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I Ran Away
“Carly!” I whispered. “Please, don’t squeeze my hand so tightly.”
“Sorry A.K… I’m just scared that’s all. Sister, we have to stay together.”
“It’s fine. We will. We’ve been together forever. They want big families.” I bent down and gritted my teeth as my shackles rubbed on my wrist burns. “I won’t let us get separated. Ok? Now be strong and don’t cry. They aren’t fond of weakness. If you cry then the new ones will make it miserable for all of us.” I stood back up and ignored Carly as she wiped a tear from her cheek.
I’ve always thought that the auction was the worst part about being a slave. The ones brought in from their own mainland’s on the stock boats wear little clothes, and are loaded into the stock cages. Slaves like my own family are usually sold privately or at separate auctions since we have been someone’s slave for a quite a while. We are treated considerably better than the others. But we were at a joint auction.
My mother covered baby Mo’s eyes and rocked her to sleep so she wouldn’t be frightened at her first auction. I held my breath as to not cry out as I watched the stock slaves being thrown onto the platform and scream and try to break free. Their backs were slick and shiny still from the tar that had been played across their backs to cover up the whip lashes. It always disgusted me to see the white men, and occasionally a woman, come up on stage and examine them to see what condition they were in. They would probably do the same for us. I was dreading getting up on the stage. Mrs. Simpson refused to sell us separately. The others would loath us because they had no choice but to be separated. I shivered as I heard the white men laugh and talk about breeding. I have always done my best to be a good slave, so as to not cause harm to my family. But they were crazy if they ever thought of forcing such a thing on me.
We were pushed up on the platform as a family and Mrs. Simpson told them our names. Most of the time, our owners would choose new names for us. But Mrs. Simpson liked our names that our very first owners had given us, and stuck with them. The auction started, first they examined us, and they opened our mouths and felt our muscles. Then people would bid on us. One or two asked if they could buy us separately, but Mrs. Simpson refused. We were quite fortunate to have Mrs. Simpson. She worked us hard, and she could be harsh at times, but she was kind. Our owners before that were an old couple. They were cruel. So we all stayed out of their way unless they were to give us a command. I was shivering thinking about who would want us this time around.
I looked around at everyone there, deciding who they wanted. There were a couple reasonable ones. An older lady who caught Carly’s eye. But Carly knew better than to talk. The last time a young kid spoke and asked to go with someone, she got slapped and separated from her family. There was a middle aged farmer, but the most appealing ones were a family. A boy around my age, a small girl, and mother and father. The boy was good looking and I caught myself wishing they would ask for us. What was I thinking? They wouldn’t want another family, and the worst thing I could do was be attracted to a white.
I caught the mother and father of the family whispering in the middle of the bidding. They called out the highest bid at $1,605 pounds.
A security guard came and unlocked the chains on my family’s hands and loaded us into a carriage with the Lane family. As we were loaded in I looked over at an older man who was yelling at his horse to move on, then he took the reins and slapped the horse on his hide. The loud snap of the reins on the horse’s backside sounded like a whip being played on the back of a darkie like myself. The noise made me wince, along with the better part of my family. I stared at the horse and looked it in the eyes. The sad brown eyes that looked almost exactly like my own. Sad and in pain. I suddenly felt pity for the horse. He was exactly like me. An animal trained to listen to and obey each and every command of a white man. An animal practically ready for slaughter. A slave for life.
“Get movin you Darkie!” The security guard yelled.
The family and I sat silent in the carriage for a long while until Mrs. Lane spoke up. She reached out and brushed my wrist. “Oh my, how painful that looks. We’ll be sure to soak that when we get to our home. Would you like that?” She tried to look me in the eye, but I looked down at my wrists and rubbed them softly.
“Yes ma’am.” I whispered.
“Would you mind if I asked your names again? I didn’t quite catch them.”
I was in complete shock, but I wouldn’t show it. Most masters would not even let us ride in the same carriage let alone ask what our names were. Or especially offer to soak our wounds. Most would laugh and wait to cause us even more pain.
“I’m Ana-Kate, My sisters Carly and Mo, and Mama and Papa.”
“I call her A.K!” Carly cried, and I immediately glared at her and reached to cover her mouth with my hand. She knew better. Now the whole family would be punished.
“May I call you A.K?” Mrs. Lane asked.
I wrinkled my brow and again looked down. “You may call me anything you would like, Miss.”
