It was popular to have them in my time. Most families had them for business, others just for help around the house.
Yet after all of the good things I heard –and saw- that slaves did, I still couldn’t believe that Papa hadn’t gotten one by Pacarona County’s monthly slave auction in the center of town. I was keen to remind him to save up the money and buy one but the last few, but Papa always forgot to, and simply came back home with nothing; he would just shrug his shoulders and join me out back in fixing up our field.
Even though Pacarona was a small town, with only three-hundred seventy five people, we were still the only family in the whole town to never own a slave. I would have gone out and bought one myself if it wasn’t for the fact that I wasn’t 18. You see, I had just turned 16 that year, and that was a big deal in our town; you could vote, or smoke, or buy whiskey. The only thing I thought about doing was using the most important privilege- the ability to go to the auction with your parent.
The closest auction was a week away, at the end of the summer, in the center of town. I made sure to remind Papa of two things; 1) To save money for a slave, and 2) To bring me to the next auction.
Until we could finally get some help around our house, I was stuck with the biggest chores around the house, which weren’t just meaningless and just a reason to keep me in the house (or on the farm), but also things that only I can do, so I couldn’t put them onto my sister Ann, who deserves more harsh treatment than me, the little picky brat…
Anyway, the good thing about the chores was that once I was done with them- I got to take off my farming clothes, put on something comfortable, and go join my friends and have a good time, especially before school started on the third week of the first fall month. This went on for the rest of the week –me doing my chores, having fun with my friends and reminding Papa- until the night before the auction. After Supper, Papa beckoned me to his room, to show me something. I didn’t know what to expect when he pulled out a huge glass jar filled with coins and bills.
“Remember how you always ‘reminded’ me to put money into savings and I ‘forgot’? Well, I would like to thank you for telling me, but I’ve been saving up anyway. Over a thousand five-hundred is in here, definitely enough for a young slave. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow! Don’t tell Ma, it’s going to be a surprise for her!”
Then he sent me off to bed, a look of complete surprise still on my face. I couldn’t believe it. We were finally going to get our first slave! Now I wouldn’t have to do the chores, HE would! What luck! I was so excited, I could barely fall asleep, thinking about how much better it will be to finally have a slave.
It wasn’t long before the time came to go, to go to my first auction! By the time Papa came down, I was already waiting with the horses, dressed and brimming with excitement. Papa had his arm wrapped around that glass jar, as if his life was dependent on it.
We rode into the center square early enough to reach the circle in the middle before it filled up. As the rest of the town arrived, I saw all of my friends with their Papas and even Grandpas. My Father smiled smugly as he clutched his jar, everyone whispering around us.
“Looks like Old Tim is going to get one! Finally!”
“Hey, Timmy! Make sure you don’t buy out ALL of them! Save one for me, will you?”
Even some of my friends came over to talk to me. It was all our first time at the auction too, and we didn’t know what to expect. Most of them had come to give messages from their fathers to Papa, be it advice on what to buy or to “mock” him for his huge money jar (Papa had no qualms with anyone in the town, not that I knew of). I remember the sun being as bright as ever, having no competition with any cloud for miles, the cool breeze of morning blowing slightly on us.
Soon the time had come. The auctioneer had stepped onto the platform, signaling a hush amongst the crowd near it. He was a portly man, middle aged, with a big white mustache, white hat and matching vest, with a big brown holster, holding a metal-black pistol inside. He used that to get the attention of everyone else; even though I had heard gunshots before, that one sent a chill down my spine.
The auctioneer began: “Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy this stock! Remember, all must go now! I can’t keep the leftovers.” That got a few giggles here and there from the other men. The auctioneer went up to a podium on the other side of the platform and gave a signal.
Then they came out, as a grim spectacle. Thirty-seven men, women, children –some naked, others barely clothed- shuffled onto the platform. They all had looks of fear and grief, their chains dragging slowly along with them, as if they were ghosts. I was so frightened by the sight of them. I tried to hide my face as they were forced onto the platform, but Papa took notice.
