All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
To Be A Slave
Author's note: This was actually a school project, a five page paper, that turned into so much more.
I left my Mama the day I turned fourteen. “Left” bein’ my chosen word seein’ as I don’t particularly like the way “taken” sounds in my mouth, all mean and strange, like. Now my Mama, she was beautiful. Strong and kind and beautiful. Our Daddy done got his self shot tryin’ to steal a chicken. Nobody liked my Daddy. I’m glad he died. He was mean as the Virginia sun as it poured over you’s back on the hottest day of the year. He hit my Mama. He really did. Made me so angry I ‘bout went up and hit him myself. I tried to, actually. But you see, I’m not very quick. He caught my hand ‘fore it even made contact with that evil man’s yellow hide. He just give me a good swat on the behind with that switch a his and send me howlin’ away.
My Mama was a free woman, free and black. Her old master liked her lots and he just let her go. Mama raised me, my brother Bala, and my sister Mandiki all by herself after Daddy died, and she did a better job than most white women at it. She says her grandmamma always used to tell her stories ‘bout when they was in Africa, how the sun never shined unkindly and the water was always pure and there was never a white face to be seen, ‘til that day they took her away from her home and to a new world. Bala was the most feared and handsome hunter in Old Grandmamma’s tribe, he was fierce and noble. Bala means “like the moon”, which my brother certainly is. Stealthy and quiet as a cat he slinks ‘round pouncin’ on me and Mandiki when we’s least expectin’ it. He’s a kinder version of Daddy, but more handsome and definitely more playful. Old Grandmamma’s mama’s name was Mandiki. My Mama named my lil’ sister that after her. The name means “sweet”, like the flowers we grow in our garden. Mandiki looks like a flower, all rosy cheeked and dark eyed and lookin’ so much like our Mama it hurts if you look at her too long, she’s so beautiful. She’s only just over eight years old but already she’s prettier than me. Sometimes I cry at night wonderin’ why she got to look like Mama while I was stuck with boring old Daddy: straight nose, straight teeth, light, boring eyes, dark, boring hair that won’t never stay right, and comin’ out lookin’ just too boyish to be really likable. My name means whishes, or aspiration. Amanita. It’s pretty enough, when you’s just sitting there sayin’ it, but then you get a good long look at me and it ain’t too pretty no more. Mama said when she had me in her belly she went out walkin’ one night and she looked up at the stars. She wished with all her heart that her baby would be a girl, so that Bala would have someone to play with and tease. And her wish done come true! She had me, then a little while later Mandiki. I’m the only one in this family who hasn’t lived up to their name. I make plenty of wishes; but none ever come true. I used to believe I would aspire to somethin’, but after fourteen years of waitin’, it just don’t seem likely no more. I get frustrated at that, too. That the others get to be so perfect while I’m so… not. But Mama loves me just the same.
She loves all of us more than she loves her very self. Every year when our birthdays come ‘round she stays up all the night before workin’ and bakin’ and singin’ softly to herself as she skitters ‘round our small house. The next mornin’ we all rise up much earlier than usual to see what she done for us.
So the morning I turned fourteen, I wake up early like normal and Mama’s settin’ in her chair by the winda. All us kids squeal when we see what she done for us. Every one of our sweet desires is there on the table, just waiting for us to come and devour ‘em. We’s just settin’ down to our feast when our door slams open and two white men step on in, not even botherin’ to knock. I take one look at them and shrink away. Somethin’ ‘bout them makes my skin crawl, like I’m looking at the devil’s helpers they selves. Turns out I warn’t far wrong.
They’s got a bad look ‘bout them, like they’s been on the road a long time, and not a heavenly one at that. They’s coats and boots is coated in a fine dust from the road and dried mud clings to them. They’s both got funny mustaches, almost French, like, but the short and muscled one also hasn’t shaved in a long while by the looks of his nicely fillin’ in beard. The taller one’s lean and lanky and dressed like a gentleman regardless of the dirt. He’s the one Mama addresses.
“Can I help you?” she asks, her voice carefully collected, but I can see her eyes change from their usual warm coffee to a much colder, darker color.
“Excusin’ us, miss,” he says smilin’ a smile that don’t resemble no smile I’s ever seen, more like a sort a twisted grimace. It warn’t warmin’ at all, ‘fact it sent a chill to your bones. “We’ve just come to pick up a few things.”
Mama looked at him long and cold. “I warn’t told of someone pickin’ somethin’ up here,” she says, chewin’ her cheek.