“I would very much like to call you A.K.” There was a long silence. “I’m sorry about the cruelty at the bargains. A bunch of barbarians they are.” She looked down at me, then at my family, and leaned back in the carriage. “You must find us so disgusting. I do also sometimes. I have been raised in this life, but yes, I do find it wrong at times.” She sighed.
“Yes. They are very wrong.” I whispered my words so quietly Mrs. Lane would not be able to hear. But my parents did. They looked my way with looks of both disappointment and fear. They knew that I knew better. Good thing Mrs. Lane did not hear me.
Mrs. Lane laughed. “But I find it that you need a good home. I have seen how others would treat you. So maybe a little good can come from our actions.” She continued.
I looked around at Mrs. Lane’s family. They had not spoken at all. The son looked very confused, and the daughter looked terrified. “Oh, I’m sorry. I did not introduce my family. This is my son Thomas, and my daughter Sage.” Mrs. Lane said, with a huge grin in her face.
So strange. I thought. No white has ever been this kind.
“May I tell you something?” Mrs. Lane asked, and I nodded. “You have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen.”
I looked up at the pearl white lady in front of me. With clothes that, I would be whipped if I wore. I had always looked at white men and woman and been envious. I had always wanted to wear their pearls and blue dresses with the ribbons. I have always wanted to shed my dark skin and miraculously slip into a light one. But as I fingered my longer, thick, curly black hair, I had a glimmer of hope. Hope that maybe I wasn’t just a person built to serve others. Maybe there was someone who cared about me. Maybe I was beautiful, for me.
“Your quarters will be here. You shall report for work in the fields first thing in the morning.” Mrs. Lane told papa. “Now, A.K, your job will to do about anything and everything that needs done. You will report to Mrs. Washacheck in the kitchen. Your mother’s job will be to tend to the children full time and care for the animals. The young ones will work with each of you to learn these skills. I will put your daily food rations in a certain pantry in here, the shed. I will expect there will be absolutely no missing foods in the stocks. I cannot guarantee punishments. My husband takes care of that. You will all fill your own wash basins from the well. And I will expect our wash basins to be filled promptly after dinner.”
We get our own wash basins? I thought.
“A.K I will show you the rest of the house since you will be in them the most.” I followed Mrs. Lane through the house and first went through the kitchen, then the family room, eating room, and then came to a sleeping room. She gave me a pair of black flat shoes so as to not get my dirty black feet on her beautiful floors.
“This is my son’s quarters, Thomas.” She knocked on the door, and then walked inside with myself following behind her. “Thomas? Sweetheart?” Thomas sat in a chair reading a poetry book that I myself would never be able to read. Not only because I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but mostly because I couldn’t read.
“Thomas’s wash room is straight through there. You can start your duties by filling his wash basin, please. You will find a bucket in his wash room.” Mrs. Lane left the room and I was left alone with Thomas. He didn’t look up but only for a second. I also quickly looked away and headed for his wash room. I gently picked up the bucket and walked through the room, stopping for a brief moment looking at the book in Thomas’s hand.
“Can I help you?” He asked very cruelly.
“No, I was just…..looking.” I mumbled in fear, and then hurried for the door.
I stopped. “Your book, sir.”
“I’m not quite sure, sir.”
“Would you like to read it?”
“Yes….. But no sir.” I walked closer to the door, but he stopped me.
“You do not? Why?”
I turned my head in Master Thomas’s direction. “Sir, I am a slave. It is not fit to talk of such things with a slave. And also……”
“I may talk to a slave whenever and however I would like to.” He stood up quickly and came closer to me. “And also what?”
“Of course, sir. But I cannot read.”
“What? Well of course you can. I have not heard of anyone unable to read.” He growled.
“No sir, I cannot. I have never been taught.” I looked at the floor.
“Why has no one taught you? Now look me in the eyes, slave.”
“Sir I cannot. The law reads that any slave who looks a white man in the eye will be entitled to punishment.”
“Well that is just barbarous! Who cares for the law anyway?”
“Is that all sir?” I whispered.
“I may teach you how to read.”
“No thank you sir.”
“I do not want either of us to be entitled to punishment. Besides, there is nothing I can give to you in return.”
“No need to have fear of punishment. And no need for a gift in return. Tomorrow when you come to fill my wash basin I will give you your first lesson in reading.”
“No. Sir you mustn’t ask this of me. It is too much, for me, to ask of you to give to me.”
“Would you not like to read?”
“Of course sir, but….”
