He made some obscene gestures and chuckled. When the only answer forthcoming was a grunt, he shrugged and continued
“Well you my friend, have made me a rich fella. But then I started thinking. If I could make so much from this here town, imagine how much I could make if our show hit the road! So saddle up blackie, you and I are hitting the road!”
Again, Koby simply grunted.
And that was all till the end of the week. There was some packing to be done of course and a retinue of slaves prepared to wait on Mr Stone hand and foot. Fruits were cut, dried and put in jars, meat and fish were cut into strips and left on hot coal, slowly hardening as they were smoked into perfection.
Clothes were washed. Oh, a lot of clothes were washed. Mr Stone was a showman, and every showman needs his costumes.
Last but not the least, Koby was prepared. When the day for the journey finally arrived, Koby was dragged out, bound hand and foot and thrown into a huge cage with wheels. There was a bowl and a cup on the ground, and a small but clean mattress. There was enough space to stand and even walk a bit and stretch one’s legs. The cage even had it’s top covered so he wasn’t exposed to the mercy of the elements.
All of this, Mr Stone gladly pointed out in a cheery voice, tapping each item as he explained how it was another luxury to show just how much he valued his moneymaker.
Koby grunted. A cage, no matter how beautiful, remained a cage. He wanted to be free. After a few settled scores, of course.
The cage was attached to a wagon, the wagon was loaded, and with a wave and a happy shout of “Be back soon lads!” They were off.
With so many slaves walking together on foot beside the wagons and the cage, the journey was slow.
The cage creaked and was jolted as every bump in the road. After a while, Koby got used to the rhythm; enough to settle down for a nap on the small mattress. Idly, he wondered when his bonds would come off. Not anytime soon, he thought. Best to conserve his strength. Soon he was dozing.
The cart stopped with a big jolt, and Koby woke up. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes with his forearms, and then yawned.
“Good! You’re awake! It’s almost time for feeding! You’re having porridge! Isn’t that wonderful, my good man?”
When Koby only grunted in response, Mr Stone stuck his hands in his pockets and walked away, whistling a tune and tapping his feet to keep the beat.
When evening fell, a slave girl came with a platter of food to give him. He tasted some of it, picked a grape and bit into it, nodded and flicked a thumb at Koby’s cage. The slave came bearing the food. As the she got closer, Koby saw it was Ewatomi.
She passes him the food through a slot at the bottom of the cage. He picked it up and ate. Soon he would be fighting for his life. He needed to keep up his strength. Mr Stone must have thought the same, because there were berries and strips of dried meat and fish in his porridge.
“He likes you, you know. He doesn’t normally give us fish, or meat. Or even taste the food we eat.”
“He… Like what I am to him. Money.”
“You understand far more than you show, Adekogbe.”
“Is not my name. My name be different.”
“What is your name then?”
Koby lifted his manacled hands so she could see them.
“Not while I have this. Never. Till I- off this.”
“Koby. For now.”
A few minutes later, the wagon door creaked open, and a male slave came out with the used dishes. There was another creak, and yet another, and then there was Mr Stone, leaning against the wall of the wagon.
“I reckon I’m feeling frisky right about now. Let me see…”
A hush fell over the camp. Female slaves shuffled faster, their eyes fixed downwards, and feet moving quickly as they moved from place to place.
“Hey! You! That girl!” The girl in question froze like a rabbit in the glare of twin headlamps. Then she raised her head slowly. There was no denying it, she was beautiful; full lips, curly hair, shiny, chocolate skin and a very neat uniform.
She was also young. From the way she looked, Koby guessed she had not seen more than eighteen harmattans.
“Yes you. Git over here and be damn quick with it.”
She walked towards the cart with small mincing steps. Just before she got to the cart, a man howled and lunged for her. Mr Stone got out his gun and fired- the gunshot as loud as thunder in the silence that lay over the clearing. The man who had been shot fell into a heap.
The girl looked at the man and stifled a sob. Mr Stone reaches out and grabbed her arm, dragging her into the wagon and slamming the door shut behind them.
As soon as the door was shut, a few slaves ran forward and lifted the man from the ground. He groaned. He was still alive. Together they rushed him off, into the darkness.
“Why don’t they do it immi- imidi-”
“Mr Stone would just shoot anyone who helped him right then. Best to let him be off before helping.”
A scream rang out from inside the wagon and then crying followed, deep, terrible sobs.
“Mr Stone please.”
“Mr Stone, no.”
“Please, God, anyone, help me!”
The heavens were silent.
Slowly the wagon started to rock from side to side.
Ten minutes later, the wagon door flew open. The slave girl was pushed outside, she stumbled and fell. The wagon door slammed shut after her.
As she lay in the dirt, tears trickling down her face, the slave girl gathered her clothes into a bunch in her fist and bit down on it. A matronly woman stepped forward with a shawl and lifting her to her feet, covered her up with it. But just before the shawl covered everything, Koby saw a bright red stain at the back of her dress. With soft words the woman led the girl away. And the camp once again bustled with activity.
“The man. Who was he?”
“Her father.” Looking in the direction the girl and her guardian had gone, Ewatomi mumbled softly.
“Could have been me again.”
And Koby added one more score to settle…