Back to normal
This is a preview to the chapter Back to normal from the book What about your saucepans by Lindsay de Feliz.
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“I wonder why I didn’t die?” I thought out loud.
“Maybe it wasn’t your time,” she replied, taking a sip from her mug.
“Chi Chi said it was because I’d had a glass of rum and my blood was warm,” I said giggling. “And others say I’m being saved to do something special.”
“That sounds nice,” replied Mum.
“Yes, I just wish I knew what it was. I feel fine, I don’t have nightmares or anything, I just want to know why I’m not dead,” I persevered.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if your dad had something to do with you surviving, but I think it’s called survivor guilt,” Mum answered. “People get it if they survive a car crash and others don’t. Anyway let’s get your wounds washed for the day.”
We got up and went into the bathroom. I still had two large holes under my armpits where the chest drains went in, which were stitched but needed cleaning twice a day, and I had stitches in the gash across my neck.
I went back to Plaza de la Salud hospital twice, once to have the stitches out and once to have the bullet removed. The bullet was very near to the surface of my back and therefore uncomfortable to lie down – I felt like the princess with the pea under the mattress – and it was taken out with a Gillette razor blade. I wanted to wear it on a chain around my neck, but the police took it away as evidence.
Mum and I became a lot closer during this time. It was her first visit without Dad, and it gave us two weeks together to sit and talk. When she left I missed her and from then on we would Skype each other every day, whereas before we would talk maybe once a week. She wanted me to go back to England with her, but I did not want to leave. My home was in the Dominican Republic with Danilo.
Not long after I came out of hospital I became aware of rumours. For some reason people seemed unable to comprehend or accept I had been shot during an attempted burglary. The two men responsible for shooting me had been arrested and admitted they had shot me, as they had assumed all the wages money was in the house. Although Danilo had the money on him when he was called to go to work, it had all been spent on the doctor in San Pedro and the ambulance.
Danilo and I knew why it had happened but the local expats, maybe to make themselves feel safer, began to make up stories. One morning I wandered into Freedom Bar for a coffee and perched on a barstool. There was an expat sitting next to me.
“Hi,” she said in an American accent.
“Good morning,” I replied politely.
“You’re the girl who got shot, aren’t you?” she went on. “Do they know who did it yet?”
“Yes.” I replied curtly, not wanting to get into a conversation with someone I didn’t know. She didn’t take the hint.
“I heard they wore masks,” she continued.
“Really, and where did you hear that?” I asked incredulously, sipping my coffee.
“Oh round and about,” she said, waving her hands in the air.
“Well, they didn’t. I was there, I know what happened, I know who they are, and they are in jail.” With that I left abruptly, as I didn’t want to hear more rubbish. I drove off to another bar, and again, as soon as people saw me walking in I was aware of whispers and stares, and felt distinctly uncomfortable.
Danilo was hearing the rumours too. They varied from a drug deal gone wrong, to him arranging to have me shot. He and I both became more and more upset and having been happy to come home, I couldn’t understand why everyone had to gossip and speculate on what was a straightforward robbery.
Rachel, who had been a great support when I was in hospital, came over to the house one morning for coffee. “Hi, Linds, how are you feeling?” she asked.
“Not too bad, each day I feel a little better, thanks.” We sat down on the patio, looking out into the garden.
“I was in San Pedro yesterday,” she said, haltingly.
“Really?” I asked, knowing she wanted to tell me something.
“Yes, and I ran into that Canadian girl, you know, the fat one who was going out with one of the guys who shot you?”
“Oh right, silly cow she is. He used to beat her up didn’t he?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Anyway she said Danilo had arranged to have you shot, and it was Saya who did it.”
“Stupid bitch,” I muttered angrily. “Don’t you think I would known if it was Saya. I know who it was and they are in jail. I have no idea why no one believes me. Anyway, why would Danilo want to shoot me? He would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. We never even argue for God’s sake.”
