Just after the seventh morning gruel, two toubob entered the barred room with an armload of clothes. One frightened man after another was unchained and shown how to put them on. One garment covered the waist and legs, a second the upper body. When Kunta put them on, his sores--which had begun to show signs of healing--immediately started itching.
In a little while, he began to hear the sound of voices outside; quickly it grew louder and louder. Many toubob were gathering--talking, laughing--not far beyond the barred window. Kunta and his mates sat in their toubob clothes gripped with terror at what was about to happen--whatever it might be.
When the two toubob returned, they quickly unchained and marched from the room three of the five black ones who had originally been there. All of them acted somehow as if this had happened to them enough times before that it no longer mattered. Then, within moments, there was a change in the toubob sounds from outside; it grew much quieter, and then one toubob began to shout. Struggling vainly to understand what was being said, Kunta listened uncomprehendingly to the strange cries: "Fit as a fiddle! Plenty of spirit in this buck!" And at brief intervals other toubob would interrupt with loud exclamations: "Three hundred and fifty!" "Four hundred!" "Five!" And the first toubob would shout: "Let's hear six! Look at him! Works like a mule!"
Kunta shuddered with fear, his face running with sweat, breath tight in his throat. When four toubob came into the room--the first two plus two others--Kunta felt paralyzed. The new pair of toubob stood just within the doorway holding short clubs in one hand and small metal objects in the other. The other two moved along Kunta's side of the wall unlocking the iron cuffs. When anyone cried out or scuffled, he was struck with a short, thick, leather strap. Even so, when Kunta felt himself touched, he came up snarling with rage and terror. A blow against his head made it seem to explode; he felt only dimly a jerking at the chain on his cuffs. When his head began to clear, he was the first of a chained line of six men stumbling through a wide doorway out into the daylight.
"Just picked out of the trees!" The shouting one was standing on a low wooden platform with hundreds of other toubobs massed before him. As they gaped and gestured, Kunta's nose recoiled from the thickness of their stink. He glimpsed a few black ones among the toubob, but their faces seemed to be seeing nothing. Two of them were holding in chains two of the black ones who had just been brought from the barred room. Now the shouting one began striding rapidly down the line of Kunta and his companions, his eyes appraising them from head to foot. Then he walked back up the line, thrusting the butt of his whip against their chests and bellies, all the while making his strange cries: "Bright as monkeys! Can be trained for anything!" Then back at the end of the line, he prodded Kunta roughly toward the raised platform. But Kunta couldn't move, except to tremble; it was as if his senses had deserted him. The whip's butt seared across the scabbing crust of his ulcerated buttocks; nearly collapsing under the pain, Kunta stumbled forward, and the toubob clicked the free end of his chain into an iron thing.
"Top prime--young and supple!" the toubob shouted. Kunta was already so numb with terror that he hardly noticed as the toubob crowd moved in more closely around him. Then, with short sticks and whip butts, they were pushing apart his compressed lips to expose his clenched teeth, and with their bare hands prodding him all over--under his armpits, on his back, his chest, his genitals. Then some of those who had been inspecting Kunta began to step back and make strange cries.
"Three hundred dollars! . . . three fifty!" The shouting toubob laughed scornfully. "Five hundred! . . . six!" He sounded angry. "This is a choice young nigger! Do I hear seven fifty?"
"Seven fifty!" came a shout.
He repeated the cry several times, then shouted "Eight!" until someone in the crowd shouted it back. And then, before he had a chance to speak again, someone else shouted, "Eight fifty!"
No other calls came. The shouting toubob unlocked Kunta's chain and jerked him toward a toubob who came stepping forward. Kunta felt an impulse to make his move right then, but he knew he would never make it--and anyway, he couldn't seem to move his legs.
He saw a black one moving forward behind the toubob to whom the shouter had handed his chain. Kunta's eyes entreated this black one, who had distinctly Wolof features, My Brother, you come from my country. . . . But the black one seemed not even to see Kunta as, jerking hard on the chain so that Kunta came stumbling after him, they began moving through the crowd. Some of the younger toubob laughed, jeered, and poked at Kunta with sticks as they passed, but finally they left them behind and the black one stopped at a large box sitting up off the ground on four wheels behind one of those enormous donkeylike animals he had seen on his way here from the big canoe.
With an angry sound, the black one grasped Kunta around the hips and boosted him up over the side and onto the floor of the box, where he crumpled into a heap, hearing the free end of his chain click again into something beneath a raised seat at the front end of the box behind the animal.
Two large sacks of what smelled like some kind of grain were piled near where Kunta lay. His eyes were shut tight; he felt as if he never wanted to see anything again--especially this hated black slatee.
After what seemed a very long time, Kunta's nose told him that the toubob had returned. The toubob said something, and then he and the black one climbed onto the front seat, which squeaked under their weight. The black one made a quick sound and flicked a leather thong across the animal's back; instantly it began pulling the rolling box ahead.
Kunta was so dazed that for a while he didn't even hear the chain locked to his ankle cuff rattling against the floor of the box. He had no idea how far they had traveled when his next clear thought came, and he slit his eyes open far enough to study the chain at close range. Yes, it was smaller than the one that had bound him on the big canoe; if he collected his strength and sprang, would this one tear loose from the box?
Kunta raised his eyes carefully to see the backs of the pair who sat ahead, the toubob sitting stiffly at one end of the plank seat, the black one slouched at the other end. They both sat staring ahead as if they were unaware that they were sharing the same seat. Beneath it--somewhere in shadow--the chain seemed to be securely fastened; he decided that it was not yet time to jump.
The odor of the grain sacks alongside him was overpowering, but he could also smell the toubob and his black driver--and soon he smelled some other black people, quite nearby. Without making a sound, Kunta inched his aching body upward against the rough side of the box, but he was afraid to lift his head over the side, and didn't see them.
As he lay back down, the toubob turned his head around, and their eyes met. Kunta felt frozen and weak with fear, but the toubob showed no expression and turned his back again a moment later. Emboldened by the toubob's indifference, he sat up again--this time a little farther--when he heard a singing sound in the distance gradually growing louder. Not far ahead of them he saw a toubob seated on the back of another animal like the one pulling the rolling box. The toubob held a coiled whip, and a chain from the animal was linked to the wrist cuffs of about twenty blacks--or most of them were black, some brown--walking in a line ahead of him.
Kunta blinked and squinted to see better. Except for two fully clothed women, they were all men and all bare from the waist up, and they were singing with deep mournfulness. He listened very carefully to the words, but they made no sense whatever to him. As the rolling box slowly passed them, neither the blacks nor the toubob so much as glanced in their direction, though they were close enough to touch. Most of their backs, Kunta saw, were crisscrossed with whip scars, some of them fresh, and he guessed at some of their tribes: Foulah, Yoruba, Mauretanian, Wolof, Mandinka. Of those he was more certain than of the others, most of whom had had the misfortune to have toubob for fathers.
Beyond the blacks, as far as Kunta's runny eyes would let him see, there stretched vast fields of crops growing in different colors. Alongside the road was a field planted with what he recognized as maize. Just as it was back in Juffure after the harvest, the stalks were brown and stripped of ears.
Soon afterward, the toubob leaned over, took some bread and some kind of meat out of a sack beneath the seat, broke off a piece of each, and set them on the seat between him and the black one, who picked it up with a tip of his hat and began to eat. After a few moments the black one turned in his seat, took a long look at Kunta, who was watching intently, and offered him a chunk of bread. He could smell it from where he lay, and the fragrance made his mouth water, but he turned his head away. The black one shrugged and popped it into his own mouth.
Trying not to think about his hunger, Kunta looked out over the side of the box and saw, at the far end of a field, what appeared to be a small cluster of people bent over, seemingly at work. He thought they must be black, but they were too far away to be sure. He sniffed the air, trying to pick up their scent, but couldn't.
As the sun was setting, the box passed another like it, going in the opposite direction, with a toubob at the reins and three first-kafo black children riding behind him. Trudging in chains behind the box were seven adult blacks, four men wearing ragged clothes and three women in coarse gowns. Kunta wondered why these were not also singing; then he saw the deep despair on their faces as they flashed past. He wondered where toubob was taking them.
As the dusk deepened, small black bats began squeaking and darting jerkily here and there, just as they did in Africa. Kunta heard the toubob say something to the black one, and before much longer the box turned off onto a small road. Kunta sat up and soon, in the distance, saw a large white house through the trees. His stomach clutched up: What in the name of Allah was to happen now? Was it here that he was going to be eaten? He slumped back down in the box and lay as if he were lifeless.
As the box rolled closer and closer to the house, Kunta began to A smell--and then hear--more black people. Raising himself up on his elbows, he could just make out three figures in the early dusk as they approached the wagon. The largest among them was swinging one of those small flames Kunta had become familiar with when the toubob had come down into the dark hold of the big canoe; only this one was enclosed in something clear and shiny rather than in metal. He had never seen anything like it before; it looked hard, but you could see through it as if it weren't there. He didn't have the chance to study it more closely, though, for the three blacks quickly stepped to one side as a new toubob strode past them and up to the box, which promptly stopped beside him. The two toubob greeted one another, and then one of the blacks held up the flame so that the toubob in the box could see better as he climbed down to join the other one. They clasped hands warmly and then walked off together toward the house.
Hope surged in Kunta. Would the black ones free him now? But he no sooner thought of it than the flame lit their faces as they stood looking at him over the sides of the wagon; they were laughing at him. What kind of blacks were these who looked down upon their own kind and worked as goats for the toubob? Where had they come from? They looked as Africans looked, but clearly they were not of Africa.
Then the one who had driven the rolling box clucked at the animal and snapped the thongs and the box moved ahead. The other blacks walked alongside, still laughing, until it stopped again. Climbing down, the driver walked back and in the light of the flame jerked roughly at Kunta's chain, making threatening sounds as he unlocked it under the seat, and then gestured for Kunta to get out.
Kunta fought down the impulse to leap for the throats of the four blacks. The odds were too high; his chance would come later. Every muscle in his body seemed to be screaming as he forced himself onto his knees and began to crab backward in the box. When he took too long to suit them, two of the blacks grabbed Kunta, hoisted him roughly over the side, and half dropped him onto the ground. A moment later the driver had clicked the free end of Kunta's chain around a thick pole.
As he lay there, flooded with pain, fear, and hatred, one of the blacks set before him two tin containers. In the light of the flame, Kunta could see that one was nearly filled with water, and the other held some strange-looking, strange-smelling food. Even so, the saliva ran in Kunta's mouth and down in his throat; but he didn't permit even his eyes to move. The black ones watching him laughed.
Holding up the flame, the driver went over to the thick pole and lunged heavily against the locked chain, clearly for Kunta to see that it could not be broken. Then he pointed with his foot at the water and the food, making threatening sounds, and the others laughed again as the four of them walked away.
Kunta lay there on the ground in the darkness, waiting for sleep to claim them, wherever they had gone. In his mind, he saw himself rearing up and surging desperately again and again against the chain, with all of the strength that he could muster, until it broke and he could escape to . . . Just then he smelled a dog approaching him, and heard it curiously sniffing. Somehow he sensed that it was not his enemy. But then, as the dog came closer, he heard the sound of chewing and the click of teeth on the tin pan. Though he wouldn't have eaten it himself, Kunta leaped up in rage, snarling like a leopard. The dog raced away, and from a short distance started barking. Within a moment, a door had squeaked open nearby and someone was running toward him with a flame. It was the driver, and Kunta sat staring with cold fury as the driver anxiously examined the chain around the base of the post, and next where the chain was attached to the iron cuff around Kunta's ankle. In the dim yellow light, Kunta saw the driver's expression of satisfaction at the empty food plate. With a hoarse grunt, he walked back to his hut, leaving Kunta in the darkness wishing that he could fasten his hands around the throat of the dog.
After a while, Kunta groped around for the container of water and drank some of the contents, but it didn't make him feel any better; in fact, the strength felt drained from his body; it seemed as if he were only a shell. Abandoning the idea of breaking the chain--for now, anyway--he felt as if Allah had turned His back--but why? What thing so terrible had he ever done? He tried to review everything of any significance that he had ever done--right or wrong--up to the morning when he was cutting a piece of wood to make himself a drum and then, too late, heard a twig snap. It seemed to him that every time in his life when he had been punished, it had been because of carelessness and inattention.
Kunta lay listening to the crickets, the whir of night birds, and the barking of distant dogs--and once to the sudden squeak of a mouse, then the crunch of its bones breaking in the mouth of an animal that had killed it. Every now and then he would tense up with the urge to run, but he knew that even if he were able to rip loose his chain, its rattling would swiftly awaken someone in the huts nearby.
He lay this way--with no thought of sleeping--until the first streaks of dawn. Struggling as well as his aching limbs would let him into a kneeling position, he began his suba prayer. As he was pressing his forehead against the earth, however, he lost his balance and almost fell over on his side; it made him furious to realize how weak he had become.
As the eastern sky slowly brightened, Kunta reached again for the water container and drank what was left. Hardly had he finished it when approaching footsteps alerted him to the return of the four black men. Hurriedly they hoisted Kunta back into the rolling box, which was driven to the large white house, where the toubob was waiting to get onto the seat again. And before he knew it they were back on the main road, headed in the same direction as before.
For a time in the clearing day, Kunta lay staring vacantly at the chain rattling across the floor of the box to where it was locked under the seat. Then, for a while, he let his eyes bore with hatred at the backs of the toubob and the black ahead. He wished he could kill them. He made himself remember that if he was to survive, having survived so much until now, that he must keep his senses collected, he must keep control of himself, he must make himself wait, he must not expend his energy until he knew that it was the right time.
It was around midmorning when Kunta heard what he knew instantly was a blacksmith pounding on metal; lifting his head, Kunta strained his eyes to see and finally located the sound somewhere beyond a thick growth of trees they were passing. He saw that much forest had been freshly cut, and stumps grubbed up, and in some places, as the rolling box lurched along, Kunta saw and smelled grayish smoke rising from where dry brush was being burned. He wondered if the toubob were thus fertilizing the earth for the next season's crops, as it was done in Juffure.
Next, in the distance ahead, he saw a small square hut beside the road. It seemed to be made of logs, and in a cleared plot of earth before it, a toubob man was plodding behind a brown bullock. The toubob's hands were pressing down hard against the curving handles of some large thing pulled by the bullock that was tearing through the earth. As they came nearer, Kunta saw two more toubob--pale and thin--squatting on their haunches under a tree; three equally skinny swine were rooting around them, and some chickens were pecking for food. In the hut's doorway stood a she toubob with red hair. Then, dashing past her, came three small toubob shouting and waving toward the rolling box. Catching sight of Kunta, they shrieked with laughter and pointed; he stared at them as if they were hyena cubs. They ran alongside the wagon for a good way before turning back, and Kunta lay realizing that he had seen with his own eyes an actual family of toubob.
Twice more, far from the road, Kunta saw large white toubob houses similar to the one where the wagon had stopped the night before. Each was the height of two houses, as if one were on top of another; each had in front of it a row of three or four huge white poles as big around--and almost as tall--as trees; nearby each was a group of small, dark huts where Kunta guessed the blacks lived, and surrounding each was a vastness of cotton fields, all of them recently harvested, flecked here and there with a tuft of white.
Somewhere between these two great houses, the rolling box overtook a strange pair of people walking along the side of the road. At first Kunta thought they were black, but as the wagon came closer he saw that their skin was reddish-brown, and they had long black hair tied to hang down their backs like a rope, and they walked quickly, lightly in shoes and loincloths that seemed to be made of hide, and they carried bows and arrows. They weren't toubob, yet they weren't of Africa either; they even smelled different. What sort of people were they? Neither one seemed to notice the rolling box as it went by, enveloping them in dust.
As the sun began to set, Kunta turned his face toward the east, and by the time he had finished his silent evening prayer to Allah, dusk was gathering. He was getting so weak, after two days without accepting any of the food he had been offered, that he had to lie down limply in the bottom of the rolling box, hardly caring any more about what was happening around him.
But Kunta managed to raise himself up again and look over the side when the box stopped a little later. Climbing down, the driver hung one of those lights against the side of the box, got back in his seat, and resumed the trip. After a long while the toubob spoke briefly, and the black one replied; it was the first time since they had started out that day that the two of them had exchanged a sound. Again the box stopped, and the driver got out and tossed some kind of coverlet to Kunta, who ignored it. Climbing back up onto the seat, the driver and the toubob pulled coverlets over themselves and set out once again.
Though he was soon shivering, Kunta refused to reach for the coverlet and draw it over him, not wishing to give them that satisfaction. They offer me cover, he thought, yet they keep me in chains, and my own people not only stand by and let it happen but actually do the toubob's dirty business for him. Kunta knew only that he must escape from this dreadful place--or die in the attempt. He dared not dream that he would ever see Juffure again, but if he did, he vowed that all of The Gambia would learn what the land of toubob was really like.
Kunta was nearly numb with cold when the rolling box turned suddenly off the main road and onto a bumpier and smaller one. Again he forced his aching body upward far enough to squint into the darkness--and there in the distance he saw the ghostly whiteness of another of the big houses. As on the previous night, the fear of what would befall him now coursed through Kunta as they pulled up in front of the house--but he couldn't even smell any signs of the toubob or black ones he expected to greet them.
When the box finally stopped, the toubob on the seat ahead of him dropped to the ground with a grunt, bent and squatted down several times to uncramp his muscles, then spoke briefly to the driver with a gesture back at Kunta, and then walked away toward the big house.
Still no other blacks had appeared, and as the rolling box creaked on ahead toward the nearby huts, Kunta lay in the back feigning indifference. But he was tense in every fiber, his pains forgotten. His nostrils detected the smell of other blacks nearby; yet no one came outside. His hopes rose further. Stopping the box near the huts, the black one climbed heavily and clumsily to the ground and trudged over to the nearest hut, the flame bobbing in his hand. As he pushed the door open, Kunta watched and waited, ready to spring, for him to go inside; but instead he turned and came back to the box. Putting his hands under the seat, he unclicked Kunta's chain and held the loose end in one hand as he walked around to the back of the box. Yet something made Kunta still hold back. The black one jerked the chain sharply and barked something roughly to Kunta. As the black one stood watching carefully, Kunta struggled onto all fours--trying to look even weaker than he felt--and began crawling backward as slowly and clumsily as possible. As he had hoped, the black one lost patience, leaned close, and with one powerful arm, levered Kunta up and over the end of the wagon, and his upraised knee helped to break Kunta's fall to the ground.
At that instant, Kunta exploded upward--his hands clamping around the driver's big throat like the bone-cracking jaws of a hyena. The flame dropped to the ground as the black one lurched backward with a hoarse cry; then he came storming back upright with his big hands pounding, tearing, and clawing at Kunta's face and forearms. But somehow Kunta found the strength to grip the throat even tighter as he twisted his body desperately to avoid the driver's clublike blows with thrashing fists, feet, and knees. Kunta's grip would not be broken until the black one finally stumbled backward and then down, with a deep gurgling sound, and then went limp.
Springing up, fearing above all another barking dog, Kunta slipped away like a shadow from the fallen driver and the overturned flame. He ran bent low, legs crashing through frosted stalks of cotton. His muscles, so long unused, screamed with pain, but the cold, rushing air felt good upon his skin, and he had to stop himself from whooping out loud with the pleasure of feeling so wildly free.
The thorny brambles and vines of the brush at the edge of the forest seemed to reach out and tear at Kunta's legs. Ripping them aside with his hands, he plunged on--stumbling and falling, picking himself up again--deeper and deeper into the forest. Or so he thought, until the trees began to thin and he burst suddenly into more low brush. Ahead of him was another wide cottonfield, and beyond it yet another big white house with small dark huts beside it. With shock and panic, Kunta sprang back into the woods, realizing that all he had done was cross a narrow stretch of forest that separated two great toubob farms. Crouching behind a tree, he listened to the pounding of his heart and head and began to feel a stinging in his hands, arms, and feet. Glancing down in the bright moonlight, he saw that they were cut and bleeding from the thorns. But what alarmed him more was that the moon was already down in the sky; it would soon be dawn. He knew that whatever he was going to do, he had little time to decide.
Stumbling back into motion, Kunta knew after only a little while that his muscles would not carry him much farther. He must retreat into the thickest part of the forest he could find and hide there. So he went clawing his way back, sometimes on all fours, his feet and arms and legs tangling in the vines, until at last he found himself in a dense grove of trees. Though his lungs were threatening to burst, Kunta considered climbing one of them, but the softness of the thick carpeting of leaves under his feet told him that many of the trees' leaves had fallen off, which could make him easily seen, so that his best concealment would be on the ground.
Crawling again, he settled finally--just as the sky began to lighten--in a place of deep undergrowth. Except for the wheeze of his own breath, everything was very still, and it reminded him of his long, lonely vigils guarding the groundnut fields with his faithful wuolo dog. It was just then that he heard in the distance the deep baying of a dog. Perhaps he had heard it only in his mind, he thought, snapping to alertness and straining his ears. But it came again--only now there were two of them. He didn't have much time.
Kneeling toward the east, he prayed to Allah for deliverance, and just as he finished, the deep-throated baying came again, closer this time. Kunta decided it was best to stay hidden where he was, but when he heard the howling once again--closer still--just a few minutes later, it seemed that they knew exactly where he was and his limbs wouldn't let him remain there a moment longer. Into the underbrush he crawled again, hunting for a deeper, even more secreted place. Every inch among the brambles raking at his hands and knees was torture, but with every cry from the dogs he scrambled faster and faster. Yet the barking grew ever louder and closer, and Kunta was sure that he could hear now the shouting of men behind the dogs.
He wasn't moving fast enough; springing up, he began to run--stumbling through the brambles--as quickly and quietly as his exhaustion would permit. Almost immediately he heard an explosion, the shock buckled his knees and sent him sprawling into a tangle of briars.
The dogs were snarling at the very edge of the thicket now. Quivering in terror, Kunta could even smell them. A moment later they were thrashing through the underbrush straight for him. Kunta made it up onto his knees just as the two dogs came crashing through the brush and leaped on him, yowling and slavering and snapping as they knocked him over, then sprang backward to lunge at him again. Snarling himself, Kunta fought wildly to fend them off, using his hands like claws while he tried to crab backward away from them. Then he heard the men shouting from the edge of the brush, and again there was an explosion, this time much louder. As the dogs relented somewhat in their attack, Kunta heard the men cursing and slashing through the brush with knives.
Behind the growling dogs, he saw first the black one he had choked. He held a huge knife in one hand, a short club and a rope in the other, and he looked murderous. Kunta lay bleeding on his back, jaws clenched to keep from screaming, expecting to be chopped into bits. Then Kunta saw the toubob who had brought him here appear behind the black one, his face reddish and sweating. Kunta waited for the flash and the explosion that he had learned on the big canoe could come from the firestick that a second toubob--one he hadn't seen before--pointed at him now. But it was the black one who now rushed forward furiously, raising his club, when the chief toubob shouted.
The black one halted, and the toubob shouted at the dogs, who drew farther back. Then the toubob said something to the black one, who now moved forward uncoiling his rope. A heavy blow to Kunta's head sent him into a merciful numbing shock. He was dimly aware of being trussed up so tightly that the rope bit into his already bleeding skin; then of being half lifted from among the brambles and made to walk. Whenever he lost his balance and fell down, a whip seared across his back. When they finally reached the forest's edge, Kunta saw three of the donkeylike animals tied near several trees.
As they approached the animals, he tried to bolt away again, but a vicious yank on the free end of the rope sent him tumbling down--and earned him a kick in the ribs. Now the second toubob, holding the rope, moved ahead of Kunta, jerking him stumbling toward a tree near where the animals were tied. The rope's free end was thrown over a lower limb, and the black one hauled on it until Kunta's feet barely touched the ground.
The chief toubob's whistling whip began to lash against Kunta's back. He writhed under the pain, refusing to make any sound, but each blow felt as if it had torn him in half. Finally he began screaming, but the lashing went on.
Kunta was hardly conscious when at last the whip stopped falling. He sensed vaguely that he was being lowered and crumpling onto the ground; then that he was being lifted and draped across the back of one of the animals; then he was aware of movement.
The next thing Kunta knew--he had no idea how much time had passed--he was lying spread-eagled on his back in some kind of hut. A chain, he noticed, was attached to an iron cuff on each wrist and ankle, and the four chains were fixed to the base of four poles at the corners of the hut. Even the slightest movement brought such excruciating pain that for a long while he lay completely still, his face wet with sweat and his breath coming in quick, shallow gasps.
Without moving, he could see that a small, square, open space above him was admitting daylight. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a recessed place in the wall, and within it a mostly burned log and some ashes. On the other side of the hut, he saw a wide, flat, lumpy thing of cloth on the floor, with corn shucks showing through its holes; he guessed it might be used as a bed.
As dusk showed through the open space above him, Kunta heard--from very nearby--the blowing of a strange-sounding horn. And before much more time had passed, he heard the voices of what he smelled were many black people passing near where he was. Then he smelled food cooking. As his spasms of hunger mingled with the pounding in his head and the stabbing pains in his back and his thorn-cut arms and legs, he berated himself for not having waited for a better time to escape, as a trapped animal would have done. He should have first observed and learned more of this strange place and its pagan people.
Kunta's eyes were closed when the hut's door squeaked open; he could smell the black one he had choked, who had helped to catch him. He lay still and pretended to be asleep--until a vicious kick in the ribs shot his eyes wide open. With a curse, the black one set something down just in front of Kunta's face, dropped a covering over his body, and went back out, slamming the door behind him.
The smell of the food before him hurt Kunta's stomach almost as much as the pain in his back. Finally, he opened his eyes. There was some kind of mush and some kind of meat piled upon a flat, round tin, and a squat, round gourd of water beside it. His spread-eagled wrists made it impossible to pick them up, but both were close enough for him to reach with his mouth. Just as he was about to take a bite, Kunta smelled that the meat was the filthy swine, and the bile from his stomach came spewing up and onto the tin plate.
Through the night, he lay drifting into and out of sleep and wondering about these black ones who looked like Africans but ate pig. It meant that they were all strangers--or traitors--to Allah. Silently he begged Allah's forgiveness in advance if his lips would ever touch any swine without his realizing it, or even if he ever ate from any plate that any swine meat had ever been on.
Soon after the dawn showed again through the square opening, Kunta heard the strange horn blow once more; then came the smell of food cooking, and the voices of the black ones hurrying back and forth. Then the man he despised returned, bringing new food and water. But when he saw that Kunta had vomited over the untouched plate that was already there, he bent down with a string of angry curses and rubbed the contents into Kunta's face. Then he set the new food and water before him, and left.
Kunta told himself that he would choke the food down later; he was too sick even to think about it now. After a little while, he heard the door open again; this time he smelled the stench of toubob. Kunta kept his eyes clamped shut, but when the toubob muttered angrily, he feared another kick and opened them. He found himself staring up at the hated face of the toubob who had brought him here; it was flushed with rage. The toubob made cursing sounds and told him with threatening gestures that if he didn't eat the food, he would get more beating. Then the toubob left.
Kunta managed to move his left hand far enough for the fingers to scratch up a small mound of the hard dirt where the toubob's foot had been. Pulling the dirt closer, Kunta pressed his eyes shut and appealed to the spirits of evil to curse forever the womb of the toubob and his family.
Kunta had counted four days and three nights in the hut. And each night he had lain listening to the singing from the huts nearby--and feeling more African than he ever felt in his own village. What kind of black people they must be, he thought, to spend their time singing here in the land of the toubob. He wondered how many of these strange black ones there were in all of toubob land, those who didn't seem to know or care who or what they were.
Kunta felt a special closeness to the sun each time it rose. He recalled what an old man who had been an alcala had said down in the darkness of the big canoe: "Each day's new sun will remind us that it rose in our Africa, which is the navel of the earth."
Although he was spread-eagled by four chains, he had practiced until he had learned a way to inch forward or backward on his back and buttocks to study more closely the small but thick iron rings, like bracelets, that fastened the chains to the four poles at the hut's corners. The poles were about the size of his lower leg, and he knew there was no hope of his ever breaking one, or of pulling one from the hard-packed earth floor, for the upper ends went up through the hut's roof. With his eyes and then his fingers, Kunta carefully examined the small holes in the thick metal rings; he had seen his captors insert a narrow metal thing into these holes and turn them, making a click sound. When he shook one of the rings, it made the chain rattle--loud enough for someone to hear--so he gave that up. He tried putting one of the rings in his mouth and biting it as hard as he could; finally one of his teeth cracked, lancing pains through his head.
Seeking some dirt preferable to that of the floor in order to make a fetish to the spirits, Kunta scraped out with his fingers a piece of the reddish, hardened mud chinking between the logs. Seeing short, black bristles within the mud, he inspected one curiously; when he realized that it was a hair from the filthy swine, he flung it away--along with the dirt--and wiped off the hand that had held it.
On the fifth morning, the black one entered shortly after the wake-up horn had blown, and Kunta tautened when he saw that along with his usual short, flat club, the man carried two thick iron cuffs. Bending down, he locked each of Kunta's ankles within the cuffs, which were connected by a heavy chain. Only then did he unlock the four chains, one by one, that had kept Kunta spread-eagled. Free to move at last, Kunta couldn't stop himself from springing upward--only to be struck down by the black one's waiting fist. As Kunta began pushing himself back upward, a booted foot dug viciously into his ribs. Stumbling upward once again in agony and rage, he was knocked down even harder. He hadn't realized how much the days of lying on his back had sapped his strength, and he lay now fighting for breath as the black one stood over him with an expression that told Kunta he would keep knocking him down until he learned who was the master.
Now the black one gestured roughly for Kunta to get up. When he couldn't raise his body even onto his hands and knees, the black one jerked him to his feet with a curse and shoved him forward, the ankle cuffs forcing Kunta to hobble awkwardly.