“Enough,” He said, pulling up my face. “You be a man now, y’hear?”
Until they were all on the platform, I didn’t open my eyes. Then the bidding began, and I focused more on the crowd during the auction, trying to avoid the lifeless gazes of those living corpses on the stage. I saw people sizing up the bodies on the platform, whispering to their friends which ones looked the best or which ones were the worst. Others were excitedly waiting to bid on their target.
The number of bodies was dwindling, their new owners pulling them by a rope attached to their neck, their looks of sorrow completely ignored. For the first time, I felt the sense of callous inhumanity that was spreading through the crowd, something that I would never forget- these people might have been shocked at this at some point, but now they were all numb to it. It was at that moment that I realized what it meant to own another human being, and I didn’t want anything to do with those feelings, those people. Some of my friends had already owned slaves, but they never looked like this, sullen-faced and scared, all alone.
Then there were two left- a woman, and a child who looked very young, maybe around Annie’s age. The boy was up for sale now. Papa had a glint in his eye- he wanted this one.
“The bids will start at 750. 751, anyone?”
“800,” shouted Mr. Evans.
“850,” shrieked Mrs. Wildflower, all the way from the back of the crowd.
Then a pause.
The auctioneer looked a little tense, which now seemed typical.
“900!” Everyone turned to my Papa. I forgot about all of those feelings and felt nothing but immense pride for my Papa, especially after waiting so long to own one.
“900! Going once!”
Not a pin drop.
Complete and utter silence.
Papa was grinning from ear to ear.
“Going thrice!” SLAM.
“SOLD, to our good friend- Tim Whitcroft!” Then the auctioneer smacked the gavel. They crowd erupted in cheers! How exciting that was- I was so proud of my Papa. He winked at me as he went up to collect our slave, me close to his side. He only does that when he’s really happy, and I knew that.
As he went to pay the auctioneer later, we both knew that we had hit a bargain- we still had six-hundred dollars left over, enough for a lot of groceries, or even a good horse.
Instead of walking our slave like everyone else did, Papa made me bring him up onto the horse. It was very hard, being that he didn’t understand a word I said. People joked at us as we tried to give “instructions” to the poor child how to get on. Somehow we did it, and we were on our way back. I could tell that he was scared, but there was nothing I could do but smile gently at him as we rode back.
He was so much smaller than I thought, taller than Annie but not by much. His hair was cut very short, his big brown eyes wide with fear and loneliness. I felt that on that ride, I started to feel pity for him, even to be glad that we bought him, so that he could be taken care of, maybe even taught to like it here. I tried to tell him about Mama, and our big fields, and the beautiful forest that changes colors in fall, but he wouldn’t understand. Until someone teaches him our language, he’ll never understand what it’s like to live around here.
The sun was already at the midday point, and the humidity was getting to me, yet he seemed fine. I heard that these people came from another land, where it’s supposed to be much hotter than here. Maybe I’ll be able to ask him when he learns to speak. Maybe Mama can teach him- after all, she did teach in the schoolhouse before getting married.
So it was a big surprise for Mama when we came home with a second passenger on my horse. She ran out of the house and thanked Papa profusely, Papa laughing as she hugged him. I began laughing once Ann came out in total shock, but the boy looked incredibly confused while I tried to bring him down. Papa had to come over and gently picked him up, put him on the ground and led him into the house while Mama brought some of my old clothes for the boy to wear. He looked grateful when he was dressed in a white shirt and blue pants, part of my old Holiday wear, and some old shoes. I went to prepare a place for him to sleep while Mama gave him something to eat and Papa tried to teach himself how to give commands without words.
During the first two weeks, while Ann and I went to school and Papa and the boy to the harvest, we saw him not as a slave, but a new part of the family- we didn’t know what to do with him. Aside from the small tasks that we gave him (ones that didn’t require so much English), we took him in as one of our own; he ate with us at the supper table (after we showed him how to eat with manners), and he had his own chair in the living room, where he could sit while we minded to our own devices. Annie even gave him a name- Lucas, just because she liked the name.
