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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 288 pages
    Sep 2008, 288 pages

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Print Excerpt

The din of clanking metal rose above the racket of roofdenting rocks. Or maybe he only thought so because he was so heartened by the bat tenèb. Maybe he wouldn’t die today after all. Maybe none of them would die, because their neighbors were making their presence known, demanding peace from the gangs as well as from the authorities, from all sides.

He got up and cautiously peeked out of one of the living room windows. There were now two UN tanks parked in front of the church. Thinking they’d all be safer in his room, he asked everyone to go with him upstairs.

Maxo had been running around the church compound looking for him. They now found each other in my uncle’s room. The lull was long enough to make them both think the gunfight might be over for good. Relieved, my uncle showered and dressed, putting on a suit and tie, just as he had every other Sunday morning for church.

Maxo ventured outside to have a look. A strange calm greeted him at the front gate. The tanks had moved a few feet, each now blocking one of the alleys joining Rue Tirremasse and the parallel street, Rue Saint Martin. Maxo had thought he might sweep up the rocks and bottle shards and bullet shells that had landed in front of the church, but in the end he decided against it.

Another hour went by with no shooting. A few church members arrived for the regular Sunday-morning service.

“I think we should cancel today,” Maxo told his father when they met again at the front gate.

“And what of the people who are here?” asked my uncle. “How can we turn them away? If we don’t open, we’re showing our lack of faith. We’re showing that we don’t trust enough in God to protect us.”

At nine a.m., they opened the church gates to a dozen or so parishioners. They decided, however, not to use the mikes and loudspeakers that usually projected the service into the street.

A half hour into the service, another series of shots rang out. My uncle stepped off the altar and crouched, along with Maxo and the others, under a row of pews. This time, the shooting lasted about twenty minutes. When he looked up again at the clock, it was ten a.m. Only the sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard at the moment that a dozen or so Haitian riot police officers, the SWAT-like CIMO (Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre, or Unit for Intervention and Maintaining Order), stormed the church. They were all wearing black, including their helmets and bulletproof vests, and carried automatic assault rifles as well as sidearms, which many of them aimed at the congregation. Their faces were covered with dark knit masks, through which you could see only their eyes, noses and mouths.

The parishioners quivered in the pews; some sobbed in fear as the CIMO officers surrounded them. The head CIMO lowered his weapon and tried to calm them.

“Why are you all afraid?” he shouted, his mouth looking like it was floating in the middle of his dark face. When he paused for a moment, it maintained a nervous grin.

“If you truly believe in God,” he continued, “you shouldn’t be afraid.”

My uncle couldn’t tell whether he was taunting them or comforting them, telling them they were fine or prepping them for execution.

“We’re here to help you,” the lead officer said, “to protect you against the chimères.”

No one moved or spoke.

“Who’s in charge here?” asked the officer.

Someone pointed at my uncle.

“Are there chimères here?” the policeman shouted in my uncle’s direction.

Gang members inside his church? My uncle didn’t want to think there were. But then he looked over at all the unfamiliar faces in the pews, the many men and women who’d run in to seek shelter from the bullets. They might have been chimères, gangsters, bandits, killers, but most likely they were ordinary people trying to stay alive.

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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