By: Clyde A. Johnson
It was the year 2001 that I lost my childhood, I couldn't quite remember exactly what age, but I recall being about 11 or 12 years of age. This demise of my childhood began on one day. I remember it seeming like calm and tranquil day (which rarely occurred) until they came-the raiders. I was sleeping at the time when they first started raiding my village, Koraro, an impoverished and small village, in eastern Africa, Ethiopia to be precise. I knew they were here when I heard a deep, bass-like scream come from someone. I heard the scream once again and listened to the voice very carefully. Only one person could possibly be producing a sound such as that...papa, and I knew that it was him...I just knew it! I lived in a very small hut, so it was easy to see everything going on inside the place. I opened my eyes, wiped them, and ran as fast as I could to the voice. But this time, I didn't here his voice. This time I heard moans that only could mean someone was dying I knew this couldn't be my father because well, he had "muscles like an ox." No one, I mean no one could ever lay a finger on him. He was probably the the biggest, never mind the healthiest one in the whole village. Many people looked up to him. You could kind of say that he was the leader of the village, but it was nothing official. Actually, nothing in the village was really "set into stone" in our village. It was just a "do what you want" sort of thing, although people were still expected to "do unto others as you want done to you." That same phrase was the only thing that I remember people abiding by, but only that. There were no laws or anything in my village to come to think about it. And that's where my father would come into play. He would try to control the village in a sort of way. I knew Papa wasn't dead, I mean he couldn't be! I saw an arm laying down on the floor. It looked just like my father's so I began to approach it. What I came to see was my father laying there, with his two arms spread out on the ground, with an impaled abdomen. I saw blood gushing out from his stomach, and I almost turned around in disgust, but I needed to say my last goodbyes to him. I came closer to him and tears began to fall from my eyes. The only thing that went through my mind was "Who would do this...and why?" I mean how could you take a loved one from a mere child? As I began to break down, something tugged me. I began to think straight again and I saw that it was my father's arm. My father had always given me good advice that somehow helped me in the future, so I made sure to have "open ears" on what he was about to say. "Go along with things as they are, don't try to change them, and something special with come your way." I stared at him, signifying that I understood what he said and showed gratitude. I was a quiet child, so I didn't say much, so I would use a lot of body language to say things instead of using words like most other people. What my father had just said brought back memories of my father telling stories of my mother when she was young. My father had always said she was the most beautiful thing ever, and had the voice of an angel. Papa would always call her "Ay," which he said was short for her real name. He described her as having light skin, long hair with cascading curls, and brown eyes, stained like glass. He said that she would always sing me to sleep when I was younger, and I would always request for her to stay. Even though I've never met her, I always felt connected to her in some sort of way. I always wondered if I would ever be able to find her before I die (people in my village usually died before the age of 50 years old. If you lived beyond then, you were considered by the rest of the people a god of some sort). We never knew what happened to her. It was speculated by my father that she was captured by an incognito group of people "to use her for things," he stated. I didn't know what he meant when he said that, but whatever it meant, I knew it was bad. I was snapped out of my thoughts about my mother again, but this time by my father's deep voice. He said "Remember what I said! Don't, don't, do-" and that would be the last I ever heard of him. I broke down right there, in my hut. But when I heard screams from other villagers outside, I knew this wasn't the right time to cry. If I did cry, I would be a sitting duck. I heard another scream, then another, then another, until I decided to hide. I ran into the depths of the hut and I began looking for things to block the opening of the hut with. Besides, why would I go into a place I've never really been to before? Papa had always warned me to always stay indoors, and only to go outside if only necessary. I remember only going out of the hut for at most, two times in my then childhood. I was home schooled by my father and it wasn't all that bad, because honestly, he pretty much knew everything, and I actually looked forward each day to learning things from my father. Because I was home schooled at the time, I didn't really know how to communicate with others, which is one of the reasons why I was so quiet back then, and I still am. I didn't really know what was out there, so the thought of even laying a foot outside escaped my head. I grabbed my father's cot and put it against the opening of the hut (we didn't have a door). I couldn't really move anything else in the hut. The only things left was a "bathroom-like-thing" my father and I used to do stuff in, and my father's cot. We got food each time my father went to hunt. And today, there were no animal remains, so today, I would need to do everything on my own. Just thinking of having no food brought back the thought of my father, so I began to tear up a little, but I snapped out of it and became the strong, independent child I was before my father's demise.
