Underground Freedom

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A slave runs away

Submitted: May 09, 2013

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Submitted: May 09, 2013

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Underground Freedom

Voice of Samuel by Sanna, Voice of Imani by Emi, Voice of Lucy by Karin, and Voice of Rosemary by Christi


June 9th, 1850

Rosemary

Every time I opened my mouth, mounds of gray dust collected on my tongue. Mama said it was the good-luck kiss from the harvest winds blowing the top dust from the ground and into the air, leaving my nose and throat clogged.

“Mind you don’t catch nothin’,” Mama scolded me from the doorway of the kitchen. Mama, her belly round and plump from preparing and sneaking tastes of the Master’s family’s meals, waved a wooden spoon dipped in gravy at me.

Mama’s lucky, when she was just a child, she learned to cook white people’s meals form an elderly black woman retired from the fields, her ruined hands barely fit for culinary. Mama had a bad back that’s crooked like a curved L, and she can’t work in the sun too long before fainting.

Mama’s refined tastes and talented skills got herself a nice, clean job cooking for the Master’s family, and that means extra food for us all.

“Go on now, child, find that Lucy,” Mama said harshly, her face all twisted and strained from a natural affliction of seriousness that waded deep within her.

Mama didn’t mean to harm me none, she’s only concerned that I keep my hands clean of trouble, and my back free of whip marks.

I seen too many chil’ren naked at the whipping post, the guts of their backs splattering something awful, icy tears glazing over their dark pupils.

My master’s got a hard soul, he whips everyone who so much as treads on his carpet with muddied feet, pregnant woman and chil’ren too. Mama forbid me from watching the gruesome whippings, she says so much blood and evil in one white arched arm is too much a for a child to bear. Sometimes I watched anyways, though, just to remind myself to keep christian.  

I nod my head at Mama and run off to the main house. I’m allowed to wander through its richly textured and colorfully designed corridors because I ain’t no field slave nor house slave, but a companion to Master’s eleven year old daughter, the pretty-eyed Lucy. No matter what Mama tells me, that Alison ain’t a real friend, and that I be nothing but a puppy, a pet, a toy in her blue eyes, I know I be like her sister, like another member of her family.

Everyone in Master’s family likes me, even Alison’s own Mama tell me about how sweet I be. And Alison’s Mama as white as they come, which just goes and proves that not all white people are as rotten as Master.

I ain’t allowed to talk such thoughts in front of Mama, she hates how I make white-people out like angels. She said anyone who is willing to kidnap someone and force someone to work day and night without pay like animals is a pure force of evil.

Before I entered Alison’s large, white mansion, I pretended to smooth out my dress, displaying an action of respectability. But truthfully, I only wanted another chance to gaze at my pretty new dress and admire it’s teal-blue color with lacy white flower print. It fits around me only a little too snug, and it’s not too tight to choke my waist or expose my shins.

The pretty dress belonged to Lucy, but she’s growing so fast, she right grew out of it, which is a shame, a’course. I sometimes wondered why I, myself, stayed so small and skinny. No matter how much I ate I never thickened.

Mama told me I don’t grow well because I needed more nourishment, fresher food, sweeter sleep and a better place to rest my head at night.

I don’t agree, I eat plenty and sleep well each night, always exhausted from lessons and entertaining Lucy.

I stretched my legs, and had one foot on the front porch step, when Master came through the door all muscles and anger. The big vein on his head that wrapped around his forehead to the back of his neck like a gruesome bandana was throbbing, as if it were alive.

The sight of Master terrified me, and I prayed he wasn’t in the mood to spill some black blood.

I stepped backwards off the white porch steps and bowed low, so that the coarse end of my hair almost kissed the grass.

“G’morning, Sir,” I said politely, my eyes staring at the weeds. I knew enough never to make eye contact with Master; something about a pair of African-brown eyes made his spirit stir and pulse with anger. He once spit on a black boy who dared to look him in the eye, but that boy was only three, he didn’t know better. But I’m eleven, twelve in three months, I understand how to behave around the Whites of Master’s caliber.