The full force of daylight in the doorway blinded him at first, but after a moment he began to make out a line of black people walking hastily nearby in single file, followed closely by a toubob riding a "hoss," as he had heard that strange animal called. Kunta knew from his smell that he was the one who had held the rope after Kunta had been trapped by the dogs. There were about ten or twelve blacks--the women with red or white rags tied on their heads, most of the men and children wearing ragged straw hats; but a few were bare-headed, and as far as he could see, none of them wore a single saphie charm around their necks or arms. But some of the men carried what seemed to be long, stout knives, and the line seemed to be heading in the direction of the great fields. He thought that it must have been they whom he had heard at night doing all that singing. He felt nothing but contempt for them. Turning his blinking gaze, Kunta counted the huts they had come from: There were ten, including his own--all very small, like his, and they didn't have the stout look of the mud huts of his village, with their roofs of sweet-smelling thatch. They were arranged in rows of five each--positioned, Kunta noticed, so that whatever went on among the blacks living there could be seen from the big white house.
Abruptly the black one began jabbing at Kunta's chest with his finger, then exclaiming, "You--you Toby!" Kunta didn't understand, and his face showed it, so the black one kept jabbing him and saying the same thing over and over. Slowly it dawned on Kunta that the black one was attempting to make him understand something he was saying in the strange toubob tongue.
When Kunta continued to stare at him dumbly, the black one began jabbing at his own chest. "Me Samson!" he exclaimed. "Samson!" He moved his jabbing finger again to Kunta. "You To-by! Toby. Massa say you name Toby!"
When what he meant began to sink in, it took all of Kunta's self-control to grip his flooding rage without any facial sign of the slightest understanding. He wanted to shout "I am Kunta Kinte, first son of Omoro, who is the son of the holy man Kairaba Kunta Kinte!"
Losing patience with Kunta's apparent stupidity, the black one cursed, shrugged his shoulders, and led him hobbling into another hut, where he gestured for Kunta to wash himself in a large, wide tin tub that held some water. The black one threw into the water a rag and a brown chunk of what Kunta's nose told him was something like the soap that Juffure women made of hot melted fat mixed with the lye of water dripped through wood ashes. The black one watched, scowling, as Kunta took advantage of the opportunity to wash himself. When he was through, the black one tossed to him some different toubob garments to cover his chest and legs, then a frayed hat of yellowish straw such as the others wore. How would these pagans fare under the heat of Africa's sun, Kunta wondered.
The black one led him next to still another hut. Inside, an old woman irritably banged down before Kunta a flat tin of food. He gulped down the thick gruel, and a bread resembling munko cake, and washed it down with some hot brown beefy-tasting broth from a gourd cup. Next they went to a narrow, cramped hut whose smell told of its use in advance. Pretending to pull down his lower garment, the black one hunched over a large hole cut into a plank seat and grunted heavily as if he were relieving himself. A small pile of corncobs lay in one corner, and Kunta didn't know what to make of them. But he guessed that the black one's purpose was to demonstrate the toubob's ways--of which he wished to learn all that he could, the better to escape.
As the black one led him past the next few huts, they went by an old man seated in some strange chair; it was rocking slowly back and forth as he wove dried cornshucks into what Kunta guessed was a broom. Without looking up, the old man cast toward him a not unkindly glance, but Kunta ignored it coldly.
Picking up one of the long, stout knives that Kunta had seen the others carrying, the black one motioned with his head toward the distant field, grunting and gesturing for Kunta to follow him. Hobbling along in the iron cuffs--which were chafing his ankles--Kunta could see in the field ahead that the females and the younger blacks were bending up and down, gathering and piling dried cornstalks behind the older men in front of them, who slashed down the stalks with swishing blows of their long knives.
Most of the men's backs were bared and glistening with sweat. His eyes searched for any of the branding-iron marks such as his back bore--but he saw only the scars that had been left by whips. The toubob rode up on his "hoss," exchanged words briefly with the black one, then fixed a threatening stare on Kunta as the black one gestured for his attention.
Slashing down about a dozen cornstalks, the black one turned, bent, and made motions for Kunta to pick them up and pile them as the others were doing. The toubob jerked his horse closer alongside Kunta, his whip cocked and the scowl on his face making his intent clear if Kunta should refuse to obey. Enraged at his helplessness, Kunta bent down and picked up two of the cornstalks. Hesitating, he heard the black one's knife swishing ahead. Bending over again, he picked up two more cornstalks, and two more. He could feel the stares of other black ones upon him from adjacent rows, and could see the feet of the toubob's horse. He could feel the relief of the other blacks, and at last the horse's feet moved away.
Without raising his head, Kunta saw that the toubob rode this way or that to wherever he saw someone who wasn't working swiftly enough to please him, and then with an angry shout, his lash would go cracking down across a back.
Off in the distance, Kunta saw that there was a road. On it, a few times during the hot afternoon, through the sweat pouring down his forehead and stinging in his eyes, he caught glances of a lone rider on a horse, and twice he saw a wagon being drawn. Turning his head the other way, he could see the edge of the forest into which he had tried to escape. And from where he was piling the cornstalks now, he could see the forest's narrowness, which had helped him to get caught, because he had not realized that narrowness before. After a while, Kunta had to stop glancing in that direction, for the urge to spring up and bound toward those trees was almost irresistible. Each step he took, in any case, reminded him that he would never get five steps across the field wearing those iron hobbles. As he worked through the afternoon, Kunta decided that before he tried his next escape, he must find some kind of weapon to fight dogs and men with. No servant of Allah should ever fail to fight if he is attacked, he reminded himself. If it was dogs or men, wounded buffalo or hungry lions, no son of Omoro Kinte would ever entertain the thought of giving up.
It was after sundown when the horn sounded once again--this time in the distance. As Kunta watched the other blacks hurrying into a line, he wished he could stop thinking of them as belonging to the tribes they resembled, for they were but unworthy pagans not fit to mingle with those who had come with him on the big canoe.
But how stupid the toubob must be to have those of Fulani blood--even such poor specimens as these--picking up cornstalks instead of tending cattle; anyone knew that the Fulani were born to tend cattle, that indeed Fulani and cattle talked together. This thought was interrupted as the toubob on his "hoss" cracked the whip to direct Kunta to the end of the line. As he obeyed, the squat, heavy woman at the end of the line took several quick forward steps, trying to get as far as possible from Kunta. He felt like spitting on her. As they began to march--each hobbling step chafing at his ankles, which had been rubbed raw and were beginning to seep blood--Kunta heard some hounds barking far away. He shivered, remembering those that had tracked him and attacked him. Then his mind flashed a memory of how his own wuolo had died fighting the men who had captured him in Africa.
Back in his hut, Kunta kneeled and touched his forehead to the hard dirt floor in the direction in which he knew the next sun would rise. He prayed for a long time to make up for the two prayers he had been unable to perform out in the field, which would certainly have been interrupted by a lash across his back from the toubob who rode the "hoss."
After finishing his prayer, Kunta sat bolt upright and spoke softly for a while in the secret sira kango tongue, asking his ancestors to help him endure. Then--pressing between his fingers a pair of cock's feathers he had managed to pick up without being noticed while "Samson" had led him around that morning--he wondered when he would get the chance to steal a fresh egg. With the feathers of the cock and some finely crushed fresh eggshell, he would be able to prepare a powerful fetish to the spirits, whom he would ask to bless the dust where his last footsteps had touched in his village. If that dust was blessed, his footprints would one day reappear in Juffure, where every man's footprints were recognizable to his neighbors, and they would rejoice at this sign that Kunta Kinte was still alive and that he would return safely to his village. Someday.
For the thousandth time, he relived the nightmare of his capture. If only the cracking twig that alerted him had snapped a single footstep earlier, he could have leaped and snatched up his spear. Tears of rage came welling up into Kunta's eyes. It seemed to him that for moons without end, all that he had known was being tracked and attacked and captured and chained.
No! He would not allow himself to act this way. After all, he was a man now, seventeen rains of age, too old to weep and wallow in self-pity. Wiping away the tears, he crawled onto his thin, lumpy mattress of dried cornshucks and tried to go to sleep--but all he could think of was the name "To-by" he had been given, and rage rose in him once more. Furiously, he kicked his legs in frustration--but the movement only gouged the iron cuffs deeper into his ankles, which made him cry again.
Would he ever grow up to be a man like Omoro? He wondered if his father still thought of him, and if his mother had given to Lamin, Suwadu, and Madi the love that had been taken away from her when he was stolen. He thought of all of Juffure, and of how he had never realized more than now how very deeply he loved his village. As it had often been on the big canoe, Kunta lay for half the night with scenes of Juffure flashing through his mind, until he made himself shut his eyes and finally sleep came.
With each passing day, the hobbles on his ankles made it more and more difficult and painful for Kunta to get around. But he kept on telling himself that the chances of gaining freedom depended upon continuing to force himself to do whatever was wanted of him, all behind a mask of complete blankness and stupidity. As he did so, his eyes, ears, and nose would miss nothing--no weapon he might use, no toubob weakness he might exploit--until finally his captors were lulled into removing the cuffs. Then he would run away again.
Soon after the conch horn blew each morning, Kunta would limp outside to watch as the strange black ones emerged from their huts, the sleepiness still in their faces, and splashed themselves with water from buckets drawn up in the well nearby. Missing the sound of the village women's pestles thumping the couscous for their families' morning meals, he would enter the hut of the old cooking woman and bolt down whatever she gave him--except for any filthy pork.
As he ate each morning, his eyes would search the hut for a possible weapon he might take without being detected. But apart from the black utensils that hung on hooks above her fireplace, there were only the round, flat tin things upon which she gave him what he ate with his fingers. He had seen her eating with a slender metal object that had three or four closely spaced points to stab the food with. He wondered what it was, and thought that although it was small it might be useful--if he could ever catch her eyes averted for a moment when the shiny object was within reach.
One morning, as he was eating his gruel, watching as the cooking woman cut a piece of meat with a knife he hadn't seen before and plotting what he would do with it if it were in his hands instead of hers, he heard a piercing squeal of agony from outside the hut. It was so close to his thoughts that he nearly jumped from his seat. Hobbling outside, he found the others already lined up for work--many of them still chewing the last bites of "breakfast," lest they get a lashing for being late--while there on the ground beside them lay a swine thrashing about with blood pulsing from its cut throat as two black men lifted it into a steaming pot of water, then withdrew it and scraped off the hair. The swine's skin was the color of a toubob, he noticed, as they suspended it by the heels, slit open its belly, and pulled out its insides. Kunta's nose stifled at the spreading smell of guts, and as he marched off with the others toward the fields, he had to suppress a shudder of revulsion at the thought of having to live among these pagan eaters of such a filthy animal.
There was frost on the cornstalks every morning now, and a haziness hung low over the fields until the heat of the climbing sun would burn it away. Allah's powers never ceased to amaze Kunta--that even in a place as distant as this toubob land was across the big water, Allah's sun and moon still rose and crossed the sky, though the sun was not so hot nor the moon so beautiful as in Juffure. It was only the people in this accursed place who seemed not of Allah's doing. The toubob were inhuman, and as for the blacks, it was simply senseless to try to understand them.
When the sun reached the middle of the sky, again the conch horn blew, signaling another lineup for the arrival of a wooden sled pulled by an animal similar to a horse, but more resembling a huge donkey, which Kunta had overheard being spoken of as a "mule." Walking beside the sled was the old cooking woman, who proceeded to pass out flat cakes of bread and a gourdful of some kind of stew to each person in the line, who either stood or sat and gulped it down, then drank some water dipped from a barrel that was also on the sled. Every day, Kunta warily smelled the stew before tasting it, to make sure he didn't put any swine meat into his mouth, but it usually contained only vegetables and no meat that he could see or smell at all. He felt better about eating the bread, for he had seen some of the black women making corn into meal by beating it in a mortar with a pestle of stone, about as it was done in Africa, although Binta's pestle was made of wood.
Some days they served foods Kunta knew of from his home, such as groundnuts, and kanjo--which was called "okra"--and so-so, which was called "black-eyed peas." And he saw how much these black ones loved the large fruit that he heard here being called "watermelon." But he saw that Allah appeared to have denied these people the mangoes, the hearts of palm, the breadfruits, and so many of the other delicacies that grew almost anywhere one cared to look on the vines and trees and bushes in Africa.
Every now and then the toubob who had brought Kunta to this place--the one they called "massa"--rode out into the fields when they were working. In his whitish straw hat, as he spoke to the toubob field boss, he gestured with a long, slender, plaited leather switch, and Kunta noticed that the toubob "oberseer" grinned and shuffled almost as much as the blacks whenever he was around.
Many such strange things happened each day, and Kunta would sit thinking about them back in his hut while he waited to find sleep. These black ones seemed to have no concern in their lives beyond pleasing the toubob with his lashing whip. It sickened him to think how these black ones jumped about their work whenever they saw a toubob, and how, if that toubob spoke a word to them, they rushed to do whatever he told them to. Kunta couldn't fathom what had happened to so destroy their minds that they acted like goats and monkeys. Perhaps it was because they had been born in this place rather than in Africa, because the only home they had ever known were the toubob's huts of logs glued together with mud and swine bristles. These black ones had never known what it meant to sweat under the sun not for toubob masters but for themselves and their own people.
But no matter how long he stayed among them, Kunta vowed never to become like them, and each night his mind would go exploring again into ways to escape from this despised land. He couldn't keep from reviling himself almost nightly for his previous failure to get away. Playing back in his mind what it had been like among the thorn bushes and the slavering dogs, he knew that he must have a better plan for the next time. First he had to make himself a saphie charm to insure safety and success. Then he must either find or make some kind of weapon. Even a sharpened stick could have speared through those dogs' bellies, he thought, and he could have been away again before the black one and the toubob had been able to cut their way through the underbrush to where they had found him fighting off the dogs. Finally, he must acquaint himself with the surrounding countryside so that when he escaped again, he would know where to look for better hiding places.
Though he often lay awake half the night, restless with such thoughts, Kunta always awoke before the first crowing of the cocks, which always aroused the other fowl. The birds in this place, he noticed, merely twittered and sang--nothings like the deafening squawks of great flocks of green parrots that had opened the mornings in Juffure. There didn't seem to be any parrots here, or monkeys either, which always began the day at home by chattering angrily in the trees overhead, breaking off sticks and hurling them to the ground at the people underneath. Nor had Kunta seen any goats here--a fact he found no less incredible than that these people kept swine in pens--"pigs" or "hogs," they called them--and even fed the filthy things.
But the squealing of the swine, it seemed to Kunta, was no uglier than the language of the toubob who so closely resembled them. He would have given anything to hear even a sentence of Mandinka, or any other African tongue. He missed his chain mates from the big canoe--even those who weren't Moslem--and he wondered what had happened to them. Where had they been taken? To other toubob farms such as this one? Wherever they were, were they longing as he was to hear once again the sweetness of their own tongues--and yet feeling shut out and alone, as he did, because they knew nothing of the toubob language?
Kunta realized that he would have to learn something of this strange speech if he was ever to understand enough about the toubob or his ways to escape from him. Without letting anyone know, he already recognized some words: "pig," "hog," "watermelon," "black-eyed peas," "oberseer," "massa," and especially "yes suh, massa," which was about the only thing he ever heard the black ones say to them. He had also heard the black ones describe the she toubob who lived with "massa" in the big white house as "the missus." Once, from a distance, Kunta had glimpsed her, a bony creature the color of a toad's underbelly, as she walked around cutting off some flowers among the vines and bushes that grew alongside the big house.
Most of the other toubob words that Kunta heard still confused him. But behind his expressionless mask, he tried hard to make sense of them, and slowly he began to associate various sounds with certain objects and actions. But one sound in particular was extremely puzzling to him, though he heard it exclaimed over and over nearly every day by toubob and blacks alike. What, he wondered, was a "nigger"?
With the cutting and piling of the cornstalks at last completed, the "oberseer" began assigning different blacks to a variety of tasks after the conch horn blew each dawn. One morning Kunta was given the job of snapping loose from their thick vines and piling onto a "wagon," as he'd learned they called the rolling boxes, a load of large, heavy vegetables the color of overripe mangoes and somewhat resembling the big gourds that women in Juffure dried out and cut in half to make household bowls. The blacks here called them "punkins."
Riding with the "punkins" on the wagon to unload them at a large building called the "barn," Kunta was able to see that some of the black men were sawing a big tree into thick sections and splitting them with axes and wedges into firewood that children were stacking into long rows as high as their heads. In another place, two men were hanging over thin poles the large leaves of what his nose told him was the filthy pagan tobacco; he had smelled it once before on one of the trips he had taken with his father.
As he rode back and forth to the "barn," he saw that just as it was done in his own village, many things were being dried for later use. Some women were collecting a thick brown "sage-grass," he heard them call it, and tying it into bundles. And some of the garden's vegetables were being spread out on cloths to dry. Even moss--which had been gathered by groups of children and plunged into boiling water--was being dried as well; he had no idea why.
It turned his stomach to watch--and listen--as he passed a pen where still more swine were being butchered. Their hair, too, he noticed, was being dried and saved--probably for mortar--but the thing that really sickened him was to see the swines bladders being removed, blown up, tied at the ends, and hung up to dry along a fence; Allah only knew for what unholy purpose.
When he had finished harvesting and storing the "punkins," Kunta was sent with several others to a grove of trees, the limbs of which they were told to shake vigorously so that the nuts growing in them would fall to the ground, where they were picked up by first-kafo children carrying baskets. Kunta picked up one of the nuts and hid it in his clothes to try later when he was alone; it wasn't bad.
When the last of these tasks was done, the men were put to work repairing things that needed it. Kunta helped another man fix a fence. And the women seemed to be busy in a general cleaning of the big white house and their own huts. He saw some of them washing things, first boiling them in a large black tub, then rubbing them up and down against a wrinkled piece of tin in soapy water; he wondered why none of them knew how to wash clothing properly by beating it against rocks.
Kunta noticed that the whip of the "oberseer" seemed to strike down upon someone's back much less often than before. He felt in the atmosphere something similar to the time in Juffure when the harvest had all been put safely into the storehouses. Even before the evening's conch horn would blow to announce the end of the day's work, some of the black men would begin cavorting and prancing and singing among themselves. The "oberseer" would wheel his horse around and brandish his whip, but Kunta could tell he didn't really mean it. And soon the other men would join in, and then the women--singing words that made no sense at all to Kunta. He was so filled with disgust for all of them that he was glad when the conch horn finally signaled for them to return to their huts.
In the evenings, Kunta would sit down sideways just inside the doorway of his hut, heels flat against the packed dirt floor to minimize the iron cuffs' contact with his festering ankles. If there was any light breeze, he enjoyed feeling it blowing against him, and thinking about the fresh carpet of gold and crimson leaves he would find under the trees the next morning. At such times, his mind would wander back to harvest-season evenings in Juffure, with the mosquitoes and other insects tormenting the people as they sat around the smoky night fires and settled into long conversations that would be punctuated now and then by the distant snarling of leopards and the screaming of hyenas.
One thing he didn't hear, it occurred to him, and hadn't heard since he left Africa, was the sound of drums. The toubob probably didn't allow these black people to have any drums, that had to be the reason. But why? Was it because the toubob knew and feared how the sound of the drums could quicken the blood of everyone in a village, until even the little children and the toothless old ones would dance wildly? Or how the rhythm of the drums would drive wrestlers to their greatest feats of strength? Or how the hypnotic beat could send warriors into a frenzy against their enemies? Or perhaps the toubob were simply afraid to allow a form of communication they couldn't understand that could travel the distance between one farm and another.
But these heathen blacks wouldn't understand drumtalk any better than the toubob. Kunta was forced to concede, though--if only with great reluctance--that these pagan blacks might not be totally irredeemable. Ignorant as they were, some of the things they did were purely African, and he could tell that they were totally unaware of it themselves. For one thing, he had heard all his life the very same sounds of exclamation, accompanied by the very same hand gestures and facial expressions. And the way these blacks moved their bodies was also identical. No less so was the way these blacks laughed when they were among themselves--with their whole bodies, just like the people of Juffure.
And Kunta had been reminded of Africa in the way that black women here wore their hair tied up with strings into very tight plaits--although African women often decorated their plaits with colorful beads. And the women of this place knotted cloth pieces over their heads, although they didn't tie them correctly. Kunta saw that even some of these black men wore their hair in short plaits, too, as some men did in Africa.
Kunta also saw Africa in the way that black children here were trained to treat their elders with politeness and respect. He saw it in the way that mothers carried their babies with their plump little legs straddling the mothers' bodies. He noticed even such small customs as how the older ones among these blacks would sit in the evenings rubbing their gums and teeth with the finely crushed end of a twig, which would have been lemongrass root in Juffure. And though he found it difficult to understand how they could do it here in toubob land, Kunta had to admit that these blacks' great love of singing and dancing was unmistakably African.
But what really began to soften his heart somewhat toward these strange people was the fact that over the past moon, their great showing of distaste for him had continued only when the "oberseer" or the "massa" was around. When Kunta came by anywhere the blacks were among themselves, most of them by now would quickly nod, and he would notice their expressions of concern for the worsening condition of his left ankle. Though he always coldly ignored them and hobbled on, he would sometimes find himself later almost wishing that he had returned their nods.
One night, when Kunta had fallen asleep but drifted again into wakefulness, as he often did, he lay staring up into the darkness and feeling that Allah had somehow, for some reason, willed him to be here in this place amid the lost tribe of a great black family that reached its roots back among the ancient forefathers; but unlike himself, these black ones in this place had no knowledge whatsoever of who they were and where they'd come from.
Feeling around him, in some strange way, the presence of his holy-man grandfather, Kunta reached out into the darkness. There was nothing to be felt but he began speaking aloud to the Alquaran Kairaba Kunta Kinte, imploring him to make known the purpose of his mission here, if there be any. He was startled to hear the sound of his own voice. Up to this moment in the toubob's land, he had never uttered a sound addressed to anyone but Allah, except for those cries that had been torn from him by a lash.
The next morning, as he joined the others in line for the march to work, Kunta almost caught himself saying, "Mornin'," as he had heard them greet each other every day. But though he knew enough toubob words by now not only to understand a good deal of what was said to him but also to make himself somewhat understood as well, something made him decide to continue keeping that knowledge to himself.
It occurred to Kunta that these blacks masked their true feelings for the toubob as carefully as he did his changing attitude toward them. He had by now many times witnessed the blacks' grinning faces turn to bitterness the instant a toubob turned his head away. He had seen them break their working tools on purpose, and then act totally unaware of how it happened as the "oberseer" bitterly cursed them for their clumsiness. And he had seen how blacks in the field, for all their show of rushing about whenever the toubob was nearby, were really taking twice as much time as they needed to do whatever they were doing.
He was beginning to realize, too, that like the Mandinkas' own secret sira kango language, these blacks shared some kind of communication known only among themselves. Sometimes when they were working out in the field, Kunta's glance would catch a small, quick gesture or movement of the head. Or one of them would utter some strange, brief exclamation; at unpredictable intervals another, and then another, would repeat it, always just beyond the hearing of the "oberseer" as he rode about on his horse. And sometimes with him right there among them, they would begin singing something that told Kunta--even though he couldn't understand it--that some message was being passed, just as the women had done for the men on the big canoe.
When darkness had fallen among the huts and the lamp lights no longer glowed from the windows in the big house, Kunta's sharp ears would detect the swift rustlings of one or two blacks slipping away from "slave row"--and a few hours later, slipping back again. He wondered where they were going and for what--and why they were crazy enough to come back. And the next morning in the fields, he would try to guess which of them had done it. Whoever it was, he thought he just might possibly learn to trust them.
Two huts away from Kunta, the blacks would seat themselves around the small fire of the old cooking woman every evening after "supper," and the sight would fill Kunta with a melancholy memory of Juffure, except that the women here sat with the men, and some of both sexes were puffing away on pagan tobacco pipes that now and then glowed dully in the gathering darkness. Listening intently from where he sat just inside his doorway, Kunta could hear them talking over the rasping of the crickets and the distant hooting of owls in the forest. Though he couldn't understand the words, he felt the bitterness in their tone.
Even in the dark, Kunta by now could picture in his mind the face of whichever black was talking. His mind had filed away the voices of each of the dozen adults, along with the name of the tribe he felt that particular one most resembled. He knew which ones among them generally acted more carefree, and which seldom even smiled, a few of them not even around the toubob.
These evening meetings had a general pattern that Kunta had learned. The usual first talker was usually the woman who cooked in the big house. She mimicked things said by both the "massa" and the "missus." Then he heard the big black one who had captured him imitating the "oberseer," and he listened with astonishment as the others all but choked trying to stifle their laughter, lest they be heard in the big white house.
But then the laughter would subside and they would sit around talking among themselves. Kunta heard the helpless, haunted tone of some, and the anger of others, even though he grasped only a little of what they discussed. He had the feeling that they were recalling things that had happened to them earlier in their lives. Some of the women in particular would be talking and then suddenly break into tears. Finally the talking would grow quiet as one of the women began to sing, and the others joined in. Kunta couldn't understand the words--"No-body knows de troubles I'se seed"--but he felt the sadness in the singing.
At last there came a voice that Kunta knew was the oldest man among them, the one who sat in the rocking chair and wove things of cornshucks, and who blew the conch horn. The others would bow their heads, and he would begin speaking slowly what Kunta guessed was some kind of prayer, though it was certainly not to Allah. But Kunta remembeed what was said by the old alcala down in the big canoe: "Allah knows every language." While the prayer continued, Kunta kept hearing the same odd sound exclaimed sharply by both the old man and others who kept interrupting him with it: "Oh Lawd!" He wondered if this "Oh Lawd" was their Allah.
A few days later, the night winds began to blow with a coldness beyond any that Kunta had ever felt, and he woke up to find the last leaves stripped from the trees. As he stood shivering in line to go out to the fields, he was bewildered when the "oberseer" directed everyone into the barn instead. Even the massa and the missus were there, and with them four other finely dressed toubob who watched and cheered as the blacks were separated into two groups and made to face each other at ripping off and flinging aside the whitened, dried outside shucks from the piled harvest of corn.
Then the toubob and the blacks--in two groups--ate and drank their fill. The old black man who prayed at night then took up some kind of musical instrument with strings running down its length--it reminded Kunta of the ancient kora from his own homeland--and began to make some very odd music on it by jerking some kind of wand back and forth across the strings. The other blacks got up and began to dance--wildly--as the watching toubob, even the "oberseer," gleefully clapped and shouted from the sidelines. Their faces reddened with excitement, all the toubob suddenly stood up, and as the blacks shrank to the side, they clapped their way out into the middle of the floor and began to dance in an awkward way while the old man played as if he had gone mad and the other blacks jumped up and down and clapped and screamed as if they were seeing the greatest performance of their lives.
It made Kunta think of a story he had been told by his beloved old Grandmother Nyo Boto when he was in the first kafo. She had told how the king of a village had called together all of the musicians and commanded them to play their very best for him to dance for the people, including even the slaves. And the people were all delighted and they left all singing loudly to the skies and there had never been another king like him.
Back in his hut later that night reflecting upon what he had seen, it occurred to Kunta that in some strong, strange, and very deep way, the blacks and the toubob had some need for each other. Not only during the dancing in the barn, but also on many other occasions, it had seemed to him that the toubob were at their happiest when they were close around the black ones--even when they were beating them.
Kunta's left ankle had become so infected that pus draining from the wound all but covered the iron cuff with a sickly yellow slickness, and his crippled limping finally caused the "oberseer" to take a close look. Turning his head away, he told Samson to remove the cuffs.
It was still painful to raise his foot, but Kunta was so thrilled to be unfettered that he hardly felt it. And that night, after the others had gone to bed and all had become still, Kunta limped outside and stole away once again. Crossing a field in the opposite direction from the one he had fled across the last time, he headed toward what he knew was a wider, deeper forest on the other side. He had reached a ravine and was clambering up the far side on his belly when he heard the first sound of a movement in the distance. He lay still with his heart pounding as he heard heavy footfalls approaching and finally the hoarse voice of Samson cursing and shouting, "Toby! Toby!" Gripping a stout stick he had sharpened into a crude spear, Kunta felt strangely calm, almost numb, as his eyes coldly watched the bulky silhouette moving quickly this way and that in the brush at the top of the ravine. Something made him sense that Samson feared for himself if Kunta succeeded in getting away. Closer and closer he stalked--Kunta coiled tight but motionless as a stone--and then the moment came. Hurling the spear with all his might, he grunted slightly with the pain it caused and Samson, hearing him, sprang instantly to one side; it missed him by a hair.
Kunta tried to run, but the weakness of his ankles made him hardly able to keep upright, and when he whirled to fight, Samson was upon him, slamming with his greater weight behind each blow, until Kunta was driven to the earth. Hauling him back upward, Samson kept pounding, aiming only at his chest and belly, as Kunta tried to keep his body twisting as he gouged and bit and clawed. Then one massive blow sent him crashing down again, this time to stay. He couldn't even move to defend himself any further.
Gasping for breath, Samson tied Kunta's wrists tightly together with a rope, and then began jerking Kunta along by its free end, back toward the farm, kicking him savagely whenever he stumbled or faltered, and cursing him every step of the way.
It was all Kunta could do to keep staggering and lurching behind Samson. Dizzy from pain and exhaustion--and disgust with himself--he grimly anticipated the beatings he would receive when they reached his hut. But when they finally arrived--shortly before dawn--Samson only gave him another kick or two and then left him alone lying in a heap.
Kunta was so used up that he trembled. But with his teeth he began to gnash and tear at the fibers of the rope binding his wrists together, until his teeth hurt like flashes of fire. But the rope finally came apart just as the conch horn blew. Kunta lay weeping. He had failed again, and he prayed to Allah.
