I was supposed to write an adaption of The Book of Negroes, retelling the story in a different genre. Instead I decided to ignore the plot of The Book of Negroes and the genres I could choose from. I kept the boat and the main character’s name from the original story, then turned it into a fantasy monster thing…
The boat slowly wound its way down the river, poled along lazily by the rivermen. They casually avoided rocks and sticks, nodding to each other, confident in their ability to get the boat downstream safely. One of the rivermen gave his pole a nudge, dislodging the small bird that had momentarily landed on it. The bird flew down onto the boat deck, landing next to a small African girl who looked to be no older than 10. She looked up and gave it a small sad smile. The bird’s small black eyes moved rapidly, scanning the boat and it’s occupants. It flew away after it realized that there was no food to be had on this boat and the girl gazed after it wistfully, jealous of the way it flew, not tied down to anything or anyone. The chain on her leg shifted as the older woman on her right moved her cramped legs. She glanced over at the girl and asked her if she was okay. The rivermen glared at her, for they did not like the slaves to speak in their native language.
Many hours later, the rivermen were still standing at the sides of boat, their eyes as alert as ever. The long line of people chained together were all asleep, their skin blending into the night, contrasting starkly with the shining metal of the chains on their legs. A tall, pale white man stood at the back of his ship, having come out of his small cabin for the first time on their journey. He surveyed the slaves strewn in front of him with total indifference, uncaring of their suffering. The chains weighed heavily on the legs of the slaves as they slept, leaving an impression of the steel links in their ankles whenever they turned over in their sleep. The boat continued down the river, stopping for nothing.
If you were to be at the bottom of the river as the boat passed overhead you would not think it anything out of the ordinary. Boats passed this way often, casting their long shadow on the bottom of the riverbed, temporarily blocking out the stars and the moonlight that usually filtered weakly down through the river. On this night though, you would have noticed, a minute or two after the boat passed, a second shadow, this one larger and somehow more sinister looking. The boat was a solid shape, its shadow only broken when the poles of the rivermen came over the side to keep it on course. This second shadow however, moved more like a fish, long and sinuous, but it could not be a fish for no fish was this big. The shadow it cast lazily wound across the river, as if nothing could be easier than following this boat, staying just out of sight.
On the deck of the boat, the rivermen noticed nothing, for their job was only to notice what lay ahead of them, not behind. The captain noticed nothing, for he was asleep in his cabin, oblivious to the happenings around him. The slaves noticed nothing, they were all either asleep, or trying to sleep in an effort to escape the nightmarish reality of the ship and the chains. Even if any of the occupants of the boat were for some reason looking behind them the only thing they would see would be a small ripple in the water, just a little bit too far away to be caused by the boat and a little bit too big to be from wind or some small lake creature. But none of them did look behind the boat and so they didn’t notice that the dark shadow was slowly coming closer to the boat.
The young girl was one of the slaves who could not sleep, too frightened of what her dreams would be to close her eyes. She instead lay on the deck and repeated a phrase to herself, “My name is Aminita, and I will return to my village”. She said it over and over, barely whispering the words, hoping for it to come true if she said it enough.
The sun was just starting to rise over the mountains in the distance, not yet high enough to provide more than a pale pink glow when the shadow moved. It moved faster than anyone would have thought possible, shooting forward faster than an arrow from a bow. All the occupants of the boat awoke at the noise, for it made a tremendous sound as it reared out of the water suddenly displaying itself to all. It was some sort of sea creature, but it was infinitely more horrifying than anything seen before. This beast made the drawings that adorned unknown parts of the sea on maps look like minnows. It was incredibly long and a pale, almost ghostly white, as if this was the first time in eons that it had ventured from whatever underground sea cave it had come from. Barnacles and grime hung from its flesh, they had foolishly mistaken the beast for a rock, blessed as they were with no eyes for any who saw the creature soon wished themselves blind so awful it was. Its small eyes, that of a predator, were on the side of its head and there was no mercy or compassion on those eyes, just a hunger born of its long years of hibernation. And the rivermen knew, the moment that the beast jumped out of the water, that this was to be their last run down this river.
The great animal hung in the air for what seemed an impossibly long time, all eyes upon it, before coming back into the water with such force that the boat shook and broke. The beast raced forwards and it was unable to tell what was food and what was wood and steel so in it’s hunger it ate all it could, not caring whether it was a substance meant to be eaten. There was panic among everyone that had been on the ship as they were thrown into the water, everyone trying to go different ways. But the great beast had no remorse, no feelings at all and the small humans knew their fate before it came, which it did, inevitably.
As suddenly as the whole thing had happened it was over. The beast had satisfied his hunger and it turned back down the river, back to the sea it had come from where it would not return until the hunger came back.
You might wonder how I know this, if none who were on that boat that day lived, if there were no witnesses to this tragic event. But, in its fury and rage the beast had missed one girl, too small to be noticed and she had swam to the shore and clambered up onto it. She lay there in the mud at the side of the riverbank, birds flying around her in the mud and as she did she repeated one thing to herself, “My name is Aminita, and I will return to my village”. After a while she got up, turned, and began the long slow walk backwards along the river to her village. I know this because I am that girl. I am Aminita and that is my story.