have thought? A white man with a heart.

When I returned to Monsieur Decadeaux’s home he told me to reside in one of the slaves’ cabin for two more weeks. Thus I did. When Madame Decadeaux returned to Paris, I was allowed to return to the house. I later found out from a house servant that Madame Decadeaux had refused to reside in her son’s house as long as I was there. Meanwhile, Marie-Monique and Jean-Claude secretly taught me how to read and write French, mostly when Monsieur Decadeaux would leave for business trips, which were very often. Sometimes when the tutor came to give the children lessons, I would pretend to be occupied with house chores, but in reality I would be listening very attentively. Though my children did not come into this world under ideal circumstances, I love them very much, even more than I love myself.

Source?Christine Brown


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