His grimace grows wider. “Likely you weren’t,” he says. Then quick as lightinin’ he reaches out and grabs my arm. For a second we all just stand there, not really sure what this is all ‘bout. Then Mandiki screams. The world jumps to life then, with me realizin’ this is a darn grave situation I got here and start thrashin’ ‘bout, with Mandiki screamin’ her little lungs full, with Mama runnin’ for her pan and trying to hit the short man over the head with it, with the short man comin’ up with his own sort of defense: his bare arms, with Bala comin’ up from the table with his knife, and with the tall man pullin’ at me. I’m kickin’ and clawin’ at anything I can find on the man, workin’ myself into a real froth and listenin’ to his grunts for where I should hit next.
Bala goes after the man who’s got me, slashin’ his knife while still tryin’ not to hurt me. The man’s quick though, he dodges most of the blows or jumps away, me in tow. He starts gettin’ the idea to use me as sort of a shield, placin’ me in front of him while Bala slashes at nothin’. I can see Mandiki hidin’ under the table, still screamin’ her blessed little lungs out. Then Mama screams. The short man’s got her pan and is aimin’ for her head. I bite down hard on the man’s hand. I taste his blood, salty and right near nauseatin’, but I don’t let go. He howls and tries to shake me off and Bala takes a swipe at him, good and clean, runnin’ from ear to chin.
“You blasted-” but his curse is cut short seein' as Mama's screamin' again. He throws me off him and my head hits the table. Stars appear in my eyes and my vision is fuzzy for a second. Bala’s watchin’ me so he don’t see the man’s fist come flyin’ towards his face. He hits him square in the temple and Bala falls to the floor. He don’t get up. We’s all screamin’ now, Mandiki, Mama, even me.
The evil man’s watchin’ Bala, waitin’ for him to start movin’ again. I slide over quiet as I can to my sister who’s cowerin’ on the floor.
“Run!” I whisper in her ear. “Run far and run fast. Run for help. Get out a here NOW!” She looks at me for a second then throws her arms around me. I feel the tears shake her body but I don’t let any of mine spill. Not just yet. Quick as you please she’s out the door and gone from sight. And I know right then that I just saw my sister for the last time.
Mama’s wailin’ somethin’ to the men. It’s hard to understand her through the tears and blubberin’.
“Not my babies! Please, no don’t take my babies! Take me, me instead, I’m strong as any of ‘em!” Her words make me realize these men ain’t just evil; they’s the worst kind of evil God ever made. They’s slave traders.
“Shut up,” the man growls, and just like that hits her over the head with her own pan. Mama falls right straight to the ground, graceful and beautiful as always. I don’t choke on my tears this time.
“Mama!” I cry, the salty tears runnin’ down my face and cloggin’ my eyes. “Mama come back! Come back to me!” I choke and stumble on my words, drowin’ in my own miserable tears. I’m shakin’ so hard and sobbin’ so loudly I almost don’t hear that evil man’s knees pop as he bends down next to me, or feel his sickly breathe on my face when he whispers “Goodnight precious”, or even when that same pan what was used on my Mama comes down on my own sorry head. I almost don’t notice it. Almost.
Oh... My head hurts. I reach up and there's a nice size lump. When I touch it the bump throbs like I's been hit with a fryin' pan. Which... I have. My eyes fly open and I remember. The pain in my head triples and I's cryin' again. Mandiki's gone, Bala ain't here no more, and Mama, oh Mama, Mama you's gone, you's gone, gone, gone, and you ain't comin' back! You left me all by myself and I ain't got nobody, nobody at all! I don't realize I'm cryin' out loud 'till I hear a voice.
“Hush, child,” it says. “We all got problems, but there's not a single thing cryin' and screamin's gonna do for it.” I look 'round, tryin' to find the voice’s owner. I realize it's dark out, the stars up ova'head blinkin' and dancin'. I used to like the stars, but tonight they mock me. They all got each other up there in the heavens, and me? Well I only got me. They's showin' me that no matter how many people I got near me I'm still completely alone. I choke on more tears. Them stars remind me so much of Mama right now.
I try to stand but I can't. My hands is tied in front of me and there's somethin' 'round my neck. I twist tryin' to get at it.
“Don't squirm honey. You'll make it worse.” I snap my head to the left. There's a body there, a woman in her early thirties, I'd think. I look to my right and there's another body, a boy this time, maybe Mandiki's age. I pick my head up high as I can and there're bodies as far as I can see, which ain't very far given my position.
“It's a shameful sight, isn't it sweetie?” the woman asks. “The whites, they don't have any pity. That boy you see,” she says nodding at the one on my right. I nod in return. “He wasn't walkin' fast enough. They whipped him good. The blood's still wet on his back. And there's a girl here, maybe four. They ripped her right out of her Mama's arms.” That puts volume back to my voice.
