Archive | February, 2013

Family

28 Feb

CHAPTER THREE

Radji parked the truck on the drive. His daughter, Mala, ran out to meet him. It has been ten years since their move to the United States. Their benefactor, Mr. Vigrage had made things very easy for them. They arrived to ready-made accommodations and ready-made jobs. Their already having a baby thrilled Ajay beyond measure. He watched her grow up to the age of seven before his demise. Mala grew up seeing Ajay as the only grandpa she knew.

Their decision to move to the USA had been greeted with anger. Jemina’s parents had wanted her to spend the first one year of the baby’s life under their roof. To them, even if she doesn’t stay that long, the naam karan should at least be celebrated in their home.

Radji had been adamant and his wife very supportive of his decision. They had left once their travel documents arrived. They have since communicated with home at least once a year. The family back home had a picture of Mala each year so the young girl was no stranger to them.

Mala knew no other life than that she had in the States. She had made friends with the children of the other workers and attended elementary school within the neighbourhood. This was quite an expensive school attended by the elite, but Ajay had insisted on this and there was no way they could refuse.

Manoj had been supportive of them when his father was alive, but upon the death of Ajay, he changed.

First thing he did was to kick them out of his father’s house and then stop the sponsoring of Mala’s tuition in the school.

Kicking them out of the house meant Jemina lost her job as housekeeper. Manoj had to work twice as hard as he used to, in order to support the family. He had never been a wasteful person and that was his saving grace. He had always known that their time in Ajay’s home was limited and he saved as much as he could when the going was good.

They moved into a modest house, much to the chagrin of Manoj and others who like him did not favour the attention they were getting from Ajay. A couple of months after that Radji resigned his appointment with the company and set up his own business. Though he could not afford the school Mala used to attend, she got enrolled in a public school and since she had attended a prestigious school prior to that she had blended perfectly academically.

Radji and Jemina worked hard at their business, a grocery store—just as Ajay had started. It was over two years since the business started and there was no reason for them to complain.

‘Hi dad’ greeted Mala. ‘Where is mum?’

Radji alit from the car, carrying a bag of groceries which he had gotten from the store.

‘I just needed to bring these home before going back to take over from her’ he answered as he swooped to plant a kiss on her cheek.

‘I needed her to help me with my home-work.

Radji gave her a look of mock pain and she smiled.

‘No hard feelings dad, you are no good for that’.

They both walked into the house and he went directly into the kitchen and set the bags on the table.

‘Would you help me unpack, princess?’ he asked as he began to set the contents of the bags on the table.

‘Sure’ and she set to putting away the groceries.

Mala was quite tall for her age and had the most beautiful figure. It was as well that her father called her princess. She was a beauty to behold.

‘So what did you need your mother for?’ Radji finally asked as the last item went into its proper place.

‘Calculus’ she answered as she washed an apple at the sink and bit into it. ‘I hate calculus.’

‘So do I’ her father concurred and putting his hand in his pants pocket, he brought it out to show her a new calculator. ‘That is what calculators are for.’

‘Oh dad, I wish we were allowed to use those for exams.’ She looked at the calculator with a lot of longing.

‘Well it would no longer be an examination if you use it’ her father pointed out as he put the calculator on the table. ‘But you could use it when it is not examination time.’ He glanced at his watch, ‘I really must run, your mother would wonder what kept me.’

Mala waved him away as he headed for the door. She wished she could confide in him how she actually felt.

Her parents were really doing their best to take care of her, but ever since she left her former school things have not been the same.

She was doing real well at her academics. Most of the times she pretended not to understand some of her school-work so she could get that special attention which Ajay used to give her back at the big house. Her parents were hoping she would become some kind of academic genius, but she was tilting to the arts. She loved to sing, dance and act. Of course her parents had never shown any form of prejudice against anything she wanted, but deep down inside she felt she may be letting them down.

It is at times like this that she missed Patel. Patel had been a good friend of hers until they got kicked out and his father forbade their association. That was three years ago and he was in his early teens then, but now he was seventeen and pretty much able to do as he pleased.

