I awoke abruptly knowing another day’s labor lay ahead for me. I came to realise that I would work until my bones were weak, just like any other slave you could ever come across. The bell rang loudly and signaled the slaves such as myself, to prepare for the day’s work. I put the rag of what I called clothing onto my chest that flowed down to my knees, and combed through my hair with my dry, irritated fingers. My friends did the same, then we slipped out of the sleeping barracks clutching our hands to ourselves, knowing that after the day’s work, would be throbbing in an uncontrollable manner. “Mariam!”, my friends called after me hurriedly, intending for myself to run alongside them. I was still considerably tired, acknowledging the fact that it had been my turn last night to wash out tidings, prepare the rations, and gather up any particle left behind. I lived in a plantation that goes by the name of Cotton Acres. I had two girls around my age whom I shared my small cabin with. One went by Iris, and the other was Evona. Iris was taller than the both of us, and had a lighter complexion, and long hair that waved up. Evona had a dark complexion, and a beautiful profile, and short curly hair. My facial features included a narrow nose, complete with big hazel eyes. Skin dark like Evona’s. We grew fond of one another and had a tenderly bond any sisters would have.
When we reached our work spot for the day, we began doing the occasional load we did every day. We still were not around the age for going out into the big field. That’s what we called it anyway. We sorted out the fruit dangling on the well grown plants. There was much to be harvested before the cold season came. In the smaller field was where the children worked with the older slaves. Collecting ripe fruit during the course of the day was tiresome, but at least I didn’t have to be out in the big field yet, although Evona, Iris and I think they will put us in soon.
We were not allowed to eat the fruit we gathered, it would be a privilege to savor the sweetness of Master’s nutrition. If they had found that we had taken some of the forbidden fruit, they would surely punish us, with their malicious ways by wiping and cursing at us, while we’d begged them to have mercy.
I had only seen it on a few occasions when we ventured into the outskirts of the big field, only as much as we were allowed to travel. I was with Iris and Evona when we had all seen it for the first time. Sir Andrew Willis the overseer, was in charge of all the field hands. We didn’t know what was happening. The events took place all too quick, the scars showing up all red , and deep cut wounds. A male was getting punishment for committing a deed that he was forbid to do. Later that night, we heard screams, of the same man in agony shouting at the pain that Sir Andrew had caused him. The women were most surely treating his wounds.
Sir Andrew was a white man that worked for Master and received pay. He would closely watch all of the slaves including us, the children, making sure we would be working. He always arrived in carriage, bringing in supplies for Master. Provisions and whatnot. We did not know if he had a family, for all he did was stare intently and did not tolerate foolishness.
The cold season was heading nearer and nearer, much sooner than expected. Those that worked out in the big field were commencing to cough, and become feverish as the cold enraged.
When I woke the next morning, it was most certainly a day which would not be pleasant. It was the crack of dawn when I heard faint, raspy knuckles hit the wood that opened to the cabin in which we dwelled in. I could never sleep well, especially during this time of year, and my friends were sound asleep, so I decided I would open the door to the anonymous knocker. The wood creaked so violently that Iris twisted in her sleep. A tall, slender, figure approached a step forward and gave me fear as I am astonished by whom he might be.
“Name,” the slender figure said roughy. Being afraid of who he might be, I claimed my identification. “Mariam Lawrence” I said sheepishly.
“Wake them up”.
He pointed rudely at my friends that I cared so deeply of. For fear of what he might do in any matter of which I do not obey, I did what he asked. I patted them both slightly, but enough for them to wake up. Iris looked at me confused and agitated. Seconds after, Evona groggily got up to her feet to inspect the situation. I spoke to them about what happened, and so after the man walked in further with no invitation to do so, so that the light from the flickering candle shone in his face to reveal who he was. It was Sir Andrew. Not one of us had ever spoken to this vicious man. The same process was beheld to each of my friends in which he recorded our names onto a slate of paper which he quickly slipped into the pocket of his trench coat.
“Get dressed,” he looked at the bareness that our clothing lacked to cover, then he grimaced in disgust.
“You’re coming with me.”
We did as we were told. I blew out the flame of the candle before we left, giving me a sour feeling before we descended into the early morning.