“Then that is final! Tomorrow you will report to my quarters and I will teach you to read.”
“Yes sir.” And I walked out to fill my bucket from the well, so I could fill Master Thomas’s wash basin.
“But why would a white man want to teach you to read, A.K?!”
“Shush! I don’t know Carly! But you mustn’t tell Mama and Papa about this. They will be very disappointed in me. And you must be careful with Master Thomas. I don’t want you to be tricked into such a dangerous arrangement as I was. I only hope he doesn’t tell a soul. I only hope. Now get sleep. We all must report to work early morning.”
“Yes A.K.” I kissed Carly’s forehead and tucked her into her itchy blanket on the cot we shared. “ A.K? You do find Master Thomas rather appealing?”
I laughed at my sister’s innocent comment and nodded my head. “And you must keep that a secret also.”
“I’m Ana-Kate, I was told to come to you.” I said as I walked into the kitchen.
“Uh-huh, I’m Lisa Washacheck. You gonna find a change of clothes in the wash room in your quarters. I expect you to be changed every morning for work. They gotta be washed once a week, that gonna be your job. Now go change and wash your face.”
I found a light blue and white dress with an apron in my quarters that I quickly changed into. Then I rushed to the well, pulled up the bucket, splashed myself in the face with the cool water, dunked my feet into the bucket, and put on my flat shoes. Then I ran into the house and waited for instruction.
“You gonna wait here for the family and serve them breakfast. Then clean here and wait for directions from the misses.” The family came in minutes later, and I served them their breakfast of grits and eggs. They ate mostly in silence until I came to pick up their empty plates.
“Thank you.” Thomas told me. I hesitated as I was shocked but then kept on. But I listened very carefully to the conversation that was held after on my behalf.
“What did you just say Thomas?” Mr. Lane spoke up.
“What did you just say to the slave girl?”
“I said thank you.”
The family went quite.
“What? Is that so shocking? I was being kind. Something I think this whole household must work on. We have been kind to our slaves so forth why not me, now?”
“I am sorry Thomas, but it is just not like you.” Mrs. Lane humbled herself.
“I thought it was nice.” Sage said.
“Well it is like me now. I think you will find a lot of things different about me lately.” Thomas stood up and pushed his chair in, then left the room without another sound.
“So strange.” I whispered to myself.
The rest of my day’s chores went as follows-
Clean the dining room after the family left.
Clean the kitchen.
Clean the mud from the walkway that the family drug in.
Put away food that Mrs. Washacheck bought from the market.
Make the family lunch.
Clean after the family lunch.
Clean up the children’s play room.
Give the dog, Prissy, a bath.
Work in the garden.
Go, by law, to the public square to watch a whipping (which I really didn’t watch. I closed my eyes and covered Carly’s ears)
Clean the family’s rooms.
Make the family dinner.
Fill the family’s wash basins.
Be terrified of what was to come when I filled Master Thomas’s wash basin when he insisted on giving me reading lessons.
“Good day Sir.” I said as I walked into his room.
“Yes, are you ready?”
“For what sir?”
“You’re reading lesson, have you forgotten?”
“No sir, I mean….yes sir…um…”
“No more mumbling…First of all I do not want to be called Sir, or Master. I want to be called my real name. Thomas.”
“Sir I cannot, I.....”
“You will call me Thomas.”
“Yes, Thomas.” I agreed. “But only in your own company. I cannot call you this in others company.”
“For fear of punishment.”
“I have told you to not be afraid of….”
“Yes Thomas! And I have told you the law. I refuse to call you such a name in others company!” I stopped so as to not get too loud.
“Fine.” Thomas obliged clearly upset. “Now next, a question. I find it hard to believe you cannot read. Your speech is just as well as my own. Should not reading and writing come next to speech?”
“Thomas, I have always been in the company of higher white men as yourself and learned your speech. Not the lower kind of my parents. And my own parents have always wanted me to have higher speech so as to communicate.”
“And why did they not teach you to read or write?”
“We had not the time or the money. Also because of the law. You do not know much about my type of life as your mother does?”
“No… Well then, your first lesson will be your alphabet. Do you know your alphabet?”
I recited what I knew, but I will not put it down here. Mostly because I will be quite ashamed of myself.
“No! Stop! That was despicable! Repeat after me. A, B, C, D, E……..” he went on, and I repeated each letter to him.
“Very good. Now do it yourself.”
I did as I was told.