She had been quite surprised at his visit three days ago. She had not told her parents about it for she did not want to upset them. She had always seen Patel as an older brother, the two years they had been apart seemed like decades to her young mind.

They had discussed everything under the heavens ranging from the home front to school and growing up. She saw him as ancient, he being all of seven years older than she, so she discussed all her worries with him with ease.

He had been quite supportive of her desire to go into show business when she grows up. Though she knew she was quite young to be thinking about a career, but she had felt good sharing her dreams with him.

Before he left, he had given her a memento, a locket with his photo in it. She had it tucked into the bottom of her dresser. To her it was a prized possession. She really wished she had a brother like him in the house, she wouldn’t feel as lonely as she did most of the time. Her mother was not yet past the age of having children and she was sure that someday her dream would come true. But meanwhile she just had to make do with the occasional promised visits of Patel.

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Family

27 Feb

CHAPTER TWO

Mr. Ajay Vigrage is the CEO of one the leading exporting companies in Florida, USA. He had started as a small time retailer about two score years and ten ago when Indians were still unrecognized in the United States.

     The Indians had endured so many injustices then, some of them losing their businesses from time to time.

Ajay’s father Patel had been one of the Punjab pioneers who had arrived the United States in the late 1920s and taken up menial jobs in the lumber mills. He and other immigrants like him had spent countless nights sleeping under the open sky in the plantations. Ajay had been but a boy then living without a mother—his mother had died during childbirth back at Delhi. He had had no choice but to accompany his father on the dangerous journey by sea to the USA. He had grown up hard, suffering segregation and living off the streets.

Patel had struggled and risen to owning his own farm. Patel had remarried and had another two sons. Ajay had not wanted much from his father so he had started his own trade, wheeling carts of vegetables from his father’s farm across the streets of Florida. He had progressed greatly, owning his own grocery store at the age of thirty though he had lost his business several times due to the brutal decision by the Supreme Court on the racial interpretation of the word Caucasian.

It was in 1946 that President Truman took interest in the Luce-Celler Bill and had it enacted into the Immigration Act of 1946 conferring rights of citizenship on natives of India. Since then July 3 has been celebrated as Independence Day by Indian Americans.

Ajay looked younger than his age. At the age of seventy-eight he was all of 5 feet 9 and not stooping. Early this morning he had sent for his son Manoj. Despite how healthy he looked, he knew he was nearing his time. He had no regrets; he had lived a fulfilled life. His only wish now was that his son carries on the tradition.

Manoj arrived his father’s mansion accompanied by his last son whom he had named after his own grandfather Patel.

Patel was five years old and dearly loved by his father and grandfather. Upon being ushered into his grandfather’s room he rushed to Ajay’s side.

Ajay was reading the newspapers when they arrived. He had on a grim expression which Manoj noticed immediately he walked in.

Manoj walked over to him and kissing him sat on the bed next to him.

‘You look unhappy grandpa’ Patel observed. ‘Are you all right?’

Ajay gave his grandson a grim smile and motioned him to excuse his father and him.

‘You can come back to visit with me later, not now. I have to talk with your father.’

‘What is the matter?’ Manoj asked immediately the door closed behind Patel.

Ajay held up the newspaper and Manoj saw the headline.

‘Not again. They should be tired of all the bloodshed.’

‘Apparently they are not’ Ajay said as he dropped the newspaper on the bed. ‘Imagine dying over a piece of land. Thousands have been confirmed dead already.’

Ajay got up from the bed and walked slowly over to his reading desk. He picked up a letter and walked back to the bed and sitting next to Manoj, handed him the letter.

Manoj read through the letter silently. When he was done he turned to his father enquiringly.

‘That letter came from Mumbai, from a family that is now displaced.’

‘I don’t understand father’ Manoj said shaking his head uncomprehendingly.

‘Veejay is one of my business contacts in Mumbai. His brother has a son, Radji, who is married and badly needs a job, anything to give the family a break.’ He paused to catch his breath. ‘Problem now is, his brother and his wife died were killed during this Hindu/Muslim riot in Mumbai and the young man is simply wallowing in self-pity.’

