Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Boys In The Cotton Field


Chapter 1




     "Sit up Timothy, slouching won't help your learning now, gentlemen sit up and keep their heads held high." Mrs Bostwick was always meticulous about table and social mannerisms. 
"Okay.. okay.. I'm trying over here alright.. it's just that we've already learnt about the resurrection.."
 She swiped his heavy elbows from the table, got up and swiftly pinned his shoulders to the back of the chair.
 "Yes and it will do you no harm to recall the happenings of the bible Timothy! Now... can you tell me which chapter and line this is from? 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"
She walked towards the window which overlooked the fields, closed her eyes and embraced the sun. Her golden curly hair shone in the light and sat nicely on her slim shoulders. Her hands locked together behind her back, perched on her summer blue dress. She turned and glanced at Timothy...
"Well.." Mrs Bostwick continued,
 "Where could I find this line in the Bible Timothy?" 
Timothy started to bite his lip and gazed at the ceiling in an attempt at recollection,
"hmm darn it I know this one, is it... is it John 3:16" he said hesitantly.
 Mrs Bostwick began walking from the window towards the dining room chair which she was sitting for most of the lesson. She had a proud smile on her face.
"Very good Timothy, ahh.. you hear that.. sounds like your father's carriage is on its way and that means.... sit up now Timothy... and that means today's lessons are over.. so go on now off you go"
Mrs bostwick was neatly packing her paper and bible away into her briefcase while Timothy shot up and ran towards the door.
"Now Timothy.. " he froze and rolled his eyes,
"Thank you Mrs Bostwick" and made way to the hallway ready to greet his beloved father.

Timothy's father, John T Cook, was a wealthy Southern cotton farmer who owned a respectably sized cotton farm on the brinks of South Carolina. He was a man to be respected and carried out his business extremely well, making no complications with finances and logistics.
Timothy stood in the hallway on an exquisitely made rug, wearing his tuition clothes which consisted of a cotton made white shirt, grey trousers and black leather shoes which he polished every morning. Beside him was a female house negro also known as a house slave, dressed in a simple white dress and a black hair net laced softly at the bottom. A negro from the front of the house always opened the door when he arrived. John walked in and a house slave took his smart coat from his back and hung it on the hangers near the front door.
"Hello son, how was school today? You learn anything useful?" He pointed up the hall to signal the house slaves to start the cooking for the evening. 
"Well of course he did with me teaching him and all", Mrs. Bostwick's eyes glimmered as she spoke to John.
"In that case we'll get something gooood made for you for your birthday huh boy", he messed with Timothy's short brown hair, while John and Mrs. Bostwick kept eye contact. 
Timothy's mother walked through the door, she was a tall yet timid woman, brunette with obvious attractive features. John swiftly stood up and undid his top button whilst Mrs. Bostwick's turned an automatic smile towards Elizabeth.
"Evening Mrs. Cook, looks like I'll be on my way now, see you next week Timothy", she left the house while a house slave closed the door behind her. Elizabeth walked up to Timothy in her usual slow manner, bent over slightly to his eye level and gave him a peck on the cheek,
"Hope you've been a good boy today Tim, because you can have all the fun you want on your birthday on Saturday. You'll be ten, a big boy, nearly a man like your pap" She spoke with a soft tamed voice,
"I'm already a big strong man ma!" Timothy blushed from the kiss.
"You sure are huh boy, now 'lizabeth why don't you go on and rest with some tea before dinner, I'm gon' show Timothy somethings we bought in the center of town today" John took Timothy by the hand and led him outside. A negro opened the door for them.
"Close your eyes now and don't open them till I say so", Timothy heard John rush to the carriage.
"Roger help me get these off the carriage, come on now, don't be shy y'all be lucky to come over here to work now", many footsteps and shufflings of the gravel could be heard but what struck Timothy's ears was a wailing of a kind he had never heard before.
"Shut up all of yee!" Roger exclaimed as it was his custom to do so.
"Now Timothy these... these... will help my business grow.. but they will also help build things for the house and for you. You want to see them huh boy?" John's voice was full of excitement as if he had bought the finest merchandise from around South Carolina.
"Yeah pap, show them!" Timothy followed his father in his jubilation.

