One City, One Story 2015 “Tell Your Story” Contest

Category:  Grade 9-12

1st place

Land of the Free

by Judah Foster, Grade 9


Yesterday my mom threw my baby brother overboard the cargo ship. He flew from her hands like a bundle of trash and sank into the water until he disappeared completely. She nearly dragged me over also, but as a boy of age thirteen I was stronger than her and managed to slip from her cold fingers. One of the traders, who saw what had happened, ran over and clutched my arm as I watched the captain of the ship throw his fists in my mom’s face and beat her until she stopped struggling. That was the last time I ever saw her. The trader who was gripping my arm threw me back bellow deck where the musty air and cluster of 400 other kidnapped Africans made me want to throw up.

A lot of the men, women and children bellow deck were from my land. I didn’t know anyone personally and I didn’t want to, because now, they all seemed unapproachable and dead. It was as if they were taken so fast that their joy and personality was left behind on the costs of Africa. Rubbing my sore arm, I forced myself past a few limp bodies and sat down, resting my sweaty cheek on my coffee colored knees while focusing on my shallow breathing. Somehow, the steady rocking and creaking from the ship, and the distant coughs of dying people drifted me to sleep. I was rudely awakened by the sound of a woman screaming. Before, I would’ve cared about what she was crying about, but now, I screwed my eyes shut and covered my ears because her shrieking was making me sick.

When I woke up again, a rat was chewing on my ear lobe. I felt his needle claws scratching at my face and his grimy, ash colored fur tickling my neck. He was so close I heard his teeth scraping together like sand paper. I sat up with a jolt and swatted at my face. The man next to me chuckled, and I cracked a smile too even though I got scared pretty bad. I scratched my curly hair as I felt the ship stop abruptly. I heard the traders call for all the children to come out from below. I forced my way up with the other kids and had my wrists chained together with them all. I noticed that the line of children was shorter than when we first boarded the ship, which made sense, because a lot died on the voyage. I never found out why were forced to get on the ship in the first place, or where we were going.

The man, who inspected me, peeled my eyes open wide, examined my teeth and hit my chest to see if I would cough. I didn’t. We stepped off the ship and stumbled around as if we were drunk or seasick, squinting up at the glittering sun. Us children were immediately split apart and directed into different directions without saying goodbye to each other. I was then chained together with ten other adults. We were sardined into the back of a carriage that took us to a small town where white skinned people stood and watched us, gathering around a platform.

We were left alone to wait, so while the others stayed silent I prodded the shoulder of a dark skinned woman with no hair who sat beside me. “Where am I?” I asked her in our language.

“America.” She said bluntly with no emotion at all.

I didn’t believe her, because my mom said America was a land of opportunities and freedom. “When will I go back home?”

“Never.” She chewed the inside of her cheek and scratched her skinny arm.

I ignored her answer because I didn’t want to believe it. “Why is everyone mean?” I inquired, “did we do something wrong?”

She didn’t answer me. She never even looked at me.

I exhaled and hung my head in frustration. The sun was scorching my exposed skin and flies swirled around the dirt on my face. I felt like an animal. The white trader, as if he’d asked a million times before, yelled at us to get out and we all tripped off the carriage in panic and fear. I was directed towards a stage and walked onto it with the others, a crowd of white skinned people stared up at us, some with curiosity others with disgust. I wondered why.

A large man who stood off to the far right began rambling quickly while the crowd responded by raising their hands and yelling out offers. The woman I spoke to was removed and given to a tall man with a cold stare and someone else was given to a small family of four. Finally, someone took my arm and threw me towards a man and woman who tied a rope around my neck, like how we used to do with the cattle back home. I wondered if they cared that it was hurting me. Something told me not to complain. We left the small community of people and hiked into the woods, coming to a miniature hut and barn that sat beside a dry garden. They tugged at the rope around my neck and lead me to the barn.

“You’ll be sleeping in here.” The woman said slowly, “In the mornings I expect you to wake up early and get started on the garden, okay?”

I nodded and the man pulled the rope tighter and yelled at me to say ‘yes, ma’am.’

“’Yes ma’am’” I droned monotonously, rubbing the skin below my chin in discomfort.

The couple spoke to me in English, expecting me to learn quickly and getting mad when I didn’t understand something they said. They told me that they’d feed me and give me water if I behaved, and did what I was supposed to. They said I should be thankful, and asked me if I was. I said yes. I hoped they believed me and didn’t notice the stale enthusiasm and hints of deceitfulness behind my voice and in my gaze because I actually hated them. That same night, after they locked me in their barn with the animals, I felt more alone than when I was huddled bellow deck with the concentration of sour air and sick strangers. I stared at the ceiling and repeated to myself that I wasn’t really in a cold, eerie barn. I was dreaming. And soon, I’d wake up in my house by the Congo Ocean, while the sun rose to bake the ocher sand that I used to run on.



View a list of the all the winners: