In Dame Marie, sleeping villagers walk in the dead of night - they return without memory, naked and soaking from the sea...when they return at all...
"D'accord, let's do that," says Laurent, looking forward to meeting George Benson.
Florence knows Labas lives in the Hounfor district, but she's not sure where. In the afternoon and evening he's usually to be found in one of the bars of Dame Marie. She doesn't know what he does to make money, although he's a skilled musician. This early in the day she isn't sure where he might be found but suspects her best chance would be one of the cafés in Pointe Pierre, they tend to open early for the fishermen although it is Sunday today they won't all be trading.
At this time of day they serve coffee and other beverages inside the store while customers sit outside on various stools and benches. A couple of weatherbeaten fishermen are sipping coffees and smoking cigarettes. Perched on a stool is old Pierre Labas. He's strumming his battered guitar in the traditional méringue style, a wooden pipe clenched between his teeth. Seeing Florence and Laurent approach he tips his straw hat.
"Bonjour!" calls Laurent, smiling and waving to Pierre Labas. He lets Florence do the talking at first.
After some small talk he answer's Florence's question, 'All welcome to celebrate the loa commère, that's how Bondye made it. Maybe you're asking which of the mystères we was celebrating? That be Agoué, and we took his offering down to the sea for him.'
He takes out his pipe, taps out the tobacco and slowly refills it from a little tin, leaning on his bamboo cane.
'We got a special place for Agoué in Dame Marie. Need to keep him sweet, keep him smiling on us.'
They both notice, maybe for the first time, that Labas has a slightly odd way of talking, the rhythm or accent maybe, a bit old fashioned anyway, and not like anyone else in the village.
"What things are those?" asks Laurent, his curiosity encouraging Labas to show off his knowledge.
Labas cackles, 'Don't be too curious ti gason. Agoué, he keeps away the sirèn, mermaids, they ain't all pretty like you heard. Seen one washed up in Anse Douce one day, all bloated and ugly, maybe it was just cos it was dead and swollen with water, maybe. The white men say they're lamanten, manatees, but what do they know? I ain't never seen manatees wearing gold jewellery like the sirèn does.'
He drops his voice and leans forward conspiratorially, his breath carries a strong odour, garlic. 'Last time people forgot about Agoué the sirèn rose up out of the water and took the village with 'em. Back twenty five year it was. They say it was a hurricane, washed away the village and everyone in it. That’s what they say…But people still lock up their doors at night in Dame Marie. They remember even if they don't remember, konprann sa mwen di? You gotta keep Agoué sweet so he tells his madmwazèl Lasirenn, "keep them ugly babies under control".'
'Only me an' Louis Clermont left from old Dame Marie, but we not gonna forget. Don't mess with the loa, they is deserving of your respect.'
He sits back, a more thoughtful look on his face, his brow slightly furrowed. He scratches his little black and white potcake dog behind the ears. It stops running around and turns to Laurent, it seems to be staring straight at him.
Strumming his steel strung guitar, Labas starts singing in English, Laurent recognises it as an old Delta Blues number, he can just about follow the words in English.
- 'I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, "Have mercy, now, save poor Bob if you please"'
He stops singing and strums away rhythmically for a few more bars and then ceases altogether. His face now looks troubled.
'You don't mess with Vodou, it no game for playing. You don't laugh at the loa, you don't take the Gede name in vain. Look at the stupid Americans with their 'Azagon Hotel'. You don't wanna call up Azagon Lacroix unless you know what you doing. A bocor, a witch doctor, a black magician, looking to make a zombi, not no pretty name for rich white men to have their arses wiped for them.'
He starts playing and singing again.
- 'Standin' at the crossroad, baby, risin' sun goin' down
Standin' at the crossroad, baby, eee-eee, risin' sun goin' down
I believe to my soul, now, poor Bob is sinkin' down'
Laurent applauds for the song. "The sirèn, do they leave people on the beach without their clothes?" he asks.
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