We ventured out into the misty morning, cautiously following his footsteps. None of us having the faintest clue of where he was taking us in the chilling morning in which no other slaves had risen yet. None had the nerve to ask him where he was taking us, for the fear of receiving a curse in response. So we marched silently tracing Sir Andrew’s footsteps.
We were heading to the big field and had passed the small field that we had known so well. We stopped in a sudden halt that almost made me bump into Sir Andrew’s rear by the cause of the abrupt stop.
“From now on, you three will be working in the cotton field.”
The same realisation flooded into my eyes, but now with hot tears about to roll down my cheek. But I did not let it happen. I could not look weak in front of somebody as important as an overseer. My friends and I were left with no words, uttered in whispers, barely audible. Once again he looked and gave us and excruciating look.
“I will assign you a slave that works in these parts. Their job shall be showing you the daily tasks you must complete.”
This workload is much more intense and I did not know what to expect.
We walked further along the dirt path and came to near at a slave’s dwelling. Sir Andrew gave the same boisterous and uneducated knock that he gave at out door when he had first arrived. Not long after, A young woman in more accommodating apparel no older than twenty, opened the door in the same shocked manner that I had.
“Yes?” she answered.
By now the sky was slightly more lighter than when we had gone out of our cabin and followed Sir Andrew. The young woman saw us more clearly than how we were able to see the overseer. Sir Andrew drew in a long, heavy breath.
“Name.” He asked her. “Patrice-” He cut her off when she was responding.
“You have been chosen by your Master, Mr. William Daughtery to show these new adult slaves around.”
“Oh! - Why certainly. - When would the Master like me to begin?” She added intentional pauses, choosing each word she said carefully.
“Now.” The overseer added roughly.
“Yes! Of course, allow me to prepare myself, it’ll only take a minute.”
Sir Andrew gave her a look that meant she had to be quick. She ran wildly collecting her sandals and strapping them on in a vigorous manner, then pulling on a work dress over her hemmed nightgown that had a small tear on the bottom.
“Alright, well now that’s settled.” She said quietly,” “Well I suppose I shall introduce myself.” She said with a sly, warming smile.
She held her hand up to each of us in a nice manner and we politely shook it, and introduced ourselves. Sir Andrew gave her a parchment with our names, and the sections where we would work and the monthly allowance we would receive.
“Go, show them where they will be working, then one hour before the day is ended, take them to their dormitory to grab their possessions. They shall stay with you for the night, seeing as those you share a room with, are not present. Tomorrow I will come for the documents and show you three where your new dormitory shall be.”
He said every word with a tone that included no sympathy whatsoever, although they were going to be decisions that impacted our daily lives.
“Well, I guess I’ll start showing y’all where you’re going to be working.”
She gave us a smile again, this one more wider than the first, and in a flash, we followed her into the big field. The only advantages that I was seeing was that, now seen as adults we would receive finer clothing for we will be harvesting the important crops now and stay late when it is as cold to numb your fingers. We also get our individual rations instead of having to share them with those you live with. Also, seeing as were the only newcomers to the big field, we will still have a cabin together. Back when we worked at the small field, Master did not allow us to have possessions such as any white child would have. He said it would distract us from our work. We were only allowed to have small objects that were not valuable. My possessions consisted of the cloth that I have grown out of through the years that I had been given, the small felted fabric that is used for a bed, and two ribbons, both black with pretty lace embroidered on the sides of each piece that I had found near Master’s household.
Patrice had begun to walk in a fast manner, knowing the paths, and where not to step, well, for such a young woman, it made me wonder how long she’d been working in the big field.
We had arrived at our new work place. For starting out, they put us in cotton picking. Luckily for us the cotton picking machine had been invented a little over sixty six years ago, which would make it much easier. We had to achieve a certain amount pounds of cotton per day, or else we would be punished. Back in the small field, when we did not complete the day’s work they would usually give us a smack on the wrist, presented by Sir Andrew, but luckily, I never got one.
Patrice showed us how the machine worked and how to measure how much we had accomplished every day by weighing it and taught us the numbers we had to memorize. After a day, full of extraordinary events, I became quite tiresome, but we still had to gather our belongings and clean out the cabin for the next inhabitant.
