COPYRIGHT DOUGLAS E. MCINTOSH
Akua screamed and drew her legs inward, while at the same time, flailing wildly with her free right hand. Her eyes scanned the darkness for the devil whose whiskers and nose had brushed up against her foot. Suddenly, from a dark corner of the room came another scream, and then a chorus of shrieks as other women fought against the chains that restricted their movements'all of them desperately, attempting to evade the hungry rodent that was probing, and nibbling at their flesh. The squeals of the rat, mixed with the clanging of chains as well as, the women's cries to produce an eerie symphony that echoed throughout the dark, stifling, and foul, storage hold. As the intruder scrambled for a safe haven, the women calmed themselves somewhat, and returned to a state of quiet lament'with muffled sobbing always present, heard here, and there.
Akua and her fellow captives had been onboard this slave ship, The Jesus of Liverpool, for twelve weeks now. Since her capture on what the Europeans called 'The Gold Coast' of West Africa, her world had been turned upside down. Destruction of her village in the slave-trade-fueled, Akan, interclan wars'the death of her grandparents'the splitting up of her family'imprisonment in the dungeon of a large slave fort on the Atlantic coast for almost a month'beatings'humiliating examinations of her person'filth'discomfort'near-starvation'and now, she was chained to a post in the hold of this demon ship. A ship that Akua and the other Africans were convinced was manned by evil spirits, and their helpers. Most of all though, there was the feeling of being alone. Even with approximately four hundred fellow Africans held captive with her, she felt terribly alone. At fourteen years of age, this was the first time in her short life that she had been away from her parents'her village'her home'her people.
In the storage hold, where the Europeans kept the women, children, and suckling babies, the conditions were abysmal. The small room had but one, tiny, ventilation grating in its roof. This proved totally inadequate for the fifty or so people who, had been packed into the compartment. During the day, the hold was hot and sweltering, making the drawing of each breath a laborious undertaking. Luckily for the women and children, the greater part of each day was spent up on deck where, 'feeding' and 'exercise' took place. Yet, even at night when the sea air was much cooler, Akua felt as though her lungs would burst from the heavy, wreaking air in the hold. With about ten women chained by the left arm to each of the five wooden posts in the room, the conditions were cramped. Still and all, as bad as they were, they were nothing like the horrific and deadly conditions that the men on the two decks below were enduring'chained together and lying shoulder to shoulder on their backs'in their own excrement'not even enough room to turn from side to side'the smells nightmarish'the heat unbearable'oxygen a scarce commodity'disease spreading like wildfire'rats running rampant, while feeding on the dead'and the living. Akua and the other women in the storage hold could hear the constant moans and anguished cries of the men on the decks below. They grieved for the men, even as their own existence was a living death.
Now in the melancholy night, Akua looked around the room at the women chained to her post, and throughout the rest of the hold. Her eyes could barely distinguish one body from another, with the only light emanating from a dim lantern hanging on the wall at the far end of the compartment. There were women of all ages'from teenagers like Akua, to women of middle age. One of these middle-aged women had adopted Akua, and comforted the young girl whenever possible. The woman, named Ifoma, was of the Ibo people and although she and Akua could not understand each other's language, they had become quite close. Ifoma would spend long nights holding Akua's head against her shoulder, and quieting the young girl, as the teenager slept fitfully'sickness, fever, and nightmares constantly plaguing the child.
Akua now looked at Ifoma who, slept next to her'the older woman's naked body covered with copious perspiration. Then, the girl turned her attention to a young woman chained to the post and sitting nearby'holding an infant and singing a lullaby'trying to coax the infant to nurse. Yet, the young mother had no milk. Lack of food, and dehydration caused by dysentery which, had afflicted everyone on board, had long since dried up her milk.
There was a rhythmic vibration caused by something striking the pole that Akua was chained to, and it inevitably drew her attention to its source. Turning her head and looking behind her, the youngster could see Akosua, a young girl approximately three years older than her. Akosua seemed to be in a type of trance. Akua, and Akosua, were both speakers of the Twi language, and would talk of home and their laments, whenever they got a chance. However, Akosua no longer spoke. She just lay there against the pole'droning low and constant'striking her head against the post at regular, two-second intervals'her eyes wide open. The girl had been that way for two months now'since the white sailors had come down into the hold one night, and dragged her away, kicking and screaming. When they brought her back at dawn, she was unconscious and bleeding'her private parts torn and mangled. The other women tried to revive and comfort her yet still, for three days, Akosua did not wake up. When she finally did open her eyes, she would not utter a word'only a constant drone, and an occasional whimpering cry, could be heard. Then, the constant rocking from side to side, and bumping of her head against the pole, commenced.
When the whites found out that the teenager would not eat, they got a funnel, and forced some of their gruel'which, was composed of rotten corn and beans'down her throat. Nevertheless, she only gagged and threw up'screaming, clawing, and crying. The ship's 'doctor' tried to look at her and, as Akosua would not let him, or any of the whites near her without going into hysterics, she was deemed 'mad', and left to the care of the other women in the hold. The whites hoped to conceal her condition as much as possible, and get some price for the girl. Akua looked at her and felt sad'as well as, afraid.
