I began writing this piece a few years ago, when I was going through a phase where I was obsessed with pirates.
I heard them as they broke into my home. Horrible, dirty pirates, in my home! They had already burned down Port Antonio. What more could they want from me?
“Eliza!” Father yelled up the stairway to me. “Go hide on the roof!” I paused, unsure whether to leave my parents. “We will follow you in a moment, now hurry!” he commanded. I sprinted down the winding hallways of my house as fast as my small legs could take me, heading toward the attic door. My dress and petticoat flapped around
my legs, causing me to trip. I yanked off my top layers of my outfit before climbing the stairwell to the attic.
From downstairs, I heard the splintering crack of the doors to my house being torn apart. Father was shooting his pistol at the intruders.
I wretched open the old window in the attic. Dust flew everywhere, and I choked as I climbed out the window. The roof of my house is mostly flat, which gave me a better opportunity to hide. I lowered myself down from the window and lay on my belly, keeping my head down.
I heard more gunfire from below. Soon enough, the sounds of fighting moved up the steps. Would they come onto the roof? Would they burn the house down? Where were Mother and Father? I pinned myself down on the roof and tried to breathe.
I heard Mother scream. Her voice came from outside the house. I crawled to the side of the roof and peeked over. Mother and Father were being led away, guarded by several pirates with knives and pistols. I let out a terrified scream without thought. Immediately they all turned and looked up at me. Then one of the pirates broke off and ran inside the house.
I had to get off the roof, but where would I go? Our home was surrounded, and I just blew my cover. Still I scrambled from the rooftop towards the window. Just before I climbed in, a hand reached out of the window and a horrible, dirty face followed it.
“Ello sweetie,” the pirate said, the foul stench of his breath making my eyes water. “Yer commin’ with us now.”
I sat up in bed, panting. Looking around, I saw that I was in my cabin, just as I had been last night. A dream? But it could not have been a dream. The vision had seemed so real.
A knock came from the cabin door. My brother Lionel walked in. He looked at me with concern. “Are you okay?” he asked, noting the stricken look upon my face.
I nodded, still unable to speak.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought I heard noise in here. Anyway, you’d better get dressed. Yer breakfast will be here soon.” He kissed my forehead and left.
I threw the covers off my bed and went to my wardrobe. The floorboards creaked under my feet. I took out a plain dress and put it on. I went to my mirror and attempted to yank a brush through my hair. It was dirty and stiff from the salt water and my lack of a bath as of late. As soon as we land, I thought, I am going to wash my hair. My blue eyes looked bright against my skin, darkened from dirt and sun. I gave up on trying to keep clean on this ship long ago.
The door opened with my breakfast. The ship’s only black man, James, came in and handed me a tray with biscuits and bacon. “Good morning,” he said sarcastically. Then serious, “Have you talked to the captain this morning?”
“Yes, he was just in here. Why?”
“Nothin. Just think we’re changing course today.” James backed out of the room so I could eat in peace. The biscuits looked somewhat edible, so I ate those. The bacon was sprinkled with rat droppings. I threw the soiled pieces out the porthole.
After breakfast I went onto the deck. Everywhere crewmen were working, mopping the deck and flying sails. Clegg Brian came up from behind me and grabbed my shoulders. I jumped, bringing from him enormous laughter. “Mornin’ sweetheart,” he said.
“Go bother someone else Clegg.”
He smiled. “Ya know I’m just messin with ya, girl.” I punched him in the arm, and was met with water from his mop bucket.
I ran off to go find Lionel. He was standing at the quarter deck, beside Nat Harrons at the helm. Nat was one of the more decent members of the crew. He’d been Lionel’s first mate as long as Lionel had been captain. Nat was older than Lionel, by more than just a few years, but they both showed each other the respect only best friends could.
I climbed up the steps to them. “Where are we sailing?” I asked Lionel.
“Ask Nat here. He’d be knowin the best trading routes.”
“Well,” Nat said. “Ya could say that.” He was looking at a map of the Caribbean Islands. “We gonna head towards Charles’ Fort. Tradin business there.”
I didn’t recall sailing to Charles’ Fort before. “Is it nice there?” I asked.
Both of the men laughed. “I’ll be happy to tell ye, that no, it is not nice there,” Nat said.
I sighed. “How long?”
Nat consulted the map and then at the sky. “We should make it by tomorrow, if this here wind keeps up. If it weren’t being for these winds we are having, the trip could take bout four days or so. Thank the gods, Eliza.”
I looked out over the railing. The sea was so beautiful today; the winds Nat idolized were making crisp little waves down below, gently misting my face with the salt. That was my favorite part about living on the ship. I loved just standing on the deck, watching the water and the clouds moving across the sky.
The voices of the crew startled me out of my thoughts.
“Eliza! Cum’ere and dump out the buckets!”
“Don’t drop em girl, or I’ll have yer head!”
“It is not wise to threaten the princess; she’s got family in high places!”
I sneered and tried to ignore the men. I went over and yanked up the heavy buckets, filled with dirty deck water. As I dumped them over the deck, I realized as much as I loved the sea, I did not plan on spending the rest of my life here. The sea was beautiful and calming, but also dangerous. And I did not want to live like a criminal, on a ship with rude, dirty men, who not to mention were also criminals. But where else could I go?
That night after dinner and chores, the crew gathered on the deck for a performance from Pete’s piccolo. Others turned over buckets and used them as drums. I danced with Clegg and a few others, and rounds of rum were passed, though I never drank too much; I saw too often what happens to those who do. It was such a good time; I even allowed Clegg a kiss on the cheek. With no worries to fill our minds, we stomped and sang the night away.