The sound of the chain at their feet was the only sound heard. It echoed high into the sky and became one with the darkness that still hung like a thick shroud over the morning. Even with the rattling sound the chain made, there was still a stillness that hung in the air- a kind of unnerving calm, as if a kind of unexpected expected event would happen. And it usually does, the sound of the thudding boot of the master, swallowing the stillness of the dawn.
This was the usual occurrence of the mornings- their forced rising before the cock crows, their marching out of the hut where they had been squeezed for what was hardly sleep, their wait at the centre of the square and the sudden appearance of the master. And yet his appearance still sent a reverberation like fear through their body, the morning chill more intense. One would think it had to do with the beatings they received every morning, but they should have gotten used to it by now. For Yvonne, each slash of the whip on her body was a painful reminder of what had been before- the sweet taste of freedom like squeezed orange juice on the tip of the tongue, the feel of the water of the stream as she swam with her sisters; it was a painful reminder of what may never be.
Yvonne was always first on the line and that means first to receive a beating. Over the years, she had screamed and shed tears like blood, but that had always earned more beatings. So she had learnt not to scream, swallowing each sounds like one thirsty for water. Gradually the tears disappeared, until they dried up, making her feel empty like she no longer had a heart to feel. But she felt the pain still, it had become like a second being to her. It lived inside of her, she had only learnt not to let it show.
As they waited for the coming of the master, a tall large man of whom they had never seen his face- for you were never allowed to raise your eyes above the ground, Yvonne felt her heart beating wildly. She tried to calm it, but it was proving fruitless. She tried to take her mind back to her family, but found out she could not remember again how they looked like.
She tried her mother’s face, but came out blank. She tried her father, but it was the face of a faceless being that she could come up with. No! She began panicking. She tried her sisters, but all she could conjure up were images of girls that looked not like her sisters floating on water.
No! Was this her fault? She had allowed herself not to think of her family for the past months, but realized now that it was a mistake. She shouldn’t have blocked their memories from her mind. She felt the start of a tear and it flowed without warning. A drop, then two, then she was crying a river, though silently. She took her mind to when she was captured seven years ago.
She and her sisters played with the sand not far from their home. They were building houses, laughing and kicking at what they built, then re-building again. Gradually, as she allowed herself relish the moment of happiness they had shared, their faces became clearer until she could make out their faces again. She smiled through her tears. Then suddenly they were capturing her again. The men garbed in black with masked faces. Their sudden attack at their circle sent them scattering, but they had caught her, her hands flailing and legs kicking. Her sisters had screamed and tried fighting, but they had quickly put her on a horse and riden away.
Yvonne had thought she would not survive the cold nights and beatings, but somehow she had manged through. But most times, she wished she had died like some of the girls who could not endure the harsh weather and beatings. Some of the girls had been sold out, and they kept adding to their numbers frequently. Yvonne wondered why she had not been sold out. She couldn’t help thinking what it would be like outside the shores of Kumasi.
Her thoughts were broken through by the sound of heavy feet striking the ground ferociously. Yvonne knew it was the master and knew their beating would commence soon. She knew the master was tall and broad because she had managed to sneak a peak at his retreating back few times. She felt a presence near her and closed her eyes, waiting for the wooshing sound of the whip in the air and the slash on her bare skin, but instead a cold hand landed softly on her shoulder.
“You are free,”” she heard the low but strong voice and began wondering if she was dreaming. But then the man, whoever he was, raised his voice and said to the girls.
“You are free!”
And Yvonne felt her heart swell and without thinking she screamed and jumped in flee, taking the whole line of girls who were bound with the same chain to the ground. And the man’s laughter joined theirs, sending its waves high into the heavens, a soothing melody to her heart.
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