© DM Tetting – Used with permission
“It’s my time”, I called out to Mistress Mary. She was looking scared to death, but then she turned bright red and anger took over.
“This little bastard better be black as night Pansy or I’m gonna kill it.” Miss Mary whispered in my ear.
It wasn’t my fault her husband, Massa Barren kept sneaking in my quarters after dark and taking advantage of me. I was in love with James and we wanted to jump the broom, but Massa Barren denied us. He threatened to kill James if he saw us together so we made sure he never did.
“No Miss Mary, please don’t kill my baby!” I pleaded.
The pains came quicker and grew worse with each minute. I tried my best to hold that baby in because I knew it wasn’t from James. Mama taught me to be a modest lady, and I would not allow James to bed me until I was his wife. When I popped up in the belly, I had to tell him the truth about Massa Barren. I would have taken that secret to my grave, but there was no hiding it, I was with child. That baby was coming and even though it cost me the man I loved, I still wanted it. I had been sold away from my mama and papa when I was twelve and I knew I would never see them again. I could never leave my child on purpose and I would not let anyone take my baby from me.
“Pansy, I know you’ve been with my husband and this baby better not be his.”
Panic set in and I tried to get up to run. My legs would not hold me and I was trapped here under the care of a woman who hated me and just threatened to kill my almost born child. I loved my baby and I would do everything in my power to save it.
I started praying “Oh Lord, please save my child from this wicked woman. Touch her heart Lord and let her see my baby had no choice in how it came to be. Let her have mercy and give my baby to me.”
My prayer was almost begging and I was crying and screaming from the pain. Finally I pushed her out and to no one’s surprise a white baby with beautiful hazel eyes and straight hair looked at me as she took her first breath. I reached for her but before the midwife could hand her to me, Miss Mary said “Don’t you hand that thing to her. It’s an abomination and it must be killed.”
My baby girl started crying as if she knew what was about to happen. Everyone in the room began to panic as Miss Mary snatched my baby from the midwife’s arms, held her upside down by her feet and slit her poor little throat with a knife.
“Here’s your demon child”, she said as she tossed my baby at Massa Barren’s feet.
I screamed and cried and crawled to my baby. She looked so beautiful as her body lay still on the attic floor. “Clean up this mess. I don’t want that thing’s blood staining my floor. Every little drop of my baby’s blood was emptied onto that attic floor and I would not allow anyone to touch it. In that moment I was entranced. My baby’s blood served as energy and I bathed in it.
Massa Barren yelled at me, “Pansy now you stop this. Get up from there. Somebody do something.”
I kept rubbing the blood all over me. I needed to feel it on me. Then I heard this loud chanting that seemed to come from the walls of the attic, the floorboards and the furniture. It was surrounding me. The chant was in a language I had never heard, but somehow I knew what they were saying. I started chanting too.
“ Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna!”
Over and over again I chanted the foreign words, faster and faster the chants rang out. The room started to spin and I was in the center, covered in blood. It was as if I left my body and was hanging upside down on the ceiling staring at the show down below. The midwife ran from the room screaming “She done gone soft in the head!”
All of the other slaves ran leaving me in the attic to grieve. They were deathly afraid of me and refused to come into the attic even when faced with whipping. I stayed in the attic for six days and nights chanting away. When Massa Barren had enough of the deathly smell, he sent the overseer to the attic with some male slaves to drag me downstairs and bury my baby. I was forced to take a bath and wash my child’s blood away from me, but by that time it had done the trick. I no longer needed the physical blood as it had seeped into my soul.
“Charlie I want her cleaned up and get one of the house girls to clean out that attic. It stinks to high heaven in this house because of her. You bury that baby out in the slave cemetery and mark it. The poor thing didn’t have a name so just place a cross on the grave.” Massa Barren instructed.
I screamed and kicked and fought the men until they threw me into a big barrel of hot soapy water. Then two women I have never seen before tore the dress off of my body and began washing me.
“It’s gonna be alright chile. God got your baby now. Ain’t nothin’ can hurt her no mo’. She the lucky one”, the one lady said and the other broke out into song.
“God got your babay, yes He do. He got her on His lap and she waitin for you. You almost left us but it ain’t your time. Don’t let the devil take your mind.”
The first lady joined in and they sang that song over me the whole time they scrubbed me clean. When they were finished washing and dressing me they combed out my hair and took me to the grave to see my baby one last time. I wrapped her in a cloth my mama had tied on me when they took me from her. When the first shovel of dirt hit her little body, I screamed in pain. The pain I felt was from every mother who ever lost her child and the sound bellowed from the depths of Hell!
Days went by and then weeks, but my longing for my baby girl never stopped. I named her Oni which means born on sacred ground. Since slaves were not allowed to read and write, I went to the cemetery after dark and carved her name into the wooden cross Mr. Charlie placed on her grave. As I was leaving her I saw a light in the cemetery and I was drawn to it. The sacred ground was filled with chanting and I began chanting too
“Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna!”
Then before me appeared a sexless figure who informed me it was my duty to protect all the babies born to this plantation. It was up to me to ensure they were never taken from their mamas. No other mother on this plantation would ever feel the wrenching pain of losing a child. The figure handed me some herbs and instructed me on what to do.
The next morning I set out to fulfill my purpose. I got water from the river just where the turtles sunned themselves. I mixed the water with the herbs and crushed them with a rock to make a paste. The whole time I was working I was chanting
“Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna! Choluma, Tonari, Olanhna!”
Then I went to the well pretending to draw water for Miss Mary, but instead I deposited my potion. There was a flash of light at the bottom of the well and I kept chanting. Then I heard the dark figure from last night say, “It’s ready.”