“Very good. Your lesson is done for the day.”
I gave a slight bow and headed for the door. “Hold on.” Thomas stopped me. “You say you would like to repay me for what I’m doing for you?”
I gave a light nod. “Well then, I think I know how you can. I do not want to be the incompetent little boy that everyone thinks me of. I would like you to teach me the law. I do not know much about this. Can you do this for me?”
“Yes of course.” I half laughed.
A white man wanted me to teach him about the law in return for reading lessons. I looked back at Thomas and slightly shivered. He smiled at me, and I turned away. I do not think I will ever cease to be amazed.
The next days usually went the same. My little sister Carly came with me to the kitchen. Mrs. Washacheck told her how she wanted the dishes to be washed. Then she took her to the stables to take care of the animals and I did not see her again until lunch. At Breakfast I noticed that Thomas would not make eye contact with me, as I would not with him. When I did my chores my thoughts were filled with things I’m not quite sure how to describe. I could not quite focus on my work. When I saw Thomas I would get confused. He smiled at me, in a way no one, let alone a white master, had ever done before. I was never quite sure how to carry myself in his presence.
My lesson one night with Thomas was particularly short.
“So you know your alphabet, and the sounds they make. Now you must know vowels and consonants. Your vowels are A, E, I, O, U. Consonants are everything else.”
I repeated as I was supposed to. Then Thomas thought we should continue with his lesson.
“What do you want to know?” I questioned him.
“Any black that looks a white in the eye is entitled to punishment. A black may not talk to a white preacher. No black can read or write. Any black that runs away will be entitled to punishment as much as their master will permit……” I rattled off the unwritten and unspoken laws of black slaves.
“How do you all feel about these laws? What is your point of view?” Thomas questioned, as I it was a question he had wondered about his whole life, which it wasn’t.
“It is not fair. But then again life is never fair for a black like me.” I stated.
“I understand I have not thought about this very much. I have not understood, how horrible. I can see the pain it causes you. I have always been around it and comfortable with it. I have never paid attention.” I could see Thomas cared. But he still did not really seem to understand.
“I understand I am as incompetent as everyone thinks.”
“No you’re not. It is sometimes better to not know things, things that can cause you pain.”
“But if things may cause pain to others, maybe it will be worth it to sacrifice a little pain for yourself, if it will mean saving others from the same fate. Do you not agree?” I took a moment to comprehend his question. It was kind of confusing.
“Maybe. But if that will cause pain for those you truly care about. It may be somewhat harder than it sounds.”
“Is that why you do not stand up against this? Against this cruelty?”
“Somewhat. But mostly out of my own fear. Out of fear, for others, and for myself.” I whimpered.
“But why should pain and fear overcome your courage?”
“It should not. But it does. I have been a slave girl, with my dark black skin, behind a wall of white. And that white wall is significantly stronger than I am. Than a lot of us are.” I whispered and looked at my feet.
“I am truly sorry.”
I gave a light nod of my head. And then I walked towards Thomas’s door.
“Wait! A.K.” I almost fainted when I heard Thomas call me by my name, and not call me slave girl.
Thomas looked me in the eyes. “I’m sorry.”
I nodded my head and looked down at my dark skin compared to his pure white. What has happened? I thought. No white has ever cared. I trusted Thomas for reasons I could not explain. I looked up at Thomas and smiled. I felt safe with him, and I knew that I would never feel the same way about anyone. I knew I could never be with him long enough. And I would never be able to get close enough. “Why?” I whispered.
“Because. No one should ever have to go through what I now know you have had to. No one. Especially you.”
“Again. Why? What’s so special about me? I am just another black servant.”
“You are no servant. Not to me. You are simply a person working for my family.” He smiled and sent me away.
“A.K!!! A.K!!!” Carly screamed as soon as I stepped out of the house.
“What Carly? What’s wrong?” I bent down and held her hand.
“There’s somebody new. We got a new slave!” Carly was bouncing up and down. Happy about the news.
“Have you seen them?” I stood up and looked around.
“No, they will be here soon though. We are all called to wait for them at the front lawn. Come on!” Carly grabbed my hand and pulled me down to the front lawn, where everyone was waiting. Mr. Lane stood smiling on the porch, clearly happy about getting a new field hand.
“What is the latest gossip, Carly?” I said in a hurry.
“It’s sposed to be a boy.”
“Carly! Not an it. A person. Be respectful.”
