keepers of earth.
the plantation was long ago. the blood of my ancestors is still on the land. cotton fields, tobacco roads. red soil. dry heat. nothing but land as far as you can see. i sit in the spot where i stood in chains over a hundred years ago. that day, i was leaving the plantation.
i am being sold. my twin sister chained near me. she held her head down. we are thirteen before we are chained. we are ageless by the time we are dragged away.
we thought we’d be together. we aren’t. i watch mother fall to her knees. our eldest sister zora, beside her. our grandmother with our youngest sibling, still a toddler on her back, holding mother’s shoulders up.
that is the day we all grow up. we aren’t the first ones sold. sky is. sky is second eldest daughter. mother bore twelve children. but money is needed. it is easier to sell people than to stop buying alcohol and animals. the wine, spirits, the livestock is worth more than we are.
all those years ago. my mind haunted. still no street lights. the moon hanging low in the sky. the woods of the south that showed no mercy. the woods of the south that thirsted for black and brown blood.
there is much pain in the march. aches. fear. the fear is the biggest thing we feel. in the southern sun, we are all shaking. we are afraid. there is the fear of dying but also the fear of living. noni, will not look at me. she looks at no one. i need her. i want her to need me. i want her to look at me. she gives up. she had already begun giving up when we watched our sister sky, get on the back of a wagon.
at least she got a ride. we’re chained. we get to walk. all the slaves on every plantation we passed came out to watch. all the young women crying, holding tightly to their children. the older women shaking their heads. the men taking off their hats. along the journey, we all hold our heads down.
it is shame. it is all shame. our humanity is left up to us. a humanity we can’t defend. a humanity we can’t prove. a humanity we can’t speak up for. a humanity that keeps separating us over and over again. we cannot say goodbye. we cannot speak at all unless it’s with permission. we must decide to be human. we walk the endless trail, snakes slither over our feet, mosquitoes suck our blood, ticks dig in our backs, baking under southern sun with no shade. at night, still chained, they open our legs with guns in our throats, dogs at our head, and a line behind them of more slavers with loose suspenders who make us human enough to grunt on top of. we must decide to be human.
during the day, we walk chained as if being enslaved isn’t enough. we’re chained. dogs on leashes. their guns shadows on the ground, in front and behind us. they spit at our feet. brown tobacco spit that pours from their mouth like the water from the well. they trip the chains to make us fall for their entertainment.
we walk into the night. the nights keep turning into more night. despite our blisters. despite the heat. despite the choking damp that hangs in the air. despite not having food. the horses drink before we do. we sleep huddled in the middle of the woods. none of us sleep. i try to be close to my sister. we are chained at different parts of the line. it is impossible for us to be near each other without tripping everyone else up or causing confusion. we all do what we must to not bring attention to ourselves.
she is upset. i want to be near her. she never looks at me. i give up trying.
she is unchained a day later. she is taken to a plantation with many strangers. another slave woman takes her. not much older. my sister doesn’t look back.
we keep walking. i get silent. for many years to come, i am deemed mute. i refuse to talk. we walk four more days before i am delivered. when i am delivered, i eat and drink and then i am put on a wagon. the ride is so long, i sleep.
i go so far away, i can’t know where i came from. it is me and two boys around my age. their mother and my mother, good friends. they could all be sisters. they have grown as family. we avoid looking at each other. ashamed of wrongs that we cannot right. they join me in silence.
we get new names. i don’t so much mind it. i feel like a different person. it doesn’t matter to me at all. i know who i am.
tonight, i stare at the sky. i have no tears. inside, i am weeping for mother. mother watched me die and had no body to mourn, visit, and bury. no honeysuckle to brush in my hair. no oil to caress on my skin. no family pieces to wrap me in. no kisses to land on my head. she could give no finer death to compensate for my not so fine life. her flowers of mourn and suffer will die in rotting wood, at the doorsteps of our cabin. no water to grow them. no land to protect them.
tonight, i stare at the sky. stars litter the skies like cotton in the fields. mother has to be looking at the stars. she has to be. noni and i, make numbers four and five of her girls to be sold away. she would be looking at the stars, desperate for a righteous explanation from the gods.
“this is not god.” i whisper. “this is not over.”
the leaves whisper near. me. i turn and look. it is the boys that i journeyed from plantation to plantation with. it the boys that are being mourned the same as i. they look from me to the skies. one on his back , looking up, the other sitting up, his knees to his chest. his rocking bringing him a comfort nothing else could bring. he stops rocking to look at the sky.
“this is not god.” they both say. “this is not over.”
“remain alive. we will live. we will find our mothers. we came together. we will leave together. each night, we will remind our mothers through the stars and the moon, that this is not god. and this is not over. do not get broken. do not give up. this is not our place. this is not god. we will be returned to them.”
“this is not god.”
“will we find our way back?” the youngest of us says. he is younger by almost two years. it is a wonder he did not die along the way.
“in time, yes. learn everything you must. we will remain as long as we need to. we belong to our mothers. they are our gods. that is who you will pray to. your mothers. not this evil and the people that serve it. you will live, if you choose to. this is not our god. don’t get comfortable. this is not our place.”
“this is not god.” he whispers. he looks at me. wanting or needing peace. i have none to give.
“it will not be fine. don’t get comfortable. this is not your place in life. we will find our way back. don’t let them break you. we came together, we will leave together.”