Through the days that followed, it was as if he and Samson shared some secret pact of hatred. Kunta knew how closely he was being watched; he knew that Samson was waiting for any excuse to hurt him in a manner the toubob would approve. Kunta responded by going through the motions of doing whatever work he was given to do as if nothing had happened--but even faster and more efficiently than before. He had noticed how the "oberseer" paid less attention to those who worked the hardest or did the most grinning. Kunta couldn't bring himself to grin, but with grim satisfaction he noted that the more he sweated, the less often the lash fell across his back.
One evening after work, Kunta was passing near the barn when he spotted a thick iron wedge lying half concealed among some of the sawed sections of trees where the "oberseer" had two men splitting firewood. Glancing around quickly in all directions, and seeing no one watching, Kunta snatched up the wedge and, concealing it in his shirt, hurried to his hut. Using it to dig a hole in the hard dirt floor, he placed the wedge in the hole, packed the loose dirt back over it, then beat it down carefully with a rock until the floor looked completely undisturbed.
He spent a sleepless night worrying that a wedge discovered missing might cause all of the cabins to be searched. He felt better when there was no outcry the following day, but he still wasn't sure just how he might employ the wedge to help himself escape, when that time came again.
What he really wanted to get his hands on was one of those long knives that the "oberseer" would issue to a few of the men each morning. But each evening he would see the "oberseer" demanding the knives back and counting them carefully. With one of those knives, he could cut brush to move more quickly within a forest, and if he had to, he could kill a dog--or a man.
One cold afternoon almost a moon later--the sky bleak and slaty--Kunta was on his way across one of the fields to help another man repair a fence when, to his astonishment, what looked like salt began to fall from the sky, at first lightly, then more rapidly and thickly. As the salt became a flaky whiteness, he heard the black nearby exclaiming, "Snow!" and guessed that was what they called it. When he bent down to pick some of it up, it was cold to his touch--and even colder when he licked it off a finger with his tongue. It stung, and it had no taste whatever. He tried to smell it, but not only did there seem to be no odor either, it also disappeared into watery nothingness. And wherever he looked on the ground was a whitish film.
But by the time he reached the other side of the field, the "snow" had stopped and even begun to melt away. Hiding his amazement, Kunta composed himself and nodded silently to his black partner, who was waiting by the broken fence. They set to work--Kunta helping the other man to string a kind of metal twine that he called "wire." After a while they reached a place almost hidden by tall grass, and as the other man hacked some of it down with the long knife he carried, Kunta's eyes were gauging the distance between where he stood and the nearest woods. He knew that Samson was nowhere near and the "oberseer" was keeping watch in another field that day. Kunta worked busily, to give the other man no suspicion of what was in his mind. But his breath came tensely as he stood holding the wire tight and looking down on the head of the man bent over his work. The knife had been left a few steps behind them, where the chopping of the brush had stopped.
With a silent prayer to Allah, Kunta clasped his hands together, lifted them high, and brought them down across the back of the man's neck with all the violence of which his slight body was capable. The man crumpled without a sound, as if he had been poleaxed. Within a moment, Kunta had bound the man's ankles and wrists with the wire. Snatching up the long knife, Kunta suppressed the impulse to stab him--this was not the hated Samson--and went running toward the woods, bent over almost double. He felt a lightness, as if he were running in a dream, as if this weren't really happening at all.
He came out of it a few moments later--when he heard the man he had left live yelling at the top of his lungs. He should have killed him, Kunta thought, furious with himself, as he tried to run yet faster. Instead of fighting his way deeply into the underbrush when he reached the woods, he skirted it this time. He knew that he had to achieve distance first, then concealment. If he got far enough fast enough, he would have time to find a good place to hide and rest before moving on under cover of the night.
Kunta was prepared to live in the woods as the animals did. He had learned many things about this toubob land by now, together with what he already knew from Africa. He would capture rabbits and other rodents with snare traps and cook them over a fire that wouldn't smoke. As he ran, he stayed in the area where the brush would conceal him but wasn't thick enough to slow him down.
By nightfall, Kunta knew that he had run a good distance. Yet he kept going, crossing gullies and ravines, and for quite a way down the bed of a shallow stream. Only when it was completely dark did he allow himself to stop, hiding himself in a spot where the brush was dense but from which he could easily run if he had to. As he lay there in the darkness, he listened carefully for the sound of dogs. But there was nothing but stillness all around him. Was it possible? Was he really going to make it this time?
Just then he felt a cold fluttering on his face, and reached up with his hand. "Snow" was falling again! Soon he was covered--and surrounded--by whiteness as far as he could see. Silently it fell, deeper and deeper, until Kunta began to fear he was going to be buried in it; he was already freezing. Finally he couldn't stop himself from leaping up and running to look for better cover.
He had run a good way when he stumbled and fell; he wasn't hurt, but when he looked back, he saw with horror that his feet had left a trail in the snow so deep that a blind man could follow him. He knew that there was no way he could erase the tracks, and he knew that the morning was now not far away. The only possible answer was more distance. He tried to increase his speed, but he had been running most of the night, and his breath was coming in labored gasps. The long knife had begun to feel heavy; it would cut brush, but it wouldn't melt "snow." The sky was beginning to lighten in the east when he heard, far ahead of him, the faint sound of conch horns. He changed course in the next stride. But he had the sinking feeling that there was nowhere he could find to rest safely amid this blanketing whiteness.
When he heard the distant baying of the dogs, a rage flooded up in him such as he had never felt before. He ran like a hunted leopard, but the barking grew louder and louder, and finally, when he glanced back over his shoulder for the tenth time, he saw them gaining on him. The men couldn't be far behind. Then he heard a gun fire, and somehow it propelled him forward even faster than before. But the dogs caught up with him anyway. When they were but strides away, Kunta whirled and crouched down, snarling back at them. As they came lunging forward with their fangs bared, he too lunged at them, slashing open the first dog's belly with a single sideways swipe of the knife; with another blur of his arm, he hacked the blade between the eyes of the next one.
Springing away, Kunta began running again. But soon he heard the men on horses crashing through the brush behind him, and he all but dove for the deeper brush where the horses couldn't go. Then there was another shot, and another--and he felt a flashing pain in his leg. Knocked down in a heap, he had staggered upright again when the toubob shouted and fired again, and he heard the bullets thud into trees by his head. Let them kill me, thought Kunta; I will die as a man should. Then another shot hit the same leg, and it smashed him down like a giant fist. He was snarling on the ground when he saw the "oberseer" and another toubob coming toward him with their guns leveled and he was about to leap up and force them to shoot him again and be done with it, but the wounds in his leg wouldn't let him rise.
The other toubob held his gun at Kunta's head as the "oberseer" jerked off Kunta's clothing until he stood naked in the snow, the blood trickling down his leg and staining the whiteness at his feet. Cursing with each breath, the "oberseer" knocked Kunta all but senseless with his fist; then both of them tied him facing a large tree, with his wrists bound on the other side.
The lash began cutting into the flesh across Kunta's shoulders and back, with the "oberseer" grunting and Kunta shuddering under the force of each blow. After a while Kunta couldn't stop himself from screaming with the pain, but the beating went on until his sagging body pressed against the tree. His shoulders and back were covered with long, half-opened bleeding welts that in some places exposed the muscles beneath. He couldn't be sure, but the next thing Kunta knew he had the feeling he was falling. Then he felt the coldness of the snow against him and everything went black.
He came to in his hut, and along with his senses, pain returned--excruciating and enveloping. The slightest movement made him cry out in agony; and he was back in chains. But even worse, his nose informed him that his body was wrapped from feet to chin in a large cloth soaked with grease of the swine. When the old cooking woman came in with food, he tried to spit at her, but succeeded only in throwing up. He thought he saw compassion in her eyes.
Two days later, he was awakened early in the morning by the sounds of festivities. He heard black people outside the big house shouting "Christmas gif', Massa!," and he wondered what they could possibly have to celebrate. He wanted to die, so that his soul could join the ancestors; he wanted to be done forever with misery unending in this toubob land, so stifling and stinking that he couldn't draw a clean breath in it. He boiled with fury that instead of beating him like a man, the toubob had stripped him naked. When he became well, he would take revenge--and he would escape again. Or he would die.
When Kunta finally emerged from his hut, again with both of his ankles shackled, most of the other blacks avoided him, rolling their eyes in fear of being near him, and moving quickly elsewhere, as if he were a wild animal of some kind. Only the old cooking woman and the old man who blew the conch horn would look at him directly.
Samson was nowhere to be seen. Kunta had no idea where he had gone, but Kunta was glad. Then, a few days later, he saw the hated black one bearing the unhealed marks of a lash; he was gladder still. But at the slightest excuse, the lash of the toubob "oberseer" fell once again on Kunta's back as well.
He knew every day that he was being watched as he went through the motions of his work, like the others moving more quickly when the toubob came anywhere near, then slowing down as they left. Unspeaking, Kunta did whatever he was ordered to do. And when the day was over, he carried his melancholy--deep within himself--from the fields back to the dingy little hut where he slept.
In his loneliness, Kunta began talking to himself, most often in imaginary conversations with his family. He would talk to them mostly in his mind, but sometimes aloud. "Fa," he would say, "these black ones are not like us. Their bones, their blood, their sinews, their hands, their feet are not their own. They live and breathe not for themselves but for the toubob. Nor do they own anything at all, not even their own children. They are fed and nursed and bred for others."
"Mother," he would say, "these women wear cloths upon their heads, but they do not know how to tie them; there is little that they cook that does not contain the meat or the greases of the filthy swine, and many of them have lain down with the toubob, for I see their children who are cursed with the sasso-borro half color."
And he would talk with his brothers Lamin, Suwadu, and Madi, telling them that even the wisest of the elders could never really adequately impress upon them the importance of realizing that the most vicious of the forest animals was not half as dangerous as the toubob.
And so the moons passed in this way, and soon the spikes of "ice" had fallen and melted into water. And before long after that, green grass came peeping through the dark-reddish earth, the trees began to show their buds, and the birds were singing once again. And then came the plowing of the fields and the planting of the endless rows. Finally the sun's rays upon the soil made it so hot that Kunta was obliged to step quickly, and if he had to stop, to keep his feet moving to prevent them from blistering.
Kunta had bided his time and minded his own business, waiting for his keepers to grow careless and take their eyes off him once again. But he had the feeling that even the other blacks were still keeping an eye on him, even when the "oberseer" and the other toubob weren't around. He had to find some way not to be so closely watched. Perhaps he could take advantage of the fact that the toubob didn't look at blacks as people but as things. Since the toubob's reactions to these black things seemed to depend on how those things acted, he decided to act as inconspicuous as possible.
Though it made him despise himself, Kunta forced himself to start behaving the way the other blacks did whenever the toubob came anywhere near. Hard as he tried, he couldn't bring himself to grin and shuffle, but he made an effort to appear co-operative, if not friendly, and he made a great show of looking busy. He had also learned a good many more toubob words by now, always keenly listening to everything that was said around him, either out in the fields or around the huts at night, and though he still chose not to speak himself, he began to make it clear that he could understand.
Cotton--one of the main crops on the farm--grew quickly here in the toubob's land. Soon its flowers had turned into hard green bolls and split open, each filled with fluffy balls, until the fields as far as Kunta could see were vast seas of whiteness, dwarfing the fields he had seen around Juffure. It was time to harvest, and the wake-up horn began blowing earlier in the morning, it seemed to Kunta, and the whip of the "oberseer" was cracking in warning even before the "slaves," as they were called, could tumble from their beds.
By watching others out in the field, Kunta soon learned that a hunched position made his long canvas sack seem to drag less heavily behind him as the endlessly repeated handfuls of cotton from the bolls slowly filled his sack. Then he would drag it to be emptied in the wagon that waited at the end of the rows. Kunta filled his sack twice a day, which was about average, although there were some--hated and envied by the others for bending their backs so hard to please the toubob, and succeeding at it--who could pick cotton so fast that their hands seemed a blur; by the time the horn blew at dusk, their sacks would have been filled and emptied into the wagon at least three times.
When each cotton wagon was filled, it was taken to a storehouse on the farm, but Kunta noticed that the overflowing wagons of tobacco harvested in the larger fields adjoining his were driven away somewhere down the road. Four days passed before it returned empty--just in time to pass another loaded wagon on its way out. Kunta also began seeing other loaded tobacco wagons, doubtlessly from other farms, rolling along the main road in the distance, drawn sometimes by as many as four mules. Kunta didn't know where the wagons were going, but he knew they went a long way, for he had seen the utter exhaustion of Samson and other drivers when they had returned from one of their trips.
Perhaps they would go far enough to take him to freedom. Kunta found it hard to get through the next several days in his excitement with this tremendous idea. He ruled out quickly any effort to hide on one of this farm's wagons; there would be no time without someone's eyes too near for him to slip unnoticed into a load of tobacco. It must be a wagon moving along the big road from some other farm. Using the pretext of going to the outhouse late that night, Kunta made sure that no one was about, then went to a place where he could see the road in the moonlight. Sure enough--the tobacco wagons were traveling at night. He could see the flickering lights each wagon carried, until finally those small specks of brightness would disappear in the distance.
He planned and schemed every minute, no details of the local tobacco wagons escaping his notice. Picking in the fields, his hands fairly flew; he even made himself grin if the "oberseer" rode anywhere near. And all the time he was thinking how he would be able to leap onto the rear end of a loaded, rolling wagon at night and burrow under the tobacco without being heard by the drivers up front because of the bumping wagon's noise, and unseen not only because of the darkness but also because of the tall mound of leaves between the drivers and the rear of the wagon. It filled him with revulsion even to think of having to touch and smell the pagan plant he had managed to stay away from all his life, but if that was the only way to get away, he felt sure that Allah would forgive him.
Waiting one evening soon afterward behind the "outhouse," as the slaves called the hut where they went to relieve themselves, Kunta killed with a rock one of the rabbits that abounded in the woods nearby. Carefully he sliced it thinly and dried it as he had learned in manhood training, for he would need to take some nourishment along with him. Then, with a smooth rock, he honed the rusted and bent knife blade he had found and straightened, and wired it into a wooden handle that he had carved. But even more important than the food and the knife was the saphie he had made--a cock's feather to attract the spirits, a horse's hair for strength, a bird's wishbone for success--all tightly wrapped and sewn within a small square of gunnysacking with a needle he had made from a thorn. He realized the foolishness of wishing that his saphie might be blessed by a holy man, but any saphie was better than no saphie at all.
He hadn't slept all night, but far from being tired, it was all Kunta could do not to burst with excitement--to keep from showing any emotion at all--throughout the next day's working in the fields. For tonight would be the night. Back in his hut after the evening meal, his hands trembled as he pushed into his pocket the knife and the dried slices of rabbit, then tied his saphie tightly around his upper right arm. He could hardly stand hearing the familiar early-night routine of the other blacks; for each moment, which seemed to be taking forever to pass, might bring some unexpected occurrence that could ruin his plan. But the bone-weary field hands' mournful singing and praying soon ended. To let them get safely asleep, Kunta waited as much longer as he dared.
Then, grasping his homemade knife, he eased out into the dark night. Sensing no one about, he bent low and ran as fast as he could go, plunging after a while into a small, thick growth of brush just below where the big road curved. He huddled down, breathing hard. Suppose no more wagons were coming tonight? The thought lanced through him. And then a nearly paralyzing, worse fear: Suppose the driver's helper sits as a rear lookout? But he had to take the chance.
He heard a wagon coming minutes before he saw its flickering light. Teeth clenched, muscles quivering, Kunta felt ready to collapse. The wagon seemed barely crawling. But finally, it was directly across from him and slowly passing. Two dim figures sat on its front seat. Feeling like screaming, he lunged from the growth of brush. Trotting low behind the squeaking, lurching wagon, Kunta awaited the road's next rough spot; then his outstretched hand clawed over the tailboard, and he was vaulting upward, over the top, and into the mountain of tobacco. He was on board!
Frantically he went burrowing in. The leaves were packed together far more tightly than he had expected, but at last his body was concealed. Even after pawing open an air space to breathe more freely--the stench of the filthy weed almost made him sick--he had to keep moving his back and shoulders a bit this way or that, trying to get comfortable under the pressing weight. But finally he found the right position, and the rocking motion of the wagon, cushioned by the leaves, which were very warm around him, soon made him drowsy.
A loud bump brought him awake with a sickening start, and he began to think about being discovered. Where was the wagon going, and how long would it take to get there? And when it arrived, would he be able to slip away unseen? Or would he find himself trailed and trapped again? Why had he not thought of this before? A picture flashed into his mind of the dogs, and Samson, and the toubob with their guns, and Kunta shuddered. Considering what they did to him last time, he knew that this time his life would depend upon not getting caught.
But the more he thought of it, the stronger his urge grew to leave the wagon now. With his hands, he parted the leaves enough to poke his head out. Out in the moonlight were endless fields and countryside. He couldn't jump out now. The moon was bright enough to help his pursuers as much as it could help him. And the longer he rode, the less likely it was that the dogs could ever track him. He covered up the hole and tried to calm himself, but every time the wagon lurched, he feared that it was going to stop, and his heart would nearly leap from his chest.
Much later, when he opened the hole again and saw that it was nearing dawn, Kunta made up his mind. He had to leave the wagon right now, before he came any closer to the enemy of open daylight. Praying to Allah, he grasped the handle of his knife and began to wriggle out of his hole. When his entire body was free, he waited again for the wagon to lurch. It seemed to take an eternity, but when it finally did he made a light leap--and was on the road. A moment later he was out of sight in the bushes.
Kunta swung in a wide arc to avoid two toubob farms where he could see the familiar big house with the small, dark huts nearby. The sounds of their wake-up horns floated across the still air to his ears, and as the dawn brightened, he was slashing through underbrush deeper and deeper into what he knew was a wide expanse of forest. It was cool in the dense woods, and the dew that sprinkled onto him felt good, and he swung his knife as if it were weightless, grunting in his pleasure with each swing. During the early afternoon, he happened upon a small stream of clear water tippling over mossy rocks, and frogs jumped in alarm as he stopped to drink from it with his cupped hands. Looking around and feeling safe enough to rest for a while, he sat down on the bank and reached into his pocket. Taking out a piece of the dried rabbit and swashing it around in the stream, he put it in his mouth and chewed. The earth was springy and soft beneath him, and the only sounds he could hear were made by the toads and the insects and the birds. He listened to them as he ate, and watched sunlight stippling the leafy boughs above him with splashes of gold among the green, and he told himself that he was glad he didn't have to run as hard or as steadily as he had before, for exhaustion had made him an easy prey.
On and on he ran, for the rest of the afternoon, and after pausing for his sundown prayer, he went on still farther until darkness--and weariness--forced him to stop for the night. Lying on his bed of leaves and grass, he decided that later he would build himself a shelter of forked sticks with a roof of grass, as he had learned in manhood training. Sleep claimed him quickly, but several times during the night he was awakened by mosquitoes, and he heard the snarlings of wild animals in the distance as they made their kills.
Up with the first rays of the sun, Kunta quickly sharpened his knife and then was off again. A while later he came upon what was clearly a trail where a number of men had walked; although he could see that it had not been used in a long time, he ran back into the woods as fast as he could go.
Deeper and deeper into the forest, his knife kept slashing. Several times he saw snakes, but on the toubob farm he had learned that they would not attack unless they were frightened or cornered, so he let them slither away. Now and then he would imagine that he heard a dog barking somewhere, and he would shiver, for more than men, he feared dogs' noses.
Several times during the day, Kunta got into foliage so dense that in some places even his knife wasn't stout enough to clear a path, and he had to return and find another way. Twice he stopped to sharpen his knife, which seemed to be getting dull more and more often, but when it didn't work any better afterward, he suspected that the constant slashing at briars, bushes, and vines had begun to sap his strength. So he paused to rest again, ate some more rabbit--and some wild blackberries--and drank water that he found in cupped leaves of plants at the bases of trees. That night he rested by another stream, plunging into sleep the moment he lay down, deaf to the cries of animals and night birds, insensible even to the buzzing and biting of the insects that were drawn to his sweaty body.
It wasn't until the next morning that Kunta began to think about where he was going. He hadn't let himself think of it before. Since he couldn't know where he was going because he didn't have any idea where he was, he decided that his only course was to avoid nearness to any other human beings, black or toubob, and to keep running toward the sunrise. The maps of Africa he'd seen as a boy showed the big water to the west, so he knew that eventually he'd reach it if he kept moving east. But when he thought about what might happen then, even if he wasn't caught; of how he would ever be able to cross the water, even if he had a boat; of how he would ever get safely to the other side, even if he knew the way--he began to get deeply frightened. Between prayers, he fingered the saphie charm on his arm even as he ran.
That night, as he lay hidden beneath a bush, he found himself thinking of the Mandinkas' greatest hero, the warrior Sundiata, who had been a crippled slave so meanly treated by his African master that he had escaped and gone hiding in the swamps, where he found and organized other escaped ones into a conquering army that carved out the vast Mandinka Empire. Maybe, Kunta thought as he set out again on this fourth day, he could find other escaped Africans somehow here in the land of toubob, and maybe they would be as desperate as he was to feel their toes once again in the dust of their native land. Maybe enough of them together could build or steal a big canoe. And then . . .
Kunta's reverie was interrupted by a terrible sound. He stopped in his tracks. No, it was impossible! But there was no mistake; it was the baying of hounds. Wildly he went hacking at the brush, stumbling and falling and scrambling up again. Soon he was so tired that when he fell again, he just sat there, very still, clutching the handle of his knife and listening. But he heard nothing now--nothing but the sounds of the birds and the insects.
Had he really heard the dogs? The thought tormented him. He didn't know which was his worst enemy, the toubob or his own imagination. He couldn't afford to assume that he hadn't really heard them, so he started running again; the only safety was to keep moving. But soon--exhausted not only by having to race so far and so fast, but also by fear itself--he had to rest again. He would close his eyes for just a moment, and then get going again.
He awoke in a sweat, sitting bolt upright. It was pitch dark! He had slept the day away! Shaking his head, he was trying to figure out what had wakened him when suddenly he heard it again: the baying of dogs, this time much closer than before. He sprang up and away so frantically that it was several moments before it flashed upon his mind that he had forgotten his long knife. He dashed back where he had lain, but the springy vines were a maze, and though he knew--maddeningly--that he had to be within arm's length of it, no amount of groping and scrabbling enabled him to lay his hand on it.
As the baying grew steadily louder, his stomach began to churn. If he didn't find it, he knew he would get captured again--or worse. With his hands jerking around everywhere underfoot, he finally grabbed hold of a rock about the size of his fist. With a desperate cry, he snatched it up and bolted into the deep brush.
All that night, like one possessed, he ran deeper and deeper into the forest--tripping, falling, tangling his feet in vines, stopping only for moments to catch his breath. But the hounds kept gaining on him, closer and closer, and finally, soon after dawn, he could see them over his shoulder. It was like a nightmare repeating itself. He couldn't run any farther. Turning and crouching in a little clearing with his back against a tree, he was ready for them--right hand clutching a stout limb he had snapped off another tree while he was running at top speed, left hand holding the rock in a grip of death.
The dogs began to lunge toward Kunta, but with a hideous cry he lashed the club at them so ferociously that they retreated and cowered just beyond its range, barking and slavering, until the two toubob appeared on their horses.
Kunta had never seen these men before. The younger one drew a gun, but the older one waved him back as he got down off his horse and walked toward Kunta. He was calmly uncoiling a long black whip.
Kunta stood there wild-eyed, his body shaking, his brain flashing a memory of toubob faces in the wood grove, on the big canoe, in the prison, in the place where he had been sold, on the heathen farm, in the woods where he had been caught, beaten, lashed, and shot three times before. As the toubob's arm reared backward with the lash, Kunta's arm whipped forward with a viciousness that sent him falling sideways as his fingers released the rock.
He heard the toubob shout; then a bullet cracked past his ear, and the dogs were upon him. As he rolled over and over on the ground ripping at the dogs, Kunta glimpsed one toubob's face with blood running down it. Kunta was snarling like a wild animal when they called off the dogs and approached him with their guns drawn. He knew from their faces that he would die now, and he didn't care. One lunged forward and grabbed him while the other clubbed with the gun, but it still took all of their strength to hold him, for he was writhing, fighting, moaning, shrieking in both Arabic and Mandinka--until they clubbed him again. Wrestling him violently toward a tree, they tore the clothes off him and tied him tightly to it around the middle of his body. He steeled himself to be beaten to death.
But then the bleeding toubob halted abruptly, and a strange look came onto his face, almost a smile, and he spoke briefly, hoarsely to the younger one. The younger one grinned and nodded, then went back to his horse and unlashed a short-handled hunting ax that had been stowed against the saddle. He chopped a rotting tree trunk away from its roots and pulled it over next to Kunta.
Standing before him, the bleeding one began making gestures. He pointed to Kunta's genitals, then to the hunting knife in his belt. Then he pointed to Kunta's foot, and then to the ax in his hand. When Kunta understood, he howled and kicked--and was clubbed again. Deep in his marrow, a voice shouted that a man, to be a man, must have sons. And Kunta's hands flew down to cover his foto. The two toubob were wickedly grinning.
One pushed the trunk under Kunta's right foot as the other tied the foot to the trunk so tightly that all of Kunta's raging couldn't free it. The bleeding toubob picked up the ax. Kunta was screaming and thrashing as the ax flashed up, then down so fast--severing skin, tendons, muscles, bone--that Kunta heard the ax thud into the trunk as the shock of it sent the agony deep into his brain. As the explosion of pain bolted through him, Kunta's upper body spasmed forward and his hands went flailing downward as if to save the front half of his foot, which was falling forward, as bright red blood jetted from the stump as he plunged into blackness.
For the better part of a day, Kunta lapsed into and out of consciousness, his eyes closed, the muscles of his face seeming to sag, with spittle dribbling from a corner of his open mouth. As he gradually grew aware that he was alive, the terrible pain seemed to split into parts--pounding within his head, lancing throughout his body, and searing in his right leg. When his eyes required too much effort to open, he tried to remember what had happened. Then it came to him--the flushed, contorted toubob face behind the ax flashing upward, the thunk against the stump, the front of his foot toppling off. Then the throbbing in Kunta's head surged so violently that he lapsed mercifully back into blackness.
The next time he opened his eyes, he found himself staring at a spider web on the ceiling. After a while, he managed to stir just enough to realize that his chest, wrists, and ankles were tied down, but his right foot and the back of his head were propped against something soft, and he was wearing some kind of gown. And mingled with his agony was the smell of something like tar. He had thought he knew all about suffering before, but this was worse.
He was mumbling to Allah when the door of the hut was pushed open; he stopped instantly. A tall toubob he had never seen came in carrying a small black bag. His face was set in an angry way, though the anger seemed not to be directed at Kunta. Waving away the buzzing flies, the toubob bent down alongside him. Kunta could see only his back; then something the toubob did to his foot brought such a shock that Kunta shrieked like a woman, rearing upward against the chest rope. Finally turning around to face him, the toubob placed his palm against Kunta's forehead and then grasped his wrist lightly and held it for a long moment. Then he stood up, and while he watched the grimaces on Kunta's drawn face called out sharply, "Bell!"
A black-skinned woman, short and powerfully built, with a stern but not forbidding face, soon came inside bringing water in a tin container. In some peculiar way, Kunta felt that he recognized her, that in some dream she had been already there looking down at him and bending beside him with sips of water. The toubob spoke to her in a gentle way as he took something from his black bag and stirred it into a cup of the water. Again the toubob spoke, and now the black woman kneeled and one of her hands raised the back of Kunta's head as the other tilted the cup for him to drink, which he did, being too sick and weak to resist.
His fleeting downward glance enabled him to catch a glimpse of the tip of the huge bandaging over his right foot; it was rust-colored with dried blood. He shuddered, wanting to spring up, but his muscles felt as useless as the vile-tasting stuff that he was permitting to go down his throat. The black woman then eased his head back down, the toubob said something to her again, and she replied, and the two of them went out.
Almost before they were gone, Kunta floated off into deep sleep. When next he opened his eyes late that night, he couldn't remember where he was. His right foot felt as if it were afire; he started to jerk it upward, but the movement made him cry out. His mind lapsed off into a shadowy blur of images and thoughts, each of them drifting beyond his grasp as quickly as they came. Glimpsing Binta, he told her that he was hurt, but not to worry, for he would be home again as soon as he was able. Then he saw a family of birds flying high in the sky and a spear piercing one of them. He felt himself falling, crying out, desperately clutching out at nothingness.
When he woke up again, Kunta felt sure that something terrible had happened to his foot; or had it been a nightmare? He only knew that he was very sick. His whole right side felt numb; his throat was dry; his parched lips were starting to split from fever; he was soaked in sweat, and it had a sickly smell. Was it possible that anyone would really chop off another's foot? Then he remembered that toubob pointing to his foot and to his genitals, and the horrible expression on his face. Again the rage flooded up, and Kunta made an effort to flex his toes. It brought a blinding sheet of pain. He lay there waiting for it to subside, but it wouldn't. And it was unbearable--except that somehow he was bearing it. He hated himself for wanting that toubob to come back with more of whatever it was he put in the water that had given him some ease.
Time and again he tried to pull his hands free of the loose binding at his sides, but to no avail. He lay there writhing and groaning in anguish when the door opened again. It was the black woman, the yellowish light from a flame flickering on her black face. Smiling, she began making sounds, facial expressions, and motions that Kunta knew was an effort to make him understand something. Pointing toward the hut's door, she pantomimed a tall man walking in, then giving something to drink to a moaning person, who then broadly smiled as if feeling much better. Kunta made no sign that he understood her meaning that the tall toubob was a man of medicine.
Shrugging, she squatted down and began pressing a damp, cooling cloth against Kunta's forehead. He hated her no less for it. Then she motioned that she was going to raise his head for him to sip some of the soup she had brought. Swallowing it, he felt flashing anger at her pleased look. Then she made a small hole in the dirt floor into which she set a round, long, waxy thing and lighted a flame at the top of it. With gesture and expression, she asked finally if there was anything else he wanted. He just glowered at her, and finally, she left.