We walked back where we came from the same path, knowing now where to step and where the prickly thorns were hidden. We had arrived at our cabin. Patrice told us to wrap our possessions in cloth from previous years. We did so, and scurried off with Patrice and huddled together while discussing what type of cabin we might get his time around. We stayed up all night wondering if we would ever have the same life life as we did before now that we were working in the big field.
In the morning once again, we heard Sir Andrew knock his familiar raspy knock, and we answered the door.
“It is now time for you to see your new dwelling, slaves.” The overseer said in disgust.
“Yes, Sir.” I responded hastily so he wouldn’t get annoyed.
Nevertheless he still did, rolling his eyes at me.
This time rather than replying, I nodded approvingly, although I didn’t have a say in what he commanded me to do.
We quickly got dressed including Patrice, and slivered out into the cold morning. Once we arrived, we stopped with a noticeable jolt in the ground, which was now smeared by the markings of my feet being dragged back so I didn’t bump into Sir Andrew. It was a small cabin, although more spacious.
“Your monthly allowance, along with the accommodations on the list we had told you you would receive are inside your new cabin.”
It hadn’t struck me until this very moment that Patrice had written the forms to approve that we would work in the big field, and our monthly allowance. It is most commonly known that slaves can not read nor write, or anything of the such. We are not allowed to receive education. If Master, or an overseer had found out that we could do anything of the sort, we would be severely punished. But somehow both Master and Sir Andrew knew that she had the type of education, so perhaps it was a grant.
We entered our new home and found the promised allowance, and the presence of a fireplace was somehow heartwarming. Sir Andrew left without word, assuming we’d know the rules of the privilege of having a cabin. We unpacked our belongings and settled in with grace. We had to make time, for it was our first day of work, where we would meet our new companions that worked in the same area in the plantation.
Patrice introduced us to those we would be working with for the rest of the season. Many of them were polite, and took our hand when held up to them. But there was a few that were rude and did not have manners, but I was used to it. I was born into slavery.
We began our daily work load that took awhile to get accustomed to. My friends and I picked the cotton and put it in the machines to sort out the seeds, then weighed the cotton, and we had barely reached the halfway marking point when it was called to start the next half of the day. I still had to do twice as much as I had accomplished, and I was already exhausted. My knees ached to be stretched out, but if Sir Andrew, the overseer, saw any movement that was not caused by our work he would cruelly punish us. It had only been our first half of the day when we had seen it happen. It was a brutal beating. Slow and hurtful. Even after it ended he was forced to stay after our work hours were complete, and had to make twenty pounds more, adding to what he was already supposed to make. He was an aging man, most likely transferring into the small field.
The day was almost finished, and if we did not quicken our pace, we would not pass the sufficient amount of the pounds of cotton. We were plenty behind the rest, and I thought to myself, that Sir Andrew had to be lenient with us since we had started this day, at least we had justification.
We were supposed to get to forty pounds of cotton, and resulted with thirty seven pounds. We worked with each other because they allowed us special permission from Sir Andrew. Yet working in a group of three including myself, we were not able to suppress what an individual slave could make, that was around fifty pounds each day.
Sir Andrew drew long puffs of smoke through his pipe inspecting every slave’s work and agitated steps with every stride we took, as if he were the one, kneeled alongside a cotton plant picking at it all day long. He came with a shuddering holt when he was inspecting us.
“How much did you make today?”
He added with the pipe still in his mouth dangling cautiously on the edge of his crusty lip.
“Thirty seven pounds Sir.”
Iris responded carefully, clear, but only loud enough for him to hear.
“And how much were you supposed to make?”
This time directing his attention to either of us only caring for the words coming out of our mouths.
“Forty pounds, Sir.” Iris stated.
“Ah, well, not so eager now, eh?”
We looked down in shame, and the overseer looking at the parts of our smitten faces that were still slightly visible, searching for answers.
“Come with me then.”
He said distastefully, and bitter, with ourselves nodding and knowing the fate that laid ahead for us. It was the first time I had received a whipping. And it taught me a lesson.