A gruff nose matching the sound of a straw broom against a scratched wooden floor settled in the pit of Master’s throat. He leaned forward, parted his lips like the double doors of the church house, and retched a slim, brown strain of tabaco juice. His spit landed inches from my bowing head. A clap of anger stormed through my blood with the rage of a summer storm, and the tambourines of thunder chimed in my ears.

It took all my tolerance to control the wave of outrage boiling my blood.

“Get on now, girl. Don’t you be idling like them fools at Harvey’s smokes shop. Slovenliness is a sin. Don’t they teach you nothing at that black church of yours?”

“Yes sir, I apologize sir,” I said clearly, enunciating each word and slathering each syllable with the tone of polite apologetics.

I waited to rise until Master had walked far from my view. My blood had cooled, and the happiness that accompanied the heavy relief in danger’s wake filled my bones.

I was certain that Master’s white skin and my black skin had nothing in common with his cruelty, how he treated blacks the same as he handled animals. Some folks just born with the anger, and nothing to do but bleed patience about those born with boiled blood and skinned hearts.

I quickly escaped into the coolness of the house, eager to find Lucy and share some laughs over her father’s ridiculous vein that snaked across his face and his disgusting habit of consuming chewing tobacco, popping the little leaves into his mouth like pieces of chewing gum, staining his teeth an unpleasant yellow. Master had the yellow teeth of a stray mutt who figured the only purpose of his mouth was to bite and destroy.

As I maneuvered through the maze of the mansion, not even admiring the pretty carpeting or paintings of elegant men and women clothed in the uniforms of war and the dresses of marriage--for I had seen them too many times so that their specialness had became a type of normality--I hadn’t realized my dress was crinkled as candy wrappers.

Lucy was so disappointed when she saw.

“Oh, Rosemary, dear. Can’t you keep your things pleasant to look at? I’m going to have to stop giving you nice things to wear if all you’re going to do is ruin them.”

I bent my head in a show of shame.

“I’m sorry, Miss, I’ll keep ‘em pretty dresses pressed. From now on, you ain’t gonna see so much as a crease.”

“I do hope so. I worry about you plenty, Rose. Negroes always seem to be out of sorts, needing a white helping hand every now and then.”

I nodded my head in false agreement. Some days Lucy talked all prissy like this, but not often. It was the teachings of her parents, and not my place to correct her. Besides, her words weren’t all that mean, just a bit crooked sounding.


Lucy

June 9th, 1850

My governess Miss Abel says that I should keep a diary to improve my writing. I’ve never kept a diary before. I know that they’re for writing about interesting things that happen to you, but my life isn’t that interesting. I’m 11 and I live on a plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia with my mother, father and baby sister Martha.

I’m busy everyday. I must wake up at 7 every morning to have breakfast with the family, and then I work on my needlework and practice the piano until lunch. After lunch I study arithmetic and literature with Miss Abel and I don’t get tea until 4. I shouldn’t complain though; my schedule would be a vacation for the slaves that work on the plantation.

Rose is a slave. Her job is to be my companion. She’s been doing her job and keeping me company for as long as I remember. She sits through classes with me, watches me do my needlework and piano, and stays at the table while I have my tea. Whenever I need anything Rose gets it. Rose and I are very close. I tell her everything and she is the only person who listens. She’s with me all day so we’re talking all the time. Rose is my slave but she’s also my best friend.

