NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 162

Kwame gasped. “No…No…! That can’t be! I have to keep my facts straight…” he shouted as he scooted along the gutted floor, not daring to trust his legs. At first narrow and dungeon-like, the cave had gradually widened, perhaps tripled in size. The roof had become a vaulted ceiling with pinhole circles of light streaming through. At long last he came to a wall and leaned gratefully against it. His clothes were soaking wet and his body began to tremble. Something was shaking loose inside him but he refused to give way. He gazed in the direction that he thought he’d come but saw only a sea of blackness. Just then the tide came roaring in and he found himself scaling the cave wall, fighting for air. His hands grasped a slippery stalactite jutting from the roof, and he held on. Soon his grip gave way and he plunged into an irascible current that poked and prodded him like a gang of jeering slave traders. Prostrate on the cave floor, Kwame knew with sudden, blinding clarity where he was. His bruised and torn flesh told him so. He heard voices screaming from somewhere far-off. It’s not safe here, the thought lashed him. I have to run like the others. He panicked as fear clutched him high in the throat. Kwame choked back a whimper, dug his heels into the crag-ridden floor, and heaved himself up onto his feet. He spied a circle of light not more than fifty yards ahead. His mouth fell open in a dizzy grin as he charged the incoming tide, but his feet faltered on the slippery rock and he fell headlong into the rushing water. A bolt of lightning shot through his head as he scrambled onto his knees. There was a weird trick of chiaroscuro, like a whirling strobe light cast against a pitch black screen, and he realized that he was not alone. He slowly craned his neck to peer behind him into the darkness as if to confirm what he knew all along: that he was one of THEM. And there they were— hundreds, maybe thousands of bartered and betrayed Africans silhouetted against the blackness. Crouched, beaten and bowed, they hovered on the cave floor as the tide sloshed around their calves like salty tears. Kwame took to his heels in spite of the pain, his lanky body straining forward, away from the horrific scene. After a few yards he halted, frozen. Could they really be there? Then he heard it, their heartrending chant, just like the barman had told him. It was lapping at his heels like a Sorrow Song. “Baga-moyo! Baga-moyo! Baga-moyo!” They lamented. Kwame ran terrified toward the exit. He stumbled out of the cave still gazing behind him as the ghastly phantoms melted into the sunlight, his body almost shaking apart as his eyes squinted against the glare, dreading his first glimpse of the black hull of a slave ship. But all he saw was a flock of sea gulls lazily flapping their wings as they surrendered themselves to the breeze gently ruffling the deep blue water. 160 Until that moment Kwame knew only what he’d been told: that two fishermen had found him sprawled, barely conscious, on the beach at Bagamoyo. His skin was blistered and sunburned, and he was out of his head with fever. They had carried him up the hill to the former slave fort where they left him in the care of the guard, an off-duty policeman who whisked him away to Muhumbili Hospital. Now, for the first time since that day, as he gazed at the gliding seabirds, he recalled how after hours of hapless wandering he had bolted out of the cave onto the beach. Buried shards of memory imploded behind his eyes like a waking nightmare as the reel of his mind spun back… An irritating buzz in his ear aroused him. Like a blind man, he lashed out at an invisible horde of winged predators, feeling his legs and arms smarting as he tumbled off a narrow shelf onto the cave floor. How long had he lain there? His memory was a jumble of shades and shadows. He dimly recalled fragments of a dusky lullaby as rushing water flowed beneath the shelf of rock where he lay. But how was that possible? Hadn’t he been running in the open when he fell? Yet, strange impressions lingered…a dark, shuffling horde with hands and feet bound…warm, moist fingers tenderly caressing his face and body like stolen, dew-laden kisses—no, it couldn’t be!—and hands…yes, he’d felt countless loving hands as they lifted him onto the precipice, out of harm’s way. BRN-FALL-2013.indb 160 9/13/13 12:48 AM