Before the morning sun (3)

You are currently viewing Before the morning sun (3)

By Moyo Esther

(Continued from last edition)

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. He resisted 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 my friend.


With the others like him, they put them in another line, about twenty or more. Vincent could barely see to count. They gathered them up in an empty room, one they could barely recognize. From the chequered curtains and wooden benches, it could have been a coffee house two weeks ago. With his eyes half-lidded, he watched as they all staggered into the room, hungry and tired with a few excited faces here and there. They were pushed to the ground, dirty ground and made to cuddle close to one another.

“I am almost sure you are aware of why you are here” a soldier started, his voice loud as he addressed them. Why were they always loud…? “But I will remind you again, and as I do, I hope that you put your ears to the ground and remember this because the next time you get a reminder, your head would be rolling down the streets.”Vincent sucked in a breath, reaching up to carefully touch his head. They spent the next few hours educating them on how to be proper valets and obedient slaves. How not to raise your head and look in the eye of the master, how to walk and talk. How to attend to their master’s wardrobe as valets and by the time they were done, Vincent was ready to fall down and faint from exhaustion. They had been at it, the rehearsals and for those who had fallen short on many occasions, the whip had never failed to keep them in line. Luckily for Vincent, he was a fast learner and so avoided the whip. Once beaten, many times shy.

The soldiers soon left them and another group of men entered. They looked less grumpy but still had the signature frown across their faces. They stared at them for a few minutes before ordering them to strip. At first the slaves remained unmoved, unable to bring themselves to believe they heard the words right. As the man in charge, a tall gentleman with scratched face and ample belly walked up to them, a scowl etched to his expression. “Did you not hear the order?” They all looked at themselves.

“Strip!” he shouted, reaching by the side to grab a cane from the man beside. At the sight of the long stick with jagged edges, they jumped into action, stripping to their birthday suit with shaky fingers and fear-filled faces. Vincent could not have been more embarrassed as he stood before them, no clothing on him whatsoever. Once they stood naked, another set of men walked up to them and began prodding and poking them. Vincent felt himself blush to his feet at the humiliation. The men however were less concerned about their shame and just went about their business. They forced their mouths open, pulled at their lids and hit their legs with small sticks and when they were done, they spoke in weird languages to the man in charge who only nodded and walked out.

As soon as the man was out, they made them stand up to line and led them to another empty room…still naked. Vincent alongside the others had their hands around their privates as they hurried along in shame behind the Wazobian men in lead. The room was different from the former. It had lined up buckets of water all over. They realized it and didn’t need anyone to tell them it was a bathroom. Vincent felt his lips widen, oh goodness…water! It was water! How long had it been? He almost jumped in and grabbed a bucket but the sting at his back cautioned him. “You have three minutes to wash up and clean yourself to prim. Once you are done” he pointed to another door “walk in a straight line to there, further instructions would be given.”

Excited Vincent ran to the nearest bucket and took a position to bath. It was weird, though. Once he looked around, he noticed that the soldiers were standing there, watching closely. He could feel his skin burn at the knowledge of being watched while naked but eventually he ignored them, found a corner and began to wash. Nothing could stop the joy that filled Vincent’s heart at being clean again, not the chilling temperature of the water or the struggle to get enough water. It felt good to be free of dirt and not smell like a lavatory. By the time he was done bathing, he walked slowly to the other room, shuddering and shivering as cold seeped into him.

He entered the room, his eyes running around. There stood only three men at the corner with heaps of clothing in their hands. One of them held a mount full of cream shirts, another dark brown breeches and the last rubber sandals. Oh goodness, this was a dream…they were being given clothes. Excited he walked briskly to the three men and bowed, his hands reaching immediately to grab the clothes.“Take care of them well, you

will never get such luxury again.” Happily, he took them and held them to his chest…so this was what they meant when they said big men’s slaves would be well taken care of…

The other men walked into the room too and collected their clothes, dressing themselves quickly to shield their skin from the cold and cover their nudity. The clothing was nothing special but for Vincent it was better than his borrowed and torn suit. The cream shirt fabric was mostly cotton and felt like tiny burrs chaffing against his skin. The dark brown breeches were made of coarse linen, hitting just below his knees and because of Vincent’s gangly frame, they hung loosely on him. He did not mind though, he was never one to have smug clothing anyway.

Once they had all been fully attired, they led them to yet another room. Here they forced them to wait and sit on the floor. Minutes later a small, middle aged woman walked in holding a large bowl. She weaved through them, handing out a little bowl of rice and paper cups filled with water. The rice was like one they had never seen before and on top of it was a red soupy substance. It was nothing that Vincent would have wished to be served but it was better than harbouring the monster of hunger within him and more importantly it was served better. The last time he remembered being fed was with crumpled stale bread thrown at their feet.

It felt like heaven compared with the last time and he was certain, this would be the best they would ever get. He smiled and collected the water, scooping the rice into his desperate mouth. The food wasn’t much so it did not take time to empty the bowl and wash it down with the barely full cup of water. By the time they were done with their meal, the man in charge of valets walked in. He was a tall man with muscular build and scary eyes. His hair was undoubtedly cropped short like the others and was always fitted into a weird looking cap. He looked twenty with his gentle face but everyone knew he was older. He spoke with curt and firm tones and never shouted but no matter how, you would hear his voice still. Surprisingly he dressed so colourfully, a contrast to the personality he portrayed.