“They hit my Mama. And then they- they took me. And I don't know where my sister is. Or B-bala. Where's Bala? I d-don't even know if they're alive or... n-n-not,” and again I'm cryin'! I hate myself for it. Hold your tongue, girl! I tell myself. So I do, bitin' down hard 'till I taste the blood and I cry out.
“Now what good will that do you, honey? Come, my name's Jenny, Aunt Jenny to you. I'll be your mama tonight.” And hard as it is with one foot tied to lord knows what to keep us from a runnin' that woman scoots up next to me, puttin' her her arms near mine. Even though my head's poundin' with pain and questions I turn t'wards her and pretend she really is my beautiful Mama. And strangely enough, I sleep soundly under those mockin' stars, dancin' in the night sky until the early rays of sunlight chase them away.
If there is a Hell I know the devil you's gonna meet there. His only name is Slave Trader John, he has no other and he wants no other. He ain't just a mean man, like my Daddy. Daddy only beat you down and left you to cry. This man, this brutal, corrupt, malevolent man, he beats you down and helps you up, only to strike you down again.
Them stars ran from the sun's full light, scatterin' in the mornin' sky by the time I wake. Already I can hear the groans of the soon-to-be slaves as they try to rise only to realize they's still bound, and not only in the ropes 'round they wrists, but by the scars on they backs and the wounds on they head. They are chained by their knowledge that they are to become slaves, and from then on nothin' more. Not a man, not a girl, not a human. Just a slave.
Aunt Jenny's still next to me when I open my bleary eyes. “Morning, child.” I mumble out somethin' she can't make out. I turn to my right, lookin' for the boy. He ain't movin'.
“Jenny?” I breathe. My voice hasn't come out too strong lately. “Is he...” I trail off. That sentence don't need to be finished. Jenny's eyes cloud over. They's darker than my Mama's but still quite pretty. I’m findin’ I like those eyes. I like ‘em very much.
She don't answer my question direct like. All see says is “Look away when they come for him. That's a sight no young soul needs.” I don't ask her what she means. I don't want to know.
They come 'round soon enough. They's carryin' a burlap sack big enough to hold a child or two. The man with the stick prods the slaves in they sides, walkin’ on if they move or squeal. The men make their way down the line stoppin’ at the boy. When they poke him he don’t move. He don’t scream or cry out. He just lays there, almost peaceful. Would have been peaceful if dried blood hadn’t been caked to his cheeks in ugly brown rivers. Jenny kicks me and I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t open them for a long while.
* * *
I only do open my eyes ‘cause the rope ‘round my neck is bein’ pulled upward and it’s stranglin’ me. We’s all getting’ up now. Guess it’s time to march. A large round man steps up in front of us. He’s the leader of the slave coffle. Dear Jesus! I’ve seen smaller churches! He is round as the moon and with a complexion of anything but. A wicked lookin’ scar sits on long sunburned cheeks. I ain’t never seen eyes like his. Like a crow’s they are, black and beady and flickerin’ from side to side every few seconds. His thin line of a mouth curves down in a perpetual frown.
“Listen up, you worthless niggers,” he right near screeches at us. I shudder when he speaks. That man has the voice of a corpse. You better make sure he ain’t the one to collect you when you die, ‘cause if he is I know exactly where you’s goin’. “My name is John. Not like you need to know. I just like getting’ acquainted with my flock before you’re all gone away.” His voice turns icy, if that’s even possible. “But you’re not anythin’ better than my mule now. Not one bit better. You’re lucky you’re alive. Now if you take one step outa line,” he pauses, his skeletal lips twistin’ into an ugly grimace of a smirk. “Well then I guess one less n***** won’t matter much will it?” He laughs himself hoarse at this, showin’ off his lovely arrangement off twisted gray teeth. His laugh dies in his throat and he’s solemn as a stone. “Let’s move.”
Whip in hand he jostles his way over to his horse. It takes him a couple tries to get his fat behind up on that there saddle. I think my favorite part is when his foot slips on the stirrup and his whole motley body comes crashin’ down on his self. I smile for the first time since those men opened our door.
We’ve been walkin’ for three days now. My feet are about to fall off, I swear they are. Them whites don’t have any mercy, it’s just march, march, march, you fell down? Get up ‘fore I whip you. Can’t walk no more? Well ain’t that a sorry piece a work. We’ll drag you then. The days blur together. I don’t see, don’t hear, I don’t feel no more. I don’t allow myself to feel. In a way the constant movement of the walkin’ is good for me. It lets me forget ‘bout… ‘bout things I don’t wanna think ‘bout. At night it’s the worst. There ain’t anything to distract me from thinkin’ then. Rememberin’ mostly, rememberin’ and wonderin’.
