Every once in a while I have a dream that is so real, and so vivid and detailed, that I write it down. I had one like that recently. I dreamed I was a slave being brought to America in the early 1800’s. I had been convinced to come, but once I’d left, I realized I’d been taken in and lied to. When I woke up, it was so fresh and clear in my mind that I wrote it down. I wrote it in the style I felt I would have told it in the dream – though I doubt it’s historically or culturally accurate. Dreams take things whatever way they want, and this dream was no exception. I think I felt like an old man, rehearsing my story of when I was younger. I also wrote the dream at about 5:30 in the morning, so the grammar is not the best, but later I lightly touched up the wording:
Land of Opportunity
I had been told that it was a land of opportunity. I had been told that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, like the promised land in God’s Holy word. I’d heard of slavery. Why, we’d had it it my own land. A man gives seven years of his life to work for a family, then goes home and has money to care for his own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but my family needed it. We were poor. Even for Africa, we were poor. But I loved my wife and our little child, and I wanted to see that they were cared for. So when they talked to me about coming to America, I signed up.
But it weren’t near so nice as they made it sound. There was milk and honey alright, but it weren’t there for the takin’. One man was kind enough to give me two small boxes of seeds. A kind white man, says it’s gonna be hard, wanted to give me somethin’ to help me by. Says they’ll be probably taken by my owner, once we arrive, but maybe it will give me a good name from the start.
After the boat arrived, I was told with others to go to the check in, where I would be told where to go, and what to do. We had come to the south, as they called it, and a large man with a straw hat and a strong southern accent sat at a desk. He didn’t look like the kind I wanted to deal with, but I wasn’t given no choice. “Hey, boy,” he says when I arrived, “What you got there?” my hands were shaking, and it was them seeds I had in my hand rattlin’ away, and I says, “nothin, sir, just some seeds.” The man straightened, very angry, and says, “You don’t tell me ‘nothin’ boy when you got somethin’ in your hands.” I bowed, much as I’d seen the others do. “Yessir,” I said, “didn’t mean nothin’ by it sir.” The man looked ready to strike, but just asked, “What’s your name, boy?” I told him, and he scrolled it on a paper.
Then he sat there a minute, lookin’ at me kinda funny, and said. “I want you to go in that room down there and wait till you’re told what to do.” He pointed to a large house with a wide open door, looked like some kind of public place. I bowed and said, “Yessir.”
The house was a big place, and as I got close, I saw there were many lights inside. But when I got to the door, I saw what kind of place it was. There was girls in there dancin’ in a way that I knew I couldn’t go in there. I turned away from the door quickly, feeling awful and afraid. I was near panic when the man from the desk was already there to meet me. I bowed again and dropped part-way to the ground in complete humiliation and feeling like trash. I knew to him that’s what I was. “What’s the matter boy?” he said, laughing. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to talk to this man any more, but I knew by now that you couldn’t ignore or talk back to a white man, unless you wanted to be whipped or even killed.
“I… I can’t go in there, sir…”
He looked like he was gonna strike again, but said, “Well why not?”
I stammered but managed to say, “Well, see sir, I’s got a wife, sir… and…” He pushed his hand down on my shoulder, making it hurt. “That’s the life of a slave, boy. I tell you what to do, and you do it. That’s the life of a slave.” I just keeled there, his hand pressing down on my shoulder. I felt completely humiliated. Then the man turned and returned to his desk. I was glad to see him leave.
I got up and began walking away when I realized I’d misplaced one of my boxes of seed. I looked around quickly, and my heart dropped through the floor when I saw the big man at the desk showing the box to someone and laughing.
Meekly, I wandered back over to the desk and asked the man if he’d seen my other box of seeds. “Why, no,” he said in a humoring voice, “I guess you better go look for it!” I nodded, and turned back around. I knew I weren’t no good trying to get it back, so I just moved on. It was a short walk to the colony, where the many slaves were. Someone had pointed it out to me.
As I walked, I thought how much I missed my family, and about the horrible stories I heard on the ship. I knew I wasn’t going home. But I still hoped. Maybe the good Lord could make a way.
If I thought I was about to greet a solemn and humble bunch of folk, I was mistaken, for as I arrived, I could hear an uproar of singing, dancing, and rejoicing for life and all it’s bounties. I ran to meet them, and quickly joined in with a group that was having a great party around a fire. When they saw me, they paused, and said, “My friend, from where do you come?” I knew by their manner that they were asking what language I spoke. In my native Zulu, I told them my name and said, “I am a Zulu.” Some of the crowd cheered and some of the crowd booed, though I knew it was all in fun. Some even spoke back in their own languages that were close to Zulu. I realized that in this group, the many languages and accents of people was a subject of great fun and teasing. I immediately felt at home with them. In my small village in Africa, all had spoken the same Zulu, and though I’d met a few folk who spoke other African languages, I had never met so many in one place. The dancing and singing continued, and they encouraged me to join them. I did so, and it lifted my spirits.
All were slaves, and all were in a very bad situation, torn from homes and family. But even here far from Africa, with these people, it felt a little like home.