Kunta stared at the flame, trying to think, until it guttered out against the dirt. In the darkness, the kill-toubob plotting in the big canoe came into his mind; he longed to be a warrior in a great black army slaughtering toubob as fast as his arms could swing. But then Kunta was shuddering, fearful that he was dying himself, even though that would mean he would be forevermore with Allah. After all, none had ever returned from Allah to tell what it was like with Him; nor had any ever returned to their villages to tell what it was like with the toubob.
On Bell's next visit, she looked down with deep concern into Kunta's bloodshot and yellowing eyes, which had sunken farther into his fevered face. He lay steadily shuddering, groaning, even thinner than when he had been brought here the week before. She went back outside, but within an hour was back with thick cloths, two steaming pots, and a pair of folded quilts. Moving quickly and--for some reason--furtively, she covered Kunta's bared chest with a thick, steaming poultice of boiled leaves mixed and mashed with something acrid. The poultice was so blistering hot that Kunta moaned and tried to shake it off, but Bell firmly shoved him back. Dipping cloths into her other steaming pot, she wrung them out and packed them over the poultice, then covered Kunta with the two quilts.
She sat and watched the sweat pour from him onto the dirt floor in rivulets. With a corner of her apron, Bell dabbed at the sweat that trickled into his closed eyes, and finally he lay entirely limp. Only when she felt the chest cloths and found them barely warm did she remove them. Then, wiping his chest clean of all traces of the poultice, she covered him with the quilts and left.
When he next awakened, Kunta was too weak even to move his body, which felt about to suffocate under the heavy quilts. But--without any gratitude--he knew that his fever was broken.
He lay wondering where that woman had learned to do what she had done. It was like Binta's medicines from his childhood, the herbs of Allah's earth passed down from the ancestors. And Kunta's mind played back to him, as well, the black woman's secretive manner, making him realize that it had not been toubob medicine. Not only was he sure that the toubob were unaware of it, he knew that the toubob should never know of it. And Kunta found himself studying the black woman's face in his mind. What was it the toubob had called her? "Bell."
With reluctance, after a while, Kunta decided that more than any other tribe, the woman resembled his own. He tried to picture her in Juffure, pounding her breakfast couscous, paddling her dugout canoe through the bolong, bringing in the sheaves of the rice harvest balanced on her head. But then Kunta reviled himself for the ridiculousness of thinking of his village in any connection with these pagan, heathen black ones here in the toubob's land.
Kunta's pains had become less constant now, and less intense; it hurt now mostly when he tried to strain against the bonds in his desperate achings to move around. But the flies tormented him badly, buzzing around his bandaged foot, or what was left of it, and now and then he would jerk that leg a little to make the flies swarm up awhile before returning.
Kunta began to wonder where he was. Not only was this not his own hut, but he could also tell from the sounds outside, and the voices of black people walking by, that he had been taken to some new farm. Lying there, he could smell their cooking and hear their early-night talking and singing and praying, and the horn blowing in the morning.
And each day the tall toubob came into the hut, always making Kunta's foot hurt as he changed the bandage. But when Bell came three times daily--she brought food and water, along with a smile and a warm hand on his forehead. He had to remind himself that these blacks were no better than the toubob. This black and this toubob may not mean him any harm--though it was too soon to be sure--but it was the black Samson who had beaten him almost to death, and it was toubob who had lashed him and shot him and cut his foot off. The more he gained in strength, the deeper grew his rage at having to lie there helpless, unable even to move anywhere, when for all of his seventeen rains he had been able to run, bound, and climb anywhere he wanted to. It was monstrous beyond understanding or endurance.
When the tall toubob untied Kunta's wrists from the short stakes that had held them at his sides, Kunta spent the next few hours trying futilely to raise his arms; they were too heavy. Grimly, bitterly, relentlessly, he began forcing usefulness back into his arms by flexing his fingers over and over, then making fists--until finally he could raise his arms. Next he began struggling to pull himself up on his elbows, and once he succeeded, he spent hours braced thus staring down at the bandaging over his stump. It seemed as big as a "punkin," though it was less bloody than the previous bandagings he had glimpsed as the toubob took them off. But when he tried now to raise the knee of that same leg, he found that he couldn't yet bear the pain.
He took out his fury and his humiliation on Bell when she came to visit him the next time, snarling at her in Mandinka and banging down the tin cup after he drank. Only later did he realize that it was the first time since he arrived in toubob's land that he had spoken to anyone else aloud. It made him even more furious to recall that her eyes had seemed warm despite his show of anger.
One day, after Kunta had been there for nearly three weeks, the toubob motioned for him to sit up as he began to unwrap the bandaging. As it came nearer to the foot, Kunta saw the cloth stickily discolored with a thick, yellowish matter. Then he had to clamp his jaws as the toubob removed the final cloth--and Kunta's senses reeled when he saw the swollen heel half of his foot covered with a hideous thick, brownish scab. Kunta almost screamed. Sprinkling something over the wound, the toubob applied only a light, loose bandaging over it, then picked up his black bag and hurriedly left.
For the next two days, Bell repeated what the toubob had done, speaking softly as Kunta cringed and turned away. When the toubob returned on the third day, Kunta's heart leaped when he saw him carrying two stout straight sticks with forked tops; Kunta had seen hurt people walk with them in Juffure. Bracing the stout forks under his arms, the toubob showed him how to hobble about swinging his right foot clear of the ground.
Kunta refused to move until they both left. Then he struggled to pull himself upright, leaning against the wall of the hut until he could endure the throbbing of his leg without falling down. Sweat was coursing down his face before he had maneuvered the forks of the sticks underneath his armpits. Giddy, wavering, never moving far from the wall for support, he managed a few awkward, hopping forward swings of his body, the bandaged stump threatening his balance with every movement.
When Bell brought his breakfast the next morning, Kunta's glance caught the quick pleasure on her face at the marks made by the ends of the forked sticks in the hard dirt floor. Kunta frowned at her, angry at himself for not remembering to wipe away those marks. He refused to touch the food until the woman left, but then he ate it quickly, knowing that he wanted its strength now. Within a few days, he was hobbling freely about within the hut.
In many ways, this toubob farm was very different from the last one, Kunta began to discover the first time he was able to get to the hut's doorway on his crutches and stand looking around outside. The black people's low cabins were all neatly whitewashed, and they seemed to be in far better condition, as was the one that he was in. It contained a small, bare table, a wall shelf on which were a tin plate, a drinking gourd, a "spoon," and those toubob eating utensils for which Kunta had finally learned the names: a "fork" and a "knife"; he thought it stupid for them to let him have such things within his reach. And his sleeping mat on the floor had a thicker stuffing of cornshucks. Some of the huts he saw nearby even had small garden plots behind them, and the one closest to the toubob's big house had a colorful, circular flower patch growing in front of it. From where he stood in the doorway, Kunta could see anyone walking in any direction, and whenever he did, he would quickly crutch back inside and remain there for some time before venturing back to the doorway.
Kunta's nose located the outhouse. Each day, he held back his urges until he knew that most of them were out at their tasks in the fields, and then--carefully making sure that no one was nearby--he would go crutching quickly across the short distance to make use of the place, and then get safely back.
It was a couple of weeks before Kunta began to make brief ventures beyond that nearby hut, and the hut of slave row's cooking woman, who wasn't Bell, he was surprised to discover. As soon as he was well enough to get around, Bell had stopped bringing him his meals--or even visiting. He wondered what had become of her--until one day, as he was standing in his doorway, he caught sight of her coming out the back door of the big house. But either she didn't see him or she pretended not to, as she walked right past him on her way to the outhouse. So she was just like the others after all; he had known it all along. Less often, Kunta caught glimpses of the tall toubob, who was usually getting into a black-covered buggy that would then go hurrying away, with its two horses being driven by a black who sat on a seat up front.
After a few more days, Kunta began to stay outside his hut even when the field workers returned in the evening, shambling along in a tired group. Remembering the other farm he had been on, he wondered why these black ones weren't being followed by some toubob with a whip on a horse. They passed close by Kunta--without seeming to pay him any attention at all--and disappeared into their huts. But within a few moments most of them were back outside again going about their chores. The men did things around the barn, the women milked cows and fed chickens. And the children lugged buckets of water and as much firewood as their arms could carry; they were obviously unaware that twice as much could be carried if they would bundle the wood and balance it, or the water buckets, on their heads.
As the days passed, he began to see that although these black ones lived better than those on the previous toubob farm, they seemed to have no more realization than the others that they were a lost tribe, that any kind of respect or appreciation for themselves had been squeezed out of them so thoroughly that they seemed to feel that their lives were as they should be. All they seemed to be concerned about was not getting beaten, having enough to eat and somewhere to sleep. There weren't many nights that Kunta finally managed to fall asleep before lying awake burning with fury at the misery of his people. But they didn't even seem to know that they were miserable. So what business was it of his if these people seemed to be satisfied with their pathetic lot? He lay feeling as if a little more of him was dying every day, that while any will to live was left to him, he should try to escape yet again, whatever the odds or the consequences. What good was he anymore--alive or dead? In the twelve moons since he was snatched from Juffure--how much older than his rains he had become.
It didn't help matters any that no one seemed to have found any kind of useful work for Kunta to do, though he was getting around ably enough on his crutches. He managed to convey the impression that he was occupied sufficiently by himself and that he had no need or desire to associate with anybody. But Kunta sensed that the other blacks didn't trust him any more than he trusted them. Alone in the nights, though, he was so lonely and depressed, spending hours staring up into the darkness, that he felt as if he were falling in upon himself. It was like a sickness spreading within him. He was amazed and ashamed to realize that he felt the need for love.
Kunta happened to be outside one day when the toubob's buggy rolled into the yard with the black driver's seat shared by a man of sasso borro color. When the toubob got out and went into the big house, the buggy came on nearer the huts and stopped again. Kunta saw the driver grasp the brown one under his arms to help him descend, for one of his hands seemed to be encased in what looked like hardened white mud. Kunta had no idea what it was, but it seemed likely that the hand was injured in some way. Reaching back into the buggy with his good hand, the brown one took out an oddly shaped dark box and then followed the driver down the row of huts to the one at the end that Kunta knew was empty.
Kunta was so filled with curiosity that in the morning he made it his business to hobble down to that hut. He hadn't expected to find the brown one seated just inside his doorway. They simply looked at each other. The man's face and eyes were expressionless. And so was his voice when he said, "What you want?" Kunta had no idea what he was saying. "You one a dem African niggers." Kunta recognized that word he'd heard so often, but not the rest. He just stood there. "Well, git on, den!" Kunta heard the sharpness, sensed the dismissal. He all but stumbled, wheeling around, and went crutching in angry embarrassment back on up to his own hut.
He grew so furious every time he thought about that brown one that he wished he knew enough of the toubob tongue to go and shout, "At least I'm black, not brown like you!" From that day on, Kunta wouldn't look in the direction of that hut whenever he was outside. But he couldn't quell his curiosity about the fact that after each evening's meal, most of the other blacks hastened to gather at that last hut. And, listening intently from within his own doorway, Kunta could hear the voice of the brown one talking almost steadily. Sometimes the others burst into laughter, and at intervals he could hear them barraging him with questions. Who or what was he, Kunta ached to know.
In midafternoon about two weeks later, the brown one chanced to be emerging from the privy at the very moment Kunta was approaching it. The brown one's bulky white arm covering was gone, and his hands were plaiting two cornshucks as the furious Kunta rapidly crutched on past. Sitting inside, Kunta's head whirled with the insults he wished he could have expressed. When he came back outside, the brown one was calmly standing there, his matter-of-fact expression as if nothing had ever happened between them. Still twisting and plaiting cornshucks between his fingers, he beckoned with his head for Kunta to follow him.
It was so totally unexpected--and disarming--that Kunta found himself following the brown one back to his cabin without a word. Obediently, Kunta sat down on the stool the brown one pointed to and watched as his host seated himself on the other stool, still plaiting. Kunta wondered if he knew that he was plaiting much the same as Africans did.
After a while more of reflective silence, the brown one began speaking: "I been hearin' 'bout you so mad. You lucky dey ain't kilt you. Dey could of, an' been inside de law. Jes' like when dat white man broke my hand 'cause I got tired of fiddlin'. Law say anybody catch you 'scapin' can kill you and no punishment for him. Dat law gits read out again eve'y six months in white folks' churches. Looka here, don't start me on white folks' laws. Startin' up a new settlement, dey firs' builds a courthouse, fo' passin' more laws; nex' build-in's a church to prove dey's Christians. I b'lieve all dat Virginia's House of Burgess do is pass more laws 'gainst niggers. It's a law niggers can't carry no gun, even no stick that look like a club. Law say twenty lashes you get caught widdout a travelin' pass, ten lashes if'n you looks white folks in dey eyes, thirty lashes if'n you raises your hand 'gainst a white Christian. Law say no nigger preachin' lessen a white man dere to listen; law say can't be no nigger funeral if dey think it's a meetin'. Law say cut your ear off if'n white folks swear you lied, both ears if dey claim you lied twice. Law say you kill anybody white, you hang; kill 'nother nigger, you jes' gits whipped. Law say reward a Indian catchin' a 'scaped nigger wid all de tobacco dat Indian can carry. Law 'gainst teachin' any nigger to read or write, or givin' any nigger any book. Dey's even a law 'gainst niggers beatin' any drums--any dat African stuff."
Kunta sensed that the brown one knew he couldn't understand, but that he both liked to talk and feel that Kunta's listening might somehow bring him at least closer to comprehension. Looking at the brown one's face as he spoke, and listening to his tone, Kunta felt he almost could understand. And it made him want to both laugh and cry that someone was actually talking to him as one human being to another.
"'Bout your foot, looka here, it ain't jes' foots and arms but dicks an' nuts gits cut off. I seen plenty ruined niggers like dat still workin'. Seen niggers beat till meat cut off dey bones. Nigger women's full of baby gits beat layin' face down over a hole dug for dey bellies. Niggers gits scraped raw, den covered with turpentine or salt, den rubbed wid straw. Niggers caught talkin' 'bout revolt made to dance on hot embers 'til dey falls. Ain't hardly nothin' ain't done to niggers, an' if dey die 'cause of it, ain't no crime long as dey's owned by whoever done it, or had it done. Dat's de law. An' if you thinks dat's bad, you ought to hear what folks tell gits did to dem niggers dat some slaveboats sells crost the water on dem West Indies sugar plantations."
Kunta was still there listening--and trying to understand--when a first-kafo-sized boy came in with the brown one's evening meal. When he saw Kunta there, he dashed out and soon returned with a covered plate for him, too. Kunta and the brown one wordlessly ate together, and then Kunta abruptly rose to leave, knowing that the others would soon be coming to the hut, but the brown one's gesture signaled Kunta to stay.
As the others began arriving a few minutes later, none were able to mask their surprise at seeing Kunta there--particularly Bell, who was one of the last to show up. Like most of the rest, she simply nodded--but with the trace of a smile, it seemed to Kunta. In the gathering darkness, the brown one proceeded to hold forth for the group as he had done for Kunta, who guessed that he was telling them some kind of stories. Kunta could tell when a story ended, for abruptly they would all laugh--or ask questions. Now and then Kunta recognized some of the words that had become familiar to his ears.
When he went back to his own hut, Kunta was in a turmoil of emotion about mingling with these black ones. Sleepless late that night, his mind still tumbling with conflicts, he recalled something Omoro had said once when Kunta had refused to let go of a choice mango after Lamin begged for a bite: "When you clench your fist, no one can put anything in your hand, nor can your hand pick up anything."
But he also knew that his father would be in the fullest of agreement with him that, no matter what, he must never become anything like these black people. Yet each night, he felt strangely drawn to go among them at the hut of the brown one. He resisted the temptation, but almost every afternoon now, Kunta would hobble over to visit with the brown one when he was alone.
"Git my fingers back to workin' right to fiddle again," he said while weaving his cornshucks one day. "Any kin' of luck, dis massa here go 'head an' buy me an' hire me out. I done fiddled all over Virginia, make good money for him an' me both. Ain't much I ain't seen an' done, even if'n you don't know what I'm talkin" bout. White folks says all Africans knows is livin' in grass huts an' runnin''roun' killin' an' eatin' one 'nother."
He paused in his monologue, as if expecting some kind of reaction, but Kunta just sat there watching and listening impassively and fingering his saphie charm.
"See what I means? You got to put away all dat stuff," said the brown one, pointing to the charm. "Give it up. You ain't goin' nowheres, so you might's well face facks an' start fittin' in, Toby, you hear?"
Kunta's face flashed with anger. "Kunta Kinte!" he blurted, astonished at himself.
The brown one was equally amazed. "Looka here, he can talk! But I'm tellin' you, boy, you got to forgit all dat African talk. Make white folks mad an' scare niggers. Yo' name Toby. Dey calls me Fiddler." He pointed to himself. "Say dat. Fiddler!" Kunta looked at him blankly, though he understood exactly what he meant. "Fiddler! I's a fiddler. Understan'--fiddler?" He made a sawing motion across his left arm with the other hand. This time Kunta wasn't pretending when he looked blank.
Exasperated, the brown one got up and brought from a corner the oddly shaped box that Kunta had seen him arrive with. Opening it, he lifted out an even more oddly shaped light brown wooden thing with a slender black neck and four taut, thin strings running almost its length. It was the same musical instrument he had heard the old man play at the other farm.
"Fiddle!" exclaimed the brown one.
Since they were alone, Kunta decided to say it. He repeated the sound: "Fiddle."
Looking pleased, the brown one put the fiddle away and closed the case. Then, glancing around, he pointed. "Bucket!" Kunta repeated it, fixing in his head what that thing was. "Now, water!" Kunta repeated it.
After they had gone through a score or more of new words, the brown one pointed silently at the fiddle, the bucket, water, chair, cornshucks, and other objects, his face a question mark for Kunta to repeat the right word for all of them. A few of the names he promptly repeated; he fumbled with a few others and was corrected ; and some sounds he was unable to say at all. The brown one refreshed him on those, then reviewed him on them all. "You ain't dumb as you looks," he grunted by suppertime.
The lessons continued through the following days and stretched into weeks. To Kunta's astonishment, he began to discover that he was becoming able not only to understand but also to make himself understood to the brown one in a rudimentary way. And the main thing he wanted him to understand was why he refused to surrender his name or his heritage, and why he would rather die a free man on the run than live out his life as a slave. He didn't have the words to tell it as he wished, but he knew the brown one understood, for he frowned and shook his head. One afternoon not long afterward, arriving at the brown one's hut, Kunta found another visitor already there. It was the old man he'd seen now and then hoeing in the flower garden near the big house. With a glance at the brown one's affirming nod, Kunta sat down.
The old man began to speak. "Fiddler here tell me you run away four times. You see what it got you. Jes' hopes you done learned your lesson like I done. 'Cause you ain't done nothin' new. My young days, I run off so much dey near 'bout tore my hide off 'fore I got it in my head ain't nowhere to run to. Run two states away, dey jes' tell about it in dey papers an' sooner later you gits cotched an' nearly kilt, an' win' up right back where you come from. Ain't hardly nobody ain't thought about runnin'. De grinnin'est niggers thinks about it. But ain't nobody I ever knowed ever got away. Time you settled down and made de best of things de way dey is,'stead of wastin' yo' young years, like I did, plottin' what cain't be done. I done got ol' an' wore out now. Reckon since you been born I been actin' like de no-good, lazy, shiftless, head-scratchin' nigger white folks says us is. Only reason massa keep me here, he know I ain't got no good auction value, an' he git more out of me jes' halfway doin' de gardenin'. But I hears tell from Bell massa gwine put you to workin' wid me tomorrow."
Knowing that Kunta had understood hardly any of what the gardener had said, the fiddler spent the next half hour explaining what the old man had told him--only slowly and more simply, in words Kunta was familiar with. He had mixed feelings about nearly everything the gardener had said. He understood that the old man meant well by his advice--and he was beginning to believe that escape was indeed impossible--but even if he never got away, he could never pay the price of giving up who and what he had been born in order to live out his years without another beating. And the thought of spending them as a crippled gardener filled him with rage and humiliation. But perhaps just for a while, until he got his strength back. And it might be good to get his mind off himself and his hands in the soil again--even if it wasn't his own.
The next day, the old gardener showed Kunta what to do. As he chopped away at the weeds that seemed to spring up daily among the vegetables, so did Kunta. As he plucked tomato worms and potato bugs from the plants and squashed them underfoot, so did Kunta. They got along well, but apart from working side by side, they didn't communicate much, either. Usually the old man would only make grunts and gestures whenever Kunta needed to be shown how to do some new task, and Kunta, without responding, simply did as he was told. He didn't mind the silence; as a matter of fact, his ears needed a few hours' rest each day between conversations with the fiddler, who ran his mouth every minute they were together.
That night after the evening meal, Kunta was sitting in the doorway of his hut when the man called Gildon--who made the horse and mule collars and also shod the black people--walked up to him and held out a pair of shoes. At the orders of the "massa," he said he had made them especially for Kunta. Taking them and nodding his thanks, Kunta turned them over and over in his hands before deciding to try them on. It felt strange to have such things on his feet, but they fit perfectly--even though the front half of the right shoe was stuffed with cotton. The shoemaker bent down to tie the lacings, then suggested that Kunta get up and walk around in them to see how they felt. The left shoe was fine, but he felt tiny stinging sensations in his right foot as he walked awkwardly and gingerly around outside his hut without the crutches. Seeing his discomfort, the shoemaker said that was because of the stump, not the shoe, and he would get used to it.
Later that day, Kunta walked a bit farther, testing, but the right foot was still uncomfortable, so he removed a little of the cotton stuffing and put it back on. It felt better, and finally he dared to put his full weight on that foot, and there wasn't any undue pain. Every now and then he would continue to experience the phantom pain of his right toes aching, as he had nearly every day since he started walking around, and he would glance downward--always with surprise--to find that he didn't have any. But he kept practicing walking around, and feeling better than he let his face show; he had been afraid that he would always have to walk with crutches.
That same week the massa's buggy returned from a trip, and the black driver, Luther, hurried to Kunta's hut, beckoning him down to the fiddler's, where Kunta watched him say something, grinning broadly. Then with gestures toward the big house and with selected key words, the fiddler made Kunta nod in understanding that Massa William Waller, the toubob who lived in the big house, now owned Kunta. "Luther say he just got a deed to you from his brother who had you at first, so you his now." As usual, Kunta did not let his face show his feelings. He was angry and ashamed that anyone could "own" him, but he was also deeply relieved, for he had feared that one day he would be taken back to that other "plantation," as he now knew the toubob farms were called. The fiddler waited until Luther had left before he spoke again--partly to Kunta and partly to himself. "Niggers here say Massa William a good master, an' I seen worse. But ain't none of'em no good. Dey all lives off us niggers. Niggers is the biggest thing dey got."
Almost every day now, when work was done, Kunta would return to his hut and after his evening prayer would scratch up the dirt in a littler square on his floor and draw Arabic characters in it with a stick, then sit looking for a long time at what he had written, often until supper. Then he would rub out what he had written, and it would be time to go down and sit among the others as the fiddler talked. Somehow his praying and his studying made it all right to mix with them. That way, it seemed to him he could remain himself without having to remain by himself. Anyway, if they had been in Africa, there would have been someone like the fiddler to go to, only he would have been a wandering musician and griot traveling from one village to the next and singing as he played his kora or his balafon in between the telling of fascinating stories drawn from his adventures.
Just as it had been done in Africa, Kunta had also begun to keep track of the passing of time by dropping a small pebble into a gourd on the morning after each new moon. First he had dropped into the gourd 12 rounded, multicolored stones for the 12 moons he guessed he'd spent on the first toubob farm; then he had dropped in six more for the time he'd been here on this new farm; and then he had carefully counted out 204 stones for the 17 rains he'd reached when he was taken from Juffure, and dropped them into the gourd. Adding them all up, he figured that he was now into his nineteenth rain.
So as old as he felt, he was still a young man. Would he spend the rest of his life here, as the gardener had, watching hope and pride slip away along with the years, until there was nothing left to live for and time had finally run out? The thought filled him with dread--and determination not to end up the way the old man had, doddering around in his plot, uncertain which foot to put before the other. The poor man was worn out long before the midday meal, and through the afternoons he was only able to pretend that he was working at all, and Kunta had to shoulder almost all the load.
Every morning, as Kunta bent over his rows, Bell would come with her basket--Kunta had learned that she was the cook in the big house--to pick the vegetables she wanted to fix for the massa that day. But the whole time she was there, she never so much as looked at Kunta, even when she walked right past him. It puzzled and irritated him, remembering how she had attended him daily when he lay fighting to survive, and how she would nod at him during the evenings at the fiddler's. He decided that he hated her, that the only reason she had acted as his nurse back then was because the massa had ordered her to do it. Kunta wished that he could hear whatever the fiddler might have to say about this matter, but he knew that his limited command of words wouldn't allow him to express it right--apart from the fact that even asking would be too embarrassing.
One morning not long afterward, the old man didn't come to the garden, and Kunta guessed that he must be sick. He had seemed even more feeble than usual for the past few days. Rather than going right away to the old man's hut to check on him, Kunta went straight to work watering and weeding, for he knew that Bell was due at any moment, and he didn't think it would be fitting for her to find no one there when she arrived.
A few minutes later she showed up and, still without looking at Kunta, went about her business, filling her basket with vegetables as Kunta stood holding his hoe and watching her. Then, as she started to leave, Bell hesitated, looked around, set the basket on the ground, and--throwing a quick, hard glance at Kunta--marched off. Her message was clear that he should bring her basket to the back door of the big house, as the old man had always done. Kunta all but exploded with rage, his mind flashing an image of dozens of Juffure women bearing their headloads in a line past the bantaba tree where Juffure's men always rested. Slamming down his hoe, he was about to stamp away when he remembered how close she was to the massa. Gritting his teeth, he bent over, seized the basket, and followed silently after Bell. At the door, she turned around and took the basket as if she didn't even see him. He returned to the garden seething.
From that day on, Kunta more or less became the gardener. The old man, who was very sick, came only now and then, whenever he was strong enough to walk. He would do a little something for as long as he felt able, which wasn't very long, and then hobble back to his hut. He reminded Kunta of the old people back in Juffure who, ashamed of their weakness, continued to totter about making the motions of working until they were forced to retreat to their pallets, and finally were rarely seen out any more at all.
The only new duty Kunta really hated was having to carry that basket for Bell every day. Muttering under his breath, he would follow her to the door, thrust it into her hands as rudely as he dared, then turn on his heel and march back to work, as fast as he could go. As much as he detested her, though, his mouth would water when now and then the air would waft to the garden the tantalizing smells of the things that Bell was cooking.
He had dropped the twenty-second pebble into his calendar gourd when--without any outward sign of change--Bell beckoned him on into the house one morning. After a moment's hesitation, he followed her inside and set the basket on a table there. Trying not to look amazed at the strange things he saw everywhere around him in this room, which they called the "kitchen," he was turning to leave when she touched him on the arm and handed him a biscuit with what looked like a piece of cold beef between the slices. As he stared at it in puzzlement, she said, "Ain't you never seed a san'wich befo'? It ain't gonna bite you. You s'posed to bite it. Now git on outa here."
As time went on, Bell began to give him more than he could carry in his hand--usually a tin plate piled with something called "cornpone," a kind of bread he had never tasted before, along with boiled fresh mustard greens in their own delicious potliquor. He had sown the mustard's tiny seeds himself--in garden soil mixed with rich black dirt dug from the cow pasture--and the tender greens had swiftly, luxuriously sprung up. He loved no less the way she cooked the long, slender field peas that grew on the vines coiling around the sweet corn's stalks. She never gave him any obvious meat of the pig, though he wasn't sure how she knew that. But whatever she gave him, he would always wipe off the plate carefully with a rag before returning it. Most often he would find her at her "stove"--a thing of iron that contained fire--but sometimes she would be on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with oak ashes and a hard-bristled brush. Though at times he wanted to say something to her, he could never muster a better expression of his appreciation than a grunt--which now she returned.
One Sunday after supper, Kunta had gotten up to stretch his legs and was walking around the fiddler's hut idly patting himself on the belly when the brown one, who had been talking steadily all through the meal, interrupted his monologue to exclaim, "Looka here, you startin' to fill out!" He was right. Kunta hadn't looked--or felt--better since he left Juffure.
After months of incessant plaiting to strengthen his fingers, the fiddler, too, felt better than he had in a long time--since his hand was broken--and in the evenings he had begun to play on his instrument again. Holding the peculiar thing in his cupped hand and under his chin, the fiddler raked its strings with his wand--which seemed to be made of long, fine hairs--and the usual evening audience would shout and break into applause when each song had finished. "Dat ain't nothin'!" he would say disgustedly. "Fingers ain't nimble yet."
Later, when they were alone, Kunta asked haltingly, "What is nimble?"
The fiddler flexed and wiggled his fingers. "Nimble! Nimble. Get it?" Kunta nodded.
"You a lucky nigger, what you is," the fiddler went on. "Jes' piddlin''roun' eve'yday in dat garden. Ain't hardly nobody got a job dat sof ' 'cept on plantations whole lot bigger'n dis."
Kunta thought he understood, and he didn't like it. "Work hard," he said. And nodding at the fiddler on his chair, he added, "Harder dan dat."
The fiddler grinned. "You awright, African!"
The "months," as they called moons here, were passing more quickly now, and before long the hot season known as "summer" was over and harvest time had begun along with a great many more duties for Kunta and the others. While the rest of the blacks--even Bell--were busy with the heavy work out in the fields, he was expected to tend the chickens, the livestock, and the pigs in addition to his garden. And at the height of the cotton picking, he was called upon to drive the wagon along the rows. Except for having to feed the filthy swine, which almost made him ill, Kunta didn't mind the extra work, for it made him feel less of a cripple. But it was seldom that he got back to his hut before dark--so tired out that he sometimes even forgot to eat his supper. Taking off nothing but his frayed straw hat and his shoes--to relieve the aching of his half foot--he would flop down on his cornshuck mattress, pulling his quilt of cotton-stuffed burlap up over him, and within moments he would be sound asleep, in clothes still wet with sweat.