Blood streamed down my back. I cried in agony as the diagonally cut lines slashed against my spine. I stared at my clothes scattered laying on the ground that I had been stripped of. Tears rolled down my cheek cursing that life that I had, asking the Providence why I had to suffer the treatment of the enslaved. When I put my rags back on my bloodied back it soaked through, and marked as a remembrance. My friends and I suffered greatly for the rest of the day. Luckily after our beating, two middle aged woman rushed towards us, telling to meet them in a specific cabin where they could help treat our wounds. We thanked them, and visited them later that night when we finished preparing their field. Before our treatment of the healing of our wounds, a slave whom looked wise came up to us and said “The first time you get a whip, it’s the time that hurts the most. After that, you’ll get used to it.” His words stuck to my head, thinking that in the state that I was, that hope, it was true.
The woman treated our wounds with ointment and other chemicals, young girls around our age watching our bare backs, studying how the adults completed the procedure. We slept on our fronts that night, and our wounds had wonderfully closed and had stated to heal through the night.
In the morning when we were getting prepared for the next work day, we ditched our rags that signified that we worked in the small field. I put on my thick linen long sleeve and my woolen shirt that went down to my knees. I buckled on my leather sandals, a smile plastered on my face. Once my curls were all untangled, I wrapped a black ribbon around where my hairline started.
Before we had left, I was able to eat a small amount of my corn meal that I savoured so deeply. Once dressed, my friends and I headed down towards the viney path to our work area. While walking the path, we had to get accustomed to wearing shoes for the first time in our lives. The buckles on the straps bobbed with the movement of our feet, while we curiously looked down our hemmed skirts.
I was anxious. I couldn’t seem to escape the cruelty of Sir Andrew. When our our work loud began, I commenced to vigorously put the cotton I picked into the machine, my friends doing the same after me. We worked until our hands ached, and Sir Andrew, giving looks to those who dared take a second to stretch and relax their body. Our goal had not changed. We had to make forty pounds of cotton, or else Sir Andrew would reveal his punishment for us again. During the half marking period of the day, we counted the pounds of cotton we made. We had reached twenty eight pounds, still needing twelve. I thought to myself that we could manage, a small smile surrounding on the corner of Evona’s face. Although, we, were rather tired. We had worked so hard for this, but intended to accomplish something more.
Beads of sweat rolled down my face, I swiped away with my sunburned forearm. I could not continue. Something struck me as so unusual, I felt coldness descending upon me. It came so sudden like a disease or a sickness, flowing through my veins, pulsing rapidly, until, i felt total darkness. Thoughts in my mind were suddenly erased. I had no memory whatsoever. I felt as if, I was floating through the sky, nothing such as guilt, or treachery being the figurative weight on my shoulders. Everything of importance, was brushed off, until I felt reality, seeping back in slowly, but in a malicious manner. I was being whipped. My hands tied, already bruised and swollen, my clothes, that I had been deprived of, motionless, on the ground.Now only having my stocking and an undershirt on my soon to be stricken self.
Later my friends explained to me, that Sir Andrew had thought I fell asleep, Providence forbid a slave do such act, for the overseer will become angry, and you will be punished. The real cause was that I fainted. I was feeling the symptoms, of fainting, yet I hadn’t realized it. The tips of my long curls, covered in dirt, and an ache on the top of my head. I knew what caused it. It had happened to me on an occasion where and elder slave in the small field, had caught me misbehaving, and gave me a yank by grabbing a fistfull of hair and dragging me a few yards out, until a different elder slave saw what he was doing, and scolded him, and told me “Everything is going to be okay, sugar.” I sobbed uncontrollably. Apparently he dragged me from our work station, all the way to the whipping post by my hair. That could explain why my hair as mangled, and disgruntled. Blood ran down my back, as he cursed at me, calling me an ungrateful brat. Many bystanders commenced to watch the manner in which I jerked away the best I could to not receive a beating that was not too harsh. A boy around my age, that I had seen around the plantation a couple of times, stared, and tears filled his eyes. He yelled at Sir Andrew to stop, like the others, but his voice was clear, and loud, and that made me sob even harder.
Once he was finished, I grabbed my clothes and hastily put them over my stockings and shirt. Though, I was never able to find my black ribbon. I was informed by the boy, that my friends had end up making forty one pounds of cotton, and I thanked him for telling me the joyous news, and asked him who he was. He had a common backstory like all of us did. Separated from his family at a young age, and then ended up here like the rest of us did, at Cotton Acres. His name was Owen Hendrick, he also had dark skin, but more of a wave to his short, well kept hair. He wore the thick linen pants and a sturdy linen shirt, with brown leather suspenders connecting from his navy pants to his beige long sleeve. He too had shoes that buckled from one side to the other. All of this indicating he worked in the big field. He most likely suspected the same of myself. We were a whiles away to reach the slave quarters, so we began talking, and developed a friendship.
