It was the early 1800’s in England, and the slave trade was thriving. Every day passers-by would hear the shouts of the slave traders as they bargained, bought and sold souls like animals. Long, cruel years of a slave’s future would be decided by a few words and a bag of money. Just a few minutes, a short exchange, and everything in a slave’s life would instantly change.
An upstanding English businessman was on a journey through the city one morning, and, although the scene of the slave trade could not have been new to him, something about it this day caught his eye and ear. A woman was up on the slave block. Shouts rang out…something about her strength, what working years she had left, her usefulness, her worth by coins. Something about the crowd’s response troubled him. Men eyed her, bargaining over each other. Then one man in the crowd offered a bid well above the rest. The businessman looked at the would-be buyer and felt sick. His heart told him immediately what he wanted her for. He glanced back at the woman. Eyes black with grief and hate stared straight ahead, numbing their way through the scars of being used. The seller yelled that it was done. The crowd murmured restlessly.
Her new owner grabbed her, barking out an order. The businessman felt ill, and could watch no longer. He stepped forward.
The buyer looked up, surprised.
“I will offer you double what you paid. Triple, if necessary. I must have her. She….uh….is what I have been looking for.”
The buyer’s eyes glinted with greed, and he paused only briefly, then accepted the offer. He re-counted the coins offered as the woman’s price, and walked away without so much as a backwards look.
The businessman looked at the woman, and held out his hand.
“Please, come with me.”
She could contain her hatred no longer for these who would buy and sell her very soul. She pursed her mouth and spit directly into his face.
“I…..hate…..you,” she hissed from behind clenched teeth.
Only slightly taken aback, the man used the back of his hand and wiped the spit off of his face. Calmly, he repeated his request,
She had no choice. She followed him down the cobblestones, every step etching deeper the decision in her soul to hate. It was her only revenge. It was her only shield. It was the only feeling she ever felt anymore.
They walked for several minutes before reaching a two-story building. He walked up the steps and she followed. Once inside, she stood in the back of the room. He hadn’t told her to do anything yet. He hadn’t said anything since they were out in the street. He stepped up to a desk and began talking to a man behind it. They used terminology that she didn’t quite know. The man behind the desk seemed to protest. The businessman calmly, firmly, seemed to remind him of the law in a way that said he knew the law well. A paper was reluctantly slid across the desk. The businessman signed it, and, in return, slid a bag of money across the counter. Thanking the man behind the desk, he turned, the paper in his hand.
She didn’t look up. It was common knowledge among the slaves that making brazen eye contact with the one who owned you was met with swift and severe punishment. She had already looked at him and spit in his face. Outwardly, she was still as stone. Inwardly, she trembled.
The paper was thrust out towards her.
“This is for you.”
Confusion filled her. What was he doing? Probably some sort of trap. Some sort of punishment for having spit at him.
Again he spoke, “This is for you. You are free.”
No one spoke. She did not understand. The numbness enveloped her like a thick cloak. What did he just say?
“These are your official papers. You are free.”
Her head began to shake, and tears quivered in the corner of her eyes. No, it was cruelty. All was cruelty. Some evil, cruel joke. What worthlessness. Just some random piece of paper. It was his revenge for the spitting. She shook her head again and again and again. Tears spilled down. She could not stop them.
So gently, the man reached out for her hand, placing the paper in it.
Once again, he told her slowly,
“You…are…free. It is done. Go now, dear one. You are free.”
The floodgates could hold no longer. Her ears unstopped after this, the third assurance that what he had spoken was truth. She fell to her knees and wept. Tears fell like rain onto the dust coating his boots. She clutched the paper, kissing it over and over and sobbing loudly.
The man spoke one last time,
“Go in peace.”
“Sir!” she gasped out. “There is nowhere I would go! You have bought my freedom! I am….”
More sobs. She felt something…something strange, so different, welling up in her.
The word came out of her mouth, and then she knew.
The feeling she felt was love. And love streamed tears and spoke once more:
“All I want to do is to serve you as long as I live.”