Chapter 19

October 14th 1834

I woke this morning with a start, following yet another uncomfortable night.  We have come to Pastor Philippo as instructed and he has greeted us with kindness. He is truly a passionate friend of the enslaved people of this island and his face glows red when he speaks of their plight, in great contrast to his white hair and whiskers. His eyes are constantly moving, seeking the next task he must set his hand to, and yet there is a gentleness amid his near constant activity which I have found most comforting. He has given us assurance of assisting us in finding a place to stay but for the time being I am sleeping upon a settle in the kitchen and Jacob is on a chair. I slept fitfully, partly from discomfort and also from not wanting to sleep late and miss this day. Fleeting whispers of dreams filled my mind, images of ships and distant shorelines, cries of distress and anger. Several times I woke to Jacob’s hand on my arm, bidding me to be still, telling me I was safe, reminding me of his presence.

When we left home there was not enough daylight for us to travel all the way to Spanish Town and so we stopped just outside Kingston, seeking shelter among a gathering of trees where we might spend the night undetected. Curled together on the bare earth we made ourselves as comfortable as we could before trying to sleep. Being used to considerably less comfort than myself, Jacob was soon snoring gently at my side, while I felt every piece of uneven ground on my back and lay awake for the longest time staring at the stars. I thought of Mama and Papa, picturing them asleep in our house surrounded by all that is familiar to me. In my mind I imagined Mama wakening in the night, stepping out to the veranda to look at the same night sky, wondering and worrying about where I might be at that moment. I longed to call out to her, to tell I was safe, to ask her for guidance and simply to hear her speak my name.

 At first light we gathered ourselves together and journeyed onwards to the pastor’s home. I was glad of the food we were offered on arrival as weakness had begun to overtake my body and indeed my spirit. I have felt at a loss many times over this past day and a half, looking around me to take in my surroundings, wondering how it was I came to be in this position. None of this was planned and so I find myself entirely unprepared for each hour I walk through. Jacob has been a great strength, wearing an expression of peaceful determination, as though he has stepped into the fullness of his being. I have been glad of his leading and feel proud to stand by his side. Last night in his sleep he murmured “Mi free, mi free,” smiling as his head nodded from side to side.

I need not have worried about waking in time this morning, as this is the busiest household I have ever known. No sooner had I opened my eyes than the room was a hive of activity with the fire being cleared and pots and pans clattering on to the table. Although we have been welcomed here I immediately felt in the way and out of place and so after breakfast we made our way out to the carriage and began the journey back towards Kingston and the harbour. Jacob and I did not speak much as we travelled. I believe he sensed my sorrow and left me to my thoughts. The sky was overcast with only glimpses of the pale blue beyond, peeking through the billowing grey. Coming close to the city, the familiarity of the surroundings brought a yearning in my heart. This was the place I knew, the place where I belonged. Or at least it was. A small voice inside told me there was still time to change my mind. I strained to see what masts were rising above the buildings, wondering which ship was the right one.

Down by the harbour there were two ships moored by the dock but only one getting ready to sail. Stepping down from the carriage I wrapped my shawl around me covering my face as the wind whipped the dust from the ground, and pushed my way through the crowds. At first I walked steadily but gradually my pace quickened until I was desperately running towards the ship, no longer caring for politeness or decorum. People went about their daily business paying no heed to this frantic young woman urging them out of her way, oblivious to the anguish and turmoil in my heart as I passed them by. Finally the throng were behind me and I found myself in front of The Black Rose as she waited silently, tethered to land but yearning for the ocean. Gulls cried overhead as the final boxes of provisions were loaded onto her deck, men called instructions to one another, ropes creaked and strained to hold her in place, waves hitting against the harbour wall as though eager to get things underway. For a moment I was entranced by the sights and smells before a deep voice brought me sharply to the present.

“All aboard”

I found myself making a dash towards the man in uniform standing at the bottom of the gangway with a ledger. He was checking the passenger list, casting an eye around for any latecomers. Stopping a few feet short of him, I was suddenly breathless and uncertain. I gave him the names of my parents and asked if they were already aboard.

“They are Miss. And there’s a Molly Mackenzie booked on this sailing too. Is that you Miss? Last chance to board.”

One small step onto the gangway and I would be back in the embrace of my parents and returned to the life I was born to. There was a place for me here, on this ship. My name was right there, on the sheet of paper, waiting for me to say yes. Once in Scotland this episode would soon be forgotten and I could find another love, one which would not come at such a heavy cost. Surely I could be happy there? Could I truly be happy here? Would Jamaica still be my home without the presence of my parents? Was there really a place for me here? With one foot on the walkway and the other on the harbour stone I felt my weight ebb and flow through my body, as though my whole being rocked back and forth in a final moment of decision. I looked up to the ship, ready to sail for a new world, then back over my shoulder. Jacob emerged from the crowds. His face was full of love and longing as he observed my silent wrestle yet he waited, leaving me to make my own decision once more. This was the last strand tying me to this place. One simple motion would set me loose to float away and never look back. I turned back to the ship’s officer.

“No Sir, I’m just here to say farewell, but it seems I have missed my chance.”

With that he called the ship ready for departure, the walkway was pulled back to shore and ropes cast off from their moorings. Slowly the Rose was pushed from the harbour wall and began to turn away from the island. Jacob came alongside me and together we stood to watch. Through the sailors still busy on deck I saw a figure emerge to stand at the back of the boat.

Mama.

Her eyes scanned along the harbour, searching. Lifting my hand I waved until she saw me. She waved her response before holding both hands across her heart. Neither of us moved an inch as the ship drifted further and further away, until we were only distant figures to one another. As they rounded the point of Port Royal and out to the open sea I could not bear to say goodbye. We returned to the carriage and I urged Jacob to make haste as we travelled out of the city along the coast in order to catch one final glimpse. By the time we were far enough along the road to see the open water the ship was half way to the horizon. I stayed planted to the ground straining my eyes to see her as she headed out of sight. Grief came upon me then, like a great wave threatening to overwhelm me. Jacob stayed beside me, steadying me as an anchor, until it was time to leave.

When we stepped up into the carriage I sat alongside him, no longer afraid of what anyone may think, no need to care for reputation or responsibility. I have made my choice, freely. I have chosen one love over another and my heart shall always have that scar. But this is our life now, together, to make of it what we will.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s