Manoj looked at his father affectionately. Ajay has always been like a pillar of the Indian community here in Florida. So many Indians have found solace in him and he has offered employment to countless others. There was no point in time that he did not one person or the other living under his roof. He was like a dog catcher—always bringing in strays. For Ajay, family was everything and here in Florida, all Indians represented family.

‘What would you have me do now father,’ Manoj asked, though he had an idea what the answer was going to be.

‘I need you to have a job ready for whenever he arrives.’

‘Do you have any idea about his discipline?’

Ajay gave Manoj the look and Manoj understood. This was another unskilled labour. Right now he had run out of ideas as to how to accommodate another unskilled labourer.

‘You could have the missus as a housekeeper, here in my house. That would take care of their accommodation’ Ajay suggested.

‘You already have a housekeeper’ Manoj explained patiently.

‘You know how lonely I get son,’ Ajay implored. ‘They are a new couple and would have kids soon. I need that now son. You and your family always come around, I appreciate that, but I need this now more than ever.’

Manoj smiled at his father. ‘You know I would always do everything to make you happy. I would arrange a safe passage for them into the United States as soon as possible.’

‘I would really love that’ his father smiled at him.

‘Would that be all, father?’

Ajay stared at his son absently for a moment.

‘No, that is not all. There is something else.’

Manoj hoped sincerely he didn’t have another individual to absorb into the company.

‘It has to do with Patel…’

Sensing the agitation in Manoj’s eyes he allayed his fears.

‘There is no problem my son.’

‘Then what is it about Patel father?’

‘Son, you know you married an American, not an Indian America but a pure American’ Ajay pointed out.

‘Not with that again father’ Manoj protested.

His father had been very much against his decision to marry an American. He was the only child and his father had wanted him to go back to their roots to get a wife. He had defied his father and married Carmen.

‘You defied me and married an American. I don’t want that for my grandson. I want Patel to marry from India. I want Patel to go back to his roots.’

Family

26 Feb

CHAPTER ONE

J

emina gave one final push and out came the baby. It had been a long labour, lasting all of 12 hours. The midwife had been very efficient. The baby, a radiant and beautiful bundle was the first offspring of Jemina and Radji. For Radji the happiness at the arrival of this bundle of joy would have been complete if it had been a male. Being as poor as he and his young wife were, he wondered how he would raise her dowry when the time came. But what she lacked in being a boy she made up for by her resplendent beauty.

He had married his wife for the great love they had for each other from when they were children. She had a very poor background—just like him—and so had almost nothing to offer at their marriage. What he had brought he had greatly cherished. It was a diamond ring worth several thousand rupees, an heirloom of her family’s for generations. It was not a dowry per se; she had worn it during their very modest wedding ceremony. Considering the financial state of her family it was quite surprising to find the family possessed such an heirloom.

Many of his friends could not understand him. Many families with considerable wealth had indicated interest in performing bariksha in his home but he had been firm in his decision not to look at any other than Jemina, and despite their poor living conditions, he had not regretted his decision to marry the love of his life.

In keeping with the tradition he had not been allowed into the “labour room”, which actually happened to be Jemina’s mother’s bedroom. They had decided that she return to her babul ka ghar to have her first baby after a complication developed some weeks ago. It had saved them a lot of expenses since going to the hospital would have cost them a small fortune.

He offered a silent prayer of thanks to Vishnu, one of the three main gods in the Hindu religion known as “The Preserver” because of his many Avatars.

The only nagging problem that loomed now was the naam karan as the naming ceremony was called. It was usually an elaborate affair and he wondered how he would raise enough money for the ceremony. The good thing was he had about a year before it would be considered too late to have it for their daughter, and he was sure he would give her a befitting naam karan.

The mid-wife came out to meet him, all smiles, and declared to him that both mother and child were doing all right.

‘Can I see them?’ he asked anxiously.

The mid-wife smiled at him. ‘No’, she said understandingly. ‘But you could in a couple of hours. Mother and baby must be cleaned up first’. With that she withdrew into the delivery cum labour room.

