I write this in the complete darkness, except from a single flicker of sunlight which nestles itself through a small gash in the timber, and dances beside my forehead. My writing is s
craggly, uneven, due to the violent waves below me, or maybe the hot, cramped, suffocating conditions I sit in, or maybe the rusty chains that bind my wrists together. I cannot be too s ure.
I write that there is violent waves below me, but I cannot be too not sure of that either. I simply don’t know whether we are in a boat, I can only assume. That’s the only thing I can do anymore. But, my father was a fisherman, and his father, and his father before that, so I know the rolling waves better than anything else, and I can feel each droplet of water spraying up against the stern and each gust of wind that catches in the sails. I tell it as if it is a thing of beauty, of artistry, but one thing I do know, is it is far from that. I am not even sure of the very first two words
that I wrote, as I simply do not know how long days are anymore, I can’t see the sun or the moon. It’s just darkness.
There is a grey cloud in my memory which takes over just before I got here. I’m trying to piece together the puzzle of my thoughts but it seems that half of the pieces are lost. All I remember is the screams from the coast until they were suddenly muffled. My brother warned me not to be as curious as I was- I should have listened to him. My brother and I were so close, we were. I cannot stop myself from wincing at that word. I dread to think what happened to him, I keep on attempting to convince myself that he is alright, that he is with mother and father, that th
ey will come to rescue my soon, and welcome me home, or perhaps wake me up from this terrifying nightmare and comfort me, but he is probably dead, along with those who screamed that day, along with countless others. I have got used to crying. I’ve done it so much that I don’t think I can cry anymore, that I have finally used up all my tears, but it happens anyway. It is somewhat strange to not have my cheeks tainted with them.
He came with me that day- my brother. He wanted to defend me, just in case, so no one could harm a young woman like me. We had only walked a few steps towards the coast when I felt a stark hand from behind me grab my shoulder and forced me to the floor. I tumbled to the floor cutting my cheek and my eyebrow with the force of a sharp rock. I just saw, out of the very corner of my eye, the same hands grab my brother. I yell out and pushed up from the ground, attempting to fight the now blurry figures. But I was too weak, and the last thing I remember was a strong fist striking my face and seeing the earth almost disintegrate around me.
And now, I’m here. With so many others, that we are almost spilling out, so many faces, so many cries, but yet it the loneliest I have ever felt.
Every breath I take is a miracle. I’ve watched so many lives come and go, I just wonder when I will be next. I want to be next. I am fatigued and aching from the chains around my neck and wrist, and my face stings with the salty tears seeping into a small wound above my jaw. Coldness shivers over me and I beg my body to sleep, but I can’t sleep that knowing cries and painful screams are my lullabies.
There are masses of bodies everywhere, no matter if they’re breathing or not. We are tightly packed against walls, strewn out on the floor, on wooden shelves layered with splinter, forced into tight crates, locked in place with hardly enough room to speak.
There is only men here. Do these foreign men take women and children onto their callous and barbaric vessels to? The thought almost makes me smile. Any men who would be so merciless to treat their fellow beings with such revolt can have no bias towards age or gender. The thought makes my shiver and my breathing goes unsteady. My sister. It was my responsibility to watch over her, to keep her from any harm. I tried to warn her before exploring the cry she heard from the bay. But I still let her go and slip between my fingers. I have to squeeze my eyes hard so the guilt subsides a little. I went with her though, and I’m grateful that I did. Three men surrounded us, one grabbing her, and shoving her to the ground. The others wrestled me, taming my thrashing limbs. I cried out for my sister, who was barely moving on the ground. She shakily pulled herself up and attempted to fight, but she was taken down by a blow to the head. The energy in my arms began to fade as she drifted out of consciousness. I screamed, but it was muted by a dusty hand. My feet, wrists and neck were bound with chains, and I was forced to leave her, and stumble to the coast. There were two large wooden ships, bigger than I have ever seen, with beige coloured sails which rippled in the wind. There were many bodies and faces that I recognised, but dishevelled, bloody and chained. My neck was chained to twenty others and I was crammed onto the deck of a ship. Strange men with a different shade of skin and a different type of hair, laughed and chortled with each other, as they whipped and tortured us, throwing freezing water over our heads. The strange men spoke an appropriately strange language and most of them carried long tube-like objects made of a shiny material. They made a deafening sound which ringed in my ears, at which time I realised that the man it was pointed towards had fallen, dead, and dark blood oozed from his lips.