Owen worked where they counted the total amounts of cotton per day, where throughout the duration of work, would come and empty out the machine and altogether keep track of it. He only worked a short distance away so we agreed on seeing each other after work.
When Owen and I parted, I went to the so called Medical Hut and received the disinfectants on my back and the wounds were treated. I walked back to my cabin eager to see my friends. I opened the door and it gave a long creak. Inside, Evona and Iris were eating a small ration of their food and conversing. They saw me enter and immediately ran up to me giving hugs, carefully not touching my back, and told me Sir Andrew forbid them to see my punishment, and to go straight to the cabin. I told them it was okay and grabbed a chunk of corn meal, and hungrily shoved it in my mouth with hesitation. I also had a small portion of meat then saved the rest for the the end of the month. I took a bath with cold water and a leaf with fragrance of lavender and scrubbed my hair thoroughly. When I finished, I put on a clean, old dress from the small field as a nightgown. My friends and I talked and discussed the events that took place, though I decided to keep Owen and I a secret. He was a special type of friend to me, much different than Evona or Iris. We could talk about things comfortably, given the circumstance we had just met one another this day. He was kind, and could relate to my troubles, which made him different than my other friends.
Come dawn the next day, I lept from heap of wool that I called a blanket, and got dressed in a simple linen long sleeve with two buttons on the neck, and a linen skirt, with my brown leather suspenders. I strapped on my leather sandals with buckles and looked for my other ribbon that I lost yesterday, but I still couldn’t find it. Before I headed out, I packed a small weaved basket that out rations came in, and filled it with an old, clean cloth and a few rations that I would eat for dinner, and closed the lid, then left the cabin with my friends, combing my curly hair with my fingers along the way. We arrived at work somewhat early, so I decided I would see Owen before commencing my work. There he was making early counts preparing for the day. Once I caught his eye, he smiled, and rushed over to me.
“What are you doing here?”
He wasn’t irritated all, actually he seemed content to see me.
“I came in early, so I figured that I would come see you.” I said eagerly.
“Well, I’m glad you came! We still have time if you want me to show you around.”
“Sure” I said, the same smile had stretched widely across my face.
Owen showed me around where he worked, plenty of cotton packaged everywhere the eye could see. He grabbed me by the hand and we began to whir around the factory. He showed me his machine where he counted the cotton and compressed it. And the sheets that had to be documented after every hour. I was beginning to like Owen more and more, and our friendship budded quickly. Alas, it was time for me to get to work, so we said our goodbyes, and I headed off to my station. I catched up to my friends just in time.
“Oh, Mariam, where have you been?” My friends asked me quizzically.
“I went for a walk in the morning before y’all got ready. I found a path before I came home last night.” I said in a rushed tone.
They let out a small giggle.
“Well that explains it.” They responded in a childish manner.
Once more the realization began. I was here, in the plantation working until I perished, slowly. I say this because I received a whipping once more about an hour before work ended. I was always the one to take the punishment, for I know what suffering feels like. Later, I went to Owen’s station, crying silently, patient waiting for him to depart. When he finished, I came up to him and he smiled widely.
“Ready to go-?”
He paused, saw my sticken back, and grabbed me and pulled myself towards him. I sobbed more violently onto his shoulder, cursing myself and the wretched life I carried.
“Are you alright? What happened?”
He bombarded me with questions, my face still hot. I explained to him that we did not complete the cotton order we were supposed to make, and that I stepped up to take the blame. I did not want my friends to feel this agony.
He walked me home so I could get a change of clothes, and then we headed out. While we were walking, Owen stopped me, and said
“Oh, right, I forgot to give this back to you.”
It was my black ribbon that I couldn’t find. My face lit up.
“Oh, my ribbon! Thank you Owen.”
We walked into a secluded path and laid down the linen on the unkept yellow grass, and placed the basket down. We had out rations while we talked about everything as a conscience. Out of nowhere, I laid back onto my stomach, and lifted my head to the sky. Next to me, Owen followed after.
