Do You Remember?

Submitted into Contest #39 in response to: One day, the sun rose in the west and set in the east.... view prompt

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Dear Friend,

I know you don't know who this is. But I know you. You would know me if you saw me. But that's not why I'm writing you, to keep you guessing. I really wanted to ask you some questions.

Do you remember waking up one morning to blessed warm light kissing your face through a small porthole window? I know you could never forget. This was strange. The sun never shined through that window as long as you were sailing North. Which you were. The light danced across the room, glittering on the sea water puddling the floor. Do you remember getting out of bed? Your hard, lumpy, sack-bed? Do you remember squinting through the porthole over the endless ocean? You do. You splashed the warm, puddled water on your dirt-smeared face, a face streaked from dripping tears.

Do you remember the night before, crying helplessly in "bed", tugging powerlessly at your visible and invisible chains? Do you remember feeling hopeless? Wanting to die? Wishing a storm would come and sweep that godforsaken boat off the earth? You do. But that morning, the sunlight brightening your fearful face, you knew that boat wasn't actually godforsaken. You recognized the sprout of hope growing in your heart. Hope that had not been there in months.

Do you remember sitting huddled, still chained, against the sun-warmed wall? Do remember hearing footsteps? Heavy boots clomping down the ladder into the hold? Remember the jingling in the door? You do. The pleasant sound of rescue: keys unlocking a forbidden door. The white-faced man walked in, beaming at you, giving you more than a stale crumb of bread, the usual. Giving you hot stew and fresh bread and an apple. He left only to be replaced by another, leading your brothers and sisters. They sat next to you in the sun, still in chains, but eating a belly-filling meal. You remember just yesterday when the white-faced men were making fun of your black skin. You turned to your brother and said, "A ni ireti." We have hope.

Do remember being unchained and led up on deck? Do you remember the fresh smell of clean ocean air? Instead of the rotten, dirty smell of dozens of filthy bodies, shoved in small quarters? I know you do. You remember the sun slanting to the east across the deck. This was odd. The sun always came from the east in Africa. Maybe the white man's world was different. You turned your face up to the sun, letting it wash you in warmth, like your father's embrace. Your little brother called to you from the bow of the ship. "Wo awon eja!" Look at the dolphins. He pointed into the waves. A dolphin jumped out of the ocean, splashing you and your brother with salty spray. Your brother laughed. That was the first time you heard him laugh in a long time.

Do you remember a white woman leading you through a door in the stern? Do you remember she brought you into a room with a big feather-bed and a thick wool carpet? Remember her changing your raggy clothes and combing your hair? Remember her spraying you with sweet perfume? You do. She was talking to you the whole time. You didn't understand a word. You tried to tell her you don't understand. "Koyemi."... She didn't understand you. You had never seen her before. You didn't know white men had white women. The sunshine was glistening off your freshly combed hair and sparkled in the glass mirror.

Do you remember seeing green jutting out of the endless blue of the ocean? Do you remember how big it looked? Remember that other ship you passed? The one with your kind of people being beaten by white men? You do. "Ti mo ba ni okun nigbagbogbo..." you told your older brother, "... Emi yoo na eniyan funfun yen." If I ever hold a whip, I will whip that white man. Your brother put a hand on your shoulder. "A gbodo fi inu rere han." We must show kindness. You stared at your brother. "Paapa ti won ba toju wa bi eyi?" Even if they treat us like this? The sun glistened off his faint smile. "Beeni." Yes.

Do you remember the excitement of the crew when the ship pulled closer to land? Do you remember wishing you could talk to them? Wishing you knew why they were helping you? Do you remember all the ropes they uncoiled? The sails they ravelled up? You do. You watched in amazement as dirty, red sailors hauled up enormous, heavy sails. The man, who was always dressed in a blue coat and black, feathered hat, was shouting unintelligible orders and waving his hands frantically, a huge smile on his beet-red face.

Do you remember hearing shouts and hubbub? Do you remember all the white faces crowding the wharf? Remember the ship jolting as it hit the dock? Yes, you do. You were knocked off your feet. A large gate was swung open at the bow and a long wooden plank clattered against the dock. The man in the blue coat lined you and your brothers and sisters up against the rail of the ship, while a burly man hung a sign around each of your necks. You looked at the sign confusedly. There were white symbols scribbled across the front, but you couldn't read it. The blue-coat-man marched you all down the plank and onto the bustling wharf. You looked around at the big houses and horses and people. People smiling and shouting. Smelly people, sweaty people, big people little people. All white-faced people. You started to feel nervous, but the sunshine, heating your dark head, reminded you of the hope you had felt earlier. But you were in the white man's land.

Do you remember the blue-coat-man, saying something incomprehensible to you? And when you didn't answer, do you remember him waving you onto a wooden platform? Remember him lining you and your family along that platform to face the busy crowd? You do. You stood in front of them, hundreds of white men, shouting and shaking small, clanking pouches in the blue-coat-man's face. Blue-coat-man tapped the sign around your neck, yelling at the crowd. You looked down, afraid of what he might do to you. On the platform, you saw your shadow, the sun from the west fringing your figure. "A ni ireti, arabinrin kekere." We have hope, little sister. Your older brother grabbed your hand. As you looked back down at your shadow, you seemed to hear the sun say, "A ni ireti, arabinrin kekere."

Do you remember the blue-coat-man lifting your chin? Do you remember seeing a man stepping onto the platform? Remember him looking at you with sympathetic eyes? Remember the jingling pouch he dropped into blue-coat-man's palm? I know you do. You were led off the platform, your shadow walking with you. You remember your brother shouting, "Ma binu! Mo nife arabinrin re!" I'm sorry! I love you sister! You were being led away from him. A single tear rolled down your cheek. The man leading you sit you in a rotting wagon, gave you food, and flicked the mule. You started as the wagon pulled away from the wharf, from the shouting and the people. From your family. The sun was slowly shifting to the east, following you.

Do you remember bumping down a dirt road in the wagon? Pulling out of the woods into a clearing? Do you remember the people? Yes, you do. They were dark-skinned, like you. The wagon driver, the sympathetic man from the platform, handed you a bundle and lifted you out of the wagon. The people all crowded around you, running out of huts to meet you, speaking in your language. "Kaabo." Welcome. "Ki 'ni oruko re?" What is your name? They led you to a hut and sat your bundle on a feather bed. "Eyi ni ile re ni bayi." This is your home now. A motherly, dark-skinned woman sat you on a log by the fire and handed you warm, swirling soup. The wagon driver sat across from you, eating his own bowl of soup. A white man and black people were friends? He seemed kind, though. After all, he had brought you to this place. You smiled. The sun was slipping over the horizon, fiery red, reaching out its golden fingers to embrace you. You thought you heard it saying, "O ti wa ni ile." You are home. The sun disappeared in the east. "O ti wa ni ile."

You might be wondering, How do I know all of this? or, Who are you? Well, I am the man. The man who gave you hope, the man who bought your freedom, the man who set you free. You remember me now. Yes. You remember me from that day, that blessed day, when the sun rose in the west and set in the east.

April 29, 2020 23:36

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1 comment

Sabrina Alvarez
21:31 May 06, 2020

This reminded me of a fictional historical book I was reading. I mean that in the best way possible :). I really enjoyed seeing how that situation could be perceived on both sides.


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