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My name is Abenaa, and I am a child of the Ocean.
I had always enjoyed this, because the Ocean never stopped fascinating me; its foamy waves, washing shells away and returning shiny new ones; its lonely call in the middle of the night, rattling through my village like beads on a necklace; its soul, blue and dark, mysterious and familiar. Sometimes I would take my own necklace and shake it, so the Ocean could hear the beads when it lost the company of the Sun, impatient for the Moon to rise and be its friend.
But my necklace is gone now, swallowed by Ocean, who caught my beads for me as they were flung outwards by my captors. They did not want me to have a necklace. I did not know why, but when we looked different and talked different they got very angry with us, like we didn't understand who we were. To them, we were dark, and that was all.
Now on my back are symbols I don't understand, burning like Fire itself is licking me. I do not like Fire's soul; it is hot and painful and wild. I lie naked in the black belly of the seabird, surrounded by more dark like me. We do not talk. We do not cry. We do not even breathe.
We are the dark.
Now that we are stripped of our items, I cannot tell who I know. Ashanti, Berber, Songhai, they all look the same. I am alone. Almost. I close my eyes and pray to my ancestors and Nature, asking for hope, a reason, anything. What had I done? Had I insulted one of the fairies when I trespassed in their woods? Had I forgotten to honor my ancestors this year?
My mother and father were taken away when I climbed into this seabird that has flown us away from our homeland. The Fire took their souls for its own when the strange men came. The men had found a way to harness its rage, letting it rip into my village with jagged teeth and glowing eyes. Perhaps it is Fire that is angry with me.
I hold my stomach like a bowl in my arms, feeling sick as we roll and roll along. The air is thick with sweat and sick and sadness. It is the foulest stench I have ever smelled.
Above us, something approaches, making the steps squeak as they open a small door and thrust us into the light. I close my eyes tightly. The Sun is burning with rage, but for me or my captors I do not know. A bright man forces us to stand, weak and dizzy as we are, and head for the top of the bird. I wait silently until I feel a tug on the chain on my leg and rise to follow the line. A new sound rises above the Ocean's cries, sharp and whining. A man is wiping a stick back and forth on string. The poor creature shrieks in despair.
Music, the men tell us. They are so pale in the light that the Sun makes them glow. If I was at home, I would have thought they were gods. But I know better. Oh, Nyame, how I know. The shrieks grow louder as we slowly realize they are serious. If I had the strength, I would have laughed. They think that their screeching creature is making music. I think of the talking drums we have back home, and their long, low tones that echo, sending messages all the way to the Mountains.
A whip cracks, and Fire stings me once more.
It is no longer funny.
More cracks sound, like the snapping jaws of a forest monster. At each one a foot rises and falls in alarm, until we are hopping to avoid them. Soon a strange, awkward dancing is forced out of our shuffling feet. When we try to call to the ancestors with our hands and feet, they get angry again, making us do the same steps over and over. Nyame, I say to the Ocean, who simply stretches out long waves to me, yawning. The Sky, the silent bearer of our suffering, watches.
And we dance.
I thank the Moon, for it has graced us with a night as dark as we.
When it is darker, I am allowed to imagine I am home, gathering water from the River for my family. At home I am a woman, and that means I am the bearer of life. It means that I am the giver of flesh and blood and the receiver of the River's blood to deliver to my clan.
But here, I am a girl, and that means I am weak.
There is another good thing about the darkness. It is the only time I can cry.
As the tears slide down, I pray to Nature for guidance in my journey and the protection of the Golden Stool. It is so dark here that I long for the Sun again. But when the Sun rises to awaken the Sky, so must the white men rouse to hurt us more.
I hear a knock from above, waking us up. None of us are sleeping anyway.
It seems that they cannot wait for the Sun to commit their deeds.
A few men come down, mere shadows in the dark, and walk among us, kicking limbs to the side to clear their path. They stop at times, grabbing some of us to join them. I wipe my eyes with a damp arm, blurring them again with sweat. They come over to where I am, and, slowly, a hand curls around my arm. I flinch at first, but there is nothing else to do except follow. At least it will be less hot outside, but that is little comfort to me. I look around to see who else has been picked: two tall women that tower over me, a few small children, both boy and girls, and one lone man. The white men hunger for our bodies.
