Neither would Kitty smell the bunch of sticks that Rose wafted around her, ‘Come, it will soothe. Smell,’ Rose insisted. When, finally, Rose pushed the smelly bundle against Kitty’s nose, Kitty began at once to choke upon their pungency. She then wrested the sticks from out Rose’s hand and threw them upon the ground. The strip of goat skin with which Rose had wanted to rub Kitty’s bucking belly had Kitty crying out, ‘No touch me, no touch me!’ Fortuitously for Rose, she ducked just before Kitty’s hand lashed out to swipe her across the room—for it was performed with such fierceness that the diminutive Rose would surely have found herself embedded within the wattle of the wall.
Then Rose pleaded that at least Kitty should eat some mouthfuls of breadfruit that had been left for her. When Kitty refused, Rose ate it herself while repeating, in tones that ranged from commanding to begging, that Kitty should squat upon the mattress to find relief from the pain of this birthing. For over an hour did Rose implore her, until Kitty, screeching louder than a cockerel before the dawn, cried, ‘Hush, Miss Rose—me caan suffer yer jabber no more.’
But Kitty did at that moment fall upon her knees and, with her heavy belly brushing the dirt floor, crawl upon the mat. Soon the trash, which was the substance of her mattress, was soaked through with Kitty’s sweat—it squelched underneath her as she writhed, tormented, for some position that might ease her pain. But at last Rose could reach all the parts of Kitty that she required in order to commence her fabled physic. Rose, calling from the door of the hut, commanded some children to fill a pail with water from the river. She then cursed at the tiny drip of water that the useless pickney handed her back, before shooing them from the dwelling. But Rose dipped in a rag and pressed the cool water against Kitty’s dry and cracked lips.
It was after a further two hours that Kitty began to howl. Kneeling upon the mattress, her hands upon the wall, she screamed that this pain was like no other that she had endured. Oh come, driver, lash her, brand and scorch her, for Kitty was sure no trifling pain of human kind could ever injure her again. This pain was jumbiemade; its claws were digging deep inside her so this child might be born.
‘Me must dead, Miss Rose,’ Kitty roared. ‘Me must dead!’
‘Pickney soon come, soon come now,’ Rose tenderly whispered.
‘Pickney no come. Me must dead here,’ Kitty wailed.
It was then the overseer, Tam Dewar, entered in upon the dwelling shouting, ‘Why is there so much noise? Shut up, damn you. My head aches from it!’
Aroused from his supper table by the unholy row that had reached his ears, he was breathing heavy as a man sorely vexed. Until, that is, the stench from within Kitty’s dwelling began to assail him. His face, that had been wrinkled with fury, began to contort into a sickened grimace— like he was chewing upon rancid meat. He placed his lamp upon the ground so he might better rummage for his handkerchief to muffle his nose and mouth, before exclaiming through the cloth, ‘What is happening in here?’
Rose, curtseying to the overseer, said, ‘She birthing, massa—soon come,’ while Kitty quickly laid herself down flat upon the mattress, covering up as best she could with the wet cloth of her shirt. She set herself to be still and raised her eyes to look upon Tam Dewar’s crooked face. In the cast of the lamplight his mouth looked all the more twisted, his hairless head all the more like it was crowned with the shell of an egg. But Kitty could not be quiet for long, for a pickney the size of the moon was pushing out from within her. She let forth a yell so fierce that it buckled Tam Dewar at his knees and caused him to wince as if it were he that had the greater affliction.
Excerpted from The Long Song by Andrea Levy. Copyright © 2010 by Andrea Levy. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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