“Ya…Ya… But aren’t you exited!” Carly shrieked.
“How can I be? I don’t know anything about them. I….”
“Oh! Look!” Carly interrupted, then pointed to the front gates. “The carriage is pulling in!”
I have to admit I was excited. I was hoping the person would be a girl about my age to work with me in the house. I would get very lonely at times in the kitchen all alone for most of the day.
“I wonder if they will have a little girl?!” Carly asked.
“Don’t get your hopes up Carly.”
“Yes…. But won’t it be amazing? To have a little girl my age… to play with and keep me and Penny Company on the days when no one is riding! And on the days when Master Thomas rides she can play with me and Master Thomas! Wouldn’t that just be great?!” Carly pulled up the edge of her dress and danced and twirled around the yard. I was slightly taken aback by her comment.
“Wait… You get to play with Master Thomas in the barn?”
“Yes! And he said that one day he might let me ride Penny also! I can’t wait! Master Thomas is quite nice. He likes to play with me!” I was quite jealous of Carly when she told me this. She had company in the barn with her, while I was alone most days in the house. And Thomas had offered to let her ride! If only I was still so young so I could have her privileges.
“What’s wrong A.K?”
“What? Oh….Nothing….Look their coming in!” I turned Carly’s attention back to the new coming field hand who was being brought in on a carriage tied down to the wooden plank with a metal collar on their neck. Carly was right. It was a boy around my age who was grunting and groaning, trying to break free. You could tell he was going to be a hard one. One who would try to run away…a lot. You could tell he had been struggling with the chains around his hands for quite a while.
“Well what do we have here?” Mr. Lane walked around the carriage looking over the boy. “Put him in the cabin with Ethan.”
Ethan was a boy a little older than me who was always doing as he was told. He would be a good roommate for this boy. Ethan could whip him into shape, as Mr. Lane would say.
“A.K!” Mr. Lane called to me. “You will bring him his food provisions. Now everyone get back to work!”
I headed towards the house to get the boys food. I stomped my feet and slammed the door, slightly angry and disappointed in the whole situation. I didn’t want a boy, and I didn’t want to tend to him. A bad slave would disrupt the whole system that I had just started to get used to. And a bad slave would upset Master, which wasn’t good for anyone.
“I got the boys food ready for you.” Mrs. Washacheck handed me a small plate with bread and a small piece of meat. “Get it to him quick. Don’t get in a conversation with him. I’ve heard rumors bout this one…” I nodded, grabbed the tray and headed for the cabin.
“Ethan!” I called. “I got his food. Open up!” I looked up at the sky that was a dark grey as it faded into night time, and felt the cool air on my face.
“Comin in?” Ethan asked as he opened the door.
“Ya….” I whispered.
I stepped into the dim lit room and looked right at the boy that was tied to the bed in the corner of the room. He looked furious. But for some reason he gave a slight smile when he saw me. I assumed it was because I had the tray of food. The boy was covered in sweat and looked like he was still trying to escape.
“Don’t struggle. It won’t help at all.” leaned down in front of him and set the tray of food down and jumped as he lunged for it. I pulled it back and gaped. “I don’t care if you are starving! You will learn manners. I will not stand it, and you will most likely be punished if the Masters see you doing that.” I pushed the tray back towards the boy and he hesitated before reaching for it.
“Now then……What’s your name? “I asked.
“He won’t answer you.” Ethan whispered. “He is quite stubborn.”
“Is that so?” I looked at the boy and back up at Ethan before I stood up.
“Boipelo Bamaidele.” The boy said.
“What?” I stopped.
“My name Boipelo Bamaidele.”
I held my breath, and then turned to him. I should have known, I thought. He’s an African.
“What does it mean?” I asked. My father occasionally would speak in African when he and my mother did not want us to understand. But we were never taught the language, for fear of us speaking it in front of whites. My father also said there was no need for it. But I had always been interested to a certain extent. I ignored the little voice in my head reminding me of what Mrs. Washacheck had told me “Don’t get in a conversation with him.”
“It means proud, and bring me home. So it means I am proud of my home. Are you not familiar with my talk?”
“What people are you?”
“You must not speak of this!” Ethan whispered. “They might hear you!”
“Shush! What people?” I turned my attention back to the boy.
“I am from the Aizi people.”
My mouth gaped open. This was the same people of my Mama and Papa. I ignored Ethan’s calls and ran to my family’s cabin.
“Mama! Papa!” I turned into the door and ran into Papa.