* * *
Jenny sees me in my stupor and she don’t like it, not a bit. That night when we’s all down on the ground she shuffles close to me so she can whisper in my ear. I like her voice. It’s deeper, richer than Mama’s, but with the same timber and calmness to it.
“Amanita,” she murmurs. I’d told her my name a few days ago when she asked it. “Amanita, listen to me. This will not help you. It will not help them. It only- Listen!” she says and pinches me hard in the side. I only whimper and blink at her. “It only makes you grieve. There’s no crime in the grievin’ but you have to know when that time is over!” She stops, starin’ at me long and cold. She looks like Mandiki now, when she used to wonder whether I was truth tellin’ or speakin’ lies. When she speaks again her voice is low and flat. “I see your eyes, Ami. They’re dead. There’s nothin’ there. I need you to put life back in there. Do it for your Mama. For Bala and Mandiki, do it for me. If you give up now, you let them win,” her eyes flicker to the white men’s tent when she says this. “You can’t let them win Ami. You can’t ever let them win.” And with that she rolls over and says no more. For a long time it’s silent in the camp. Then-
“Thank you, Jenny.” I won’t lose that easy.
The auction block: such an innocent soundin’ thing. I can tell you right now it ain’t. It’s awful. A big wooden stand with a podium and a gavel is all there is to it. Simple, right? Wrong. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. They stand us up next to it and then show us off like cattle. The buyers walk by me but none ever pause. They just keep walkin’ and I don’t wonder why. I’m a scrawny thing, I ain’t quick or strong; I ain’t pretty neither. Nothin’ that would make a good slave. Slowly the other slaves are sold by the auctioneer, who tells the crowd what fine specimens they are, strong like an ox or gentle with the children. The whites shout out numbers, bids, and the slave goes to the highest bidder.
Jenny’s in front of me. When it comes her time the ropes are cut and she’s led up the steps, but not before she turns and winks at me. Jenny is “a pretty young woman with strength unknown to us folk,” the auctioneer calls gaily to the crowd. “And look at these hands-” he pauses to show them to the crowd. “Fit for rocking a baby to sleep. Lets start the bidding at… $250!” Numbers are shouted ‘cross the lawn and in the end Jenny is sold for $476 and a nickel. Her new master hustles to the front and drags her down by the elbow. She don’t slip once. I love that woman.
Then it’s my turn. A lump the size of a horse has formed in my throat and no matter how many times I swallow it won’t budge. My ropes are cut and I’m led up the wooden stairs. I’m shakin’ so hard I don’t think I can stand and true to my thoughts my knees buckle and the auctioneer has to hold me up. He don’t say anythin’ just grips me tight and tries to cover it up. The show must go on and all. Gruntin’ he sets me on my feet keepin’ a hand on my arm ‘case I fall again.
“Well,” he says, slightly pantin’. “I’m not going to lie. She’s not a looker.” Chuckles follow his remark and I scowl, fightin’ the tears that are burnin’ in my eyes. “But ladies and gents look at these muscles!” He halfheartedly pulls at my arm. “Right. We’ll start the bidding at $75.” $75! Only 75! I thought I would be worth at least a bit more. The man with Jenny steps forward.
“I’ll give you $80 for her, Tom,” he says.
“$80 my-” the man, Tom, starts, but the man raises a finger to silence him.
“You know you’ll receive nothing more for her. You’re lucky I’ll pay this much. Go ahead, auction her at $80.”
Tom stumbles over his words like a new calf on wobbly legs. “Eighty- eighty dollars to Mister LeGraph,” he looks around hopefully, but nothing else is shouted, no hands are raised. “Eighty going once,” again he pauses. “Twice,” he looks a bit desperate now. “And… sold to Mister LeGraph,” he says crestfallen.
I have been sold to a Mister LeGraph for eighty measly dollars, an all time low.
Massa LeGraph’s plantation is called La Tanière De Renard. It means “the fox’s lair” in French. It sounds so scary. But I’ve got Jenny with me, somethin’ I hadn’t hoped to pray for.
Massa sets us all up in his wagon but he don’t chain us together like John did. This is a very good sign. He comes next to me and Jenny and asks to see her hands. She shows ‘em to him and he smiles.
“You’re a hard worker, aren’t you miss?” Jenny nods, not really sure where he’s goin’ with this. I ain’t sure either.
