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I’ve always been taught do not ask questions. So I don’t. I never have. I don’t question the slaves living on our land. I don’t question the whips. I don’t question the women in rags working in the kitchen or the women wearing black tight dresses serving us. I don’t question.
But one day, one day I was bored. There was nothing to do and so I wandered around. I walked around the house then I walked down the pathway and back then I decided to venture further. I walked towards the fields. I know that’s crazy. I was only 13 and all I’ve heard about the slaves is how crazy they are and how they have to be separate from society.
But still I walked. I walked and walked until I found myself in a barn house. There were coiled and uncoiled whips hanging on hooks next to the horses. Then I saw him. A boy. He had dark, beautiful skin with only rags for pants on. He was sweating in the Georgia summer heat and he was sitting against a barn wall, sleeping. I took off my shoes and lifted my dress as I got closer. And closer. I was so close I could hear, I could feel his breath on me.
Then I backed up and found the water pail. I filled it up at the watering hole right outside the barn and then went back in. I found the gourd and went close to him. Closer than I was before. Then I knelt down and scooped the water with the gourd and pushed it towards his lips. Without opening his eyes he subconsciously started drinking it. He was very thirsty. I filled up the gourd 2 times and he drank it all. I felt his face and he was burning up. A fever. I grabbed a rag and soaked it in the bucket then put it on his face. Then he moaned and groaned.
“Mama?” he asked. I didn’t know what I should’ve done. I panicked. I left the cloth on his forehead and I left the bucket where it was and I left the gourd and I grabbed my shoes and ran the whole way back to the house. The cooking slaves saw me and looked at me with a questioning look. I looked down and saw the dirt and hay on my dress and my dirty feet. I put my finger to my lips and went into the kitchen and up the back stairs. In my room I cleaned myself up and threw the dress under my bed. I would wash it later.
Then it was time for dinner. The overseer was having dinner with us and I sat next to him. I couldn’t help but notice the coiled whip hanging from his belt loop. My mother started the conversation and started talking about how unfortunate it was to lose their best cook. Then my father budded in and said that her son is a great cook as well and then the overseer asked if he was serving tonight. My father nodded and the overseer shook his head.
“That boy was messing around the waterhole. He swore he wasn’t the one who got the gourd, that his mama did it to feed him.”
“Oh I hope you didn’t whip him. He’s still grieving,” my mother said.
“His mama died nearly a week ago. He can’t just get away with stealing water. I told him next time I wouldn’t just turn my head. He has to know who’s in charge,” the overseer said. My father groaned in agreement. My mother didn’t push the issue any farther. She knew her place. But I was very uncomfortable. The boy in the shed almost got a whipping for me giving him water. I didn’t know if I should say something or not. I just bit my nails and waited until the food was out. The first server came out with chicken and biscuits. The next one came out with collards and cornbread. Then he came out holding the water and lemonade. He poured my father’s cup, then the overseer’s then my mother’s then mine. I looked up at him and he looked back at me. We stared at each other for too long and then he tripped, spilling some lemonade on the overseer’s shirt. The overseer turned red with rage and the boy backed into the wall with tears in his eyes.
“Sir. I apologize. I didn’t mean to- I just- Sir?” he tried but the overseer wasn’t listening. He already had the whip uncoiled.
“Boy, you getting away with too much now,” he said and drew back his arm. The boy dropped both pitchers and covered his face with his arms. Crack! The boy screamed so loud, it left a ringing in my ears. I couldn’t sit there and watch. I got up and stood in between the overseer and the boy.
“Mya? What are you doing?” my mother asked. I looked at her then at the boy. He had a long slash mark on his chest and arms. I stared at the blood and quickly grabbed my napkin. I put it in my mother’s glass of water and then wiped the blood off his body. He was shaking and crying.
“Mya!” my father yelled, getting up. But I wasn’t listening. I had to help the boy. The overseer then grabbed my arm and yanked me back.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, girl but you need to learn to stay in your place,” he said to me. I didn’t look at him. I just stared at the boy. Now he put his arms down and stared at me, confused.
“You can’t just hit him like that!” I screamed. Then my mother was pulling me towards the door.
“No! They are going to beat him! He didn’t do anything wrong! He tripped! I fed him that water, okay?” That got their attention.
“What?” they asked in unison.
I took a deep breath. “I fed him the water. He was sick. He had a fever and I just-“
“Take her out of here!” my father yelled to my mother. She did as she was told and dragged me up the stairs. I was sentenced to my room for a whole week. I couldn’t leave the premise without supervision. I was sad, I was scared, I was confused. How could they hit him like that? The boy didn’t seem crazy. Or evil. Or uncivilized. He just made an accident. The only crazy one I saw in that room was the overseer. I felt terrible. Nobody told me that they got beat like that. Nobody told me that they couldn’t drink water. Nobody told me. One day my mother got sick and my father had to go into town. I took that as my opportunity.
I snuck downstairs, making sure my mother couldn’t hear and then I ran out the back door. I ran all the way to the fields with an eye out for the overseer. I jogged past the rows of rice and cotton and corn. I needed to find him. Then a woman caught my attention. She had a baby strapped on her hip and a bonnet on.
“You the girl that stood up for Freeman?” she asked. I blinked hard and nodded. She pointed down her row. “I reckon you want to see him?” I nodded again as I walked closer to her. She pointed down her row to a boy bending over. I started to walk past her but she grabbed my arm. “Just remember that the overseer can’t beat you. But he can beat him.” Then she turned back to her cotton. What she said took me back. Now I wasn’t sure if I should say hello to Freeman or not. I looked around again and the overseer was nowhere in sight. I took a deep breath and walked towards him.
“Freeman?” I said. He jerked his head up and looked back at me. He stared at me and blinked multiple times. “I just wanted to apologize. I am so sorry,” I said. He stared blankly back. I turned away. Then he touched my shoulder.
“I need you to never try and help me again,” he said quietly.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because…people like you don’t help people like me