Before the morning sun [4]

You are currently viewing Before the morning sun [4]

By Moyo Esther

[Continued from last edition]

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. “Nowhere”, he stammered. “I just…I just…”  Seeing that there was nothing to say, he walked back to his seat and sat quietly.

“You should buy one for yourself, you need it here”, his father suggested.

“It…They were human beings for crying out loud”, he mentally screamed. “I don’t need one, Father”.

His father sent him a look and instantly his response changed. “I will get one as soon as I see the one I need” “That’s better.” He groaned inwardly and grabbed another cup of palm wine. He would definitely need this to get through the day. As he sat and drank, he looked around him, trying to entertain himself. He looked the left and saw one of his friends, drunken and already saddling up to a woman. He smiled at his antics. This guy would never change, he thought…Towobola, the undisputable ‘ashawo’ of his group of friends.

The guy noticed him and sent a lazy smile his way, mouthing the words “I caught a fish!”
He turned away from his friend and unexpectedly met the gaze of his mother. She had turned in her seat and was sending him a worried glance. She was his mother and the only one of his father’s women that he didn’t hate.

“You should pay attention”, she said to him. He huffed and turned away. “Your father would pick a fight with you if you don’t buy a slave” “I don’t want to” was his reply.

“I understand.” She looked at him with motherly concern and patted his empty hand softly. “But know that if anyone here suspects that you are not in agreement with the slavery system, you could be killed.”

“They can’t kill me for not buying a slave.” He sipped his wine slowly. “Please Akande, at least get one. There are spies from Wazobia who report about our work. You should show interest, please.” He groaned.

“Please, Akande, just one for my sake. Do it for your mother.

At that, Akande could not refuse. There was nothing he could not do for this woman, absolutely nothing. Reluctantly he nodded: “Okay”

“They will be calling the last set, pay attention”, and then she turned away.

He hated this. He did not like it one bit but for the sake of his mother, he turned his attention to the centre and tried to look interested. Over the loud noise, he could hear a man shouting through a megaphone. He was most likely the one in charge of the sales.
Slaves lined up on a raised platform, chained from the neck down to their foot…how sad.

He watched as they turned around upon being called and helplessly stood as men touched them and called prices over their heads. One slave was bought after much yelling and was dragged down by a soldier to the new master.

“Next!” the man boomed. A group of slaves were pushed forward “Edward Langley, aged twenty-three. Strong, built well, well…” Akande turned away feeling disgusted…how could people feel so normal with this? This was awful.

“Three naira!” someone shouted from behind and the whole crowd burst into a fit of laughter…how was that even funny? “Starting price, three naira” the Orator yelled over the noise. “Five naira” came another voice from behind, louder and more forceful. People began to raise their hands, shouting prices over themselves and by the time it reached the high price, a hammer was hit on a block of wood and the slave was taken away.

More slaves were auctioned, sold and taken away. “Going, going, going…Make up your mind, one hundred and fifty naira, going once. Is it one hundred and ninety naira I hear? Okay oh, one hundred and ninety naira, going once…going twice…sey offers still dey…Two hundred! I like that, keep it high people, Five hundred…ooh…I dey enjoy this. Anyone else, Five hundred and ten! Going once, going twice…gone! Sold to the guy wey dey there.”

That was how it went and Akande had to force himself to sit still and watch. When he was sure he could no longer take it, he decided to just buy a random slave and get out quickly. With his cup to his lips, he surveyed the platform. There were only a few young boys remaining. He looked from each one of them till his gaze landed on one at the end. He was a wiry boy at the far end of the line. ‘Good, that would work’, he muttered to himself and downed his cup.He called to the nearest soldier. “B??!”

“Yes sir“

“Do you know who is in charge of this set?” he asked. The soldier nodded: “Mr. Olawale.”
“Could you call him for me”? The soldier nodded and jogged away. Seconds later, a tall gentleman who would probably be Mr. Olawale walked back, side by side with the soldier.

“He’s here, sir”,  and then he walked away, the soldier. Mr. Olawale walked closer to Akande and perched on a seat opposite. He had an air of arrogance around him, Akande noticed. “I hear you called me”.“Yes, you are the one in charge of that last set of slaves, right?”