He frowns a little. He’s quite a handsome man. I don’t like it when he frowns. “It would be a shame to lose you to the fields…” he frowns harder, lost in thought. Then he smiles. “You’ll be the missus’s servant. Does that serve you…?” he trails off.
“Jenny,” she squeaks. “My name is Jenny. I’ll work with your miss.”
He nods approvingly and walks on to me. “I’m sorry to say it, but Tom was right about you. Your not strong, your not pretty… do you have any talents?”
Don’t cry Ami you can’t cry, not now. “Yes suh. I can sew.” Which I can. Mama taught me when I was eight. I ain’t a genius at it but I can get by.
“Hmm,” is all he says. He turns to leave but I speak up again.
“Suh?” I say all cautious and timid.
“Yes, what?” he’s getting’ impatient so I make it fast.
“Suh… I can- I can read, too.”
“Wonderful. You’ll be in the main house then.”
And here I am.
The Main House, La Tanière De Renard, 1786
It’s huge, as big or bigger than our church back home. There’re columns and tapestries everywhere and a general air of… well, fineness. I don’t wanna go in, everythin’ seems so grand and clean, which by the way I certainly ain’t. I haven’t had a bath since… lord when was it…
My contimplatin’s interrupted by what must be the missus’s voice.
“…Check the flowers, will you Kenny? Their looking a bit dry. Oh and the eggs for tomorrow’s tea need to be collected and stored, can you see to that Melinda? Danny the new slaves are due any minute clean up this mess at once!” Each request is followed by a lowly “yes, mistress,” and I can only imagine a curtsy or bow.
I smell her ‘fore I see her: lilacs and orange blossoms and things I can only dream of smellin’ blended in one flowery concoction of wonderful smellin’ goodness. I’m starin’ at my hands when she walks in, tryin’ desperately to scrub some dirt out of them. Givin’ it up as pointless I sigh and look up. I wasn’t countin’ on gaspin’.
Missus LeGraph is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. More beautiful than Mandiki. Her skin’s so white it’s like milk straight from the cow with that indescript shine of rosy cheeks. Plump dark red lips and straight pointy nose with a straight jaw and high cheek bones make her look dark and mysterious. She would stay lookin’ that way too if not for the eyes. A deep gray blue they’re shockin’ at first, but it reminds me of our well after a rainstorm: full to burstin’ but not quite ready to give away its treasures. My heart aches at seein’ her. I would die for those eyes, for that face. Tall and graceful she floats t’ward us.
“When I point to you I want your name and the station my husband assigned you,” she says briskly already pointin’ at the first man in our motley line.
“Samuel, field hand,” he says. She points him in the general direction of the doors.
“Find Grimsby, he’ll show you around.” He nods and departs.
Pointin’ to the next woman: “Patty, cook’s assistant.” She’s shown to the kitchen and told to find Georgia.
On it goes down to Jenny who is told to wait for the missus ‘till she’s done and now it’s me.
“Name?” she asks disdainfully.
“Ama- Amanita,” I stumble out.
She glares at me. “What kind of a name is that? It’s not in the least bit Christian. Simply to hard to pronounce. No, your name is Amy.” I look down and let a few tears escape. Life just ain’t fair. I don’t even get my name.
“Stop crying. What is your position?”
“I don’t have one miss. He didn’t-” but ‘fore I can finish she walks up bold as you please and smacks me ‘cross the face. For a moment I just stand there astonished. I ain’t never been slapped before. Then the pain kicks in and I’m cryin’ without realizin’ I am.
“What- what was that for mi-” but again she slaps me hard, this time on my other side. I don’t say no more just stand there cryin’, holdin’ my hands to my stingin’ cheek. Her eyes are on fire. I ain’t never seen anybody so mad, not even Daddy.
“How dare you,” she says, her voice little more than a whisper. “How dare you.” She’s gainin’ control of herself now, the words comin’ sharp as knifes at my face. “My dear husband has the kindness to buy you, give you a nice, clean place to work. And this is how you repay him?” She’s yellin’ by the time she finishes.
“I-I’m sorry mi-” I start to stammer.
“DON’T!” she screams. “If you are ever to address me it is to be yes, Mistress or no, Mistress! I never want to hear the word miss again. Not miss, not ma’am, Mistress!”
If looks could kill I’d be deader than two dead things what walked into a lake with stones in they pockets. Deader than that.
“Yes, Mistress,” I breathe.
“Get out,” she says, her voice cold and quiet.