Soon the wagons were piled high with cotton, then with plump ears of corn, and the golden tobacco leaves were hanging up to dry. The hogs had been killed, cut into pieces, and hung over slowly burning hickory, and the smoky air was turning cold when everyone on the plantation began preparing for the "harvest dance," an occasion so important that even the massa would be there. Such was their excitement that when Kunta found out that the black people's Allah didn't seem to be involved, he decided to attend himself--but just to watch.
By the time he got up the courage to join the party, it was well under way. The fiddler, whose fingers were finally nimble again, was sawing away at his strings, and another man was clacking two beef bones together to keep time as someone shouted, "Cakewalk!" Dancers coupled off and hurried out before the fiddler. Each woman put her foot on the man's knee while he tied her shoestring; then the fiddler sang out, "Change partners!" and when they did, he began to play madly, and Kunta saw that the dancers' footsteps and body motions were imitating their planting of the crops, the chopping of wood, the picking of cotton, the swinging of scythes, the pulling of corn, the pitchforking of hay into wagons. It was all so much like the harvest dancing back in Juffure that Kunta's good foot was soon tapping away on the ground--until he realized what he was doing and looked around, embarrassed, to see if anyone had noticed.
But no one had. At that moment, in fact, almost everyone had begun to watch a slender fourth-kafo girl who was dipping and whirling around as light as a feather, her head tossing, her eyes rolling, her arms describing graceful patterns. Soon the other dancers, exhausted, were moving to the sides to catch their breaths and stare; even her partner was hard put to keep up.
When he quit, gasping, a shout went up, and when finally even she went stumbling toward the sidelines, a whooping and hollering engulfed her. The cheering got even louder when Massa Waller awarded that girl a half-dollar prize. And smiling broadly at the fiddler, who grinned and bowed in return, the massa left them amid more shouting. But the cakewalk was far from over, and the other couples, rested by now, rushed back out and went on as before, seemingly ready to dance all night.
Kunta was lying on his mattress thinking about what he had heard and seen when suddenly there came a rapping at his door.
"Who dat?" he demanded, astonished, for only twice had anyone ever come to his hut in all the time he'd lived there.
"Kick dis do' in, nigger!"
Kunta opened the door, for it was the voice of the fiddler; instantly he smelled the liquor on his breath. Though he was repelled, Kunta said nothing, for the fiddler was bursting to talk, and it would have been unkind to turn him away just because he was drunk.
"You seen massa!" said the fiddler. "He ain't knowed I could play dat good! Now you watch an' see if 'n he don't 'range for me to play for white folks to hear me, an' den hire me out!" Beside himself with happiness, the fiddler sat on Kunta's three-legged stool, fiddle across his lap, and went on babbling.
"Looka here, I second fiddled with the best! You ever hear of Sy Gilliat from Richmond?" He hesitated. "Naw, 'course you ain't! Well, dat's de fiddlin'est slave nigger in de worl', and I fiddled wid him. Looka here, he play for nothin' but big white folks' balls an' dances, I mean like the Hoss Racin' Ball every year, and like dat. You oughta see him wid dat gold-painted fiddle of his an' him wearin' court dress wid his brown wig an' Lawd, dem manners! Nigger name London Briggs behin' us playin' flute an' clarinet! De minuets, de reels, de congos, hornpipes, jigs, even jes' caperin''bout--don't care what it was, we'd have dem white folks dancin' up a storm!"
The fiddler carried on like this for the next hour--until the alcohol wore off--telling Kunta of the famous singing slaves who worked in Richmond's tobacco factories; of other widely known slave musicians who played the "harpsichord," the "pianoforte," and the "violin"--whatever they were--who had learned to play by listening to toubob musicians from someplace called "Europe," who had been hired to come to plantations to teach the massas' children.
The following crispy cold morning saw the starting of new tasks. Kunta watched as the women mixed hot melted tallow with wood-ash lye and water, boiling and stirring, then cooling the thick brown mixture in wooden trays to let it set for four nights and three days before they cut it into oblong cakes of hard, brown soap. To his complete distaste, he saw men fermenting apples, peaches, and persimmons into something foul-smelling that they called "brandy," which they put into bottles and barrels. Others mixed gluey red clay, water, and dried hog hair to press into cracks that had appeared in their huts. Women stuffed some mattresses with cornshucks like Kunta's, and some others with the moss he had seen drying; and a new mattress for the massa was filled with goose feathers.
The slave who built things from wood was making new tubs in which clothes would be soaked in soapy water before being boiled and lumped onto a wooden block to be beaten with a stick. The man who made things with leather--horse collars, harnesses, and shoes--was now busily tanning cows' hides. And women were dyeing into different colors the white cotton cloth the massa had bought to make clothes with. And just as it was in Juffure, all of the nearby vines, bushes, and fences were draped with drying cloths of red, yellow, and blue.
With each passing day, the air became colder and colder, the sky grayer and grayer, until soon the ground was covered once again with snow and ice that Kunta found as unpleasant as it was extraordinary. And before long the other blacks were beginning to talk with great excitement about "Christmas," which he had heard of before. It seemed to have to do with singing, dancing, eating, and the giving of gifts, which sounded fine--but it also seemed to involve their Allah, so even though Kunta really enjoyed by now the gatherings at the fiddler's, he decided it would be best to stay to himself until the pagan festivities were safely over. He didn't even visit the fiddler, who looked curiously at Kunta the next time he saw him, but said nothing about it.
Thence swiftly came another springtime season, and as he knelt planting among his rows, Kunta remembered how lush the fields around Juffure always looked at this time of year. And he recalled as a second-kafo boy how happily he had gone prancing out behind the hungry goats in this green season. Here in this place the black "young'uns" were helping to chase and catch the baaaing, bounding "sheep," as the animals were called, and then fighting over whose turn was next to sit on the head of a desperately struggling sheep while a man snipped off the thick, dirty wool with a pair of shears. The fiddler explained to Kunta that the wool would be taken off somewhere to be cleaned and "carded into bats," which then would be returned for the women to spin woolen thread from which they would weave cloth for the making of winter clothes.
The garden's plowing, planting, and cultivating went by for Kunta in a sweating blur of dawns to darks. Early in the midsummer month they called "July," those who worked out in the fields would return exhausted to their huts every night as they pressed to complete the last hoeing of grass from around the waist-high cotton and corn that was heavy with tasseled heads. It was hard work, but at least there was plenty to eat in the storehouses that had been filled to overflowing the past fall. At this time in Juffure, Kunta thought, the people's stomachs would be aching as they made soup from roots, grubworms, grass, and anything else they could find, because the crops and fruits so lushly green were not yet ripe.
The "laying by" had to be finished before the second "Sunday" in July, Kunta learned, when the blacks from most of the plantations in this area--which was called "Spotsylvania County"--would be permitted to travel someplace to join in some kind of "camp meetin'." Since, whatever it was, it had to do with their Allah, no one even suggested that Kunta go along with the more than twenty of them who left very early that Sunday morning, packed into a wagon whose use Massa Waller had approved.
Nearly everyone was gone for the next few days--so many that few would have been there to notice if Kunta had tried to run away again--but he knew that even though he had learned to get around all right and make himself fairly useful, he would never be able to get very far before some slave catcher caught up with him again. Though it shamed him to admit it, he had begun to prefer life as he was allowed to live it here on this plantation to the certainty of being captured and probably killed if he tried to escape again. Deep in his heart, he knew he would never see his home again, and he could feel something precious and irretrievable dying inside of him forever. But hope remained alive; though he might never see his family again, perhaps someday he might be able to have one of his own.
Another year had passed--so fast that Kunta could hardly believe it--and the stones in his gourd told him that he had reached his twentieth rain. It was cold again, and "Christmas" was once more in the air. Though he felt the same as he always had about the black ones' Allah, they were having such a good time that he began to feel his own Allah would have no objection to his merely observing the activities that went on during this festive season.
Two of the men, having received week-long traveling passes from Massa Waller, were packing to go and visit their mates living on other plantations; one of the men was going to see a new baby for the first time. But every hut except theirs--and Kunta's--was busy with some kind of preparations, chiefly the fixing up of party clothes with lace and beads, and the taking of nuts and apples from their storage places.
And up in the big house, all of Bell's pots and pans were bubbling with yams and rabbits and roast pig--and many dishes made from animals Kunta had never seen or heard of until he came to this country: turkey, 'coons, 'possums, and the like. Though he was hesitant at first, the succulent smells from her kitchen soon persuaded Kunta to try everything--except for pig, of course. Nor was he interested in sampling the liquor Massa Waller had promised for the black ones: two barrels of hard cider, one of wine, and a keg of whiskey he had brought in his buggy from somewhere else.
Kunta could tell that some of the liquor was being quietly consumed in advance, no little of it by the fiddler. And along with the drinkers' antics, the black children were running around holding dried hog bladders on sticks closer and closer to fires until each one burst with a loud bang amid general laughing and shouting. He thought it was all unbelievably stupid and disgusting.
When the day finally came, the drinking and eating began in earnest. From the door of his hut, Kunta watched as guests of Massa Waller's arrived for the midday feast, and afterward as the slaves assembled close by the big house and began to sing, led by Bell, he saw the massa raise the window, smiling; then he and the other white folks came outside and stood listening, seeming to be enthralled. After that the massa sent Bell to tell the fiddler to come and play for them, which he did.
Kunta could understand their having to do what they were told, but why did they seem to enjoy it so much? And if the whites were so fond of their slaves that they gave them presents, why didn't they make them really happy and set them free? But he wondered if some of these blacks, like pets, would be able to survive, as he could, unless they were taken care of.
But was he any better than they were? Was he all that different? Slowly but surely, he couldn't deny that he was easing into acceptance of their ways. He was most troubled about his deepening friendship with the fiddler. His drinking of liquor deeply offended Kunta, and yet had not a pagan the right to be a pagan? The fiddler's boastfulness also bothered Kunta, yet he believed that all the fiddler had boasted of was true. But the fiddler's crude and irreverent sense of humor was distasteful to him; and Kunta had come to dislike intensely hearing the fiddler call him "nigger," since he had learned that it was the white man's name for blacks. But had it not been the fiddler who had taken it upon himself to teach him to talk? Was it not he whose friendship had made it easier for him to feel less of a stranger with the other blacks? Kunta decided that he wanted to know the fiddler better.
Whenever the proper time came, in the best roundabout way he could, he would ask the fiddler about some of the questions that were in his mind. But two more pebbles had been dropped into his gourd before one quiet Sunday afternoon, when no one was working, he went down to the familiar last hut on slave row, and found the fiddler in a rare quiet mood.
After exchanging greetings, they were both silent for a time. Then, just to make conversation, Kunta said he had overheard the massa's driver, Luther, say that white folks were talking about "taxes" wherever he drove the massa. What were taxes, anyway, he wanted to know.
"Taxes is money got to be paid extry on near 'bout anything white folks buys," replied the fiddler. "Dat king 'crost de water puts on de taxes to keep him rich."
It was so unlike the fiddler to be so brief that Kunta figured he must be in a bad mood. Discouraged, he sat there for a while in silence, but finally he decided to spit out what was really on his mind: "Where you was fo' here?"
The fiddler stared at him for a long, tense moment. Then he spoke, his voice cutting. "I know every nigger here figgerin' 'bout me! Wouldn't tell nobody else nothin'! But you diff 'rent."
He glared at Kunta. "You know how come you diff 'rent? 'Cause you don't know nothin'! You done got snatched over here, an' got your foot cut, you thinks you been through all dey is! Well, you ain't de only one had it bad." His voice was angry. "You ever tells what I'm gonna tell you, I'll catch you upside de head!"
"I ain't!" Kunta declared.
The fiddler leaned forward and spoke softly so as not to be overheard. "Massa I had in No'th Ca'lina got drowned. Ain't nobody's bidness how. Anyway, same night I lit out, an' he ain't had no wife or young'uns to claim me. I hid out with Injuns 'til I figured it was safe to leave an' git here to Virginia an' keep on fiddlin'."
"What 'Virginia'?" asked Kunta.
"Man, you really don't know nothin', does you? Virginia's the colony you livin' in, if you want to call dis livin'."
"What's a colony?"
"You even dumber'n you look. Dey's thirteen colonies that go to make up this country. Down south of here there's the Ca'linas, and up north they's Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and a bunch of others. I ain't never been up dere, an' neither has most niggers. I hear tell lotta white folks up dere don't hold with slavery and sets us folk free. Myself, I'm kind of a half-free nigger. I have to be roun' some massa 'case pattyrollers ever catches me." Kunta didn't understand, but he acted as if he did, since he didn't feel like getting insulted again.
"You ever seen Injuns?" the fiddler demanded.
Kunta hesitated. "I seen some."
"Dey was here 'fo' white folks. White folks tell you one of dem name Columbus discover dis place. But if he foun' Injuns here, he ain't discover it, is he?" The fiddler was warming to his subject.
"White man figger whoever somewhere 'fore him don't count. He call dem savages."
The fiddler paused to appreciate his wit, and then went on. "You ever seen Injuns' teepees?" Kunta shook his head no. The fiddler enclosed three of his spread fingers within a small rag. "De fingers is poles an' de rag is hides. Dey lives inside dat."
He smiled. "Bein' from Africa, you prob'ly thinks you knows all dey is 'bout huntin' and like that, but ain't nobody hunts or travels good as Injuns. Once one go somewhere it's a map in his head how he went. But Injun mammies--dey calls 'em squaws--carries dey young'uns on dey backs, like I hears y'all's mammies does in Africa."
Kunta was surprised that the fiddler knew that, and couldn't help showing it. The fiddler smiled again and continued the lesson. "Some Injuns hates niggers, an' some likes us. Niggers an' lan' is Injuns' big troubles with white folks. White folks wants all the Injuns' land and hates Injuns what hides niggers!" The fiddler's eyes searched Kunta's face. "Tall Africans and Injuns made de same mistake--lettin' white folks into where you live. You offered him to eat and sleep, then first thing you know he kickin' you out or lockin' you up!"
The fiddler paused again. Then suddenly he burst out: "What put me out with you African niggers, looka here! I knowed five or six ack like you! Don't know how come I took up wid you in de firs' place! You git over here figgerin' niggers here ought to be like you is! How you 'spec we gon' know 'bout Africa? We ain't never been dere, an' ain't goin' neither!" Glaring at Kunta, he lapsed into silence.
And fearful of provoking another outburst, Kunta soon left without another word, rocked onto his heels by what the fiddler had said to him. But the more he thought about it back in his hut, the better he felt about it. The fiddler had taken off his mask; that meant he was beginning to trust Kunta. For the first time in his acquaintance with anyone in the three rains since he had been stolen from his homeland, Kunta was actually beginning to know someone.
Over the next several days, as he worked in the garden, Kunta thought a great deal about how long it had taken him to realize how little he really knew about the fiddler, and about how much more there was to know about him. Almost certainly he reflected no less of a mask was still being worn for him by the old gardener, whom Kunta had been going to visit now and then. And he didn't know Bell much better, though he and she had some daily exchange of talk--or rather Kunta mostly listened while he ate whatever food she gave him, but it was always about small and impersonal matters. It occurred to him how both Bell and the gardener had sometimes started to say something, or hinted at something, but then never finished. They were both cautious people in general, but it seemed they were especially so with him. He decided to get to know them both better. On his next visit to the old gardener, Kunta began in his indirect Mandinka way by asking about something the fiddler had told him. Kunta said he had heard about "pattyrollers," but he was uncertain who or what they were.
"Dey's low-down po' white trash dat ain't never owned a nigger in dey lives!" the old gardener said heatedly. "It's a ol' Virginia law to patrol de roads, or anywhere else niggers is, an' whip an' jail any of'em gits cotched widdout a writ-out pass from dey massa. An' who gits hired to do it is dem po' whites what jes' loves cotchin' an' beatin' somebody else's niggers 'cause dey ain't got none. What's behind it, y'understan', all white folks scared to death dat any loose nigger is plannin' a re-volt. Fact, ain't nothin' pattyrollers loves more'n claimin' to suspicion some nigger, an' bustin' in an' strippin' him buck naked right before his wife an' young'uns an' beatin' him bloody."
Seeing Kunta's interest, and pleased by his visit, the old gardener went on: "Massa we got don't 'prove a dat. It's how come he don't have no oberseer. He say he don't want nobody beatin' his niggers. He tell his niggers to obersee deyselves, jes' do de work like dey know to, an' don't never break none a his rules. He swear sun won't set here on no nigger break his rules."
Kunta wondered what the rules were, but the gardener kept on talking. "Reason massa like he is 'cause he of a family was rich even 'fore dey come here from dat England 'crost de water. Dem Wallers always been what most massas jes' tries to act like dey is.'Cause most of dese massas ain't nothin' but coonhunters what got hole of a piece of lan' an' one or two niggers dey worked half to death, an' jes' kep' on growin' from dat.
"Ain't many plantations got a whole lot of slaves. Mos' of 'em jes' maybe anywhere from one to five or six niggers. Us twenty here make dis one pretty big. Two out of every three white folks ain't got no slaves at all, dat's what I heared. Real big plantations with fifty or a hunnud slaves is mostly where de black dirt is; dem river bottoms like in Lousiana, Miss'ippi, an' Alabama got some, too; an' dem coasts a Geo'gia an' South Ca'lina where dey grows rice."
"How ol' you?" Kunta asked abruptly.
The gardener looked at him. "Older'n you or anybody else thinks I is." He sat as if musing for a moment. "I heared the Indians' war whoopin' when I was a chile."
After a silent moment with his head down, he glanced up at Kunta and began singing, "Ah yah, tair umbam, boowah--" Kunta sat astounded. "Kee lay zee day nic olay, man lun dee nic o lay ah wah nee--" Stopping, the old man said, "My mammy used to sing dat. Say she got it from her mammy, who come from Africa, same as you did. You know by dem sounds where she come from?"
"Soun' like Serere tribe," said Kunta. "But I don't know dem words. I heared Serere spoke on the boat what brung me."
The old gardener looked furtively around. "Gon' shut up wid dat singin'. Some nigger hear it an' tell massa. White folks don' want no niggers talkin' no African."
Kunta had been about to say that there was no question the old man was a fellow Gambian; of Jolof blood, with their high noses and flat lips and skins even deeper black than most other Gambian tribes. But when the gardener said what he said, he decided it was better not to speak of such things. So he changed the subject, asking where the old man was from and how he had ended up on this plantation. The gardener didn't answer right away. But finally, he said, "Nigger suffered a lot like I is learn a lot," and he looked carefully at Kunta, appearing to be deciding whether or not to go on. "I were a good man once. I could ben' a crowbar over my leg. I could lif' a sack of meal dat would fell a mule. Or I could lif' a grown man by he belt wif my arm straight out. But I got worked an' beat near 'bout to death 'fo' my massa what done it sign me over to dis massa to pay a bill." He paused. "Now I done got enfeebled, I jes' wants to res' out whatever time I got lef."
His eyes searched Kunta. "Sho' don' know how come I'm tellin' you dis. I ain't really bad off as I ack. But massa won't sell me long as he think I'm bad off. I seen you caught on how to garden some, though." He hesitated. "I could git back out dere an he'p if'n you wants me to--but not too much. I jes' ain't much good no mo'," he said sadly.
Kunta thanked the old man for offering, but reassured him that he'd be able to get along fine. A few minutes later he excused himself, and on his way back to his hut, got angry with himself for not feeling more compassion toward the old man. He was sorry he had been through so much, but he couldn't help turning a cold ear toward anyone who just rolled over and gave up.
The very next day, Kunta decided to see if he could get Bell talking too. Since he knew that Massa Waller was her favorite subject, he began by asking why he wasn't married. "Him sho' was married--him an' Miss Priscilla, same year I come here. She was pretty as a hummin'bird. Wasn't hardly no bigger'n one, neither. Dat's how come she died birthin' dey first baby. Was a little gal; it died, too. Terriblest time I guess anybody ever seen 'roun' here. An' massa ain't never been the same man since. Jes' work, work, work, seem like sometime he tryin' to kill hisself. He cain't bear to think a nobody sick or hurt he can he'p. Massa would doctor a sick cat quick as he would some hurt nigger he hear'bout, like dat fiddler you always talkin' to--or like when you was brung here. He got so mad 'bout how dey done your foot, he even bought you away from his own brother John. 'Co'se wunt his doin', it was dem po' cracker nigger catchers he hired, who say you tried to kill 'em."
Kunta listened, realizing that just as he was only beginning to appreciate the individual depths and dimensions of the black ones, it had never occurred to him that even white folks could also have human sufferings, though their ways in general could never be forgiven. He found himself wishing that he could speak the white folks' tongue well enough to say all this to Bell--and to tell her the story his old grandmother Nyo Boto had told him about the boy who tried to help the trapped crocodile, the story Nyo Boto always ended with, "In the world, the payment for good is often bad."
Thinking of home reminded Kunta of something he'd been wanting to tell Bell for a long time, and this seemed like a good moment. Except for her brown color, he told her proudly, she looked almost like a handsome Mandinka woman.
He didn't have long to wait for her response to this great compliment. "What fool stuff you talkin' 'bout?" she said irately. "Don' know how come white folks keep on emptyin' out boatloads a you Africa niggers!"
For the next month, Bell wouldn't speak to Kunta--and even carried her own basket back to the big house after she had come for the vegetables. Then, early one Monday morning, she came rushing out to the garden, eyes wide with excitement, and blurted, "Sheriff jes' rid off! He tol' massa been some big fightin' up Nawth somewhere call Boston! It's dem white folks so mad'bout dem king's taxes from 'crost de big water. Massa got Luther hitchin' de buggy to git to de county seat. He sho' upset!"
Suppertime found everyone clustered around the fiddler's hut for his and the gardener's opinions, the gardener being slave row's oldest person, the fiddler its best traveled and most worldly.
"When it was?" somebody asked, and the gardener said, "Well, anything we hears from up Nawth got to of happened a while back."
The fiddler added, "I heared dat from up roun' where dat Boston is, ten days is de quickest dat fast hosses can git word here to Virginia."
In the deepening dusk, the massa's buggy returned. Luther hurried to slave row with further details he had picked up: "Dey's tellin' it dat one night some a dem Boston peoples got so mad'bout dem king's taxes dey marched on dat king's soldiers. Dem soldiers commence to shootin', an' firs' one kilt was a nigger name a Crispus Attucks. Dey callin' it 'De Boston Massacree'!"
Little else was talked of for the next few days, as Kunta listened, unsure what it was all about and why white folks--and even the blacks--were so agog about whatever was happening so far away. Hardly a day passed without two or three passing slaves "Yooohooo-ah-hoooing" from the big road with a new rumor. And Luther kept bringing regular reports from house slaves, stable-hands, and other drivers he talked with on every journey the massa made to attend sick people or to discuss what was going on in New England with other massas in their big houses, or the county seat or nearby towns.
"White folks ain't got no secrets," the fiddler said to Kunta. "Dey's swamped deyselves wid niggers. Ain't much dey do, hardly nowheres dey go, it ain't niggers listenin'. If dey eatin' an' talkin', nigger gal servin' 'em actin' dumber'n she is, 'memberin' eve'y word she hear. Even when white folks gits so scared dey starts spellin' out words, if any niggers roun', well, plenty house niggers ain't long repeatin' it letter for letter to de nearest nigger what can spell an' piece together what was said. I mean dem niggers don' sleep'fore dey knows what dem white folks was talkin' 'bout."
What was happening "up Nawth" continued to arrive piece by piece through the summer and into the fall. Then, as time passed, Luther began to report that as exercised as white folks were about the taxes, that wasn't their only worry. "Dey's sayin' it's some counties got twice many niggers as white folks. Dey's worryin' dat king'crost the water might start offerin' us niggers freedom to fight'gainst dese white folks." Luther waited for the gasps of his audience to subside. "Fact," he said, "done heared some white folks so scared, done took to lockin' dey doors at night, done even quit talkin' roun' dey house niggers."
Kunta lay on his mattress at night for weeks afterward thinking about "freedom." As far as he could tell, it meant having no massa at all, doing as one wanted, going wherever one pleased. But it was ridiculous, he decided finally, to think that white folks would bring blacks all the way across the big water to work as slaves--and then set them free. It would never happen.
Shortly before Christmas, some of Massa Waller's relatives arrived for a visit, and their black buggy driver was eating his fill in Bell's kitchen while regaling her with the latest news. "Done heared dat over in Geo'gia," he said, "nigger name a George Leile, de Baptis' white folks done give 'im a license to preach to niggers up an' down de Savannah River. Hear de claim he gon' start a African Baptis' church in Savannah. First time I heard 'bout any nigger church. . . . "
Bell said, "I heard 'bout one 'fo' now in Petersburg, right here in Virginia. But tell me, you heared anythin' about de white folks' troubles up Nawth?"
"Well, I hear tell while back whole lotta impo'tant white folks had a big meetin' in dat Philadelphia. Dey call it de First Continental Congress."
Bell said she had heard that. In fact, she had painstakingly read it in Massa Waller's Virginia Gazette, and then she had shared the information with the old gardener and the fiddler. They were the only ones who knew she could read a little. When they had spoken about it recently, the gardener and the fiddler had agreed that Kunta shouldn't be told of her ability. True, he knew how to keep his mouth shut, and he had come to understand and express things unexpectedly well for anyone from Africa, but they felt that he couldn't yet fully appreciate how serious the consequences would be if the massa got the slightest hint that she could read: He would sell her away that same day.
By early the next year--1775--almost no news from any source was without some further development in Philadelphia. Even from what Kunta heard and could understand, it was clear that the white folks were moving toward a crisis with the king across the big water in the place called England. And there was a lot of exclaiming about some Massa Patrick Henry having cried out, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Kunta liked that, but he couldn't understand how somebody white could say it; white folks looked pretty free to him.
Within a month came news that two whites named William Dawes and Paul Revere had raced on horses to warn somebody of hundreds of King's soldiers heading for somewhere called "Concord" to destroy rifles and bullets that were stored there. And soon afterward they heard that in a furious battle at "Lexington," some "Minutemen" had lost only a handful while killing over two hundred King's soldiers. Scarcely two days later came word that yet another thousand of them had fallen in a bloody battle at a place called "Bunker Hill." "White folks at the county seat is laughin', sayin' dem king's soldiers wears red coats not to show de blood," said Luther. "Heared some a dat blood gettin' spilt by niggers fightin' 'longside white folks." Wherever he went now, he said he kept on hearing that Virginia massas were showing greater than usual signs of mistrust toward their slaves--"even dey oldest house niggers!"
Relishing his new importance along slave row, Luther arrived home from a trip in June to find an anxious audience awaiting his latest news. "It's some Massa George Washington got picked to run a army. Nigger tol' me he's heared he got a big plantation wid plenty a slaves." He said he had also heard that some New England slaves had been set free to help fight the king's redcoats.
"I knowed it!" the fiddler exclaimed. "Niggers gon' git dragged in it an' kilt, jes' like dat French an' Indian War. Den soon's it's over, white folks be right back whippin' niggers!"
"Maybe not," said Luther. "Heared some white folks call themselves Quakers done put together a Anti-Slavery Society, up in dat Philadelphia. Reckon dey's some white folks jes' don't believe in niggers bein' slaves."
"Me neither," put in the fiddler.
The frequent bits of news that Bell contributed would sound as if she had been discussing them with the massa himself, but she finally admitted that she had been listening at the keyhole of the dining room whenever the massa had guests, for not long ago he had curtly told her to serve them and leave immediately, closing the door behind her; then she had heard him lock it. "An' I knows dat man better'n his mammy!" she muttered indignantly.
"What he say in dere after he lock de do'?" asked the fiddler impatiently.
"Well, tonight he say don't seem no way not to fight dem English folks. He speck dey gon' send big boatloads a soldiers over here. He say it's over two hunnud thousand slaves just in Virginia, an' de biggest worry is if dem Englishmans ever riles up us niggers'gainst white folks. Massa say he feel loyal to de king as any man, but ain't nobody can stan' dem taxes."
"Gen'l Washington done stopped 'em taking any more niggers in the Army," said Luther, "but some free niggers up Nawth is arguin' dey's part of dis country an' wants to fight."
"Dey sho' gon' git dey chance, jes' let 'nough white folks git kilt," said the fiddler. "Dem free niggers is crazy."
But the news that followed two weeks later was even bigger. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, had proclaimed freedom for slaves who would leave their plantations to serve on his English fleet of fishing boats and frigates.
"Massa fit to be tied," reported Bell. "Man come to dinner say lotta talk 'bout chainin' or jailin' slaves suspicioned a joinin' up--or even thinkin' 'bout it--an' maybe kidnapin' an' hangin' dat Lord Dunmore."
Kunta had been given the job of watering and feeding the horses of the flushed, agitated massas who visited the grim-jawed Massa Waller. And Kunta told how some of the horses had sweat-soaked flanks from long, hard riding, and how some of the massas were even driving their own buggies. One of them, he told the others, was John Waller, the massa's brother, the man who had bought Kunta when they took him off the boat eight years before. After all that time, he had known that hated face at first glance, but the man had tossed the reins to Kunta with no apparent recognition.
"Don' ack so surprised," said the fiddler. "Massa like him ain't gone say howdy to no nigger. 'Specially if'n he 'members who you is."
Over the next few weeks, Bell learned at the keyhole of the massa's and his visitors' alarm and fury that thousands of Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia slaves were said to be boldly fleeing their plantations to join Lord Dunmore. Some said they had heard that most of the fleeing slaves were simply heading for the North. But all the whites agreed on the need to start breeding more bloodhounds.
