Chapter 2 – I Owe Her
Submerged in the brown murky water, Ayira heard her own heart beating, as well as sounds of screams muffled by the rushing water. She floated back to the surface and gasped for air. Almost incoherent, she drifted in and out of consciousness. She closed her eyes and floated down the river on her back. She heard people yelling, but when she slowly opened her eyes, she saw two white clouds in the sky above her that seemed to calm her as she stared at them. Soon, the clouds moved out of her sight, and her eyes became heavy. She closed them again.
Later, Ayira opened her tired eyes and then realized that she was being carried by her arms and legs past thick bushes and huge trees in the thick forest. Hearing whispers all around her, she peeked through her heavy eyelids. Only faint shadows surrounding her. Ayira closed her eyes again and the whispers disappeared. She heard only heard her slow short breaths as she quickly passed out.
In Africa, fifteen-years before, seven-year-old Ayira lay motionless on a mat covered with blankets. Her head was wrapped in cloths; spots of blood seeped through the material, her face, arms, and legs were bruised. Her mother sat next to her, crying and rocking back and forth. Ayira’s brother, sisters, and a few villagers stood at the room’s entrance. They looked sad and worried. Ayira’s father pushed through the crowd carrying pouches and a variety of plants.
“Get out of the way – get out of the way. I found more plants that will help her,” said Ayira’s father.
He knelt next to young Ayira as he mixed a variety of ingredients in a small clay bowl. Her mother stood up and paced back and forth, still crying.
“It is not working. She is going to die,” she said.
Ayira’s father angrily said, “She is not going to die – I just found the root she needs. She will get better – I cannot lose her.”
Ayira’s mother yelled, “You will lose her if you do not let them get the doctor!”
Her father stood up and yelled back, “Stop yelling, or you will stand outside with everyone else.”
Her mother calmed down and replied sternly, “Let them find the doctor... They say he has cured many
– please, let them find the doctor.”
Ayira’s father looked enraged and walked toward her mother.
“And I have cured many... No – I will cure my daughter – no one else. I cure the people here, not outsiders... No.”
Ayira’s mother walked over to her eldest son, who looked scared and confused, and said, “Go find the doctor.”
Her son hesitated to move; he stared at his father, who still looked enraged, so she yelled, “Go find him now!”
Ayira’s father hastened to her, grabbed her hair, and pulled her to him. He whispered, “You do not want to defy me. You know what happens to the ones who defy me…”
The woman struggled to look at her son and yelled, “Go find the doctor!”
Her son sprinted out of the hut. Ayira’s father pushed her mother to the ground.
The next day, Ayira’s mother, along with the rest of her children, heard excited yelling outside the hut.
She quickly rose, staring at the door, as her daughter Enu ran to the door and stuck her head out to look. “Enu, what is it?” asked her mother.
“Biooko is back.”
“Did he find the doctor?”
Enu eagerly looked around and replied, “Yes – the doctor is here.”
Her mother closed her hands tightly, looking relieved. The rest of the children hugged each other excitedly. When the doctor entered, Malaika realized it was the young white man they saw in the desert a year earlier. She was so stunned that she hid behind Enu.
”Hello – I hear you have a sick child,” said the doctor in their language. He walked over to young Ayira and knelt next to her.
“I heard she was attacked by a woman,” said the doctor. He removed the bloody clothes from young Ayira’s forehead and stared curiously at her.
“Yes... she picked up Ayira by her feet,” said her mother. As she sobbed, she continued, “And hit her against a tree... Can you help her?”
The doctor, saddened and started to look around the hut. Ayira’s father walked in and then slowly moved to the side, where he could watch the doctor.
When the doctor noticed Malaika hiding behind Enu, Enu looked behind her and pushed Malaika out from hiding. He stared at Malaika, surprised, and then started smiling.
“I knew I recognized her,” said the doctor, pointing at Ayira. Malaika nervously shook her head; their mother appeared confused. “You know my daughters?” asked Ayira’s father.
“Yes – yes I do. They saved me in the desert last year. If not for them, I would have died.”
