To Be A Slave
Author's note: This was actually a school project, a five page paper, that turned into so much more.
La Tanière De Renard, 1786Massa 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.”