Then one day Massa Waller called Bell into the living room and twice read slowly aloud a marked item in his Virginia Gazette. He ordered Bell to show it to the slaves, and handed the paper to her. She did as she was told, and they reacted just as she had--less with fear than anger. "Be not, ye Negroes, tempted to ruin yourselves . . . whether we suffer or not, if you desert us, you most certainly will."
Before returning the Gazette, Bell spelled out for her own information several other news items in the privacy of her cabin, and among them were reports of actual or predicted slave revolts. Later the massa shouted at her for not returning the paper before supper, and Bell apologized in tears. But soon she was sent out again with another message--this time the news that Virginia's House of Burgesses had decreed "death without benefit of clergy for all Negro or other slaves conspiring to rebel or make insurrections."
"What do it mean?" a field hand asked, and the fiddler replied, "Uprise, an' white folks won't call no preacher when dey kills you!"
Luther heard that some white folks called "Tories," and some other kind called "Scotchmen," were joining with the English. "An' sheriff's nigger tol' me dat Lord Dunmore's ruinin' river plantations, burnin' big houses, an' tellin' de niggers he free 'em if'n dey come on an' jine 'im." Luther told how in Yorktown and other towns, any blacks caught out at night were being whipped and jailed.
Christmas that year was but a word. Lord Dunmore was reported to have barely outraced a mob onto the safety of his flag-ship. And a week later came the incredible news that Dunmore, with his fleet off Norfolk, had ordered the city emptied within one hour. Then his guns began a bombardment that set raging fires, and much of Norfolk had been reduced to ashes. In what was left, Bell reported, water and food were scarce, and fever had broken out, killing so many that Hampton Roads' waters were dotted with bloated bodies drifting ashore with the tides. "Say dey's buryin' 'em in san' an' mud," said Luther. "An' lotta niggers near 'bout starvin' an' scared to death on dem English boats."
Mulling over all these terrible events, Kunta felt that in some unfathomable way, all of this suffering must have some meaning, some reason, that Allah must have willed it. Whatever was going to happen next, both to black and white, must be His design.
It was early in 1776 when Kunta and the others heard that a General Cornwallis had come from England with boatfuls of sailors and soldiers trying to cross a big "York River," but a great storm had scattered the boats. They heard next that another Continental Congress had met, with a group of massas from Virginia moving for complete separation from the English. Then two months of minor news passed before Luther returned from the county seat with the news that after another meeting on July 4, "All the white folks I seen is jes' carryin' on! Somethin' 'bout some Decoration a Ind'pen'ence. Heared 'em say Massa John Hancock done writ his name real big so the king wouldn't have to strain none to see it."
On his next trips to the county seat, Luther returned with accounts he had heard that in Baltimore, a life-sized rag doll "king" had been carted through the streets, then thrown into a bonfire surrounded by white people shouting "Tyrant! Tyrant!" And in Richmond, rifles had been fired in volleys as shouting white people waved their torches and drank toasts to each other. Along the subdued slave row, the old gardener said, "Ain't nothin' neither way for niggers to holler 'bout. England or here, dey's all white folks."
Later that summer, Bell bustled over to slave row with news from a dinner guest that the House of Burgesses had just recently passed an act that "say dey gon' take niggers in the Army as drummers, fifers, or pioneers."
"What's pioneers?" asked a field hand.
"It mean git stuck up front an' git kilt!" said the fiddler.
Luther soon brought home an exciting account of a big battle right there in Virginia that had slaves fighting on both sides. Amid a hail of musket balls from hundreds of redcoats and Tories, along with a group of convicts and blacks, a smaller force of white "Colonials" and their blacks were driven across a bridge, but in the rear a slave soldier named Billy Flora had ripped up and hurled away enough planks from the bridge that the English forces had to stop and withdraw, saving the day for the Colonial forces.
"Rip up a bridge! Dat musta been some strong nigger!" the gardener exclaimed.
When the French entered the war on the Colonial side in 1778, Bell relayed reports that one state after another was authorizing the enlisting of slaves with the promise of freedom when the war was won. "Now ain't but two states lef' dat say dey ain't gon' never let niggers fight, dat's South Ca'lina an' Geo'gia."
"Dat de only thing good I ever heared 'bout neither one a dem!" said the fiddler.
As much as he hated slavery, it seemed to Kunta that no good could come of the white folks giving guns to blacks. First of all, the whites would always have more guns than the blacks, so any attempt to revolt would end in defeat And he thought about how in his own homeland, guns and bullets had been given by the toubob to evil chiefs and kings, until blacks were fighting blacks, village against village, and selling those they conquered--their own people--into chains.
Once Bell heard the massa say that as many as five thousand blacks, both free and slave, were in the fighting that was going on, and Luther regularly brought stories of blacks fighting and dying alongside their massas. Luther also told of some all-black companies from "up Nawth," even one all-black battalion called "The Bucks of America." "Even dey colonel is a nigger," said Luther. "His name Middleton." He looked archly at the fiddler. "You won't never guess what he is!"
"What you mean?" said the fiddler.
"He a fiddler, too! An' it's time to do some fiddlin'!"
Then Luther hummed and sang a new song he had heard in the county seat. The catchiness of it was easy to pick up, and soon others were singing it, and still others beating time with sticks. "Yankee Doodle came to town, ridin' on a pony. . . ." And when the fiddler started playing, the slave row young'uns began to dance and clap their hands.
With May of 1781 came the astounding story that redcoats on horses had ruined Massa Thomas Jefferson's plantation called Monticello. The crops had been destroyed, the barn burned, the livestock run off, and all the horses and thirty slaves had been taken. "White folks sayin' Virginia got to be saved," Luther reported, and soon after he told of white joy because General Washington's army was headed there. "An' niggers a plenty is in it!" October brought reports that the combined forces of Washington and Lafayette had poured shot and shell into Yorktown, attacking England's Cornwallis. And they soon learned of other battles raging in Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, and other states. Then in the third week of the month came the news that set even slave row shouting: "Cornwallis done surrendered! War am ober! Freedom am won!"
Luther barely had time to sleep between buggy journeys now, and the massa was even smiling again--for the first time in years, said Bell.
"Ev'ywhere I's been, de niggers is hollerin' loud as white folks," said Luther.
But he said that slaves everywhere had rejoiced most over their special hero, "Ol' Billy" Flora, who had recently been discharged and carried his faithful musket back to Norfolk.
"Y'all come here!" Bell shouted, summoning the others on slave row not long after. "Massa jes' tol' me dey done named that Philadelphia firs' capital of Newnited States!" But it was Luther who told them later, "Massa Jefferson done put up some kin' of Manumission Ack. It say massas got de right to free niggers, but tell me dem Quakers an' antislavery folks an' free niggers up Nawth is hollerin' an' goin' on 'cause the Ack say massas don't have to, not less'n dey wants to."
When General Washington disbanded the army early in November of 1783, formally ending what most people had begun calling "The Seven Years' War," Bell told everyone in slave row, "Massa say gon' be peace now."
"Ain't gon' be no peace, not long as it's white folks," said the fiddler sourly, "'cause ain't nothin' dey loves better'n killin'." His glance flicked among the faces around him. "Jes' watch what I tell you--it's gon' be worse'n it was for us niggers."
Kunta and the old gardener sat later talking quietly. "You seen aplenty since you been here. How long it's been, anyhow?" Kunta didn't know, and that troubled him.
That night, when he was alone, Kunta spent hours carefully arranging into piles of twelve all of the multicolored pebbles that he had dropped faithfully into his gourd with each new moon. He was so stunned by what the stones finally told him that the gardener never learned the answer to his question. Surrounding him there on the dirt floor of his hut were seventeen piles of stones. He was thirty-four rains old! What in the name of Allah had happened to his life? He had been in the white man's land as long as he had lived in Juffure. Was he still an African, or had he become a "nigger," as the others called themselves? Was he even a man? He was the same age as his father when he had seen him last, yet he had no sons of his own, no wife, no family, no village, no people, no homeland, almost no past at all that seemed real to him anymore--and no future he could see. It was as if The Gambia had been a dream he'd had once long ago. Or was he still asleep? And if he was, would he ever waken?
Kunta didn't have long to brood about the future, for a few days later came news that took the plantation by storm. A captured runaway housegirl, reported Bell breathlessly after the sheriff arrived for a hushed meeting with the massa behind closed doors, had admitted under a lashing that her crude escape route had been drawn for her by none other than the massa's driver, Luther.
Storming out to slave row before Luther could run away, Massa Waller confronted him with the sheriff and demanded angrily to know if it was true. Terrified, Luther admitted that it was. Red-faced with rage, the massa lifted his arm to strike, but when Luther begged for mercy, he lowered it again and stood there staring silently at Luther for a long moment, tears of fury welling in his eyes.
At last he spoke, very quietly: "Sheriff, put this man under arrest and take him to jail. He is to be sold at the next slave auction." And without another word he turned and walked back to the house, ignoring Luther's anguished sobs.
Speculation had hardly begun about who would be assigned to replace him as the massa's driver when Bell came out one night and told Kunta that the massa wanted to see him right away. Everyone watched--but no one was surprised--as he went cripping into the house behind Bell. Though he suspected why he had been called, Kunta felt a little scared, for he had never spoken to the massa or even been beyond Bell's kitchen in the big house during all his sixteen years on the plantation.
As Bell led him through the kitchen into a hallway, his eyes goggled at the shining floor and the high, papered walls. She knocked at a huge carved door. He heard the massa say, "Come in!" and Bell went on inside, turning to beckon expressionlessly to Kunta. He couldn't believe the size of the room; it seemed as big as the inside of the barn. The polished oaken floor was covered with rugs, and the walls were hung with paintings and tapestries. The richly dark, matched furniture was waxed, and long rows of books sat on recessed shelves. Massa Waller sat at a desk reading under an oil lamp with a circular shade of greenish glass, and his finger held his place in his book when, after a moment, he turned around to face Kunta.
"Toby, I need a buggy driver. You've grown into a man on this place, and I believe you're loyal." His widely set blue eyes seemed to pierce Kunta. "Bell tells me that you never drink. I like that, and I've noticed how you conduct yourself." Massa Waller paused. Bell shot a look at Kunta. "Yassuh, Massa," he said quickly.
"You know what happened to Luther?" the massa asked. "Yassuh," said Kunta. The massa's eyes narrowed, and his voice turned cold and hard. "I'd sell you in a minute," he said. "I'd sell Bell if you two had no better sense."
As they stood there silently, the massa reopened his book. "All right, start driving me tomorrow. I'm going to Newport. I'll show you the way until you learn." The massa glanced at Bell. "Get him the proper clothes And tell the fiddler that he'll be replacing Toby in the garden."
"Yassuh, Massa," Bell said, as she and Kunta left.
Bell brought him the clothing, but it was the fiddler and the old gardener who supervised Kunta's dressing early the next morning in the starched and pressed canvas trousers and cotton hemp shirt. They didn't look too bad, but that black string tie they helped him put on next, he felt, made him look ridiculous.
"Newport ain't nowhere to drive, jes' right up next to Spotsylvania Courthouse," said the old gardener. "It's ONE a de ol' Waller family big houses."
The fiddler--who by this time had been told of his own new duties as well as Kunta's--was walking around inspecting him with an expression that revealed transparently both his pleasure and his jealousy. "You a sho' nuff special nigger now, no two ways'bout it. Jes' don't let it git to yo' head."
It was unnecessary advice for one who--even after all this time--found no dignity in anything he was made to do for the white man. But whatever small excitement Kunta felt at the prospect of being able to leave his garden behind and widen his horizons--as his uncles Janneh and Saloum had done--was soon forgotten in the heat of his new duties.
Summoned by his patients at any hour of the day or night, Massa Waller would call Kunta rushing from his hut to hitch the horses for breakneck rides to homes sometimes many miles from the plantation down narrow, twisting roads that were hardly smoother than the countryside around them. Lurching and careening over ruts and potholes, laying on the whip until the horses heaved for breath, Massa Waller clinging to his canopied rear seat, Kunta showed a knack for the reins that somehow saw them safely to their destination even in the spring thaw, when the red-clay roads turned into treacherous rivers of mud.
Early one morning, the massa's brother John came galloping in, frantically reporting that his wife's labor pains had begun, although it was two months before the birth had been expected. Massa John's horse was too exhausted to return without rest, and Kunta had driven both of them back to Massa John's barely in the nick of time. Kunta's own overheated horses hadn't cooled down enough for him to give them water when he heard the shrill cries of a newborn baby. It was a five-pound girl, the massa told him on their way home, and they were going to call her Anne.
And so it went. During that same frantic summer and fall, there was a plague of black vomiting that claimed victims all over the county--so many that Massa Waller and Kunta couldn't keep up with them, and soon drove themselves into fever. Downing copious dosages of quinine to keep them going, they saved more lives than they lost. But Kunta's own life became a blur of countless big-house kitchens, catnaps on pallets in strange huts or in haymows, and endless hours of sitting in the buggy outside shanties and grand homes listening to the same cries of pain while he waited for the massa to reappear so that they could return home--or more often drive on to the next patient.
But Massa Waller didn't travel always in the midst of crisis. Sometimes entire weeks would pass without anything more urgent than routine house calls or visits to one of a seemingly inexhaustible assortment of relatives and friends whose plantations were located somewhere within driving distance. On such occasions--particularly in the spring and summer, when the meadows were thick with flowers, wild strawberries, and blackberry thickets, and the fences were trellised with lushly growing vines--the buggy would roll along leisurely behind its finely matched pair of bay horses, Massa Waller sometimes nodding off under the black canopy that shielded him from the sun. Everywhere were quail whirring up, brilliant red cardinals hopping about, meadowlarks and whippoorwills calling out. Now and then a bullsnake sunning on the road, disturbed by the oncoming buggy, would go slithering for safety, or a buzzard would go flapping heavily away from its dead rabbit. But Kunta's favorite sight was a lonely old oak or cedar in the middle of a field; it would send his mind back to the baobabs of Africa, and to the elders' saying that wherever one stood alone, there had once been a village. At such times he would think of Juffure.
On his social calls, the massa went most often to visit his parents at Enfield, their plantation on the borderline between King William County and King and Queen County. Approaching it--like all the Waller family big houses--the buggy would roll down a long double avenue of huge old trees and stop beneath a massive black walnut tree on the wide front lawn. The house, which was much bigger and richer looking than the massa's, sat on a slight rise overlooking a narrow, slow-moving river.
During his first few months of driving, the cooks at the various plantations in whose kitchens Kunta was fed--but most especially Hattie Mae, the fat, haughty, shiny-black cook at Enfield--had eyed him critically, as fiercely possessive of their domains as Bell was at Massa Waller's. Confronted with Kunta's stiff dignity and reserve, though, none quite ventured to challenge him in any way directly, and he would silently clean his plate of whatever they served him, excepting any pork. Eventually, however, they began to get used to his quiet ways, and after his sixth or seventh visit, even the cook at Enfield apparently decided that he was fit for her to talk to and deigned to speak to him.
"You know where you at?" she asked him suddenly one day in the middle of his meal. He didn't answer, and she didn't wait for one.
"Dis here's de first Newnited States house of de Wallers. Nobody but Wallers lived here for a hunerd an' fifty years!" She said that when Enfield had been built it was only half its present size, but that later another house had been brought up from near the river and added on. "Our fireplace is bricks brought in boats from England," she said proudly. Kunta nodded politely as she droned on, but he was unimpressed.
Once in a while, Massa Waller would pay a visit to Newport, Kunta's first destination as a driver; it seemed impossible to believe that an entire year had passed since then. And old uncle and aunt of the massa's lived there in a house that looked to Kunta very much like Enfield. While the white folks ate in the dining room, the cook at Newport would feed Kunta in the kitchen, strutting around with a large ring of keys on a thin leather belt around the top of her apron. He had noticed by now that every senior housemaid wore such a key ring. On it, he had learned, in addition to her keys for the pantry, the smokehouse, the cooling cellar, and other food-storage places, were the keys to all the rooms and closets in the big house. Every cook he'd met would walk in a way to make those keys jangle as a badge of how important and trusted she was, but none jangled them louder than this one.
On a recent visit, having decided--like the cook at Enfield--that he might be all right after all, she pressed a finger to her lips and led Kunta on tiptoe to a small room farther within the big house. Making a great show of unlocking the door with one of the keys at her waist, she led him inside and pointed to one wall. On it was a mounted display of what she explained were the Wallers' coat of arms, their silver seal, a suit of armor, silver pistols, a silver sword, and the prayer book of the original Colonel Waller.
Pleased at the ill-concealed amazement on Kunta's face, she exclaimed, "Ol' colonel built dat Enfield, but he buried right here." And walking outside, she showed him the grave and its lettered tombstone. After a minute, as Kunta stared at it, she asked with a rehearsed casualness, "You wanna know what it say?" Kunta nodded his head, and rapidly she "read" the long since memorized inscription: "Sacred to Memory of Colonel John Waller, Gentleman, third son of John Waller and Mary Key, who settled in Virginia in 1635, from Newport Paganel, Buckinghamshire."
Several cousins of massa's, Kunta soon discovered, lived at Prospect Hill, also in Spotsylvania County. Like Enfield, the big house here was one and a half stories high, as were nearly all very old big houses, the cook at Prospect Hill told him, because the king had put an extra tax on two-story houses. Unlike Enfield, Prospect Hill was rather small--smaller than the other Waller family houses--but none, she informed him, whether or not he cared to listen, had as wide an entrance hall or as steep a circular stairway.
"You ain't gwine upstairs, but no reason you cain't know us got four-poster canopy beds up dere so tall dey has to use stepladders, an' under dem is chillun's trundle beds. An' lemme tell you sump'n. Dem beds, de chimney bricks, house beams, hinges on de do's, ev'eything usn's got in here was made or did by slave niggers."
In the backyard, she showed Kunta the first weaving house he had ever seen, and nearby were the slave quarters--which were about the same as theirs--and below them was a pond, and farther beyond was a slaves' graveyard. "I knows you ain't want to see dat," she said, reading his thoughts. He wondered if she also knew how strange and sad he found it to hear her talking--as so many others did--about "usn's," and acting as if she owned the plantation she lived on instead of the other way around.
"How come massa been seein' so much a dat no-good brother a his las' few months?" asked Bell one evening after Kunta trudged in after arriving home from a visit to Massa John's plantation. "I thought they was no love los' 'tween dem two."
"Look to me like massa jes' gone crazy 'bout dat l'il ol' gal baby dey got," said Kunta wearily.
"She sho is a cute l'il thin'," said Bell. After a thoughtful pause, she added, "Reckon Missy Anne seem to massa like dat l'il gal of his own he los'."
That hadn't occurred to Kunta, who still found it difficult to think of toubob as actual human beings.
"She gon' be a whole year ol' dis November, ain't she?" asked Bell.
Kunta shrugged. All he knew was that all this running back and forth between the two plantations was wearing ruts in the road--and in his rump. Even though he had no use for Massa John's sour-faced buggy driver Roosby, he told Bell he was grateful for the rest when the massa invited his brother to visit him for a change the week before.
As they were leaving that day, Bell recalled, the massa had looked as happy as his little niece when he tossed her in the air and caught her, squealing and laughing, before handing her up to her mother in the buggy. Kunta hadn't noticed and he didn't care--and he couldn't understand why Bell did.
One afternoon a few days later, on their way home from a house call on one of Massa Waller's patients at a plantation not far from Newport, the massa called out sharply to Kunta that he had just passed a turn they should have taken. Kunta had been driving without seeing, so shocked was he by what he had just seen at the patient's big house. Even as he muttered an apology and turned the buggy hastily around, he couldn't rid his mind of the sight of the heavy, very black, Wolof-looking woman he had seen in the backyard. She had been sitting on a stump, both of her large breasts hanging out, matter-of-factly suckling a white infant at one and a black infant at the other. It was a revolting sight to Kunta, and an astonishing one, but when he told the gardener about it later, the old man said, "Ain't hardly a massa in Virginia ain't sucked a black mammy, or leas' was raised up by one."
Almost as repulsive to Kunta was something he'd seen all too much of--the kind of demeaning "games" that went on at the plantations he visited between white and black "young'uns" of about the same age. The white children seemed to love nothing more than playing "massa" and pretending to beat the black ones, or playing "hosses" by climbing onto their backs and making them scramble about on all fours. Playing "school," the white children would "teach" the black to read and write, with many cuffings and shriekings about their "dumbness." Yet after lunch--which the black children would spend fanning the massa and his family with leafy branches to keep flies away--the white and black children would lie down together and take naps on pallets.
After seeing such things, Kunta would always tell Bell, the fiddler, and the gardener that he'd never understand the toubob if he lived to a hundred rains. And they would always laugh and tell him that they'd seen this sort of thing--and more--all of their lives.
Sometimes, they told him, as the white and black "young'uns" grew up together, they became very attached to one another. Bell recalled two occasions when the massa had been called to attend white girls who had fallen ill when their lifelong black playmates had been sold away for some reason. Their massas and mistresses had been advised that their daughters' hysterical grief was such that they might well grow weaker and weaker until they died, unless their little girlfriends were quickly found and bought back.
The fiddler said that a lot of black young'uns had learned to play the violin, the harpsichord, or other instruments by listening and observing as their white playmates were taught by music masters whom their rich massas had hired from across the big water. The old gardener said that on his second plantation a white and black boy grew up together until finally the young massa took the black one off with him to William and Mary College. "Ol' Massa ain't like it a'tall; but Ol' Missy say, 'It's his nigger if he want to!' An' when dis nigger git back later on, he tol' us in slave row dat dey was heap more young massas dere wid dey niggers as valets, sleepin' right in de room wid 'em. He say heap of times dey take dey niggers wid 'em to classes, den dey argue later on whose nigger learnt de mos'. Dat nigger from my plantation couldn't jes' read an' write, he could figger, too, an' 'cite dem poems an' stuff dey has at colleges. I got sol' away roun' den. Wonder whatever become a him?"
"Lucky if he ain't dead," the fiddler said. "'Cause white folks is quick to 'spicion a nigger like dat be de first to hatch a uprisin' or a re-volt somewhere. Don't pay to know too much, jes' like I tol' dis African here when he started drivin' massa. Mouf shut an' ears open, dat's de way you learns de mos'--."
Kunta found out how true that was soon afterward, when Massa Waller offered a ride to a friend of his from one plantation to another. Talking as if he wasn't there--and saying things that Kunta would have found extraordinary even if they hadn't known there was a black sitting right in front of them--they spoke about the frustrating slowness of their slaves' separation of cotton fibers from the seeds by hand when demands for cotton cloth were rapidly increasing. They discussed how more and more, only the largest planters could afford to buy slaves at the robbery prices being demanded by slave traders and slave-ship agents.
"But even if you can afford it, bigness can create more problems than it solves," said the massa. "The more slaves you've got, the likelier it is that some kind of revolt could be fomented."
"We should never have let them bear arms against white men during the war," said his companion. "Now we witness the result!" He went on to tell how, at a large plantation near Fredericksburg, some former slave soldiers had been caught just before a planned revolt, but only because a housemaid had gotten some wind of it and told her mistress in tears. "They had muskets, scythe blades, pitchforks, they had even made spears," said the massa's friend. "It's said their plot was to kill and burn by night and hide by day and keep moving. One of their ringleaders said they expected to die, but not before they had done what the war had showed them they could do to white people."
"They could have cost many innocent lives," he heard the massa reply gravely. Massa Waller went on to say that he had read somewhere that over two hundred slave outbreaks had occurred since the first slaveships came. "I've been saying for years that our greatest danger is that slaves are coming to outnumber whites."
"You're right!" his friend exclaimed. "You don't know who's shuffling and grinning and planning to cut your throat. Even the ones right in your house. You simply can't trust any of them. It's in their very nature."
His back as rigid as a board, Kunta heard the massa say, "As a doctor, more than once I've seen white deaths that--well, I'll not go into details, but let's just say I've thought some of them suspicious."
Hardly feeling the reins in his hands, Kunta was unable to comprehend that they could seem so incredibly unaware of him. His mind tumbled with things that he too had heard during the nearly two years now that he had been driving the buggy for the massa. He had heard many a whispering of cooks and maids grinning and bowing as they served food containing some of their own bodily wastes. And he had been told of white folks' meals containing bits of ground glass, or arsenic, or other poisons. He had even heard stories about white babies going into mysterious fatal comas without any trace of the darning needle that had been thrust by house-maids into their soft heads where the hair was thickest. And a big-house cook had pointed out to him the former hut of an old mammy nurse who had been beaten badly and then sold away after severely injuring a young massa who had hit her.
It seemed to Kunta that black women here were even more defiant and rebellious than the men. But perhaps it only appeared that way because the women were more direct and personal about it; they would usually take revenge against white folks who had wronged them. The men tended to be more secretive and less vengeful. The fiddler had told Kunta about a white overseer who had been hanged from a tree by the father of a black girl he had been caught raping; but violence against whites by black men was most often ignited by news of white atrocities or slave rebellions and the like.
There had never been any uprisings, or even any incidents, at the Waller place, but right there in Spotsylvania County, Kunta had heard about some blacks who had hidden muskets and other weapons and vowed to kill their massas or mistresses, or both, and put their plantations to the torch. And there were some men among those he worked with who would meet in secret to discuss anything good or bad that happened to slaves elsewhere and to consider any action they might take to help; but so far they had only talked.
Kunta had never been invited to join them--probably, he thought, because they felt that his foot would make him useless to them in an actual revolt. Whatever their reasons for leaving him out, he felt it was just as well. Though he wished them luck in whatever they might decide to do, Kunta didn't believe that a rebellion could ever succeed against such overwhelming odds. Perhaps, as Massa Waller had said, blacks might soon outnumber whites, but they could never overpower them--not with pitchforks, kitchen knives, and stolen muskets against the massed armies of the white nation and its cannons.
But their worst enemy, it seemed to Kunta, was themselves. There were a few young rebels among them, but the vast majority of slaves were the kind that did exactly what was expected of them, usually without even having to be told; the kind white folks could--and did--trust with the lives of their own children, the kind that looked the other way when the white man took their women into haymows. Why, there were some right there on the plantation he was sure the massa could leave unguarded for a year and find them there--still working--when he returned. It certainly wasn't because they were content; they complained constantly among themselves. But never did more than a handful so much as protest, let alone resist.
Perhaps he was becoming like them, Kunta thought. Or perhaps he was simply growing up. Or was he just growing old? He didn't know; but he knew that he had lost his taste for fighting and running, and he wanted to be left alone, he wanted to mind his own business. Those who didn't had a way of winding up dead.
Dozing off in the shade of an oak tree in the backyard of a plantation where the massa was visiting to treat an entire family that had come down with a fever, Kunta woke up with a start when the evening conch horn blew to call the slaves in from the fields. He was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes when they reached the yard. Glancing up as they passed by on their way to wash up for supper, he noticed that there were about twenty or thirty of them. He looked again. Maybe he was still sleeping, but four of them--a man, a woman, and two teen-age boys--were white.
"Dey's what you call indentured white folks," his friend the cook explained when he expressed his amazement to her a few minutes later. "Been here 'bout two months now. Dey's a fambly from someplace 'crost de big water. Massa pay dere way here on de boat, so dey gotta pay him back by workin' seben years as slaves. Den dey free jus' like any other white folks."
"Dey live in slave row?" asked Kunta.
"Dey got dey own cabin off a ways from our'n, but it jus' as tumbledown as de res'. And dey eats de same mess we does. An' don't get treated no different out in de fiel'."
"What dey like?" asked Kunta.
"Dey sticks pretty much to deyselves, but dey awright. Ain't like us'ns, but does dey job and don't make no trouble for nobody."
It seemed to Kunta that these white slaves were better off than most of the free whites he'd seen on the massa's rounds. With often as many as a dozen grown-ups and children packed on top of each other in one-room hovels on tiny patches of red clay or swampland, they scratched out a living so meager that the blacks laughingly sang a song about them: "Not po' white, please, O Lawd, fer I'd ruther be a nigger." Though he had never seen it for himself, Kunta had heard that some of these whites were so poor that they even had to eat dirt. They were certainly skinny enough, and few of them--even the "chilluns"--had any teeth left. And they smelled like they slept with their flea-bitten hounds, which many of them did. Trying to breathe through his mouth as he waited in the buggy outside their shacks while the massa treated one of them for scurvy or pellagra, watching the women and the children plowing and chopping while the menfolk lay under a tree with a brown jug of liquor and their dogs, all scratching, it was easy for Kunta to understand why plantation-owning massas and even their slaves scorned and sneered at them as "lazy, shiftless, no-count white trash."
In fact, as far as he was concerned, that was a charitable description of heathens so shameless that they managed to commit every conceivable offense against the standards of decency upheld by the most sacrilegious Moslem. On his trips with the massa to neighboring towns, there would always be packs of them idling around the courthouse or the saloon even in the morning--dressed in their sweat-stained, greasy, threadbare castoffs, reeking of the filthy tobacco weed, which they puffed incessantly, swigging "white lightning" from bottles they carried in their pockets, laughing and yelling raucously at one another as they knelt on the ground in alleys playing cards and dice for money.
By midafternoon, they would be making complete fools of themselves: bursting drunkenly into song, cavorting wildly up and down the street, whistling and calling out indecently to women who passed by, arguing and cursing loudly among themselves, and finally starting fights that would begin with a shove or a punch--while huge crowds of others like them would gather round to cheer them on--and end with ear-biting, eye-gouging, kicking of private parts, and bloody wounds that would almost always call for the massa's urgent attention. Even the wild animals of his homeland, it seemed to Kunta, had more dignity than these creatures.