After putting the cot on the opening of the hut, I went under my cot. I waited under my cot for a while, waiting for someone to come and save me, or for all this mass killing to stop...but it didn't stop. After about an hour or so, a big man, who from the looks of it looked like "the resurrection of my father," came and kicked the cot away from the opening of the hut. He began to scan the place for any signs for activity in the hut. I began to squeal quietly in perturbation. I saw the man look my way. He began taking big steps towards me, and as he took steps, I tried to get out from under the cot. By the time he was at the cot, I was gone. I had swiftly made it to the opening of the door without being noticed by the man, but I couldn't go outside because if I did, I would more than likely get knifed or something like that by one of the raiders. But if I stayed inside the hut, the man behind me would probably kill me as well.
Negligently, I turned around, ran towards the puzzled man who was still looking for me, and with all my might, I kicked him in his leg. This kick proved to be to no avail because when the man turned around, I could see him grinning. I struck at him once again, this time stomping on the man's big foot.
After several of my dud attempts to overcome to man, he snatched me by my oxters, picked me up, and knocked me unconscious. After that, I don't remember anything else.
After what felt like several days, I arrived somewhere. Being unconscious also allowed me to rest for a while. As I woke up, my eyes fluttered and I was somewhere, somewhere that wasn't home. I wiped away the crusty rheum off my eyes and suddenly yawned. As soon as my vision was back, I saw a tuscan tan sack. What was I doing in a sack? I heard multiple voices from outside the sack and I tried to listen in on what they were saying, but I couldn't hear anything. After that, I tried getting out of the sack but it was no use. There was something restricting me from punching and kicking the sack. I looked around on my body and on my wrists was a very thick and strong rope. The rest of my body was left bare. The only area I had a garment on was my crotch area. Everything else was exposed. My arms, chest, legs, and feet all bare.
A horrifying thought struck my mind. I started to remember when my father told me about the terrible stories of how these colorless, demon-like people came and sold our people, people of color, into slavery. "The whole thing was messed up," I remember him stating. "The whites would take the blacks and take them from their loved ones. Most of the slaves would never see the ones they loved again. Then, wealthy white people would by them off the have the slaves do work. When a slave was bought, they were deprived of their freedom and were whipped, or even worse...killed if they tried to escape from their masters," papa said years ago. The thought of becoming a slave was very scary for me.
But could it be? Could I be sold a slave? I began to kick and scream as much as I could, but a someone stopped me every time I did that but beating the sack with a stick. I finally gave up after a while, and I just decided to give into the process. Though I wasn't 100% sure that I was being sold off into slavery, something in my mind told me that I was. With nothing to do, I slept, while still pondering about the same topic, slavery.
Someone, assumed to be the same person, struck me again with the stick, but this time, they hollered "Wake up!" The loud sound of the man's voice (I knew it was a man because it was a deep voice) knocked me down and I feel head first, backwards onto the floor. Agitated by how long it was taking me to get out of the sack, the man yanked me by my arm and told me to stand up straight. I looked around and I saw many other children, about 16 or so. I could tell that they were all African because of how dark their skins were. Since the rest of the children were all minding their own business, not looking at anyone, I swiftly turned around, stood up straight, and stared at my foot, waiting for something to come and get me out of this very awkward moment. Though seeing children being sold wasn't a good thing, because of the children, I now was positive that I was being sold off into slavery, but that wasn't good. I began to tremble, hoping that no one would come and pick me out of the bunch of children, but I knew this was impossible that no one would buy me 'cause from the looks of the other children, they were all a seal-brown shade of brown, while I had a creamy, sepia shade of brown on my skin. Additionally, they were all morbidly bony , so skinny that I could see their protruding cheek bones, yellowing eyes, gnarly toenails, hips, and their ribs. It was hard to tell which of the children were males and females because all of the females had little, or no breasts. That's how skinny they were, and I wanted to help them in some way, but I wasn't in the place to do so at the moment. In comparison to the rest of the children, I looked very healthy, with white teeth, clean hair, and a near-muscular physique. At the corner of my eye, I saw a girl ogling at me as if attracted to me, but I rejected her by turning towards her and shaking my head. Another boy, probably around 13 or 14 years old stared at me. The boy seemed to be very envious towards me, probably because of how well I was, and gave me a dirty look and then smirked at me because he knew that out of all the children, I would be the first to go. In dismay, I turned away and went back to my previous position, staring down at my unclothed feet. Once again, I began to look around, and this whole time, I hadn't even noticed where I was. I was in a public place, with people shouting numbers, representing how much they would pay to buy the children.
