Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Now finally en route to the airport, they enter the vibrant, bustling town of Port-au-Prince. Neon signs, colourful boutiques and numerous vans surround them; the towering buildings inspire joyful nostalgia in Atie as she remembers the places she visited in the past. As they drive, Sophie specifically spots the ‘bare hills that border the national highway.’ Barrenness here reflects pessimism and sadness, creating a stark mood of death during their journey that reflects the unfortunate nature of what is to come. This same scene will be repeated later on in the book, but instead, it is Sophie and Martine in the car, and Martine who is fixated on the barren hills: “My mother kept her eyes on the barren hills speeding outside the window.” We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it though.
They slow down whilst approaching the airport, due to some trouble. The name of the airport is being changed from Francois Duvalier to Mais Gate. This hints to the political tension/instability in Haiti at the time; when Haiti had been passed from the despotic leader Francois Duvalier to his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, still notorious for his autocratic leadership.
Atie is evidently upset by this hindrance to their journey, and the driver says he will do what he can, ‘but some things are beyond our control.’ This line is reflective of Sophie’s own situation, where she is unable to control her mother’s sending for her, but it also foreshadows the later conflict in the book regarding Sophie’s control over her own body. Sophie then describes in gruesome detail a scene involving some students on a hill and soldiers who barrage them with bullets, tear gas and other methods of physical assault. This doomsday-like scenario is inline with what Atie says earlier: “Maybe the world, it is ending.” However, the driver said as well that “there is always some trouble here,” implying that this hostile environment is characteristic of this area of Haiti- some conflict is always occurring between the people and the tyrannical leader’s paramilitary forces.
Upon their arrival, Atie rushes to push Sophie inside, hoping to hide her from the abhorrent and violent scene outside and keep them from getting involved. “Do you see what you are leaving?” Atie says, trying to show Sophie how fortunate she is for being able to leave this place.
“I know I am leaving you,” comes Sophie’s reply. Apart from just being a very sweet line, it does reflect Sophie’s emotions perfectly. In this moment, she has seen the atrocities outside of that very building. She sees that she is leaving a country very often in conflict but she knows that she is leaving her dear Tante Atie to go to a mother she has never known save for stories and a picture on a nightstand.
Finally in the airport lobby, Sophie notes that it is very crowded. This hints at somewhat of a trend (not just in Haiti but in several Caribbean islands) where people migrate en masse in search of economic opportunity or simply to escape the political wasteland that has been created by merciless tyrants. All these people in the airport are either arriving or leaving, and those leaving share something in common with Sophie’s mother Martine- they seek opportunity outside of Haiti. Thus, the underlying theme of migration is established: Martine migrates when Sophie is a child, she sends for Sophie to migrate as well, and much of the general population of Haiti hopes to migrate in search of better opportunity, or seek asylum from the fallout of political instability and tyranny.
A woman in a navy uniform calls to them. She was directed by Martine to get Sophie. She takes Sophie’s hand and calls attention to the fact that no time can be wasted. Sophie notes that Atie’s lips quiver. She is hesitant in losing Sophie and letting her go to New York, and now that she is handing her over, the moment is far more real than she would have previously imagined.
“Say hello to your manman for me. You must not concern yourself about me,” Atie says. She doesn’t want Sophie to worry about her. The driver taps Atie on the shoulder and urges her to return quickly to avoid more chaos. “Don’t you worry yourself about me. I am not going to be lonely. I will be with your grandmother. Just you always remember how much your Tante Atie loves and cherishes you.” Tante Atie is fixated on communicating to Sophie that she must not worry about her. Atie wants Sophie to enjoy New York and take every opportunity she has, so she definitely doesn’t want Sophie’s concern for her to hinder her ability to do so. She reassures her saying that she won’t be lonely, as she will be staying with Granme Ife. She ends with an affirmation that she loves and cherishes Sophie, the first time she directly says it to her in the novel. It’s important to note that Atie holds Sophie’s hand during this entire interaction, despite the urgency of the situation (created by the driver and the woman hired by Martine).
Atie finally releases her to go with the woman. Sophie is constantly turning her head back to face and wave at Atie as she walks away. Atie stands there wiping her tears, the only time she has cried since watching the Augustins. It appears that the mountain has finally shed tears for this sad separation.
The crowded atmosphere continues as Sophie boards the plane, as it is nearly full with only a few empty seats. Once again, we see the number of people looking to escape from Haiti (and this is of the small percentage that is able to afford a plane ticket). Looking outside, Sophie hopes to see Atie heading safely home, but her vision is obscured by heavy smoke. This reinforces the idea of Sophie’s care for Atie, as she really wants to know that she is safe in heading home.
The woman who brought Sophie into the plane leaves, and returns carrying a kicking, screaming, irascible boy who is crying implacably. He is crying because his father (a corrupt government official) died in the fire and chaos. Having no family left in Haiti, he is being brought to New York to stay with his aunt. This, at a first glance seems quite irrelevant, but it is a glaring display of the consequences and wide-reaching impact of the embedded corruption that occurred in Haiti. This boy is essentially orphaned due to the irresponsible and immoral actions of his father.