Bell was always telling stories about poor whites getting flogged for beating their wives and being sentenced to a year's imprisonment for rape. Almost as often, she told about one of them stabbing or shooting another one to death; for that they might be forced to serve six months as a slave. But as much as they loved violence among themselves, Kunta knew from personal experience that they loved violence against black people even more. It was a crowd of poor whites--male and female--that had hooted and jeered and jabbed with sticks at him and his chain mates when they were taken from the big canoe. It was a poor-white overseer who had applied the lash so freely to his back at Massa John's plantation. It was "cracker white trash" slave catchers who had taken such glee in chopping off his foot. And he had heard about runaways captured by "pattyrollers" who hadn't given them the choice he'd gotten and sent them back to their plantations torn and broken almost beyond recognition--and divested of their manhood. He had never been able to figure out why poor whites hated blacks so much. Perhaps, as the fiddler had told him, it was because of rich whites, who had everything they didn't: wealth, power, and property, including slaves who were fed, clothed, and housed while they struggled to stay alive. But he could feel no pity for them, only a deep loathing that had turned icy cold with the passing of the years since the swing of an ax held by one of them had ended forever something more precious to him than his own life: the hope of freedom.
Later that summer of 1786, Kunta was returning to the plantation from the county seat with news that filled him with mixed feelings. White folks had been gathering at every corner waving copies of the Gazette and talking heatedly about a story in it that told of increasing numbers of Quakers who were not only encouraging slaves to escape, as they had been doing for several years, but had now also begun aiding, hiding, and guiding them to safety in the North. Poor whites and massas alike were calling furiously for the tarring and feathering, even hanging, of any known Quakers who might be even suspected of such seditious acts. Kunta didn't believe the Quakers or anybody else would be able to help more than a few of them escape, and sooner or later they'd get caught themselves. But it couldn't hurt to have white allies--they'd need them--and anything that got their owners so frightened couldn't be all bad.
Later that night, after Kunta told everyone in slave row what he had seen and heard, the fiddler said that when he had been playing for a dance across the county the week before, he'd seen "dey moufs fallin' open" when he cocked an ear close enough to overhear a lawyer there confiding to a group of big plantation owners that the will of a wealthy Quaker named John Pleasant had bequeathed freedom to his more than two hundred slaves. Bell, who arrived late, said that she had just overheard Massa Waller and some dinner guests bitterly discussing the fact that slavery had recently been abolished in a northern state called "Massachusetts," and reports claimed that other states near there would do the same.
"What 'bolished mean?" asked Kunta.
The old gardener replied, "It mean one dese days all us niggers gon' be free!"
Even when he didn't have anything he'd seen or heard in town to tell the others, Kunta had learned to enjoy sitting around the fire with them in front of the fiddler's hut. But lately he'd found that he was spending less time talking with the fiddler--who had once been his only reason for being there--than with Bell and the old gardener. They hadn't exactly cooled toward one another, but things just weren't the same anymore, and that saddened him. It hadn't brought them closer for the fiddler to get saddled with Kunta's gardening duties, though he'd finally managed to get over it. But what he couldn't seem to get used to was the fact that Kunta soon began to replace him as the plantation's best-informed source of news and gossip from the outside.
No one could have accused the fiddler of becoming tight-lipped, but as time went on, his famous monologues became shorter and shorter and more and more infrequent; and he hardly ever played fiddle for them anymore. After he had acted unusually subdued one evening, Kunta mentioned it to Bell, wondering if he had done or said anything that might have hurt his feelings.
"Don' flatter yourself," she told him. "Day an' night fo' months now, fiddler been runnin' back an' fo'th 'crost de county playin' fo' de white folks. He jes' too wo' out to run his mouf like he use to, which is fine wid me. An' he gittin' dollar an' a half a night now eve'y time he play at one a dem fancy white folks' parties he go'to. Even when de massa take his half, fiddler get to keep a sebentyfive cents fo' hisself, so how come he bother playin' fo' niggers no mo'--less'n you wants to take up a c'llection an' see if'n he play fo' a nickel."
She glanced up from the stove to see if Kunta was smiling. He wasn't. But she would have fallen into her soup if he had been. She had seen him smile just once--when he heard about a slave he knew from a nearby plantation who had escaped safely to the North.
"I hears fiddler plannin' to save up what he earn an' buy his freedom from de massa," she went on.
"Time he got enough to do dat," said Kunta gravely, "he gonna be too ol' to leave his hut."
Bell laughed so hard she almost did fall into her soup.
If the fiddler never earned his freedom, it wouldn't be for lack of trying, Kunta decided, after hearing him play at a party one night not long afterward. He had dropped off the massa and was talking with the other drivers under a tree out on the darkened lawn when the band--led by the fiddler, obviously in rare form tonight--began to play a Virginia reel so lively that even the white folks couldn't keep their feet still.
From where he sat, Kunta could see the silhouettes of young couples whirling from the great hall out onto the veranda through one door and back in again through another. When the dancing was over, everybody lined up at a long table glowing with candles and loaded with more food than slave row got to see in a year. And when they'd had their fill--the host's fat daughter came back three times for more--the cook sent out a trayful of leftovers and a pitcher of lemonade for the drivers. Thinking that the massa might be getting ready to leave, Kunta wolfed down a chicken leg and a delicious sticky sweet creamy something or other that one of the other drivers called "a ay-clair." But the massas, in their white suits, stood around talking quietly for hours, gesturing with hands that held long cigars and sipping now and then from glasses of wine that glinted in the light from the chandelier that hung above them, while their wives, in fine gowns, fluttered their handkerchiefs and simpered behind their fans.
The first time he had taken the massa to one of these "high-falutin' to-dos," as Bell called them, Kunta had been all but overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: awe, indignation, envy, contempt, fascination, revulsion--but most of all a deep loneliness and melancholy from which it took him almost a week to recover. He couldn't believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they didn't live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it's possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat, and mother's milk made possible the life of privilege they led.
Kunta had considered sharing these thoughts with Bell or the old gardener, but he knew he wouldn't be able to find the right words in the toubob tongue. Anyway, both of them had lived here all their lives and couldn't be expected to see it as he did, with the eyes of an outsider--one who had been born free. So, as it had always been when he thought about such things, he kept it to himself--and found himself wishing that, even after all these years, he didn't still feel so alone.
About three months later Massa Waller--"'long wid jes' 'bout ev'eybody who's anybody in de state a Virginia," according to the fiddler--was invited to attend the Thanksgiving Ball his parents held each year at Enfield. Arriving late because the massa, as usual, had to stop off and see a patient on the way, Kunta could hear that the party was well under way as they clip-clopped up the tree-lined driveway toward the big house, which was lit up from top to bottom. Pulling up at the front door, he leaped down to stand at attention while the doorman helped the massa out of the buggy. That's when he heard it. Somewhere very nearby, the edges and heels of someone's hands were beating on a drumlike gourd instrument called a qua-qua, and doing it with a sharpness and power that made Kunta know the musician was an African.
It was all he could do to stand still until the door closed behind the massa. Then Kunta tossed the reins to the waiting stableboy and raced as fast as his half foot would let him around the side of the house and across the backyard. The sound, which was getting louder and louder, seemed to be coming from the middle of a crowd of blacks stomping and clapping beneath a string of lanterns that the Wallers had allowed the slaves to put up for their own Thanksgiving celebration. Ignoring their indignant exclamations as he pushed his way through them, Kunta burst into the open circle, and there he was: a lean, gray-haired, very black man squatted on the ground pounding on his qua-qua between a mandolin player and two beef-bone clackers. As they flicked glances up at the sudden commotion, Kunta's eyes met his--and a moment later they all but sprang toward each other, the other blacks gawking, then snickering, as they embraced.
The words came as if neither of them had ever left Africa. Kunta shoved the older man away to arm's length. "I am't seed you here befo'," he exclaimed.
"Jes' sol' here from 'nother plantation," the other said.
"My massa yo' massa's young'un," said Kunta. "I drives his buggy."
The men around them had begun muttering with impatience for the music to start again, and they were obviously uncomfortable at this open display of Africanness. Both Kunta and the qua-qua player knew they mustn't aggravate the others any further, or one of them might report to the white folks.
"I be back!" said Kunta.
"Salakium-salaam!" said the qua-qua player, squatting back down.
Kunta stood there for a moment as the music began again, then turned abruptly, through the crowd with his head down--frustrated and embarrassed--and went to wait in the buggy for Massa Waller.
Over the weeks that followed, Kunta's mind tumbled with questions about the qua-qua player. What was his tribe? Clearly he was not Mandinka, nor of any of the other tribes Kunta had ever seen or heard about either in The Gambia or on the big canoe. His gray hair said that he was much older; Kunta wondered if he had as many rains as Omoro would by now. And how had each of them sensed that the other was a servant of Allah? The qua-qua player's ease with toubob speech as well as with Islam said that he had been a long time in the white folks' land, probably for more rains than Kunta had. The qua-qua player said that he had recently been sold to Massa Waller's father; where in toubob land had he been for all those rains before now?
Kunta reviewed in his mind the other Africans he had chanced to see--most of them, unfortunately, when he was with the massa and couldn't afford even to nod at them, let alone meet them--in his three rains of driving the massa's buggy. Among them had even been one or two who were unquestionably Mandinkas. Most of the Africans he had glimpsed as they drove past the Saturday morning slave auctions. But after what had happened one morning about six months before, he had decided never to drive the buggy anywhere near the auctions if he could possibly avoid it without massa suspecting his reason. As they drove by that day, a chained young Jola woman had begun shrieking piteously. Turning to see what was the matter, he saw the wide eyes of the Jola woman fixed on him on the high seat of the buggy, her mouth open in a scream, beseeching him to help her. In bitter, flooding shame, Kunta had lashed his whip down across both horses' rumps and they all but bucked ahead, jolting the massa backward, terrifying Kunta at what he had done, but the massa had said nothing.
Once Kunta had met an African slave in the county seat while he was waiting for the massa one afternoon, but neither one of them could understand the other's tribal language, and the other man hadn't yet learned to speak the toubob tongue. It seemed unbelievable to Kunta that it was only after twenty rains in the white folks' land that he had met another African with whom he could communicate.
But for the next two months, into the spring of 1788, it seemed to Kunta that the massa visited every patient, relative, and friend within five counties--except for his own parents at Enfield. Once he considered asking him for a traveling pass, which he had never done before, but he knew that would involve questions about where he intended to go and why. He could say he was going to see Liza, the cook at Enfield, but that would let the massa think there was something between them; and he might mention it to his parents, and they might mention it to Liza, and then he'd never hear the end of it, because he knew she had her eye on him and the feeling was definitely not mutual, so Kunta dropped the idea.
In his impatience to get back to Enfield, he had begun to grow irritable with Bell--the more so because he couldn't talk with her about it--or so he told himself, knowing all too well her aversion toward anything African. Thinking about confiding in the fiddler and the old gardener, he had finally decided, that although they wouldn't tell anyone else, they wouldn't be able to appreciate the magnitude of meeting someone to talk to from one's native land after twenty rains.
Then one Sunday after lunch, without any notice at all, the massa sent out to have him hitch up the team: He was going to Enfield. Kunta almost leaped from his seat and out the door, Bell staring after him in amazement.
Liza was busy among her pots when he entered the kitchen at Enfield. He asked how she was, adding quickly that he wasn't hungry. She looked warmly at him. "Ain't seen you in a time," she said, her voice soft. Then her face became somber. "Heared 'bout you an' dat African we done got. Massa heared, too. Some dem niggers tol''im, but he ain't said nothin', so I wouldn' worry 'bout it." She grasped and squeezed Kunta's hand. "You jes' wait a minute."
Kunta felt ready to explode with impatience, but Liza was deftly making and wrapping two thick beef sandwiches. She gave them to him, again pressing his hand within hers. Then she walked him toward the kitchen door, where she hesitated. "Sump'n you ain't never ax me, so I ain't tol' you--my mammy was an African nigger. Reckon dat's how come I likes you so much."
Seeing Kunta's anxiety to leave, she turned abruptly and pointed, "Dat hut wid de broke chimney his'n. Most de niggers massa's let go off today. Dey won't git back fo' dark. You jes' be sho' you at yo' buggy fo' your massa come out!"
Limping quickly down slave row, Kunta knocked at the door of the ramshackle one-room hut.
"Who dat?" said the voice he remembered.
"Ah-salakium-salaam!" said Kunta. He heard a quick muffled movement within, and the door swung open wide.
Since they were Africans, neither man showed how much this moment had been awaited by both of them. The older man offered Kunta his only chair, but when he saw that his guest preferred to squat on the dirt floor as he would have done in a village back home, the qua-qua player grunted with satisfaction, lighted the candle on his leaning table, and squatted down himself.
"I comes from Ghana, an' mine is de Akan peoples. De white folks gimme de name Pompey, but my real one's Boteng Bediako. I's been a long time here. Six white folks' plantations, an' I hopes dis de las' one. How 'bout you?"
Trying to copy the Ghanaian's terse way of speaking, Kunta told him of The Gambia, of Juffure, of being Mandinka, of his family, of his capture and escapes, his foot, doing gardening, and now driving the buggy.
The Ghanaian listened intently, and when Kunta finished, the Ghanaian sat thinking awhile before he spoke again. "We's all sufferin'. A man wise, he try to learn from it." He paused and looked appraisingly at Kunta. "How ol' you is?" Kunta said thirty-seven rains.
"You ain't look it. I's sixty-six."
"You ain't look dat neither," said Kunta.
"Well, I's been here longer'n you been born. Wishes back den I could'a knowed sump'n dat I's learned now. But you still young, so
I tell it to you. Ol' gran'mammas in you country, dey tell young'uns de stories?" Kunta said that they did. "Den I tell you one. It's 'bout growin' up where I come from.
"I 'members how de chief a our Akan peoples use to set in this big chair made outa elephants' teeth, an' it was a man always held a umbrella over his head. Den 'longside was de man de chief spoke through. Only way he ever talked, or anybody could talk to him, was through dis man. An' den a boy set at de chief's feet. Dis boy stood for de chief's soul, an' he run de chief's messages to de people. Dis boy run wid a thick-bladed sword, so whoever seed 'im comin' knowed 'zactly who he was. I growed up bein' dat boy, runnin' messages 'mongst de peoples. Dat's how de white mens cotched me."
Kunta was about to speak when the Ghanaian held up his hand.
"Dat ain't de end a de story. What I's gittin' to, on top of de chief's umbrella was dis carvin of a hand holdin' a egg. Dat stood for de care a chief used his powers wid. An' dat man de chief talked through, he always held a staff. An' on dat staff a turtle was carved. Turtle stood for dat de key to livin' is patience." The Ghanaian paused. "An' it was a bee carved on de shell a dat turtle. Bee stood for dat nothin' can't sting through de turtle's hard shell."
In the flickering candlelight of the hut, the Ghanaian paused. "Dis is what I wants to pass on to you, dat I's learned in de white folks' land. What you needs most to live here is patience--wid a hard shell."
In Africa, Kunta was sure, this man would have been a kintango, or an alcala, if not a chief himself. But he didn't know how to say what he felt, and just sat there without saying anything.
"Look like you got both," said the Ghanaian finally with a smile. Kunta began to stammer an apology, but his tongue still seemed to be tied. The Ghanaian smiled again, fell silent for a moment himself, then spoke again.
"You Mandinkas spoke of in my country as great travelers an' traders." He left the statement in midair, clearly waiting for Kunta to say something.
At last Kunta found his voice. "You heard right. My uncles is travelers. Listenin' to stories dey used to tell, seem like dey been jus' 'bout ev'eywhere. Me and my father once, we went to a new village dey done started a long ways from Juffure. I was plannin' to go to Mecca an' Timbuktu an' Mali an' all like dey done, but I got stole 'fore I had de chance."
"I knows some 'bout Africa," said the Ghanaian. "De chief had me teached by de wise men. I ain't forgot what dey said. An' I's tried to put it together wid things I's heared an' seed since I been here, an' I knows dat most of us dats brought here is stole from West Africa--from up roun' your Gambia all de way down de coast to my Guinea. Is you heared of what white folks calls de 'Gold Coast'?"
Kunta said that he hadn't. "Dey named it dat 'count of de gold dere. Dat coast go clear up to de Volta. It's dat coast where de white folks cotches de Fanti an' de Ashanti peoples. It's dem Ashantis dats said to lead most of de uprisins' an' revolts when dey's brought here.
"Spite dat, de white folks pays some of dey biggest prices for dem, 'cause dey's smart an' strong an' dey's got spirit.
"Den what dey calls de 'Slave Coast' is where dey gits de Yorubas an' Dahomans, an' roun' de tip of de Niger dey gits de Ibo." Kunta said that he had heard the Ibo were a gentle people.
The Ghanaian nodded "I's heared of thirty Ibos joined hands an' walked into a river, all singin', an' drowned together. Dat was in Lou'siana."
Kunta was starting to get worried that the massa might be ready to leave and he might keep him waiting, and a moment of silence passed between them. As Kunta's mind cast about for some topic appropriate to leave on, the Ghanaian said, "Sho ain't nobody here to set an' talk wid like us is. Heap a times qua-qua got to say what I got on my mind. Reckon maybe I was talkin' to you widout knowin' you was dere."
Deeply moved, Kunta looked the Ghanaian in the eye for a long moment, and then they both got up. In the candlelight, Kunta noticed on the table the forgotten two sandwiches that Liza had given him. He pointed to them and smiled. "We can eat anytime. Now I knows you got to go," said the Ghanaian. "In my country, whilst we was talkin', I'd a been carvin' somethin' out of a thorn to give you."
Kunta said that in The Gambia, he would have been carving something from a large dried mango seed. "Whole heap of times I done wished I had a mango seed to plant an' grow up to remin' me a home," he said.
The Ghanaian looked solemnly at Kunta. Then he smiled. "You's young. Seeds you's got a-plenty, you jes' needs de wife to plant 'em in."
Kunta was so embarrassed that he didn't know how to reply. The Ghanaian thrust out his left arm, and they shook their left hands in the African manner, meaning that they would soon meet again.
And Kunta cripped hurriedly out into the deepening dusk, past the other small huts, and up toward the big house, wondering if the massa had already come out looking for him. But it was another half hour before the massa appeared, and as Kunta drove the buggy homeward--scarcely feeling the reins in his hands or hearing the horses' hooves on the road--he felt as if he had been talking with his dear father Omoro. No evening of his life had ever meant more to him.
"Seen Toby passin' yestiday, hollered at 'im, 'Hey, drop by an' set awhile, nigger!' You oughta seen de look he give me, an' ain't even spoke! What you reckon it is?" the fiddler asked the gardener. The gardener had no idea, and they both asked Bell. "Cain't tell. If he sick or sump'n, he oughta say so. I'm jes' leavin' him'lone, he actin' so funny!" she declared.
Even Massa Waller noticed that his commendably reserved and reliable driver seemed not to be his usual self. He hoped it wasn't an incubating stage of a current local contagion to which they both had been exposed, so one day he asked Kunta if he felt badly. "Nawsuh," Kunta quickly replied, so Massa Waller put further concern out of his mind, so long as his driver got him where he was going.
Kunta had been rocked to the core by his encounter with the Ghanaian, and that very fact made it clear to him how lost he had become. Day by day, year by year, he had become less resisting, more accepting, until finally, without even realizing it, he had forgotten who he was. It was true that he had come to know better and learned to get along with the fiddler, the gardener, Bell, and the other blacks, but he knew now that he could never really be one of them, any more than they could be like him. Alongside the Ghanaian, in fact, the fiddler and the gardener and Bell now seemed to Kunta only irritating. He was glad that they were keeping their distance. Lying on his pallet at night, he was torn with guilt and shame about what he had let happen to himself. He had still been an African when he used to awaken suddenly here in his cabin, jerking upright, shocked to discover that he wasn't in Juffure; but the last time that happened had been many years ago. He had still been an African when his memories of The Gambia and its people had been the only thing that sustained him, but months might pass now without his having a single thought about Juffure. He had still been an African back in those early years when each new outrage had sent him onto his knees imploring Allah to give him strength and understanding; how long had it been since he had even properly prayed to Allah?
His learning to speak the toubob tongue, he realized, had played a big part in it. In this everyday talking, he seldom even thought of Mandinka words any more, excepting those few that for some reason his mind still clung to. Indeed, by now--Kunta grimly faced it--he even thought in the toubob tongue. In countless things he did as well as said and thought, his Mandinka ways had slowly been replaced by those of the blacks he had been among. The only thing in which he felt he could take some small pride was that in twenty rains he had never touched the meat of the swine.
Kunta searched his mind; there must have been something else of his original self that he could find someplace. And there was: He had kept his dignity. Through everything, he had worn his dignity as once in Juffure he had worn his saphie charms to keep away the evil spirits. He vowed to himself that now more than ever, his dignity must become as a shield between him and all of those who called themselves "niggers." How ignorant of themselves they were; they knew nothing of their ancestors, as he had been taught from boyhood. Kunta reviewed in his mind the names of the Kintes from the ancient clan in old Mali down across the generations in Mauretania, then in The Gambia all the way to his brothers and himself; and he thought of how the same ancestral knowledge was possessed by every member of his kafo.
It set Kunta to reminiscing about those boyhood friends. At first he was only surprised, but then he grew shocked when he found that he couldn't remember their names. Their faces came back to him--along with memories of them racing out beyond the village gate like blackbirds to serve as chattering escorts in Juffure for every traveler who passed by; hurling sticks at the scolding monkeys overhead, who promptly hurled them back; of contests they'd held to see who could eat six mangoes the fastest. But try as Kunta might, he couldn't recall their names, not one of them. He could see his kafo gathered, frowning at him.
In his hut, and driving the massa, Kunta racked his brain. And finally the names did begin to come, one by one: yes, Sitafa Silla--he and Kunta had been best friends! And Kalilu Conteh--he had stalked and caught the parrot at the kintango's command. Sefo Kela--he had asked the Council of Elders for permission to have a teriya sexual friendship with that widow.
The faces of some of the elders began to come back now, and with them the names he thought he had long since forgotten. The kintango was Silla Ba Dibba! The alimamo was Kujali Demba! The wadanela was Karamo Tamba! Kunta remembered his third-kafo graduating ceremony, where he had read his Koranic verses so well that Omoro and Binta gave a fat goat to the arafang, whose name was Brima Cesay. Remembering them all filled Kunta with joy--until it occurred to him that those elders would have died by now, and his kafo mates whom he remembered as little boys would be his age back in Juffure--and he would never see them again. For the first time in many years, he cried himself to sleep.
In the county seat a few days later, another buggy driver told Kunta that some free blacks up North who called themselves "The Negro Union" had proposed a mass return to Africa of all blacks--both free and slaves. The very thought of it excited Kunta, even as he scoffed that it couldn't ever happen, with massas not only competing to buy blacks but also paying higher prices than ever. Though he knew the fiddler would almost rather stay a slave in Virginia than go to Africa a free man, Kunta wished he could discuss it with him, for the fiddler always seemed to know all there was to know about what was going on anywhere if it had anything to do with freedom.
But for almost two months now Kunta hadn't done more than scowl at the fiddler or at Bell and the gardener either. Not that he needed them or even liked them that much, of course--but the feeling of being stranded kept growing within him. By the time the next new moon rose, and he miserably dropped another pebble into his gourd, he was feeling inexpressibly lonely, as if he had cut himself off from the world.
The next time Kunta saw the fiddler pass by, he nodded at him uncertainly, but the fiddler kept walking as if he hadn't even seen anyone. Kunta was furiously embarrassed. The very next day he and the old gardener saw each other at the same moment, and without missing a step, the gardener turned in another direction. Both hurt and bitter--and with a mounting sense of guilt--Kunta paced back and forth in his hut for more hours that night. The next morning, bracing himself, he cripped outside and down slave row to the door of the once-familiar last hut. He knocked.
The door opened. "What you want?" the fiddler asked coldly.
Swallowing with embarrassment, Kunta said, "Jes' figgered I'd come by."
The fiddler spat on the ground. "Look here, nigger, now hear what I tells you. Me an' Bell an' de ol' man been 'scussin' you. An' we all 'grees if it's anythin' we can't stan', it's a sometimey nigger!" He glared at Kunta. "Dat's all been wrong wid you! You ain't sick or nothin'. "
Kunta stood looking at his shoes. After a moment, the fiddler's glare softened and he stepped aside. "Since you's already here, c'mon in. But I'm gon' tell you--show yo' ass one mo' time, an' you won't git spoke to again 'til you's ol' as Methuselah!"
Choking down his rage and humiliation, Kunta went on inside and sat down, and after a seemingly endless silence between them--which the fiddler obviously had no intention of ending--Kunta forced himself to tell about the back-to-Africa proposal. The fiddler said coolly that he had long known about that, and that there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that it would ever happen.
Seeing Kunta's hurt expression, the fiddler seemed to relent a little. "Lemme tell you sump'n I bets you ain't heared. Up Nawth in New York, dey's what you call a Manumission Society dat done open a school for free niggers what wants to get learned readin' an' writin' an' all kin's a trades."
Kunta was so happy and relieved to have the fiddler talking to him again that he hardly heard what his old friend was saying to him. A few minutes later, the fiddler stopped talking for a moment and sat looking at Kunta inquiringly.
"Is I keepin' you up?" he asked finally.
"Hmm?" said Kunta, who had been lost in thought.
"I ax you a question 'bout five minutes ago."
"Sorry, I was thinkin' 'bout sump'n."
"Well, since you don' know how to listen, I show ya how its done." He sat back and crossed his arms.
"Ain't you gonna go on wid what you was sayin'?" asked Kunta.
"By now I forgits what I was sayin'. Is you forgit what you was thinkin'?"
"It ain't impo'tant. Jes' sump'n been on my mind."
"Better get it off dere fo' you gits a headache--or gives me one."
"I cain't 'scuss it."
"Huh!" said the fiddler, acting insulted. "If'n dat de way you feel . . . "
"Ain't you. It's jes' too personal."
A light began to dawn in the fiddler's eye. "Don' tell me! It's'bout a woman, right?"
"Ain't nothin' a de kin'!" said Kunta, flushing with embarrassment. He sat speechless for a moment, then got up and said, "Well, I be late fo' work, so I see ya later. Thanks fo' talkin' wid me."
"Sho thing. Jes' lemme know when you wants to do some talkin'."
How had he known? Kunta asked himself on his way to the stable. And why had he insisted on making him talk about it? It was only with the greatest reluctance that Kunta had even let himself think about it. But lately he could hardly seem to think about anything else. It had to do with the Ghanaian's advice about planting his seeds.
Long before he met the Ghanaian, Kunta had often had a hollow feeling whenever he thought about the fact that if he had been in Juffure, he would have had three or four sons by now--along with the wife who had given birth to them. What usually occasioned these thoughts was when about once each moon, Kunta had a dream from which he always awakened abruptly in the darkness, acutely embarrassed at the hot stickiness that had just burst from his still rigid foto. Lying awake afterward, he thought not so much of a wife as he did about how he knew that there was hardly a slave row where some man and woman who cared for one another had not simply begun living together in whichever's hut was the better one.
There were many reasons why Kunta didn't want to think about getting married. For one thing, it seemed to involve the couple's "jumpin' de broomstick" before witnesses from slave row, which seemed ridiculous to Kunta for such a solemn occasion. In a few cases he had heard of, certain favored house servants might repeat their vows before some white preacher with the massa and mistress looking on, but that was a pagan ceremony. If marrying someone in whatever manner was even to be thought about, the proper bride's age for a Mandinka was fourteen to sixteen rains, with the man about thirty. And in his years in the white folks' land, Kunta hadn't seen one black female of fourteen to sixteen--or even twenty to twenty-five--whom he had not considered preposterously giggling and silly; especially when on Sundays, or for festivities, they painted and powdered their faces until they looked to him more like the death dancers in Juffure who covered themselves with ashes.
As for the twenty or so older women whom Kunta had come to know, they were mostly senior cooks at the big houses where he had driven Massa Waller, such as Liza at Enfield. In fact, Liza was the only one among them all whom he had come to look forward to seeing. She had no mate, and she had given Kunta clear signs of her willingness, if not her anxiety, to get him into much closer quarters than he had ever responded to, although he had thought about it privately. He would have died of shame if there had been any way for her to suspect even remotely that more than once it had been she about whom he had had the sticky dream.
Suppose--just suppose--he were to take Liza for a wife, Kunta thought. It would mean that they would be like so many couples he knew, living separately, each of them on the plantation of their own massa. Usually the man was permitted Saturday afternoon traveling passes to visit his wife, so long as he faithfully returned before dark on Sunday in order to rest up from his often long trip before work resumed at dawn on Monday. Kunta told himself that he would want no part of a wife living not where he was. And he told himself that settled the matter.
But his mind, as if on its own, kept on thinking about it. Considering how talkative and smothery Liza was, and how he liked to spend a lot of time alone, maybe their being able to see each other just on weekends would be a blessing in disguise. And if he were to marry Liza, it was unlikely that they would have to live as so many black couples did, in fear that one of them, or both, might get sold away. For the massa seemed to be happy with him, and Liza was owned by the massa's parents, who apparently liked her. The family connections would also make unlikely the kind of frictions that sometimes arose when two massas were involved, sometimes even causing one or both of them to forbid the marriage.
On the other hand, Kunta thought ... over and over he turned it in his mind. But no matter how many perfectly sound reasons he could think of for marrying Liza, something held him back. Then one night, while he was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, it struck him like a lightning bolt!--there was another woman he might consider.
He thought he must be crazy. She was nearly three times too old--probably beyond forty rains. It was absurd to think about it.
Kunta tried to hurl her from his mind. She had entered it only because he had known her for so long, he told himself. He had never even dreamed of her. Grimly, he remembered a parade of indignities and irritations she had inflicted on him. He remembered how she used to all but slam the screen door in his face when he carried her vegetable basket to the kitchen. Even more keenly, he remembered her indignation when he told her she looked Mandinka; she was a heathen. Furthermore, she was just generally argumentative and bossy. And she talked too much.