Master Olawale or Master Olaarh, that was his name, a no-nonsense yet eccentric fellow. Today he was dressed usually, an array of colours on designs they had never seen before. “We will be leaving soon” he started. “So I want you on your best behaviour. Any “misconduct” he smiled: “You know the drill” and then he walked out. Another group of men walked in as Master Olaarh turned away, holding chains and ropes in their hands. Vincent felt himself swallow hard, fear gripping him.  What were they going to do with the chains…?

His question was soon answered as one of the men ordered them to a straight line while another grabbed them and began pushing them to the men with chains. They put iron collars round their neck with chains attached and locked it around their limbs. The iron collar felt tight around Vincent, causing his neck to itch and blister. He tried to shake it away but moving only hurt and so he remained still, ashamed at how he was chained like an animal.

The chains were tied together so that each person was tied to another and once they were done, they pushed them out, screaming profanities at them in a bid to hasten them up. Vincent could barely understand their logic…you tie me hand and foot, he thought, yet you expect me to walk with speed…How? Humbly and quietly, he walked behind the soldiers and Master Olaarh, his mind bugged as he thought about his babe sister. I am doing this for you, Horatia, this is for you…he whispered to himself. His heart hurt, knowing he was far away from his sister and could not keep her safe. He trusted Harvey. Harvey had promised but it wasn’t enough. He had never had to be away from his sister before. Shaking his head, he muttered: “Happy thoughts Vincent, happy thoughts.” It worked for a while as he closed his eyes, remembering the good times with his mother but nothing could keep away the big question that laid beneath his happy thoughts. What would happen if he is sold off to some cruel master and never got the chance to see Horatia again?

It was dark when Master Olaarh finally halted his horse and commanded the others too to stop. The slaves behind were beyond thankful for the stop. Many of them were overly exhausted, hungry, thirsty and most especially in need of a toilette after walking such a far distance. A few people lingered around as they parked by the large building hustling and bustling with merrying Wazobian men.

Vincent could feel their pitiful stares on him. Master Olaarh led his horse to the man who seemed to be in charge of tying down the horses and then waved the soldiers to push them in. Grumbling and groaning beneath their breath, they followed their Master down the streets and into a large room with a sign above the door: “MARKET ARCADE: SLAVE TRADING.”

The sign seemed newly fixed. It was definitely made to serve this purpose. As they walked in, Vincent could not help notice the room was replete with Wazobian men and women of all dark colours, laughing and jesting over cups of a milky substance he could not identify. They sat on wooden chairs around large tables, conversing with one another in their weird languages. The buzz of excitement seeped its way to his brain, causing him to sway at the overwhelming tidal wave of noise and monstrous sounds. If his ears were not lying then music was explicitly playing in the background, good but loud music to be precise.

For a second, he shut his eyes tightly, wishing fervently that he could condense the noise into a bearable din in the background. He wasn’t used to such decibel. By the time he opened his eyes, his ears had adjusted only a little bit. He continued to study the room and right at the corner he saw slaves like himself, all cleaned up nicely, women and men and young lads with their metal collars too. He caught the eye of one lady shivering at the corner and sent a comforting smile down her way. She stared at him weirdly and looked away but not before a ghost of smile formed on her lips. At the centre of the room was a newly constructed raised platform, built like a fight ring. The soldiers led them towards it and began hauling them roughly up the platform. While they moved, a man waddled over, a sneer on his face as he passed by them. “They are so skinny, are they not?” was the first thing he said, peering especially down on Vincent with obvious contempt. Master Olaarh shrugged “You don’t get them any fatter, they are just like twigs and sticks here but no worries, they are strong.”

They proceeded to converse in their language and though none of the slaves could understand, Vincent could not help the feeling that they spoke about him especially when the other man looked down at him and chuckled. “Look at this one,” he switched to English: “He is as thin as twig.” He grabbed his arm and squeezed it. Vincent hissed lightly at the pain. “Are you sure you want to sell this one, he looks like he would snap if the wind just blows a bit?” He squeezed his arm again and then turned to clean it on a random table.

Vincent was appalled at his impertinence and almost lunged at him for his shrewd remarks but he kept himself still and obediently walked away, a soldier pushing him up the platform. The steps felt like rolling waves as he stepped on them, his feet swirling and tripping as he made it to the top. It was worse when he stood firmly on the stage and let his eyes wander. He suddenly felt dizzy as he imagined thousands of pairs of eyes boring into his own. As if on cue, the people in the room turned to them and began to scrutinize from their legs to their frightened eyes. They stood in a line, Vincent at the back end of the line, assembled together like dolls. They stood for a long time till a man walked up the stage and began speaking through a megaphone.

There was commotion and more noise as he spoke and though the slaves could not understand, their language was nothing more than gobbledygook to them. Vincent was certain it was a sort of introductory speech. Once the man was done, the master of each category of slaves stepped out and sales began.

I hate this, I don’t want to be here. That was all Akande was thinking from the moment his father dragged him down to this place. He had not been a great fan of the new system of slavery but he had no choice. He had to do it and he was okay with that but this…slave trading…this was too much.

He was seated behind his family, literally sulking as they sipped slowly from the cup of palm wine in his hand, counting the hours until he had to leave. He was barely paying attention. Nothing to him was fun about selling off human beings to the highest bidder but for the others in the room, his father most especially, it was a fresh piece of entertainment. He groaned beneath his breath as they sold off another slave. He couldn’t stand it…maybe he should leave.

He downed the content in his hand and stood up, hoping to ease himself quietly out of the chaos. A nice walk under the stars was what he had wanted, not a night spent with drunken men and women, fighting over who bought who. He was just about to turn away when his father looked back and squinted at him: “Where are you going to?”  He swallowed hard at the calm yet scary look on his father’s face.

…………..Continued in the next edition

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