I couldn’t believe it when they turned round and walked back out of the door. It must have been the foul smelling stench that gagged their senses.
I turned over picking my head up, moving my arms through the sludge of waste and excrement. The stench filling my nostril’s the smell no longer turning my stomach. But the sight still had me churning.
The slave women in front of me looking at me watching as to what I am going to do next.
I really didn’t know. I had so many things running through my mind, escape was one.
I got up and shifted my weight around to move from out of the group of women that I was cramped in the middle of. Trying my best not to hurt or accidentally injure them. They were now smiling at me, their faces pleased to see me helping them in what ever small way that I could.
Not that I had done much. There were still some salted peas left to hand out, and the water from Charles hadn’t appeared yet. I think that that was what they needed most. Water, however unclean, it still refreshed your throat.
Charles still hadn’t come down with the water and I was hoping to god that he hadn’t gone and got himself caught out. As he was our only chance of survival.
It was by now almost dark outside, the heat wasn’t as oppressive as it was when I first came into the room, but still never the less too much, mixing with the horrid smell. The flies having a field day in all the mess.
The few candles that were left burning were next to the windows that weren’t as blocked up by the sea of faces.
I finally handed out the last of the salted peas, and I was working my way back through the slaves. A man with huge cuts and wheels on his arms and back from the whips, pulled at my dress as I was stepping over the sea of legs all shackled together.
I turned and looked at him, his face kind looking but saddened. He opened his palm in front of me as I stopped and spoke in words that I didn’t recognise. His mother tongue so different and strange to my own. Foreign like the colour of his skin. Dark and mysterious.
In his palm, outstretched was the salted peas that I had given him some minutes ago. Untouched and surprisingly uneaten.
I pushed his hand back toward him, saying ‘no’.Trying to convey that the peas were for him.
He shoved his hand back into my chest, opening and telling me,
‘ yes’ in his native tongue. I looked into his eyes, this poor man shackled and hurt, confinded beyond my belief offering me his only supply of measly food that day. Maybe the only offerings that he will see.
I took the salted peas, and put one in my mouth, smiling. ‘nice’ I said. Calmly as the bitter sweet hit my taste buds.
I then took a good long hard look at the masses of faces in front of me, just as I heard footsteps again on the stairs.
I didn’t have time this time to run for cover as Charles burst through the door. Carrying with him a huge barrel of water.
‘Mam’ he said softly.
‘I did as best as I could to serve you well’. His sincerity showing in his face.
‘Oh Charles’ I cried. Taking the barrel from his arms and putting it down next to the huge drum. The remnant of the fruit still present. I used my already saddened and dirty sleeve to wipe the remaining fruit away, sliding the knife back into the lining of my skirt.
“they think you have drowned, mam’ he exclaimed, his statement taking me by surprise.
Myself a woman of the world I was not, drowned, gone over board on this vast slave ship. How little did I know of the way of the world. How naïve I had been. I pushed my thoughts to the back of my mind, for now I wouldn’t think of the betrayal and lies, but think of ways to help, at least do my best for these poor people aboard this ship.
‘Don’t speak no more; I silenced Charles with my hand to his face, my sleeve dripping with the remains of the fruit and sludge from the floor. Suddenly feeling myself very unclean. I didn't want to know anymore. So they think I am dead, fallen overboard. How can i hide when there is still many weeks at sea to get through?
Questions that i knew no answers too.
‘No hot bath for me tonight’ I thought. As I set about using the small cup inside the barrel to measure out equal amounts of water to give to the dark skinned people that I hadn’t even dreamed of meeting before, let alone befriending.
Charles made his way out of the door, stopping and turning, asking me ‘if I needed his assistance anymore?’ His face questioning my good dead. He must be asking himself ‘why’ I was carrying out this task. As I was myself, over and over. I had not been prepared for this hardship that I saw with my very own eyes. James’s soothing words not even entering my head.
I did the best I could, although each and everyone of them never complained that one sip was not enough. I rationed the water as best as I could as I didn’t know when we would have any more if any. Then i took a sip for myself. The liquid sliding down, cooling the burning. Even though one sip wasn't nearly enough, so i thought about doing the rounds again.
And to think that outside those small windows there is a vast amount of water, that remains totally undrinkable.