The rumours and the gossip didn’t stop. Slowly I stopped going out as much as every time I went into a bar or restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the stares followed by hushed and furtive conversations and more stares. The Canadian woman paid $1,000 US for her boyfriend to be released, and he and his brother were let out of jail and back on the streets. I was very concerned they would come and find me and shoot me, to stop me testifying in the future if they were ever arrested again, however it appeared they had moved out of the area.
But they hadn’t moved far as two months later they robbed and beat a 75-year-old Canadian man to death with a baseball bat. He lived just around the corner from us. One was arrested again, and the other disappeared. The one arrested was sentenced to 30 years in jail. A year later his sister paid for his release. In the end he was arrested for another murder, and as far as I am aware he’s still in jail.
The fact I was unable to speak very well was incredibly annoying. Danilo bought me a whistle, which I would wear round my neck, as I couldn’t shout, and everyone was given a number of peeps. Danilo was one, Dany two etcetera. I discovered I could speak on a one to one basis, but if there was any noise, such as a fan, or music in a car, or other people talking, I couldn’t be heard. Another reason not to go out, and whilst our nights at bars and dancing didn’t come to a total standstill, we went out far less often. The days of euphoria had come to an abrupt end and life moved into a different phase.
There was no Victim Support in the DR, no psychiatrists came to visit, and, although I was fine, I felt a need to talk to someone about what happened, but the expats who I thought were my friends were slowly becoming less important. Apart from the rumours, I began to see them in a different light.
I had befriended a Haitian woman who was having twins. Unfortunately, one twin died at birth and the other a couple of months later. I was telling a supposed expat friend about this.
“I feel sorry for her, she was so looking forward to the babies,” I related. “How can someone get over the death of two children like that?”
“Well,” she replied knowledgeably, “it won’t be too bad for her, they don’t think like we do, so it’s no big deal. They don’t have proper feelings.” My mouth dropped open in shock.
“What did you just say?” I asked, incredulously.
“No need to look like that,” she snapped. “You know it’s true. Listen, the Dominicans and Haitians just aren’t like us. They’re mostly retards.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and I realised I didn’t want to spend my time with people who could say such insensitive and offensive things. Maybe her real feelings towards the locals had been there before and I hadn’t been aware of it. I was married to a Dominican, I had Dominican stepsons and I did not want to mix with people who were disparaging, insulting and offensive. I had always thought I could live in two camps, have a Dominican life and an expat life, but it was becoming apparent this was not going to be possible when some expats had attitudes like this.
As we were going out less I started to spend more time on the Internet, and discovered a forum for the Dominican Republic called DR1.com. I posted about the shooting and it was the beginning of a series of friendships, which would see me through the years to come. The people I became closest to were all fellow Brits who lived on the north coast of the island. Shirley, who lived with her partner, Charlie, in a beautiful finca, John who lived in Sosua and had an amazing sense of humour, and Ginnie, who lived in Puerto Plata, had been here for years and knew a great deal about the country and its people. The forum had a chat room and often at night the four of us would be chatting about what had happened during the day with typical British humour.
Slowly the gossip machine started to get weary of talking about us, and although we didn’t go out as much, life carried on the same as before. We had a new gardener, Jean, who was Haitian. He was Jason's father-in-law and had arrived from Haiti the previous year. He was 60 years old, and, unable to find work locally, was spending all day in the colmado, cleaning and generally hanging around. As Araña had departed, we needed a new gardener and I was keen to have someone living in. Since being shot I had been a little nervous when I was on my own at night, which happened a couple of times a week when Danilo was working the night shift. The children's house had been finished and they were living in it, but if anything happened I could not shout for them as my voice was not strong enough.
Jean arrived and moved in. He spoke no Spanish, or English or French, only Creole. He was tall, long limbed and strong, but so thin you could see all his bones. I took him round the garden trying to explain what needed doing in a mixture of Creole and French and to everything I said he replied, “Oui Oui”. From then on everyone called him Oui Oui. I showed him his watchyman house with a bed, a television, which had satellite programmes, and a little bathroom and living area.
