A Day's Work
They came off by the hundreds. As if someone had tipped over a gigantic tub of black paint, they spilt out onto the dock. I suppose there may have been men, women, girls, boys, babies among them, but I saw no faces. I did not want to see faces. To consider them human was not necessary and would only make my job more difficult. Even as they stood before me on the platform (or butcherís block, there was really little difference between the two) and looked me dead in the eye, I held them no higher than cattle. All they represented was another dayís work. To me, they had no feelings, no fears, no ambition, and certainly no purpose other than the one we gave them. We were their saviours, their protectors. We rescued them from the hell of their ignorance and showed a new and marvelous world. A world of culture and organized religion. We showed them wonderful things. Things they would have never imagined if not for our kindness. We were their Shepards, and they, our flock. They werenít smart enough to figure that out though. The imbeciles were hell bent on escaping the paradise we made for them. This new lot, fresh off the boat, was already ungrateful. They started pushing and yelling. I laughed. These revolts never lasted long. Whips were cracked, shots were fired and then the crowd was silent.
Inside the auction hall the air was hot and thick. The humidity was almost tangible and the stench of rum and sweat was suffocating. The room was small, noisy and congested. The men were getting restless. I pushed my way through the mass of white skin and dirty shirts to reach the podium.
"Good morning, gentlemen," I bellowed over the noise. Nobody acknowledged me. I picked up my gavel and struck it against the podium until there was silence. When I had their attention I yelled, "Send in the first one!" In the back room I heard familiar sounds. The muffled voice of a man, the sound of bare skin being drug across wood, a cry from a confused woman, the sting of an open palm hitting a face, and finally timid footsteps walking out onto the platform.
A woman, no older than 20, hesitantly stepped naked in front of the men. It always intrigued me, when I did look at their faces, how different these people (and I use the term loosely) were from my people and me. Her skin was the color of ebony wood; so black and shiny from sweat that it seemed to reflect the sunlight coming through the window. Her broad nose and thick lips added uniqueness to her face that made my sharp nose and paper-thin lips almost jealous. With one hand I pushed my straight yellow hair out of my face. She would never have to that. Her short hair sat on top of her head like a bundle of dry wool died black. Her body was small, but the definition in her legs and shoulders showed that she was strong and healthy. The darkness of her eyes concealed the source of some mysterious strength and courage. And her arms held the reason she was so strong and courageous.
At her breast nursed a baby boy. It was amazing how safe and secure the baby seemed as it lay in his motherís arms. I was close enough to almost feel the bond between the two. They were more like us than I had ever imagined. In her I saw my wife, Mary (when she was alive), as she nursed each of my two children. My love for them seemed so inferior to that which their mother had for them. Even now, from her grave, I could still feel her presence around them. It was a beautiful, amazing image; so pure and innocent. I walked closer to the woman. I was close enough to watch the babyís chest rise and fall with each breath and the skin around the womanís nipple taut with each suck. Then, with no thought at all I destroyed the bond I which I had just admired. I snatched the child from her motherís arms and knocked her to the ground before she reach for him back. The baby started to wail as I held him up in the air for the men to see. "Today gentlemen," I said, "you get two for the price of one. Shall we start the bidding at two pounds?" She was valuable. A sturdy body like hers would be useful in the kitchen, fields and bedroom.
When the bidding was well underway I gave her child back to her. She clutched him tightly to her chest and fell to her knees. The child was still screaming and she rocked him back and forth until he was calm. Then, with seemingly little thought she raised him above her head and brought his skull down hard onto the platform. He died instantly and painlessly.
The hall burst out in noise. Men cursed and yelled and rushed the platform but I was still. I was too amazed to move. I had just witnessed the single most complete act of unselfish, unadulterated love: a mother saving her child from a life she did not understand; yet still feared. The child had felt nothing, but the motherís heart throbbed intensely. The pain in her soul paralyzed her and she lay still as the men whipped and kicked her. And when they dragged her outside and shot her, she gladly accepted to the gift of death.
I had finally come to the full realization that these niggers were people too. But, no, not people like me and the other men in the hall. They were strong people with strong bodies and more importantly, strong souls. What they endured, none of us could. Our bodies had become soft and flabby from lack of work and our souls were damaged far beyond repair. I respected the slaves because they suffered what I could not; but I pitied them because my people made them do it.
As I thought of the mother and child, my mind ran across my own children: my son William and my daughter Anne. I loved them more dearly than I loved myself. My world revolved around them and their happiness. I walked, talked, and worked for them. I wanted to give them the world, but I could not. I could not afford it. I was not a wealthy plantation owner like the men who stood before me. I had no big house, no hundreds of slaves, no money to burn. I was a mere auctioneer. These men were my masterís too. I thought of William and Anne and I knew that they had to eat tonight. I picked up my gavel and rapped it on the podium until there was silence.
"Bring out the next one!" I called.
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