Since the taking of Akosua that night, the whites had come for other young women and girls in the storage hold. They had all been brought back to the compartment, defiled and mangled, with their minds as badly injured as their young bodies'and they were never the same. Akua knew that her turn was coming yet, she was determined to find a means of escape from that fate'even if that escape was death. Back at the slave fort on the Gold Coast, she and the other captives had seen a young girl brutally raped, in full view of them all, by no less than ten European sailors. Akua remembered how the girl was literally torn apart by these devils and, her anguished and terrified screams, along with the laughter of the whites, continued to echo in Akua's mind'as crystal clear as the image of that girl, set upon and mauled, as if by wild animals. Akua had been lucky so far but, that notwithstanding, she knew that her luck would run out, eventually.
Akua thought that she might be lucky and die before the whites had a chance to rape her. She knew that they were all dying slowly. The storage hold was now an abomination'a hellish nightmare of filth and disease. The wood flooring that the women sat upon, was now totally covered, and slick with blood, mucus, urine, vomit, feces, lice, and maggots. The smell of the room, of indeed the entire ship, was horrid although, after three months onboard, Akua and the others on the devil's boat, could no longer smell the ungodliness. Mercifully, and sadly, they had become accustomed to it. The fourteen-year-old never dreamed that people could be so dirty, and still survive. The two, wooden tubs which, had been placed in the room, for the women to use as toilets, were wreaking and overflowing. The whites, many of whom were now sick themselves with the flux, or dysentery, had stopped emptying them every couple of days, as they had done during the first month of the voyage. With almost all of the women and children constantly sick, and many of them too weak, or chained too far away to get to the tubs, the prisoners of the room were now lying, or sitting in their own excrement. Many of the children'weak, sick, and too small to sit up on the tubs properly'would wind up falling in, and nearly drowning in human waste.
Each day, as the captives were brought up on deck as part of the daily routine, Akua would see the men from the decks below, chained together two by two. They looked worse each day, and every morning, at least one was thrown overboard'the large, ferocious fish that followed the ship, instantly devouring the body. Although many of the whites also died of disease, their bodies were thrown overboard at night, so as not to let the blacks know, that the number of Europeans on the ship, was steadily decreasing.
Akua would always look for Kwabina, a boy from her village who like her, had been captured, and imprisoned aboard the ship. The youngsters would look at each other, shocked expressions upon their faces'each one letting the other know through that look, that their condition was worsening daily, and was outwardly apparent.
Akua peered up towards the ceiling, and through the ventilation grating'into the night sky. She noticed that the stars looked the same as they did when she gazed up at night, in her village back home. The teenager remembered how her father would take her out at night, when she was just a little girl, and show her the constellations that were important to her people's cosmology. The youngster could not understand how the stars could be the same here, in the world of the white, sea monsters. Each day when they were up on deck, she could see that they had traveled beyond the end of the world. There was no land visible, as far as she could see. Like most of the other blacks held captive onboard the slave ship, Akua was convinced that the whites were taking them to a place where they would be cooked, and eaten. She tried now to remember the names of the different constellations, attempting to maintain one more mental link to her home, and her parents.
Although Akua dreaded what awaited her and the other captives aboard the ship, once their voyage was over, she could not help longing for an end to this miserable journey. What the girl and her fellow captives did not know was that the trip from Africa to the Americas, usually took between eight, and twelve weeks. Lack of wind, and unfavorable currents had made this voyage longer than usual. Twelve weeks had already passed, and according to the pilot's estimates, they were still three weeks from the Caribbean islands or, Charleston, South Carolina'assuming that the unfavorable, weather conditions, and currents, held fast. Trying to avoid the main sea lanes, as well did not help, as the slavers were concerned about being intercepted by the British Navy. The passing of the Slave Trade Act two years ago, in 1824, had outlawed their demon trade, causing the slavers much consternation. Nonetheless, there was still plenty of profit to be made. So, the ships continued to sail.
The unusually long voyage'combined with the fact that the ship had sailed with inadequate supplies of rice, horse beans, yams, and corn to feed the captives on a voyage of even average length'had caused rations to be reduced, and more captives than usual to die of hunger, and malnutrition. In addition, the supplies of food had begun to rot and spoil, wrenching the stomachs of those who would, or could, still eat. Dysentery and other diseases claimed the lives of many more. With the voyage not nearly over, at least one hundred of the four hundred blacks brought onboard at Cape Coast Castle, on the Gold Coast of Africa, had died, and been thrown overboard.