If Father found out that I was even friendly to Rose though, he’d be furious. He’s always told us to be strict with the slaves and make sure they understand who’s boss. Father is the master of the plantation and all of the slaves working on it. He treats them more like dogs instead of humans, which I don’t think is right. Father whips and hits the slaves. I hate it. A few weeks ago, William, who works in the fields, came in the morning late because he had a twisted ankle and couldn’t walk as fast as the others. Father was in a bad mood that day so he was especially angry with William. William got three lashes on the back just for being ten minutes late. I’d seen Father punish his slaves before but that wasn’t fair. William was one of the hardest workers; his ankle was only twisted because he had fallen down building our new shed. I’d never interfered with Father and the slaves before, but William didn’t deserve to be whipped for being late. Without thinking, I said, “Father, that’s enough,” and touched his shoulder as Father raised his arm to whip William for the fourth time. Father jerked to me with a sudden movement and hit my arm with the handle of the whip, hard. I jumped back in shock. Father had never hit me before. My arm hurt and there was a big bruise where he’d hit it. Father barked at William, “Get to work!” and stormed away, and he never mentioned the moment to me again.

My father is a good man, he’s just got a short temper. We live in a big house next to the plantation with my mother and Martha. The house slaves live in the basement of our house and the field slaves live in a shack closer to the field. Father strongly believes in slavery, but I don’t know how I feel. They do a lot of work for us and they work really hard, but I’m sure they don’t like being bossed around like animals. And it’s just skin color. Who decided that people with darker skin were of less value than people with lighter skin?


Samuel

June 10th, 1850

Lately, I have heard from my friends from other plantations that slaves have been escaping and going missing. Slaves are organizing dates to escape in groups. I’ve been extra strict to keep my slaves in line. I hardly let my slaves go farther than the general store and I hesitate to leave them alone. I have to assert that slacking is not appropriate here. If my slaves were to try to escape, I would whip them to smack some sense into them. Unloyal slaves have no place on my land.

I am fearful that Lucy and my slave Rose are getting to be close. When they were young, they used to play together but I am concerned that they still remain friends.

There has been talk in the local newspapers about a movement to try to abolish slavery, which is ridiculous. Someone needs to put a stop to all of this, because we need slaves to keep our lives running smoothly. I suppose that it will pass over in time, though.

Anyhow, Edith and I went out to lunch with the Arlingtons and while Edith gossiped with Mrs. Arlington, Charlie Arlington and I talked about business. He just had a new shipment of slaves delivered to replace the ones that had run away the previous week. He's pretty furious that his slave family has escaped.


Imani

June 10th, 1850

I don’t understand why the master is being so strict lately. Waking up at sunrise to cook for everyone is hard. I’m so sleepy in the morning I can barely concentrate. Poor Rose is so young, and with such little sleep, how can she grow? Rose, so loving and beautiful, but she has to work hard day and night. She shouldn’t have to do that. I didn’t want her to be born, it would be so unfair to her. But the master kept insisting, saying I needed to have a baby so they could keep their plantation populated. He didn’t even let me rest while I was pregnant, and I had to work until I was having my baby. And he had poor little Rose was working by the time she was 3. It’s not fair that we get treated this way, and something should be done about it. Just because our skin is darker doesn’t mean that our hearts are. We are just like them and I don’t understand how they got the power. We would never have been in this situation if those slave traders never captured my parents.


Imani

June 10th, 1850

I had a nightmare about my parents again. About how they came to America. My poor parents were forced onto a boat, chained together in pairs, and stuffed on the deck. Just lying there against one another in endless rows of slaves...There was no room for them to move or exercise. I’m so glad they didn’t die like many of the others from diseases, injury, or even from committing suicide. And not to mention the whipping they got, I can’t even imagine. But when they finally reached American they were brought to slave yards where they were allowed to bathe and eat to regain weight lost during the journey. Thank goodness for that. Rose doesn’t deserve this, I don’t deserve this, and they most certainly didn’t deserve this either.


Imani

June 11th, 1850

I heard something interesting today. Something about some underground railroads. I didn’t know whether it was true or not when I first heard about them, but I think that I am convinced. Apparently it is used as a sort of route that slaves took to run away from their masters. I wonder if I could escape that way too. I mean if all the slaves did it in the past, why can’t I? Poor Rose was forced into this life that she doesn’t deserve. We could escape. I’m going to see if I can find out anymore...


