Before

Rosalia Gitau

The day I grew up was on a Wednesday on a hillside in Haiti. It was summer break and I had taken up horse riding to avoid the screams in the house. Horse riding was perfect because it got me out of the door very early and back very late. The only things to do to fill the hours until bed were to eat and shower. Minimal interaction.

That morning, my trainer told me he was going to take it easy—less for me, more to give the horse a break. Our training schedule for the past few weeks was relentless in preparation for a big race on Saturday. I even had to give up solid foods the week prior to make weight for the under twelve-year-old category. We rode past the training stadium and up a dirt road. The path was relatively narrow, about two meters wide, with pine trees on both sides. It had rained the night before and when the hoofs met the mulch, it sent up intoxicating smells of rain and pine and bougainvillea—an olfactory triptyque unique to Haiti where high and low altitude flora mixed freely given the mountainous landscape on what was otherwise a tropical island. 

We continued for another hour until the dirt road gave way to a large pasture and then commenced to gallop our hearts out. We ran so fast, so furiously through the field that I felt like I was finally making some distance between us—that I could outrun him and that I could escape. The road started to taper and incline up, upwards, towards the sky but we didn’t slow down, we just kept galloping faster, higher. I could hear my horse panting, his heartbeat vibrating through the saddle. But he kept pushing, we both kept pushing and then we approached the peak and we both knew that was the end of the road.

We slowed to a stop and then looked over the peak. Mountains beyond Mountains—a Haitian saying similar to Sisyphus’ boulder. I knew at that moment that I was growing out from under his shadow and that if I ran hard enough and fast enough, he would never be able to catch me. And that I would soar and fly—and that the world would be mine.

Rosalia Gitau is an attorney and humanitarian who spent a decade working at the front lines of crises for the United Nations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Her story is inspired by the people and places she encountered while living and working in these contexts. She holds a J.D. from NYU School of Law, an MSc from the London School of Economics, and is a Brookings Institution, US Institute of Peace, and United Nations University scholar. She is a Kenyan-Filipino American living in Bangkok. This is her debut fiction publication.

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