Malaika hesitantly stared at her father; he sternly stared back. Malaika quickly looked down, scared.
The doctor continued, “A group of men from a nearby village kidnapped me and left me to die in the desert. I owe her... The least I can do is save her.” He opened his bag and then started to examine young Ayira.
Her father glared at her mother and said, “If he kills her – it will be on you.”
The doctor appeared uncomfortable as he looked at the father and said, “I know you are the local medicine man – I have heard about you in many villages. There are some things you do not have, like new medicines and instruments that I can use to save her.”
Ayira’s father stared at the doctor emotionlessly as the doctor continued, “Can I get more water – please. I have to clean her wound and then close it.”
Their father returned his gaze to Malaika and, enraged, said, “Enu, go get water. Malaika has done enough...”
He walked out of the hut. The doctor peeked at Malaika, who looked scared, and then he sadly continued working on Ayira. The next day, he was exhausted; he had been caring for young Ayira for many hours into the night. As she lay motionless, her mother entered the hut with food. She handed it to the doctor.
“Is she going to be well again?” she asked.
“Right now she is in a deep sleep, but I think she will be cured after a lot of rest and if you give her the medicines that I gave you.”
Ayira’s mother smiled and said, “Thank you doctor – thank you.” The doctor sadly stared at Ayira and said, “I owe her...”
In the pitch-blackness, voices and tapping sounds could be heard from afar. The voices were chanting, and the chanting grew louder and louder. Ayira suddenly opened her eyes wide with fright and gasped for air. She sat up and looked around, confused. She noticed a blazing fire in the middle of the teepee and odd drawings on the walls, and also that she was wearing a brown animal-skin dress with fringes at the ends. She started to panic and shook uncontrollably. An old woman with long grey hair, brownish, tanned skin; wearing brown moccasins, and a light brown animal-skin skirt and top appeared in the doorway. She entered and looked surprised as she stared at Ayira. Ayira, startled, crawled backward away from the
woman until she bumped into the wall behind her.
The Indian woman screamed in her language, “She is awake – the slave woman is awake!”
Suddenly, a crowd formed at the entrance to the teepee. Ayira was terrified, and she started to cry. An old man pushed through the crowd and entered the teepee. Great Eagle, the village’s medicine man, was a short husky man with long gray hair and wore many feathers and beads around his neck and in his hair. Ayira stopped crying and stared at the old man with awe. The closer he came, the more nervous she felt. She held her right arm in front of her to prevent him from getting closer.
He stopped walking and yelled to one of the women at the door, “Go get the other slave woman!” Ayira looked confused and scared as he continued, “Please – I will not hurt you.”
She started whimpering just as Imani hurried into the teepee. She walked toward Ayira and said, “I did not think you would live.”
Ayira was surprised and relieved.
“There is nothing to be afraid of here. They are our friends,” said Imani.
Ayira glanced at the crowd watching from the entrance, and then looked down, confused. Imani turned to Great Eagle. “Please – let me speak to her alone.”
Ayira, stunned, looked up and stared at Imani. The old man nodded and motioned to everyone at the entrance to leave.
When they had left, Imani asked, “Ayira, what is wrong?” “Where are we?” asked Ayira.
“We are in a different land. They call it the New Land.”
Ayira started to cry and said, “Then – it was true,” she paused, trying to control her tears, and then continued, “It was true of what we went through?”
“I thought it was all a dream...”
Imani looked down, disappointed. Ayira started to cry again, then slowly hugged her legs to her chest, where she laid her head on top of her knees.
Imani stroked Ayira’s hair and said, “We are safe here – these people helped us... They helped us get away from the white men that bought us. They attacked our boats as we were traveling up the river and Tapiwa put you into the water, but I could not swim to you and so you floated down the river. Some of the Indian men found you down the river and saved you. They brought us back to their village... They saved us.”
Ayira lifted up her head. Tears in her eyes, she said, “I want to go back.”
“I want to go back too,” Imani now started to tear as well. She continued, “But we are far from our land.”
Suddenly angry, Ayira said, “Leave me alone.” “Please meet these nice people.”
