aged brown chain close
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

The air tasting salty and thick with moisture, made it harder to swallow. Her breathing more laboured, as she came to. Aida clung to her mother’s still, warm body in the forest. Her eyes searching the early morning mist as her wrist chains clattered. She muffles her sobbing, her face buried into her mother’s side nudging her. The morning mist clearing between the low, sparse brush at the edge of the forest. The last of the crickets chirp and the cooing of the birds stirs her to full wakefulness

Aida’s eyes were smarting, as a fresh batch of tears began to form. Her mother had not moved since the brutal beating by their slavers, the night before. The pool of blood seeps into the sand below as Mama’s broken arm lay limp, with the broken bone barely riercing through her skin, with her chains still bound tightly. Mama’s body is still warm but her chest remains still. Her chains still tightly bound around her wrists. The slavers seem to have abandoned them overnight.

An owl’s call in the distance stirring her. Startled, her wide eyes now searching the early morning shadows. No one. She calls out, softly at first, a little less fearful with each passing minute. Finally she screams, as her mother’s lifeless face lolled over.

‘Afande!’  It was the only word she could remember from the language of the kidnappers; sounding similar to one of their own but mingled with strange foreign, harsh sounding words.

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, frustrated at having to depend on their captors.

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 anger . At nine years of age, it is all she knows to do and is so afraid at what to expect.

The man slipped out from the low bushes closest to her, startling Aida as he appeared beside her. He bent down, felt Abra’s mother’s pulse and turned to inspect her. This slaver picked the keys off his belt and unlocked the shackles around her mother’s wrists, freeing her dead body.

Hussein looks at the shivering child standing before him, aware that he frightened her, staring at her face wet face, still streaming tears and her dirty, damp clothing. He looks away from her, recalling the savage beating the others gave this little girl’s mother the night before but finally, this beautiful young mother had breathed her last. She had been raped and hastily abandoned. None of them cared to separate her child from her, once she lost consciousness. This child was too young to know how, or what to do and he estimated her age at either nine or ten years of age.

He looks into her face and is startled by her gentle brown eyes, brimming with tears. She looks down, to avoid angering him, shivering once more. He notices her smooth, dark skin, pretty face and hair. Hussein nearly reaches out to comfort her but quickly thinks better of it, afraid the others may be watching from the shadows. He is being tested and expects the other men to entrap him.

Hussein picks a short cane from the side of his belt, placing it below her chin. Poised under her chin, he slowly forces her to her feet. Aida holds her breath, eyes wild, afraid to look into his eyes, she stands motionless, with her chains clanging in the morning stillness. He pulls at her neck chain, leading her out behind him, into a clearing out of the forest and past the sand dunes.

With the dense bush behind them, a line of chained slaves came into full view, their heads and eyes cast down awaiting further instruction, as they stood in the heat of the early morning sun. Fear, exhaustion and anxiety visible in their faces. It was clear they had been coerced into obedience. Moments later, Aida’s wrists tethered and chained to the others and the chief slave raised a chant, to which they turned and followed, marching in unison.

The slavers were few but heavily armed with pistols, daggers and whips . These strange men lead the group followed by the captive men, women and children. 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 huddle in groups, women clinging to children, some of whom they did not know, gently singing lullabies to calm and ease them to sleep. They settle into an uneasy sleep, occasionally stirring, chains restraining their movement. They breathe-in the cooling night air, and are lulled into an exhausted and fitful sleep. Aida dreams for the first time in many nights, interacting with their family and friends their little village, back in Mozambique. The waves lap the soft white sand on the beach on the outskirts of Kilwa, as the moon reflects the expanse of the Indian Ocean, as it stretches out to each of the new lands where the Eastern Africans would later be sold.