a family story (part of an unfinished whole)

spoken by a female elder

"abeomaka was born beautiful and mad.

"one night, father had been sent away on an errand several miles away. maybe purposeful, maybe coincidence. who knows.

"we were between mistresses. massa paul was sick with loneliness and anger--he'd never wanted any white woman anyway. his father had taken him around the world--no small feat in those days--and he'd seen all kinds of colors. smelled the coconut oil hawaiian women combed into their hair and the pineapple on their hands. samoan softness. the grace and porcelain skin of chinese women. and he loved cherokee, hopi, and seminole most of all.

"he'd never quite believed the bull they spread about african women. he'd never been to the continent himself--it was one of the few places he had no desire to see--but he didn't trust for one minute that africans were simply climbing on those ships. if they were, why'd it take so long to break 'em once they came?

"in any case, he found african women were striking. the mixed ones were all right; pretty much looked like all the other women he'd seen, except in the spanish and portuguese colonies where their colors defied all category.

"when he went to the auctions and saw 'em fresh off the boats, clean as they'd ever be again, he could see their spirit shine through 'em. felt like he could just about touch the very faith he felt he needed to understand the world. a lost thing he didn't know he was looking for but, once noticed, he had to have.

"many of them exuded dignity, condensed royalty. blue-black skin and lips like pillows. hips and thighs conditioned by lifetimes of dancing and celebration. if he treated his people well--as was often said--it was because of their beauty.

"mother--of course he might've known her name, but it's lost to us. 'sarahjane' is something of an insult--was one such woman. maybe even a sort of dutchess or reverend in her homeland. somehow--this came in a dream--she'd made it over with husband and brother. brother was out of reach, maybe on the next deck down. husband stayed close enough to hold her hand. i like to think they were cunning: acted like strangers to stay together. or maybe god allowed it.

"mother was rather tall, nut brown. walnut. full everywhere, but not fat. soft features. warm smile. no scars--i guess our people weren't into such. she was probably jeweled, but all that would have been snatched away.

"for whatever reason, it was easier for the men to keep scraps of clothing and other items. husband had hid a blade in some cloth. story goes: the morning they were to go on the block, husband slit his throat, praying for another man to come and care for mother. and you know prayers that come with blood or tears are always answered.

"mother decided she had to live on. she was ready for her life in the new world, despite its horrors. but she knew husband was too proud. he'd have run away and been hunted and killed anyway. she smiled as she mourned him, loving his knowing. auction over, the man who bought her bought no men. he and mother would have been split up anyway.

"seems mother's owner needed house slaves and planters. a few breeders wouldn't hurt, either, seeing as the men were rowdy. many had forgotten the old ways by then--their minds were broken from childhood. no one from home before grandparent, and most didn't live that long. rape was no longer taboo or punishable.

"mother met father--the man who helped her start our family--her first day at the plantation. his mother was from an area near mother's people and he spoke his mother's language. he taught her english. she understood quickly, refused to speak it. told no one--besides father, maybe--her true name. her records from the ship had been lost. 'sarajane' was all.

"only thing was, massa paul saw mother and fell in love. just like that.

"he was the only white person mother showed even the slightest regard--she'd even say hello to him in english. story goes: she could see he knew enough to appreciate her as a person, more so than his ignorant, untraveled peers. she sensed she--and the rest--were human to him.

"the night father was sent away mother thought nothing of letting massa paul in. figured he needed to give her instructions for the next day, as he often did. instead he tied her down and raped her. three times. each time a little longer than before. mother cried and fought at first. then prayed and left her body. tried to see home but couldn't get that far.

"she went to the sea, since the coast was just a few miles from the plantation. see, her people worshipped the river goddess, but there were no rivers (that she'd seen yet) here. even so, the sea welcomed her. mother told her troubles to the water, and the sea told her she wasn't alone. that these men were mad and did mad things.

"paul left her, weeping uncontrollably. still wanting more. next day he hung himself.

"father came back from his errand and helped her heal. he knew the herbs and incantations--his mother had taught him how to revere earth, sky, and water. he also presented offerings to the sea as thanks for sheltering her.

"mother knew she was pregnant with paul's child. father could have rid her of it, but she said it was the will of the ancestors.

"abeomaka came in with a hurricane. bit mother, kicked father. gray eyes, pale honey skin, black hair with a slight wave. more animal than child. never learned to speak--or at least didn't tell anyone he knew how. he'd hide in the woods for days at a time--from at six years old!--and return as clean as when he'd left. mother said he was a sorcerer, not a child. something from home angry at the new place he found himself in. crazy with his mother's pain and the pain of his people, intersected with the greed of his biological father's race. rage incarnate.

"one day when he was about thirteen or fourteen years old, he disappeared. no body found, none buried. never tamed, never broken.

"as mother loved father, the line began. her true firstborn, jamaal (john to the whitefolk), was snatched away and sold early. after that, prayers were sent up asking that girls always be born first since they were more likely to stay with the family.

"our family's men were given spiritual sight to help protect their sisters, mothers, aunts, and wives. as you know, they'd be killed if they actually fought on their behalf. in the worst times, abeomaka would return to guide our hands.

"and that's how we began."

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