He gripped my shoulder’s to steady himself. “What’s going on?”
“It’s the boy Papa! You and Mama will be so happy!” I ran past him and into the middle of the cabin. “Mama!” My mama looked at me with a puzzled look. “Oh mama! The boy…he….he’s from the same village as you!” I gasped trying to catch my breath.
“Shush!” My mother cried. “Now what are you talking about.”
“Mama….” I nagged. “The new boy! He is from the same village as you and Papa…”My mother looked disappointed. “I thought you would be happy…..”
“Oh....Darling.” My Mama held me and stoked my hair. “Now why are you talking about this?”
“Mama….He told me…”
She pulled back and glared at me. “But why are you talking about it? Have we not told you not to talk of African talk, or villages?”
“Yes Mama…But I have an African name…. I am Mata Ilea, a born African. Why can I not just tell you he came from your village?”
“No problem...” She walked away and looked at Papa. “We’ll take care of this.”
“Aren’t you happy Mama? Papa?” I turned back and forth looking between mama and papa, practically begging for a positive answer.
“Of course…” My Papa smiled. “But no more talk of this.” It was an order. One that I knew there would be consequences for if I did not obey.
“Yes Papa.” I nodded.
“Now go to bed.” He kissed my forehead. Then he glared. “Now.”
Then I did as I was told and went to bed.
“Good morning!” I danced into the kitchen. Happier than usual for an unknown reason.
“You will be working in the stables today. Mr. Lane has some business to do on the Peterson plantation. We will need extra hands since he will take others with him. Follow me.” Mrs. Washacheck said. Obviously she wasn’t in the same mood as me.
“Why can’t the new boy work in the stables?”
“He is still struggling.”
I followed Mrs. Washacheck into the stables. She showed me how to brush the horses, and then left me with Carly, who knew how to work in the stables.
“Here Penny’s already brushed. Can you bring her to Master Thomas?”
“Yes, I will. Where is he?”
“Coming this way. Right out the doors. You’ll see him.”
I took the reins from the horse called Penny and walked her towards the riding pen out the door. Thomas made his way towards me and gave a large smile. “Will you be riding with me?”
“No Sir. Only bringing you your horse.”
“Will you be keeping watch?”
“Standing by to make sure I don’t fall off my horse and get hurt. Or my horse doesn’t try to get away and what not.”
“I guess so.”
“Good! Now then I will get to it!” I watched as Thomas jumped on his horse ,Penny, and went into the pen. “Do you know how to ride?” He called to me.
“No.” I called back.
“Well wouldn’t you say now is the time to start?”
“Umm….I would be very terrified sir.”
“Well I’ll only tell you how. You do not actually have to get up yet.”
“Now my horse is trained slightly different. A walk is a low whistle.” Thomas whistled and Penny started into a slow walk. “She will jog when you click your tongue.” He clicked his tongue and the horse started into a jog. “Then a quick run is a kiss.” A kiss I thought? He would kiss a horse? But no. Thomas made a kissing noise and the horse broke into a run.
“Don’t you get scared sir?” I called.
“No. It comes with practice you see. I used to be very scared. But not anymore.” Thomas called for his horse to walk and she did as she was told. They circled the pen as Thomas talked. “You ought to learn to ride. You might need it one day.”
“I do not think so Master.”
“Thomas!” He corrected me.
“Sir only in….”
“Yes I know… but who is out here to see?” I looked around then nodded.
“All right Thomas.” He jumped off his horse and handed me the reigns.
“I guess I’ll see you later.” He smiled and walked away. I stared at him as he walked and turned away when he looked back at me. His hair blew and I couldn’t help but think of his good looks. Stupid! I thought. Then danced away in an even happier mood.
The rest of the day wasn’t all that extraordinary, but for some reason it was one of my best on the plantation. (Until the afternoon came.) Mr. Lane was gone and there was less work to be done, so Carly and I got off work.
When Mama and Papa got back to the cabin Mama seemed in a good mood just like me. “Oh… A.K! We got to meet that boy…Who’s name is now Michael. And you are right! He is from our village! He is very great!” Mama became troubled and I didn’t know why. “A.K Mr. Lane likes Michael also. He likes him for you.”
I was puzzled and didn’t understand Mama’s statement. “What Mama? I don’t understand.”
“Mr. Lane would like to breed you with Michael…” She whispered.
I gasped and stepped back, running into Carly. “Excuse me!?”