About two weeks ago, the whites started feeding the captives a different kind of gruel from time to time. Akua and the others surmised that the meat in the strange-smelling slop must be that of the large, fierce fish that constantly trailed the ship, waiting to devour the bodies that were thrown overboard. The Africans had seen the whites trail the dead bodies of captives on ropes behind the ship, in an effort to catch the fish. The ship's crew then added the meat to the captives' rations. Many would not eat when they smelled the meat of the fish in the gruel since, they knew that the fish fed on the bodies of their fellow captives who, had passed on to the realm of the ancestors. Akua was one of these captives, refusing to eat when meat appeared in the slop.
She was extremely weak now. On deck the previous morning, some of the men called to the women as the whites were pouring the food into the little tubs from which, the captives ate. The men stated, in many languages, that the food now contained the chopped-up bodies of men who, had died below decks the night prior and, that the women should not eat the gruel. The women waited until the whites turned their backs and thereupon, poured out the food. Akua determined that she would no longer eat anything that the whites gave her. She would rather die.
The fourteen-year-old lay there in the darkness, her belly wrenching and heaving'her body feeling like it weighed a ton'her limbs weak. Suddenly, she heard a clanking, and jingling sound at the door. All of the women instinctively drew closer to one another'those with children, drawing them near to them. Akua slid into the arms of Ifoma who, was awakened by the commotion. The door burst open, and three, white sailors entered the room. They held a lantern, and a whip.
As the women huddled together, terrified of these devils, the whites scanned the hold for their prey. Akua watched their wild eyes which, were like those of the hyenas that crept about at night, outside of her home village. And she was therewith turned to stone when, the one with the pockmarked face, and holding the lantern, set his eyes upon her'and grinned. The youngster squeezed even closer to Ifoma who, held her tightly'the chain attached to the older woman's left arm, lying across Akua's back. Yet in the next instant, the pockmarked one turned his gaze to the young mother who, was chained beside Akua and Ifoma and, still holding her baby. The youthful woman clutched her child tightly, as the white man in charge, seemingly to Akua, uttered something from his throat. A phenomenon that the Africans observed to be common, when it came to the strange-sounding, European tongue. The three whites then came forward, as the women screamed'
They set upon the young mother, as she screamed something in a language that neither Akua, nor Ifoma could understand. Thus, as one of the whites struggled to unlock her wrist shackle, another devil slapped her repeatedly, as much for pleasure, as to stop her from struggling. The woman screamed in terror and at that point, became hysterical, as one of the whites wrenched her baby from her, and held it precariously aloft, by one, tiny leg. They next dragged her off'and the door to the hold shut'and locked. She was gone.
Most of the women sat and cried for hours, traumatized by what had transpired. Akua remained in Ifoma's arms, crying as the older woman rocked her in an effort to comfort the child. Akua stared for a while at the empty, wrist shackle and chain on the floor beside her. She recalled how the whites had decided to keep the women chained at night just like the men since, early in the voyage, a young woman had managed, one night, to climb up through the ventilation grating. She got out on deck, and made it through the netting that surrounded the ship, in order to keep the captives from jumping overboard. As the young woman jumped, the women in the hold could hear her scream out in Ifoma's language, that she was going home. Akua now wished more than ever, that she had traveled with the woman.
When they brought the young mother back to the hold at dawn, savaged and defiled as usual, she simply hugged the pole that she was chained to, and cried. Her child was not with her. Later, one of the women who, understood her language, told the others that the whites had thrown the mother's baby overboard'before her eyes. And then, they had proceeded to rape her.
Akua again looked around at the women in the room, as the dawn light filtered in through the ventilation grating. The faces that she could see, seemed even-more dejected, and sad than usual. Some of the women were pulling at their hair, or their faces, seemingly having gone insane. Akua leaned against the post'looking'listening once more to the moans and cries of the men on the two decks below. Wondering, when she, would travel home'
Later that morning, after all of the captives, at the crack and lash of the whip, had been driven up on deck, Akua sat in the sunlight, breathing in the ocean air, and cradling Akosua's head in her lap. Ifoma sat on the deck beside the fourteen-year-old'the older woman's eyes closed'her face displaying a regal quality, despite her nakedness, and the wretched treatment that she had endured over the past three months. Akua looked over at the men, crumpled upon the deck, their bodies encrusted with filth, and scarred by whip cuts, and the deep abrasions that resulted from the constant contact with the wooden boards, that they were forced to lie upon, below deck.
'Akosua, hello Akosua.' Akua stroked Akosua's head, and matted hair while trying, to coax her fellow captive, to speak'to respond. Still and all, the young woman simply stared blankly, into the distance'not a sound, save for an occasional moan or whimper, emanating from her. Ifoma joined in, rubbing and stroking Akosua's hand.
The women watched sadly, as the whites brought up two bodies from below deck, and tossed them over the side. 'They are going home Akosua'they are going home. They are lucky'very lucky,' as Akua continued to comfort Akosua. Akua again, looked over at the men. They hardly took notice when the whites threw two of their fellow captives over the side. Most of them were too weak from, and too devastated by, hunger and disease, to respond to what was happening around them.