He took a moment to look at the stage before smiling. “Who wants to know?”
Arrogant…Akande muttered beneath his breath. Well, if he wants to play, then we’ll play…Akande puffed up and replied: “The Sarkin Yaki.” A look of recognition flashed in the man’s eyes earning a smile from Akande “So I ask again, are you the one in charge of the last set of slaves?” The man’s arrogance did not leave him but at-least it was toned down.“You mean the Valets? Well, yes I am.” “Good. I need a favour from you.” He swallowed another round of palm wine. He needed as much alcohol as he could get into his system to go through with this. “A favour? I like that. What would the Sarkin Yaki want?” “I am interested in a slave. “Who?” Akande pointed to the boy he had seen at the back.

“That one?” There was an hint of surprise in the man’s voice as if he could not believe that Akande was buying the wiry thing at the corner but Akande cared less for how the slave looked. He just needed one to escape with, and picking the one that had the least appeal was just enough for him. That way he wouldn’t struggle with other buyers.

“ What’s his details?” Olawale looked at the slave for a moment before answering. “Ehm…Vincent? Vincent Silverton” Ehm…Vincent, yes Vincent Silverton.

“Vincent huh? Good. What’s about him?” “Nothing much. He is just an orphan from Kent”“Hmm, even better. I want him,” the man sent him a look, “as my slave I mean,” he hurriedly replied. “Okay”,  he drawled, “You should wait for the sales then.”“That is the thing. I am not interested in the bid.” He put down his cup and crossed his arms. The man looked up at him, his face smug and then he stood up.

“Prepare your purse, I don’t give special treatment.” “But no one else is paying attention to the boy.” They both looked to the stage and true to Akande’s words, while every other slave was being touched and spun around by interested masters, no one turned to the boy. The man smirked: “Even better, that way you would not struggle when the bids start.” He stood up to leave. “Hmm,” he paused to think: “So what can I offer to earn some special treatment,” Akande asked, impatient and irritated. For one, he hated that he was buying a slave and two, the arrogant master was not even making it easy for him. The man ignored Akande and kept walking back.

“N200″ Akande said to his retreating figure. He kept walking. “N300”. Not even a pause. “Hello: N400.”  Barely a hitch in his movement. Akande bit his tongue and cussed. “N500.” That one caught his attention and he stopped.  “It doesn’t get better, Mr. Olawale. You and I know you would not get a better offer for that boy.”
The man had the guts to turn with a coy look: “Who knows? Someone like you might have interest in the boy too. It wouldn’t be fair to others” At this point, Akande was on the verge of punching the man square in the face. He was playing him for more money and seeing Akande in desperation, it was really easy. “Okay, how does 200 extra for the special treatment sound?”The man’s grin widened and he walked back to Akande, signalling a soldier with a finger.  “I knew I was right to bring that boy” he murmured. “So do we have a deal? Please say yes”, Akande pleaded in his head. “We will when you pay but in the meantime…” he turned to the soldier and whispered words in his ear. The soldier in turn nodded and went up the stage.

I wonder why this much interest in that boy the man started, a glint in his eyes. Hmm, an inquisitive one…was he what his mother had referred to as Wazobian spies…Akande smiled and then gave a reply he considered a shut-up answer. “Well, I like to think that is why we are all here” and then he stood up, a smile on his face as he walked to meet his father but not before sending an order down Mr. Olawale’s way.

“And oh, bring the slave to me outside,” as he looked to the stage and back. “Without the collar and chains. I like my slaves human.” The noise was too much. The music was too loud. The trade was too inhuman. My body was too weak. In fact everything was in the extreme, just too much. It is all too awful, too unbearable.

Vincent felt a tiny tremor move down his spine as he realized that there were only few boys left until he was alone. So far, no one had spun him around or poked at his legs and he wasn’t sure if it was good or bad news. It had been entirely awful watching as they called out fellow boys like him and sold them off like objects in the market. Men who had stood proud weeks ago were made the centre of ridicule and thrown to the highest bidder.

