February 25, 2016

of fever and madness and hate

Her first thought was how big a ship it was, her second that it was too small for all of them to fit inside. It sat lightly on the water. The ship's boat came back and forth, ferrying the captives to the ship, where they were manacled and arranged in low decks by sailors, some of whom were brick red or tan-skinned, with strange pointy noses and beards that made them look like beasts. Several of the sailors looked like her own people, like the men who had marched her to the coast. The men and the women and the children were separated, forced into different areas on the slave deck. There were too many slaves for the ship to hold easily, so another dozen men were chained up on the deck in the open, beneath the places where the crew would sling their hammocks.

Wututu was put in with the children, not with the women; and she was not chained, merely locked in. Agasu, her brother, was forced in with the men, in chains, packed like herrings. It stank under that deck, although the crew had scrubbed it down since their last cargo. It was a stink that had entered the wood: the smell of fear and bile and diarrhea and death,. Wututu sat in the hot hold with the other children.

She could feel the children on each side of her sweating. A wave tumbled a small boy into her, hard, and he apologized in a tongue that Wututu did not recognize. She tried to smile at him in the semidarkness.

The ship set sail. Now it rode heavy in the water.

Wututu wondered about the place the white men came from (although none of them was truly white: sea-burned and sunburned they were, and their skins were dark). Were they so short of food that they had to send all the way to her land for people to eat? Or was it that she was to be a delicacy, a rare treat for a people who had eaten so many things that only black-skinned flesh in their cookpots made their mouths water?

On the second day out of port the ship hit a squall, not a bad one, but the ship's decks lurched and tumbled, and the smell of vomit joined the mixed smells of urine and liquid feces and fear-sweat. Rain poured down on them in bucket-loads from the air gratings set in the ceiling of the slave deck.

A week into the voyage, and well out of sight of land, the slaves were allowed out of irons. They were warned that any disobedience, any trouble, and they would be punished more than they had ever imagined.

In the morning the captives were fed beans and ship's biscuits, and a mouthful each of vinegared lime juice, harsh enough that their faces would twist, and they would cough and splutter, and some of them would moan and wail as the lime juice was spooned out. They could not spit it out, though: if they were caught spitting or dribbling it out they were lashed or beaten.

The night brought them salted beef. It tasted unpleasant, and there was a rainbow sheen to the gray surface of the meat. That was at the start of the voyage. As the voyage continued, the meat grew worse.

When they could, Wututu and Agasu would huddle together, talking of their mother and their home and their playfellows. Sometimes Wututu would tell Agasu the stories their mother had told them, like those of Elegba, the trickiest of the gods, who was Great Mawu's eyes and ears in the world, who took messages to Mawu and brought back Mawu's replies.

In the evenings, to while away the monotony of the voyage, the sailors would make the slaves sing for them and dance the dances of their native lands.

Wututu was lucky that she had been put in with the children. The children-were packed in tightly and ignored; the women were not always so fortunate. On some slave ships the female slaves were raped repeatedly by the crew, simply as an unspoken perquisite of the voyage. This was not one of those ships, which is not to say that there were no rapes.

A hundred men, women, and children died on that voyage and were dropped over the side; and some of the captives who were dropped over the side had not yet died, but the green chill of the ocean cooled their final fever and they went down flailing, choking, lost.

Posted by: hongqigong2015 at 02:01 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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