The whites began to come around with the feeding tubs, passing them out among the Africans. Many of the captives refused the tubs which, brought about a swift lash of the whip from the devils in charge. After the gruel was poured into the tubs, the whites moved among the captives, in order to see which of them, was refusing to eat. When the ship's crew found someone who, would not force down the slop, they first tried to convince him by using the lash. If that did not work, then, the unfortunate victim was restrained, his head held back, and a funnel shoved into his mouth. At that point, the mixture was poured down his throat, as he gagged and wretched, trying in vain, to stop the invasion of his person. Afterwards, the outraged one was let go and invariably, the captive would drop to the deck, exhausted and humiliated. Many would start to pray, imploring God to forgive them, for partaking of such vile sustenance.
Before long, the whites came over to where the women were sitting upon the deck, and began to check to see who, had not eaten. Akua was not able to get close enough to the railing where undetected, it would be possible to throw out the gruel. The guards, stationed all around the deck's perimeter, with muskets and pistols, were now watching them too closely.
When the whites, accompanied by the ship's 'surgeon', saw that Akua and many of the other women had not eaten, they motioned for the captives to do so. When the women did not respond, the crew immediately resorted to the funnel'opting not to use the whip since, the scaring of a female slave's body, lowered the price for which she could be sold. This, owing to the fact that most slave holders purchased female slaves, for more than just, plantation labor. So in turn, Akua and many of the other women, had the funnel forced into their mouths, and the noxious mixture poured down their throats. All were compelled to eat, except for Akosua who, the surgeon said might slip further into madness, if forced in any way.
After the 'feeding' was finished, the captives were allowed to relax on deck for an hour or so. When the sun indicated that it was about an hour before high noon, the Africans were forced to take daily 'exercise'. This exercise entailed the captives being compelled to dance to the beat of a drum as well as, the cat of nine tails. The drum'the cracking of the whips in the air as well as, against vulnerable flesh'the sounds of the men stumbling about as the chains that bound them, two by two at the wrists and ankles, jingled and clanked'all of these sounds, mingled together, and produced another of the strange and macabre symphonies, that were unique to a slave ship.
Akua held onto Akosua, as the teenager, and the other women, were forced to hop up and down, to the rhythm of the strange music. The youngster could not understand, how the pale demons still expected the captives to dance and jump, with so little life left in their bodies. Akua attempted to direct her gaze off into the distance, anxious to avoid the leering eyes of the white sailors who, took a special pleasure in watching the naked women, forced to jump up and down. She also hoped to take her mind off into the distance'to mentally escape from this den of evil spirits, through that same far-off gaze.
In the afternoon, hours after the exercise was over, Akua and the others were still on deck, dreading the evening meal. Since while on deck, the women were not chained or tied in any way, Akua was able to work her way over towards Kwabina, her childhood friend. When she was close enough to him, they exchanged greetings. The youngsters, as usual, surveyed one another'and as usual, the look on each of their faces, expressed deep concern for the condition of the other. Akua noticed the pus and blood oozing from the raw areas on Kwabina's right wrist and ankle where, the manacles were fastened. The wounds appeared terribly painful. Kwabina seemed very weak.
Akua suddenly thought how odd it was that she could sit and talk with Kwabina, each of them totally unashamed of their nakedness. It was not so when they were first brought onboard. The teenage girl remembered how embarrassed she was when, she first saw Kwabina, totally nude on deck. And moreover, how embarrassed she felt to have him look upon her nakedness. She tried to, but could not, remember when the change took place, that made modesty a thing of the past. Her people back in Africa, were extremely strict, and modest about nudity'especially the women and girls who, spent their lives cloaked behind layers of cloth'revealing nothing but their arms, and faces. The stripping away of those garments, was the first step in the whites' attempt to peel away the dignity of these women. 'Kwabina, how are you'how are you feeling?'
'Not good, Little Sister. I don't think that I will live much longer. I will join my parents, in the world of the ancestors. They were killed when our village was destroyed.' Kwabina, as he spoke, kept his eyes closed.
'No Kwabina, you must not give up,' as Akua's eyes welled up with tears. 'Please, don't leave us'please,' as she reached out, and touched his arm.
'Little Sister, it is okay'don't worry'the ancestors will take good care of me'and you as well. Every day, more and more of us join the ancestors. Better to journey home and join the ancestors, than to go to the land of these evil spirits'and be eaten. I am ready to join my parents.'
'Kwabina'' Just then, one of the whites came over and, cracking his whip less than a foot from Akua, chased her back over to where the women were seated. Thereupon, as the young girl sat and drank part of the daily, water ration that the whites ladled out to the captives, she thought about what Kwabina had said. She knew that he was absolutely right. Death had to be better than this wretched existence yet still, Akua could not bring herself to openly condone his decision, to let death take him. She just did not want to be left alone there, in the world of the white devils.