He was becoming uncomfortable on the intimidating big stage and the numerous pair of eyes watching and mocking him were doing nothing to make it better. He began to sway, his knees turning to jelly as he neared the front line. The orator began to speak into the microphone, calling on the next slave but as loud as he was, Vincent could barely hear a thing…oh no! He began to feel dizzy, and to feel weak.

The crowd waved around and multiplied themselves. He shut his eyes and opened them again to reassure himself that he wasn’t losing his sight but everything had turned into a blur and worse, they spun around in circles. The microphone squeaked, rattling his bones. He could feel his limbs become heavy, his weight dropping down to his leg.
What was happening…?

The noise became too much and as much as he tried to ignore it, he could not keep away the deafening sound from streaking through his ears, his head and tangling with his mind. This is too much, he couldn’t breathe, his chest was heavy, his knee was weak.
The man called a name, “Philip Buckworth, aged nineteen-”

There were only two more men…he had to be strong and as awful as this was, he had to be bought. He shook his head to regain his blurring senses but that did nothing but worsen the throbbing headache that had been silently resting at the back of his head.
I feel faint…no you are strong, you can do it Vincent…I want to faint…no you can’t Vincent, think of Horatia. Horatia, he whispered to himself, his lips trembling. He shut his eyes tight, attempting to stay strong while whispering his sister’s name. He needed to leave this place, maybe not physically, he should leave.

He began to imagine behind closed lids, a world where Britain ruled over Wazobia, a world where his mother was still alive and maybe married to someone of the peerage or perhaps royalty. A rare smile itched on his lips, this life was better…he thought, lost in his reverie and never wishing to come out till a voice broke him out, a rough unfamiliar voice. “Vincent?” the person said. Valet-Alaso. Slowly he opened his eyes and met with an impatient glare from the eyes of a soldier. He nodded instantly and without explanation the soldier dragged Vincent by the arm painfully and began dragging him along. “What is going on?” he stuttered, his heart beating against his rib-cage in loud throbs.

The man ignored him and began pulling him outside. “Pray do tell me, where I am being whisked off to?” His answer was a low growl and a quick glare sent his way. He looked around frantically, hoping to find answers to himself and as soon as the cold air seeped into his skin, he knew they were outside. Oh God…what were they going to do with him?
Once they had reached the supposed destination, the man pulled to a halt, turned around and began pulling off his chains. He was more than grateful for the release but the fear that what was coming was worse had him shaking as the soldier unlocked his chains.

“Please…” he begged the man. Once the man was done with his chains, he turned to him,
“Consider yourself lucky.” Vincent was confused. Lucky? Why?

“You have been bought.” Vincent had never been happier to hear those words before…he nearly hugged the soldier as excitement seeped into him. Finally he sighed… a large smile on his lips…One less worry, all that was left was the big question…Is my master cruel or God sent?

The door to outside opened quietly and Akande could not be happier to finally be away from the roaring chaos. He turned his head to look for a comfortable spot to seat and spotted a couple of drunken soldiers laughing over jokes he knew they would never crack a smile at when sober. “How far, Sarkin?” a drunk soldier shouted from the group.
Akande raised his cup and sent a curt nod down his way. “I dey”  They all laughed, for whatever they thought was funny and continued their merry. With a brief smile he turned away and found himself an empty spot with two wooden benches at the corner. Sighing, he walked to the seat and inhaled deeply, enjoying the cool breeze that washed over his face.

He was slowly sipping away his third…no fourth cup of palm wine as he lounged on the wooden bench, admiring nature’s night wonders.  Oh, he could die like this and feel fulfilled. “Nature, how beautiful are….”

“Evening, my lord” a voice asked, rather sputtered, interrupting Akande’s solemnity.
Irritated, Akande hissed and reluctantly looked away from his view to turn to the lad who had spoken. He was ready to snap at the unwanted disturbance but stopped when he recognized the boy to be the slave he had bought. “You must be Vincent?” “Huh?” Akande did not realize he had spoken to the boy in his mother’s tongue till the boy’s eyebrows went up and he leaned in with a confused face.