All of the bidders were gazing at me, and this made me very startled. I mean, I didn't want to become a slave...who would? I looked at the bidders and I was surprised to not see any whites. Actually, what I saw were people that I'd seen before, people of my own color, but that was only some of the people in the crowd. Most of the bidders were a lighter color than me. Many of them had turbans and long beards. The woman looked very mysterious to me, hiding away their beauty from others in these thin garments that they wore all over their body, including on their heads. I couldn't really hear how much people were willing to buy me for. All I heard were numbers of five figures. Because they were calling out such high prices, I could tell that most of the bidders were very affluent. I saw how the other children were amazed at the sight of people wearing jewelery, talking proper English (many Africans spoke English that was "jumbled up"), and wearing lavish clothes and accessories. Even though many of the women were covered up, just their faces were beautiful enough to fall into a spell. Of course I was surprised to see these people, but for the rest of the children, it was like a whole new world for them, and it was for me too, I just didn't want to admit it. I wanted to act like I had already seen all this and also prove to others that a colored person like myself can do things and that there are successful blacks out there.
The heat began to get to me, and honestly, I was ready to be sold. I was in need of food and water, for I hadn't had any of those things in days. I was used to going without these things for up to about three days, but I've never gone past three, and now I am. I just couldn't take it. I began to move around to get more and more attention from the bidders. It was either I stay here for more and more days and burn up and die of dehydration or become a slave, work, and eat occasionally. To me, it was an obvious choice. I didn't want to, but for my own good, I needed to become a slave if I wanted to survive. After moving around for a while for attention, someone finally bought me. I didn't know whether to be horrified (because I have no freedom) or whether I should be content (because I would finally be getting food and water after days).
Then, I was sold. I was sold to a wealthy Egyptian family who lived (and still live) in the capital of Egypt, Cairo, in a very big house. And my woeful days of no freedom began. Both of my owners spoke Arabic fluently, but when one of the family members wanted me to work, then and only then would they speak English. They weren't the best English-speakers, so it kind of made sense for them to not speak English a lot. Although I couldn't understand any of the Arab that they spoke, I understood a stereotypical word that they always said. It was "Abeed," an Arabic word meaning "black slave." I came to figure out that it meant "black slave" because anything when one of the family members said that word, they would give me a dirty look then promptly laugh.
Even though the family was often very rude, I was very polite to them, calling the man of the house "Mr." or "master" and the lady of the house "Mrs." I never learned the names of the people in the house (the family) besides the girl in the family, so I always called them by their appropriate honorifics. Besides the family and I, there were also slaves, all of whom came from Africa, and were all of color. While working on the crops behind the big house, I remember talking to a few of them while I was working on the plantation. Some of the slaves were children, while others were adults. They all had their different skill sets and physiques. The children (including myself) were treated like adults, and we had to do as much work as everyone else, no exceptions. We did everything, from planting, to tending, to harvesting, and to plowing crops. Everyone did the crops except for the women (not including girls). The women were the maids of the house. They cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and took care of the children in the family (there were two teenaged children in the family, who were very bratty. One was a boy and the other was a girl). Anytime I went to sleep at night, I slept on the floor, I would see the maids cleaning the place up constantly when there seemed to be nothing to clean at all. The family would always stare at the women, making sure that they don't steal anything priceless out of their home. Surprisingly, many of the slaves were very amiable, despite the fact that they work grueling hours and days without pay and any proper nourishment. I guessed that here, the slaves had a better life than the ones they had in Africa. I was the odd one out though. Back home in Koraro, even though I went some days without food and water (animals weren't always around to hunt for and sometimes there were droughts), I still got better amounts of food at home. Come to think about it, in Koraro, Papa and I were probably the only people to get good amounts of food almost everyday. The thought of Papa again pulled tears out of my eyes, but I couldn't cry now (like every other time) because if I cried now, and I stopped working on the crops, and my master (the man of the house, or "Mr.") saw me, I would probably be whipped, and I didn't want that to happen to me. I saw a kid, about my age, with scratches all over his back. One day, I happened to be placed next to him while working on the crops and I decided to ask him what happened. He had said that he had gotten too tired so he stopped working and fainted. The next thing he knew was that he was whipped and forced to keep on working. He told me the next time he stopped working, he would be killed.