The teenager looked up and behind her'at the quarter deck'the large, wooden barricade, at least a foot higher than the average man'with portholes through which small cannons, and swivel guns protruded'looming fierce, and ominous. With the state that most of the captives were in at this point, Akua did not see how the whites had anything to fear.
After helping Ifoma to drink some water, Akua turned her attention once more to Akosua, and next attempted to persuade her to drink. 'Please Akosua, drink some water'come on,' as she rubbed some of the water on the older girl's dry, and cracked lips. The fourteen-year-old thus poured a portion of the water into the palm of her hand and hence, let it drip into Akosua's mouth. Akosua drank the water and Akua, happily repeated the action. After this was done several times, Akosua suddenly ceased her droning and whimpering'and the far away stare disappeared. As well, the older girl's habitual rocking halted, and she became still, while continuing to lay face up, in Akua's lap. At first, Akua was frightened that the suffering girl might have moved on, to the land of the ancestors but then strangely, Akosua suddenly looked directly into her comforter's eyes. As their eyes met for the first time in two months, it seemed to Akua that Akosua, was suddenly herself'suddenly lucid. She was back'and Akua smiled. To the younger girl's great joy, Akosua smiled back at her. 'Akosua, how are you? How are you feeling?' Akua asked, with great happiness evident in her tone.
'I am here with you. Thank you for helping me, Akua'you will be blessed,' Akosua stated, in a solemn voice. She then raised herself from Akua's lap and at that moment sat up, with her back straight. Akosua closed her eyes and several times, breathed deeply, as Akua and Ifoma watched her, amazed at the sudden resurrection. Akosua soon afterward, stood up, and gazed down upon her fellow captives'a smile once more, gracing her face. She next spoke directly to Akua. 'I will see you at home, Little Sister.' And with that, Akosua bolted past the distracted guards who, were stationed near the railing and, in the next instant the determined girl, without hesitation, leaped through a hole in the netting which, surrounded the ship. Akosua plunged into the ocean.
Akua, as well as the other women and girls who witnessed this, were horrified. The white guards at the railing, upon realizing what had happened, turned to look over the side of the ship. As they did so, another woman leaped through a gap in the net, and into the churning ocean'shouting something as she disappeared over the side. This time it was the young mother who earlier that day, had been stripped of her child, and her virtue by the demon slavers. She had decided to follow her baby.
The whites immediately started to scramble towards the other women, brandishing whips and clubs in an attempt to prevent any more escapes over the side. The pockmarked-faced, First Mate, rushed over to the guards still at the railing, and commenced to shout at, and chastise them, for their carelessness. Livid, he was about to beat one of them with his fists when all of a sudden, the sailor stationed up in the mast, yelled something down to the First Mate while at the same time, pointing off to the horizon. The First Mate released the terrified sailor, and then looked off into the distance. He therewith, and without hesitation, sent someone below, to the Captain's quarters.
Akua looked to where the whites were focusing their attention and could see, what appeared to be another large ship, with the big, white cloths, fastened to large poles'just like the ship that she was on. Akua wondered if there were also captives on that ship. She figured that at the very least, there must be white demons on that ship'no doubt friends of the devils that were running the ship that she was imprisoned upon. Or maybe, the youngster reflected, they were getting close to the land of these evil spirits. That thought frightened Akua.
The head demon, the First Mate, yelled something in the strange, phantom language and the sailors, already in a state of excitement, started scrambling about, and rousting the captives'using their whips and clubs to drive the Africans to their feet, and back below deck. As they were being herded towards the hatchway, Akua could hear what sounded like thunder yet, was somewhat different. And seconds later, there were even-louder shouts from the whites as a great plume of water, rose into the sky near the ship, and showered the deck. The strange thunder continued as Akua, and the other women, were pushed into the storage hold, and chained once more to the wooden posts therein.
Akua watched as her mother placed a couple of yams over the fire, to roast. Around the village, the girl could see other cooking fires, billowing up light-blue smoke, as the women prepared for the afternoon meal. Very soon, her father would be home from his fields, ready to eat. 'Mommy, do you think that we will be able to trade for more cloth, at the market tomorrow? The harvest festival is less than a moon away, and I still do not have a new dress for it.'
Akua's mother chuckled. 'Yes Akua, we will get the cloth for your dress. Don't worry, you will be the prettiest girl of fourteen rains, at the festival.'
Akua jumped up, and hugged her mother. 'Thank you Mommy'thank you!' as she continued to cling to her mother.
Akua's mother, although fond of her daughter's demonstrative affection, feigned irritation. 'Hey, hey, watch out Akua, you are going to make me drop your father's lunch into the fire.' However Akua knew, that she was not really angry.
The teenage, Akan girl looked out over the village, and towards the yam fields. In the distance, she saw her father approaching, and walking in the direction of the circle of dwellings. The youngster waved at him, and her father smiled and waved back. Then suddenly, his smile disappeared but yet still, he continued to wave, now frantically though, at Akua.
