Hiding

‘Oh good man’ I said bursting through the open door.

‘Right, I’ll sort you out later if I may….?’ I asked.

‘Er, Charlie, Mam’ he stammered.

‘Right, Good man Charlie’ I said again, trying to smile and keep him on my side.

‘Right, were is the master then?’ I enquired. Thinking that he probably would be in the captains room having a Brandy discussing the plantation.

‘Think he’s in the Captains quarters Mam.’ he said looking at me wondering what I was going to do next. I didn’t even know myself, I thought as I spied the key in the lock. Quickly turning it locked, and taking out the key, which I put in the pocket of my skirt.

‘I need food, water and some bandages Charlie’ I ordered.

‘All you can get of anything’ I added. Thinking of the fruit that lay in my room on the floor. I opened the door and scrambled inside picking the fruit up, my arms ladened full. The bottle of Scotch of James’s just catching my eye as I was about to head back out. I grabbed it quickly. Pulling up the skirt of my dress, using to hold the fruit and the bottle which I tucked under my arm. There was nothing else there that I could take.

‘Medicinal purposes’ I smiled at Charlie. I locked the door pulling it closed with one hand.

‘Right check the coast is clear, and bring it down below please Charlie’

‘it won’t go unnoticed by my farther what you have just done, he shall be told.’ I implied that he shall be rewarded for his help, but that was if I ever made it back home alive, and with that I quietly walked down the short corridor behind Charlie to the deck door.

He peered round the door, looking both ways. The lower deck door was just to the left. Then there was the short walk down the steps into the confinement below.

Charlie nodded at me and said’ I will do my best Man’ and walked away, as I dashed out of the door, and in through the other one, just waiting for someone to stop me in my tracks.

But nobody did.

The guard sat down below outside the deck door was sleeping, sprawled out on the bench, empty bottle of Rum over turned on the floor besides him. ‘Must have been quite some party here last night’ I mused.

Turning the key, and using the weight with my back against the door to push the heavy wood open.

The heat of this horrid place was so great and the odour so offensive, that I could hardly enter, as it hit as soon as the door opened.

I decided not to show my remorse or disturbance to the sea of faces glaring at me, as I entered all the same. Catching my breathe as I did so. The crying and chanting dying down, with just a small child whimpering at the back. I scanned the cramped space looking for somewhere to put down the bottle and let the skirt of my dress down with the fruit tucked inside, but there was nowhere. No table or shelf, nothing except the floor and the big Drum. I put the fruit on the top there careful not to loose any as the floor of this place was covered in dirt, waste excrement and god only knows what else. Quickly looking for the guard, but he wasn’t here.

Then I heard footsteps along and down the steps, realising that I should of taken the key, I hid behind the door. Not daring to look at the mass of eyes on me in case they gave the game away. But I didn’t have to fear as it was Charlie.

‘Mam’ He asked ever so quietly, carrying with him a sack full of goods.

‘Oh Charlie, thank you’ I said as I pointed for him to put the sack down next to the huge drum.

‘I’ll need medical supplies too, all you can find, and if you can’t find any then some more Scotch or Brandy will do’ I instructed.

Surely that was no hard feet as the men seemed to be in plentiful supply of the sickly syrup that they so loved to drink.

‘Right o’ Charlie said, standing waiting for more instruction from me.

‘That will be all’ I said. Thinking just were do I start?

And with that Charlie left the room, just closing the door behind him as I said with a sincere heart ‘Thank you’ and he closed the door leaving me behind in this strange than real environment.

The light was poor, as the windows were small and covered by a sea of bodies, letting in hardly any light. A few new candles had been places out since my last visit but they were hardly flickering at all.

I looked at the faces, their dark and melancholy visages wondering what this strange pale face is here for. The space was so low that they sat between each other's legs and stowed so close together that there was no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position by night or day.

Then remembering the knife I had tucked into the seem of my skirt I took it out and saw suddenly a change in the faces looking at me.

