But I don’t know how to swim

But I don’t know how to swim

That night I went to sleep beside my mother, cuddled in a space that had always been my home.
She had finished adorning my hair much past the final ray of sunlight.
We chuckled in secret so that we would not wake papa or brother with our adventures.
“Shh,” she said as we laughed about how the town would react to my beautiful hair.
Hair so thick and luxurious that even mama was often jealous.
The coils were tight and strong like the mighty warriors of the past. The color black and enchanting as the night.
When she had finished, we fell asleep where we were, too tired to even go anywhere else.


Mama and I awoke first, seeing the lights of men that we did not know.
“Get up and come with us NOW!” the strange men shouted at us.
They had weapons and were very mean.
Though they looked like us, they treated us with no regard, dragging Papa and Mama by their arms as Brother and I followed in fear.
They moved us to the banks of the ocean, the place that Mama never allowed me to visit alone.
Once there, we saw so many other people from the village, bound and chained, unable to break free.
There were big ships ahead of us and I was so afraid.
Although Mama, Papa, and Brother were by my side, I was so afraid.

Mama never let me go to the banks alone.
She never trusted that I would come back alive.
That one time that I had gone as a young girl, left us all in fear.
I was following the sound of the ocean, drawn to it in a way that I can’t describe.
When the water overtook me and I was swept inside.
Mama cried out to me, beckoning me to come back.
I kicked and screamed, fighting to get back to shore.
But I didn’t know how to swim … so I drowned some more.

Ever since that day, Mama would not let me go alone.
She didn’t trust me and I understood why.
So as we stood there today, I looked at mama, praying that she would stay with me forever.

I’d never seen Papa so scared.
He looked around, taking in all that he saw.
Yet though he said nothing, the men continued to beat him silent.
Brother wanted to say something, yet Papa looked at him and his eyes spoke the words of his heart.
Mama tried to protect me as much as she could.
After what seemed like hours, we got on the ship with others from the village.
We were shackled together so it took a long time to get to that lower level.
I remember the mean men laughing at my hair, the hair that Mama had worked so hard to do.
The ship smelled of death, with stains of blood soaked in the oak.
I had never been away from home before and I was unsure of where we were headed now.
I worried that I would get sick.
I had never been in the ocean before
Because I didn’t know how to swim.

On the ship we were all tied together.
We slept so close to one another that we were practically on top of ourselves.
We released ourselves right there in front of one another.
The food we were given was not like what mama made.
It was cold and mushy, much like the slop that we fed the animals at home.
The foreigners threw the food to us in buckets, racing back up the stairs to escape the smell.
Someone near papa had gone on to be with the ancestors and their body left a strong odor.
The food and the smell and the motion made me so sick one time.
I coughed and all of the food came back up and fell on me.
I thought Mama would be upset because she told me to always be careful.
Yet as I looked at her face, I just saw tears escaping.
Much like us, they just wanted to be free.

She had been crying for days and Papa did not know what to do.
Brother had been silent, too, which was unusual for him.
No one said a word- too afraid of what would happen if we did.
In our silence, I heard the whispers.
Some people were wanting to break free.
They said something about overtaking the foreigners and then jumping into the water.
I wondered how this would work.
We were all chained together- didn’t seem possible.
Didn’t matter to me much…
Because I didn’t know how to swim.

Yet one day, the impossible became possible.
Our village men broke free and jumped into the water.
Papa had wanted to go, too, but looked at me.
Knowing that I didn’t stand a chance, he decided that the family would stay.
I will never forget that day.
We were later told that all those who had jumped, became the dinner of the water animals that greeted them.
I didn’t know if that was true, but I wondered if they then felt free.

Some time later, we arrived at a new land.
Papa, Mama, Brother, and I were all smaller and weaker now than we were that last night in our home.
Our smiles were long gone and our faces were now stained with tears and pain.
At the new land, we saw all who looked like us in chains and walking slowly in lines.
The men were separated from the women, the boys from the girls.
Mama and Papa cried as they watched us all be torn apart.
Brother and I cried, finally accepting a truth that had been too hard to bear.
We would never see each other again.
We would never be a family again.
We would never go home again.

Years have passed since that last night at home.
My skin has softened and my hair gone lighter.
My vision isn’t as it used to be and my walk not as strong.
Yet, I’m still here.
I remember that day on the ship, the day that so many found freedom.
I remember and I wish that I had joined them.
Maybe if I had, I could have escaped the pain and tears that welcomed me with each passing night.
Maybe if I had, my family would have remained together.
Maybe if I had we would all be free.

But, I didn’t know how to swim

2 Replies to “But I don’t know how to swim”

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