Roughly, the canoe house comes to a halt. We sway and the restraints cut into my tender, worn skin. I think we may have stopped.
I do not know how long it has taken for us to finally finish this voyage – the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months all blend. With barely any light at any time down in the canoe house there is no way to tell how long we have been here.
Routines seem to be different. Ever since the rebellion, we are fed at different times, exercised and washed at irregular intervals. Nothing is right.
Weakly, I struggle to stand this time as we are pulled out of the shelves we are stored on.
This time, when the shelves are cleared of our bodies, I take the time to notice the casualties. My little sister should be here somewhere. Scanning the crowd, a feeling of dread fills me. “No…” I whisper. “Oh no. Please, no.” She is nowhere to be seen. Neither is my Mamamuso.
While the white men are driving us through a huge place of storage, I take the time to look around this new place.
Huge wooden crates are piled as high as the roof. Craning my head back is the only way I can find to see the tops of the piles. Agile African men and women are running and leaping around the open building, moving, opening and closing crates of all different shapes and sizes. Occasionally they call out to one another and communicate in Basic English. I wonder how these people were taught English?
Their clothes are torn and ragged, so I guess that they are here like us – forced from their hometown without any choice.
Buildings in my hometown are not as grand as the one we are walking through now. Wooden pillars hold up the gigantic framework of this magnificent building. Although rainwater seeps through in some areas of the roofing, the sheer size of the place amazes me.
As we are half way through the building that astonishes me so much, I hear someone from the canoe house calling to the white men that are leading us. They tell them that they will be at the next port along the coast before sailing back to England in five days. A general noise of agreement is shouted back before our pace is quickened.
Looking more closely at the men and women running around this place, I meet the eye of another woman. Pity wipes across her face and she whispers something to me in her native language, but I cannot understand her. I bid her luck as I am pulled along with the others.
Soon after we exit the grand building, we are led into a pokey, cramped structure. Cages like the ones I saw as we got off the canoe house nearly fill these rooms. In groups we are put into these cages. So many of us are packed in at once that we barely have any room to stand.
One by one we are taken into a room in plain sight of the cages we are trapped inside. We are made to watch and let the panic level raise as we hear the screams of anguish that come from those who are ‘treated’ as they call it. Once again, the white men thrive off the fear and pain they cause. Without the confusion they use to control us, we would not be here. We could be free if, as a group, we were not so perplexed and stressed from all the unknown pressure they cause.
Eventually they drag me out. Howling in pain from the rough, rubbing chains around my wrists, I try to fight back. Swinging wildly, I try anything to get away from the monsters, to stop the hurt they are the source of.
Two white men have to restrain me from lashing out at the smug looking mokoyo standing by the table. Chuckling drily, he walks around me with a wet sponge, wiping the dirt and other substances from my skin. It stings and I try not to make a sound. He inspects the open wounds covering my back.
“Oh. This is particularly bad. At least there is no infection. Shall we just cover them up with tar like the rest?” He asks the rotund man who dresses fancier than the others on the canoe house on which I was transported here. On the approval of his outrageous suggestion, the mokoyo that was inspecting me heads back to the table.
When he turns around again, in his hand he grasps a bowl of dark looking liquid. Trying even harder, I ignore the pain and try to worm my way free from the grip of the two white men. All my effort is futile.
Walking painfully slowly behind me again, the mokoyo gives me a chillingly evil smile. A shiver runs up and down my spine, making me shudder despite the high temperature in this tiny room. Once he has disappeared from my sight, I know he will start to put that steaming hot liquid on my back.
The searing hot fluid runs down my back and drips to the musty floor. I wail and scream through the pain, trying but yet failing to be strong and contain my anguish.
Warped, twisted screams of mine bounce back from the walls, echoing around the pokey rooms and raining terror throughout my fellow Africans. Sounds become distant, further away somehow. My once perfect vision is now blurry and slow. Evil laughs ring in my ears, alarming me. With a supreme bellow, I try once more to tear away from the white men holding me tightly.
Rough, chaffed skin is torn and I start to bleed around where the restraints were while I was on the canoe house. Sobbing pitifully, I fall to my knees, limp in the jaws of the buwa.
Forceful barks are addressed in my direction, but I ignore them and try to turn away.
Yanked to my feet, another liquid is poured onto my body. Heat still radiates from the drying tar covering the lacerations on my back. When they mixed with the greasy substance, they soothed and cooled the warmth slightly. Realising what this was, I remember the conversation I overheard between two people on the canoe house.
“Once the tar has been applied to their bodies, oil is applied to their skin. We use oil because it makes the skin look a lot shinier and, therefore, healthier looking. If they look healthy, their price instantly goes up!”
This was oil that was being brushed all over my body.
Once a layer of the slippery oil completely coated my skin, a command is barked at me. I know what comes next – I watched others suffer the humiliation before me. Pretending not to understand, I try to step backwards, away from immediate danger. My path is blocked by two of the white men.
Shame fills me as I am stripped and dressed into a sack-like piece of clothing. Scratching and itchy, I can tell the cloth is of very poor quality and was probably the cheapest available in order for them to make a profit from this disaster.
Bottles of a syrup type liquid are sitting neatly on the table. The fancily dressed man on his way around the table picks one of them up.
Walking towards me, I realise his intentions. I try to back away, but I am quickly stopped as I shake my head. Clamping my mouth shut, I refuse to drink from the neck of the bottle that is brought up to my lips. Forcefully, the fancily dressed man presses it to my lips in an attempt to get me to drink some of the bottled poison.
I do not know what the bottle contains, but I am sure it cannot be good. After all, when has anything else they have done to us been well?
Like a sour game run amuck between a parent and an ill child, the man pinches my nose to make me breathe through my mouth. Holding on for as long as I can, I reject the liquid. In anger, he clamps his fingers harder on my nose.
I open my mouth, giving up. Like a snake he strikes, pouring the liquid into my mouth and down my throat. I try and fail to spit the mixture from my mouth.
Now prepared for sale, I am led into another cage with other women that have been prepared before me.
Warmth spreads down my throat, following the trail of the mixture. Slowly, the warm feeling spreads across my entire body. I want to panic, but I am too relaxed by the comforting heat of the drink.