Sold? Sold? That old pain made her cough. Her throat was closing up as if a rope
had at last been placed around it. She thought of a freedom so close, a freedom
"Where is your child?"
"They put her outside with the other women when they heard you were coming."
"Excellency? It's so that Excellency can talk with the prisoner."
The Superintendent was talking to her again. Something in his voice made her
look closely at him. Before he had only been a tall man with black, black hair,
black eyebrows, no beard, black clothes. Now she heard something in his voice.
He was speaking to her, asking questions that were not orders or commands that
had all the answers already. These questions said, There are things I need to
know. Can you help?
Help me, Master!
When he left, so quickly she thought she had dreamed the whole visit, it was
hard to stop the rooms spinning. This time would be different from all the
other times, all the other visitors. She knew the guard was aware of this
because he did not come back. There would be no quick counting of coins, or the
rough laugh he gave as the visitor ran to wash himself. The shadow of death had
come into her life once again and announced that, for the final time, she had
run out of all luck.
And what a lucky girl she had been as a girl. All those years ago, in a place
these people knew nothing about, she had been the luckiest girl. Now she was
locked between walls in a country where real murderers walked free with the
right to real buttons, and fancy dresses, and cream neckties, waistcoats on
Sometimes she imagined that swine Van der Wat and his family pronking off to
prayers at a neighbors farm with their pious stout faces served up on the
platter of their holy words like vet little piglets snorting in the Lords
trough. Sometimes she imagined them sitting before a visiting Minister and
scratching themselves as fleas nibbled and scuttered away under their woolens
There is a valley far, far away, they sang, swaying and swaying away as one
with the rest of the congregation, while secretly trying to shift against their
clothing for the tiniest bit of relief. The hymn ended and they had to sit, Van
der Wat so stiff and righteous in daylight and public, beside his fishbelly
wife, and their greedy children.
* * * * *
For a whole day no one came near her. The next day, she was not allowed out
of her cell. When the other women left for the yard they jeered and laughed at
her, every one of them but Rachel who came back with one of the younger guards
to offer to take Meisie out on her back.
While they were binding Meisie to Rachel's back, Sila spoke quickly.
"I do not know when they will come for me. You must get news to my friend
Spaasie. Tell her she must fight to keep them from sending Meisie to Van der
"Have courage, Sila."
"Courage is one thing, Rachel. The law here is another."
Sila kissed the top of Meisie's head.
"Kom!" The young guard was jumping from foot to foot.
After that, no one came. Once, through the dull plug of her damaged ear she
thought she heard Meisie cry. She called out. Nothing. She sensed the guards.
There was a new urgency in their lowered voices. Sometimes someone passed by the
bars set high in the door, but she did not bother to look. She kept her face to
the wall. Very little time remained now. Although, it was not as if she was
losing a life she had. A long time ago she would have thought that any life was
worth living, that she had to hold on to the tiniest amount of living and find
in it the same sweetness that she found in a simple flower growing on a grens or
even in a crack at the doorstep to the big house into which she had first been
taken as a meid, just a child who should have been with her own mother. But this
could not be called a life. For three years she had been on the path to death.
Now she was standing on death's doorstep.
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