It was nighttime and the sun casted it’s last colorful glow before it dipped behind the trees. That’s when Papa came back from the fields. His hands were cut up, some were just scars. Memories of the sugar cane scraping against your skin cutting anything in its path unfortunately it’s our skin. Our dark brown chocolate skin. After papa came, Anya who also works on the fields followed Papa. Before me, mama, Anya, and papa went to bed we invited the Keith’s over for dinner.
The Keith’s were old, but they didn't have a choice when men came to their house in Kenya (where the Keith’s used to live before slavery) and took them away! But I like Mr. Keith in particular because he always tells funny stories of animals stealing food and Mr. Wilkens getting mad over it! Or sometimes he tells stories of serious things. Actual things that happened in his life. Happy things. Unlike me, slavery is all I’ve ever known. Mr. and Mrs. Keith slowly walked up our creaky, wooden steps that papa thinks is a safety hazard because if you fell through you'd have got lots of splinters. When the Keith’s entered the little hut that my family lived in, Mrs. Keith immediately rushed over to mama and helped her with dinner.
“Why aren’t you girls helping your mama?” Asked Mrs. Keith while she peeled the potatoes that we would eat with our cornbread. “Oh that’s right ahem Joyce we are escaping tomorrow night,” Whispered mama to Mrs. Keith (her name was Joyce) “Oh why ummm,” Mrs. Keith looked over at Mr. Keith with a worried look on her face. “Oh good lord I can’t ...I'm afraid we probably won’t make it if we went also!” Stammered Mrs. Keith. She then got back to peeling potatoes. There was silence and everyone just looked at their feet. I knew everyone was wondering the same thing, would we actually make it when we escape?
“Joyce, are you sure you do not want to come?” Asked mama looking at her. “No, Josephine me and Darell are perfectly fine,” said Mrs. Keith sadly. We knew she wanted to escape, “We’ll hold you all back from your one chance to be free. Like birds in the breeze,” said Mrs. Keith there was a long silence, a bird in the breeze! I thought I could be a bird in the breeze and I closed my eyes picturing myself soaring over the plantation feeling free and not trapped with my arms flapping like bird wings. Me flying free towards freedom.
Then Mr. Keith snapped me back to reality and started telling a story. About his life in Kenya and how he climbed the biggest tree and felt like a bird. When Mr. Keith’s story was done the food was ready. Mrs. Keith passed out old and broken China plates that Mr. Wilkens gave each slave, but there were no utensils so once we dug into our food our hands were stained with beans and burned with hot tea that wasn’t exactly tea it was just scorching hot water. Sometimes we’d get lucky and get some cinnamon we could sprinkle in the tea, but that was only when Mrs. Wilkens was in a good mood.
When mama passed out the bubbling water I carefully reached out to grab it when Anya cried “OUCH!” She had spilled all her tea onto her lap “Oh dear me such a clumsy girl,” mumbled mama and went to grab a cloth “Owww mama this burns!” Anya started to panic “Calm down, it’s ok Anya you're going to be ok, Clementine I want you to go to bed we have a big day tomorrow,” Directed papa “But-!” Papa cut me off “Now Clementine!” Papa said in a stern voice. Mama got the cloth and cleaned Anya off while papa lead the Keith’s out of the hut “Thank you for coming. You will always be in our hearts,” said papa and Mr. Keith tipped his little raggy hat and papa closed the splintered wood door behind him “Is everyone ready for bed?” Asked mama and lied down “Yes,” I said “Yuh huh,” said Anya and mama blew out the candle light.
The next day passed quickly. I was in the house dusting and cleaning up Mr. and Mrs. Wilkens room and their children’s room. Mr and Mrs. Wilkens had a child named Benson who was a mean little brat who always acted proper around his mama and papa but was so mean to me. Anya was lucky because Benson had taken a liking into her and was very kind to her. As the last hour of work in the Wilkens house was done, me and mama tiredly walked to the hut we lived in but papa was already there packing clothes, everything we could carry and that was very little. I wish I can shove my whole life in this wooden crate, but Mr. Keith wouldn't fit in there with all my other belongings I thought and giggled about Mr. Keith trying to fit in my little wooden crate. Mama gave me a sharp look to signal that I had to be quiet so Mr. Wilkens doesn’t find out.
