Before the morning sun 2

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By Moyo Esther                                                       (Continued from last edition)

“I got food.” Vincent’s heart leaped for joy. “Ain’t nutin’ much but it is food.” “Pass it on.”

The men passed it till it reached the fellow beside him. “Take” he stretched his hands towards Vincent, holding a chunk of stale bread in it. “He was right, it is nothing much but it should do yeah?” Touched by the man’s concern, Vincent felt tears run down his face as he slowly received the bread. He buried his face in his sister’s hair, allowing his tears to flow freely. “Thank yuu” was all he managed to whisper before breaking down completely. “Get some sleep, we will rise by dawn on the morrow.”Vincent nodded, unable to bring himself to speak words without tears in between. As he fed his sister and thought of the man’s kindness, a feeling of hope glimmered within him. He could do it…Horatia and I against the world, we can do this….

A kick to his sides and Vincent was jolting up, jerking to a sitting position in surprise.
“What?” he murmured, his eyes dim with sleep, his body sore and aching. He turned to the source of the kick and squinted, still drowsy. There, his floor mate was looking down at him, a slight frown on his face.  “You are a difficult one to wake” the man said, shaking his head. Still confused, he frowned at being woken and muttered a few curses beneath his breath. “Don’t see why I have to wake up when it is barely morning” he said, his voice rough. “You already forgotten where you are huh?”

Apparently still confused, he took a look at his surroundings, trying to remind himself of the events that must have previously taken place. There were a bunch of men, lazily rising to their feet with groans and sounds of complaints emitting from their lips. He shook his head at the young man in front of him and leaned back to sleep. “If I were you, I’d perish that thought,” the man said with a frown, kicking his legs lightly. “Except you want to set your back as a resting place for the soldier’s whip”

Soldiers…? Oh no! His mind screamed at him and he remembered ‘you have been made a slave.’ Quickly he jounced and the sleep in his eyes cleared away. “How long have they rung the bell?” he asked, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. “Only a few minutes. Have no fear, the second bell has not been rung”

The second bell was known by them as the whip bell. Once it was rung, the soldiers would storm in and whip anyone who was still in, at least that was what they said they would do. Vincent looked up at the saviour and once again it was the floor mate who had saved him the night before. He took his time to look up at him since the darkness of the night had not let him see him. He was a very tall man, mature in body but young in face. He didn’t look much older than him, funny how he called him child all night. He had a pair of warm blues eyes and blond hair that tickled his neck.

“Thank you…” Vincent muttered. “Harvey,” he filled in. “Harvey” he tested on his lips. “Harvey from where?” The man sent him a sombre look, his eyes sad. “Those things are not of importance anymore now, are they?” Vincent sighed and shook his head: “You are right but thank you for yester-night and I am Vincent.” The man waved him off with a little jest: “Oh, I wasn’t helping you…I was saving my poor ears. That child’s cries could wake up the dead “

It looked like he did not care, but the ghost of a smile that played at the lips and the look of concern and brotherly care that showed in his eyes betrayed him. Tired, weary and sore, Vincent reluctantly stood up to leave but not before casting a glance over his shoulder at his little sister. Horatia was curled in the corner, covered with Vincent’s suit and sleeping so peacefully. She looked like an angel, quiet and calm and quite the opposite of what she had been the night before.

After being fed with bread, Vincent had hoped that she would fall asleep so he too could get some rest. But, no. It was like she had garnered all the energy from above and beyond. She laughed and played, gargling as Vincent made faces to quickly tire her out. He was indeed the one who got tired and when he attempted to sleep, she poked at his lips and pressed her fingers into the hollow of his cheek. She had nearly pulled out all his hair in frustration.

It wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that she allowed him to rest by falling asleep. He smiled at her, leaned in to kiss her forehead and then turned to leave. Strain laced his eyes as he sluggishly moved in line with the other slaves. Where were they going to now? “You know what is going on?” he turned to Harvey who stood by his side, moving along too. “I don’t know but I hear something big is happening.”

“Something big?” he mused. “But I thought all big things were concluded yester-night.” Harvey chuckled lightly: “We can’t say with this people.” As they trudged outside, he began to hear other men whisper amongst themselves: “I hear it’s a slave auction.” Vincent leaned in quickly to eavesdrop…slave auction? “Yeah, them big men be buyin’ slaves tonigh” “Big men”? “I heard it is the overall masters so if you are picked you are a lucky fellow.” “I would do anything to be picked. Doesn’t seem like the little masters have much to offer us” “Yeah, big master’s slave be livin’ rich.”

He turned to Harvey, considering him more knowledgeable. “You understand what they are talking about?” Harvey nodded: “The big masters are like our monarchs, those who would work with them are rumoured to be bestowed upon a better living.” “Wow, I would like to very much work with their kind. I have never been privileged enough to live a life of luxury.” Harvey chuckled again. “Don’t be quick to say, it is only rumours.”
“But still.”

