“The slave girl has teeth. She bites. I do not want her any longer. Send her to the fields”
– traditional Swahili fisherman’s song collected in the 1890’s
I found that quote in the exhibition of the slave Market. It made me laugh. I love it. In my mind the story spilled. I picture her, 14 years old, picked from her family in shackles…
THE SLAVE GIRL
She closed her eyes and squeezed the moisture back into her aching eyelids. “Kaza, kaza, kaza” her thoughts whispered, floating inside her pounding skull. It hurt.
What hurt? Everything.
The light was blinding. She could taste the sea. She could smell the sun. She could hear her identity. Slave. She felt his arm briskly shoving her shoulder, his thick Arabic accent, “Tembea.” he spit at her feet, disgusted, “Malaya!” Words are wind. They could not touch her soul.
Suria. Harem. That was what she could expect, if she was lucky, they said. Suria was lucky. It is funny in the way that is not so funny how a word so beautiful can be so full of sweet venom. In the Meli she had heard the stories of Surias. They were undeniably beautiful, people said. Malaikas clothed in silks and fabrics of value. Some Sultans even had Surias from across the sea.
Not across the short sea to the mainland where she had come from. Not the mainland of brown and dust and wind and trees. Not women with skin the color of the ground. These Surias, instead, had skin like creamy milk. They were from across the long sea, their eyes varying shades of blue, green, and grey. They were the most prized. Only the richest Sultans could afford to buy and keep them. The slave girl had heard a mama in the meli saying, “Some men would sell a part of Africa’s soul for a milk colored Suria.”
What did it matter. In the end women were for the same use. With skin like milk or skin like dirt. When she had been stolen from her family she had known different. She had known strength that had been shown to her. She had known foraging for worms in between thick overly grown trees. She had known earth that smelt like rain and not sea. She had known heat that beat on her back but sudden showers when the sky cried fat heavy tears. Here the heat suffocated, even when covered from the sun, the uncomfortable warmth found ways to crawl into her skin. Back home she had known sounds like song and laughter.
It had not taken long for her forget the meaning of those words after a time, as they walked. When the man who stole her showed her all women were good for with mama. He forced her. The slave girl had heard mama whimper. She didn’t scream like others on nights before. Mama never screamed. She whispered cries. The slave girl had always had good ears. Baba had named her good ears in his tongue. She could hear whispers. She could hear mama. Mama wasn’t the first and she wouldn’t be the last, but mama was ingrained into her. Baba used to call mama soft like baby cow. He would say it fondly.
The slave girl knew if they had not killed baba in his sleep cowardly, when they stole her, they would not be alive. Back home brave men fought and killed when awake not like thieves in the stillness of night, under the cover of darkness. Baba had been strong. If he had expected the attack, he would have taken their lives and been made chief of their village.
The next morning as they set up to leave again, she heard the man bragging about mama. He said the Malaya had been good with her mouth. He said she enjoyed it as all women did with him because he was sweet as honey, his pink lips splitting into a fat smile made of two slimy worms, as he spoke. A few days later mama died.
That had been a long time ago. Maybe not so long ago but it felt like a thousand seasons had passed. Now it was different, she was different. Baba would be proud, she was stronger. Now she had chains around her ankles and wrists but they were nothing. Her skin had been broken and peeled so much, the raw sting had began to feel necessary, a part of her existence. The pain meant she had not stopped existing. She was still here. And the anger inside was strength that carried her.
The brown bearded merchant shoved her again, spitting curses. They finally reached the docks. She was not the only slave, she was the youngest. The bidding started…
“… Pokes the girls in the ribs, feels their ribs, examines their mouths, fingers their teeth, trots them up and down to examine their pace, then often haggling about their price, takes one and leaves the other.”
Excerpt from the Slave Market on the accurate process of buying female slaves.
Her skinny fingers itched to break, to hurt, to kill. Her body shivered with every touch and squeeze, foul hands layed on her. She reminded herself of her identity, slave. The brown man was watching her with a hungry gaze. If she wasn’t sold today she knew tonight he would probably show her the way the man had shown mama what women were good for. Stillness had to be her defiance even when defiled. Someone had to take her, then that would be a different battle to face…
The man who took her had a plain face. A scruffy tuft of hair lay limp on his chin reminding her of the rats she used to chase near her hut back home. He grunted and mumbled. He had won the bid for her without saying a word. He outbidded simply by grunting his ascent each time the price was raised until no one else was left to bid. He then paid the brown merchant who had a glint of disappointment in his eye, sad to see her go.
When the man removed her shackles, the slave girl almost fell to her knees. The weight of the chains had supported her. Without them she felt unrooted, as if the ground would swallow the weight of her. The big silent man lifted her in one swoop and carried her on his shoulders like a sac… ”
P.s Guys there’s more to this story, I just didn’t expect it to take a life of its own, so I will just update a (Part B) later on this week. Thursday. I haven’t written fiction before on this blog but the Island inspires all types of writing. I would really really really love to know your thoughts! (because validation lol) So as always subscribe, share, comment!