Radji watched the mid-wife disappear behind the curtains his thoughts far away. He had to inform his parents about the safe arrival of the baby. They had been quite anxious too, these last few weeks, when Jemina’s pregnancy suddenly became problematic. His mother had offered to come and take care of her but Sunita, Jemina’s mother, had insisted on her rights as mother of the bride and brought Jemina into her home until the delivery.

Since he had a couple of hours to kill, Radji decided to go visit his parents and give them the news.

His family lived in Ayodhya, Mumbai Northern India about an hour’s bus ride from his in-laws. The cold December breeze hit him square on the face as he stepped out of his in-laws poor but cozy home.

He got on board a bus headed to Ayodhya. In his preoccupied state he did not notice the headlines on the newspaper stand. The atmosphere in the bus was charged. Many of those in the bus, mostly male, wore angry faces. This was lost on Radji whose thoughts centered on how he was going to provide for his increased family now that his daughter had arrived.

His first inkling that something was amiss was when he smelt smoke in the air. They were nearing Ayodhya and there was a riot going on.

Radji disembarked the bus as quickly as possible. It was imperative that he find shelter from the angry mob. It was also highly important that he find his mother as-soon-as-possible.

Radji was at a loss as to the reason for the riot, but he soon found out.

There were two rioting factions—the Vishva Hindu Parashad was at loggerheads with the Muslims. This disagreement had lasted about two decades. The dispute was over the spot the Muslims had built the Babri Misjid—a mosque. The Hindus believed the spot to be the birthplace of Rama. They demanded the Muslims remove the structure even more so as the structure had become dilapidated due to lack of use. Since the Hindus believed the matter was being continually ignored by the government and other authorities, they had decided to take the law into their own hands and demolish the mosque.

As Radji tried to find shelter he wondered how many tragedies the year was serving up for them. Just seven months ago over two hundred had died following the drinking of illegally brewed liquor. The same incident had left about six hundred receiving treatment at the hospital and now this.

He was skeptical about finding his mother at home. His mother was an outspoken member of the VHP, so was he if you come to think of it, but he had been so busy lately he was not following the goings-on around him.

He made it safely to his parents’ home. The atmosphere was sombre.  He could tell from the expression on the faces around him that tragic news awaited him.

His uncle Veejay came over to meet him and take him to the inner room. There lying on the bed were both his parents. Seeing their lifeless forms left him devastated. Veejay explained to him how his parents had been a party to the on-going riot. He further advised him to leave as soon as possible.

‘I can’t leave my parents without burying them’ he protested.

‘It is important you do that’ Veejay insisted. ‘We are here. We make sure everything is okay. That is what family is for.’

‘I won’t be at my parents’ burial?’ Radji could not contemplate that. ‘I am sorry I cannot accept that.’

‘You have to accept it. Remember your wife has a problem pregnancy. You have to be around for her’ Veejay pointed out.

Mention of his wife reminded him of why he had come to see his parents in the first place.

‘Jemina…’

‘Is there any problem with Jemina?’

‘No’ Radji replied with tears in his eyes. ‘I have a baby uncle Veejay. Jemina had a baby girl.’

Veejay held him in a tender embrace.

‘Congratulations, my nephew. Congratulations.’ Then holding him away, ‘Do you see why you should not risk hanging around for this burial? It is important you go away now.’

Veejay went to a desk by his parents’ desk and brought out two tickets.

‘Your father meant to give this to Jemina and you. He wishes you move to the United States.’

Radji collected the tickets, a puzzled expression on his face.

‘Yes Radji. That was your father’s last wish for you.’

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Ansa…The End

25 Feb

Ansa...The End

The writing of the book Ansa…The End was borne out of my visit to a slave trade centre in Badagry, Nigeria. It was part of a historical excursion with my children. They were made to see first hand what their ancestors went through in their time…and so did I for that matter. Anyway I decided to research other places where the trade took place in western Africa and I came across Castle D’Elmina and so I developed a story around it. If you have not read through this story, why don’t you visit my store and read through the entire book.

Ansa…The End

23 Feb

Chapter 10

A full three years had passed since Ansa’s miraculous rescue from the Door of No Return and reunion with Mose. The Dutch abolition of slavery was now very effective and he was no longer a slave. He worked as Ivan Stacky’s clerk and had Mose by his side.

