by Hyla Etame
by Hyla Etame
When the ship finally docked in America, the traders gave each of us a new name. Some were asked what their name was, and if they answered incorrectly they would be hit with a cane. The traders looked me up and down, as if I was a cow up for auction (I would soon realize how close I was to the truth), then one of them said that my new name was Eddie. I was confused at first to why it was necessary to change our names; later when I would ask this of my friend Noah, on the Davis plantation, he would say, “It’s just another way for them to control us, to show how they own us.”
My first friend on the plantation was Noah. He showed me the ropes of how to survive slavery, so that you aren’t on the master’s kill list or on his favorite list.
“I was born on this plantation, so was my father,” Noah explained, “But my momma was born in Africa.”
“Where are your parents?” I asked him while I chopped a block of wood for the project the master set us working on.
Noah’s face turned gloomy, and I regretted asking. He then said, “Momma was sold to another plantation. I don’t even know how old I was. And my father was killed because they suspected him of trying to run away.”
“I’m sorry. I know how it feels to know that you’re never going to see your family again,” I replied, thinking of my family back in Africa.
Noah just nodded. He then turned around and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was in earshot and whispered, “What was it like in Africa?”
I sensed that if the master or the overseer caught us talking about this subject we’d get in trouble, so I whispered back, “Beautiful. Our village was by the Niger River, and we fished a lot. Then some nights we’d listen to the griots--storytellers--explain the history of our people and tell us legends. My best friend was Ekene; his goal was to become the best hunter in our whole village. My little brother, Emeka, was very good at herding the goats, he never let any of his flock get lost,” I paused, the memory of the terrified look on my brother's face flashing before my eyes, but I continued: “I don’t know what happened to him. I never saw him again after we were captured and placed onto that ship.”
We continued working on our project and with our conversation. Noah said that I put too much blame on myself about what happened to Emeka, my beloved younger brother, and I told him that I couldn’t help it. That I shouldn’t have let my desire for hunting make me ignore the villager’s warnings of people being abducted, and that I should have fought harder for my freedom as well as my brother’s.
I shared a cabin with 10 other people. Getting sleep was hard at first; the master didn’t provide any of us with proper furniture. The cabin had a dirt floor, and our “beds” were pieces of straw and old rags, with only one blanket to keep us warm. The youngest person in the cabin was Abraham; he was about eight years old. He had a hard time falling asleep too, so I would tell him stories of growing up in Africa and my childhood. I could tell by looking in his eyes that he was fascinated by my stories; the only environment he has ever known is Davis plantation. After a few of my tales, Abraham would fall into a deep slumber. I would fall asleep a few minutes after he did, but I always tossed and turned throughout the night. Abraham once asked me why I was such a restless sleeper, I simply replied, “Nightmares.” I could tell he was confused by my answer, wondering how a grown man could have nightmares.
I still suffer from the guilt of not knowing what happened to my brother. I can only face what my actions have led for my life: A life of a man weighed down by shackles; a life of a man being haunted by his everlasting memories.