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EXCERPT: from chapter nine: "Barbados"
The field slaves scattered like leaves in a squall, but before they could, this slave, who I took to be the driver Kaliban, had his whip wrapped around one of the housemen.
Kaliban, his eye’s flashing red, hissed and snorted like a kind of reptile, hunching up his already convex back as he jerked mightily on the whip, snapping it like a firecracker at the dancer. His mule circled them, blocking my vision and I couldn’t see, but I heard a slap and the manservant was down in the clearing, his fine white suit considerably soiled. What would Lord Willoughby think of that?
‘Teachin’ religion to my field hands again are ya Siepio. You keep yer dancing up at fat Willoughby’s!’
‘An’ don’ any of ya think about being free up here. Yer religion is da rebellion of freedom. Next, ya’ll want guns ta fire off in your damn ceremonies. You know what Howe gonna do ta me—and I’ll give back to you—if any of ya are plannin’ rebellin’!
I recoiled at his considerable oratory. Though articulate for a slave, it was both barbaric and pointed invective.
‘I suppose ya’ll want fine clothes and Sunday afternoons to drink rum and feast on roast?’
The black dog-driver, whose slight hump didn’t stop him from swinging his arms like a black knight with a sword, jumps and grabs a well-dressed woman from the slave choir gallery. Before she could run off, he pulls her back with a crafty use of his whip. He wielded the thing like a sailor throwing a lead line, and with as much accuracy.
‘Eve yer name? Well, let me be your Adam, and we’ll taste the sweet apple from yer forbidden tree together!’ Kaliban laughed indulgently, grabbing her by the petticoat then yanking her blouse strings apart to expose her tan, sweaty breasts. ‘I’m surprised. The Governa hasn’t populated da island with da fruit of your womb. Has he had honey from yer pot darlin’? —Ya can free yer people from my wrath with a little payment on da side. Den I’ll send ya back to your white god of protection.’
He twirled her, then cradled her back in his arms, leaning over and attempting at kissing her breasts. She impulsively slapped his face, but it did not faze him one bit. He only laughed harder and said quietly: ‘In da garden wit’ me, after Howe leaves or I’ll banish ya from Paradize.’
The driver cracked his whip at the face of a strong Negro field slave who tried to interrupt his degrading passions with a lunge. He could only reel backward from a cut the whip made on his cheek, leaving an ugly gash.
‘Ya’ll pay Billy Job! Tomorrow in the manure pit wit’ ya—and no water ta drink.
D’ye all stand righteous before your God of Freedom?’
Kaliban seemed prone to speeches. Strange—his name was the same as that deformed seed of the witch Sycorax in The Tempest. What was this? A parody; a bedeviled opera; a perverted play within a play? Was I having feverish nightmares again? I pinched myself. Perhaps Shakespeare was inscribing from his tomb—by the agency of Ariel.
‘Does he leaven your burthens with good foo’ an’ fine clothes?’ Kaliban went on with his oratory.
‘No! He grinds salt in ya wounds; while ye chaunt hymns of indulgence to his Hola Emptaness. ‘He’s a white god made by yer mastas ta keep ya conquered.
Ya’ll get what ya need from da only master ye serve. Work! And, ye’ll be attended ta. You want ta rouse yer passions: Then rebel. See how ya’ll pay!
Rememba, der’s nowhere to hide on dis island, if ya can’t all fit under dat crazy old Admiral’s cloak. Hi’s got ta deliver a crop and account for every penny ta Englin’. Ya can’t all be house slaves. Now get back ta work da mill.’
I tried to back off, hiding in the crowd of field slaves, heading toward Cork’s direction on the road. I thought how my actions were quickly revolting me. Which was worse for these slaves, my discovery, or letting that driver do what he probably does in perpetuity?
It was necessary to blend in the back and keep my head down if I was to remain undiscovered. If I could head around the bend, but when I saw he wouldn’t let go of the girl Eve, I questioned my actions as lacking valor. This woman, slave or not, needed defending.
Without further thinking, I found myself surging toward her. I grabbed the end of Kaliban’s whip, pulling mightily and somehow it came loose from his grip. I noticed misshapen hands and bent fingers from his everlasting grip. I stood holding the driver’s whip.
In such a predicament, I had no recourse but to use it. By instinct, I snapped it in Kaliban’s direction and by beginner’s luck, it swirled sideways and wrapped around his neck in a perfect tether.
My feet flew out from under me. I was airborne. A thud rocked me and I tasted earth. I gasped over and again, the wind knocked out of my breast, as I struggled to breathe, my chest pumping like a bellows. A hot gush in my mouth, swallowed, left a tinny taste. I groaned, spit dirt, and yelled ‘Hey’! Something was dragging me backward with rapidity towards the road for several yards, before ending face down in the dust; clear of the crowd.
‘What have we caught? A rare fish indeed—dressed in European clothes, a canvas shawl, and smudge on his face. A spy! Fostering rebellion, are ye? Willoughby send you to ensure obedience to his ‘holy’ decrees? Answer whoever you be!’ The planter faced me squarely with his vehemence.
‘Master Howe…’ said Kaliban with calm deference.
‘Master nothing! You know not your master. The whip is your master, and you’ll learn both ends if it.’ The planter cracked his whip in the direction of Kaliban.
‘Master, I enforced your order and was going…’
‘My order! My order was that they should not hath been found here at all—if you weren’t sleeping due to yer indulgence.’
‘I did as ye speak—Was setting them to task when you rode—’
‘Had ye done as I speak, they would have never left the yard. They’ll be no fraternizing with that Pagan Governor’s whores. They’re gonna get the notion they’re free—remember ye can be sold for a price. Or I’ll set you in the fields and give command to another—Billy Job perhaps. I would lash you for the trouble you’ve caused.’
The vicious planter dug into his horse’s flank with his boot heels and the mount jolted forward, while the leather noose around my leg ripped my legging, burned my flesh and my body tightened. Stretched tight as on a torture rack, I winced in pain; the bully dragged me on my stomach, (all happening rather quickly in succession). Another whip—or perhaps I heard a whoosh of a zinging rope (a horses halter to be exact) supplanting this tool of the trade, whistling through the air. Suddenly I was free of the tension. Rolling over on my back, a white mare rose up proudly on her hindquarters, nostrils flaring, teeth showing, neighing menacingly, a rope emanated taut from behind her tossing mane. Its origin, I could not notice, but there was fire in her eyes.
Taken aback, an image burned upon my memory of a bold beauty emerging from behind the mare’s mane, twisted sienna locks twirling in the air. These blazing strands were adorned with beads and gleaming in gold braid ends. She was dressed in a tight leather riding-suite with knee-high boots of black; her horse her equal, a pure white mount of exceptional stature, prancing in powerful, obviously trained steps.
She fired the rope off with the accuracy of a superb horseman, finding its mark. This bold ‘femme fatal’ gave it one sharp jerk, dismounting the planter by the neck and sending him toppling to land in a mud trough near the track. No doubt, there would be hell to pay!
Nevertheless, she confidently rode up to where he lay and calmly spit to his side with obvious contempt. He groaned something about his back, while with an upward flick of her wrist, she snapped the rope off his head and withdrew it. Without a word, a Negro (of the Governor’s House) picked up Howe’s whip, while another grabbed the stunned driver’s and tossed both to my mysterious heroine. I thought here’s one fit to fill a Grecian myth. Her beauty equal to that of an Athena, a stunning equal to any Apollo, but for one changed fact: she was a light skinned Negro. A mulatto no doubt, and a Barbadian beauty!