“What if we left.” I said so swiftly, and careless.
“What do you mean what if we left?” He was confused.
“Leave the plantation. For good, and never come back. Like escaping to freedom.”
I said, flowing through words. He thought for a moment.
He ended up sputtering out.
“Let’s do it then.” I end up saying.
“Just like that?”
He said with a c***ish smile.
“All of our work and punishment done? That would be satisfying though.”
I didn’t think anything through after this moment, but I decided to escape with my new friend Owen. We planned out how we would leave, and how we would survive. We would leave in two days. It ended the month and during the night, our allowances came, insuring we could have enough food and clothes along the way. During those days we acted normal, worked normal, as if nothing would happen. Everyday after work, we would meet up and discuss how nothing was stopping us. Everything was turning out the way we’d planned for the most part, and we received our parcels that I tucked away into the weaved basket. During the night, I felt guilty for leaving my friends, but we had our memories together. Now, it was time to experience some of my own. That night, I couldn’t sleep, not one second, knowing I was escaping the plantation. At night, there was less vigilance around the plantation making it easier to leave. Before I slid out to meet Owen, I grabbed two lavenders, and put them next to my friend’s pillows to bade them goodbye. I would miss them terribly, but they have each other. Owen came as promised wearing a linen shirt, and his finest pants made of cotton, and his sandals, and leather suspenders. I wore a short sleeve linen shirt, with a linen skirt, tights, and suspenders, with my basket in hand. Before I forgot, I tied my ribbon around my hairline and combed out my long curls. I shut the door quietly, and smiled at Owen.
We ran as fast and far as we managed. We reached a gate, which was never protected by any overseers or guards, and closed it shut, finally outside of the plantation for the first time in years, when I arrived here as nothing but a mere child in scraps of cloth. We had to move at a quick pace, because surely in the morning, they would come looking for us. My friends would alert an overseer of my missing appearance, not that they wanted to, for they would give me the worst punishment I’d ever see in my life. If a white person should approach us, our lie was that, our Master needed some supplies from the inner city. We were on our way to the city looking for a shelter, so it was a pretty convincing reason. We found alleyways where we slept, and grew familiar with the city. Being with Owen made me content although the mesh of things wasn’t going well. I was afraid that someone would find us and hand us over to Master, a couple of kids around fifteen that escaped the plantation. He would surely be angry at us. I thought about the future and what might happen. I didn’t think about it when I escaped, but was I going to be with Owen for the rest of my life? For the time being, he was just a friend to me, but I had risked leaving the plantation with him to be independent on our own, but we ended up in the struggle alongside one another. It was excruciating, and parts of me end up regretting leaving the plantation. I thought about going back to the plantation, but risking it twice would most likely do me no good.
Come Monday Owen had informed me that he found a group of runaway slaves he stumbled across on his way to work. Two men approached.
“Hello, I am Peter. A pleasure to meet you ma’am.” He told me with a small smile.
“I am Mark.”, they both had dark skin, and told me they were from a neighboring plantation not far from Cotton Acres.
The overseers were cruel there as well. They escaped because they would be immensely punished each day, working there for years. They spoke to us about a small organization consisting of slaves who ran to freedom. We told Peter and Mark we would meet with them, and to give us directions. It gave Owen and myself a new sense of hope. A simple property owned by the runaway slaves of the United States.
Later that day, we ventured out, and found the building, and knocked softly on the broken wood door. Mark came and opened the door for us, ushering our tired bodies into the room.
“You came?”, he said very estatically.
“Yes, we decided it was the most of help that we could receive.”
“Well, I am glad. The more the merrier!”, which was followed by a small giggle.
He lead us through a corridor with plastered walls, which many rusted doors barely on their hinges. We rushed past and stumbled into a room with many gloomy and depressed faces, but with no doubt, were the runaway slaves. One woman, looking particularly upset, raised her head when she saw that we had entered and, got up and shook each of our hands in a slow miserable manner, with a fake smile stretching widely from one end to the other.
“Welcome! You must be the new runaways. We were just discussing a few-matters”,” she paused which made her seem more stressed than what she appeared.
“I’m Madame Minne. But you can call me whichever you prefer,” she ended with a small smile, looking away. I introduced ourselves. Her eyes sullen, with bags deep and omniscient in their socket. Owen began to have a coughing fit, looking pale and weak.
