by LJ2007
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My name is Mary-Alice, and I am not a slave. Not anymore.I was a slave. My mother would moan that she brought me to a harsh life, a life of struggles. I asked, once, whether she wished I had never been born at all. She kissed my head and said ‘Never’. So I have figured that it is better to be alive and a slave than never to have been born, bad to be a slave, and best to be born free. Second-best is to become free. That is what we are doing now, my mother and my brother and me. When we were informed that I was to start working in the field, my mother started to cry. She told me she had seen the work bring grown men to their knees, and that she would not let me suffer in that way. That same night, we packed up our things (we had only one change of clothes and a parcel of food) and left. Mother is smart. She hid our things under an oversized gown, then carried my brother Henry and I to one of the overseers. She claimed that we were ill, feverish. She asked permission to take us to the plantation mistress for treatment. The overseers kept his distance and allowed us to cross the long field to the main house. I could feel him watching us the whole way there. The house cast a large shadow, and when we got close to the slave’s entrance, Mother told me to stay close to the wall. We edged around the side of the house. No one came out and saw us, though I was holding my breath the whole time. Finally, we were at the front of the house. Nothing stood in our way to freedom except fear. That, too, we had to put aside. We started running. Every step took us closer to freedom, every stride took us a stride farther from that awful place. Every pace, I felt lighter and lighter till I thought I would be able to race a cougar and win. On the plantation, slaves were kept so busy, there seemed hardly a spare moment to breathe. I was small and thin, so the plantation owner thought me weak. In reality, I was as strong as any boy who did the weeding, but it would have been foolish, suicide to make that known. In the morning, when it was still dark enough to rob you entirely of your sight, slaves would rise and start the day. A meager breakfast would be cooked and eaten. Then, as it grew light enough to see, all of us would assemble outside. The children, including me, would use bare hands to weed the fields. Sometimes I was called on to bring water to the men and women picking the cotton. I filled my bucket to the brim and made sure that those who needed it the most got it. When the bell was rung, signaling our noontime meal, we would halt their work and drop, weary, to the ground. I assisted in bringing out meals. There was scarcely enough food to go around, but we did what we could. After only a few minutes, work would start again, and it would go on until the dark closed in an you needed a lantern to find your own nose. Every day was like this, every day for 13 years. But now all of that is behind me. My days are not filled with weeding or some other form of labor. Instead, I spend the day sleeping. Nights, we run north. It was hard, at first, but now I have grown accustomed to traveling many miles in one night. After about 2 weeks on the move, we got our due luck. The trees of the forest thinned out, and a house was revealed. I stopped, frozen in my tracks. All my life, people in houses brought bad things, pain and toil. The people who had the luxury of houses were the people who didn’t think I was a person. My mother tugged my arm, pulling me forward. She told me it was fine, we were out of harm‘s way. As we walked towards the house, she explained that it was a safe house. She pointed out the lantern on the hitching post, and the ring of white bricks encircling the chimney. She handed me Henry as we stepped onto the porch. My hands were shaking so bad I feared I would drop him. Mother rapped on the door twice. She called, ‘I am a friend of a friend.’ Seconds later, a male voice responded, ‘I am as well.’ The door was opened, showing a short, portly man. He was white. Instinctively, I stepped back, almost tripping off the porch, but Mother caught my arm and steadied me. The man stepped aside, and Mother entered, beckoning for me to follow. The inside of the house was rather small, but tidy. Everything was in its place. A creak on the stairs alerted me to the presence of two little girls. They were staring at me curiously. As soon as they saw me watching them watch me, they scurried upstairs. Later I learned that their names were Lila and Susan, and the man was named Thomas. His wife was Georgina, but I didn’t see her much besides at mealtimes. I don’t think she liked us as much as Thomas or his daughters did. It was so nice there. We had food to eat- and good food, unlike the plantation meals-and water to drink. We were given clothes and a place to sleep. It was our haven. We stayed with Thomas and his family for three days. Now we’re on the move again, traveling north. We travel by night, sleep during the day. Mother and Henry drop off as soon as it turns light, but not me. I’m too busy running when the stars come out, so I make my wishes on the rising sun. I wish for all of us. Mother worked on a plantation for her entire life. I wish for her future days to be filled with relaxation and rest. I wish for Henry to grow and live to be a man who doesn’t remember any life except a free one. As for me…well, I wish to soon be able to make my wishes on stars.

12 December 2009 McGee-zine Staff

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