For one, Akande had never liked speaking English or any other language. He enjoyed learning them though. In fact, he was the favourite of all the language teachers at the training camp but still he could not bring himself to get used to speaking any other language apart from his mother’s tongue. Now that he was here and supposed to speak English, he was on the verge of losing it. Nothing was comfortable about something that isn’t yours. “You must be Vincent” he said in English this time. The boy nodded, his hair falling into his face. Akande rarely interacted with the slaves, no, he had never interacted with them. He never even paid attention to them unless his father forced him to, but as he looked up at the scared boy, something melancholic stirred within him like twisting shadows and against his usual routine, he took special time to study the boy. He was a little boy, small for whatever age he was, with dark brown hair unruly and dishevelled. His features were perhaps too delicate for someone who seemed like he had been through it rough. His frame was a bit odd in most places, a big sign of awkward youth but there seemed to be hope somewhere. He would probably soon grow like all men did.

He looked so young yet mature, someone who had been forged through the fires of life at a tender age. His eyes were like those of someone who had an explorative mind but the fear mixed in them could not go unnoticed. He bowed like he had been taught to do, must be a very obedient one, then. He didn’t look as bitter as the rest of the slaves he had seen and the ghost of a smile on his lips made Akande to think he was rather happy about his situation. Oh, he was going to like this one…

Something about him just seemed all too familiar to Akande, funny how he never paid attention to anyone and now this little boy with shaky feet and trembling hands was grabbing his attention. Somewhere in his observation, he felt compassion, a deep need to care for the boy like he had never cared for another before. Shaking his head as if to throw away the feeling wrapped around his head, he tipped his cup, downed the last content and dropped it on the table. “Do you know who I am?” The innocent lad, unsure of how to respond, shook his head only slightly and if Akande had not been paying attention, he would have barely noticed.

The boy was fearful, every Brysttic would be after all that happened and Akande was certain no Wazobian had been kind to the boy. He wasn’t one of them though, the way to a person’s wealth is to get to the heart and not to dominate and steal. The boy was undoubtedly scared of him and Akande did not like the feeling it gave him upon realisation. In bid to put the boy out of his misery, Akande smiled and as brief as possible the boy smiled too only to remember who he was and wash off the smile immediately. “I am the Sarkin Yaki assigned to this colony” “The?” the boy attempted to try it on his lips but came up short. “Don’t worry about the strange word” he spoke kindly to assure the boy he meant no harm. “It’s all military jargon. I hear you people say Valour, it is like that.” The boy nodded and this time it was obvious he did. “How old are you?” Akande asked the boy. “Ten and six years, Master.” Akande shook his head with a light chuckle “Master, oh please. Do not call me master.” The boy’s eyes went wide with shock. Akande merely chuckled again. “I find it rather insulting that someone of my age be called Master” “But…” he shook his head slowly, “It is not allowed. The soldiers said I could be killed.”“Oh please, the soldiers can do nothing if I permit it.”The boy shook his head, unwilling  to agree. “No, I do not think I can. I fear for my life if I have to call you by your name” “Alright then, don’t call me by my name, call me Valour”

“Valour?”“Yes, Valour, you can do that now, can you?” The boy nodded briskly.

“So you are sixteen, you are quite too young in face and gentle in frame. You are..
“Scrawny,” the boy suggested. Akande smiled, he was getting bolder. “Oh yes, no offense though.” The boy shook his head. “I have heard worse Valour.” With a brief smile he waved him closer. “Come, sit. I trust they have no need of you again.”

Akande pointed to the other wooden bench. He hadn’t thought he would need company, but then the young man looked like he needed a rest. His eyes were shadowed with dark circles, decidedly from stress. He could give the lad a rest and ease his sudden need for companionship. “Oh I couldn’t, Valour” the boy protested, appalled and in shock “It’s against the rules.” The boy’s eyes shifted and seemed to have focused on the soldiers around. Akande followed his gaze, then smirked. “I said it before, when I permit, those soldiers have naught to say. Besides I am the Sarkin Yaki. I overrule every soldier here.”


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