• João Antônio Gomes

The Posthumous Story of a Slave-to-Be

I turned around to glance at my home one final time. The trees, the sand, and the birds felt unusually static as if they attempted to disguise their sorrow in our farewell. I, however, could not hide mine, and tears rolled down my face, disappearing in the ocean beneath me. My captors threw me onto a dinghy, where two other shackled men laid, to take us to one of their larger ships. One was a Yoruba; the other was from the Bakongo tribe, but the man guiding the boat, who spoke a strange language and wore too many clothes for that hot evening, did not seem to care, much less worry about the blatant difference between us. Admittedly, at that moment, we were all very alike: none of us made a single sound; we shared the ocean's rocking, and we stared into the yellow lanterns of the boat we were moving towards for no particular reason (or so I thought). Once we arrived at its deck, which was filled to the brim with captives, we did not meet with the cacophony often seen in kidnapping but with the prevalence of this catatonic state. Even the children did not dare to whimper. The stillness in the air was broken by the incomprehensible and imperative shouting of a man on the quarterdeck. His pale face, burnt by the sun into a red color, was contrasted by his blue eyes, and I thought: “I am his antithesis -- dark in eyes and skin -- and yet we are both men.” Once he gave his orders, we were pushed into the ship’s tight cargo hold, which was as unlit and hot. Despite being crammed between the few ones I knew, I laid down against the ship’s hard hull and fell asleep with the sound of the waves hitting the bow.

I awakened with an aching body and mind. I no longer grieved my departure, nor did I long for my homeland: the night had come, and I was consumed by wrath. We, brothers, sisters, and enemies had been dominated, and our fate of subjugation was about to be perpetuated. But it could not be. We once were sovereign, and you cannot give a man a taste of freedom only to take it from him later; if you foolishly choose to remove it from him, expect furious anger to come your way. Thus, feeling my own anger, I got on my feet, disoriented by the darkness, and told the others the truth: “Down here, we are one. Not because our skin is black but because all we have is a dream of liberty – our only purpose.” Feeling excited by the growing agitation, I raised my voice so the white men on the deck could hear me: “Free people! Remember this maxim: freedom can be conquered but never regained! And today, we shall rebel against those who attempt against ours! They shall not enslave our souls! And I would rather die than be subdued for the generations to come! So we ought to slit their throats: may that be our final sacrifice!”

Yorubas, Bakongos, and Igbos stood on their feet upon my call. We broke our chains loose and opened the way to the deck , fighting each and every one of our captors with not more than our bare hands. We shed our blood together, and I was one of the few captives standing, surrounded by bodies – black and white – and the smell of gunpowder. With his sword in hand, the blue-eyed man came to me and put me on my knees, and another man of his tied a ball and chain to my foot: they were not losing more of their shipment, and I – a young man – seemed quite valuable to them. As my shackles returned to me, I stared into the ship’s lanterns again and finally realized why: "I am just like that flame, being enclosed by a vessel, only to serve others. But a flame should be its own master to burn whoever and whatever it desires; if not, why does it burn then? It would be better off extinguished, for a life without choice is barely a life. Luckily, I am surrounded by water."

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