This Story was first written on 24th December 2015
“Aaaaarrrr!!!” a shrilling voice pierced the night air. It was the first scream that jerked me out of sleep. Subsequently, more screams followed, giving me no time to rub my sleepy eyes. I rose, noticing the absence of my parents and kid brother.
Earlier that night, I was angry that my father chose to give my brother more food just because he was younger. I was the one who did most of the work at the farm. They didn’t think I needed to eat more? I knew I had eaten a lot but, I just wanted some more cassava and the ewedu soup my mum had prepared, including the delicious fresh fish and bush meat papa brought home.
I grumbled and said some really annoying things. The result was a cane against bare back. Three lashes actually. I cried bitterly and crawled to a corner, protected by three piles of firewood. There I slept off.
I didn’t know for how long I was asleep. But when I did wake up, the room was empty. However, outside was lighted up with fire and activities. My eyes widened in horror as I watched through the open window, houses burning and more people screaming, begging for mercy.
It took a while for the question to snap in. “What is going on? Where did my parents and brother go?”
I stepped out just in time to see a sword come down, taking my father’s head off his shoulders. His now headless kneeling form dropped to the ground, jerking.
“Arrrrrrrrr!!!” It was my turn to scream and it drew the attention of the attackers.
My mother, who was kneeling beside my father’s form and weeping profusely, looked in my direction. “Fome,” she called out, “Fome run!” that was all she said. That was all the push I needed.
Without hesitation, I leaped from the elevated pavement and hit the ground running. My legs took me to the back of the house and from there I darted in the bush, ignoring the raised voices and running feet behind me.
I knew my way around the bush. Being my territory, that was no problem. I ran like a mad cheetah, jumping over blockades and ditches. The running feet behind got closer and the voices louder. I knew they were on to me. But I didn’t stop. Well, not until two strong hands grabbed me from behind and lifted me off the ground.
I was only a fifteen years old girl. There was nothing much I could do. My screams, blows, slaps and struggle to break free only earned me a thorough beating.
That night, my village was destroyed; all our parents and infants were killed. Only the girls and boys from 10 years of age to 25 were taken captive, along with neighboring villagers who were also attacked. Packed like sardines into the ship, we had no time to mourn our dead.
For days our ship sailed through lightening and rain storms. Not being able to adjust to our new situation or forget the massacre at home, some of us fell sick. As the days progressed, our food was reduced and those who couldn’t survive starvation were thrown off the ship.
Like that was not enough, our captors used us for their entertainment. They raped us whenever and wherever they felt like. It was one of the most dehumanizing experiences of my life.
We got to shore about three weeks later. We were taken to auctioned pits and sold off to rich men in Jerusalem. I was sold off to King Herod’s chief house keeper, Essein. They needed extra hands in the palace and thought I was fit for it.
My once joyful mornings became sad. I was never happy. I had to work from sun up till sun down. With time though, I adjusted and even made friends with another black slave in the house, Oghale was her name. She happened to be from the village next to mine.
Every day as we worked, we talked about home, wondering what was left of it. We often wondered if it was possible to escape. But if we did escape, how would we get home?
Herod’s lifestyle didn’t help issues. It was immoral; having endless dinner parties. His drunken guests had their way with his slaves; sperm inside us and their stinking bodies by our sides. We were battered and sexually abused, time and again. We were tired and at a point, wanted nothing more than to die.
Three years after our arrival, I began to understand how things were done. With time I had learned their way of communication and I understood perfectly, what was being said. As a slave, I could work for my freedom or at least, an elevated position that would keep me off-limits to abuse and battery.
The other slaves got a hang of how things were done too. They seized any opportunity to prove themselves worthy before Herod. Even Oghale had earned herself chief assistant-house keeper. She ran errands, but she was never again abused, as Herod valued his house keepers. He needed them thinking straight if his palace was to be in order.
Time went by and my opportunity finally came. One early evening, I was serving Herod and his guests in the palace hall when three men, dressed in rich robes, came bearing expensive gifts.
Bowing before the king, the first man spoke, “Great King of Jerusalem, your majesty, may you live long. We have come from the east, bearing gifts for the new-born who is to be king. Pray, do give us privilege to see and worship him with our gifts.”
“New born king?” Herod asked with raised brows. “My wife is not with child. I have children, but none is a new-born. One of them, the eldest actually, will be king after me. So I’m confused about what you’re talking about? What new-born baby are you referring to?”
The men looked at each other and sighed. One could tell from their expression that they were also confused. “It seems we have made a mistake.” The second man spoke up. “A big bright star, his star, led us here and we thought the king was here. We will go on now your majesty. We are truly sorry for disturbing you.”
“Oh! But you’re not disturbing me.” Herod countered. From his expression I could tell that different thoughts were starting to run through his mind. “You are my guests. Please stay the night. Eat and wine with me. We should celebrate the birth of the new king together.”
They stayed. While they celebrated, Herod went into secret meeting with his chief priests and scribes. In that meeting they confirmed the prophecy, the birth of the new king in the town of Bethlehem. Herod was mad with anger, but he concealed it from the three men.
The next morning, he said to the men, “Go and search for the child. When you find him, bring me word so that I too will go and worship him.”
The men agreed and went on their way. They had been gone for only a few minutes when Herod went into full rage; destroying everything he laid hands on, even expensive statues and jars. “I want that child dead! I want him dead! No one, no one can take away my crown!”
“We need to find the child’s location first.” The chief commander of his army said, trying to calm him down.
“As soon as those three pigs give me word, you will send someone to kill that boy.’ Herod ordered. “I don’t care if he is an infant.”