Within a couple of weeks, Lucas got adjusted to our routines, even picking up our mannerisms at some point. When Mama wanted him to sweep somewhere, she’d point to the broom and then to the specific area that she wanted. He was making a lot of progress with learning hand motions, and soon Mama suggested that she teach him how to read, speak and write. Papa was apprehensive at first (we didn’t know what some of his friends had told him regarding teaching slaves), but quickly agreed with Mama, to our excitement. Mama was ecstatic to teach again, taking out all of her tools of the trade- her chalkboard (we kept it in the shed) and chalk and books- and preparing for the first lesson, while Ann and I concentrated on our work, Papa on paperwork for the crops.
This went on for three weeks, Lucas learning more each day, his excited mind trying hard to soak in as much as he could. Mama had turned the shed into a slightly cramped classroom, with a small desk for Lucas to practice the letters. We sometimes came home to see Mama still by the shed, showing Lucas again and again how to say or write the letters that we all took for granted. It didn’t take long to see the lessons paying off; he knew how to respond to basic commands, such as “come” or “look”, and he knew how to say “Hello, my name is Lucas” and what it meant to know his name. I even got so inspired by his excitement to learn that I started working a little harder at my studies, to show a good example for him. As he learned to speak our language, I felt that he was becoming more and more like a brother to me. Annie felt the same way too, and as a result, she shared him with the rest of her friends, them all playing together on the dirt road near our big field.
One week passed and fall comes into full bloom outside, beyond our field; the leaves erupt in the brilliant colors of red, orange, yellow and brown, a glorious sight for even the sorest eyes. After school one day, I decided to go into the forest to get a better look at the natural fire-works outside. I allowed Annie to come with me, when she got an idea. After getting Mama’s permission, she called Lucas to “come”. That’s all she said,
Annie and I never went into the woods together. We each went with our own friends, and if we did go out together, we just argued about small, stupid problems. That time, when we went in with Lucas, it was a different kind of silence, one I never knew about until that day.
We walked around the sleeping dirt of the field, and entered the forest through the path we cut for ourselves. The entrance looked like a gate, two vines from different trees intertwined at the top, as if greeting each other like long lost friends. I walked in front, Annie in the back, Lucas, with a look of total amazement, between us. We all knew that feeling, it was just that Lucas was better at expressing it. There are some moments you can’t explain with words, and that was one lesson I learned that day that I’ll never forget. The tall trees, even the smaller ones, were showing off the natural fire colors that set the whole forest aflame, but the trunks were cool enough to walk through it and enjoy it up close. It was so beautiful...
We continued to trek further into the forest when suddenly, someone noticed something.
The forest became very hilly at one point, and on the other side, Lucas had spotted a deer, with her fawn grazing on the other side. They moved so majestically, the older one gently nudging the younger one on. I looked at Lucas, who was so astonished by this creature, the likes of which he had never seen before, that he tried to go closer, to get a better look. He didn’t notice a dry branch right where he was going, and when it snapped he was almost as surprised as the deer. They took off almost immediately, before he could see their faces again. He leaned his head on the trunk that had dropped the branch, holding onto the closest branch to his head with the other hand, head heavy with disappointment. I put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile: you’ll see the deer again, I’m sure. The sun was starting to set, inching nearer to the hillside in the distance. We were only allowed to be out until sunset, so we had to go home. We turned to home, but not before we all looked back to see if the deer would come back.
Two weeks passed after we trekked into the forest, and Lucas now knew many more words. His vocabulary increased almost every day, especially since he learned to ask “what is that?” He asked us that question about everything, including our own homework and other things that we had always known, and when we answered, he would concentrate on remembering it. He even said sentences with more than four words, or big enough for us to understand what was said and put the rest together.
