Ol’ miss stood alongside the well drinking the cold water from a rusty cup. Her hand shook as she raised it to her dried out lips. Cracked and dingy teeth seemed to spill out as those thin, leather like strips parted ways to allow that sweet artisan water in. Her white face looked more like a road map than a place for eyes, nose and mouth.
She drank that water until her stomach protruded like a pregnant cow. When she stepped down off the side of the well base, you could easily hear the water slosh around in her gut, a sound that sickened me.
She looked directly at me, I knew she had known me as that same little boy that had gotten beat for stealing the ham from the dog’s bowl one night a long time ago. She also had to see how bad I wanted some of that water. My throat was as dry as the cotton that permeated my total existence on and around this plantation. I had been picking all day and my back had a temporary hump in it. Ol’ miss turned back to the well and dip that rusty cup back into the bucket and got cup full of water and walked my way. She reached out to hand me the cup and my hand met hers halfway. She stopped and poured the water on the ground and laughed, that cotton ain’t gonna pick itself nigger. The overseer watching the whole thing just grinned wide then poked his horse to move further down the long rows of cotton. I bowed my head and went back to picking.
In this land of cotton we would not rest and no rest could be foreseen. There was enough work here for three generations from now and massa kept fresh blood coming in. I would never speak to any of the new slaves as I don’t speak to people I don’t know. Besides, that was the quickest way to get a rifle butt upside your head.
The sun would never catch out eyes closed.
The older slaves had developed what is known as “cotton cough”, it came on slowly and then consumed your waking hours and in some their sleeping hours as well. Nothing could be done about it, it came with the territory. It was just years of breathing in cotton dust and your body trying to get rid of it. I was describe as a constant tickle in the back of ones throat and no amount of hacking or coughing could scratch it, but you couldn’t help but to try. If you had someone near you who was afflicted with this cough it would literally drive you crazy with helplessness. The constant cough would make want to kill the person so you both could have some relief.
As hard as we worked we found time for some semblance of joy. On Sundays we were allowed to go down by the creek and take some bits of food and just lay under those big live oaks. I hated those trees and I would never spend free time under one. We were allowed to socialize somewhat and if you had a young lady that you took a shine to you were allowed to see her and talk with her and just be human being together. I had a special girl that I had fallen for on the next plantation and I was allowed to go over there as long as I was back before the sun went down, you didn’t want the sun to go down and you not be where you were suppose to be. The walk was a nice three miles and I didn’t get to sweaty before I could get close to my love. She was a petite toasted brown skin thing with close cut hair and a beautiful voice. I could listen to her talk all day. She was a house slave and her skin sometimes looked pale to me. I often wonder who her father was, but it didn’t matter to me…..much. We wanted to be together but it was not to happen, at least not in the near future any of us could see. I would touch her skin as much as I could and take in the rich brown, a brown like no other brown I had seen. She would remark that we were night and day as I was a inky hue of midnight and she high noon. She loved the contrast our skin made and I was pretty fond of it as well.
If Sunday was rest then Monday mountain moving time. The whips cracked and the cotton dust rose, reality was brought back to us, ready or not. Since seeing my very own mother die in these fields work was just work to me and it meant nothing. I often stood in the same spot she laid in as her life left this place. I was hardened to work and most around me. I was a machine. The only thing that propelled me forward was the house slave, three miles away.
COTTON IS KING!!! Our owner would say as he came down from house to survey all he had. I would daydream about cutting his throat from the back of his neck to the back of his neck. He was cruel and nasty old man. There was a slave that tried to run a number of times, so much so that he had became more of a problem than he was worth. The last time he ran that old nasty man had gotten enough and called all of us together. He had his four biggest horses put into the center of the circle we made with our bodies. The poor soul was then brought out and put onto the center of the horses, he would never run again the old man said. A rope was tied to each of his limbs after he was made to lay flat facing up. Those ropes were then attached to each one of those horses. Then each would be made to walk straight in all four direction real slow. The screaming was something hell is made out of and we had to watch as this man was torn into four pieces. The worst part about it was we had to collect each part of the body and cut them into smaller piece and feed them to the hogs. The nasty cracker said to us with a face as straight as an arrow, let this be a lesson to any of you dumb coons. Then he lost his bearing and yelled, I TAKE DAMN GOOD CARE OF YOU NIGGERS AND YOU WANNA RUN FROM ME!!! I’LL SEE YOU DEAD FIRST. Me being me mumbled, God is watching you. He walked over to me
to be continued tomorrow. Promise.