“Well A.K….you have no choice…. It will happen eventually, you will deal with it.”
I was absolutely disgusted with my Mama, talking about me like an animal. “I refuse!”
“Now A.K don’t be so stubborn…”
“I will be stubborn! You are so twisted to think that way!” I ran for the door, but Mama blocked my way. I reached up and slapped her, making her fall to the ground. Letting me run free into the Plantation. I ignored the calls of my family behind me.
How could they! I was not some animal to be breed! This was always my worst fear of being a slave. And now that it had come to it, I didn’t know what to do. So I just ran away. I passed the house and went far into the area with the most cabins. I was taken aback seeing two white workers coming for me.
“Coming to us, are you?” One asked.
“You disgust me….” I growled, ignoring the voice in my head telling me to cooperate. They grabbed my arms and struggled with me.
“No!!!” I screamed, louder than I had ever screamed before.
“What is going on?” A voice asked behind us. I was dropped and fell to the ground, still screaming with tears streaming down my face. I looked up to see Thomas. Then I looked at the workers and saw ones face drenched in blood.
“Are you ok?” Thomas started, and I was wondering if he was talking about me or the man.
“Ya……We’ll take care of her.” The other half laughed. They carried me off and ignored my screams. I stared at Thomas, hoping he would come to my rescue. But he didn’t. And I should have known.
I screamed and pleaded while the thick leather strap beat against my skin. It wasn’t as bad a lashing as I could have gotten. I was actually able to think as I got beat. This could not have been Mr. Lane’s doing. If I was this unwilling to do what had been requested, I’m sure he would have let it go. No….this was all the workers doing. Mr. Lane did not order them to fetch me and beat me if I did not cooperate. I wonder what Mr. Lane will do when he gets back, I thought.
When I was let go I stumbled through the gravel heading to my cabin. My head was light and I couldn’t stable myself. I began to fall, but a pair of arms held me up.
“You’re ok….” Thomas whispered. “I’ll help you back.”
“How….How did you know I was coming?” I managed to mutter.
“I waited….I waited for you.” He said. I wondered why he wouldn’t stop what was being done to me then. But I assume it was for fear of punishment for himself. Thomas helped me stumble into my cabin and waited until I was laid down and my Mama told him to leave. It felt as if a million little bugs were crawling on my back and biting into my skin as my mama rubbed healing cream on my lashes.
I barely heard Thomas say these words before he left. “I will take care of this... I promise I will.”
“Wake up Darling…. You still have to go to work.” Mama told me in the morning. I woke up and reported to work with Mrs. Washacheck.
“I heard what happened at ….We all did…” Oh great…..Now I’m the laughing stock of the plantation, I thought. “I also heard that Master changed his mind.” Mrs. Washacheck said.
“What?” I didn’t understand.
“Someone talked to him….made him change his mind about you and Michael.”
“Who would do….” I started, and then I stopped. Thomas. He said he would take care of it. But why would he do that? “Mrs. Washacheck, Master Thomas told me to report to him in the stables for a while. I will be right back.” I headed for the stables full speed. Then stopped when I saw Thomas.
“Are you alright?” Thomas came to me. I nodded.
“Why?” I asked.
“I was just wondering...”
“No. Why would you talk to your father about me?”
“Because it’s unfair.”
“You wouldn’t have before. Not before, to someone else. Why now. Why me?”
“Why are you talking to me this way?” He shot out.
He was right and I walked away.
“No. Your fine. But because I’ve come to my senses and no one should have to go through this kind of thing.” He said as I left. But I only turned back for a second and I wouldn’t let myself cry.
Something was different between Thomas and myself after that. Instead of Thomas avoiding my eyes, it seemed he could not take his away. At breakfast our hands touched more often. And I shivered, not of fear but out of insecurity.
When we had our lessons we would sit on the bed and we would be closer. Then we would take turns reading to each other. No one knew about our arrangement except for Carly. We hoped one day we would be able to tell of it. But as it was, we knew we would both be punished. When we were together, I often thought that I was in a dream. I lay with Thomas and was so happy I would become sad. I couldn’t live like this. Thomas and I were happy. But it couldn’t last. I would never be accepted to be with him.
We weren’t a couple. But there was no doubting how I felt for him, but I could never guess his feelings. I felt the only thing we could ever be was friends. The only time I felt we could be more was in my dreams. I only feared he wouldn’t realize we were different, I was black. I was disgusting, I was his property. I hoped he would never come to his senses. Eventually I felt maybe there was or could be something between us. When he hugged me, I shivered. When he held my hand I almost fainted. But those things would only last so long. And I still couldn’t define what we were.