We were seized and pulled by the chains around our necks to dark and putrid chamber where we were stacked against each other, forcing more and more poor souls inside sacrificing the precious air. A few men were crushed by the impact and died right beside me, and I watched as the last spark of light left their eyes.
The heat and humidity absorbs into my skin and my body is completely coated in sticky sweat. I grit my teeth and yell as loud as I possibly can, turning it into a quiet sob. What have any of us done wrong?
Everything that surrounds me is decaying and rotting. The air is dense and heavy and as it fills my lungs it causes every muscle in my body to droop. My head is pounding all the time from a lack of sleep and dehydration. The cruel stench from the cavity smothers and slaughters my senses, until my body surrenders and I drown in the smell. I am forced into a small indent in the room, which crushes my appendages and flattens my organs. It is a blessing in disguise however, as I am swept away to a pocket where I know the odd, pale-skinned foreigners will taunt and torture me. I found this damp and decomposing book in a murky puddle down here. It was probably dropped here by a foreign man, many mornings ago. I need to write to keep me sane, I need something to distract me, because then I’ll have something left.
An old woman, with greyish hair and wrinkled skin sits, crumpled, beside me, like an old, dusty rag, someone just threw to the side. She is drained and can only speak with a raucous, soft tone, but she is more powerful and strong than us all. She has not shed one tear, not cried out once, and not even frowned. Instead, she sits with a subtle smile. She told us stories of her childhood and time with her friends and family, hardly acknowledging where she was. Her name is Abebi.
I was crying for what felt like years, and no one tried to comfort me. This was not selfishness, because you cannot relieve anyone from the suffering, comforting is practically impossible. But Abebi, is different. She listened to people and somehow lightened the mood, if ever slightly. She leaned over to me and told me that she knew that my brother would be thinking of me too, no matter where he was. ‘Don’t think he has forgotten you- if he has touched your heart so deeply for you to grieve when he is missing, you have done the same to him. A bond like that will always be remembered.’
We talked for a while and smiled, remembering our pasts, even though hers was a lot longer. It was nice to recall the feeling of happiness again. I had almost forgot what it felt like.
The foreigners brought us food today. The very thought of food repulsed me, even though I can’t remember the last time I ate. My body begged for nourishment, but my mind and my senses were clogged with putrid sights and smells, that dance around my nostrils. I do not have any desire to eat anything. They presented us with parched biscuits and yams. When I refused, a handful of biscuits were shoved mercilessly down my throat, causing me to gag and choke and vomit. I feel myself slowly getting ill, from the squalor and disease around me.
I am exhausted. I haven’t slept even slightly. I am too terrified. I still don’t know where I am, but I can only guess that I am far away from home. It’s dark and damp and nauseous and confusing. I can hardly lift my hand because I am so weak, I am shaking, but I must continue to write, to survive.
My back of my throat is numb from anger. My body has been dragged through endless torture, every inch of my body disfigured with deep red slashes from the whips. I can’t take it any longer. It’s hard to write, with every word, my body gets more hesitant, fragile, powerless. My I can hardly feel my legs as they are contorted into an agonizing position which my chains force me to hold.
I talked to a man who was beside to me, who had only got married a few days before. He told me she was most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but he will never see her again. I told him to pray for her, and that this wasn’t his fault, that our lives are out of our hands now. But we can get them back if we believe.
I watch the alien men who control us. They walk through our cramped and smothering conditions, gagging at our grotesque state, but never have I seen them feel a crumb of remorse, of sympathy. Do they have any mercy? What are their morals? How could they think any of this is right?
One came over to me and chuckled almost wickedly, lifting my chin up so but my body was so weak and limp. I have never felt so much anger in my life. I was always a peaceful man, I never started fights, and I never wanted to hurt anyone. But now all I want is to see the spilled blood of a white man. What have they turned me into? I don’t want to be the wild enraged monster that I am becoming. It is not who I am.
I am baking in the sweaty, revolting conditions, the smell of body waste and decaying corpses filling my nose. I stare up at the man one last time, before my body urges me to vomit. The man is disgusted and punched me around the face. I go dizzy and nauseous and I feel blood pour out of my mouth.