The sky now turned from light to dark, and Akua saw her father still waving at her while at the same time, screaming her name. The fourteen-year-old's mother was there as well, crying and shrieking for her daughter. Both parents were being held back by African soldiers of the King and, Akua could now hear herself screaming'screaming for her parents. She felt herself being dragged away, and into the night'crying and shouting for her parents. The young girl saw her mother and father's anguished faces, fade into the distance. Heard their tortured cries trail off until, she could hear them no more'
Akua shot straight up, and looked about'screaming. The realization that she was still in the storage hold, along with dreaming of the separation from her parents, caused the girl to break down, and cry hysterically. Ifoma, awakened by her shrieking and crying, hugged the child, and held her close.
There in the darkness, a couple of hours before dawn, everything seemed quiet and peaceful. The loud thundering sounds, and splashing of water that had accompanied the sighting of the other ship, had ceased once darkness had fallen. For the remainder of the afternoon and evening, after Akua and the other captives had been prematurely driven below deck, the ride had been rougher than ever as for hours, the ship turned and twisted wildly. Akua likened the movements of the ship to those of the water snakes that moved across the river near her village, back home.
As the youngster lay there in Ifoma's arms, she thought about Akosua, and the young mother who, had jumped overboard. She sobbed in frustration, wishing that she had had the courage to jump as well. Akua swore that the next time an opportunity presented itself, she would follow Akosua, and the young mother. She thought about the peaceful look on Akosua's face, just before the older girl had bolted for the railing, and jumped. I bet she's back home now. I bet she is happy, and with her parents, Akua thought to herself and, she felt happy for Akosua.
Yet suddenly, and in the next instant, Akua was startled as she heard, a great commotion below her. It sounded as though the men were being rousted, just like in the mornings, as they were being driven up on deck. However, Akua knew that it was too early for that. The captives were always brought up on deck, after dawn. What is going on? she pondered.
Now the young girl heard keys jangling outside of the door to the storage hold. Her mind went racing. They are coming for me, she thought. I won't allow this'I won't. Akua then came up with a plan to avoid being ravaged. As she clung to Ifoma, and shivered with fear, the fourteen-year-old surmised that she would jump into the waste tub, and smear herself all over with excrement. Hopefully, that would stop the savages from violating, and using her. Yet after further thought, Akua doubted whether her plan would work. She had seen the whites daily, wallow in filth. Entering the storage hold, they would slip and fall to the floor which, was slick with blood, mucus, and excrement. She had seen those same whites, later in the day'and many times, even the next day'joking and laughing on deck, with the same encrusted filth, still stuck to their skin, and clothes. Filth does not seem to bother these devils, the youngster thought.
Akua next considered strangling herself, with the chain that fastened her to the pole although, with her mind still in an excited state, the child quickly realized that she was physically much too weak to accomplish this. So frustrated, she settled upon the only choice left to her. She would let the whites take her up on deck, and she would pretend to go along with their plans. The African girl would offer no resistance as she was taken up on deck and then, when the whites were lulled into a false sense of security, she would take off, and leap through the netting. Akua thereupon wondered, if she would return home even if the large, fierce fish that followed the ship, devoured her body. But in the end she figured, that that was a chance that she would have to take'
The whites burst into the room. The women once again cowered. One of the sailors came forward, and commenced to unlock Akua's wrist manacle. The young girl offered no resistance. She therewith looked at Ifoma who, gave her a look that said, try to be strong. Yet next, and surprisingly, the other sailors came forward, and began to unlock Ifoma's, and the other women's manacles as well. The women were extremely confused and, even more so when, once they all had been freed from their chains, the whites proceeded to drive them up and onto the top deck. There was now as well, much fear among the women.
Once on deck, Akua and the other women were surprised to see all of the male captives already up there, in the darkness. There was low, eerie light from the lanterns that the whites carried as well as, from the full moon which, was perched high in the clear, night sky. The captives were talking urgently among themselves, trying to ascertain what was going on. In the ghostly light of the lanterns, Akua could make out Kwabina, standing with the other captives. He looked over as if he could feel her stare, and the young boy thus, smiled at her'attempting it seemed, to ease the teenage girl's fears. Akua forced herself to smile back, even though, she was terrified.
The whites began to move quickly among the captives. For the first time, they shackled and chained the women at the ankles, in the same manner as the men'two by two. In this manner, Akua had her left ankle attached to Ifoma's right. Once this was accomplished, the Europeans then began to run two, long chains through loops on the ankle cuffs of each captive. By way of this method, the crew was able to link approximately one-hundred fifty captives, with one chain, and another one-hundred fifty, with the other chain. As the regular complement of whites stood by with guns and swords at the ready, the First Mate shouted something and, the whites that were milling around the deck, moved to the railing'leaving only the captives, in the center of the deck.
Everyone, captives and slavers alike, fell silent. And in the next moment, the First Mate again shouted while at the same time, making a downward motion with his arm. The captives started to scream.