‘No, oh no’ I said. ‘Its for the fruit’ and I picked up a apple and cut through the damaged flesh so it was quartered. Putting the knife down I went over and gave it to the first woman I came to.

Putting it in her hand. Her face looking at me.

‘Yes, for you’ I signalled stressing my words for them to even comprehend. Mimicking my hand to mouth movement and pretending to chew, lifting my eyes in delight.

And with that she shoved the fruit in her mouth and chewed frantically, almost swallowing it whole.

Then I set about cutting up the rest of the fruit, the exotic oranges, apples, shrivelled plums from the lush orchids back home. Handing them out, pressing a piece into each hand. Hands that were now outstretched and asking for more in a tongue that I didn‘t know but fully understood.

Tears in the women’s eyes, heads nodding at me, showing their broken teeth as they tried to tell me that they were pleased to see me.

I opened Charlie’s sack as a few measly pieces of fruit hadn’t gone nearly far enough. I found bread, lots of it, hard as nails, but still it was something to fill even a tiny hole in the swollen bellies. Some oatmeal biscuits, lots of them, breaking them in half and sharing them out.

Brown bananas, looking like they should be discarded.

Peas, the bottom of the sack filled with them mixed in with salt, huge big chunks of the stuff. Damp. No meat, nothing of more substance.

But I passed it around in to each and every hand that I came across.

But not all faces were alight. As some seemed to be in the last stages of emaciation in this place of filth. Some worse, dead and still shackled to their co-mates beside them.

I made mental notes of who need urgent medical treatment, or at least the one’s who I though I could help.

The man with no hand, countless scorch marks and cuts. Wheel’s from the whippings that they so obviously taken since coming aboard ship.

I inspected the markings on a boy who so young and crying. Shackled, naked to another not much bigger. His thin limbs looking as if they could almost snap. Noticing a marking, branded on his chest.

A round circle with a cross in the middle, red and looking sore. I went to the next child, moving from one to another. The men and the women all branded the same.

This barbaric and cruelty performed on another human being without so much as a second thought.

I took off my skirt, amidst the watchful intrigued eyes, and standing there in my layers of petticoat, I took the knife in my hand and shredded my beautiful dress.

Making makeshift bandages from the patterned cloth, and dousing the thread in the scotch. Wiping it over their wheel marks and cuts.

Seeing them grimace as I tried my best to give reassuring words that they surely didn’t understand. They spoke in strange dialogue trying to convey as best they could. Raising a arm here and there and calling out to attract my attention to be next in line.

I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed, but as the light grew dimmer I knew it wouldn’t be long before one of the guards would come looking for me and checking that no one had got loose.

So I worked as quickly as I could.

The man with the limb missing, how old and frail he was. His limb now had maggots eating at his flesh. I heaved as I tired to wipe them away, and poured the rest of the Whiskey straight onto it. The stench unbelievable. As I wiped my forehead with my fore arm, and then my own tears came. I did the best as I could.

The water still not arrived from Charlie, my own throat so dry. Choking back tears, the only moisture I would feel that day.

Then voices outside, shouts from above. The soldiers were coming.

I scrambled around the room looking for a hid out, anywhere to squeezed into. Amongst the squalor of bodies. Hands pulling on me to get down as the voices trail nearer. I squat at the back, stepping over some women, catching my foot on the manacles and falling into a mess of excrement and urine. The women pushing me over, trying to shift what there is of their weight to hide me as best as they could.

‘Oh no’ I almost shout out, I had left the knife on the top of the drum.

At that very moment hoping and praying that they wouldn’t notice as the door opened wide, and two soldiers came in.

‘Nothing here’ The first one said.

‘Eye, dead as a dodo’ the second one laughed.

‘Bloody hell,’ Said the first heaving on the smell. ‘ Quick lets get out, close the door’ He exclaimed and they banged the door shut.

I listened and waited, desperately wanting to be sick, knowing that all eyes would be on me again. As the women in front of me chained their necks and nodded and smiled at me. Relief in their faces.

How could a number of human beings survive in circumstance like this?

The End

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