“What do you think of it Oui Oui?” I asked in French.
“Good, good, very good,” he replied beaming. The next day I bought him a two-ring gas cooker and a small fridge.
“Here you go, this is for you. You can eat with us at noon and in the night, but you can use this when we aren’t here, or to make coffee in the morning, or whatever.” He looked at me incredulously and broke down.
“In all my life I never had a fridge. This is first time,” he grabbed hold of me and hugged me, tears running down his leathery face. He was paid the standard wage for a gardener of 5000 pesos a month, which is about £100. He had no fixed hours. I wanted him to make sure the garden was always tidy, and the pool clean but I didn’t mind how long it took him. He soon got into a routine of getting up at five o’clock and sweeping up the leaves. He would then spend his day at the house with some time at the colmado. At six o’clock on the dot he would come and sit on the patio and drink a bottle of beer. I bought him a six-pack a week, and there he would sit, smiling, looking out at the garden waiting for dinner. After dinner we would all play dominos for an hour or two. He was a mean domino player and a dreadful cheat. He did a good job on the whole and the garden started to look lovely. However, if a tree shed too many leaves he would cut the tree down to make his life easier, and he created havoc with his machete. He seemed to have no idea how to prune anything and massacred trees and shrubs. Very quickly he became an established member of the family.
“Lindsay I have to go to dentist,” he said to me one Sunday.
“Where is the dentist?” I asked.
“He is in the church. He is the pastor. He is pastor and dentist.” There was a little Haitian church, constructed out of wood and plastic sheeting, down the road from us, and the pastor would hold his surgery after the church service. Oui Oui was missing his two front teeth so I assumed it may be about those. Off he trotted and returned an hour later holding a bloody handkerchief to his mouth.
“My God,” I exclaimed. “What has he done?”
“He took out four teeth, and next week he take out four more, and then more, till I have no teeth,” he explained.
“Why on earth are you having all of your teeth out?” I asked incredulously.
“Because I missed my front teeth, and he will get me a whole set of teeth.”
All he wanted was to have his missing two front teeth replaced, and the only way to achieve that was to have all of his teeth removed and replaced with dentures. His dentures arrived but they were not made for him. He’d had to wait for someone to die who had dentures and then they were given to him. They didn't fit terribly well and to begin with every time he spoke they jiggled up and down, but in time he seemed to get used to them and they more or less stayed in place.
That Christmas we decided to go to England. The whole family, the two boys, Danilo and I. It was to be the boys’ first visit to England and they were beside themselves with excitement. There were various reasons for going.
Firstly to spend Christmas with my mother. It was the second Christmas since my father died, and she did not want to go away, nor did she want to spend it alone. Secondly, I wanted to have our marriage blessed in an English church with my family present, as none of them had been able to come to our wedding in the DR. I especially wanted my 99-year-old grandmother there. I had not spoken to her since I had been shot, as my voice was not strong enough for the telephone, and she was a little deaf. Worse, no one in the family had told her I had been shot, as they did not want to upset her. I wanted to see her, as before the shooting we’d spoken every week, and I knew she would be wondering why she had not heard from me for so long. And finally it would be lovely for the boys to go on a plane for the first time and to see England.
The boys nearly didn't make it. Around six weeks before we left, in early November, Danilo and I had been out, came home and were getting into bed when the phone rang.
“Hola,” I said, as I picked it up.
“Put Danilo on,” said the dwendy Saya at the other end.
“Not now, Saya. It’s late and we are just going to bed. Talk to him in the morning.” I replied, tersely.
“Put him on now!” he shouted. “It’s important.”
“Hold your bloody horses,” I mumbled, as I yelled Danilo to come to the phone, and I went into the bathroom. I wasn’t really listening, then Danilo barged into the bathroom.
“Come on, we have to go! Boys in accident.”
“What do you mean, accident? Aren’t they asleep in the guest house?” I asked, confused.
“No, they take my motorcycle! They in accident. They in hospital.”
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