I don’t need to be told twice. Leapin’ up I run as fast as I can. There’s a crash behin’ me but I don’t stop to see what she’s thrown. I don’t know where I’m goin’ or really what I’m doin’, all I knows is I gotta get away, I gotta run. Gotta run. It ain’t like me to have flashbacks but here I am, six years old and Daddy’s chasin’ after me. I don’t know what I did, I don’t remember. But Daddy came at me, switch in hand and I bolted. I warn’t gonna be switched no more. So I ran from him, out the door, down the street, and up my favorite hill. I hid there, not comin’ out ‘till well after dark. Daddy’s already drank himself to a slumber, so I crept in an’ snuggled up next to Bala.
I run straight to the nearest barn I can find. Barn’s mean lotsa soft, sweet smellin’ hay and companionship. Animals don’t care if you’s a n***** or not. Sure enough there’s plenty a cows. I crawl into the hay bin and just lay there a while, lettin’ the tears seep outa me until there couldn’t possibly be any liquid left in my body. As usual after my cryin’ fest I’m greeted with a great bone numbin’ tiredness. I don’t wanna fight it. I let the feelin’ take me and soon I’m dreamin’.
* * *
“Girly! Girly get up! The Massa be comin’! Get up!” But it’s so warm and soft here in the hay… I’ll get up in a moment, I tell the voice. A moment… I could be dreamin’, anyway… you can’t really tell you know… cold water hits my face like a ton of bricks. I scream and open my eyes. The most handsome boy I ever seen is standin’ over me. I want to reach out and stroke his cheek to make sure he’s real. He’s gotta be around fifteen, with dark curly hair and a big cocky grin. If I had my wits about me I’d put a nice little bruise up next to that grin, show him for waterin’ me. Dumb black boy… pretty black boy… pretty but dumb. “Get up!” he says. “The Massa be comin’! He’ll whip you good if you’re just layin’ there!”
That puts a spring to my step. “I’m up!” I call to no one in particular. He smiles. Nice smile Pretty Dumb Black Boy. “My name’s Isaac. What’s yours girl?”
“Ama-” I start, and remember my new name. “Amy.” I hiss.
“Ah… so the witch got to you too?”
I snap my head up. “The Mistress gave me this name.”
He nods darkly. “Aye. She’s a cursed one, yes Amy. You watch out for her.”
I don’t have time to say anymore ‘cause the Massa come walkin’ by right then.
“What’re you doing? Idleness will send you to the Devil!”
“Yes Master, of course Master,” Isaac says. I have to stuff my fist in my mouth to keep from laughin’ out loud. Behind his back Isaac is makin’ a very rude hand gesture.
“Back to work,” he growls. His attitude has certainly changed.
“Please suh, I ain’t got no work to be told of. You never told me of any,” I say.
“Which one are you?” he asks.
Hurt, I reply a bit harshly. “The one what ain’t pertty or strong, the one who can read and sew.”
“Oh right. You’re in the main house. Get to it and ask for Gina.” And with that he takes his leave.
“Come on Amy. I’ll get you there,” Isaac says softly. I think I like him.
* * *
On the walk over I ask more ‘bout the “Mistress”.
“Oh she’s a mean old heart,” Isaac tells me. “Wicked and cruel. She likes watchin’ the slave beatin’s you know…” We’re at the house now and I say a goodbye.
“You just be careful Amy. You’re a smart girl I know, but the Mistress will catch you when you least expectin’ it. Good day, Amy.” Whistlin’ he turns and struts off.
Grimly I face the house. Using the servant’s entrance I walk into the busilin’ kitchen, stoppin’ one of the girls to ask where Gina was. In the attic. Why am I not surprised. Is three flights of stairs from the basement kitchen to the attic. Grudgingly I climb ‘em, cursin’ my life with each step. The attic is unusually bright, light and airy with white walls and a rose trim. Shame you can’t see nothin’, there must be a thousand pieces of junk in here.
“Gina?” I call.
“Yes deary?” she crows from behind a portrait of a shepherd on his perch.
“I’m Amy, I was told to find you.” She comes bustlin’ out then, all pink cheeked and blue eyed. And white! White as sugar. I just stand there, completely taken a back by what I’s seein’.
“Oh Amy are you the one who can sew? Yes you must be. Well come here now!” she beckons for me and I creep forward. Her eyes take me in, notin’ my bare feet and general lack of prettiness. She lingers on my still unusually red cheeks and she frowns.
“Oh no. No, no Lordy no. Was it her? Did my sister get you?” It takes me a moment to realize she’s talkin’ ‘bout the Mistress.
“Yes, Miss,” I trill quiet as I can.