Rosemary

June 11, 1850

The blood from the chicken’s headless neck stained my dress, and the screams of the chil’ren echoed in my ears as I chased him down.

Mama was preparing a chicken supper for Master, and it was my job to take care of the slaughtering and feather-plucking.

Chicken killing sure ain’t a pleasant job, but it’s a job that needs doing all the same. Can’t be helped.

Normally Martin, Mama’s scrap boy who cleaned the kitchen and took care of the dishwashing, was in charge of slaughtering.

But Lucy was away visiting friends up north, so Mama gave Martin the afternoon off, a rare occurrence around the plantation.

“Why’d I need the likes of that boy hanging around when I have my daughter right here.”

She preferred me working with her in the kitchen, she says it ain’t right for me to be kissing Lucy’s feet all the time like I’m some kind of puppy.

“But Mama, Lucy is right nice to me. She gives me all her old pretty dresses. I have the best dresses of any black girl here. Besides, Master don’t dare whip me because he knows I’m Lucy’s.”

A small trip of the tongue, a misspeaking of words. Mama frowned, her brown lips curving downwards across her entire face, and an intense look of sadness overcome her like a raincloud.

“Master don’t whip his puppies, don’t lay a fat finger on his pets. But black babies, he drown them in the river like unwanted kittens.”

My heart swelled with sorrow. She was referring to Jessica’s baby. Jessica was a girl of nineteen, too young to take care of little babies. But Jessica wanted her freedom, and Master promised her freedom on the day she birthed her fifteenth baby, a promise infused with sickening irony. She’d sell fifteen of her own fleshes into slavery to free her own self.

The sun’s heat pricked the air and sewed beads of sweat onto my forehead. The slave auction terrified me, just the thought of being sold in chains, the rushed and throttled voice of the auctioneer reciting prices and phrases that advertised a human’s flesh.

“Great arms, she has, can work like an ox! Don’t each much neither, a great deal. A splendid steal! Buy her and make your money back in half a year guaranteed!”

Jessica’s poor babe had to endure the cruelty, and he wasn’t three years old.

I blocked from my mind the gruesome picture of Jessica’s baby, startled and wobbly, hearing himself called by shrieked numbers, sold to the highest bidder, separated from his mother who gladly sold his skin in exchange for a sampling of freedom.

“Girl, get that chicken in here right now! I swear you move slower than church elders.”

Mama’s pious commands jerked me back to life. I lifted my bleached brown hand to my brow and wiped the sweat away.

The chicken had stopped his fleeing, and lay defeated in a puddle of his own mess.

I grabbed him by his backside, took him over to the kitchen’s wooden steps chalked with splinters, and started the long and boring process of plucking, dumping his muddied feathers into the scrap barrel.

“Hurry on now, hurry on now,”

Mama’s furious-laden demands song a hymn in my ears while the sun beat the earth with heated anger, and the crying black eyes of Jessica’s baby glared at me from deep within the tucked-away trove of my memories.


Samuel

June 12th, 1850

I have noticed that my slave Imani and her daughter Rose are very close. They often talk to each other, and I'm worried that they will try to plan something. Imani has always shown signs of not liking slavery. Rose has been alright, but Imani might try to convince her to leave. Maybe Lucy can talk to Rose. I know they are still a little close since they played together when they were young. I hate to think that my daughter is talking to a slave as if they are her equal, but maybe this can come in handy.


Imani

June 12th, 1850

The secret underground railroads exist. I’m certain. But should I take the risk of looking for them. These railroads could lead us to freedom, but also to our doom. What should I do?


Imani

June 13th, 1850 Thurs

O.K. It’s decided. I am going to escape. I know it’s risky, and maybe I shouldn’t be putting Rose in such danger, but if we escape...oh it would be amazing. I’m going to sneak out late at night and find the entrance to these railroads. Then, when the night is right, I will take Rose with me. We’ll run away to the North and finally be free. I know we can do it. I believe that we are good people, so good things will happen to us. Finally, the long awaited day is going to happen. We are going to be free. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. We are finally getting what we deserve. We have just as much rights as the white folks, and the day we run away and get the freedom we deserve, is the day we show the world that we can. We are not just doing this for ourselves, but the other slaves who are stuck are forced into labor early in the morning to late at night. We are doing this for everyone who is mistreated. We are making history.


