The Gods were pissed off. They had to be to let this befall me, especially now!
As I walked through the forest, occasionally gazing up at the stars and breathing the sweet earthy smells of my home, I could only think of her. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever known. The way moonlight played off her skin and eyes was spellbinding, her smell intoxicating. Everything about her filled my mind’s eye and crowded my thoughts. And tonight, tonight she agreed to be my wife and the mother of my children. There was so much to do before a wedding.
By giving myself over so completely to the joy of thinking and dreaming of her, I’d grown oblivious of all else around me. That’s why I wasn’t aware of them, didn’t notice them until it was too late. They came at me directly with the speed and power that told me there was no question of my capture. I fought them out of blind fear and instinct, fought for my very life. Two went down under my blows but did not stay down. Still I fought. The last thing I remember was the stench from a large grey shadow moving out of the darkness. Then a bright light burst through my head and I remember no more.
I awoke in a dark and small place that didn’t allow me to stand even had I been able to do so. I was restrained hand and foot in some way, but in the stifling blackness I could not see how. Though I pulled, twisted and jerked my arms and legs until I was out of breath and they ached from the effort, still I couldn’t move. The smell took my breath away. I didn’t want to even breathe it into myself for fear it might poison me, but I couldn’t help it. My head hurt and I felt weak. I fainted.
The next time I awoke, I realized I was moving. Not just me but everything. Roughly jostled, I was thrown into a new confinement, a small, dark and evil-smelling place with no place to sit or lie comfortably.
I have no way of knowing how long I was kept there because it was always dark. I became aware of others around me in the distance. Whether they were my kind or not I didn’t know, but I could hear movement, moaning, and what could have been speech. Then they came for me. Though smaller than I, they brought devices that allowed them to drag me from one place to another still restrained. I fought them and another one went down under my blows. Again the blinding light was the last thing I remember. When I awoke this time and actually saw them clearly for the first time, I was repulsed. Short and squat, their skin was pale, almost grey, and they had small pig-like eyes. They were filthy beyond any experience I had ever known, and their smell was like rotting meat and fruit all mixed together. From the way they looked at me through their beady eyes, I knew they could and would kill me for nothing at all. They jerked my restraints and shrieked in my face. I did not understand. They hit me with a club as long as my forearm. They continued to jerk my restraints and beat me until I stood where they wanted. When I resisted they beat me more. I was sure they would kill me. Once I could no longer resist, they tore my clothes from my body and made me stand naked in front of them shivering with fear. They examined every inch of my body including my eyes, ears and teeth. They poked things into me, and they hit me again when I tried to pull away. I was then dragged back into the darkness.
They brought something to me I assumed was food, but when I tried to eat it I retched and vomited. Thin and watery, it smelled and tasted sour. I could only pray they would release me before I starved. After much time I was able to slurp some of the wretched stuff down, but I don’t think it had any value for my body. I became weak and ill. When I couldn’t crawl over to take the vile food that was left for me, they dragged me to the bright place again and shoved something hard and shiny into my mouth through which something foul and oily poured as they held my mouth and nose shut until I swallowed it. I tried to vomit it back up but couldn’t. They dragged me back into the darkness and left me bruised and sick.
I began to hear screams regularly accompanying the moans that were almost constant, and then all at once I heard it. It was speech, and I recognized it.
I called out “Hello, can you hear me?” but there was no answer. I tried again, “Hello, I know you’re there. I heard you speak.” Silence. “Hello, please talk to me.”
His answer was surprising. “Shut up, you fool,” he hissed. “They’ll beat or kill us if we are too noisy.”
“Wait,” I pleaded. “Who are you and where are you from?” I received no answer but from the clanking sound guessed that someone or something was coming toward me, fast. In my weakened state I didn’t have time to react, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway as my restraints restricted me to little movement at all, certainly not enough to stop what was about to happen. One of the filthy creatures flung open the door, rushed in and began beating me with the club again. Although considerably smaller than I, every blow the creature delivered was terrible, the pain blinding. I tried to protect myself but could not. I could only lie and endure the throbbing agony. I was afraid it would kill me. Finally, as I was praying that I would die just to make the beating and pain stop, it did stop. The creature turned and left as suddenly as it had come. Although I had become a little more used to the darkness, I couldn’t see, not with the blood in my eyes.
I woke up to the sound of soft whispers and soothing hands. While my eyes were swollen shut, I recognized her as one of my own kind and I understood what she was saying.
“You must not speak,” she whispered. “You only get one beating, then they kill you and drag you away. Please don’t speak anymore; they’ll kill you.”
“Who are you? Where are we? Who are they?” I asked all at once.
“Shhh.” Quietly she whispered, “It doesn’t matter who I am. You will never see me again, if you can see me now.” I couldn’t. “I don’t know where we are, but I know they have taken other people from my home. There were rumors, but I didn’t believe them. Now I know they were true. Lie quiet. They made me come in to tend your wounds so you wouldn’t die. Many have died already.” She spoke so softly I could barely hear her words even though I could feel her breath on my ear. I tried to rise and everything disappeared again.
When I awoke this time, I could see a little out of one eye. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to know she was gone and I was a little cleaner. Since there was no place to relieve myself, my confined self smelled worse than the creatures, if that was possible, and it was. The remainder of my time in the darkness passed without incident. Aside from the screams and occasional nearby beatings, the time dragged on; I got weaker but finally healed. I never slept long at one time, and my body ached always.
In the long passing of time, I filled my head with thoughts of home. My family, my father and mother. What were they thinking right now? Were they mourning me or were they searching for me, sure in their minds that I was still alive? But so much more I thought of the girl I had been torn away from at home. I tried to remember her face and the way the moonlight danced in her eyes. I almost could, but when I tried to remember her smell the spell would be broken, and I would weep in my filthy surroundings.
Suddenly there was some strange creaking noise and a jolt. Sometime later an opening above was pulled upward and blinding light flooded in. I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could, but the blinding light burned through anyway.
We were dragged to a place where we were thrown into a pool of dirty water. I could see a little by then, and there were men and women alike in the small pool looking dazed and confused. We were all naked and tried to cover ourselves but had only our hands. We cleaned ourselves in the dirty water the best that we could. Then we were roughly pulled out of the pool; one woman fell and was dragged out. We were made to stand very still, dripping wet and naked while many of the creatures looked on. Others stood menacingly by with the heavy clubs.
The squat little man looked up at the bearded man coming toward him.
“Ah, Diego, my old friend, how was your voyage? I hear you were successful. How many did you get this time?”
“It was a good trip but we only got one hundred forty back alive,” the bearded man replied with a touch of regret. “The damned soldiers the company contracted to go along for confinement killed over fifty with their beatings. They even threw six overboard after raping them. Ah, but enough of business, how is my beloved Raphaella, and why has she not come to see me in from the dark continent?”
The squat little man looked slightly amused as he answered. “Being a lady of stature, your Raphaella prefers not to come to the docks to see the blacks brought in and sold. If you ask me, I don’t think she can take the smell of the slaves being so close.”