Mosa’s story had been pitiable in its own way. She had only spent one day within the walls of the dungeons and had been let out together with other slave girls for the Governor’s routine picking of concubines.

She had been washed before the very eyes of the other slaves by the well by a male and sent up to the Governor’s quarters. He had found her ‘unsatisfactorily skinny’ and had taken a pick of another female. But then he had also declared her a no-go zone, for she had become his personal maid.

 

Ansa was housed outside of Elmina in a house in town within the fort. Though a freeman, Ansa still considered himself Ivan’s slave for the man had saved him from a certain death. Mose was Ivan’s cleaning lady, having been granted freedom by the Governor.

At the end of the third year, Ivan indicated interest in returning to his home country, The Netherlands. He had spent a good part of ten years in Africa and missed his home country.

Before his departure, he relieved Ansa of his duties and issued him a duly signed document that allowed him to leave the fort should he want to return to Denkera.

 

Ansa had developed a great fondness for his master and was sad to see him go. But with Ivan’s departure he knew that his longing to see his mother again was going to see the light of day.

The first Anglo/Ashanti war was raging to free the Fante territory when Ansa decided to make the trip back to Denkera. He had to be careful for the Danes were yet to finalise their abolition of trade in human cargo.

He set of with Mose and two of his most prized possessions: a new Dane gun and a dagger—gifts from his master. He had recovered most of his old charms, he had healed, but it was not still the same.

On his back he still bore the initials ‘KO’, proof of his journey to another life, another world. He also had the last two toes on his left foot chopped off. This had to be done when the sore he got from vermin in the dungeons of Elmina turned gangrenous and he had to save his foot.

 

He and Mose were able to get rides in the cargo compartment of a train taking supplies to the warring soldiers.

He went as far as Akropong at the Prah and proceeded from there to Denkera.

 

*                                      *                                   *

They arrived Denkera at noon. Many gazed upon him as they would a total stranger who looked vaguely familiar. Ansa had no intention of explaining himself to anyone.

He walked with sure feet until he got to his father’s compound.

There was a marriage ceremony going on. His eyes filled with tears of joy as he realized his family had waited this long for him to arrive before giving his sister away. For him, it was a joyous occasion. He was after all, not going to miss his younger sister’s marriage ceremony.

“My sister is getting married” he said to Mosa, who smiled back at him.

Nyame has always been with you” she said to him.

Someone amongst the guests recognised him and whispered excitedly to another. It was inevitable. Some of the guests rose on their feet to behold Ansa walk back into his father’s compound. From a corner of his eyes he saw his sister get up excitedly. She was very pregnant.

It took a while for that to register.

The guests now formed a circle around him and created an opening for him as he walked toward the front to see who was getting married since it obviously was not his sister.

His beloved mother rose from her kneeling position in front of their elders to gaze at her son, her long lost son.

They stood transfixed eyes locked. She had really changed in his three years of absence. He knew he had changed too and he could not help the tears.

“My son, my life” his mother whispered as she walked slowly to meet him.

They held each other in a tight embrace as the mother noticed the young lady that had returned with her son.

In the midst of the euphoria, Ansa’s eyes caught a movement. It was the man to whom his mother was getting married. As the man turned to face him, time stood still.

It was Osei.

Epilogue

The Ashanti Empire is famed one of the greatest Empires in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was located in what is now known as modern day Ghana. Also noted for its early contact with the European traders, the trade in human cargo flourished in this empire as well as other coastal countries. The slave trade lasted some 350 years and was finally abolished in the mid nineteenth century. Monuments such as the Elmina castle and the Cape Coast castle are living attestations as to the historicity of the slave trade era. Ansa’s story, though imaginary, contains historic facts about the treatment meted out to those who were unfortunate enough to be caught by the slave catchers.

Ansa…The End

21 Feb

Chapter 9

“There he is.”

The voice sounded vaguely familiar. Ansa raised his face to find Ivan Stacky, the Dutch who had bought him off Kofi Otubu’s barracoon, pointing at him.

“Are you sure it’s him?” asked another Dutch standing beside him.

