Venance Lafrance, wearing sandals, stepped on something soft and squishy – a lady's arm, just lying out on the Champ de Mars. Venance Lafrance, whose fast feet had made him a natural in the chicken game, sprinted off. Bodies. Bodies starting to smell, bodies rotting in the sun. Fat dead people. Skinny kids. Big strong corpses, corpses built from lifetimes of lifting, toting, and hauling. Bodies of families. Bodies of naked old ladies. Bodies of naked old men. All the bodies puffy and gray. A guy saying, "You got to see this," then a big crowd watching a couple of dead kids having sex in a hotel room on the Grand Rue. More bodies. Some covered. Some not covered. Bodies in flames – the smell of meat cooking. Still more bodies. A tractor loading up bodies, scooping the bodies into a dump truck. Venance figured, based on the numbers of bodies he saw in the streets, that most all of Port-au-Prince was dead. That's what Venance saw on the way from Cousin Maxo's house in Bel Air to my house. When he got to my house, it was closed, locked, and empty. Then Venance kept walking, all across town, to his niece's house in Carrefour. On the way he saw two young men, handcuffed, splayed out on the ground, sticky blood running riverlike from their heads. Shot by the police. The folks watching them called them voleurs – thieves. When Venance got out to his niece's house, it was gone, collapsed, like all the others.
Credit: Photograph by Ben Lowy
On the radio they had announced that the government of Haiti had arranged free transport to the provinces by all available means. Venance left Madame Maxo and her children on the street beside the rubble of the house they had occupied: He was just another mouth to feed. Cousin Maxo's body still lay trapped under the crushed cement – a few days later he would be pried out and burnt on the street. Venance left Port-au-Prince with nothing but the clothes that were on his back when the quake struck.
By the time the ferry returned, barges had been stacked to create a makeshift dock. He found a place on the boat – nobody knows just how many were onboard, but every available inch of the boat was packed: the aisle, the stairs, the decks. The mood was tense. A large aftershock hit, and from the boat you could see the city rise and fall. The passengers began to stampede back to solid ground. Venance shouted, "You're on the boat, you're on the sea! Why are you running? If you run on the ground, you could die!" But nobody listened. When the ground calmed down, they came back on the boat.
Then, finally, the boat set sail, and Venance Lafrance watched Port-au-Prince recede into the distance.