But he couldn't help remembering how, when he had lain wanting to die, she had visited him five and six times daily; how she had nursed and fed him, even cleaned his soiling of himself, and how her hot poultice of mashed leaves had broken his fever. She was also strong and healthy. And she did cook endless good things in her black pots.
The better she began to look to him, the ruder he was to her whenever he had to go to the kitchen, and the sooner he would leave when he had told her or found out from her whatever he had come for. She began to stare at his retreating back even more coldly than before.
One day after he had been talking for some time with the gardener and the fiddler and worked the conversation very slowly around to Bell, it seemed to Kunta that he had just the right tone of casualness in his voice when he asked, "Where she was fo' she come here?" But his heart sank when they instantly sat up straighter and looked at him, sensing something in the air.
"Well," the gardener said after a minute, "I 'members she come here 'bout two years fo' you. But she ain't never done much talkin''bout herself. So ain't much I knows more'n you does--."
The fiddler said Bell had never spoken of her past to him either. Kunta couldn't put his finger on what it was about their expressions that irritated him. Yes, he could: It was smugness.
The fiddler scratched his right ear. "Sho' is funny you ax 'bout Bell," he said, nodding in the gardener's direction, "'cause me'n him ain't been long back 'scussin' y'all." He looked carefully at Kunta.
"We was sayin' seem like y'all both might be jes' what de other'n needs," said the gardener.
Outraged, Kunta sat with his mouth open, only nothing came out.
Still scratching his ear, the fiddler wore a sly look. "Yeah, her big behin' be too much to handle for most mens."
Kunta angrily started to speak, but the gardener cut him off, demanding sharply, "Listen here, how long you ain't touched no woman?"
Kunta glared daggers. "Twenty years anyhow!" exclaimed the fiddler.
"Lawd, Gawd!" said the gardener. "You better git you some 'fo' you dries up!"
"If he ain't a-reddy!" the fiddler shot in. Unable to speak but able to contain himself a moment longer, Kunta leaped up and stamped out. "Don' you worry!" the fiddler shouted after him. "You ain't gon' stay dry long wid her!"
For the next few days, whenever Kunta wasn't off driving the massa somewhere, he spent both his mornings and afternoons oiling and polishing the buggy. Since he was right outside the barn in any one's view, it couldn't be said that he was isolating himself again, but at the same time it said that his work was keeping him too busy to spend time talking with the fiddler and the gardener--at whom he was still furious for what they had said about him and Bell.
Being off by himself also gave him more time to sort out his feelings for her. Whenever he was thinking of something he didn't like about her, his polishing rag would become a furious blur against the leather; and whenever he was feeling better about her, it would move slowly and sensuously across the seats, sometimes almost stopping as his mind lingered on some disarming quality of hers. Whatever her shortcomings, he had to admit that she had done a great deal in his best interests over the years. He felt certain that Bell had even played a quiet role in the massa's having selected him as his buggy driver. There was no question that in her own subtle ways, Bell had more influence on the massa than anyone else on the plantation, or probably all of them put together. And a parade of smaller things came and went through Kunta's mind. He remembered a time back when he was gardening and Bell had noticed that he was often rubbing at his eyes, which had been itching him in a maddening way. Without a word, she had come out to the garden one morning with some wide leaves still wet with dewdrops, which she shook into his eyes, whereupon the itching had soon stopped.
Not that he felt any less strongly about the things he disapproved of in Bell, Kunta reminded himself as the rag picked up speed--most particularly her disgusting habit of smoking tobacco in a pipe. Even more objectionable was her way of dancing whenever there was some festivity among the blacks. He didn't feel that women shouldn't dance, or do so less than enthusiastically. What bothered him was that Bell seemed to go out of her way to make her behind shake in a certain manner, which he figured was the reason the fiddler and the gardener had said what they did about her. Bell's behind, of course, wasn't any of his business, he just wished she would show a little more respect for herself--and while she was at it, a little more toward him and other men. Her tongue, it seemed to him, was even worse than old Nyo Boto's. He wouldn't mind her being critical if she'd only keep it to herself, or do her criticizing in the company of other women, as it was done in Juffure.
When Kunta had finished with the buggy, he began cleaning and oiling the leather harnesses, and for some reason as he did so, his mind went back to the old men in Juffure who carved things from wood such as the knee-high slab of hickory on which he was sitting. He thought how carefully they would first select and then study some thoroughly seasoned piece of wood before they would ever touch it with their adzes and their knives.
Kunta got up and toppled the hickory block over on its side, sending the beetles that lived beneath it scurrying away. After closely examining both ends of the block, he rolled it back and forth, tapping it with the piece of iron at different places, and always hearing the same solid, seasoned sound. It seemed to him that this excellent piece of wood was serving no real purpose just sitting here. It was there apparently only because someone had put it there long before and no one had ever bothered to move it. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, Kunta rolled the block rapidly to his hut, where he stood it upright in a corner, closed the door, and went back to work.
That night, after bringing the massa back from a trip to the county seat that seemed to take forever, Kunta couldn't sit through supper before getting another look at the hickory block, so he took the food along with him to his cabin. Not even noticing what he was eating, Kunta sat on the floor in front of it and studied it in the light from the flickering candle on his table. In his mind, he was seeing the mortar and pestle that Omoro had carved for Binta, who had worn it slick with many grindings of her corn.
Merely to pass away some of his free time, Kunta told himself, when Massa Waller didn't want to go anywhere, Kunta began to chop away at the block with a sharp hatchet, making a rough shape of the outside rim of a mortar for grinding corn. By the third day, with a hammer and a wood chisel, he dug out the mortar's inside, also roughly, and then he began to carve with a knife. After a week, Kunta's fingers surprised him at how nimbly they flew, considering that he hadn't watched the old men in his village carving things for more than twenty rains.
When he had finished the inside and the outside of the mortar, he found a seasoned hickory limb, perfectly straight and of the thickness of his arm, from which he soon made a pestle. Then he set about smoothing the upper part of the handle, scraping it first with a file, next with a knife, and finally with a piece of glass.
Finished, they both sat in a corner of Kunta's hut for two more weeks. He would look at them now and then, reflecting that they wouldn't look out of place in his mother's kitchen. But now that he had made them, he was unsure what to do with them; at least that's what he told himself. Then one morning, without really thinking about why he was doing it, Kunta picked them up and took them along when he went to check with Bell to see if the massa was going to need the buggy. When she gave him her brief, cold report from behind the screen door, saying that the massa had no travel plans that morning, Kunta waited until her back was turned and found himself setting the mortar and pestle down on the steps and turning to leave as fast as he could go. When Bell's ears caught the gentle thumping sound, which made her turn around, she first saw Kunta cripping away even more hurriedly than usual, then she saw the mortar and pestle on the steps.
Walking to the door, she peered out at Kunta until he had disappeared, then eased the screen door open and looked down at them; she was flabbergasted. Picking them up and bringing them inside, she examined its painstaking carving with astonishment; and then she began to cry.
It was the first time in her twenty-two years on the Waller plantation that any man had made something for her with his own hands. She felt flooding guilt for the way she had been acting toward Kunta, and she remembered how peculiar the fiddler and the gardener had acted recently when she complained to them about him. They must have known of this--but she couldn't be certain, knowing how close-mouthed and reserved Kunta could be in his African way.
Bell was confused about how she should feel--or how she should act the next time he came to check on the massa again after lunch. She was glad she would have at least the rest of the morning to get her mind made up about that. Kunta, meanwhile, sat in his cabin feeling as if he were two people, one of them completely humiliated by the foolish and ridiculous thing the other one had just done--and felt almost deliriously happy and excited about it. What made him do it? What would she think? He dreaded having to return to the kitchen after lunch.
Finally the hour came, and Kunta trudged up the walk as if he were going to his execution. When he saw that the mortar and pestle were gone from the back steps, his heart leaped and sank at the same time. Reaching the screen door, he saw that she had put them on the floor just inside, as if she were uncertain why Kunta had left them there. Turning when he knocked--as if she hadn't heard him coming--she tried to look calm as she unlatched the door and opened it for him to come on in. That was a bad sign, thought Kunta; she hadn't opened the door to him in months. But he wanted to come in; yet he couldn't seem to take that first step. Rooted where he stood, he asked matter-of-factly about the massa, and Bell, concealing her hurt feelings and her confusion, managed to reply just as matter-of-factly that the massa said he had no afternoon plans for the buggy either. As Kunta turned to go, she added hopefully, "He been writin' letters all day." All of the possible things that Bell had thought of that she might say had fled her head, and as he turned again to go, she heard herself blurting "What dat?" with a gesture toward the mortar and pestle.
Kunta wished that he were anywhere else on earth. But finally he replied, almost angrily, "For you to grin' cawn wid." Bell looked at him with her mingled emotions now clearly showing on her face. Seizing the silence between them as an excuse to leave, Kunta turned and hurried away without another word. Bell stood there feeling like a fool.
For the next two weeks, beyond exchanging greeetings, neither of them said anything to each other. Then one day, at the kitchen door, Bell gave Kunta a round cake of cornbread. Mumbling his thanks, he took it back to his hut and ate it still hot from the pan and soaked with butter. He was deeply moved. Almost certainly she had made it with meal ground in the mortar he had given her. But even before this he had decided that he was going to have a talk with Bell. When he checked in with her after lunch, he forced himself to say, as he had carefully rehearsed and memorized it, "I wants a word wid you after supper." Bell didn't delay her response overlong. "Don't make me no difference," she said too quickly, regretting it.
By suppertime, Kunta had worked himself into a state. Why had she said what she did? Was she really as indifferent as she seemed? And if she was, why did she make the cornbread for him? He would have it out with her. But neither he nor Bell had remembered to say exactly when or where they would meet. She must have intended for him to meet her at her cabin, he decided finally. But he hoped desperately that some emergency medical call would come for Massa Waller. When none did, and he knew he couldn't put it off any longer, he took a deep breath, opened his cabin door, and strolled casually over to the barn. Coming back outside swinging in his hand a set of harnesses that he figured would satisfy the curiosity of anyone who might happen to see him and wonder why he was out and around, he ambled on down to slave row to Bell's cabin and--looking around to make sure no one was around--knocked very quietly on the door.
It opened almost before his knuckles touched the wood, and Bell stepped immediately outside. Glancing down at the harness, and then at Kunta, she said nothing--and when he didn't either, she began to walk slowly down toward the back fencerow; he fell into step beside her. The half moon had begun to rise, and in its pale light they moved along without a word. When a groundvine entangled the shoe on his left foot, Kunta stumbled--his shoulder brushing against Bell--and he all but sprang away. Ransacking his brain for something--anything--to say, he wished wildly that he was walking with the gardener or the fiddler, or practically anyone except Bell.
Finally it was she who broke the silence. She said abruptly, "De white folks done swore in dat Gen'l Washington for de Pres'dent." Kunta wanted to ask her what that was, but he didn't, hoping that she'd keep on talking. "An' it's annuder massa name of John Adams is Vice Pres'dent," she went on.
Floundering, he felt that he must say something to keep the talk going. He said finally, "Rode massa over to see his brother's young'un yestiddy," instantly feeling foolish, as he knew full well that Bell already knew that.
"Lawd, he do love dat chile!" Bell said, feeling foolish, since that's about all she ever said about little Missy Anne whenever the subject came up. The silence had built up a little bit again when she went on. "Don't know how much you knows 'bout massa's brother. He de Spotsylvania County clerk, but he ain't never had our massa's head fo' binness." Bell was quiet for a few more steps. "I keeps my ears sharp on little things gits dropped. I knows whole lot more'n anybody thinks I knows."
She glanced over at Kunta. "I ain't never had no use for dat Massa John--an' I's sure you ain't neither--but dere's sump'n you ought to know 'bout him dat I ain't never tol' you. It weren't him had your foot cut off. Fact, he pitched a fit wid dem low-down po' white trash what done it. He'd hired 'em to track you wid dey nigger dogs, an' dey claim how come dey done it was you tried to kill one of 'em wid a rock." Bell paused. "I 'members it like yestiddy when Sheriff Brock come a-rushin' you to our massa." Under the moonlight, Bell looked at Kunta. "You near 'bout dead, massa said. He got so mad when Massa John say he ain't got no use for you no more wid your foot gone, he swore he gon' buy you from him, an' he done it, too. I seen de very deed he bought you wid. He took over a good-sized farm long wid you in de place of money his brother owed him. It's dat big farm wid de pond right where de big road curve, you passes it all de time."
Kunta knew the farm instantly. He could see the pond in his mind, and the surrounding fields. "But dey business dealin's don't make no difference, 'cause all dem Wallers is very close," Bell continued. "Dey's 'mongst de oldes' families in Virginia. Fact, dey was ol' family in dat England even fo' day come crost de water to here. Was all kinds of 'Sirs' an' stuff, all b'longin' to de Church of England. Was one of dem what writ poems, name of Massa Edmund Waller. His younger brother Massa John Waller was de one what comes here first. He weren't but eighteen, I's heared massa say, when some King Charles de Secon' give him a big lan' grant over where Kent County is now."
Their pace had become much slower as Bell talked, and Kunta couldn't have been more pleased with Bell's steady talking, although he had already heard from some other Waller family cooks at least some of the things she was saying, though he never would have told her that.
"Anyhow, dis John Waller married a Miss Mary Key, an' dey built de Enfield big house where you takes massa to see his folks. An' dey had three boys, 'specially John de Secon', de younges', who come to be a whole heap of things--read de law while he was a sheriff, den was in de House of Burgesses, an' he helped to found Fredericksburg an' to put together Spotsylvania County. It was him an' his Missis Dorothy what built Newport, an' dey had six young'uns. An' co'se out of all dem, it commence to be Waller chilluns spreadin' all over, an' growin' on up, an' havin' young'uns of dey own. Our massa an' de other Wallers what lives roun' here ain't but a han'ful of 'em all. Dey's all pretty much high-respected peoples, too, sheriffs an' preachers, county clerks, House of Burgesses, doctors like massa; whole heap of 'em fought in de Revolution, an' I don't know what all."
Kunta had become so absorbed in what Bell was saying that he was startled when she stopped walking. "We better git on back," she said. "Traipsin' out here till all hours 'mongst dese weeds, be oversleepin' in de mornin'." They turned around, and when Bell was quiet for a minute, and Kunta didn't say anything, she realized that he wasn't going to tell her whatever he had on his mind, so she went on chattering about whatever came into her mind until they got back to her cabin, where she turned to face him and fell silent. He stood there looking at her for a long, agonizing moment, and then finally he spoke: "Well, it gettin' late like you said. So I see you tomorra." As he walked away, still carrying the harnesses, Bell realized that he hadn't told her whatever it was that he wanted to talk to her about. Well, she told herself--afraid to think that it might be what she thought it was--he'll get around to it in his own time.
It was just as well that she wasn't in a hurry, for though Kunta began to spend a lot of time in Bell's kitchen as she went about her work, she found herself, as usual, doing most of the talking. But she liked having him there to listen. "I foun' out," she told him one day, "dat massa done writ out a will that if he die an' ain't got married, his slaves gon' go to little Missy Anne. But de will say if he do marry, den he wife would git us slaves when he die." Even so, Bell didn't seem to be unduly disturbed. "Sho' is a plenty of 'em roun' here would love to grab de massa, but he ain't never married no mo'." She paused. "Jes' de same as I ain't."
Kunta almost dropped the fork from his hand. He was positive that he had heard Bell correctly, and he was jolted to know that Bell had been married before, for it was unthinkable that a desirable wife should not be a virgin. Kunta soon was out of the kitchen and gone into his own cabin. He knew that he must think hard upon this matter.
Two weeks of silence had passed before Bell casually invited Kunta to eat supper with her in her cabin that night. He was so astounded that he didn't know what to say. He had never been alone in a hut with a woman other than his own mother or grandmother. It wouldn't be right. But when he couldn't find the words to speak, she told him what time to show up, and that was that.
He scrubbed himself in a tin tub from head to foot, using a rough cloth and a bar of brown lye soap. Then he scrubbed himself again, and yet a third time. Then he dried himself, and while he was putting on his clothes, he found himself singing softly a song from his village, "Mandumbe, your long neck is very beautiful--." Bell didn't have a long neck, nor was she beautiful, but he had to admit to himself that when he was around her, he had a good feeling. And he knew that she felt the same.
Bell's cabin was the biggest one on the plantation, and the one nearest to the big house, with a small bed of flowers growing before it. Knowing her kitchen, her cabin's immaculate neatness was no more than Kunta would expect. The room he entered when she opened the door had a feeling of cozy comfort, with its wall of mud-chinked logs and a chimney of homemade bricks that widened down from the roof to her large fireplace, alongside which hung her shining cooking utensils. And Kunta noticed that instead of the usual one room with one window, such as he had, Bell's cabin had two rooms and two windows, both covered with shutters that she could pull down in case of rain, or when it grew cold. The curtained rear room was obviously where she slept, and Kunta kept his eyes averted from that doorway. On her oblong table in the center of the room he was in, there were knives and forks and spoons standing in ajar, and some flowers from her garden in another, and two lighted candles were sitting in squat clay holders, and at either end of the table was a high-backed, cane-bottomed chair.
Bell asked him to sit in a rocking chair that was nearer the fireplace. He did, sitting down carefully; for he had never been in one of these contraptions before, but was trying hard to act casual about the whole visit as Bell seemed to be.
"I been so busy I ain't even lit de fire," she said, and Kunta all but leaped up out of the chair, glad to have something he could do with his hands. Striking the flint sharply against the piece of iron, he lighted the fluffy cotton that Bell had already placed under fat pinesticks beneath the oak logs, and quickly they caught fire.
"Don't know how come I ax you to come here nohow, place in a mess, an' I ain't got nothin' ready," Bell said, bustling about her pots.
"Ain't no hurry wid me," Kunta made himself respond. But her already cooked chicken with dumplings, which she well knew that Kunta loved, was soon bubbling. And when she had served him, she chided him for gobbling so. But Kunta didn't quit until the third helping, with Bell insisting that there was still a little more in the pot.
"Naw, I's fit to bus'," said Kunta truthfully. And after a few more minutes of small talk, he got up and said he had to get on home. Pausing in the doorway, he looked at Bell, and Bell looked at him, and neither of them said anything, and then Bell turned her eyes away, and Kunta cripped on down along slave row to his own cabin.
He awakened more lighthearted than he had felt since leaving Africa--but he told no one why he was acting so uncharacteristically cheerful and outgoing. But he hardly needed to. Word began to get around that Kunta had actually been seen smiling and even laughing in Bell's kitchen. And at first every week or so, then twice a week, Bell would invite Kunta home for supper. Though he thought that once in a while he should make some excuse, he could never bring himself to say no. And always Bell cooked things Kunta had let her know were also grown in The Gambia, such as black-eyed peas, okra, a stew made of peanuts, or yams baked with butter.
Most of their conversations were still one-sided, but neither one seemed to mind. Her favorite topic, of course, was Massa Waller, and it never ceased to amaze Kunta how much Bell knew that he didn't about the man he spent so much more time with than she did.
"Massa funny 'bout different, things," Bell said. "Like he believe in banks, all right enough, but he keep money hid, too; nobody else don't know where but me. He funny 'bout his niggers, too. He do 'bout anything for 'em, but if one mess up, he'll sell 'im jes' like he done Luther.
"'Nother thing massa funny 'bout," Bell went on. "He won't have a yaller nigger on his place. You ever notice, ceptin' fo' de fiddler, ain't nothin' here but black niggers? Massa tell anybody jes' what he think 'bout it, too. I done heared 'im tellin' some of de biggest mens in dis county, I mean ones dat got plenty yaller niggers deyselves, dat too many white mens is havin' slave chilluns, so dey ain't doin' nothin' but buyin' an' sellin' dey own blood, an' it need to be stopped."
Though he never showed it, and he kept up a steady drone of "uh-huh's" when Bell was talking, Kunta would sometimes listen with one ear while he thought about something else. Once when she cooked him a hoe cake, using meal she had made in the mortar and pestle he had carved for her, Kunta was watching her in his mind's eye beating the couscous for breakfast in some African village while she stood at the stove telling him that hoe cakes got their name from slaves cooking them on the flat edge of a hoe when they were working out in the fields.
Now and then Bell even gave Kunta some special dish to take to the fiddler and the gardener. He wasn't seeing as much of them as he had, but they seemed to understand, and the time they spent apart even seemed to increase the pleasure of conversation with them whenever they got together. Though he never discussed Bell with them--and they never brought her up--it was clear from their expressions that they knew she and he were courtin' as well as if their meetings took place on the front lawn. Kunta found this vaguely embarrassing, but there seemed to be nothing he could do about it--not that he particularly cared to.
He was more concerned that there remained some serious matters he wanted to take up with Bell, but he never could quite seem to get around to them. Among them was the fact that she kept on her front-room wall a large, framed picture of the yellow-haired "Jesus," who seemed to be a relative of their heathen "O Lawd." But finally he did manage to mention it, and Bell promptly said, "Ain't but two places everybody's headin' for, heab'n or hell, and where you goin', dat's yo' business!" And she would say no more about it. Her reply discomfited him every time he thought of it, but finally he decided that she had a right to her beliefs, however misguided; just as he had a right to his. Unshaken, he had been born with Allah and he was going to die with Allah--although he hadn't been praying to Him regularly again ever since he started seeing a lot of Bell. He resolved to correct that and hoped that Allah would forgive him.
Anyway, he couldn't feel too harshly about someone, even a pagan Christian, who was so good to one of another faith, even someone as worthy as he was. She was so nice to him, in fact, that Kunta wanted to do something special for her--something at least as special as the mortar and pestle. So one day when he was on his way over to Massa John's to pick up Missy Anne for a weekend visit with Massa Waller, Kunta stopped off by a fine patch of bulrushes he had often noticed, and picked some of the best he could find. With the rushes split into fine pieces, and with some selected, soft inner white cornshucks, over the next several days he plaited an intricate mat with a bold Mandinka design in its center. It came out even better than he had expected, and he presented it to Bell the next time she had him over for supper. She looked upward from the mat to Kunta. "Ain't nobody gon' put dey feets on dat!" she exclaimed, turning and disappearing into her bedroom. Back a few moments later with a hand behind her, she said, "Dis was gonna be for yo' Christmas, but I make you somethin' else."
She held out her hand. It was a pair of finely knitted woolen socks--one of them with a half foot, the front part filled with soft woolen cushion. Neither he nor Bell seemed to know what to say.
He could smell the aroma of the food she had been simmering, ready to be served, but a strange feeling was sweeping over him as they kept on looking at each other. Bell's hand suddenly grasped his, and with a single motion she blew out both of the candles and swiftly with Kunta feeling as if he were a leaf being borne by a rushing stream, they went together through the curtained doorway into the other room and lay down facing one another on the bed. Looking deeply into his eyes, she reached out to him, they drew together, and for the first time in the thirty-nine rains of his life, he held a woman in his arms.
"Massa ain't want to believe me when I tol' 'im," Bell said toto Kunta. "But he finally say he feel us ought to think on it for a spell yet, 'cause peoples gittin' married is sacred in de eyes of Jesus." To Kunta, however, Massa Waller said not a word about it during the next few weeks. Then one night Bell came running out to Kunta's cabin and reported breathlessly, "I done tol' 'im we still wants to marry, an' he say, well, den, he reckon it's awright!"
The news coursed swiftly through slave row. Kunta was embarrassed as different ones offered their congratulations. He could have choked Bell for telling even Missy Anne when she came next to visit her uncle, for the first thing she did after finding out was race about screaming, "Bell gon' git married! Bell gon' git married!" Yet at the same time, deep inside himself, Kunta felt that it was improper for him to feel any displeasure at such an announcement, since the Mandinka people considered marriage to be the most important thing after birth itself.
Bell somehow managed to get the massa's promise not to use the buggy--or Kunta--for the entire Sunday before Christmas, when everyone would be off work and therefore available to attend the wedding. "I knows you don't want no marriage in de big house," she told Kunta, "like we could of had if I'd of asked massa. And I knows he don't really want dat neither, so at leas' y'all togedder on dat." She arranged for it to be held in the front yard alongside the oval flower garden.
Everybody on slave row was there in their Sunday best, and standing together on across from them were Massa Waller with little Missy Anne and her parents. But as far as Kunta was concerned, the guest of honor--and, in a very real sense, the one responsible for the whole thing--was his friend the Ghanaian, who had hitched a ride all the way from Enfield just to be there. As Kunta walked with Bell out into the center of the yard, he turned his head toward the qua-qua player, and they exchanged a long look before Bell's main praying and singing friend, Aunt Sukey, the plantation's laundress, stepped forward to conduct the ceremony. After calling for all present to stand closer together, she said, "Now, I ax everybody here to pray for dis union dat God'bout to make. I wants y'all to pray dat dis here couple is gwine a stay togedder--" she hesitated "--an' dat nothin' don't happen to cause 'em to git sol' away from one 'nother. And pray dat dey has good, healthy young'uns." And then very solemnly, Aunt Sukey placed a broomstick on the close-cropped grass just in front of Kunta and Bell, whom she now motioned to link their arms.
Kunta felt as if he were suffocating. In his mind was flashing how marriages were conducted in his Juffure. He could see the dancers, hear the praise singers and the prayers, and the talking drums relaying the glad tidings to other villages. He hoped that he would be forgiven for what he was doing, that whatever words were spoken to their pagan God, Allah would understand that Kunta still believed in Him and only Him. And then, as if from afar, he heard Aunt Sukey asking, "Now, y'all two is sho' you wants to git married?" Softly, alongside Kunta, Bell said, "I does." And Aunt Sukey turned her gaze to Kunta; he felt her eyes boring into him. And then Bell was squeezing his arm very hard. He forced the words from his mouth: "I does." And then Aunt Sukey said, "Den, in de eyes of Jesus, y'all jump into de holy lan' of matrimony."
Kunta and Bell jumped high over the broomstick together, as Bell had forced him to practice over and over the day before. He felt ridiculous doing it, but she had warned that a marriage would meet the very worst kind of bad luck if the feet of either person should touch the broomstick, and whoever did it would be the first to die. As they landed safely together on the other side of the broom, all the observers applauded and cheered, and when they had quieted, Aunt Sukey spoke again: "What God done j'ined, let no man pull asunder. Now y'all be faithful to one 'nother." She looked at Kunta directly. "An' be good Christians." Aunt Sukey turned next to look at Massa Waller. "Massa, is it anything you cares to say for dis here occasion?"
The massa clearly looked as if he would prefer not to, but he stepped forward and spoke softly. "He's got a good woman in Bell. And she's got a good boy. And my family here, along with myself, wish them the rest of their lives of good luck." The loud cheering that followed from all of the slave-row people was punctuated with the happy squeals of little Missy Anne, who was jumping up and down, until her mother pulled her away, and all the Wallers went into the big house to let the blacks continue the celebration in their own way.
Aunt Sukey and other friends of Bell's had helped her cook enough pots of food that they all but hid the top of a long table. And amid the feasting and good cheer, everyone there but Kunta and the Ghanaian partook of the brandy and wines that the massa had sent up from the big-house cellar as his gift. With the fiddler playing steadily and loudly on his instrument ever since the party began, Kunta didn't know how he'd managed to sneak a drink, but from the way he swayed as he played, it was clear that he'd managed to get hold of more than one. He had endured the fiddler's drinking so often that he was resigned to it, but when he saw Bell busy filling and refilling her wine glass, he began to get increasingly concerned and embarrassed. He was shocked to overhear her exclaiming to Sister Mandy, another of her friends, "Been had my eye on him for ten years!" And not long after that, she wobbled over, threw her arms around him, and kissed him full on the mouth right there in front of everyone, amid crude jokes, elbows in the ribs, and uproarious laughter. Kunta was taut as a bowstring by the time the rest of the guests finally began to take their leave. Finally, they were all alone there in the yard, and as Bell wove unsteadily toward him, she said softly in a slurred voice, "Now you done bought de cow, you gits all de milk you wants!" He was horrified to hear her talk so.
But it wasn't long before he got over it. In fact, before many weeks had passed, he had gained considerably more knowledge of what a big, strong, healthy woman was really like. His hands had explored in the darkness until now he knew for a certainty that Bell's big behind was entirely her own, and none of it was one of those padded bustles that he had heard many women were wearing to make their behinds look big. Though he hadn't seen her naked--she always blew out the candles before he got the chance--he had been permitted to see her breasts, whose largeness he noted with satisfaction were the kind that would supply much milk for a manchild, and that was very good. But it had been with horror that Kunta first saw the deep lash marks on Bell's back. "I's carryin' scars to my grave jes' like my mammy did," Bell said, "but my back sure ain't as bad as your'n," and Kunta was taken with surprise, for he hadn't seen his own back. He had all but forgotten all those lashings, over twenty years ago.
With her warmth always beside him, Kunta greatly enjoyed sleeping in Bell's tall bed on its soft mattress; filled as it was with cotton instead of straw or cornshucks. Her handmade quilts, too, were comfortable and warm, and it was a completely new and luxurious experience for him to sleep between a pair of sheets. Almost as pleasurable for him were the nicely fitted shirts she made for him, then washed, starched, and ironed freshly every day. Bell even softened the leather of his stiff, high-topped shoes by greasing them with tallow, and she knitted him more socks that were thickly cushioned to fit his half foot.
After years of driving the massa all day and returning at night to a cold supper before crawling onto his solitary pallet, now Bell saw to it that the same supper she fed the massa--unless it was pork, of course--was simmering over the fireplace in their cabin when he got home. And he liked eating on her white crockery dishes with the knives, spoons, and forks she had obviously supplied for herself from the big house. Bell had even whitewashed her cabin--he often had to remind himself that now it was their cabin--on the outside as well as the inside. All in all, he was amazed to find that he liked almost everything about her, and he would have rebuked himself for not having come to his senses sooner if he hadn't been feeling too good to spend much time thinking about all the years he'd wasted. He just couldn't believe how different things were, how much better life was, than it had been just a few months before and a few yards away.