  "Open your eyes then boy"
 John turned and raised his arms outward like a circus manager showing his latest freaks. At first Timothy caught a glance of Roger. The man who oversaw the farm with his brother Jack. Roger was older than Timothy's father , he had a rusty auburn beard, a belly which protruded out from his mid waist and he always carried a shotgun around. Jack was behind roger, he was slim and taller than his brother but was much quieter than him. The Barnett brothers have been working on the farm for some time now and had become part of the family. The wailing continued and Timothy shifted his focus to John's new purchases. Negroes. Five new Negroes. John had more than ten Negroes working on the farm and four in the house. The ones in the house had to be female, well presented and had experience in the kitchen or other domestic chores. Timothy could not remember the names of them, just how they looked. The Negroes that stood before Timothy seemed different to him than the ones he was used to, there was a family of four, with two children. Timothy hasn't seen negro children before. The negro boy was clutching the leg of his mothers tattered dress and looked down towards the ground. There was a girl, who was older than the boy, about seventeen years of age with dark smooth skin and tied dry hair. The father had a peculiar mark on this right cheek but other than that he seemed like a typical negro. The mother was thin like the Negroes in the house. The wailing continued.
"What did I tell yee! shut your nigger trap before I'll shut it for yee!" Roger spat when he spoke, Timothy saw some of it land directly on the crying negro woman standing next to the family.
"You niggers never listen the first time do yee!" his finger was terribly close to the negro woman's eye who shuddered and took a frightened step back from Roger. She wasn't wailing anymore. Though tears which gleamed in the sun still fell from her big white eyes and her lips were shaking. John took Timothy's hand and started to introduce him to the Negroes.

"Stand up now and greet Master Cook," John said, still in an excitable manner.
"This little boy is called Jerry, he's about your age boy", Jerry didn't move.
"Well.. this is his father... he will now be called Roo, he's good at craftin' things you know. He used to work in a carpentry somewhere in Texas didn't you Roo." The father looked at Timothy and then John.
" I did sir".
"This is Jerry's sister Juba who will be working in the house.. isn't she a pretty little thing, she's good at baking and cooking. She'll make you some nice cake for your birthday." Timothy thought about his birthday and the possibility of having a huge cake all for himself.
"Could I get some candy on it too pap?" He looked at his father.
"Can have whatever you want on it huh boy. Now this is... hmm... what's her name again Roger?" John began to scratch his head, Roger was equally as clueless and shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know! I just call them niggers or gals and boys! They're all the same to me". Roger spat on the ground. Jack took a step outwards.
"I--I-I think she's called S-Suma John", Jack returned to his place behind Roger. Timothy never understood how the Barnett brothers were actually brothers. Roger was fat, clumsy, loud and harsh yet Jack was the opposite. Although he still followed Roger's ways on dealing with the farm and herding the Negroes.
"Yes that's right! Suma, look Timothy this is Suma she's going to be working on the farm with the others".
They approached the crying negro woman and John looked stumped.
"When we were thinking of names for the Negroes on the way back from the slave traders I don't think we had time to name this one. But y'know, I think I got it. How about Booboo. Because y'know she's been crying since I bought her. So the name suits her huh boy." John put his hand on Timothy's shoulder.
"Business is goin' to get better boy, more things will get done which is good for us". Elizabeth came gliding through the front door.
"Dinner is served, come on Timothy let's get you seated now", she returned inside the house.
"Now Roger, you show our new workers around the farm and show them their quarters for tonight. They'll need their rest and some potatoes as they'll begin their chores tomorrow." John made his way into the house ready to dine with Timothy and Elizabeth.

