It came down in wet sheets. Before me was a dense fog that kept me from moving any faster than ten miles an hour. It was only 8 p.m., but the sky was dark purple, a sign that autumn was quickly approaching. I was weary, exhausted from a full day of teaching and a night gig to make ends meet.
With I-95 at a stand-still, Route 1 was the next best option. Sporadic downpours instilled nervousness and fear. By the time I got to Westport, the monsoon rain had surrendered and I was just grateful to at least see the slick road before me.
That’s when I saw her… walking on the side of the busy road. Her navy blue umbrella was a wilted flower, weak from the hurricane-like wind. She was wrapped in a diaphanous trash bag, a man-made poncho of sorts. A clear shower cap, kept her hair dry.
She must’ve missed her bus. I have to stop.
As my car passed her on my right, I looked for a place to stop; I shifted the gear into park and waited.
Immediately an old memory, filed away in my life’s card catalogue, resurfaced: the winter of 1988. The bitter cold had made its way into my shoes; my toes throbbed in pain. The icy wind wrapped around my ankles as I stood on the corner waiting for the next city bus. There had been no money for a car. And we had just missed the bus.
Although my mother had tried to shield me from the wind, January’s harshness would show no mercy to a poor mother, her daughter, or her six-year-old son crying from the cold. It seemed like forever before the next one approached the intersection of Congress and Howard Avenues. That blast of warm air that met us as we boarded the bus had been our saving grace.
I put down my window when I saw her approaching the lip of sidewalk.
“Do you need a ride?” I asked.
She looked at me strangely, hesitating as she approached my car. I imagined her thoughts: Who stops for a Black woman shrouded in a garbage bag, especially in affluent Westport! Why is this crazy woman stopping to help me?
“The rain is bad, it’s okay, I’ll drive you home,” I said.
She got into the passenger side and as we made eye-contact I understood the weariness that her eyes gave away…it was my own weariness: of working countless hours, of waking up before the sunrise, of making ends meet.
“Je parle un petit peu Française,” I offered. “Je suis un prof.” Maybe if she knew I was a teacher and that I had Haitian-Creole students she’d relax a little. Her cautious mannerisms turned into a huge grin upon hearing my French words.
Her name was Marie. She was a caramel-colored Haitian. Perhaps in her early fifties. Her cheeks were covered in freckles. She revealed a gap between her front teeth as she spoke in broken English. I replied in broken French. She asked if I had children. And marveled when I told her that I had three daughters. She on the other hand was childless. And as we approached I-95, the question came.
“Vous êtes chrétien?” Marie questioned. Her eyes traveled quickly from my face. She seemed to be sizing me up.
“Oui. That is why you’re in my car.” We broke out in rapturous laughter.
“Et vous?” I asked.
“No.” Marie replied flatly. I wondered why.
Had she seen too many wolves in sheep’s clothing? The so-called Christians who walked proudly with their bibles and dress suits, but whose hearts were far from the heart of God…the God of mercy, kindness, and empathy.
Our conversation quickly moved to our shared experiences: that we both worked hard and long hours. That we were both weary from our jobs. That we were both Caribbean women…regardless of our native language. We spoke about our love for rice and beans and fried plantains.
As Marie directed me to her home in Bridgeport, she taught me how to say ‘right, left, and straight’ in French.
“Tournez à droite,” Marie said.
Marie’s home was a third-floor walk-up on a busy street of bustling Bridgeport. A variety of bodegas or cell-phone stores lined the city’s street. The rain had died down and as I approached her stop she thanked me again and again.
“Merci beaucoup, Jessica,” Marie’s gap-toothed grin was warm…lovely.
“De rien, Marie.” I replied before offering my real heart.
[bctt tweet=”“Je veux qui Jésus Christ habite en le cœur de Marie.””]
It probably hadn’t come out grammatically correct; I’m sure that my accent was off. But the laughter that Marie had let out after she heard me was vivid…alive; I hoped that my words would matter one day in her future.
That night’s awful rain wasn’t that awful anymore. It hadn’t matter how exhausted I was. That just forty minutes prior I was a rigid stone in fear for my life, praying to God to keep me safe from the hurricane-like rain that night.
The ‘complaints and murmurings’ that I had been conjuring up in my mind hadn’t mattered.
Perhaps Marie wasn’t ‘an angel to entertain’…maybe she would never decide to open her ‘cœur’ to the saving grace of God.
But on that rainy night, as I drove this woman to her door-step, I realized that Marie had been a ‘gift’ of sorts, because she had motivated me to push through and not relent in this crazy thing called: la vie.
Merci beaucoup, Marie.