On one night, while I was going to sleep, a beautiful, colored maid was cleaning. She happened to come next to me and when I first saw her face, all I could think of was my mother.
I asked her what her name was and she whispered "We are not supposed to be talking to each other, but my name is Ayana." Could it be? Is this really my mother? Papa had called her "Ay" for short. No it couldn't be, but...could it?
"Nice to meet you," I said.
"My name is Kwasi Tulu."
"No way!" Ayana said with an unbelieving face. "My last name is Ayana Tulu! Oh son, I have always waited for this day!"
"Is it-? " I didn't finish what I was about to say because someone was coming. I heard the footsteps. I knew there were coming this way because I saw a shadow and I heard the footsteps getting louder each time. Who came was one of the bratty teenagers. I saw the maid (I couldn't call her mom, because I couldn't really tell if she was really my mother) suck her teeth and roll her eyes. The teen was hungry and demanded that the maid make her some food. I waved goodbye to the maid, even though she had already left the room when I waved. Left in the room alone, with nothing to do and no one to talk to, I went to sleep.
After about only 20 minutes of sleeping, someone covered my mouth. I began to scream in the person's hand, but it was no use 'cause no one could hear me, but her. I stopped and the person began to whisper in my ear. She susurrated "You are going to do me favors, and if you don't do what I want you to do, I'll make sure to tell my parents what you did to me." I hadn't met Ayana again for a long while, for years to be precise, and I had to now deal with "doing things" for the girl. I was one of those rare boys who didn't look forward to love, so I really didn't like what she was making me do to her. Also, I was a few years younger than her, so it was a bit weird for me at first, but in the end, it wasn't that bad because anytime when I did what she wanted me to do, she would give me something in return like once, she didn't eat her dinner and kept it for me at night and that night, I had a big meal, probably the biggest I've ever had in my entire life!
This same schedule for me had gone on for years, working on the plantation, "doing things" for the girl, getting a favor back from the girl, and then going back to sleep. This would all change after 11 years of enslavement. Sometimes, I would teach Aabirah a little bit of English everyday so that she could understand what I was saying and in return, she would teach me a little bit of Arabic. At first, her language just seemed like some 'mumble-jumble' talk, but soon I came to find the language to be very, very fascinating.
One day, I met Ayana again. I wasn't very sure of my age, but I was probably 22 or 23 years old and after 11 years of enslavement, I became very, very, very weary and I wanted to leave, but I know I couldn't. I asked Ayana her if she wanted to leave as well and she responded by saying "Yes, of course I do!" I really needed to contemplate a plan to escape. I really didn't want to have no rights, be a "pet," and be the property of someone for the rest of my life, without exploring what the rest of the world out there beheld. I want to have a happy life, not a life of miserableness. I told Ayana to come tomorrow night to discuss our plan of escape and she agreed then left the room. I waited for the girl to come again.
When she finally came, I first asked her her name.
She replied to me by saying "Aabirah."
"What does that mean?" I asked curiously.
She said "It means transitory, or ready to go." In my head, I thought, that name really fit her because she really wanted to leave her parents, since she is grown up now, but she doesn't have any money to do so.
"When are we going to start?" she asked.
"Soon, don't worry." I said. "The reason why I'm holding you up tonight is because I really want to be freed out of my enslavement, but I need a plan, and I was wondering if you could help me." At first, she looked at me as if I were insane, but after a while, she began to think about it. Through the years, Aabirah had started to show affection for me, and I could tell because just a few years back, she had asked me out, but we both knew that we could never be together unless I was married to her. I myself actually began to like her after a couple of years. She turned out to be personable, intelligent, and very sweet girl. It was just her parents that made her look like she had the whole "demon persona."
"I never got your name either," she said, demanding an answer. She had that type of look on her face that in my eyes said "If I'm going to love you, I need to know who you are as well."
