When the ground stopped shaking, Venance's first thought was Cousin Maxo. He ran home through the streets. He passed collapsed house after collapsed house; the entire population of Port-au-Prince was in the streets.
Cousin Maxo's two-story house lay on a little alley. The cinder-block walls had given way and buckled outward. The first floor had come down, exploding massively as it made contact with the concrete foundations. Then the roof had come down also, staying largely intact. The house that had been two stories, or about 20 feet tall, was now just concrete slab on a waist-high pile of rubble. Krazé net.
Madame Maxo was outside. She was showing up at the house just as Venance was getting there. She was saying, "Where's Maxo?" Then she was saying it all over again: "Where's Maxo?" And again, "Where's Maxo?" Venance knew where Cousin Maxo was. When Venance had left to play dominoes earlier that afternoon, Maxo had gone upstairs to take a nap.
"Maxo's inside," he said.
"Are you sure?" Madame Maxo said. "Is it true?"
Venance thought a second. But he knew Maxo had been sleeping. He was sure of it.
"Yes," he said.
"Then he's dead," she said.
Venance stayed with Madame Maxo for two days in front of the ruined house. For two days he didn't sleep. Neighbors cooked and passed around food – only Madame Maxo didn't eat. Venance had never been responsible for anyone before. Now he washed the children and made sure they ate, and kept far from the rubble, and stayed far away from the burning bodies. When Madame Maxo cried, he consoled her, as best he could. Madame Maxo had a little money in her pocket when the quake hit – that's what kept the family going. Venance himself didn't cry for Cousin Maxo. The tears wouldn't come. He felt light in his head – like he had been transported to some strange new world.