“I am. It is he. Cost me a hand and a limb if I say so myself. I bought him off that Otubu man in Wassaw for a good bottle of scotch” Ivan affirmed.

Ansa was led off the line and escorted down a corridor as the two men walked behind him.

“Why would you do a thing like that?” the other Dutch asked Ivan.

“Do a thing like what?”

“Buy one Negro for a good scotch? We often get ten of them for that” the other one expatiated.

“Oh that. Otubu says he is an asset. This one is educated he tells me.”

Ansa was led into a room. Filthy though the room was it could not be compared with where he was coming from.

“You are really a lucky man” his fellow Negro who had led him into the room told him. “We hear Osai Tutu says Mr. Dupuis has permission to kill any slaves that cannot board the ship because of the abolition.”

 

Ansa could not believe his ears. “How many?” he whispered.

 

“About 10,000” the man answered offhanded. “Wash quickly and then you can have a meal.”

 

“Why?” Ansa’s voice was a hoarse whisper.

 

The man turned to Ansa enquiringly.

 

Ansa said no more as he stared at the metal container of water. He could not stop the tears that welled up in his eyes as they spilled over and ran down his cheeks. Whatever it was that had saved him from crossing that door…he would forever be grateful for it.

 

Slowly he stooped, took some water in the palm and poured it on his face. His face felt grimy to the touch and he tightly shut his mouth so the water does not run into his mouth.

 

He spent time scrubbing his body, removing dirt that had caked. He had to be careful with his feet which had been eaten into by vermin during his stay in the dungeon.

 

He still had no idea how long he had spent there, but he somehow knew that the worst was finally over. It may even be possible that he sees his home again. Yes, he would once more see his mother and have the satisfaction of turning in the man who had subjected him to this horrendous experience.

 

It was about an hour before the man came to check on him. Ansa had scrubed himself to the best of his ability and could not contemplate covering himself with the filthy rags again.

 

He was standing in the altogether when the man came in. the man came in bearing some articles of clothing. He handed Ansa underwear and a pair of khaki shorts which Ansa put on. He was led out of the room down the corridor and into another room that had some long tables and benches, no doubt a cafeteria, and asked to sit while awaiting further instructions.

 

Ansa sat gingerly at the edge of the bench not knowing what to expect next. He still felt itchy especially around his ear, his hair and his groin but he did not want to scratch it fearing that he would dirty his nails once more.

 

A female brought in some food and placed it on the table beside him. Ansa took a close look at her as she turned to walk away not daring to look at him.

 

“Mose?” Ansa asked not daring to hope it was really her.

 

Mose turned to look at him in obvious shock.

 

“Ansa”

 

To Ansa that was the most reassuring word he had ever heard in his life. He stood up as carefully as he had sat and moved to stand in front of her. He knew he must look a ghost of his former self and did not expect any form of acceptance from her. They stood staring at each other for a time.

“We have come a long way, you and I” Ansa said as the silence grew. “All I want to say is I am happy you are alive.”

 

Mose collapsed in his arms in an embrace Ansa was by no means expecting. It was all he could do not to collapse on the floor himself. He held her to himself when he regained his balance and let her cry.

 

“You like the little servant girl?”

 

Ansa slowly detached himself from Mose and turned his attention to the door where Ivan Stacky stood.

 

Ivan had an amused expression on his face as he watched Ansa. “Don’t act like your hands were found in the cookie jar my man. You can have her if you want her.”

 

“I am sorry Master” Ansa said bowing. “I did not mean to…”

 

“It is no problem, I promise you” Ivan assured him walking into the cafeteria. “Have you had your meal?” he motioned to the bowl on the table.

 

“I am not really hungry” Ansa replied as his stomach growled to belie the claim.

 

Ivan gave him a look over. “You need to eat boy, sit and eat.” He turned to Mose “She would be here to attend to your needs. I shall see you in a while.”

 

With that he strode out the room.

Ansa…The End

20 Feb

Chapter 8

Ansa was one of the sixty slaves that the Dutch Ivan Stacky bought from Kofi and Apiah the leading slave dealers in Wassaw. They were transported in a cabin full of produce for the St. George Castle D’Elmina.