"It's Kwasi. Kwasi Tulu," I said. After I said that I saw her face come loose. She had a look on her face that looked like she wanted to say "We're equal now."
"That's a nice name! But I don't know if I could help you. I mean, what if it doesn't work and you never escape? And what happens if I get caught by my parents...they would kill me!" This was the first time I ever say Aabirah worried and I actually found it attractive. For years, I never looked at her facial features, but I began to. She followed Islam so she wore a burka. The only features I could see on her were her eyes. Oh, her eyes. Her eyes were framed very long, black lashes. Her eyes were hazel, which glimmered in the light shine of the night moon. I really wanted to see more, but I couldn't for it was against her religion. I gave out a quiet, low moan of despair. I really wanted to see more of her and I wanted to be with her forever.
"Aabirah, we'll make it through this together. Just hope for the best!" I said.
"Well, I'll try..." she said unsurely.
"Aabirah, is there any way you can get yourself out of here by transportation or secretly" I asked curiously.
"Well, uhm...I can use my dad's car, but I don't know where he keeps the keys. Plus, I've never really drove a car before so..." she said awkwardly. I was surprised that her family had a car. In Africa especially, those types of things are rare. I tried not to seem surprised because I wanted to impress Aabirah by acting all manly.
"Hmm, well we can just try to escape by running away. And also, we will bring one of the slaves along with us. I trust her, and she claims to be my mom who I lost many years."
"Okay. Tomorrow night, us two and the other woman you were talking about can meet up in here and I will bring proper clothing for you and her to wear in the hot weather outside, along with some food and water to hold is over until we can find somewhere to stay. Does that sound good?" She said in a eager tone. I could tell she was ready for me to do her "a favor."
"Sounds good. Now we can start." As soon as I said "now" I saw a big smile appear on her face and she began to blush.
The next day, while many of the other slaves were working as hard as they could and looked a lot more miserable than they did when I first came here many years ago, I was as joyful as could be. The same boy years ago who got whipped for not working came over to me and asked me what I was so happy about. I couldn't tell him what was actually smiling about because if I told him about the escape plan tonight, he would probably tell others and then the rumors will keep passing on among the slaves until everyone knew about my plan. That wouldn't be good because it would be a lot easier to find a big group of runaway slaves, than it would be to find a small group of three people. I really wanted to tell someone, but I knew I couldn't and I didn't say a word the whole day.
Night had came and Ayana had arrived in the meeting place as I told her to two days ago. Aabirah wasn't there, so we were able to talk to each other for a little while. We continued on our conversation from two days ago about the escape plan.
"Aabirah, the daughter of the 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' is going to bring us proper clothing and food so that we can go about our escape plan. We planned to run away at night so that no one would see us," I said. "I know the girl seems a little bratty, but when you get to know her, she's actually pretty sweet."
"That sounds like a great plan son. And awww, is my son in love?" Ayana asked curiously.
"To be honest, I like her, but I don't know how to tell her I do. I mean she knows I like her, but it's just that I think she really needs me to tell her," I said.
"Awww" Ayana said. I wanted to change the topic so I began to ask her questions that would prove to me whether or not she was really my mother.
"So...what was my father like?"
"He had 'muscles like an ox' and he had the deepest voice. Anytime he talked I got chills. And, he was kind of the leader of the village. I really loved him and you too, but I was captured. It's a shame that your father and I weren't there to be with you during your childhood."
"It's okay." In my mind, I knew it wasn't okay to lose my parents during my childhood, but I didn't want to say that. I'm sure she knew that I felt that way too, but she just didn't want to get into it. I was still not convinced yet...I needed to test her one last time. "Can you sing for me, please?"
"Sure? Ohhhh ?"
Even though she only sang one note, her voice sounded like an angel's. I wanted to hear more, but that's just when I hear Aabirah coming in. I know if Aabirah saw me with another woman, she'd kill me, so I quickly walked to the other side of the room and acted as if I'd been waiting in the room awkwardly for Aabirah to come. When she came, she had clothing, water bottles, and multiple bags of food, all at once in her hands.
"Is everyone ready to go? Remember, we have to be very, very, very quiet when the second leave this room, unless you want to get caught, by all means be as loud as you want, but if you want to escape, please be very quiet. My parents are heavy sleepers so it won't matter much, but still try to be quiet."