The temperature outside was getting colder after another week, and Papa started leaving home very frequently by sundown, only to come back right by the time we were going to bed. Mama was getting very suspicious, even though he always said that he was going out to business meetings with the friends. It was the friends that we all were afraid of –at least Annie and I were afraid of them. I knew them because they were my friends’ fathers who were very cocky and, most importantly, treated other people with less respect than they had for themselves, and they were even worse to slaves.
It only got worse after the meetings started. No longer was he our Papa; we had to call him Father. He started ordering Lucas around more often, sometimes raising his voice in unmistakable yells. He woke Lucas up earlier than usual to do pointless labor, whether it be tilling the field’s soil again or cleaning out the stables after doing it the night before. He even took out the normal bed from his little room and replaced it with a minute amount of straw.
We all tried in vain to stop him from wrecking the classroom. He took out all of Mama’s stuff, books, board and all, and turned it all to rubble with his hammer. He then forbid Mama from caring for Lucas, whether it be washing his clothes or teaching him anything. He said that we HAD to do it to put the “animal” in his proper place. At that point I couldn’t understand how Papa could view another human being like that, especially since Lucas could learn our language just as well as anyone. But this wasn’t Papa- this was Father, and at that point I couldn’t tell who the animal was and who the man was…
Annie and I grew to fear him immensely, while Mama took up being our merciful protector from his wrath. Anything we did wrong, we would fear for his yelling, and even cursing; Papa always used to be warm and caring, even if we didn’t do what he wanted. Father was cold and insensitive, turning into more of a cruel slave-owner than I had ever imagined him to be. He was letting that fresh power slowly take control of him, and only we could see it.
But then he started using his belt. The first time it was used was when Lucas was so sick of being pushed around and being denied rights he rightly deserved, that he stayed in his room when he was called. Father got impatient -very impatient, VERY quickly- and shouted how he was going to “teach someone a lesson.” He took out his belt-probably a trick he got from his new friends- and stormed into the stables where Lucas’ bed was located right near the horses. He was dragged out by the collar and ordered to get on his hands and knees.
We were home when this happened, and when I heard Father command Lucas to get down like that, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I heard the screams.
Then we heard them.
We all bolted out the door and rushed to where Father was. Even little Annie tried to stop him, tears coming down her face, begging him to stop. Then he did something we had never seen him do before; he made a grab her- he was going to beat her, too. Mama and I had to hold his arm back to bring some sense back into him. I instinctively stood between him and the rest of us as he stormed past us, eyes glaring with malice and anger, something I had never seen before.
After the coast was clear, I went to Lucas and gently helped him up back onto his feet. He looked terrible, his clothes bore new tears amongst the other stains and rips. Having been denied a bed and a square meal for a good few weeks now, especially during the first winter month, he looked half the boy that he was on the podium. That night, I snuck out after father left the house with some leftovers from supper for Lucas. As he ate, I couldn’t help but ask him where he came from.
He looked up from his plate, asked if I was sure I wanted to really know, and I said yes. He began telling me all about his previous life, when he had a different name, and about his parents and his five younger siblings, each with an extraordinary ability to navigate the dense forest that they called home. He told me of the beauty and awe, especially after how he missed it so much now. He told me of the sunrises, the cloudless skies, the cool breezes on hotter days, the beautiful and powerful animals that could be found all over the place, and the love he still felt for his tribe and for his family. He had always hoped that his sun would never set in his paradise, that he could live there for his whole life.
Then the white men came. I felt a twinge of guilt when he told me of how his tribesmen were disappearing. His brother had volunteered to investigate, and his ability to sneak up on others made him the best one for the job. The tribe agreed, and he was sent on his way to find out what was happening to them.
They never saw him again.
It took them until the next morning to find that out, after Lucas had stayed up all night waiting for him. After that, the family had forbid anyone from volunteering to search for the missing-ones. The tribe stopped hunting outside of their territory, so as not to not fall prey to the demons that were snatching their kinsmen for whatever reason. When food became scarce, some people were able to trap small animals that strayed too close to the camp, providing the tribe with some nourishment so that they wouldn’t starve.
