I’se just a po’ slave. I’m about 47 years old, I reckon. I never knew my birthdate, but my mama always told me I was born in 1767 give or take a few years, so every year I count and add another year. I feels like I’m bout 100 though. It’s been a long, long journey. The only companion I has is friend named Jessie who come to this plantation from Georgia ’round 10 years ago. I was drawn to her cuz she like me. Her folks is gone and she can’t bear no chil’ren.
I been wit chile four times and done lost every last one of ’em. Miss Becca, Mr. Joe’s wife, say it’s cuz I lets so many mens on top of me. I don’t know where she get that from. I know the truth, but to keep confusion down, I agrees wit her. Put on a shamed face, nod my head real slow-like and say, “Yes ma’am, I know.” Truth is, so many white mens, just like her man, who claim to be takin’ good care of dey “good, prime” slave girls done lay on top of me night after night.
The only man who looked like me that I been wit was my true and only love, Benjamin. When he told me his name, it sound like royalty to me. Like he shoulda been a king, or atleast living in the big house on the plantation. But he was just a field slave like me. He say everybody call him Ben for short, but I liked Benjamin so much, I ain’t never call him nuthin’ else. His skin was about a shade and a half darker than mine. Mr. Joe would tell me I was golden brown, like the sun. He wished I was lighter. I guess, maybe white like Miss Becca.
I was all of 14, if I remember right, but I felt like I was a full grown woman like my mama when I was around Benjamin. Ain’t take too long for me to get pregnant. I was at prime age to be birthing babies, the elders ’round the plantation say. Shoulda been trying to have babies. Me and Benjamin ain’t know much bout no babies, but he was so happy and ready to be the pappy. After all the screaming and hollerin’ I did having that baby, I was too tired to notice that I was the only one cryin’. I didn’t hear a sound from my baby. It was boy, and he was born dead.
Don’t nobody know the pain, the hurt. I’s a good girl. Do all my work and keep a smile on my face even when da sun beatin’ me down. I figure as much as I loved Benjamin, if that’s what doing our business git ya, I might as well not do it no mo’. After that, I ain’t let Benjamin or no other man touch me.
Then Mr. Joe come around some years later and make me his slave mistress, I ‘spose. Mama had died and I ain’t have nobody else to see bout me. Benjamin was sold to another plantation somewhere in Kentucky. Me and him was at odds for so long cuz he wanted what he thought was his as a man. I was too scared though. That fear wouldn’t let me go, so he let me go, instead. I stayed mad at him for a long time, but I ain’t never stopped loving him–even after he took dat ride down the dirt road not to return. I ain’t heard or seen of him since den. I’d be a lyin’ woman if I say I’on ever think about him.
So Mr. Joe loved to do his business wit me. Made me wonder if he ever touch his wife at all. When he come to me, he seemed so full of fire and ready, even when I was not. He would pump and sweat like dere was no tomorrow. Felt like he was takin’ somethin’ out on me, instead of loving me. I used to know what that feel like, dat real lovin’.
I could say I hated it, but truth is, it wasn’t so bad all the time. Me and him together always remind me of pouring milk over black sand, if dere’s such a thang. On top o’dat, he never call me “lil nigger girl” like he did to the other slave girls. That made me feel special cuz dey called us niggers so much, I like to think it was my real name, instead of Reecie. He say I don’t feel like Miss Becca and I smile, but all the while shaken up a lil bit. I can’t imagine what could feel diff’rent. We got the same thang, don’t us? Then I think of how my skin be so rough and ashy, especially after a bath on a cold night, if I get to take one. How could I feel better than that white woman who prob’ly got all dem creams and thangs to make her prettier than she already is?
Sometimes, I look at Mr. Joe and wonder how he got so white. He got freckles and it look like all the color been sucked outta him. Besides his soft hair that flows through my fingers, I can’t think of nuthin’ that compare to Benjamin’s dark skin. It used ta glistened even after a long day of working in the field. So since I couldn’t have him, I just close my eyes and wish when I open them, it’ll be him, instead of Mr. Joe. Ain’t never happened, but memories is what keep me goin’ until he wanna stop.
I got pregnant again, but lost the baby. It was Mr. Joe’s and everybody know’d it. I was shame, but what could I do? He send people to tend to me and make sure I was alright, but before I knew it, he was back in my cabin again. I started to get me a slave man just to keep him away, but it wouldn’t do no good. Besides, no slave man wanna have anythang to do wit me cuz I was “Mr. Joe’s Woman.” Didn’t wanna get hurt by messin’ wit me, but I doubt if Mr. Joe cared who had me.
The only time I feels good is when I go to church on Sundays. The white folks don’t like it one bit, but if we didn’t go, we’d probably be all crazy by now. I ‘member first time I really heard about God, or Jesus as we like to call Him. I was about 11 or so. Until then, I hadn’t been to church. The overseers would tell Mama since I was so young and keen, I needed to be out workin’.
I’d always heard the white folks talk about Jesus, but they seemed so calm, like he was just a ordinary person. He coulda been walkin’ round the plantation, how they act. I heard them say the Bible teach us to be slaves. It was right for us to live like dis under them. Wa’nt nuthin’ wrong wit’ slavery cuz actually dey was being good Christians by takin’ care of us, feedin’ us and everythang else they do. They was goin’ to heaven, and just maybe if we was good slaves, we’d go, too, but they doubted it. If so, we was prob’ly gon’ be in another part of heaven though cuz we was second class to them.
That sounded ’bout right since dey said it so much, but when I went to church for the first time, I didn’t feel like that no more. What kinda God Mr. Joe and Miss Becca was talkin’ bout? Didn’t seem like the same God the other slaves was praising. Oooh, they was excited! There was shoutin’ and singin’ and one person would say somethin’ and everybody else would say somethin’ back. I fell into it quick cuz I likes to sing. They sing a song bout a chariot comin’ to carry me home. Must be talkin’ bout Heaven, I thought. The oldest woman on the plantation, who would lead everybody into singin’ them songs told me years later a lot of them songs was called Dr. Watts hymns. She say she heard he was a white man. He wrote them songs? Couldn’t be! Do he know what it feels like to be a slave? But slaves put so much feeling into ’em, that they sound totally different from when white folks sing ’em.
I believed fo’ sho’ in Jesus after that first day of church, and went every Sunday since then. I figure even as a chap, that that man had to be sumthin’ special to keep us from killin’ these white folks day in, day out. He had to be real to see us through our mens bein’ kilt, whipped, chil’ren dyin’, rape and sickness. It was almost like the Jesus we know and the one dey know is two different people, but He love us, too. All o’ us. He’s just got power like that.
Here I is, 47 years old, no family, but yet still holdin’ on. I make peace wit’ God and wit’ myself that I can’t carry no chil’ren. My womb is old and worn out anyways. But I got one friend on dis here land, and friend that will always be there, Jesus. He done kept me and kept me good. All the chil’ren on the land come to see bout me. I’m too tired to work in the fields now, so I jus’ tend to babies. Treat em like dey is mine since all mine up in Heaven now. I can’t wait to see ’em one day. Maybe by the time I gets there, Heaven won’t be for whites only.