The Slave Girl.
“The Slave girl has teeth. She bites. I do not want her any longer. Send her to the fields.”
Factual Zanzibari Swahili Fisherman’s Song
Read Part one of this story here.
… The big brown man placed the slave girl down on the ground. Grunting incoherent orders to non descript women and men, girls and boys of all ages. Could they understand him?
The slave girl’s belly, slightly bruised from being slung on the big man’s shoulder was nothing compared to the soreness of her wrists and ankles where her shackles had dug deep into her skin, taking root, inflaming its rebellion. Angry welts had began to appear more deliberately, resistent to their surroundings. Wounds where her blood refused to heal.
Mama used to say when your skin closes with the ugly, dry covering after the flesh had been broken, it is the blood healing. It is your skin saying, give me time to start again, fresh, new. It is like a butterfly that comes from the slimy cocoon. Many times she said, it resembles much in life. The ugly scab is a confrontation with the past hurt that must take place before rebirth. Without it, the old shrivels up and dies, killing a piece of you as well.
The danger is when the skin doesn’t close. When the blood is left to fester with the elements, it cannot heal. That is when sickness enters you like air. You must choose then, to give up a small piece of you, or let it kill you. The slave girl had witnessed some of the villagers make this choice. Especially after wars, when men would come back wounded and broken. If they would live, they had to choose to cut off a piece of themselves where the blood did not heal. Sometimes it was a hand, or a toe, other times it was an eye.
The slave girl looked at her festering wounds. They were not an eye to be plucked out. She would survive, even if the skin did not close and the blood did not heal.
She ignored the pain, lifted her chin and looked at her surroundings for the first time. She was dumped at the entrance of a low kibanda, with the heat still pressing in on her skin. There were a few children playing in the sun and shouting in the way only children who haven’t learned to care can. There were two or three women, carrying sufurias and jugs, walking in their diras, hips swaying their bountiful backsides from side to side with each step. Men walked around with pangas or sacs of grain on their shoulders.
What caught her attention, however, lay just beyond the tree. The slave girl had heard of sultans’ homes on the meli. People said they were palaces as in Arabian legends, revered. The slave girl had never seen construction bigger than their shanty coverings back home, across the sea.
In the village, it was a waste to use anything other than mud and grass to build a construction just for sleeping. People were made to be outside, with the land, the grass, the mud, and the sky. People were meant to eat, drink, feast, visit around a fire, work. Everything was to be done under the sun. If not for the unpredictable rains that would steal in with darkness and the sudden winds, even sleeping would be done with the earth as matress, the sky as roof, and the stars as windows.
To see the Swahili and Mwaarabu’s constructions stopped the slave girl in her tracks when she had first landed. The captivating doors especially, caught and trapped her breathe inside of her chest. Every little detail, symbol, sitting perfectly. Individually drawn yet in uncanny oneness with its counterpart, almost magically breathed into existence. Every wooden frame was a memory of broken trees that had seen thousands of seasons drawn and redrawn into their strong barks. The walls, flecked with gold, rising into the sky, and elegant windows overlooking the bahari. Yet none of it, none of it, could have prepared her for the Sultan’s house.
Standing firmly on the ground behind the coconut tree, it seemed, to the slave girl, to be competing with the clouds to touch the sky. Different colors covered the walls, pillars, and wooden doors. Balconies overlooking the earth were draped in purple curtains. The grass leading up to the front carpeted deliberately to look beautiful, perfect, devoid of the wild freedom she had seen abound in the fields’ nyasi. Then the slave girl caught a glimpse of a spirit. It must have been a spirit, floating out of the front door wrapped in velvet silks, hanging onto feminine curves. She craned her neck to get a better view but it took less than the time it took her eyelids to flutter for the spirit to disappear.
The slave girl looked back, astonished and locked eyes with her wordless captor who had been staring at her. He grunted and voiced an indistinguishable name. She was barely able to register his words before a pair of soft firm hands grabbed her shoulders.
“Tsk, tsk. You need to be washed little one. You smell like Ahmed’s backside after he has had two platefuls of my beans.”
The mama was beautifully plain. With ample weight on her, a nose almost as wide as papa’s used to be, lips that looked like two pieces of a broken coconut, and eyes the color of mud. The sweat dripping down her fat cheeks was a reflection of the island’s constant temperature.
“I am Mama Latifah. You are?”
“Slave girl”, the slave girl answered in a heartbeat, eyes dropping to the soil. Names were lost when chains were placed on you. The tongues on this foreign land were unworthy of her given name. It would hurt her ears to hear them corrupt each sacred sound as it rolled off their lips.
Mama Latifah made a sound like broken laughter cut in half. “don’t mind child. They will rename you soon enough, I’m sure with beauty as virgin as yours, it will be a name fishermen will sing in their songs.
But now I am to make you ready to see the Sultan’s son. He will decide the future of the slave girl… ”
What happens next? Does the sultan make the slave girl a suria? Does she meet the floating spirit? Who does she bite? Or should we ask what does she bite? 😅 this is me trying to be cliff hanger-ish, is it working? No? 😂 okay then. At the very least my writing will get you to want to read the third and final installment of this story when I post it up in a few days… As always, Subscribe! Share! COMMENT! (critique and love always encouraged)8