“Sage! Please do not get mud on the carpet. I just cleaned and your mother will be very angry.” I called as Sage played with Prissy in the hallway. “Don’t go in the living room!”
“Ya A.K!” She called back. Then she led the muddy Prissy into the white living room.
“Sage!” I screamed.
“What?” Sage liked to act innocent.
I ran into the living room and picked up Sage tickling her and making her laugh. “Now get this muddy mess out of here! I’ll be out in a minute to bath her.”
I sighed and got a bucket of water to re-wash the carpet. When I was done I went outside to wash Prissy. I got a sponge and a bucket of water and had Mrs. Washacheck’s help to hold her down. I scrubbed and scrubbed and chased her multiple times.
“Is that them?” Mrs. Washacheck asked and looked in the other direction, towards two cruel white men who were laughing and imitating someone’s screams.
“Yes.” I nodded, and glared at the two men who were imitating me struggling with them and crying as I was beaten.
“Ignore them. They’re animals.” She whispered.
“Yes… I know.” I wiped my brow and sighed. “I hate them.”
“I have seen you don’t hate all white men.” She laughed.
“What do you mean?”
“I have seen the way you look at Master Thomas.”
“Maybe.” She said. “But maybe not.”
“No…” I laughed.
“Either way, be careful. You do not want to be involved in that. Trust me.” She ordered.
Too late, I thought.
It seemed there was more crime and rebellion going on in the streets. Now that Vermont was a free state, people thought it might be easier to get away. They even got me to thinking I could run.
“Thomas, I’ve thought of an idea.”
“Yes? What is it?” He stopped stroking my hair, as I lay beside him.
“We could run.”
“Excuse me?” Thomas looked both offended and terrified. He continued to stroke my hair again, As if I was crazy.
“It’s not that crazy.”
“Yes it is!”
“Why? We owe it to ourselves. To our families. To Tony!”
Tony was a slave boy that worked for the Sequoya family. A horrible family who was always angry. Tony was a good friend of our own. Thomas even was his friend. He had recently tried to run again, to us this time. He was caught by a policeman and shot to death.
“That wasn’t our fault.” Thomas whispered.
“So? None of this is our fault. But we cannot help but feel bad, and want to be able to change it. To get away, if we can. A family of whites helping a black family, we can encourage others. But most will not even think of it. Most, except us.”
“It will only cause more pain.”
“Not if we plan it right.”
“My family will not run.” He countered.
“We can convince them. My mother would not leave without your own. You know how close of companions they have become.”
“Yes, I do know. But what if something happens, to Carly or Mo?”
“We will not let something happen! We are stronger!” I stood up and felt my voice raising.
“Shush! My family will hear you…”
“Maybe it is about time they heard! Thomas… I cannot stand it any longer. To see others being whipped, or shot, or hung for trying to survive. I know you feel the same!”
“Of course I do! But remember, Fear overcomes courage.”
“But again, what did we say? We said it should not.” I replayed the conversation we had had exactly two years before.
“I’m sorry…”Thomas reached up to touch my face.
“NO!” I shrieked.
“What is going on in here? You should be doing you chores A.K.” Mr. and Mrs. Lane walked into the room.
“Nothing.” Thomas said. “A.K was just getting to her chores.”
“Good night Carly.” I kissed her forehead and tried not to think about what I was about to do to her.
I lay down beside her under the blanket and smiled when my Mama came to say goodnight. For some reason Mama knew something was going on. She kissed me and smiled. “Good night my Mata Ilea.” She whispered, calling me by my African name.
“Good night Mama, I love you.”
“I love you so much.” She replied.
I rolled over and stroked Carly’s hair and smiled as she whispered, “I love you A.K.”
“You will never know how much I feel for you the same way.” I sighed.
“Are you ready?” Thomas asked.
“No… I wish I could say goodbye. To everyone.”
“I do too.” Thomas said, and then wiped a tear from my cheek.
I was his good friend. I loved him, but wasn’t sure of his feelings for me. I had hated the thought of a white person, but now I loved one. It had taken years for us to get to the point of just friends. And now this white boy was helping me escape his own way of life.
I was so confused, so all I could do was pick up a small sack I would carry with me, then grabbed Thomas’s hand, and I ran away.