She sighs and puts a hand to her brow. “How could she hurt something so beautiful?” she says almost to herself. “I swear I don’t know what gets into her sometimes. Are you alright? Amy you okay darling?”
“No ones ever called me beautiful before,” I choke out, laughin’ at my absurd tears.
“Well I don’t see why not! Come here!” I run to her and she wraps her arms ‘round me. “You are beautiful,” she whispers. “Don’t ever let them tell you differently.”
Gina teaches me swift as a bee how to sew the dresses, which is what we’s doin’. Tearin’ out the old seams and stitchin’ ‘em in again. Whenever I can I slip a scrap of fabric into the folds of my dress. I got a plan, I just need more cloth.
Gina’s been a mama to me in the couple months I been here. She gives me fair warnin’ when the Mistress’s comin’ and I stay well out of her way. Mistress don’t like me I know it, you’d have to be stone deaf not to. I’m just hopin’ to avoid the whippin’.
The days turn into a routine of sorts: up before the sun shines, even the cows are still sleepin’ in they stalls. Then it’s to the well to draw water for washin’ my face and arms. I bring some to the house, too. If I have time I might collect some flowers for Isaac before he goes off the work in the fields. He likes those flowers so and I love to pick them. One day I gave a really pretty bunch to him and he…He kissed my cheek. Just real soft and quick! Then we both turned away blushin’. I still haven’t washed that cheek. Or I’ll make a daisy crown for Gina. The first time I gave one to her she hugged me so tight I couldn’t breathe. She is not what you’d call a small woman. I go to the kitchen next, hopin’ to shove somethin’ down my throat ‘fore Gina wakes. Early riser… couldn’t she sleep more? Usually I’m up in the attic watchin’ the sun rise when she comes in, her nightgown billowin’ ‘round her like some great bird. Straight to the stitchin’ with talk and laughter all through. Around noon she’s gone again and I’m back to the kitchen. You pick up interestin’ things there: who’s had a baby with who, how the crops goin’, where the west fields lead to, how you want to trick the dogs with meat so they don’t follow you… Interestin’ things. I work up in the attic until Gina says it’s enough. Usually she does very little stitchin’ herself, just sits with a pitcher of lemonade for her and one of water for me, talkin’, tellin’ jokes, stories…gossip… Most of it I don’t understand but it’s nice to hear anyways. When she feels were done the moon’s already high enough I can’t see it out the winda. “Goodnight Amy,” she always says. “A job well done.”
I’ll not go into detail of the thing ‘cause it’ll make you sick. Long story short: small rectangular room with a dirt floor and wooden bed. That’s about it. But one of the boards in the sidin’ is loose, real loose. Loose enough that I can pull it back and store all my treasures in there: the needle Gina first gave me, a spool of thread I stole, a whistle Isaac found for me, the top Jenny had given me the one time I’d seen her in the past six months I’ve been here (the evil woman never lets her out of her sight), and a course the list. I only need a bit more cloth.
I finally corner Isaac in the barns durin’ Gina’s lunch. I feel like he’s been avoidin’ me lately. I ain’t seen him ‘round much.
“Isaac!” I call runnin’ up to him. Hearin’ my voice he picks up the pace. Frownin’ I run till I catch him. “Isaac,” I say again a little breathless this time, grabbin’ his arm. “Isaac I’ve done it! I told you I had a plan, right? Well I finished it!”
“Hm,” is all he says and starts walkin’ ‘gain.
“I’m getting’ out Isaac, I really am. All that work’s gonna pay off.”
He stops suddenly and rounds on me. “Amy I don’t think we should be talking about this. Please, for your own safety, tell me no more.”
Confused I stare at him. “But… but I want you to come with me! Isaac listen, I’s been takin’ scraps a fabric an’ stitchin’ it together, secret like you know. There’s a loose board that I can hide things in above my bed. Then whenever I hear somethin’ that’s might come in handy for a runaway I stitch it in. The list’s almost long as me now! You should come with me and Jenny too. I’m goin’ within the week. Think about it Isaac.” To my utter amazement Isaac turns and slumps ‘gainst the barn wall. Puttin’ his face in his hands he sits for a long moment.
“Oh Amy…” he says without liftin’ his face. “You don’t know what you just done… I’m so sorry Amy, so sorry.”
“What’s there to be sorry for?” I ask cautiously. “You ain’t done nothin’.”
“Nothin’ yet.” He sighs. “I have to go Amy. Goodbye.” Quick as a fox he’s gone.
The day when your life unravels seems to always start as a normal one. I woke early as always, drew the water and went to the kitchen. The mornin’ was uneventful exceptin’ the news that the northern pasture was clean of cotton which means no cover. It wasn’t ‘till after Gina came back from her lunch that my world fell apart.