She tried to stroke Ayira’s hair again, but the young woman pulled away and said, “Leave me alone.”
Surprised, Imani slowly nodded. She stood up, disappointed, and walked out of the teepee. Ayira stared at the ground with tears in her eyes. A few moments later, she crawled back to her blanket and lay down again, but turned over onto her side to stare into the fire. Only the crackling sound of the fire could be heard as she cried.
Later that night, Imani, Zuberi, and Tapiwa entered the teepee as Ayira slept. Imani softly shook the girl’s shoulder to wake her. Ayira, surprised, raised herself up to lean on her elbows.
“Hello... Imani told us that your fever broke and you had awakened,” said Zuberi.
“So you are well?” asked Tapiwa.
Ayira sat up, her eyes were swollen and red. She stared at Tapiwa and then sadly looked down. “We were worried about you,” said Zuberi.
Imani quickly glanced at Zuberi, disgusted. Ayira looked up in surprise, but then looked down again. “He is Zuberi and he is Tapiwa,” said Imani as she pointed at the men.
“We did not think you were going to live,” said Zuberi. “The Indians cured you,” said Imani.
“The Indians?” asked Ayira.
“Yes – they are the natives of this land; they cured you.”
Ayira replied furiously, “They saved us... They saved us.” Imani slowly nodded yes and Ayira continued, “Saved us from what? We are not in our land. We are not back with our tribes.”
Tears began streaming down Ayira’s cheeks as she began punching the ground with her right fist. “We can find a way to go back to our land,” said Tapiwa.
They all stared at Tapiwa in disgust.
“Ayira, we have known each other since the port. Do you trust me,” asked Imani. Ayira hesitated before slowly nodding her head.
“These people have taken us in and accepted us into their tribe. If you trust me, trust me and believe when I say we can trust them.”
Sobbing, Ayira said, “I don’t care about them – I want to go back.”
She paused, trying to hold back her tears, and then continued, “I – Please.”
Ayira started to cry again. As Imani looked down, her tears started to fall as well. She glanced toward the men and said, “I don’t know what else to say. Let her rest.”
The next day, a young native girl entered the teepee carrying food. She smiled at Ayira, but then set the food on the ground next to Ayira and quickly left when she looked away.
After staring at the food for a moment, Ayira picked up the bowl and sniffed its contents. She scooped a small portion into her hand and slowly tasted it, and then she quickly scooped up more and ate it all.
She studied the teepee’s interior, then crawled over to the edge where she touched the various drawings painted on the walls. She thought to herself, and then looked down, confused. The sounds of children screaming and laughing outside caught her attention, and she stood up and paced restlessly back and forth. When she anxiously walked to the entrance to peek out, she saw the Indian women and their daughters cooking, sewing, cleaning, and preparing animal skins. In the distance, she noticed boys chasing a hare and trying to shoot it with their bows and arrows.
Ayira glanced down again, confused once more, and then quickly stepped out of the teepee. She looked around, puzzled, then limped slowly toward the edge of the village, which was hidden in an open field surrounded by a forest. The children pointed at Ayira’s ankles and wrists, still scarred from the shackles she wore on the ship. The children also noticed four long scars on her right thigh, as well as multiple whip scars on her back. Some wounds had healed, but some were still fresh.
As she made her way through the village, Ayira looked straight ahead, trying not to pay attention to the women, children, and elders staring at her. Great Eagle stood in front of his teepee and curiously watched Ayira. When one of the children pulled Imani out of her teepee, she stared at Ayira in surprise and then, smiling, called out to her; however, Ayira ignored her. She just continued walking as if she were being summoned. When she finally reached the edge of the village, she stopped. The villagers whispered to each other and looked worried.
Ayira stood in the same spot for a long time, gazing in a frozen, trancelike state at the forest that surrounded the village. The villagers continued to watch her as they whispered about her to each other.
She suddenly looked startled and quickly turned around. She limped back to her teepee ignoring everyone she passed. Imani, concerned, tried to get Ayira’s attention, but Ayira continued to ignore her. Imani looked down, even more, concerned, as Ayira quickly went back into her teepee.