“I hate to be so much trouble, but do you have a room available where my friend may lie down? He is looking terribly ill.”, I said in a hurried manner, needing an answer.
“Yes, of course! I shall prepare a tea for the cough too.”
“Oh, thank you!”, I rested Owen quickly on the floor covered in thick wool blankets, and asked how he was feeling.
“Queasy. Nauseous.”, he groaned in pain, his head aching in a terrible trance.
For the rest of the day, he lay on the floor in agony, drinking medications, and herbal teas, trying the most we could so Owen may relieve himself of the sickening pain. As the days continued, we stayed at the building. Owen’s condition had not regained his strength, his head running with a certain fever. He wailed, his body trembling, too warm. I stayed by his side, as an aid, praying to Providence. Minnie gave him many herbs, and teas, for many days, slowly lifting his head, and providing him with medicine.
Soon, he was able to sit up, and be aware of his surroundings. Even after, he stood up, stumbled, but managed, to walk around after a week on the floor. He thanked Minnie wearily, and squeezed my hand thoroughly. We walked out of the room, agreeing that we had to be free, escape to the north. We had to wait until Owen could walk without assistance. Minnie began teaching us routes, where the underground railroad was, and how to get to the entrance. A few days before our departure, The newspaper had came, informing us on the runaways. We had made it in, Owen and I. Our names printed, and the reward for our return. Now, it escaping didn’t seem possible, but what was? Had I not come all this way risking survival with Owen already? Reaching that train, would be everything for me. Freedom.
The night before we departed, Minnie gave us a change of clothes, a parcel filled with food, and a jug full to the brim with water. Separately, she, handed me herbs, and medicines if Owen found himself sick once more. We individually thanked Minnie for her hospitality. It pained her to see us leave, come next morning, but what other path is there to take for liberty? We stepped out into the crisp, fresh crack of dawn and began our journey usings maps that Minnie gave us. From the perspective of where we were, the area was deserted, only a nearby town in sight. I had commenced to worry if we had went upon a wrong direction, but soon after Owen had assured me, by showing a street sign that I assumed were letters, were precisely as the map labeled it as. We were around the halfway point to the underground railroad. Minnie advised us to steer clear of a certain city that was sure to contain slave captures. It would be a more far, tedious path, but we would be safe not crossing their territory. Owen started mapping out the alternate roads we would take. I began to set our rations.
“Owen, did you want to take any medicine?”, I asked.
“No. I’m fine.”, he responded irritatingly.
“Well, I have the rations ready.”, I added with a pause.
He nodded, paying with little attention to myself. I felt as if I made a mistake departing too soon for Owen’s well being. He grew weary, and lied down. I opened the jug of water, and wet a cloth, and put it to his forehead. His expression relaxed, when the dampness relieved the warmth of the day. I grabbed the small clay mug, filled it with water, and pressed it carefully alongside his lips. He had became agitated, greedily taking in the water set before him.
We rested on the trunk of a thick tree, providing us with plenty of shade. I ate a piece of bread, real savory food prepared by Minnie. I was content to have stumbled across her, she was a kind soul. We settled there, until we were done eating. I slowly got up, packed our belongings and grabbed Owen by the hand lifting him to where I was. He gave me a c***ish smile, and picked up the weaved basket as we set off to find the railroad. Owen took the map out of his pocket, he traces his finger with route we had gone through.
Nightfall would soon be upon us, making it easier to not be noticed when crossing the outskirts of the severely patrolled city. My feet carried me willingly, the wind, sweeping through my long disheveled locks. We were not far from the railroad, I could feel the liberty under my feet with each hurried step I took. Owen had the smile still goofily plastered to his face, in which I gave him one in return. The directions were clear enough, there was a small alleyway that rode up through the north.
We entered the damp sewage hole that had the same symbols engraved on, as the map directed to be. Owen lifted the metal and revealed a rusted ladder, into the sewage pipe. He grabbed my hand, making sure I gripped the bar tightly, then stepped off. He then followed after me, shutting the sewage hole as he entered. We stayed on the concreted parts of the floor that were not as contaminated as the oily stream of polluted water. According to the map we wouldn’t have to be here for long anyways. About a fourth of a block away, would be another sewage hole. There was a faint light that I had spotted towards the direction we were headed.