Rosemary

June 13th, 1850

Stars like the leftover ashes from firewood charred the sky an unsettling burnt black.

The land was like an upturned lantern, moonlight shone beneath the touches of enraged wind that roared through the plantation, shaking the roof of the shack I shared with Mama.

An unseen hole pierced the sky, inviting heavy rains to fall like overripe peaches through its crack. I cried out, terrified, wanting the sweet, fat hand of Mama.

I yearned for her comforting flesh against mine, her plump body lending appreciated heat to my bony skinniness.

Lucy had come back, and she seemed changed somewhat. Her blue eyes looked upon me with a new disgust, as if she now saw me as something less than a friend. As if she realized I wasn’t a human, but a mere pack of bones and blood that consumed and disposed, the labour of my muscles the only atonement for my petty life.

“Welcome home, Lucy,” I smiled wide at her, showing all my white teeth. I had good, strong white teeth, straight and narrow like river canals. Mama says I can never pick up the habit of chewing tabaco, lest I ruin my god-given gift of near-perfect teeth.

Lucy no more than nodded at me, her aged black servant carrying her trunk, trotting behind her.

I never thought too hard about it. A strong white girl letting an aged-weathered and life-weakened man carry her heavy trunk. Not letting, but demanding. Ordering.

On the rare instances when I accompanied Lucy on her sleep-aways, I carried my own traveling bag, not nearly as grand as Lucy’s marble white trunk with golden laches and a thick, silver lock securing her jewelry.  

A flash of anger raised the fragility of my emotions. I felt like the time at the carnival, when I rode the ferris wheel with Lucy, and it had paused at the top for a minute, so that we could admire the pretty views that seemed to stretch onto the horizons of forever.

I sucked my teeth and breathed through my nose, gently lowering the intensity of my emotions. The ferris wheel slowly descended down on its track, bringing me safely back to earth.

“See, no one got hurt, Rose,” Lucy assured me, flashing her crooked teeth, yellow like her fathers’. Only Lucy didn’t chew no tabaco.

I had been scared to my shaking knees of riding on the big white wheel with its unsteady, shivering structure. But Lucy insisted I ride, she always made me do things I didn’t care to attempt. She always seemed to control me. Like I was a maid. No, like, like I was a slave.

I felt ashamed for thinking such rebellious thoughts, but under the shaking roof and icy woolen blanket, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Mama knew more about the Black and White relationships than I. Perhaps the White people really did hate us, really did think us beneath them.

I had never met any other plantation owners, maybe there were thousands of white men just as angry and unfair as Master, whipping children and selling babies and falsely promising black women their freedom if they breed against their will.  

I whinnied like a stowed away horse for Mama, but she didn’t come. Her bed was empty, and it was against the rules for slaves to leave their corridors at night.

The winds intensified, the night breathed in dry spurts as it birthed and nursed the storm.

Shiny tears slid down my ruddy cheeks, my body’s watery show of rebellion against the preference of my mind.

The cold, stale emptiness of the bed cut lines of worried dread across my face.

The hand of sleep covered my mouth, retiring my brain to the depths of natural unconsciousness. I slept out of fear, out of desire for escape from the storm and the absence of Mama, not out of tiredness.

All I knew was darkness had painted the sky a paler shade of black. It might have been minutes, it might have been years, from the time of the storm and restless sleep to when Mama placed her pudgy hand on my shoulder, jostling me awake.

“Mama.” A drawl whine escaped the chambers of my mouth, sounding so pitiful even in my ears.

“I’m sorry baby, I know I was gone long,” Mama told me in a soothing tone that chimed in my ears like a compilation of all the goodness of the world.


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