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◆ Chapter 1 ◆

Ella is the absolute worst human being on this planet. If I could tell you how annoying she is, I would. But it’s ineffable.

To put it simply, Ella Manouchka Pamphile is a moun sòt. An annoying, blubbering, idiot of a child. And as we take our daily stroll home from our school, that’s exactly what I repeat in my head, over and over like a broken record.

You see, Ella is my ten year old sister. She isn’t normally supposed to be in a secondary school, but she’s so smart that she skipped a grade. I know, right?


Being just seven years older than her, it’s embarrassing for me. Whenever I have conversations with my peers that relate to science, Ella quickly dominates it. I always end up looking extremely stupid. Even our father notices her more than me! All the pride and joy in his heart belongs to her. He says that she could one day represent our city, Port-au-Prince―maybe even Haiti itself―as the greatest scientist in the world. That’s my dream! I’ve worked so hard to become the top student in our school. But no one supports me the way people support her. We’re always compared to each other. At this point, all I really can do is ignore her hurtful jabs, keep studying hard, and hope that one day I’ll surpass that little demon of a sister. It’s so tempting to give up, but I can’t. Science means the world to me.

“Emma?” She innocently asks, poking me with a stick from the roadside.

“What is it now, brat?” I sigh. This child has been aggravating me since we left school.

“Can we walk faster, dummy?”

“Ugh. No. Can you shut up, Einstein?”

“No, thanks.”

“Well, too bad then. We don’t always get what we want, do we?” I walk even slower. She sprints all the way to the end of the rocky road, her colorful beaded braids flying behind her.

She turns to scream at me: “Walk faster! Vin sou!”

Ugh. She’s not going to stop screaming if she doesn’t get her way, I grumble. May as well do what she wants. Finally, I give in and I catch up to her. At this point, we are atop a barren hill overlooking our home. It is not much―just a faded yellow tenement scrunched between other apartments, really―but both good and bad memories have been made here. I’d never leave it! I smile calmly.

Suddenly, I lose my balance and trip, dirtying my only uniform. Dusting myself off, I stop in my tracks to check my broken leather sandals. Ughhhh, I need to tell Father, I sigh in frustration. Third time in a row this week that I’ve had to fix them, and now, they’re broken beyond repair? Seriously?! Muttering to myself, I start to take them off. Why does this always happen to me?

“What’s wrong with you, you big elefan?!” she shrieks. “I want to go home and read! Hurry up!” Ella starts kicking dirt in my face. I instantly stand up, thrusting my dirt-specked face into hers and looking her dead in the eyes. I’m tired of her petty insults, even if most of them are weak. Calling me elephant is nice compared to the other things she’s called me, anyway.

Rete trankil, estipid!” I yell, spitting dirt out of my mouth. “Kite mwen! Mwen rayi ou.

“FINE! MAYBE I WILL GET LOST! I HATE YOU, TOO!” she screeches, her voice cracking. Ella runs towards our house, as fast as her short legs can carry her. I hope she trips, I snort at the sight of her. However, I follow closely behind, in case she tries to get me in trouble for yelling at her. Father hated it when we quarreled. And so did I. After all, I was always blamed for it.

Huh. That’s uncharacteristic of him. Isn’t he usually tired when he comes home from work? He works overnight! I’m usually the one who takes care of food in the house, but when we enter, Father is in the kitchen preparing griot, delectably seasoned pork bits. You should try it sometime, it’s my favorite!

Bonswa, papa”, Ella and I chorus cheerfully, as if nothing ever happened.

Bon aprè midi, fi”, he greets, completely engrossed in cutting raw meat. He abruptly turns around and gives us a hug, almost ruining our uniforms with his dirty hands. Our father did not learn English like we did in school. He only knows Creole. “Kouman lekòl te?” he asks.

Lekòl te pran gwo!” I tell Father that school went well, speaking for Ella and I. She doesn’t know too much Creole. English is her first language, whereas Creole is mine.

I head towards our small bedroom. We have to share a bunk bed. I unpack my stuff and head back towards the kitchen. As I head out, Ella shoves herself into my shoulder.

“Ouch, what the heck!” I quickly muffle my yelp. To get even, I whisper, “Manouchka! Manouchka, Manouchka, Manouchka!” as she tries to shuffle past. She hates her middle name. I don't really care why, but if it gets a reaction out of her, then I'll use it!

“Just watch, Emma Atabei Pamphile,” she says, her tiny fists shaking with fury. “Just you watch!” Trying to act all scared and trying not to laugh, I stride into the kitchen. What could that little girl possibly be talking about? She can’t be serious! I chuckle. Then I remember what she had said earlier: Fine! Maybe I will get lost! I bite my lip nervously. Even though Ella is annoying and extremely stubborn, she is known to keep her word. She couldn’t seriously mean…she won't really run away, will she?

I try to shake off the thought by setting the table with cups, plates and utensils. Ella quietly slips into the kitchen while Father dishes out food for us. Finally, we all sit at the table, and Father says grace:

Renmen Seyè a, mèsi pou ofrann grenn jaden sa a nou pral koulye a resevwa nan non Jezi te, ensiswatil.

Ensiswatil”, Ella and I say, ending the prayer. We eat in silence. Ella acts innocent the whole time, but she kicks my foot underneath the table. I ignore her, turning my feet the other way. I'm sick of her overly saccharine attitude.

After dinner, Ella washes the dishes. It is her day to do the chores. I go and take a bath with boiled water and fresh African soap. Have you ever seen African soap? It’s black and chunky, but it feels good on the skin. In the bathtub, I ruminate about what Ella could potentially be planning. Ella, what are you really thinking right now?

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