Roger whispered to Jack who nodded his slim head in agreement to his older brother, he began to walk, with his lanky legs, towards the carriage and gently guided them past the house through to the work horse barn. The new slaves stood there waiting to be ordered too. Roger pulled up his pants to cover his showing belly and strolled back and forth along the Negroes. Jerry still was clutching his mum's dress, Juba stood straight with her hands behind her back looking at Roger and BooBoo still had watery eyes. Roger hurled mucus in his mouth and spat it out in front of the Negroes.
"Y'all probably been hearin' good things about us in the South, Mr. Cook has a nicely buil' plantation on this land. He will provide food, clothin' and shelter to y'all. Now y'all will work mighty damn hard. Mighty mighty damn hard. That's what yee was born to do. Work. But yee was also born to be a lazy damned race. So it's u'to me, the overs'r to make sure you don't take one black step outta line...   y'all hearin me!?"
"Yep Sir" The slaves replied whilst nodding their heads.
"Sir!? That's funny. Maybe on yee ol' work or in the places y'all worked before yee called whites by they names or other things. Here y'all will call me your master. That goes for all the whites on this land. As we were given pow'r over y'all by God. Now yee don't wanna disobey the word of God now do yee?" Roger stopped moving and put his hands on this hips.
"Yep Master" The slaves replied.
"Now bring yee selves over with me, Imma show y'all round the farm, get yee accustomed to how things go round here."
He walked past the slaves and signaled them to follow him. The farm was more or less the same as any other plantation, with slave quarters, livestock pens, cabins which took care of the laundry, weighing and storing the cotton and patches for growing vegetables for the kitchen cook. The main house which most of the slaves called 'the big house' was made in a French colonial style with white beams covering all sides of the house. It had a big porch in which Elizabeth and her close friends would have sugared tea and ginger bread. The house was too big for the Cooks. It was passed down by Eugene T Cook to John as he was his only son, but Eugene had many daughters who used to live in the house but, a decade ago, got married and moved in an around Blacksburg, South Carolina which was the main town near the plantation. The big house provided quarters for the house slaves and sometimes Roger and Jack, who would stay during busy seasons. They lived in a smaller house nearby.

To the right of the big house, was the cook's house, the wash cabin, the kitchen garden and the sweet potato barn. The cook was a fairly round black woman. She was around 50 years old and she had been working as a slave all her life. When she was a teenager she was deemed pretty and was made to work as a house slave for Eugene, she later learnt how to prepare and grow food from the past head cook and since then has been providing the meals for the Cook family. With the aid of another house slave she also prepares the food for the other Negroes. She lives alone in the small cabin. On the other side of the house were the stables for the horse and the carriage station, the pig pen, Hen hut and the Negro cabin which housed the slaves who labored arduously on the farm. The cabin was made from logs, it had a small chimney, two windows and a bench which the Negroes would use during mealtime and after they had worked. In front of the Negro cabin was a pile of logs used for fire and a tree which stood tall and wide between the cabin and the big house. About ten yards from the cabin was a big barn which housed the mechanics of weighing and storing the picked cotton. All of these houses and cabins overlooked a huge cotton field, which was an abundance of the fluffy commodity that fueled the Southern economy but drained the souls of the Negroes.