“Mama, I’m nervous,” I gave mama a scared look “Come now, be scared later!” said mama as she crept out of the hut into the beautiful southern night and then I remembered THE FLOWER! I raced to the Wilkens house and tugged on the door “Clementine Lynn Kirosira get back here now!” Mama whisper-snapped and ran after me, but I had already disappeared into the Wilken’s household. I crept to the kitchen and looked at the flower. Its shiny pink petals gleamed in the moonlight and the flower seemed to wink at me. It bloomed! We’re free! I cried inside my head and did a dance until three dark figures appeared behind me.
“Huh who’s there?” I asked, looking behind me a tall, lanky figure stood before me. “Mrs. Wilkens?” I asked to the figure. The figure grabbed my arm and pushed me outside and in that moment I realized it was papa who had grabbed me, “How could you be so stupid Clementine!” Papa scolded. “You could have got us killed!” Mama then uncontrollably slapped me across the face. My face was pink and white “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry!” I cried and mama sighed and pulled papa aside “I feel bad,” said mama to papa “Well she needed to learn that almost got us killed!” Said papa and gave mama a pat on the shoulder and returned to the spot he was in. “We are headed to Canada. No more surprises! If you see something that involves soldiers or Mr. Wilkens come tell us immediately!” Said papa and picked up three wooden crates.
After days of walking we came to a town and we stopped and tried to act undercover. We usually only walked at night, but today we had no choice but to walk in the blinding daylight. When we got into the town there were signs that said….. WANTED SLAVES WILKENS PLANTATION AYNA LEE KIROSIRA CLEMENTINE LYNN KIROSIRA JOSEPHINE LILY KIROSIRA NASSAN REY KIROSIRA WANTED 1,000 DOLLARS IF FOUND! It was scary being wanted, but thankfully they didn’t show a painting or photo! But just for precaution papa changed our names ``Clementine you are now Clara Knawkasann, Anya you are now Nosha Knawkasann, Josephine you are now Rennaya Knawkasann, and I am now Tesan Knawkasann,” Said papa “And you mustn’t call each other by our real names! You both understand?” Said mama hands on her hips ``Yes mama,” Me and Anya both said at the same time. Once we walked past the sign, the sign was plastered inside my head, we’re like criminals! Like those cowboys who get in big trouble for stealing or something like that. And live free range in the Wild West. I thought and mumbled “I wish I was free rein,”
After that thought, another one slipped in my head that we got stopped by a Confederate soldier “Excuse me!” Snapped the soldier “Do ya lads work here?” Asked the soldier gruffly “Yes we do!” Said papa bravely. “Sure where do ya work now lad?” Asked the soldier with a thick Irish accent and gave a suspicious look “We work at that big house!” Said papa and pointed to a big brick house in the middle of town. “Ahhh the Coffins. I have suspicions of them, but too bad you're coming with me lad,” said the soldier and grabbed papa by the arm tightly “NO PAPA!” I screamed “Shush lassie your papa’s gonna join the war!” Said the soldier and turned away from them “PAPA! PAPA DON'T LEAVE ME!” I cried in tears and mama was crying “I will be back!” Said papa and let the soldier drag him. Mama grabbed my arm and Anya’s and Papa looked back at us as he rounded the corner with the soldier and blew us a kiss “No papa,” I whispered will he die? Oh I sure hope he lives! I thought sadly and turned my head forward.
“You're just lucky that we didn't get caught,” Whispered Anya. “Shush girl before you get us in trouble!” Snapped mama and walked up to the front steps of the Coffin’s front door. It was much better than our splintery door and you could actually knock on it! Mama hesitated before she knocked on the door and once she did she scurried backwards where me and Anya were. Then someone opened the door and let them inside and a skinny tall figure appeared from behind the door.
“Hello there, how are you?” Asked the man stepping into the light “Oh umm hello sir my name is Mrs. Knawkasann, Good to meet you,” Said mama with a slightly worried look “Looks like you’ve got the little ones with you I suppose they’re hungry?” Asked Mr. Coffin “Oh very!” I blurted “Shhh I’m very sorry about her she-,” Mr. Coffin cut mama off “Oh it’s ok she’s just hungry!” Said Mr. Coffin “How do we know we can trust you?” Asked mama “Well I am an abolitionist which is someone against slavery so I help escaped slaves like you get to Canada!” Whispered Mr. Coffin and led them to the kitchen “This is my wife Mrs. Coffin, She will help mend your clothes and make you soup,” Said Mr. Coffin “Pleased to meet you and I must warn you that soldiers mosy into our house and they see you sitting on the couch or eating soup they’ll tell masters across the country like the blink of an eye, so be precautious of that possibility,” Said Mrs. Coffin “What did she say?” I asked Anya “I don’t know! I don’t know the big words she said!” Anya whispered to me “Was it like possi-possibllit-ty or was it pre-catins??” I asked. We both shrugged until big knocks came from the door.