I’s workin’ on a particularly hard seem that just didn’t want to come out and it’s given me a bit of a headache starin’ at it so long. Sighin’ I lay down my scissors to try a different way of tackling’ the stubborn stitchin’. The door bursts open and we both snap our heads t’wards it. There framed in the light of the hall like a demonic angel stands the Mistress. Flanked on either side of her are two men I know to be overseers.
She only sneers at me in a way of recognition. She nods to the men, an action that will chill your very soul. In they come and pick me up by the elbows. It don’t occur to me to scream. To thrash and fight like I did those first two evil men. I just let them drag me. There’re sounds all around me, crashes, yellin’, cryin’, but I can’t hear words, distinguish voices. Colors flash before my eyes but I can’t make sense of their shapes and meanin’s. Numb. The word sounds dully in my dead mind. Funny… How you can be numb… To not feel… Not see… Hear… Not hear… Can’t…see…
They drag me. I don’t know how long but I know where: the whippin’ post next to the Bloody Tree, where they hang the slaves when they’ve run. Something under…me…Grass…maybe…
We ain’t movin’ anymore. Somethin’… somethin’ binds my wrists to the post. Numb. A shape blurs into my line of sight. A face, a watery…watery face… the face sharpens, brightens, as does the whip… I ain’t numb no more.
“You!” I scream. “How could you! I trusted you! I trusted you with everythin’!” I scream at him long and I scream hard, ‘till one of the overseers offers to shove somethin’ in my mouth to shut me up. He just waves them off. I scream at him ‘till I’s hoarse, ‘till I can’t say no more, ‘till I can only whisper “I thought I loved you.”
Only then does Isaac lift his face so I can see the tears in his eyes.
Isaac’s tears were the last coherent thought I remember, is all blurred into one eternal sentence of pain and misery. The whip cut into my back more times than I want to count, bitin’ me, openin’ me, lettin’ my blood run down in rivers of agony, paintin’ my back scarlet until you couldn’t see the black of my skin, only the sickly red of my blood. The pain is unimaginable; I hope no one could imagine it, like dyin’ a thousand deaths and comin’ back to life, only to die again in yet a more painful way until you scream and plead for your death to be final. I cried out. I know I did. I don’t know what I said, or how loud, havin’ used most my voice for Isaac. I might have asked for death. Probably begged for it. Probably cried and screamed until my call was no more. Right before my world went black one thought entered my head: Isaac is holdin’ this whip.
Cool fingers smear somethin’ deliciously cold and sticky onto my back. “Oh…” I moan. This fingers pause. “Amy?” he asks. No.
“Get out. Get away from me. Never come near me again.”
“I can’t do that. I realized… I want to be with you Amy. I love you too.”
“You whipped me Isaac.”
“I know, I know I shouldn’t have told her, but I had to! Amy, I’m an overseer now. Can’t you see why I had to do this?” I turn my head as slight as I can, my head’s poundin’. His face is the pure look of innocence, but in his eyes there’s somethin’ I should a seen the first time he woke me in the hay all those months ago: the love of cruelty. I’d caught flashes of it at times, small, indescript things, things I’d shake off sayin’ it was just the light: the flicker of a smile when someone screamed in pain; the small twinge of hunger in his eyes when he saw blood; and worse yet, the demonic light to his face when he held a whip. When he held power.
“I don’t Isaac. I don’t understand. You liked hittin’ me. Don’t deny it.” He looks hurt now, but the look doesn’t leave his eyes. He don’t answer. I close my eyes, fightin’ my tears.
“You should leave now. And you shouldn’t come back.”
“OUT!” I scream twistin’ to look him in the eye. My back explodes in fire and I don’t see anymore.
* * *
The list is gone. I thought it would be but I still hoped. All of my treasures are gone. What I didn’t tell the traitor was that I had a secret storage of food and supplies behind the well. I hope I can remember the list well enough. I’ll have to. As soon as I can stand without collapsin’ I’m leavin’. I’ll be free or I’ll die tryin’.
To be a slave is to not be respected. It is to be frightened at every waking hour, to have that horror haunt your dreams while you try to sleep your exhaustion away. It is to be betrayed by someone you thought you could trust. It is to be worked to your limit and beyond without rest. It is to be abused. It is to have your family wrenched from your arms, to have every person you love and care for disappear when you need them most. It is to have your skin torn open and your blood spilled without regret. To be a slave is to be a slave, not a human.
After three years of running, terror, and panicky situations I, Amanita, am no longer a slave.