I hear a crack but am too numb to feel the sting of the whip. “UP, YE LAZY GOOD FOR NOTHING RUNT! DID I SAY YOU COULD REST?”
Isaac growls and lunges out to grab the whip from him, but his hands are bound too tight and he can’t reach him.
“Don’t you touch her, you piece of shit.” he warns.
“Alice, get up” he pleads.
One more lash.
“Alice, look at me. We’ll get through this. But I need you to get up.”
I meet his eyes, so strong and full of determination.
“Please. For Tom.”
I rise painfully.
“Don’t you slow my bloody wagon again.” he warns, and makes his way back to the front.
“I’m sorry Isaac. We shouldn’t both be here.”
“Don’t you ever feel guilty. It’s not you whipping me, or chaining me. It’s him. It’s them. I only thank you for getting through this with me. Together.”
“Together”, I echo.
Finally, night falls. The wagons stops completely in front of a small inn. There are lights inside, and I hear music. Laughter. I long to be in there, one of the white people. Not for their skin, but for their freedom that I now know I can never have.
Harold ties up the horses to a post nearby, and makes sure the crate the slaves are in is locked.
“You aren’t going to let them out? They can’t sleep cramped up like that,” I complain
I regret protesting immediately. I know how low this man can sink already.
He laughs and enters the inn without a second glance.
Isaac looks at me curiously. “We should get some sleep.”
I lie as comfortably as I can on the dirt. It’s where I belong, isn’t it?
My ankles are sore from the chains, and the flesh is exposed in some places. It stings when I move. I hold my tears back. I’m not going to cry, not in front of Isaac. Or anyone.
I hear the men singing from the inn, and it’s a song I’ve heard before. At my old plantation, the men used to get drunk and sing it long into the night. Then, they’d be grouchy and tired the next morning and take it out on us with a whip and harsh words.
I find it hard to sleep right now. I’m sore and thirsty. I decide to sing a song myself to help pass the time. My mother taught it to me.
“Lift every voice and sing” I whisper softly, “till earth and heaven ring. Ring with the harmonies of Liberty, let our rejoicing rise, high as the list’ning skies”.
Isaac cocks his head like a dog, curious as to what I’m doing.
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,” I sing
The slaves in the crate stir, and they look at us through the wooden planks.
A woman, about 30, joins me.
“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won” she hums, a little louder.
Another man from the crate continues the next verse proudly.
“You really are something.” He smiles at me. It’s a familiar tune among our people.
It must be quite a sight, I think, a few slaves outside an inn, singing dangerously loud but making promises of freedom.
Like whispers in the night.
Our voices get more powerful then, the group of us continuing the hymn.
“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast’ning rod,” we sing, louder and louder.
The wind picks up, and the trees rustle nearby. I feel the wind dancing across my face. It is fresh and warm. Comforting. It carries my voice throughout the surrounding forest, and I hear the faint tunes of birds. They seem to understand us, as their own whistling is powerful but sad.
Two voices; clashing in the night. The white men in their inn, and us, the slaves that work for them at their feet.
It’s a dangerous song to sing. A song of freedom, while we lie in chains at the mercy of those who keep us in them. But somehow the spirit around me is overwhelming, and I only sing louder.
Most of the slaves have joined in by now, and, we chant “Shadowed beneath Thy hand May we forever stand, true to--”
The inn door bursts open, and out comes a drunk Harold with bloodshot eyes and puffy cheeks.
“Shut the hell up, will ye?” he grumbles, “you damn niggers and your pride. You just don’t see that God has no respect for slaves”
“We’ll see who God respects when you’re in hell!” yells Isaac.
I look up in surprise. Quiet, brooding Isaac?
The slaves in the crate jeer at Harold, until he pulls out his whip and it cracks, almost as if he is splitting the crisp night air into two. A silence descends upon us immediately. Even the birds stop.
Harold walks toward us with contained fury. He looks down at Isaac, and spits on his face.
“You’re going to regret that, you bastard.”
What happens next is a blur. Isaac punches Harold in the face, and hard. He grabs at his coat but the chains restrain him from lunging further. Harold retaliates by kicking Isaac hard to the ground. He keeps going, yelling obscene things, while Isaac only lies there in pain. Harold keeps kicking him, taking out every misery in his life out on a chained man who can’t even protest. Isaac’s face is bloody, and his nose might be broken.
It’s like how it was back at my plantation. I watched a man beaten to death. I can’t let that happen again. I was too late once; I won’t be again.
“Stop it! You’ll kill him!” I cry, tears rolling down my face.
“So be it” he sneers drunkenly, and continues.
More kicks. I cringe at every thud, but I cannot stop him. The chains physically restrain me. I can use only words.
“Yeah? How’s your boss gonna feel about getting a bruised and bloody slave? How will you sell him then?”
Harold ignores me.
“Well, it’s your loss. $600 bucks spent on a dead slave seems like a pretty bad deal to me”
Harold stops for a moment, considering my words.
I thought so.
“I hear one more sound, out of ANY of you, and this whip will be your new best friend.” He makes his way back to the inn and slams the door.
“Why did you do that? Why?” I cry, unable to reach him to help.
“He deserved it.”
“So? People deserve a lot of things. If it was up to us, he’d be the one in chains and we’d be getting fixed in there. Life ISN’T FAIR. The sooner you get it into your head, the greater our chances of getting to Canada alive...”
“You still think we’re getting to Canada?” he hisses
I realize I am being harsh and drop the subject. He was only defending us.
“How will you walk tomorrow in this condition?” I ask
"Idiot" I add as an afterthought.
He is silent for a moment. ” I’m sorry Lis, but some people need a taste of their own medicine.”
“You aren’t the doctor to give it to him.”
The song the slaves sung is called “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Johnson. Some people call it the Negro National Anthem. It was written way AFTER the Civil War, and after Alice’s time, but I thought it was beautiful and really represented them. I posted the youtube link on the side if you guys wanna hear it.
IDK GUYS. Not much plot progression here, but I just really imagined this beautiful little scene with them all huddling together and singing this song of freedom. I just want you to remember it’s not all suffering. There’s light in the darkest times of history, and I hope I got that across to you too. :)