With my eyes, I plucked Jean-Baptist “Jay-B” Lacroix’s silver boy-racer Toyota Prius, decorated with racing stripes and after-market bulges, from a line of gypsy-cabs at the intersection of 231st and Broadway. All the car windows were fogged by the breath of drivers waiting for fares to clamber down the cast-iron stairway of a subway station suspended over Broadway in the dark --- getting darker, wet --- getting wetter, night sky.
He smiled and welcomed Monica with a fast and loose “¿Qué lo wha?” as we dipped onto the back seat and the headlights of the cabs behind us reflected off his precious string of pearly whites, but Monica kept whatever it was she was thinking to herself.
Jay-B’s handsome molasses-brown Yoruba/Taíno/conquistador mix was framed by a blue baseball cap branded with the image of an overly-ornate key, and collares adorning his neck made of six alternating scarlet and black beads that shuddered as he shrugged.
The key and the necklaces were tributes to Eleggaú, a powerful Santerían saint who predates creation and runs all communications between heaven and earth, and hyped Jay-B’s tribal loyalties.
The red and blue flag perched on the Prius front cheek suggested that Jay-B had one foot planted 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien where his ancestors, direct descendants of King Henri Christophe, had cropped cotton and woven yarn into fine fabrics for Haute Couture houses in Paris like Christian Dior.
King Henri built the enormous Citadelle Laferrière fortress on top of the mountain Bonnet a L’Eveque between 1805 and 1820, with an army of 20,000 other free slaves, to protect Haiti’s hard won independence from Napoleon’s France.
Then, in 1952, they were sold back into slavery by the Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude ‘Baby doc’ Duvalier, to the Dominican dictator, ‘Generalissimo’ Rafael Leónidas Trujillo who then leased them out to Gulf & Western, Tate and Lyle, and other multinational providers of sweetness. And the great dictators split the bounty and tucked it away in tax havens around the world.
The yellow shell on key-ring hinted that Jay-B’s other foot was planted in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic’s Cibao Valley, where his grandpapi had died with a machete in his hands failing to protect his wife, 5-year-old Jay-B, and his two younger daughters.
In late 1996, soldiers rolled into the sugar-plantation where the family lived, filled with the fear of rape on the top of their mind always.