 

Upon arrival at the Dutch fort at Elmina castle, the slaves were made to match to their separate cells, male and female. It was during the separation that Ansa once again caught a glimpse of Mose. She was herded off to the female cell or dungeons as they were wont to be called.

 

If the barracoons at Kofi Otubu’s were to be compared to the dungeons of Elmina, they would be called paradise. The captives of Elmina Castle were held in suspended animation. They never saw daylight until the day they were to board the slave ships through the infamous ‘Door of No Return’.

 

Elmina

 

*                           *                           *

 

Elmina Castle, the first European slave-trading post in all of Sub-Saharan Africa  was built in 1482 by the Portuguese. At first it was built to take care of the Portuguese gold trade, but upon being taken over by the Dutch in 1637, the stores were converted to human holding cells. The Dutch also turned the old Portuguese Church into an auction hall, and added several outbuildings which they used to breed rear cats for their perfumes.

The cells or dungeons could hold as much as 200 people at a time. It was not unusual to have outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever which claimed lives in the thousands. Human life was cheap as the African chiefs were more than ready to trade several lives for a bottle of gin.

Each year about 30,000 slaves passed through Elmina’s Door of No Return on their way to work in plantations in North or South America.

There were only three modes of exit for the captives at Elmina: death from sickness which was rampant due to the extremely poor hygienic conditions; boarding of a slave ship; and sometimes for the women, being chosen as a concubine by the governor.

*                           *                           *

When Ansa stepped into the cell at Elmina, he did something he had never done in his life—he gagged. The fort itself was in a deplorable state, but nothing could compare to the filth he stepped into.

The cell was in total darkness. The smell of human excrement was overpowering. When he stepped into the cell itself he found his foot sank about a foot into centuries old human waste. He had to move for another slave was being shoved in right behind him. 

He waded through the filth until he came in contact with another flesh. He stopped unsure what to do next. He felt something climbing up his body and before he could do anything about it someone else was pressing into him.

Eventually the door closed and the wait began.

*                           *                           *

 

The hallucinations and nightmares came intermittently. Ansa could no longer differentiate between dreams and realities. Sometimes he saw himself soar with wings of an eagle like an avenging angel; sometimes he was chased about by a dark monster with its skin falling off. Sometimes he would hear people laughing deliriously; he would break out in cold sweat only to find himself all alone in a room with creeping and wriggling creatures on the walls.

 

“I must be losing my mind” he said aloud to himself at a point in an effort to hear his own voice and be sure that he could still speak.

 

The days blended together and he could not tell when one day ended and another began. It was in this state that he heard the call for everyone to vacate the dungeons. It sounded like a voice in his head, but when the door to the cell was opened up and the call was made directly to his cell he knew it was no dream.

 

In his weakened state he tried to move but couldn’t. It was as if his limbs simply refused to respond. He willed himself to mobility with the source of light his ultimate destination.

After so much concentration and will power he was able to move. He did not want to fall, not into the quagmire of maggots marinated in excrement. Now that he was getting out of this hole Ansa became conscious of his surroundings once more.

 

He had to pass his foot over unmoving fallen men, some decaying, but he finally made it to the door.  Outside there was a lot of activity. Ansa saw everything in a kind of haze, slaves were being moved. There was a pile of dead bodies, and it was still growing, beside the well where the women slave that caught the fancy of the governor was usually washed.

 

The slave ship they had been expecting from Badagry had finally arrived and had docked at Elmina two days ago. But there was a snag.

 

Slave trade had been officially abolished by the Dutch and the governor had been mandated to do away with the slaves.

 

At this point Ansa did not know that, he was just relieved he could see the sunlight again.

 

The surviving slaves marched single file in the direction the slave masters told them. An expressionless Negro was on hand to pour water on the slaves to wash out the filth from their bodies, especially their feet.

 

Ansa enjoyed the feel of the water on his body. He had tears in his eyes as he thought about how he had deteriorated. His beloved mother must have given up on him now. His hopes and aspirations in life had met their end. He had reached the Door of No Return.

 

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