I came to Master Balding’s house 2 moons before Ottobah. Mistress Murray sent me away to be sold after she found out her husband, the master of the house, was saving himself from her for two weeks to lay with me for his 45th birthday, as a treat for himself.
I knew she was going to have me sold even before she had me flogged. I could tell from the glint in her eyes. She had me flogged naked at the edge of the plantation, in front of the other slaves before selling me off. I could barely walk after the beating, and she asked Ol’ Farrow to hurry me off to the market before Master arrived from his travels. She told him he could sell me for 2 shillings or less.
Mistress Murray was a handsome woman, with bushy eyebrows, a beautiful nose and a sturdy chin. The creator had painted her chin with a few stubbly hairs that she did not need. I always wondered why she never shaved them off, but Matilda whispered once that they sprouted back faster when shaved.
I lifted my weak arm to my face, looked the mistress in the eye and pretended to pluck hair off my chin – hair I didn’t have, just to spite her. She slapped me hard across my face and spat in my face. My ears rang too hard to reason. The possessed mistress was determined to pull out my hair. It was Ol’ Farrow who reminded her I had to be sold in good condition.
So being sold to Master Balding was a blessing. He was a perfect gentleman who didn’t have brutish baseness and barbarity attached to his name. But let’s not talk about me, Sara Murray. Let’s talk about Ottobah.
Ottobah came to the master’s house two moons after I had been there. Tom the butler said he recognized him from when he was a wee lad in his land before the whites came for him. He said Ottobah was the son of the King of Agimaque, a city on the coast of Fantyn. And his brother (Tom) was the King’s food taster. Tom was shocked to see Ottobah in chains. The white men never dared take royalty as slaves.
Our paths did not cross until months later. Ottobah had become a personal aide to the master and his English was better than mine. He could even read a little, he said.
He was a nice lad who smiled all the time. He told me about how he was captured from the woods a little far off from his uncle’s habitation along with his cousins when he went on a visit, and how they were chained together with several other boys. He said they were handcuffed and conducted by a guard to the castle, and when he asked what they were brought there for, he was told they were there to learn the ways of the browfow i.e. the white faced people. Ottobah did not cry when they were sent off to a prison for three days, but when a vessel arrived to conduct them away to the ship, he cried bitterly. The rattling of chains, smacking of whips and the groans and cries of the men brought him to the painful realization that he was being taken away from his homeland. He planned to escape through death with the other countrymen, for death seemed like a more preferable option than this caged life.
They planned to burn and blow up the ship and perish altogether in the flames, but that plan never worked out. The men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, but Mansa’s daughter, who slept with some of the head men of the ship, thought by betraying her countrymen; she could be spared from slavery.
He spoke of his pain. He spoke of his past. He spoke of his motherland and hope to see it again with such passion. He spoke, and he found solace in my bosom. He spun whole worlds for me between his fingers. He taught me how to love this black skin of mine despite what the browfows had done to us. He taught me to see all the pain and chaos as a beautiful motif for hope. He was mine and mine alone. There was an unruly servant in me that became submissive at his touch. We were wrapped around each other like a skin rash, and he disentangled himself from me long enough to tell me the life we were growing in my womb, was going to be called Gyedi.
Hope for the future