My mother and I shook our heads. All three of us headed out the doorway of the room. Aabirah stayed back to turn off the light and she used being in the back to her own advantage. I could see her constantly staring at me and Ayana because she didn't know whether or not to trust Ayana. While walking through the hallway of the house, I stayed on the other side of the hallway, being as quiet as I could. The place was so dark that I couldn't even see my own hands. Seeing that I kept on tripping and falling, both of the women raced towards me to try to aid me. Luckily Aabirah got to me first. If Ayana got there first, Aabirah would of either shouted and my mother and I would be killed for trying to escape or Aabirah would of left me there and snitched on me because I she would think that me and Ayana were "a thing." Aabirah held me and pushed me on my back the whole time until we finally reached the doorway of the house. We saw a shadow approaching us from upstairs, going towards the kitchen and all three of us wondered who it was. We all got scared because if it were Aabirah's mother or father, we would all be dead. But it wasn't her mother nor her father. When the figure finished doing their business in the kitchen, the figure began to approach us even more until the figure was right in front of us. We could see who it was since the moon was shining outside and the house's front door was primarily made of glass. The figure ended up being her brother. I was relieved when I saw it was him 'cause he seemed harmless. He was a very quiet, reserved young man (or at least that's how he seemed) and he was shorter than his sister, so he couldn't be a threat ... or could he? It was easy to see his sister because she had light skin. Seeing his sibling, he swiftly turned around and took one big step towards the stairs of the big house. I began to squeal again, just like when I was younger and that very same infamous squeal would put me on the verge of extinction. My heart began to race faster, and faster, and faster. Just as fast as my heart, my hands, arms, legs, and feet began to tremble. I saw the Aabirah's brother's face go from being a normal and innocent-looking face, to one flushed with curiosity and fear. The man turned around very quickly and scoured the foyer of the house, looking for someone, that someone being me. It was very hard to see my mom and I because of our dark skin tones. We basically blended in with the darkness. For once, being black had its benefits, but not for long. Having difficulty seeing anything, he came even closer to Aabirah and that's when he stepped on a foot. This foot wasn't Aabirah's or Ayana's. The man began looking for who the foot's owner was, but nothing seemed to connect to the foot (in his eyes). I didn't want to move for it would be very obvious as to where I was if I made a sound once again. He began feeling the foot and moving his hands all the way to someone's thighs ... it was mine. I was very irked by the fact that I was being touched by someone besides my wife and I could see Aabirah getting really mad, but now wouldn't be the right time to show such emotion. The very moment he felt my leg, he soon let go and dashed upstairs.
"Sheesh," Aabirah murmured to herself. "Does he always such a snitch?" After she said this, I began to remember the then-Aabirah, the the bratty, irritating, young teenager, always calling the maids for something, every single minute, literally!. For a moment, this memory turned me off from her and in my head I was thinking that I could always just give up on the escape plan and just stay a slave until i eventually rot out (which wouldn't surprise me if that happened very soon, if I stayed here any longer). But Aabirah is now a young woman, and she's responsible now ... right? Aabirah knocked me on the head and tugged at my arm ferociously, as if in need of something. I was then snapped out of my thought and I was plunged back into my grueling reality ... being a slave.
As soon as he ran up the stairs, we bursted out the doorway of the house and we ran as fast as we could to find safety, or at least somewhere to hide. We scanned the area for safety and we decided to go on the neighbor's property who were known around town to be very, very welcoming to anyone, no matter who they were. Just as we jumped over the fence of the neighbors, Aabirah's father's car lights began to sniff around, in hopes of finding something.
Months had passed and we had been living with the neighbors now for a good amount of time. They were very welcoming to us and provided us with a lot of food to eat. I was still new to this whole freedom thing, but I knew I wanted it, and it was worth it to pursue. I was very happy to be with my fiancée and my mother.
Today, I am still with Aabirah, my fiancée, and Ayana, my mother. I will always remember what a great man my father was and I know that he will always be with me, inside my heart. I love you Papa.
Notes from the Author: To create my story and get inspiration, I extensively researched African countries, specifically the countries Egypt and Ethiopia. I have been greatly influenced by the following stories: The Odyssey (by: Homer), Slave: My True Story (by: Mende Nazer), and The Hunger Games (by: Suzanne Collins).
© 2012 Clyde A. Johnson