He stood just in the entrance of the cell, a tall man with his hat in his hands.
She could make out the cream of his necktie. She knew why he had come. She
waited and could see him struggle with irritation and uncertainty as she
remained seated on the bed. The smell had assailed his nostrils when he first
entered, but now he could smell the bed. She let it reach him and relished the
satisfaction of seeing his small step backwards.
She knew about him. The very famous new Superintendent about whom everyone talked. Once, when she was out in the yard, he had come clattering to visit the Warden. She had been invisible except as one of those people he had been so good at keeping obedient. He looked at her now as if she were a fool. She said nothing.
What is that stench? He did not ask this of her.
Sanitation issa problem, Excellency.
He turned abruptly to face the guard who remained invisible on the other side of the doorframe.
What the hell does that mean, man?"
He asked for meaning. She felt the laughter bubble up in her throat.
"The Warden will explain, Excellency, when he comes back, Excellency."
Sila could hear the guard shifting from foot to foot.
Has she been here all this time?
"Excellency? Yes. Warden will explain, Excellency. We have nowhere else this is why we put her and her child here with the other
"Child? What child?"
She understood his surprise. How on earth could she have been here all this time, under their noses, and not be noticed, she and her child, the one she called Meisie despite the name they wanted her to use? How could they have forgotten about her, forgotten? But he could not bring himself to ask these questions, they would have exposed his ignorance, and a great Superintendent of order could never admit to such a thing.
For a moment the walls spun. The sour damp straw of her bed reached her nostrils. Her move to grip the wall made him turn.
What have you to say for yourself? he demanded, but she could see it was to stave off his alarm. Ek se, wat het jy vir jouself te sê?
His accent was so stupid. She lay back and laughed, drawing her skirt up. This was how they liked it, filthy and stinking. He should know that, Superintendent of cleanliness and order. The naai maintje was here. Yes, he should know who and what this place had made of her in all these years she had been forgotten.
Sit up! Sit up!
Can you confirm that you are Sila van den Kaap, slave to the burgher Stephanus Van der Wat?
Slave? Who was he calling slave? She sat up and pulled her dress into place.
Are you the woman who came from Van der Wat?
"From Van der Wat, yes." Something old and cold, heavy and dull was pushing her heart down.
What child is with you? Is this a child that came with you when they brought you from Van der Wat's farm?
"Meisie. She was born here."
The Superintendent's mouth opened. He looked around the cell then turned toward the door.
The guard's silhouette vanished with a jump. "She is a very bad woman, Excellency!"
She had no energy to deny this. She was a prisoner in the country of lies. Truth was a foreign language here. She rested her head back against the wall and inhaled. Soon she would be done with it all. Not even the thought of Meisie, or Pieter who was still on Van der Wat's farm, could keep her in this world. The demons of this world had swallowed up her children as they had swallowed so many before them.
"I am Sila who was taken from Cape Town to Van der Wat."
Excerpted from Unconfessed by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2006 Yvette Christiansë. Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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