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My heart pounded in my chest like huge African drums while blood raced from my head down to my feet. The adrenaline flowed through my frail body like a river after a storm, which caused me to run faster.
“Keep going! Keep going!” My mother yelled over a panted breath. Our black boots slapped at the dried leaves while Mama and I maneuvered around the massive pine trees.
“We’re losing Him!” I exclaimed as my head turned around behind me.” I don’t see the man anymore!”
Mama and I ran deeper in the forest a while longer, just until the sun began to rise. As I panted heavy across the brown earth floor, huge cotton ball clouds began to darken the sky. Humid, muggy air now engulfed my body as sweat perspired off my dark forehead.
“Alright child we can rest now,” mama said exasperated, then stumbled to a halt on a stout brown log. My arms spread out while my legs, limp now lye on the on the grimed dirt. Ma and I breathed in heavy our tiny stomachs rose in the air, as we gasped for breath.
“After we rest, we’ll need to keep moving north,” said mama. “That way we’ll find a new conductor to take us across the river to Canada.”
Mama leaned over to me and brushed my face with her callused hand. Her forehead creased in to a tight ball, while she ogled my eyes with fear. I could always tell when she wad about to be ill by her strong expressions she read to me, and now is one of those moments. Mama breathed in intense, as she gasped for air like a fish out of water.
“Oh no,” I thought. “She’s having an asthma attack.” I brushed my hand over her matted sweaty head to comfort her. I remember how I watched mama before we escaped from our slaveholder’s house, and how she tended to one of John Brown’s children when they almost died from what Mr. Brown called Asthma. I need to keep her calm or else she’ll breathe too fast and it’ll be harder to get air.
As I sat next to mama while I brushed the hair out of her face and rubbed her back, the clouds started to grumble like hungry bears and echoed through the forest. Soon I felt a small tap of water slither down my dirty face, and then remembered something. Mama used to take Mr. Brown’s daughter to their shower the let the humidity and steam help open her air tubes so she could breathe better.
Another small rain drop patted my face again. “Yes, “I exclaimed to mama. “That’s it!” she looked at me with hope. “Mama, the airs humid, just like Mr. Brown’s shower, you need to still breathe in slow, and the humidity will open your air tubes!”
Mama grabbed my face and smiled merry. “You’re so bright my child,” she said. “I’m thankful to have you.” I grinned at her while she lye back down and inhaled in deep breathes. Mama and I sat there as the rain poured, drenched in mud and water, while we comforted each other. Soon her breathes became less intense and her body loosened to some extent.
“Alright Sarah, I’m okay now,” said Mama, and then rose to her feet. “Let’s get moving.”
Mama and I rung our filthy brown skirts as water poured out then began heading north. As I treaded through the deep woods, I started to think about our life as slaves, and how we would soon be free. I would no longer have to wash other family’s clothes, do chores at three in the morning, or be slashed for how I accidentally fell asleep during labor hours. I would be free.
“Free,” I said out loud. How precious those words are, and soon I would be able to use them.
Mama interrupted my thoughts and grabbed my hand, then whispered to my ear.
“Sarah, be very quiet, I see a lantern ahead,” she said, and put a finger to her mouth. “That’s a sign of a conductor’s home, but we best be hushed so no slaveholders hear us and become suspicious.” I nodded my head cautiously, and then Mama and I made our way to a small log cabin with a red stained barn beside it.
Mama knocked on the door, while we waited for a small milky skinned woman to answer the door.
“Friend of a friend,” mama said as she either quivered with either fear or the cold weather mixed with her wet clothes. It was hard to tell the way her teeth were gritted together and her eyes bugged out.
The woman nodded hastily then looked right to left before she answered. “Yes, hurry inside before someone sees you,” she said, then noticed how both of us shook like black beans in a baby rattle. “You must be frozen, come inside and I’ll have you set up by the fire.”
Mama and I stumbled into the White woman’s haven where she set us up on a warm velvet couch, and soft wool blankets. The heat from the fire defrosted my body while a shiver of warmth shot up my spine.
“My name is Elizabeth,” said the white women. She eyed us in her soft blue eyes with concern, while her baby soft, blond curls bounced as she spoke. “My Family is very skilled in taking slaves over the river. We’ve rescued probably over twenty different families in the past year. Therefore, you have no need to fret.”
Mama nodded her head with satisfaction, and then questioned the young girl. “Where is your parents, you look no older than sixteen, and while I appreciate your offer, I don’t feel comfortable having you take us across the border.” Elizabeth peered down at her dress, as her curly locks drifted over her face like a curtain that concealed what ever act she was about to display. I could tell she was about to present something dramatic, the way her hands lye over her thighs, and her head seized in a tight line on her shoulders.
