My ragged breath echoes in my ears. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. My body heaves. I feel as though I’m drowning in the humidity of this foreign air. We’ve been running for years, and yet the sun has only risen and set a few times. I try to shake the memories but I can still hear them. I can still hear their shouts, their threats…
”Continue trabalhando você slave!”. He stands over me, a cruel smirk decorating his pointed face. The whip cracks and my bones ache and my knees buckle. I fear I will shatter, that my blood will water this crop that has already killed so many. Sugarcane. The sickly sweet word tastes like metal in my mouth, a reminder of the chains that bound me, of the collar that domesticated me from the ‘savagery’ I brought from my homeland. I remember the manacles on my wrists that were drawn closer and closer to my ankles so that my spine twisted and my pride melted. They wasted my life. Sweat slides from my forehead toward my bearded chin but I wipe it away with a coffee coloured wrist. I have lived as a foreigner in this land for long and arduous years, working in the fields of men who claim that I am less, who see me as nothing more than another tool to be used for their profit. Although I have not looked upon my reflection in quite a time I know that my skin has wrinkled prematurely in the glaring heat and the endless labour of this tropical place. My eyes itch from lack of sleep. I live in terror of what will come in the night, of the nightmares which still echo with the sizzle of my burning flesh as the branded me, as they purchased my body in the name of their king. Scenes of death fill my mind as I remember the year of my capture. People starve on ships that contain us for two hundred days. Babies wail for milk their mothers cannot give. Parents screech as the bodies of their dead children are ripped away to be thrown overboard with all the rest. Maybe it was a blessing that they never made it to this god-forsaken land.
Brazil. I spit into the dirt as I run faster to forget.
The landscape has changed as I have been daydreaming. Palm leaves brush my arms. As I observe our surroundings, I see evidence of man’s presence. Felled trees, knotted vines, snapped branches and trodden earth where rude paths seem to have been formed. I hear whispers behind me. They are thinking the same thing. We’re getting closer. I hear someone laugh at the rear of the group. I have not heard the sound of audible joy for what seems like an eternity. A strange feeling washes over me, like fresh air wrapping around me, pouring over me from head to toe. More voices join in and soon a chorus of laughter and happiness is filling my ears. And I begin to laugh. I join in with the giggles of the young ones and the deep rumbles of the older men. Our exhaustion is forgotten, our aches and pains fade away. I shout in triumph, a whooping cry of celebration. We run the final miles with new strength and new pride. We are no longer the slaves of foreign men. No longer will we bow to Portuguese rule. We have escaped. We are free. We have reached the legendary city of refuge.