The night he was taken was one Lucas would never forget. It was the night that his tribe was attacked by those demons, one of the white-men with the thunder-sticks. They ran in and one of them tried to attack his family in his hut, after his father had left to try to stop the wave of men. Lucas tried to fight the attacker with his brothers, but the man was too big for them; he tossed his brothers off of his back and held him in an inescapable hold. As the fat man dragged him away from the camp, all he could see was his old home in flames, men chasing other tribesmen, killing them, taking them away. His paradise had been destroyed, his friends either killed or taken away, his family forever torn apart.
He then told me about how he got here. He, and other men like him, were tightly chained and packed onto a ship in a space so tight, he said he could barely move for a full two weeks. Some of the men got sick from the sea, and some even died. Lucas said that the stenches of bile, death and excrement permeated every corner of the small cargo area. He said how he had to give himself the will to live every single day, regardless of what happened- to keep living, to believe that somehow it would all become better.
When he finished with the details of being sold and ending up here, in this new “paradise”, I asked him what his name had been. He said it was Faroi, meaning “hope” in his language; his parents were childless for many years until they had him, their new “hope” for the future. Then he was silent. I told him that I would try to make life better for him, at least until the harvest season, when Father would get his senses back, and the coldness would have melted with the summer and fall sun. He looked hopeless, his eyes tearing up. I put my hands on his, as if swearing on an invisible Bible, and promised him that I would make his life better, whatever the cost, even if it meant I would have to free him. As I got up to leave, he got up and gave me a big hug, his tiny arms wrapping around me as he said one thing:
He let go almost immediately when he heard the slightest noise outside. As I left the barn, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep my promise. I had felt so much mercy for this boy that it just came out, and I had always kept my promises. I realized that nothing would truly be the same ever again; nothing would ever be this clear, nothing would be as simple anymore. I would have to go against the only person I had ever revered, to save someone that only I believed deserved freedom.
So even though I wasn’t really sure how, I decided to commit to it, to help Lucas as much as possible, and I would try to do this alone, so no one else would get in trouble.
Yet sure enough, Mama and Annie gladly volunteered when they noticed me taking out food to Lucas, after Father had gone out, many nights later. Mama had the idea to hide a soft pillow underneath an extra layer of straw, while she felt dreadful about the state of his clothes, which were torn all over and smelled terrible; she couldn’t fix them, otherwise Father would notice. Nevertheless, they snuck a warm blanket to him to keep him warm at night, which he would return before he was supposed to wake up.
We kept this up until the second winter month, when it became even colder. As I got up to help Lucas with the chores, as usual, I noticed that Mama was unusually angry. I asked her what had happened, and she said that Father had gone to the slave auction again with intentions of buying another slave. I realized that the auction would be starting in a few minutes, and I figured, given his state of mind, that he was bound to bid immensely for the first one, regardless of the slaves condition was regardless of whether or not he had the money. I rushed to the barn, yelling for Lucas to get me a saddle. I saddled up the horse, hoisted myself up in an instant, and rushed the horse to get to the square at full gallop.
I made it to the square just as the shot was fired for silence. There was a small group of slaves up for bid, probably because they were being sold for the purpose of helping around the house, and not for harsh work. I scanned the crowd for Father from up on the horse, but all of the hats and coats made it impossible to distinguish anyone. Then the first man was offered up for bid. All I had to do was wait for someone to bid that sounded like him.
