Excerpt from Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Brother, I'm Dying

By Edwidge Danticat

Brother, I'm Dying

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“Are you going to answer me?” the lead officer sternly asked my uncle.

“He’s a bèbè,” shouted one of the women from the church. She was trying to help my uncle. She didn’t want them to hurt him. “He can’t speak.”

Frustrated, the officer signaled for his men to split the congregation into smaller groups.

“Who’s this?” they randomly asked, using their machine guns as pointers. “Who’s that?”

When no one would answer, the lead officer signaled for his men to move out. As they backed away, my uncle could see another group of officers climbing the outside staircase toward the building’s top floors. The next thing he heard was another barrage of automatic fire. This time it was coming from above him, from the roof of the building.

The shooting lasted another half hour. Then an eerie silence followed, the silence of bodies muted by fear, uncoiling themselves from protective poses, gently dusting off their shoulders and backsides, afraid to breathe too loud. Then working together, the riot police and the UN soldiers, who often collaborated on such raids, jogged down the stairs in an organized stampede and disappeared down the street.

After a while my uncle walked to the church’s front gate and peered outside. The tanks were moving away. Trailing the sounds of sporadic gunfire, they turned the corner toward Rue Saint Martin, then came back in the other direction. One tank circled Rue Tirremasse until late afternoon. As dusk neared, it too vanished along with the officers at the makeshift command center at Our Lady of Perpetual Help farther down the street.

As soon as the forces left, the screaming began in earnest. People whose bodies had been pierced and torn by bullets were yelling loudly, calling out for help. Others were wailing about their loved ones. Amwe, they shot my son. Help, they hurt my daughter. My father’s dying. My baby’s dead. My uncle jotted down a few of the words he was hearing in one of the small notepads in his shirt pocket. Again, recording things had become an obsession. One day, I knew, he hoped to gather all his notes together, sit down and write a book.

There were so many screams my uncle didn’t know where to turn. Whom should he try to see first? He watched people stumble out of their houses, dusty, bloody people.

“Here’s the traitor,” one man said while pointing at him. “The bastard who let them up on his roof to kill us.”

“You’re not going to live here among us anymore,” another man said. “You’ve taken money for our blood.”

All week there had been public service announcements on several radio stations asking the people of Bel Air and other volatile areas to call the police if they saw any gangs gathering in their neighborhoods.

It was rumored that a reward of a hundred thousand Haitian dollars - the equivalent of about fifteen thousand American dollars - had been offered for the capture of the neighborhood gang leaders. My uncle’s neighbors now incorrectly believed he’d volunteered his roof in order to collect some of that money.

Two sweaty, angry-looking young men were each dragging a blood-soaked cadaver by the arms. They were heading for my uncle.

My uncle stepped back, moving to the safer shadows of the church courtyard. Anne, once a student of his school, followed him in.

“Pastor,” she whispered, “my aunt sent me to tell you something.”

Anne’s aunt Ferna, now thirty-seven years old, the same age Marie Micheline had been when she died, he recalled, had been born in the neighborhood. My uncle had known both Ferna and Anne their entire lives.

“What is it?” asked my uncle.

“Don’t talk,” said Anne. “People can hear your machine.”

Excerpted from Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat Copyright © 2007 by Edwidge Danticat. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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