Soon after I have been handed over, it is motioned that I should sit next to the other African who is relaxing slightly out of the immediate view of the white man driving the box on wheels.
Turning to me, he says, “I assume you can speak a bit of English then?”
“How did you know?” I ask in hushed tones: shocked.
“Your face when you were on the platform. I could tell you knew some of the things they were saying about you. I know how you feel and what you’ve been through.” He sighs and looks off at the horizon.
“How?” I ask, before realising that he must have got to this place somehow.
“I was brought here on a ship.” He answers without looking at me. His face is full of thought and I wonder whether he is remembering what has happened to him.
“You mean the canoe house?” I enquire in a puzzled manner.
He makes a positive noise. “That was my first thought. I only learnt after many weeks here once I had learnt more of the language about my journey here.”
Nothing more that I could say would make him talk anymore. His face fills with resolution. So, in silence, we travel along bumpy paths, smooth paths and muddy paths until we reach a huge fence. Heavily, the white man gets down from his seat on the top of the box on wheels and opens a huge metal gate onto a single, narrow path.
Climbing back on, he continues to take us down the path and through the fields.
Once shutting the gates behind us he calls out to the African sitting next to me. “Toby! Take a few minutes to show our new recruit through the plantation.” After a pause he adds. “Show Beth Hardcastle around. I want her back straight after you show her around though. She needs to be branded.”
Leading me around the plantation, Toby shows me the steps for how they make sugar here.
First, there are huge open fields that are split into three. Toby explained what was happening. “The sugar cane takes eighteen months to grow until it is ready to be harvested. Efficiency is the main reason that the field is split up into the three parts you can see now.” He says, pointing across the land. “One plot is for the newly sown sugar, one plot for growing the cane, and the final plot for being harvested.”
Continuing, he says, “Slaves labour hard on the sandy fields, some using huge knives called machetes to cut down the stiff cane. Those workers have to cut the cane close to the ground to get the most and best cane for making the sugar possible. Others walk up and down endlessly, either sowing or fertilizing the canes in the other two areas. The Africans use animal dung mostly to fertilize the sugar, which can be horrible, repulsive work. The slaves who fertilize the crop also weed to make sure that the cane can grow well.”
Near the fields were other Africans, stripping the leaves off the tough canes and then passing them to children. These children were taking the heavy canes from the adults and sorting them into bundles. “Once there is enough in a bundle, they are tied up and given to slaves who take them down to big buildings called mills to make the actual sugar.” Clarifies Toby.
Walking down the worn path on the way to the mill, I turn to Toby. “What is your job here then?” I ask.
“It is my job to make sure that everyone else does their job.” Toby says. Seeing the confused look on my face, he tries to explain more. “I walk around the whole plantation a few times a day. I must watch carefully to make sure that everyone is doing the job they are told to do properly so that the sugar is made in the best way possible. I also have to look after the new arrivals here on the plantation and make sure they pick up English quickly.”
Soon enough we reach the mill. Stepping inside, I am surprised at how hot it is. The door closes with a click.
“This is a three roller mill.” Says Toby, gesturing at the huge machine facing me. “We put the sugar cane into the machine and it is chopped, sliced and crushed. The work in here is dangerous – people often lose fingers and hands while reaching inside the machinery.”
I gasp at the sheer size and complexity of it all.
He leads me to another building where huge vats are balanced over roaring fires. Africans lean precariously over the rims, stirring the mixtures inside them.
“Here, the juice from the cane being crushed in the mill is boiled in these giant vats. They are boiled until the mixture crystallizes into sugar. The sugar in its crystallized form is then brought down the line of people waiting. As you can see, huge tools are used to make sure that when the sugar is brought down the line, there are no big clumps.”
Into another building we go to see the last of the processes in making sugar. “The last step is done here,” describes Toby. “The sugar is weighed and put into sacks, ready to be shipped off to England where most of it is sold.”
As we exit the last building, I turn to Toby. “That is the whole process of making the sugar then?” Toby replies with a nod. “So where are we heading now?” I ask.
“Back to the master’s house. He plans to...” He trails off, looking thoughtful.
“Plans to what?” When Toby does not reply, I ask more forcefully. “Toby! What does he plan to do to me?”
“He is going to brand you.” He replies.
Horror fills my face. “He is going to brand me? What do you mean? Like cattle?” A nod is all the reply I receive. “Why do we have to go? Why can you not let me run away?” I ask in desperation.
“The consequences will be worse for me than they will for you. I will be publicly humiliated and stripped of the title I worked so hard for.” With that, he grabs the chain still attached around my hands and neck that he has left free so far as we wondered around the plantation and drags me the rest of the way to the master’s house.
* * * * *
On the arrival at the master’s house, I am taken to a hut around the back of the house. As the master walks through the door, I sense the pain that I am doomed to face.
Devoid of emotion on his face, the master waits for a slave to stoke the fire. Hanging over the fire is a metal stick with a moulded end. The metal stick begins to glow a blindingly painful white hot while the master watches.
Putting on a special, thick glove the master reaches out for the metal rod. I want to look away, but I cannot. The glowing pain bringer held in the master’s hand mesmerizes me. With a gesture from the master, a slave forces my arm out in front of me, rendering me hopeless to defend myself against the oncoming attack. As much as I want to struggle away, I cannot.
Intense pain stabs my upper arm as the metal rod is placed against my skin, marking me as his for life.