This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Slave Ship

Another day.

I lie on my back, legs and arms stretched. It’s incredibly hot, and the sweat trickles down between my breasts and down my naked body. The sweat itches, and so do the flea bites. I ignore both. There is nothing I could do about them, anyway, because I can’t reach to scratch. My wrists and ankles are manacled to the women lying on either side.

I tell myself my name. I tell myself my father's name, and my mother's, and the names of everyone else I know. I feel that I shall forget everything otherwise, forget who I am - or was. I tell myself that this shall all end, but I don't believe it. I don't believe anything any more.

The deck under me heaves and sways. The first day or two I had retched myself dry, like everyone else, and had lain in my vomit till my own sweat had washed it off me. But now I have grown used to the motion. I don’t know when, or if, it will ever end.

Just above my head, the wooden planking is dark with old moisture. If I raise my head far enough, just a moderate stretching of my neck, my forehead will bump into it. I don’t know what the moisture is, but I can guess. There is another shelf above, full of women manacled and spreadeagled like me. I can hear them whimpering.

It has been days since I last breathed through my nose. The stench is beyond imagining. It’s a false notion that one gets used to the stench. Even when you lie in a layer of your own filth, you don’t get used to it. No, you don’t.

The woman on my right is ill. She has been coughing for three days now and today it seems that she can no longer move. When I pull at my chains she slides over towards me and lies against my body, inert. She is alive, I can hear the breath bubble inside her, but I don’t think she will live much longer. I’m almost certain that she will die.

Yesterday I had been pulled out and taken on top. They had come for me, three of the monstrous hairy pink men with their beards and incomprehensible jabbering language, and pulled off my manacles. They had taken me on top. Scarce had I shielded my eyes from the glare of the sky and drawn in the fresh air that I had been doused with bucket after bucket of sea water. The salt had stung my hands and feet where the manacles had rubbed me raw, and the men had poured more water over me, and leered at my breasts and between my legs. When the filth was washed off me they had taken me to the one they called the Captain.

I do not want to think of what happened after that. When I close my legs together, I can still feel it in my vagina and on the insides of my thighs. This should not happen to a maiden.

I lie still, wondering what the pink men want us for, and where they are taking us. Some of the women, before we had been put on the ship, had heard that they are going to eat us. Others say the pink men have a country far across the sea where they will set us to work. Others say the pink men are demons. I don’t think so. Demons don’t sicken or die, and I saw at least one of the pink men atop who was clearly almost dead, lying in a corner and groaning. I could not feel any pity for him.

I try to ease my position, pulling at the manacles. The woman to my left hisses in pain. She snaps something in her language, but I cannot understand her. The woman on my right, though, makes no noise. I think she has stopped breathing.

A long time ago, I remember, I was running in the village with the other children, and my mother had called. She had wanted me to help her with the cooking, and I had known that, yet I had not gone. She had called, and then she had done it herself, and spilled the boiling water over herself and scalded her foot raw. She still has that scar. I mean, she still had that scar, the last time I saw her, and that was just before the slave raid. I wonder where she is now. Perhaps she is on this ship, somewhere. Perhaps she is just above me.

The woman to my right is definitely dead, and the woman to my left has begun moaning, steadily and monotonously. I am beginning to get angry at her. I try to control my anger.

Anger makes it even more difficult to breathe.   

Copyright B Purkayastha 2008


{In the Zong Massacre of 1781, 133 ill African slaves were thrown into the sea from the slave ship Zong in order to lighten its load - it had taken aboard more slaves than it could accommodate. The owners then tried to claim insurance on the slaves they had drowned. Here's what the English Solicitor General of the time, John Lee, had to say on the episode (taken from the same source):

What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew. To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.  }

No comments:

Post a Comment