I drew water from the well and proceeded to take it into the house for the white folks. Everyone got their water from this one well so I knew everybody on the plantation would drink my potion.
Instead of doing my usual house chores, I decided to take all of the field hands some water; especially the women. They couldn’t get enough of that water.
“This some mighty fine water, Miss Pansy. Where yall get it from? Surely, not that old well.”
“It’s plain old well water.” I answered.
“For sho’?” they replied.
When I was finished with my rounds, I went back to the house to make sure all the ladies in the house had some too.
“Oh chile, I sho’ was thirsty. Thanks you Miss Pansy. You know Miss Mary don’t let us take no rest.”
“I know, but she don’t mess with me no more so I do what I want. If you need water, then I will bring it to you.” I boasted.
It was true, every since she murdered my baby, Miss Mary had taken ill and blamed me. She would not come within two yards of me and would not allow me to handle her food. I did however, handle her water and she drank it plentiful without knowing.
Several months passed since the well incident and no one was getting popped; a very unusual occurrence around Barren Plantation. There was always a slave girl being bred to the biggest, strongest male slave so they would have plentiful slaves around, but that changed. Since Oni was murdered, no other births had taken place on the plantation. The girls, who thought they were popped, simply got their monthly and they thought they were mistaken; No one was more than three months along.
One night Massa Barren hosted a dinner party and I heard his guests discussing the lack of babies.
“Now Sam, the whole region is buzzing about the lack of babies coming out of your plantation. Did you put a ban on your slaves?”
The room filled with laughter and then Massa Barren replied, “No, nothing like that. We are breeding them as much as possible, but nature is not cooperating.”
More laughter continued and then the mean lady with the pointed nose said, “I hear tell this place is cursed!”
The room went silent. All the servants knew to keep their eyes frozen to the ground and their ears wide open. We listened as the lady spun a tale of the curse of the murdered baby. She told my story as if I had not been standing there except she was missing some of the reason why. The white folks imagined it was only a punishment to Miss Mary for killing my baby, but it was a punishment for all dead babies.
Miss Mary was enraged, “What kind of woman have you brought to my home, Sam? She has been raised with no manners, no manners at all. Who would dare partake of a host’s food and then shame them with the same breath. I want you out of my house! Right Now!”
The lady with the pointy nose stood up with a slight grin on her face and said, “What’s the matter sugga, too afraid the tale of the murdered little baby will spread? I’ll leave, but you remember this; the truth will set you free.”
In an instant the party was over and Miss Mary was on a tirade. “I want you gone and don’t ever show your face around here again. What trash you have brought into my home Sam. Just trash. Imagine the whole district spreading such lies about such a fine lady as me.” She cried and she ran upstairs from shame.
I could hear Miss Mary wailing all night long about her poor reputation. She said nothing about the poor baby whose life she spilled on the attic floor. The next morning she demanded to see me in her bed chambers, the very place I had been forbidden to go since the murder.
I entered cautiously, “You wanted to see me Miss Mary?”
“Yes Pansy, come in here. I have a question I want to ask you”
I came inside the door as she beckoned me to come closer. “Shut the door Pansy and come over here.”
I had no desire to close the door, but it wouldn’t matter anyway, she killed Oni in broad daylight when the door was open, so why did she want the door closed now? What more could she possibly do to me? If she was planning on doing me the favor of slitting my throat, I wanted her to know I welcomed it. I was no longer timid, I slammed the door and marched right up to her. The time was here for us to have the long awaited showdown. I could hear the other slaves gathering at the door to listen.
“Who’d you tell about that abomination you bore?” Miss Mary inquired.
“I told God about my baby, Oni if that’s what you mean. My child was no abomination.”
“Don’t back talk me girl. I have no patience for it today.”
I looked her dead in the eye, “I will say whatever I please and you won’t do a thing to me you haven’t already done.“
Miss Mary was shocked at my sharpness and said, “Listen to me you witch, I know you’ve been spreading rumors about me killing a poor innocent baby, but that thing was a creature straight out of Hell.”
I slapped her across her face leaving my hand print behind. “Don’t you ever speak of my child like that again. I love Oni and she was a beautiful child even after you took her life. It’s not my fault your husband can’t keep his hands off of me, but I never wanted him. He forced me and I got popped. I was in love with a man, but he forbade it and then used my body for his pleasure. If anyone is an abomination it is Massa Barren!” Finally, I let the words that had been burning in my throat leak out. There was no going back now.
“I don’t believe you gal. All you little slave girls run around here just waiting for your chance at Master Barren. You are a seductress and a whore!”
“Believe what you want, but your husband is a liar a thief and a molester. I curse you, him and this whole ungodly place. Till the end of time, there shall never be another baby born to anyone who dare come to this plantation; slave and white, visitor or resident. Anyone who crosses the gate of Barren Plantation either by force or willingly will suffer the “Barren Curse! No woman will birth another baby and no man will produce one. Your evil bloodline will end with you! From this day forward all people unable to have children shall be known as Barren.”
With those words I walked out of the room as Miss Mary clutched her chest in agony. She fell to the floor and died. That was some forty years ago and this plantation is just about give out. Massa Barren went broke and tried to sell the slave, but no one would but us. Once he died, those of us left stayed on to run the plantation for ourselves. Nobody dared to come onto the property so we found our freedom in a way. We had animals and vegetables and the water we needed to survive and were grateful the curse did not cover the animals. They drank the river water so they were never infected. I still visit Oni’s grave everyday and wait for the day I will see her again. Until then I remain Barren.
This is part 2 of a new Southern Horror Series I am writing. Please check out my Pinterest site for a visual scrapbook.
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