He sounded like a madman. For every new bid, Father almost doubled the previous offer. People around him began to tense up, but some were accepting it as normal for Father, as he apparently acted strangely around some of them already. I tied the horse to the nearest post and ran into the crowd, to stop Father from bidding himself to bankruptcy. We had lost a lot of money from this year’s poor crop when we sold it in the marketplace, and we hadn’t been planning to buy a new slave until the next harvest. There was no reason for us to buy a new one now. I screamed at him to stop, but he didn’t hear me. So I took a different approach. I snuck around, away from the circle around the podium, to where the slaves were being held but there was no need for secrecy; Father was too concentrated on the auction to see me anyway. I approached the slave-keeper, who wasn’t from around here, and asked him to relay a message; if that person, I indicated towards Father, bids anything above 400, his bid should be considered null and void. When he asked why, I answered that that was all he had. As he relayed the message to the auctioneer when the next slave was brought up, I ran to my horse and rushed back home.
Father came home angry enough to blow the house down. He stormed in, past Mama and Annie, eyes hell-bent on making someone pay. He frantically searched for Lucas, and found him cleaning the shelves upstairs. I must have been out of my mind, but I had to try to shield Lucas from him. He wrestled me off of him, and proceeded to beat Lucas with his belt. I yelled at him to stop, I even called him Papa to try and shock some sense into him, but he didn’t stop- he only stopped to push me away from him- until he was done. He stormed out, leaving me on the other side of the room and Lucas bloodied on the floor. Mama and Annie came in after what felt like forever, he and I silently exchanged looks of fear.
The torture escalated during the next two weeks as Father went out of his way to try to put him “into place”. We weren’t exempt from it either. At one point, Father wasn’t even satisfied when we followed his orders completely and treated him with extra care. His anger never seemed to end. We’d see him smile once in a while and it gave us hope, but then he’d see Lucas or someone else do something wrong and he’d lose it all over again. I didn’t revere him, or respect him anymore, and my frustration grew with the crops in our field, during the last two weeks of the month.
One day, he just stopped. He didn’t torment Lucas, or the rest of us, as much, he just went about his business completely ignoring us, as though he had run out of steam. We all were grateful and we were hoping that maybe Papa was fighting his way back through Father. But that peace was short-lived, and it only lasted through the first week of spring, when he found out.
The following Saturday night, after I assumed that he had retired into his room for the night, I brought food for Lucas. I didn’t see him come in afterwards to check up on Lucas, probably because I wasn’t expecting him to be there. Then he grabbed me away from the small boy. I didn’t even have to worry about trying to stop him from beating Lucas; he decided to go straight for me. For the first time that I can remember, Father gave me a beating that I didn’t deserve; he left me battered and bruised, with no lesson learned other than this: Papa was a lost cause, and I hated who had replaced him.
That night was the longest of my life. I couldn’t take it anymore. Harvest was coming fast, the crops were almost at full height already, and Papa wouldn’t let up on the torture after seeing what had been going on. I snuck downstairs one morning, fully dressed, lantern in hand. I calmly went outside and took a good look at our beautiful field that I had worked on with more than just sweat and tears. Our blood had been shed on this field.
I looked out towards the barn where Lucas slept, and then back to our house. As much as I loved that poor slave, for Papa’s sake, I had to get him away from here.. I wanted Papa back, and I didn’t care about what would happen to me. I took the lantern into my strong hand, went to the front of the field and smashed it, the sparks igniting the stalks, setting my world on fire.
The night the Whitcroft family had the fire, my wife had woken me up claiming she smelled smoke. I noticed it almost immediately and leapt out of bed, quickly dressed into my work clothes and evacuated the rest of the family. But our house wasn’t on fire. I wasn’t sure where the smoke was coming from until I realized that it was blowing over from the Whitcroft’s property, the farm nearest to us. I saw their entire field on fire, and a single figure running away. There was another standing by the house, screaming:
“There’s a river over the other hill! Go Lucas, just GO! Run for it, Faroi!! GET OUT OF HERE!!”
I realized that it was the Whitcroft boy that was freeing that slave! I was going to report it, but my wife insisted that I don’t do that. It wouldn’t be necessary, she said; maybe that will knock some sense into him.
I figured then that I ought not to tell Tim either. Only a man could’ve done something that brave. Let old Whitcroft see that for himself.