They were packed in like animals, each in a head space of no more than 160cm. Females all cramped together on one side and males on the other. There must have been nearly 300 hundred of them down here in the dark. And what few candles and lanterns they had, they were barely burning.
‘Must be the lack of oxygen’ I thought. My eyes slowly scanning the area in front of me. The sea of faces all staring at me. Eyes shining whiter than anything else that I have seen. Skin as black as leather.
Women with huge collars and chains around their necks. Their hair all braded or shaved off till they looked bald. Rags of cloth tied, made do, around their bodies. Just barely covering their flesh.Breasts on show. Huge hoops through their ears. Beautiful ornate decorations on such saddened faces.
I forced a smile at the women, who all glared at me back. Some had no teeth I noticed, and were covered in bruises and gashes so big. I could tell they were frightened by the site of me. Dressed the way I do, in full gown and apron, stockings and lace all the way up to my neck. Hardly an ounce of dirt on my frock when they don’t look like they have been fed and watered never mind even take a hot bath.
The shocked look on the children’s faces as I made my way down the tiny alley in between the women on one side and the men on the other. A group of about 20 or so children all huddled together in chains. Their tiny thin limbs with huge bellies. Eyes starring wide at me. I choked back a cry.
I turned my eyes away from them and then headed back down the side that the men were on. They were in no better shape, if not worse than the women.
A old man sat crying, mumbling in his native tongue. His hands all bloodied, so thin and hunched over. This is not what I had expected. It's all been a lie. James my husband to be, protecting me from this. So my image of him won't be distorted. His family the so rich and powerful and this is what they did. All thought of the lies running through my head.
Thin good-looking men, high cheekbones, hair shaved off. The smell of vomit, blood, sweat. Tears and diarrhoea all mixed in. Death was in the air. From the look on these men’s faces they knew it too.
A few had metal contraptions on their heads, like cages. I hadn’t seen them in the market the other day. Slits for the eyes and tiny holes for their noses. Nothing for there mouths. How were they supposed to eat or drink to keep there strength up for the long journey ahead.
And then I saw him, out of the ramblings, rocking back and forth. Singing in his tongue quietly. In a trance of some sort. His arm just a stump were his hand should be, no bandage or cover on it, blood dried all over him a deep darkened black. His sad white eyes locked on to mine.
The shrill that came out of my mouth just then. I didn’t realise at first that it was me who made it so loud. As I dropped my handkerchief and fled back up the steps.