Jerry was lost in the crinkling, crackling and popping of the fire which was lit by the slaves at evening times when they ate. He sat on the floor with his knees against his chest, locked in by his slim arms. Sitting beside him, also on the grass, were most of the slaves who were scoffing their usual meals of sweet potatoes, cooked pork and corn on the cob. John T Cook, the master of the land, gave precise orders to give the slaves more food than on other plantations in order for their endurance and health be greater, such that the quality and quantity of their labor would produce more. Jerry's trance was disturbed by a cough. A big slave whose physique was quite similar to that of an athlete, licked his tin of food clean and put it beside him.
"I tink dat we cood say our nyames to da new peeple. I Beefy. I work on da cotton and da big things aroond ere."
He turned his head to a woman on his right. Who looked reasonably healthy.
"I Sally", she continued eating from her tin.
The rest spoke their names nothing more, as they were busy with their food. Jerry's sister and parents also said their names however Booboo kept her mouth shut. She did continue to cry however and when she sniffled it seemed to agitate the others.
"Wot da matta wit u?  wot ya name woman?"
 Beefy tried to get Booboo to open up but in vein.
"U shud no be cryin' woman, u shud be glad u r ere wit da Cook family. Dey feed us well."
Booboo gradually quietened down but sobbed now and then, she didn't eat much of the food she was given and it was shared between the other slaves. Jerry looked at the faces of those who had been here before, they had no marks on their faces like his father.
"Wer to you come from? Wer u worked befor ere?" said a slave who introduced himself as Willy,
by now everyone had finished their food and were resting their limbs next to the fire on an already warm summers evening.
"We ar' from  Charlotte in Nort Carolina, I hav worked in many farms, corn, cotton an sugar plantations. My wife wer in Charlotte for all er life, she wer born der and me children wert born der too." Replied Roo, Jerry's father.
Willy squinted his worn eyes.
"Ah I see I see, bu u hav a runaway mark on yah face I see. Wer did u run from den?"
"why u wan to no?" Jerry's father stared more intensely into the fire, as if he was burning something from the forefront of his mind.
"Ah, we jus' want t'no what 'u ar' like, for u will be stayin' wit us for a lon' time. We r a family ere'. Willy sat more relaxed as if to gesture safety and welcome to the new slaves.
As Jerry looked around he could sense the bond between the slaves, something that didn't exist, from what he could remember from childhood, of the slaves in the plantation in which he was born in. Suma put an arm round Roo.
"well... well... u see, from wat I no I am of 45 yea's, I was born wit my family in Texas. But wen I was 8 yea's I member bein' sol out of me family. I was raysed to work on a corn plantation in Jacks'nvil Tennessay. I staye der til i was abut tirty years. But y'no da... da.. whippins and dem floggins be bad down der. I member I was  beaten near ev'ry day. I cud not take it der no mor'. So I left der. I ran away from der. But da white men and me master cat me, burn me a runaway mark on me face. Den dey sold me real cheep on da slave mark't. I went  to a sugar plantation in Nort Carolina wer I met me wife and had me kin."
Roo looked as if he had dropped a sac of heavy corn from his shoulders, the other slaves listened and looked at him. Some sympathy could be seen on their faces.
"Well u no down ere, John got it gud u see. He give us beds n gud food n other tings. He w'rk us 'ard fo shor but he himsel' wudn't do no rong ting to us if we w'rk gud." Said Willy.
A smaller male slave leaned forward towards the new ones and looked towards the big house to see if any white person was around.
"yer yer... 'we got it gud ere' say Willy. But u met Rog'r doe? He a devil. He a devil. He wil whip u arder den undred white men if u do anyting to stur em. Yer yer 'John wudn't do no rong ting' but Rog'r whip us fo sake of whippin' us. Wen John ain't arund tings get..." Loomie was hushed by Beefy.
"He jus' mad cos he nev'r get mo cotton den us, he jus' mad cos Rog'r pick on em." Beefy reassured their new members.
"Well wat I ave seen in ma life, is dat all white men whip niggas like us. Dose who don't whip a nigga, get another nigga to whip em o' pay a white man to whip em. Jus' da same as all da others." Roo spoke up at Beefy and Willy.
Roo arose and took his empty tin with him to the cabin. Beefy signaled the others to go to sleep while he put out the fire. Jerry raised himself awkwardly and glanced at the big house which glowed from the inside out, his sister then hurried him along towards the cabin. The orange remainder of the fire slowly but surely faded into the dark quiet night.









No comments:

Post a Comment