A Story On Slavery, Freedom, & Sacrifice
“Do you see anyone? It’s awfully quiet out there, almost as if the machete men were called for a private gathering by the bulldog. Any movements above?
“No Kunle, there is no reflecting shadow over the bars and you are wrong. Any gathering with the Bulldog is usually loud and festive, so, I think this is something else. It’s only ever this quiet when a ship is spotted close by.”
“It’s too early. It cannot be. You promised we wouldn’t get shipped off to the land beyond the waters, Deji, you swore over your mother’s dead body. If the ship is here, we’re doomed.”
I gritted my teeth, rushing back to place a hand over his mouth, and paused for a second. “Shut up, Kunle, your loud mouth is going to get us killed. I know what I promised, but we have to bid our time and stay watchful. We don’t know what’s going on up there and the silence has stretched far enough to get me worried too.”
“You don’t look worried, Deji. I know a terrified man when I see one and I reek of it. Why are we fooling ourselves, we’d never make it out of here alive? Look around, all I see is hopelessness,” Kunle said, casting his eyes about our barely illuminated castrated dungeon.
“Believe what you may, but I have a wife who needs her husband and two children who need their father; I will never be afraid of a mortal because he carelessly swings a machete and chains my feet, I’d rather die than serve as a slave in another man’s land.”
He made to say something but cried out instead, gnashing his teeth. “What’s wrong with you?
“My cut isn’t healing, I think it’s infected and getting worse,” Kunle said groaning. His fingers were trembling as he spoke with quivering lips, wiping out beads of sweat from his brows.
Makes me wonder how long he had been struggling to endure the pain.
I looked around him, peeling back the dirty cloth used as a makeshift bandage to wrap up the machete cut that missed his spine by a close inch. He could have been paralyzed for life if that madman hadn’t missed.
“It is infected and eating deep into your flesh. What did the crazy witch doctor say, the last time she visited? You should be getting better; it’s been a fortnight since that bastard tried to take your head off.”
He scoffed, gingerly adjusting himself against the stone wall. “She is more interested in stroking my manhood than she is about applying that nasty medicine on my back. I believe this is my punishment for refusing her advances.”
“What? Why didn’t you say something?
“When you encounter such a humiliating and downgrading experience, I’ll be waiting to hear you share it with glee. My Abike will be so ashamed of me. We promised to stay untouched by each other. I feel violated,” Kunle said, looking away from me, his eyes bowed in shame.
I clasped his shoulder, still on one knee, trying my best to reassure him. “Take it easy, brother, Abike doesn’t have to know any of the horrors we’ve endured here. I know she’s more concerned about having you back in her arms, alive, as I am about leaving this horrifying place. I will get us out of here, but you have to lower your voice. If word spreads about what we are planning to do, it could ruin this for us.”
He nods in agreement, looking around at the exhausted faces of the men and women huddled together in groups trying to catch a shut eyes before the Machete men and the Bulldog – as we christened our captors and their raucous leader – come back to rile us up for their sick evening entertainment.
The bulldog works us to the bone during the day and picks out the women and men for his entertainment at night – children included. We dread the day as much as we dread his insane demands at night, the stench of decaying flesh that permeates the air, and the number of young women and children who no longer own their bodies are proof of his unorthodox entertainment activities.
“Kunle, how many days have you counted since the last ship arrived?
“I have twelve crossed tallies on the wall and four strokes,” he said. “Why do you ask?
“I strongly believe a ship has arrived, which means we have to make changes to our plans. Quickly.”
Kunle visibly paled when I broke the news to him, the rays from the evening sky made him squint when he looked up at me, begging me to take back my word. “It’s early, and it didn’t announce its arrival. Don’t you think you could be mistaken or rushing your conclusions, Deji? I’m not buying it.”
I shushed him. “Listen,” I whispered, “they have been gone for too long,” I said, craning my neck upward, watching for any signs of movements above the tiny iron wroth covering that allows air and sun to filter into our dark cave from time to time – when those savages were using it as a piss hole.
“Something is up. I can feel it, Kunle. Whatever it is, will happen under the cover of darkness, which gives us the perfect opportunity to make a run for it. We have to be ready; this is a sign from our gods that they are with us.”
“I don’t think, I’m ready for it. I can’t do it. We could die out there.”
“If we don’t take our chance now, Kunle, we’d be slaves forever before sunrise.”
“Which would you prefer? Die out there with pride like a man or slaved to death in here like an animal. How would you want Abike to remember you, Kunle? Like a man or an animal?”
He groaned, wincing as he dragged himself to his feet, standing tall and proud before me, “I will be remembered as a man who fought with pride and died with honor. We are true sons of the soil; our lives will not be controlled by men who take pleasure in playing God but are mere weaklings, hiding behind the sorcery they call knowledge. May the gods be with us.”
Our cage burst open right after that, the whip of our captors descending upon the exhausted huddled bodies of the men and women closest to the entrance, their agonizing screams shattering the stillness of the night.
I grab Kunle’s left hand and wrap them around my shoulders helping him up the mud steps in a single file behind the rest of the prisoners when he whispered with a groan, “Keep this safe, Deji. I might not make it out of here, but if you do, find my Abike and give this to her. Tell her, she’ll always be mine.”
“You will tell her that yourself when we are safely out of here.”
“Take it,” he urged, shoving the beaded hand band into my hands, which I grudgingly accept as we made our way up.
We filed out to the surface, joining the rest of the prisoners, lined up in the yard. Deliberately, navigating our conjoined bodies towards the end of the yard that leads directly into the cornfields as chaos ensues and flesh crammed against one another, the whip cackling against broken skin from all sides.
Kunle yelped and dropped to the floor as the jagged tail-end of the horsewhip slices through our backs, cutting deep into his infected wound, ripping it open. We were at the very edge of the yard, an inch away from this hell with freedom beckoning in the distance and the voices of the slave drivers closing in.
“Go, Deji. Run. I can’t make it,” Kunle whimpered when the first feet stumbled over him in blind fright. “I’ll only slow you down.”
“Step around him,” I yell at the hazed eyes and stumbling feet, trying hard to hold my balance while attempting to drag his unyielding form to his feet.
“Run, Deji. Stop looking out for me. Go, the gods will be with you,” he yells at me, just as the crowd of swaying bodies surges forward and upsets my balance, pushing me over to the side.
I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, his blood-curling screams of pain ringing in my ears as I turned away from the herd and took flight, my feet propelled by the wind and one singular thought.
“We have a rabbit on the run,” I heard someone call out, the hell hounds already barking in the distance.
I am not afraid; I have never been afraid and I will not allow Kunle to have died in vain.
“Ogun oh! If you can hear me, your son is asking for help,” I cried out in desperation, fighting back my tears. I stared at the horizon, praying reverently, that the gods hear me and aid my escape before sunrise or I was a dead man.
Immediately, the dry clouds parted and the torrents overflowed, creating a boundary between me and my captors, a protective barricade against their advances.
Thanking my father immensely for his protection, I disappeared into the night, a desert away from home.