Later, some men took me and around 50 or so others up to the deck. We were chained to each other and whipped. My skin stung with cuts and marks all over my body, but I could at least get a little fresh air. The morning light surprised me as I had no idea what time of day it was. The waves crashed against the wooden beams of the ship loudly and the wind howled in my ears. We were humiliated and forced to dance in front of the crew and captain, who laughed and jeered at us. The recently married man refused to dance, and was threatened and punched by the crew. He continued to resist, until they foreigners retrieved their tube-like objects and he collapsed to the deck, dead. The man laughed.
I could feel the tension building up inside me, the rage washing over me like a rainstorm. I shouted at them, struggling with my chains, demanding freedom. We are not guilty of any crime. We have not killed or stolen. Why are they punishing us? Everyone was silent. The same man with the killing object pointed it at me, sniggering. I was finally about to feel a release, I wouldn’t have to suffer any longer. But another man spoke to him, and even though he spoke a language I did not know, I could tell he was warning him not to shoot. He put down the object and a crew member picked up the body of the married man and threw it overboard. I watched as the waves washed over it. He was innocent. We all are.
Abebi died today. She died in front of everyone, her spark in her eyes disappearing. Even though I only knew her for a short time, I felt a connection with her. It felt like she was my mother, encouraging me to think of the positives, even in the most awful of times. The tears gushed down my face like a river after a rainstorm. Many knew her and it was a day of great morning. A woman, possibly the most heartbroken of all, was sobbing vigorously. She was a heavily pregnant woman who lay on the hard, wooden floor, clutching her unborn baby.
Abebi had known her before she was taken here, and helped her through a very difficult pregnancy. She consoled her until the very moment she died. The pregnant woman had just started labour and was screaming through gritted teeth and sobbed for her deceased friend.
She struggled for what felt like forever, everyone trying to assist her as best as they could, with obvious restrictions. A baby boy was born after an abundance of painful shrieks and tears. The mother was frail and shaky and held her baby in her sweaty arms. She died quickly after, along with her baby. I am still traumatised by the human tragedy, the sudden impact of death is difficult to absorb.
A handful of women and I were pulled up some crooked steps to an open space where I could finally see the sky and the sun. We were on a boat, the largest I have ever seen. In every direction there was sea, no land whatsoever. Where are we going? Will I ever see my family again?
I could see some men pulling out Abebi, the mother and the baby out of the crevice which we just came out of. They threw the bodies overboard, and I saw them sink into the dark waves.
It was late evening- the sea murderous and wild. I instantly felt sick from the violent motion. It was beginning to rain and before long we were whisked away but a cruel thunderstorm, causing the boat to cower and shudder against the powerful water. Rain poured down on us, soaking us from head to toe as lightning flashed across the sky, and thunder rang in our ears.
But I wasn’t really concentrating on the storm though, as I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a figure I recognised immediately. My brother.
They dragged us to the deck again today. We are all exhausted and just want to give up. We had to exercise and push the limits of our already sluggish and limp bodies. But we couldn’t stop or do it half-heartedly or a painful whip would strike our backs. We started at mid-afternoon and finished only when a storm hit our boat as the sun went down. An elderly man even died from the activity, passing out unconscious.
I wanted to through myself over the side of the boat to join the dead that had been discarded. I was urging myself to, I was going to do it, steal the key to my shackles from around the foreigner’s neck and jump. But I didn’t. Because I saw a dishevelled woman, drenched in the heavy rain. My sister is on the boat.
I lie on the stark wooden beams of the ship. Every breath I take is broken, every movement I make is shaken. This will be the last time I write. Disease has won over me and I cannot continue.
I have recently questioned the men who have enslaved us here. I saw one of them praying the other day. It makes me wonder if we worship the same God and if he teaches the same principles of life. How can they act this way, treat us so inhumanely if they are religious too? Is their God the same as ours? Does he love them?
My faith and spirituality is slowly dying with me. I am doubting my religion. I have prayed twenty times a day, maybe even more, and none of them have been answered. I feel as if I am talking to myself and not to God. I am questioning but receive no answers. Why would he make us suffer like this? Why would he make us die like this?
I was desperate to see my sister again. I waited for days to be allowed back on deck to have a slim chance of even looking at her. That’s all I wanted. I wanted to see if she was alright. I wanted to hold her in my arms like I always did.
Finally, they sent us back to the deck. I had forgotten about the foul and rancid conditions of the boat. I had forgotten about the chains and the whips. All that was in my mind was her.
I saw some figures exit the compartment of the ship where the women were held. They were white men, but they carried an eerily recognisable body. The woman was cast over the edge and buried by the tide. I had received my wish. She was gone.