For this month's East African Friday Feature, I have been challenged every Friday, to write 1,000 words of a supernatural story. It can be an ongoing story, or bits and snippets but four times for the four Fridays of October. Now in honour of the release of my baby CHILD OF DESTINY on my birthday October 9th (So Y'all know what I want for a present...buy! buy! buy!) I'm going to do an outtake story that can be read on its own. As a nod to East Africa, I'm going to give the story of the ghost slaves in the wood - how they came to be there, and their hopes and dreams for the future. As a nod to my late father, my protagonist is named Bulitia. He's the slave ghost everyone from BDAH to The Swamp to COD keeps meeting and talking to.
Bulitia looked up at the black hole that narrowed until there was just a small circle of blue at the top. This place was aptly named; Shimoni. Bulitia had never been anywhere so dank and dark and miserable. The woman lying next to him was dead. He knew she was because he'd been listening to her laboured breathing for the past three days. It was the chest illness she had; and no way to treat it down here. He didn't know if he would treat it if he could. The slavers looked out for such things. He didn't want to make himself more attractive to them. Perhaps when they were loading them into the ship, and they saw that the woman was dead, and threw her overboard...he could pretend to be dead too. His father, Mulungu bless his soul, had taught him to swim long ago. He could hold his breath under water for as long as it took. Then he could make his way back...back to his people and his new wife; his little baby that must have been birthed by now. Yes, Bulitia was motivated. If he had any leverage, he would have climbed up the hole to the sky. Perhaps enough people would die down here so he could pile up their bodies, climb over them and escape.
No such luck though; the slavers came for them before enough people were dead. They were led out, through a tunnel to the very edge of the sea. Bulitia had smelled it; but that was the first time he was seeing it. It was vast, endless and intimidating. A person could get lost just trying to find the horizon. How was he to get back if they took him away now? Bulitia rattled his chains, looking left and right frantically, trying to find a way; but he was securely tied between a woman whose baby was dead on her breast – yet she clung stubbornly to it – and a man with a potbelly so large it covered his nakedness quite effectively. Bulitia shivered; there was a cool breeze blowing in spite of the heat. The slavers were whipping their backs so they could get moving; get on the huge ship waiting on the docks. One last time Bulitia looked around, looked for a way out. But there was none.
The lady they sold him to scared Bulitia more than the slavers. There was something about her that wasn’t right. He could not say what it was but he knew in his bones she wasn’t all the way human. There were five others with him; all from his own tribe. They spoke Bukusu among themselves, speculating on what she might be, and what she would do with them. Bulitia hoped that it was something that would end in death. He was not about this slave life. It was not his destiny.
The woman took them to a plantation in the bayou where sugarcane grew high in the damp humid air. The air smelt sweet and cloying yet familiar to Bulitia. He’d been somewhere like this before, in the time of Nabongo Mumia he had travelled to his kingdom to trade. It smelled sort of like this. Only without the underlying smell of blood, excrement and death. Bulitia wondered why he wasn’t dead yet; he was starving, he had wounds from the whippings some of which were infected and he wanted to be dead. So why wasn’t he? Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps he would find a way to go home again. Bulitia didn’t share this thought with his companions; they would just laugh at him for his naiveté after all; there was no getting out of this life.
Bulitia was assigned to cattle pen; there were six cows on the plantation and one bull. He was to feed, water, and milk the cows and make sure that the bull remained virile and ready to serve. This was familiar work to him. On his own land, he had thirty cows and three bulls. He wondered who was looking after them now.
One day as he was cleaning out the cow pen in preparation for milking a shadow fell over him that made him cold to the marrow of his bones. He did not have to turn around to know who was there. He went down on one knee and tried to still his trembling.
“Mama”, he said submissively, hoping she would get whatever she wanted and go.
“I have been watching you, Bulitia”, she said in a low voice and he trembled. The slaves had been stripped of their names; they were nothing but numbers. How had she known what his was?
“Don’t be afraid”, she whispered coming closer her cold breath fanning on his naked shoulders. Bulitia wanted to shy away, to turn and run. But he could do nothing but stand there and wait to see what the creature would do to him.
“I think you were meant for greater things than this Bulitia, am I right?” she asked putting one hand on his shoulder in a light caress. Bulitia wanted to scream but he knew better. She didn’t know that they knew that she was some creature from hell. She thought her human disguise held. He could not show more fear than a slave would at being singled out by his master. But what was he to say to her? He had no words to answer. If he told the truth, then Mulungu knew what she would do. If he told a lie…she would know. He was doomed. So he kept silent.
She ran her hand slowly, speculatively down his back until she got to the crack of his ass. He tensed as her finger dug inward, sharp nails causing injury as she pressed into him. He bit his lip so as to not to make a sound but he couldn’t still the trembling.
Suddenly her hand was gone from him and she stepped away. He dare not turn to see why.
“You’ll do”, she said.