I just cannot stand it any longer.
This household has many positive reasons for why I should want to work here rather than out on the fields. But why would I want to work here against my will anyway? For example: I do not have to endure unpredictable weather, each day not knowing whether it will be scorching hot on the floor, blowing a gale or just letting the rain fall in sheets rather than in droplets. Neither do I have to do anything physically dangerous such as use huge machinery or sharp, heavy knives.
However, there are many negatives to the argument. I have to get up at the break of day, sometimes before, and I am not allowed to go to sleep until well after dark each night. Every job that has to be done is tiring, but they all have to be done perfectly. If something is done incorrectly or is not completed, very bad punishments are carried out – usually involving whips. There is no rest during the day, which means that every second of sleep is important. There are so many jobs each day; there is barely any time to do everything in.
I could go on for hours, moaning constantly under my breath about the conditions and how I am treated with so little respect – in fact: no respect at all.
Right now, I am kneeling on a hard, cold tile floor, scrubbing with a coarse wire brush at non-existent dirt on the floor. Mistress said that it must be that clean she would be able to see her face reflected from the tiles. I do not think that is even possible, knowing that now; it is the cleanest it will get with the bucket of dirty water I have been provided with.
I hear footsteps briskly hitting the hard tiles as I scrub them. Keeping my eyes downward facing, I watch as she steps so close I can see her feet less than an arms length away. “Beth. I need you to go to the market with Martha, Sarah and Toby.” She waits as I pick up the brush and put it into the bucket beside me as I stand up to face her. “A shipment of salt has arrived from abroad and I can’t send just one person to get the huge bags. You will each bring back a bag of salt for the kitchen. Toby already has the passes to let you go to market. Be quick now. Go! They are waiting for you at the main gate out front.”
I dip my head slightly in a respectful gesture before running off to the gate to meet with the other housemaids and the overseer – Toby. Dust flies from the dried path as I rush down to the main gate. This is the first time I have been outside the plantation since arriving here some weeks ago.
On my arrival at the front gate Martha, Sarah and Toby are already there. Panting, I greet them warmly. They are some of the few people who have treated me kindly since I have arrived here.
Walking down the path outside of the plantation on the way to market, Sarah and Martha explain to me what market will be like. “It is always busy,” starts Sarah. “People are watching you, constantly and nobody trusts you. It may not feel like it at first, but you will catch the occasional glances from market goers. Then you know you will never escape.”
“Yes,” agrees Martha. “Sometimes, we can get stopped many times in one journey to prove that we have permission to be there. The passes that Toby has charge of are ones that say we have permission and are signed by our mistress.”
Roads on the way are rough and uneven. They threaten to pierce the thin, flimsy coverings on my feet that were provided by my master and mistress.
As we walk along, I think about how strange it is at the master’s house. We see the mistress regularly as she swishes superiorly through the house, shouting at anyone who gets in her way. Yet the master is rarely seen. Most of the time he is locked up in his study, doing things unknown to any of the other captured Africans. After he branded me, I have only seen him when there are guests at the house and an important, elaborate meal is prepared.
Soon enough we finish the long walk to the market and head towards the dock area to pick up the salt we have been sent to get.
Before we can get to the docks, we must walk through a huge square filled with stalls selling promising treasures. Everything seems to be laid out on view for sale. Some people are rushing around, frantically moving from stall to stall. Others just mill around the dusty market square, relaxing and browsing at their own pace.
Through the hustle and bustle, many conversations are going on. Most are just haggling for lower prices on items, but we hear a few slightly out of the ordinary.
Toby allows me to look around at the stalls for a minute or two to make sure I have a basic map in my head in case I am ever sent on my own. As I am staring in wonder at some of the items available, I accidentally bump into a very well dressed man talking to a companion of his. Moving away quickly, I overhear their strange conversation.
“Have you heard about what happened to Pirate Black Jack Bairstow?” says the man I bumped into.
“No, what has happened? He hasn’t raided another town again has he? He should be hanged,” says the second man to the first.
“I heard he’s been captured!” exclaims the first man quietly. “They caught him looting cargo on a docked ship. I wonder what they are going to do with him.”