“Levi tell them to wait!” Snapped Mrs. Coffin “We can hear you!” Boomed a loud voice from behind the door “Wait! Stop, don't come in. I am not fully dressed!” Lied Mrs. Coffin although she was already dressed in a nice pale blue silk dress “Who is that?” I asked Mrs. Coffin, but she didn’t answer. She just motioned all of us to the staircase in the kitchen “Up these steps I will come also!” Said Mrs. Coffin and rushed us upstairs. I stumbled and tripped “Stop being so clumsy. Mama’s gonna get mad!” Anya snapped “WE’RE COMING IN!” Yelled the men from the front door. Will we make it in time??
Mrs. Coffin rushed to a little room and hid us in a little doorway. Once we were all in she pushed a bed in front of the door, but before she could the soldiers barged in “HEY what’s you hiding in there woman?” Asked the first soldier and narrowed his eyes ``Well would you like to see?” Asked Mrs.Coffin and the soldiers pushed past her “I knew-!” Mama then covered her mouth but thankfully the little hatch was narrow, long and VERY, VERY dark so the soldiers could not see inside. “Ugh nothing Mr. Wilkens is going to kill both of us!” Said the second soldier the first soldier completely ignored him and snapped at Mrs. Coffin ``We'll be back and if we see you hiding any nasty little brats there will be a price to pay,” Said the gruff soldier and him and the other soldier stomped down the steps and out the front door.
When Mrs. Coffin said it was okay to come out, I went first and then Anya and then mama. When we were all out the sunshine coming through the window blinded me and Mrs. Coffin pulled mama aside “Mrs. Knawkasann we are taking you to a safe house tonight!” Said Mrs. Coffin. "Mama, are we the nasty little brats he was talking about?” I asked mama “No no,” Mama lied. I could tell the expression on mama’s face that we were the “Nasty little brats'' that the soldier defined us as. That night Mrs. Coffin got to work sewing dresses and making shoes. Sometimes she even packed some baskets of food. Once it was time Mrs. Coffin and Mr. Coffin both hugged me and Anya including mama and then we were off to another safe house. We were so close to Canada when Anya shouted in pain “Mama mama!!” She cried “Anya what happened??” Asked mama covering her mouth with her hands “I….ran into...a,” Anya rasped in pain “Oh dear umm I don’t know what to do!” Said mama looking frantically around for anything to help get Anya out. “Mama. I love you and you have to let me die here!” Said Anya. Mama ignored her “MAMA! Please there is no other way I must just die,” Anya said calmly and mama gave a big sigh and a big tear “No,” Said mama and picked Anya up. “Oh owww mama..” Said Anya and mama grabbed my hand and walked with me towards freedom.
As me, Anya and mama slowly made our way down the faded path we saw a faded sign that said Freedom FREEDOM valley VALLEY!! Me, Anya, and mama both walked past the sign to a house on the hill. When we got there mama wasn’t afraid to knock. The door slowly opened and then someone’s little head popped out and welcomed them “Hello there are you escaped slaves?” Asked the figure. “Yes, I need to help my daughter!” Mama demanded. “Oh my that is one big wound! I can get her fixed up in no time!” Said the person and ran to get something. “Here this washcloth will help pat her wound and here’s this bandage,” Said the person calmly “Go! Take it easy but GO!” The person whispered and me and mama thanked the person and ran out the door. Towards freedom.
4 years later It seemed almost yesterday when me, mama, and Anya went to Canada and made a life here I thought and watched mama’s big factory bustle and sew nice clothing. But something unusual happened, mama let all the workers go home early and she also came home. First she kissed Anya on the head after Anya’s 7th surgery and snatched the newspaper off the counter." The Confederate States of America surrendered to the United States of America!” Cried mama “The soldiers come home!” She read intently at the list of “Dead and Alive Soldiers” paragraphs. Then mama gasped and dropped the newspaper “No...no he’s still alive!” Mama cried “What mama he’s dead?” I asked, picking up the scattered pieces of paper “Oh mama!” I buried my face into her chest and gave her a big hug. “It’s okay dear. We’ll overcome,” Said mama calmly and stroked my hair. Then Anya smiled (which she hasn’t done in years and rasped “Yes mama, Yes we will!”
This book is dedicated to my family and my best friend Elsa because they have always supported me when I’m feeling low and encouraged me to do what’s right even if I don’t want to. They love me unconditionally.