We give them, praying our spirits will survive us.
When it is my turn, I imagine Trees. They wave to me, blessing me with silent peace. Then the Stones, who give me strength. The River grants me its serene flow of acceptance, and the Moon hides my shame.
The Ocean rolls ever on and on, watching the darkness chase into light.
When the Sun returns, so does the pain of Fire.
We are getting sick down here. We don't have the Sun to warm us, and there isn't enough air to breathe between all of us. I let my head roll to the side as I look at the others. No one moves. I cannot tell who is alive anymore.
But our masters do. They come down today and inspect us, lifting limp hands, opening heavy eyelids, slapping vacant faces. They come to me again. I shrink away in fear. No more. No more...But they do not want me. They want the woman next to me, who has not woken up yet. I watch as one throws her over a shoulder, complaining of the weight in that strange, flat language they have, and carries her away, lifeless arms swinging back and forth.
I feel more sick.
Soon, even more people are carried out, until I have enough room to shift around. I sit on an elbow to look around. My chains rattle and I think of the Ocean's call. Maybe it will hear me through my chains. Hesitantly, I grip the links and shake them. The others look at me in confusion, but I stop, waiting for a response. For a while, there is nothing, and I begin to despair. The seabird groans as it flies across the water.
Then the waves pick up, making a sound like beads on a necklace.
I rattle my chains harder as everyone else watches, murmuring a seasong.
The Ocean replies, current slapping itself like a drumbeat, over and over.
I try to shake them again, but someone else does before me, and then another, and another.
The darkness shakes.
Suddenly the Sun bursts in, and the men with it. They yell strange words of anger, but we do not stop. A dark man rises and knocks one over, and then we are the tide. The darkness swells in fury, clawing and biting and kicking as hard as we can. I cannot feel myself. We are one being that fights without caring, knowing our ancestors are furious with us. Thunder claps around me and powdery smoke rises; Fire shoots out of their sticks as they fight us away. But I am done with Fire. I will fight. I will kill. I will not go quietly. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them--
And then, just like that, it is over.
The tide breaks.
Those of us that are still alive huddle closer as we are cornered, returning to our spots. Above us I can hear the chosen people being thrown into the Ocean, who takes their bodies so their souls can fly back to their homelands. I wish to go home, too, but it is too late; I must suffer the burden of survival.
When Moon returns, so do the white men. They are hungry again.
We awake to a great slap against wood, a thump that echoes in my bones and rattles my teeth.
I hope the Ocean can hear its rattling, too.
The white men are very happy now. They have their homeland. They bless us with their dead god as they wake us, proclaiming that we have been saved by their father. But Housefather is at home, the Dirt holding his body down so his soul may go free. I do not understand who this new father is. If this is what he likes, then I want no part of him.
Out we all go, our chains making a ragged line of trapped souls and filthy bodies. Of the hundreds we began with, only a few dozens of us remain, our darkness punished by the heat. I think of the water under us, made dark with bodies. We walk together, outside of the big seabird, down the steps, and into a land I've never seen anything like before. Where my home is bright and vibrant with red Clay and green Trees and blue Sky, theirs is just gray. Stones are wedged in between one another, making a tall monster that breathes out smoke from its top. The monsters are everywhere.
The white men push our gawking bodies forward, humiliated and broken, into more bright light, surrounding us with people. They clamor around, calling for us by body. They do not even know our names, but one by one, we are forced apart.
One by one, the darkness fades, until we are all alone again.
I am called.
I look at who is wanting me: he is pale, too, with beady little eyes and a straight mouth without laughter. He will probably be hungry for me too. I bet he will hurt me and beat me and try to take away my soul like the other men did. He will be no different.
Then I look to the Ocean. It froths and swirls, its mesmerizing blues cloaking unimaginable horrors. The Ocean is quiet. The Ocean is neutral. The Ocean always knows what will happen. It looks at me with its big, dark waters, saying nothing. Then, a bead surfaces, bobbing in the waves hopefully.
I believe in the Ocean.
And so I offer myself away to the man, surging with the power of my family.
Soon, Abenaa, the Ocean says as I leave, and my soul rattles in response.