Haint in the Garden District
by Malika Hadley Freydberg
In all my 238 years, I’ve never seen Colored folk live in this house as anything other than the help.
When the moving trucks pulled past the gates, I just knew Robeson Manor was preparing to welcome its next family of elite, entitled, rich white people. Be they olde money or nouveau riche, they were basically interchangeable with one another. The only differences were social cues, wardrobe, and what was said out in the open versus what was kept behind closed doors. They certainly hadn’t changed their poor impression of Brown folks over the centuries~ they’d just learned to hide it better.
One would think, being the last haint standing on what was once Livaudais, now Robeson grounds, I would be tired of watching by now. But I never get tired. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I can still feel the sting over my palm as my manman struck it with the switch for my spying ways.
“Asefi Livaudais!” she would hiss. “Always watching, always looking! Curiosity killed the slave and the cat. Do you want it to kill you, too? Come, help me with the washing, then you go back to the quarters. You want them to sell you on the block?”
In the end, it wasn’t my curiosity that cut my life short. It was my ambition. What manman called “the stories of Before” painted pictures of a time when we were free. Before the door of no return. Before the pain, the death and the torture. Before.
With all her chastising and scolding, she was never more proud than when my observation led me to literacy. Between my spying and my stubbornness, I had learned enough from the children’s lessons to teach my own family to read and write in the dust behind the slave quarters. Always at night, and always in the dust, so it could easily be brushed away before dawn.
That was over 273 years and 6 generations ago. Everyone else has long passed through the Gates of Guinen, but I’m still here. I just keep bargaining with the Baron to come back for me another time, another year, just one more generation~ because I can’t bear to stop watching. And if I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t be here now to see this Colored fanmi take the head of this house for the first time since it’s construction.
It took me only a few hours to understand that the two men were men- in love- and raising the girl, Chantelle, together. When I was alive, this configuration would’ve been unheard of, though whispered about on occasion. But through all my watching, I’ve learned a lot about the cultural shifts of each generation. Television is a great resource for “keeping up with the times”, as they say.
I watched as the movers struggled with heavy bookcases, one of the men of the house running behind them, nervously directing the placement of every piece of furniture unloaded.
“Excuse me”, the other man, the one they call ‘Khalil’ said, his long legs carrying him across the foyer toward the movers and his fretting husband. “Could you please just put each box in the room as labeled, and set the furniture down carefully?”
The nervous one, Treyvon, went to argue when Khalil pulled him into an embrace, speaking quietly into the man’s ear, his ebony locs creating a curtain behind which they shared a quick kiss. “Honey,” Kahalil said calmly, “you know wherever they put the furniture now, you’re just going to want to change it later. So let’s save everyone the extra work, and sort it out after dinner, hmm?”
Treyvon took a deep breath, let it out in a whoosh, and finally nodded. “You’re right. I just want everything to be done tastefully. If it gets out that the home of editor Treyvon Carter of Ritzy to Rural magazine is tacky, there’s just no coming back from that. And where is Chantelle? That girl don’t stay still for a minute, always wandering off on that damn cell phone.”
At this point, my attention, along with my presence, shifted. It was easy to find the girl; her pulse was so strong, it almost made me recall what it was like to have a heartbeat. Almost.
When I located her, she was standing in front of the antique gilded mirror in the upstairs hallway, cell phone outstretched, poised to capture her reflection. Her style was markedly different from any other teenager the house had seen. She had long spiral multi-colored box braids, a hoop coming out of her septum, an ear cuff and some sort of ink design peeking out from the sleeve of her hoodie, down onto her hand.
I was so intrigued by the hair, I couldn’t resist reaching out to touch it. I’d had enough practice with being incorporeal to at least experience a whisper of texture when I came into contact with solid objects. Suddenly, grainy particles flew into my face, forcing me back and away from the girl and temporarily burning my eyes and nostrils.
Chantelle smirked at her reflection, but her eyes were directly meeting mine.
“First rule of being in my house? You can look, but if you touch, I keep salt ready. Just know that.”
Malika Hadley Freydberg is a multi-medium performance and visual artist based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She’s a four time national slam poet, and has graced the final stage in two of those four competitions. She’s had a fascination with magick and Conjure Women since she read “Mama Day” by Gloria Naylor at age 9, and became determined to become a woman of magick from that day forward. She works as a tour guide, sharing the history and folklore of Southern Louisiana, which has informed most of her work since 2016.Malika is a Sode in Ifa, an Olorisa of Oya upon completion of initiation at Temple Yemoja in Ibadan, Nigeria in 2019, and Priestess of Osun and Obatala in Louisiana Plantation Vodou as of July 2021. She’s been an eclectic Conjurer since she began praying to the moon at 14. She’s read tarot cards for 22 years, and cowries for 8. She is also a proud member of the choir at First Grace United Methodist Church in Midcity New Orleans; she sees this as the honoring of as many branches of her ancestry as possible.Malika holds a B.A. in Arts Management-Music from Bennett College in Greensboro, NC (HBCU PRIDE!), and a Masters in Music Education, focus in Choral Conducting and Ethnomusicology from Georgia State. She lives in a house with a purple door with her wife and three cats~ the culmination of every love-obsessed queer witch, in her opinion.
Listen to Malika's SOREN LIT Podcast interview: