"Ki niméro today?" he asked. "What numbers you playing?"
"Today, we play my sister Martine's age," Tante Atie said. "Sophie's mother's age. Thirty-one. Perhaps it will bring me luck."
"Thirty-one will cost you fifty cents," he said.
Tante Atie reached into her bra and pulled out one gourde.
"We will play the number twice," she said.
Even though Tante Atie played faithfully, she had never won at the bélét. Not even a small amount, not even once.
She said the lottery was like love. Providence was not with her, but she was patient.
The albino wrote us a receipt with the numbers and the amount Tante Atie had given him.
The children cringed behind the gate as he went on his way. Tante Atie raised her receipt towards the sun to see it better.
"There, he wrote your name," I said pointing to the letters, "and there, he wrote the number thirty-one."
She ran her fingers over the numbers as though they were quilted on the paper.
"Would it not be wonderful to read?" I said for what must have been the hundredth time.
"I tell you, my time is passed. School is not for people my age.
The children across the street were piling up the leaves in Madame Augustin's yard. The bigger ones waited on line as the smaller ones dropped onto the pile, bouncing to their feet, shrieking and laughing. They called one another's names: Foi, Hope, Faith, Espérance, Beloved, God-Given, My Joy, First Born, Last Born, Aséfi, Enough-Girls, Enough-Boys, Deliverance, Small Misery, Big Misery, No Misery. Names as bright and colorful as the giant poincianas in Madame Augustin's garden.
They grabbed one another and fell to the ground, rejoicing as though they had flown past the towering flame trees that shielded the yard from the hot Haitian sun.
"You think these children would be kind to their mothers and clean up those leaves," Tante Atie said. "Instead, they are making a bigger mess."
"They should know better," I said, secretly wishing that I too could swim in their sea of dry leaves.
Tante Atie threw her arms around me and squeezed me so hard that the lemon-scented perfume, which she dabbed across her chest each morning, began to tickle my nose.
"Sunday is Mother's Day, non?" she said, loudly sucking her teeth. "The young ones, they should show their mothers they want to help them. What you see in your children today, it tells you about what they will do for you when you are close to the grave."
I appreciated Tante Atie, but maybe I did not show it enough. Maybe she wanted to be a real mother, have a real daughter to wear matching clothes with, hold hands and learn to read with.
"Mother's Day will make you sad, won't it, Tante Atie?"
"Why do you say that?" she asked.
"You look like someone who is going to be sad."
"You were always wise beyond your years, just like your mother."
She gently held my waist as I climbed down from her lap. Then she cupped her face in both palms, her elbows digging into the pleats of her pink skirt.
I was going to sneak the card under her pillow Saturday night so that she would find it as she was making the bed on Sunday morning. But the way her face drooped into her palms made me want to give it to her right then.
I dug into my pocket, and handed it to her. Inside was a poem that I had written for her.
She took the card from my hand. The flower nearly fell off. She pressed the tape against the short stem, forced the baby daffodil back in its place, and handed the card back to me. She did not even look inside.
"Not this year," she said.
"Why not this year?"
"Sophie, it is not mine. It is your mother's. We must send it to your mother."
Excerpted from Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat Copyright © 1998 by Edwidge Danticat. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, 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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