The air tasted thick with moisture. Abra clung to her mother’s lifeless body in the forest. Eyes searching the early morning mist. Her chains clattered in the darkness, she cried softly, so as not to bring any attention to herself. As the day dawned, she realized they were quite alone. The slavers seem to have abandoned them overnight.
An owl’s call in the distance wakened her. Startled, her eyes searching in the early morning shadows. No one came. She called out, softly at first, a little less fearful, with each passing minute. Finally she screamed, as her mother’s lifeless face lolled over.
‘Afande!’ It was the only word she could remember. The kidnapping of random family members in their Mozambique village had alarmed her. Their long march to the land of sea lasting days. Hunger, thirst and disease claimed its first victims on their long march. All the while, her mother gently reassuring her that her father and brothers would come searching for them. How, she wondered. Her mother had eventually lost hope, as they marched north up the coast, with its warm sticky breezes. She recalled the clear skies and beauty of the waves, the beautiful white sand and the striking colours of the sea.
‘Afande!’ Desperate and breathless, she began to cry. Hot tears streamed her cheeks as she placed leaves over her mother’s face, chest and arms. ‘I am sorry, Mama. If only we let them separate us, you would be here to speak to me today. I am sorry!’ She cried, screaming as she released her frustration.
The man leapt out beside her, startling her as he landed. His white head-dress clearly visible. He bent down, felt Abra’s mother’s pulse and turned to inspect her. She shivered, fearful of a beating. He lifted her chin with a short cane, forcing her to her feet. She held her breath, eyes wild, afraid to look into his murderous eyes. He muttered some words in Arabic. Abra stood motionless, with her chains clanging in the morning stillness. He picked the keys off his belt and unlocked the shackles around her mother’s wrists, freeing her dead body. He threw a large palm over her and grabbed Abra’s neck, leading her out of the forest and onto some sand dunes. The dense bush was left far behind and a line of chained slaves came into full view, their heads and eyes looking ahead of them, fearful, tired, anxious and in coerced obedience. Her wrists tethered and chained to the others and the chief slave raised a chant, to which they marched in solitary silence. The slavers were few but heavily armed with whips and swords. The men led the group followed by women and children in another chain gang. Some teared up when they saw her. Others cursed the day they were born, each wondering when this endless march would come to an end. They marched across the scorching dunes and back into the scrub land and into a long, damp endless forest.
They foraged for food at nightfall. Their captors ordered their personal slaves to prepare their tents and food for the night. They ate to their fill, laughing and celebrating their catch from the hinterland. The slaves shivered with starvation, crouching on the forest floor, scooping out every drop of water from the large leaves that covered the ground. A solitary bowl of food shoved to the male slaves, later in the evening. Men and women scavenged for its contents. Pasty, strange flavours, flat and slightly sour. This was the last of the food seized during one of the village raids, stale and rotting.
They huddled in groups, women clinging to children, some of whom they did not know, gently singing lullabies to ease them to sleep. The men crouched, some lay in foetal positions at a loss at how and why they were. They each settled into an uneasy sleep, occasionally stirring, chains restraining their movement. They heaved in their deep and fitful sleep. Abra slept for the first time in many nights.