Philoctete Fleurimond was the most envied gardener in our neighborhood. He grew the reddest tomatoes, the most fragrant thyme, and the prettiest azaleas. Every year at the Christmas garden show, we flocked to his stall to pepper him with questions and perhaps learn his secrets.
“Do you use seaweed as a fertilizer?
“Canola oil as a pesticide?”
“Baking soda to keep away fungi?”
“No, no, no,” Fleurimond would say in that gentle way that reminded us of an absent-minded teacher who often forgot to wear matching socks, or couldn’t find his keys or chalk, but who had taught generations of children in a small village.
“I don’t use any of those things, “he would continue in the broken English he had learned after he was released from Krome; after he was abandoned in the sea by a captain to the sharks off the coast of Miami; after burying his wife and daughter in Cap Haitien; after being beaten for days by the Macoutes until his eyes were swollen like two giant egg plants.
“It’s a secret of my family,” he would repeat, and then smile, as he packed up his stall and went home to the quiet of his garden, where he would thrust his hands into the earth and cupping the black soil between his palms, turn his anger into something green.