Grace à Guidel Présumé

From Soul in a Bottle by Madison Smartt Bell


Présumé wasn't half as hard to find as Lôlô, but still it took a little time. He'd disappeared from the Cap Haïtien artists' coop, AJAPCA; in fact no one there even knew his name, or maybe they didn't want to admit they knew it, before they'd run my background check. This worried me a little, but when I raced up to the Hôtel Mont Joli they told me I could find him there later on in the evening.

Présumé was a man of medium height with a high-cheekboned, handsome face, and slightly oriental eyes. He wore the merest suggestion of a moustache and goatee, and he also almost always wore a long billed cap; only once did I see him without it. Since summer he had lost a lot of weight, although he still looked healthy. He was sociable, smiled a lot, and told amusing stories in a style of French which, though thick with the creolized northern pronunciation of the region, revealed he'd had a lot of education. All his movements had a measured grace, and beneath his air of the bon vivant there seemed to be an endless reservoir of inner calm. I thought about him much more often than I saw him.

I also thought about his paintings, small acrylic works on masonite which he had shown to me and Jean when we first met in June of 1995. In the summer of 1996 I looked for him again, and tried to buy one of his paintings, but it was hard to get him to take any money. Simply because I had been friendly toward him, had done him the honor of remembering his name, he wanted to give me his work for free, although in fact he had already done much more for me than I for him.

At Christmas of 1996, Présumé had surprised me with a painting in the mail, so now I gave him an envelope and a copy of the French translation of my novel on the Haitian Revolution, to be shared with his friend Uriode Orelien, who was the Mont Joli barman. There was a little celebration, and then a kind of slow and graceful kouri, during which both Présumé and the barman left the room and reentered from several different directions. The Mont Joli is a modern resort hotel with all its public areas open to the air, and like most Haitian spaces it could be confusing to blancs. Somewhat later I figured out that the movements had to do with securing the contents of the envelope: a peacock feather, a child's drawing, and an extremely modest sum of money. Meanwhile, Alex and I talked to other people, but eventually I rejoined Présumé on the couch. He spoke quietly for a while about his personal life and then said, with no particular stress, "To me, you are a messenger from God."

Paintings from the North of Haiti