When his eyes finally cracked open, the first thing his brain registered was pain.
A whole lot of it.
Next, it registered light, or rather, the absence of it. The room was pitch black. With no idea how long he had been unconscious, Koby could not tell if it was night, or the room was just shut tight.
There was a creak, and with it, a sliver of light, stretching from a- door!
Someone was coming inside. Koby closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. Whoever it was had a light tread, he almost couldn’t hear whoever it was approach.
The person dropped the load he or she was carrying. There was a short striking sound, loud in the silence that reigned supreme- an accompanying flare, and light flooded the room.
Then the sound of cloth being squeezed damp- and the person leaned over him to clean his sweaty brow. He caught a whiff of a familiar scent…
“Ifá, I know I haven’t been the best worshipper. But if you bring him back to me, I promise to kill a white cock in your name. I swear it.”*
*Ifá is one of the dieties worshipped by practitioners of the Yoruba religious belief system.
His eyes flew open. She saw this, gasped and almost dropped the lantern clutched in her right hand, at the last moment, she regained control and calmed down.
“Koby, you’re- you’re back!”
“Will take more than fight to kill me. I make you promise, no?”
“Yes. Yes you did. Oh Koby!”
“Shhhh. Where am I?”
“In clinic. Mr. Stone has a new fighter now. Bigger than you. Stronger. He abandoned you here to either live or die.”
“True. But I’m afraid. What if he finds out and makes you go back to the fighting?”
A tear pooled at the end of an eyelash, hung suspended for a while, then fell to splash against his bare chest. In a voice so small, one who is an arm’s length away would not hear without straining, she added
“I like you. I cannot lose you.”
Both hands clasped together in supplication, eyes bright with unshed tears, she looked at him. Really looked at him.
And he lifted his hand to cover hers. His gaze met hers, steady and unwavering.
Her breath turned ragged, like she was having difficulty breathing- and Koby’s breath caught.
A thought passed between them, wordless, yet crystal clear.
Her eyes were burning with desire, her bosom heaved with every breath.
With his palm still covering her hands, he pulled her down.
She came willingly.
As she came to him, she knocked over the lamp, and it was overturned. The flame flickered and died.
That night, Koby knew Ewatomi, fully and after the manner of men.
That morning, the lovers woke up, limbs entwined, breathing in unison. The soft rays of dawn caressed their bare skin.
Ewatomi looked down at Koby, and smiled a shy, satisfied smile.
“Thank you.” With a finger she liked his chest playfully. Then his armpit. He laughed. Encouraged, she continued tickling him till laughter filled the clinic and he joined in, returning the tickles with interest. Finally, they tired, and were once again calm, content to have each other, sharing this one stolen moment.
“Again this night?” Ewatomi asked, tentative.
“Yes. I will wait here for you.”
And with this promise, after a sweet but brief embrace, Ewatomi slipped out of the clinic before her absence was noticed.
That evening, Koby felt strong enough to stand and walk around a bit, so this he did, strolling even though he did this with a slight limp. His leg still hurt.
He made his way to the Cook’s corner for a ladle of soup, a chunk of bread, and a fistful of berries. Finding a clean spot close to the clinic, he sat down and had his dinner.
As he ate, he contemplated the clinic- it wasn’t a clinic persay, just a ramshackle abandoned building. So much for Mr Stone.
As he polished off the last few berries, he made to get up but saw Ewatomi coming towards him. He had not forgotten their meeting of course, and his face cracked into a huge grin.
Ewatomi saw him too, and her heart was filled with happiness. No, that’s too small a word. More like unbridled, unfettered joy.
Caught up with each other, she put up a display. An extra sway with her hips, nimble dainty steps as she carried the water pot on her head. When she got to the huge water drum, she poured the water and managed to spill some of it on her dress. The result was that it clung to her skin, revealing curves and contours otherwise hidden.
Dropping the pot aside, she gave a flirty wink, drawing up the dress to display even more.
Koby swallowed with difficulty.
She laughed, covering her mouth with her hands as she did so, a hearty, throaty laugh.
Consider this happiness dear reader, the joy of a woman who teases her man. A man whom she also desires, deeply. Consider how she puts everything she could use to seduce him on display, showing off nature’s bounty with careless abandon.
How enticing it is, how it draws a man.
Particularly the other man, who had been watching from the door of the wagon, and did not see the man she was displaying for, and frankly did not care.
We’re they not, after all, his property by law?
The wagon door swung open.
“You! Girl!! Come here!!!”
The effect was instantly sobering, like a bucket of ice cold water thrown in the face of a drunkard.
She looked around, desperate to see someone else, anyone else being called. But the other slaves hurried to and fro, and she was, despite being surrounded, alone.
“Come. Here.” The tone had turned threatening. She complied, out of fear, with wooden steps she closed the distance to the wagon.
Koby watched, a silent but impotent fury burning in him. He knew well the consequences of irrational action, so he kept his seat and gnashed his teeth.
Now Ewatomi was in front of the wagon, timid as a mouse. But Mr Stone was not to be deterred.
“Sir? You called me?”
Rather than respond, he grabbed her and pulled her roughly into the wagon, slamming the door.
Inside the wagon, she screamed, helpless, prey to a predatory appetite. Mr Stone pushed her to a rough pallet on the wagon floor.
Heedless to her sobbing and pleading, indeed spurned on by it, he grabbed her cloth and forced it up to her waist. The fabric ripped and tore. He did not care. With a brutal thrust, he forced his way into her. She screamed.
He kept plunging into her, as she squirmed and struggled and prayed to her native gods that he would soon end.
Finally, he was done with her, his seed spilled between her legs. He got up, and wore his shorts. The wagon door swung open again, and he kicked her to the ground.
It swung shut behind her. Struck with grief, she lay on the ground crying, shedding bitter tears and cursing the world for being so unfair. She beat her fist against the ground, a woman deprived of her dignity.
Someone was standing in front of her. Whoever it was, wrapped a blanket around her. She melted into an embrace gratefully, at least there was some good in this wicked world, no matter how little.
Koby’s voice rang in her ear, soft and reassuring;
“No matter what happens, you will always be beautiful to me.”
He took her to the stream, to wash off the dust and clean the injuries, to wash off the hated seed from between her thighs.
That night they shared a bed, but nothing happened.
The following morning, while the early cock had just begun to crow, as Mr Stone snored, there was a knock on the wagon door. It swung open, his henchmen looking out at the knocked with enough menace to choke even the bravest speech.
Koby, cap in hand was undaunted.
“I wish to speak to master.”
“The silent negro! He talks!”
“The monkey speaks English. Unbelievable!”
“Who taught him? How? Where? When?”
All this noise woke Mr Stone from his sleep, and he inquired to know the cause of the racket. His men cleared to show the negro who had come calling at such an unholy hour.
“Koby. You can talk.”
“Yes sir. I pick up the language.”
“Not quite well, but that is to be understood. What brings you here?”
“I have something to ask. You want money sir? Plenty of money?”
At this the cabin went silent. Speaking of money there was like invoking the name of God when amongst bishops. A reverent hush fell on them. Koby seized his opportunity to further his case.
“Sir, if you do a match, one man. He fight as many men as are willing to fight him, to the death. A fight for love. To ensure freedom for him and another. A woman. People will pay anything to watch it. Any amount.”
Mr Stone’s eyes shone with greed. He was already counting the pounds in his mind. Then he asked
“Which man? I don’t have anyone to pin that on.”
“You have sir. Me.”