Akua could see the male captives, who were standing in front of her, and closer to the front of the ship, being pulled through two openings in the ship's railing, and into the blackness of the ocean. The screaming continued as more and more of the Africans, were pulled overboard. Then, Akua felt a tugging on her ankle, and an instant later, she was sliding across the deck, the skin on her legs and buttocks, as a result of the friction, feeling as if it were on fire. The fourteen-year-old could still hear the cries and shrieks of the captives and, it seemed to crescendo. And thereupon, she felt the icy-cold of the water'a sensation of smothering'saw only darkness'
Onboard the British Frigate which, had been chasing and tracking the slave ship, Jesus of Liverpool, during the previous day, and all through the night, the sailors could hear the screams of the captives, as they plunged into the ocean. And then, silence. Still and all, they could see nothing. The British officers knew exactly what had happened. They had seen this many times. The slavers, realizing that they could be hung from the mast for trafficking in slaves, two years after the Slave Trade Act of 1824 had gone into effect, had decided to get rid of the evidence. The slavers knew that once the sun rose, they would be unable to avoid the British, naval vessel which, was much faster than the lumbering slaver. They saw as their only option, attaching the captives to the two, anchor chains, and then lowering those anchors'dumping their 'cargo' into the ocean. The Captain of the British Frigate resigned himself to the fact that the cargo, would not be confiscated. He would nevertheless, continue to track the slaver, until the sun rose, using the smell of the ship to locate it. The British officer knew all too well, that you could smell a slave ship, before you could see it. Even one that was over the horizon, provided you were downwind of it. At first light, he would attempt to board the ship, and look for evidence with which to prosecute.
Akua turned her head to one side, and then the other, careful not to lose her balance, and slip off into the water. Through eyes stinging with salt water, she could see in the morning light, nothing but floating debris, and the occasional tall fin above the water, that she knew belonged to the ferocious, man-eating fish. The youngster pulled herself closer to the wooden crate, hugging it so tightly that she could feel its wet, porous surface digging into her flesh. The whites had thrown this, and other incriminating items overboard with the human cargo, hoping to leave no evidence of their inhuman, and illegal trade onboard, to be discovered by a British, boarding party.
Akua could see none of the other captives floating atop the water'either dead or alive. She was alone. The fourteen-year-old thought about Ifoma'Kwabina'and she began to cry. She wondered how and why she had survived. The young girl remembered plunging into the cold water, and then feeling herself being pulled downward. She recalled the feelings of bliss and tranquillity that she had experienced, as she sank deeper, and deeper. The sense of inner peace. Akua next recollected feeling a jolt and at that instant, suddenly being sucked up to the surface.
As the child broke the surface of the water, she saw the slave ship nearby, lanterns still alight. She heard the sounds of other objects hitting the water. From what the youngster could make out, they were boxes and crates, just like the one that she now clung to. So Akua bobbed about, struggling in the water, and terrified that the whites would see as well as, try to kill her. Yet, after what seemed like an eternity to the African girl, but was only a few minutes, the slave ship doused its lanterns, and moved off. It was quiet'
What Akua did not know, was that in their haste to dispose of the captives, the whites had neglected to lock her ankle cuff which, fortunately for her, was pulled open as she was being dragged down to the bottom, by the weight of the anchor and, the other captives. And after the departure of the slave ship, the teenager floated about for close to an hour and, just before dawn, found the crate, and climbed on top of it. She was naked, cold, and shivering'but she was alive.
Akua awoke with a start, as something bumped up against her crate. She thought that it might be one of the killer fish but then, she realized that it was just another crate, from the slaver. The sun was now high in the sky, and it was beginning to pain her skin which, was raw, and bruised. The battered child turned her head to the right and thus, back again. But yet still, something compelled her to look once again, to the right. She squinted her eyes, and tried to focus them. And thereupon, the youngster could see it'there on the horizon. It was one of the big, white cloths that the whites fastened to the long poles of their ships, in order to catch the wind. The cloth seemed to be rising up, and out of the sea and, after a short while, Akua could see a ship beneath the sail. Fear immediately rose up within her. The demons were back.
In an instant, Akua decided that she would roll off of the crate, and therewith let herself slip beneath the waves, to drown. She would join the others. Yet, just as the teenage girl was gathering up all of the strength that she had left, in order to accomplish this last act, she sighted several of the large, flesh-eating fish, circling near her crate. Akua had seen them devour captives, both dead and alive, during her three-month ordeal, and she was frightened of dying in that manner. She did not want to be torn apart by the fish, and she did not want to return to the world of the slavers. Akua was unsure. So, the child clung to the crate'in frustration, sobbing.