A white man, a constable, rapidly climbed down the ladder and surveyed the area. Owen and I pressed our backs to the cold, curved wall, huddling close together, holding our breath for risk of the constable discovering us. His torch illuminating the sewage, barely touching our faces. The constable paced in small, stout steps, then finally climbed the rusted ladder, and closed the small sewage hole. When he departed, I grabbed on to Owen, crying as fiercely as the day he saw my beating. He soothed my cries, swaying his hand back and forth, in a soft swishing motion. I felt his warmth, being strong for the journey, and for ourselves. We had decided upon staying in the grimy sewer for a few minutes, until we were sure the constable had left.
Once we felt safe, Owen climbed up first, lifting the steel frame, up with a grudge that heavily bore on his scrawny weight. He climbed out, hoisting himself up relievingly, then I stumbled on the worn bars of the ladder, then Owen reached down with both hands, lifting my petite self up to him. He quietly closed the gate, and we slipped back into the night, only now at the border line, of the south and the north.
This decision would change everything. Owen stayed back too. Risking it all this way was a massive commitment. Through Owen’s illness, and my cowardly ways. Nothing in the world could have stopped me. I saw freedom, and the chains cutting and slashing against my wrists break off, back to slavery. I saw the whip, which I was so brutally beaten with, deteriorated, and worn from all the slashes is provided. Finally, I saw Owen, and I took his hand, with tears blinding my eyes as I stepped the first step of liberty. Now here I was. Standing with the hem of my skirt blowing wildly. I had reached the north, the land where enslavement was not to be found. Here I was to stay.
It was a rough start, although we had managed to walk on the territory of the north, we had to find the sister of Madame Minnie. She had the small organization in the north, to help all those slaves, such as ourselves to properly commence this new life of freedom. When we had arrived, she was very welcoming and offered us tea, just as her sister had asked us as well. We settled into separate rooms, though close by. We took the little bits of the rations we had astonishingly left over, and devoured them in Owen’s room. Minnie’s sister was named Petunia. She knocked on the door and brought in the tray of promised tea. Also on the tray, a bowl of fresh bread. We thanked her greatly, ecstatic for having actual food. There was another slave pair across the hall, and they had heard of our arrival before we knew they were here. The same as most slaves, scrawny, dressed in rags.
They were around our age, the girl’s name, Penelope, and the boy was Benjamin. They had come from a plantation not terribly far from Cotton Acres, but were treated far crueler, for their master was a religious master. Those masters that claim the bible gives all the justification in the world to remind the slave of who the master is, by treating them in a malicious manner. Of course it was the master that lacked the presence of the Providence at the plantation, but that was of little concern to the owner, only as long as they had the slaves. Penelope had shown me her wicked burned hands that the master himself had caused her. The only scars that Benjamin had possessed, were the soles and calluses, still present on his feet.
I was taken aback once more, the sudden, but familiar rush of realisation pumping into my thoughts. I felt weak and clumsy, losing my ability to stand, then, a thump signifying I had fallen. I heard many voices, and feet squirming around frantically attempting to help my imobile, limp body. I became quite frustrated at how it seemed those around me were looking immensely busy, while help seemed to be so far at the moment. I myself was unaware of the confusion that followed, but so it was.
Apparently, I had fainted for whatever reason, but the figures in motion that I had seen was still not explained. While in this state, I began to ponder of the situation I was in. Owen sat at the edge, of the all too comfortable bed and reached for my limp hand. I extended it forth so he could caress it with ease. He dumbfoundedly began toying around with my fingers as I stared into his teary eyes.
“Owen…”, I said softly.
I unfolded my curled body and stared him in the eye. I had begun to drastically swell up with tears feeling immensely grateful for having Owen at my side, and for the journey we took together, hand in hand, each star glistening in our enslaved vision. We stepped across that border line separating the north and the south with one another. He had consoled me through times of sadness. He had protected me from all the harm we faced. Now, the realisation was discontinued, fully understanding, I knew, I would be safe here, in the land of the free. No more chains of enslavement to bruise and scrape at my wrists. Now, I escaped the treacherous flee, not alone, but with added sufficient strength. Through choked tears streaming warm, down my rosy cheek, I managed to choke out to Owen,