“Don’t dream too big Vincent, not in times like this,” Harvey advised, a sad look casting over his features. He had defiantly had it rough like Vincent but maybe better at hiding his scars. He lived happy for the world to see as though his childhood hadn’t taken him to hell and back. “Do you think it would be too big a wish to want a nice master who would care for the needs of my babe sister?” Vincent’s blue eyes stared with such expectation at Harvey, he didn’t care for himself much, all he wanted was a nice place to raise his little sister.

Harvey looked from him to the angry soldiers yelling profanities in languages unheard and then back to him. Deciding not to crush hopes, he spoke in a neutral tone: “We would see”

They walked quietly, deep in thoughts and when they neared the mean soldiers with grumpy looks and hands tight around whips, they were forced into lines. The soldiers lined them up and stared them down, watching them with scrutiny. “At ease!” A soldier shouted, raising his whip in the air and slamming on the ground. Immediately they moved into action, hands behind their back, feet apart and their eyes to the ground.
Vincent felt himself shake under their gazes, his heart beating tremendously as his mind birthed imaginations of the possible scenarios to come. Why on earth were they being stared at? Had the picking process begun or was this a form of check. “Don’t fret,” Harvey whispered to him, surprisingly bold as he stood under the intense gaze of the soldiers. “They will prey on you if they cite any sign of weakness.”

It was too late to stand strong, Vincent thought, his body already trembling. Soon they began to point at people and call them out. From where he stood, Vincent could hear the sighs of relief from the lips of the men that stood out…they must have been picked to serve the big masters. Closing his eyes tight, he began to mutter words of prayer, begging God to allow him a chance to be picked. He was lost in his reverie till a voice hit his direction. “You!” a soldier yelled, his finger pointing at a certain someone.

Shocked at the sound, Vincent jerked and stumbled forward, nearly falling to his face. He raised his head a little higher and was met with the angry face of the soldier that had called out. “Name,” he said in a tired, cracking voice. Was he talking to me? Vincent thought… he lowered his gaze and tried to arrange words to explain that he had merely stumbled forward as an error but his fear would not let him speak and in the end his jumbling and sputters only irritated the impatient soldier.

“Ehn?” the soldier yelled. Still shaking, he managed to add a notch of volume to his quiet voice. “I…stumble, I-” God, why was English failing him? Changing the approach, he cleared his throat and started again: “M-e..? Are you…are-you…are you speak…speak-in-to me,” he pointed to himself, feeling ashamed and fearful. He raised his head again to ask the soldier but the menacing scowl that appeared on his face had him reeling back. “Are you deaf” the soldier yelled, a low growl escaping his lips: “Eh, did I not ask you a question!”

The soldier yelled so fiercely and in such a dangerous voice that Vincent tensed up with anxiety, shaking more than he already was. The urge to run back in the line and hide behind Harvey was so strong he almost fled but at the sight of the whip the soldier had, he remained rooted, biting his lips till they began to bleed. “You are bold, aren’t you?” the soldier sneered, his fingers grazing the whip hooked to his belt. Unsure of whether or not to answer Vincent kept mute, agitating the already edgy soldier: “Answer me!” he demanded, stomping his foot against the earth.

Vincent started to reply but just before the word could leave his lips, a hand went up and the whip came down across his back. Pain seared through his spine, causing him to stumble backwards. He could feel his eyes roll back, his back stinging. Beside him, a shocked Harvey gasped, a little whimper escaping his lips. “Now answer me properly, slave,” the soldier barked, his whip not far from his hand. “Name?”

The name Vincent came out from his lips faster than ever before. For a boy who had gone through a rough life, he had a surprising soft skin and mind. The little whip across his back would earn him a dirty scar and pain for a long time to come. Hissing through his teeth, he managed to swallow the cry of pain that tugged at his throat, begging to escape.

“Good boy” the soldier leered. “You are coming with me” and then he stepped away and addressed the rest of them.  “And for you that are remaining,” he turned and pointed to another soldier, “walk in line and go that way, another fate waits for you.” Harvey sadly was amongst the others and with a sad look, he began to turn away. Deep down he had wished to be amongst those taken to the big masters or better still be anywhere Vincent was. From their little meeting, he had come to find a potential friend in Vincent and would have been glad to have a rather familiar face to work with.

As he passed by the boy, he raised his gaze a little, his heart breaking at the pained expression on Vincent’s face. The boy was thin and small, barely strong enough. Somehow he felt protective over him, an elder brotherly feeling and had to resist the urge to beat up the soldier. “Vincent,” he whispered. Slowly Vincent turned to meet his gaze, tears pooling at his cerulean blues. He felt bad that he was leaving Harvey behind but more importantly, he felt bad for a great friendship that he feared would never exist.
As Harvey passed him, he sent him a sad smile and a knowing look. Without interpretation, Harvey could tell the meaning behind his eyes…Take care of Horatia for me.

He smiled back…”I will”. Then they both looked away…Goodbye friend.

 (To be continued in next edition)

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