The African girl, looked back at the ship, and as it got closer, she noticed that it was different from the slave ship. It was thinner, and sleeker. In fact, it resembled the ship that she had glimpsed the other day, just before her, and her fellow captives, were driven below deck, with the thunderous sounds booming in their ears. Akua watched as the ship got closer, and then stopped. Now, the youngster would have to make a decision. She saw a small boat leave the larger ship, and begin to move towards her. Come on Akua, you have to jump, she thought. The man eaters were still circling near her yet, that notwithstanding, as the small boat got closer, the beleaguered girl decided that she would rather be torn apart by the fish, than by the whites. She therefore closed her eyes, and readied herself to slide into the water'
Just as Akua was about to slip into the depths, she heard a large, booming sound, and she was showered with water'and blood. In shock, the young girl opened her eyes, only to see, one of the fierce fish split open, and floating upon the surface of the water. She looked at the small boat that approached her and saw, two, white men standing in it, and carrying one of their long, fire-stick weapons. As other white men rowed the boat, one of them fired, and another of the huge fish, exploded. Akua clung to the box, terrified.
The boat now came alongside her crate, and the young girl hid her face, by pressing it into the wood of the box. She next heard the men speaking in the white man's tongue yet, there was one voice that seemed to be repeating in different tongues. Some of the tongues Akua recognized as those of other captives who, had been onboard the slaver with her although, she did not understand the languages. The youngster continued to hide her face. 'Are you Akan? Do you speak Twi?' Akua could not believe what she had just heard. The strange, multilingual voice was now speaking in her native language, Twi. She lifted her head, and looked at the person who was speaking. 'Do you understand me? Don't worry, we are not going to hurt you.' Akua continued to look at the white man with the strange, yellow hair, and then nodded her head.
'Yes, I am Akan'my people are Akwapin.' The white man smiled.
'Were you thrown off of the slave ship?'
'Were there many others thrown overboard with you?'
'Yes, the white men threw all of us overboard.'
'Have you seen any other captives alive, out here with you?'
'No'' Akua's voice cracked, 'no'I am the only one'the only one''
The white man paused for a moment, and then he continued. 'What is your name?'
'Akua'my name is Akua''
'Well Akua, I am Father Thomas Carrington, of the Church of England. I am here to help you. Don't worry, I will not let anybody hurt you. Come with me'everything will be all right. I am going to make sure that you get back home.'
Again, Akua could not believe what she was hearing. The child knew that she should not trust this white man but nonetheless, for some reason, she did. She nodded a yes, and the white man once more, smiled. The priest spoke to the other white men, and they pulled Akua's crate closer to the boat. Father Carrington thereupon came forward, and extended his hand to the girl. 'You can get me home?' Akua asked, a disbelieving tone in her voice.
'Yes, yes Akua'come with me. You are very lucky. You will get to go home.' The clergyman then took her hand, and with the help of a sailor, pulled the weak and exhausted Akua, into the boat. Father Carrington next, gave her his black jacket to put on, so that her nakedness would be hidden. They therewith, rowed back to the ship.
Onboard the British Frigate, Father Carrington explained to Akua, that he had been a missionary in her homeland, and that that was how he had learned so many African languages. He told the girl that the slave trade was now outlawed, and that his ship was therefore busy, as were many others, tracking down slavers. The priest said that all too often though, the slavers did just what they had done to the fourteen-year-old, and her fellow captives'throw the people overboard, so as not to get caught transporting slaves. He further explained to Akua, that he was onboard the British ship as an interpreter because, he knew something of the languages, and cultures of her homeland. Father Carrington said that in the past, they had been lucky enough to rescue other captives and very soon, not only the slave trade, but slavery itself would be outlawed.
Akua asked, what now would happen to her and, Father Carrington told her that the ship was headed for an island called, Barbados. There the priest stated, she would be turned over to some people who, were involved in sending freed slaves back to their homeland'to a place called, Sierra Leone'a country that had been recently established as a new, safe haven, for former slaves. The clergyman said that many Akan people, were already in this new country. Akua wondered if her parents might be there. 'Can I go back to my own village?' Akua asked.
'No Akua, that would be too dangerous. Your area of the Gold Coast is full of war and turmoil. If you went back there, you could again be captured by slavers. Anyway, it is unlikely that your village still exists. In Sierra Leone, you will be protected from slavers. There, they cannot trouble you.'
Akua understood most of what the priest told her'in that way that a fourteen-year-old child does. She knew that she was better off today, than she was the day before. The overwhelmed girl sensed, that she had been lucky. She realized that this Sierra Leone, where many of her people now lived, was going to have to serve as home. The youngster again thought of the other captives that for three months, she had been imprisoned with and, as Father Carrington left the small room that Akua had been placed in, she laid down, and relaxed. The exhausted one knew that she would never forget the other captives, as well as what had transpired aboard the slaver. She picked up a bowl of porridge that the priest had left for her and, with her right hand, she began to eat. And as the child did so, everything that she had been through, came flooding back'and she began to sob, uncontrollably.
Akua realized, that she did not want to eat or drink. She was in fact so weak, that she could not even sleep. The young, African girl felt that she wanted to do but one thing. She now had but one desire, and purpose in life. To journey home'