“I’m sorry miss, but I don’t know when Father will be home,” She said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Mama asked, then glared into Elizabeth’s eyes at an attempt to read whatever she had bottled up.
“Well, you see he’s been on a trip for the past week, in search all over the state for more conductors to help with all the slaves that have been coming through here,” said Elizabeth, then paused before she continued. “And I don’t know when he’ll be back, could be within fifteen minutes, or fifteen days.”
Mama grasped my hand so tight it felt as if her strength was a shovel that dug all the blood out of my hand as it turned pale white and blue veins pulsed out. But I didn’t care. I let her embrace my fragile arm, Because Mama and I both were horrified by what information we’d just received. I sat there on that blue velvet couch, frozen in my thoughts. It felt as the new foundation of hope that I’d felt just minutes ago, had been ripped from underneath me, and I was falling into a pit of ghastly uncertainty that would consume all hope I once had. Thoughts raced through my mind like wind on a spring day. Slave holders had followed Mama and I’s trail ever since we departed in search of us. If Elizabeth’s father couldn’t take us within the next few hours, they could find us, and then all that hard endearment Mama and I suffered to reach freedom would soon be lost.
Elizabeth sat there mystified by our reaction and tried awkwardly to change the subject. “You both look exhausted, I’ll warm up some soup on the stove and get you two fed.”
Mama shivered again. “Oh silly me, your probably still frozen in those wet clothes, How’s about I find some spare clothes for you?” A smile spread across my mothers face as we nodded happily. “Well Okay, I’ll be back in a jiff.” said Elizabeth then returned with two clean lavender scented dresses.
Mama sniffed the blue clothes then grinned. “Thank you so much, your too kind Miss Elizabeth!”
“Your welcome Miss, now eat up.” Elizabeth said, then handed us two steamed bowls of beef stew.
As I ate the hot soup, warm spoonfuls of broth slid down my throat like toboggans in the snow. When Mama and I had just stuffed our faces with the last drop of stew a blonde muscular man walked in.
Elizabeth ran to the man and wrapped her long arms around him. “Pa, we’ve just had visitors arrive to be taken to Canada, thank goodness you came when you did,” she said and beamed in our direction. Then a shock of hope struck my body as I gazed at the blonde man. I don’t ever think I’ve been happier to see a white man.
“Well, Hello,” said the man. “I best be getting the boat and boxes ready to take you all before sundown.” Then he turned around to start out the door, but my curious mouth stopped him.
“What do you mean boxes?” I questioned.
Elizabeth’s father squinted his eyes then looked at me like I’d just asked him what color grass was. “Why, to hide you in,” he said. “I can’t just take two dark skinned women across the river without any alibi, folks might get suspicious.”
“Oh,” I answered a little embarrassed.
“Well come on, let’s get going” said Elizabeth’s father and Mama and I rose from the soft blue couch and headed out the door.
When Mama and I arrived with Elizabeth’s father to the river, a small log boat waited in the water. Then Elizabeth’s father climbed into the boat and pulled out two small wooden boxes.
“Alright now climb in, it’s going to be a while so we might as well get started,” Said the tall, blonde man. Mama climbed in, and scrunched her legs into a tiny ball as her head bent to her chest; she looked like a newborn pup curled up for a long night’s nap, while Elizabeth’s father closed the lid.
I starred at the box for a few seconds, to decide whether I should climb in. “I hate tight spaces,” I thought.
“Are you going to climb in miss?” asked the man, and then pointed to the wooden box. “Hurry, the suns going down, we better get a move on.”
I climbed in the box, and before Elizabeth’s father could close the lid, I shot up like spring. My stomach began to turn, and I was pretty sure that the beef soup and I were about to be reacquainted again.
Mama knocked on her box next to me, and whispered in a soothed voice. “It’s okay Sarah just be brave, it’ll all pay off once we reach Canada.” I laid back down and tried to think about something else, then began to ponder about how I’d saved mama during her asthma attack, and how she was so thankful to have me. We’d come so far, and my mother was so proud of me. “I have to do this for her” I thought, then closed the lid to my box.
Soon I heard the roar of Elizabeth’s father’s boat, and felt us start to drift down the river. As I lie in that box, my skinny silhouette swayed to the motion of the boat, I began to think about my Mama and I’s life with Mr. Brown, and how he used to call us dark slaves, and as I thought, a slither of excitement shot down my spine. No longer would Mama and I be called by some evil man’s property, the color of our skin, or even our race, but be called by the most precious words I ever knew, FREE.