Heavy footsteps start up again, but this time, instead of getting louder and closer, they become quieter and further away. All sorts of noises echo around this pokey little room now. Hurried footsteps cross the ceiling, ropes being hauled and pulled above us, moans and groans of other captured Africans and the constant slapping of waves against the sides of the canoe house.
The canoe house starts to rock slightly. Unsteadily, the walls and ceiling begin to creak. Worriedly, I try to see something, anything, in the darkness surrounding me. Realising how useless that is, I strain my ears to listen for any clues as to what is going on.
Now, all I can hear are the more forceful slaps of the water hitting the bottom of the canoe house. Whistling noises are coming through the tiny hole in the ceiling and a chill whips through us all. It is wind! Cooling us off, the air runs smoothly through the whole room. Any edge in the heat before that is constricting breathing abilities is now gone.
Rocking more violently now, the canoe house threatens to crumble on us all. A soothing, constant beat is played on the roof of the canoe house. I realise that it must be rain when through the small hole in the ceiling there is a concentrated downpour of water.
Violently, the canoe house is thrown and twisted in every way. In unison, everyone screams in agony as our bodies are jolted against the unmoving restraints. My head smashes against the sturdy, wooden shelf and I feel weaker – less alive. Screams are still ringing in my ears, the ache coursing through my body like poison.
I try to keep my eyes open, try to fight the unconsciousness. But what for? I realise it would be better if I just fell asleep. Drifting off to the wailing of pained friends and family brings a tear to my eye. I am gone.
* * * * *
Cold hands awake me on my bare feet. A chill is sent down my spine by the scars of pain and memories. Trying to suppress a scream, I let myself be dragged out of the shelves.
“Ooh. It’s you again,” snarls the mokoyo who I spat in the eye of last time he is down here.
Mustering all the courage I have, I snarl in reply and turn away from him. I can hear him growling as I follow the others stiffly up the stairs onto the top of the canoe house.
Once again we are all huddled into a corner, bundled like sticks wrapped with ribbon. We were those sticks. They were that ribbon.
The difference is, we have thoughts, feelings, aspirations just like anyone else on this planet.
A male lion cub aspires to be the leader of the pack. A mokoyo aspires to get whatever job they want, to be with that person they are in love with, to be great and live a worthwhile life. We are no different to them in that way. Appearances may be different, but mentally, we are all the same.
That is not to say that some people stray from the intended path sometimes, but that is a choice of moral decision. Murderers do not have to be murderers in the same way that doctors do not have to be doctors. Everyone could do something else if they had wanted to. Paths may be different, but the outcome is always the same: death. What you leave behind in the world is what counts.
You might not be perfect in every way. So what? It is imperfections that make you who you are. Nobody can have everything. Some people have nothing and make the best of what they have.
I find it depressing that only now do I realise this. Only now, as I stand on a canoe house after being captured by people from another part of the world that I only have very limited knowledge of, looking at the clear blue sky wishing that I could fly away, unable to see the banks of this seemingly never ending river, preparing for pain that will be caused by the water hauled up from the depths of the river with no banks, I know what it is to be fortunate.
Huddled into a corner and intimidated, I know now what joins the prisoners of this canoe house together, regardless of age, language differences, lifestyles or experiences. We are all human.
With an almighty roar, I charge towards one of the offending white men. Panic crosses his face – this has not happened to him before. I smile before sending him flying and inspiring courage to the others.
Weak, sick, exhausted, undernourished and terrified all attack together. Weapons are stolen from them and used against them. There are more of us than there are of them. All it took was one person for everyone to work together, regardless of any differences.
Now, we are winning! Everyone is fighting furiously, going all out to ensure freedom.
White men are sent flying and whips are punishing those who had been the punishers before. I take my time to find exactly whom I want. Eventually I spot him – the mokoyo who pulled me out of the shelves.
Running over to him, I take a whip as I go. Stretching my arm back, I watch as he cowers in fear.
A sickening feeling of realisation spreads through me. We are just like them – punishing and hurting without a second thought. Menace and malice leaves my face and I throw the whip off the side of the canoe house.
Sneering, I spit on him and stalk away.
The man who dresses fancier than all the other white men on the canoe house comes out onto a platform through a small door. I am not sure that his rotund shape will fit through the door, but he seems to somehow squeeze through.
All fighting suddenly ceases. Nobody moves a muscle, not even the prisoners.
“What is going on?” He drones hurriedly in his low, rolling voice. After looking around for a moment, he reaches for his side. “Get all the slaves back into the hold.” Still nobody moves. “Now!” He yells, and everyone springs into action, for in his hand he holds the same shaped object that I saw last when my family was being captured.
It was a gun.
Led back into the hold quickly and roughly, we were once again locked away for hours, days or weeks on end to suffer for a non-existant crime.