After gathering my wits, I summoned courage and walked into the palace hall where Herod sat quietly; filled with his own thoughts. I had heard all their conversations earlier and I felt what I was about to offer would make him extremely happy.
“I didn’t ask for wine!” He barked, as soon as he his eyes caught sight of me. He was obviously still very angry about the news of a new-born king.
“My lord,” I said, ignoring his anger. “I pray thee, grant me permission to follow those men so I may bring his majesty word of the child’s where about. Those men may refuse to come back.”
Herod sat straight, narrowing his eyes to a thin slit. He smiled then; a smile that gradually became a chuckle and finally, a wicked laughter. “Since when did a black slave know how to do the job of a spy? And who gave you the guts to address me concerning such matter?” he barked, more angry now. “Are you saying my men, my army, are not capable?”
“But I …”
“Seize her!” he ordered. “Strip her in the market place and whip her. Hundred lashes!” obviously it was anger speaking, not the king. Not like they had different voices though.
So you see, that was my reward for being brave. My reward for trying to seize an opportunity. Within seconds two guards dragged me out of the palace and into the streets. There they announced to everyone that I had insulted the king. They say I called him names and defiled their culture.
A small crowd gathered. Others were too busy to involve themselves in Herod’s childish acts of punishing anyone as he liked.
After telling everyone the lies they cooked up, they ripped off my dress and brought down the whip; 1, 2, 3, 4… I cried and screamed until there was only muttering and weak weeping. I thought I was going to die. The men left me at the market place and returned to the palace. I lay there, struggling to breath. My entire body ached and I could barely move. No one tried to help me. No one dared to.
The morning seemed to take forever to pass. Afternoon came and quickly left. By this time, I had passed out several times, loosing count of the activities around me. By night fall I was certain I was going to die. But just as the thought crossed my mind for the one hundredth time, a man leading a donkey, stopped close by.
My eyes pleaded with him, as I was still weak and traumatized to speak. However, it was too dark for him to see my plea. After staring at me a while longer and asking a passerby what happened, he looked at me one more time before walking away.
“There goes my hope.” I thought. It was better to give up. If for any reason I survived, there was 90% chance that I would be picked up by a slave trader and sold to another master or a brothel. Why live? What was the point?
My eyes closed and my body prepared for another blackout. It wasn’t long after that I felt two hands pick me up and place me on an elevated position before covering my nakedness with a warm blanket. Then I was carried away.
The movement below me suggested I was on a donkey; maybe camel or horse, I wasn’t sure which it was. But my heart raced. I wondered who had picked me up. A good man? A slave trader? A brothel owner? Or just someone who needed extra hands in his farm? I couldn’t help but think I was about to become someone else’s slave. Whoever he was, he had guts taking Herod’s slave; a slave accused of insulting the king.
We rode for a long time, accompanied by other travelers. But I couldn’t get my bearing. Coming in and out of consciousness didn’t help matters. Finally we made a stop at an inn, and the Good Samaritan carried me in. Unfortunately, there was no room. The inn was flowing with travelers going home for the head count. However, the Inn keeper, on seeing my condition, took pity on me and directed us to his barn.
At the barn there was a man, a woman and a new-born baby. The baby slept peacefully on a manger and his parents watched him with so much love in their eyes. On entering, they took their eyes off the baby and rested them on me and the Jew who had helped me.
“I am sorry to disturb your privacy, but she is hurt.” He referred to me, “and she needs a place to rest.”
“It’s ok. The man said. “She can stay with us.”
“Thank you, kind sir.” The Jew said, putting me down at a corner to rest. Then he gave me the little bread and water he had in his sack. While I ate, he turned to the couple. “I am Hannical by the way. May I please know your name?”
“I am Joseph. That’s my wife, Mary.” He gestured toward the pretty lady. “And our new-born is the one on the manger.”
“Oh! I had no idea.” The Jew said, walking toward the manger. He took off his cap and looked at the innocent child. Suddenly he started to say words of prayer. Before I could understand what he was up to, he knelt down, worshipping the little baby. As if in cue, three men, the same men that visited Herod’s palace asking for the new-born king, walked it. They rejoiced at the sight of the child and wasted no time kneeling before him in worship.
How I beat them to finding the child was a mystery and for a moment, I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was with the child Herod so desperately wanted to eliminate. All I needed to do was send word to Herod, telling him where the child was. Herod would be happy. He would rejoice, send his soldiers to take the child and then reward me.
Reward? Oh, oh! My reward would be awesome. I wouldn’t be the chief house keeper. No way! The last time someone did such favor for Herod, he got his freedom and was given two plots of land rich with vegetables. That was all I wanted. It would be enough for me to live comfortably until I moved on to the other side of life.
I was already contemplating my next move when I noticed that more people came in to worship the child. Curious as to why a little boy who would grow to be nothing but a wicked king like Herod was being worshipped, I struggled to my feet and moved a little closer. Looking down at the sleeping child, I knew right there and then that I couldn’t bring myself to betray him. Apart from being innocent, there was something really special about him. Something I couldn’t understand.
Afterwards I decided, to hell with Herod and his rewards. How could I give up an innocent child to death all because I wanted the approval and reward of a wicked and heartless king?
As soon as most of the worshipers left, I ignored my pain and drew closer to Joseph.
“You can’t stay here.” I said.
“Why?” He asked, confused.
“I was King Herod’s slave. I offered to find your location and tell it to him, in exchange for freedom of course.”
“And what have I to do with Herod?”
“He wants your son dead. The idea of a new king, one who will take away his royalty and that of his sons upsets him. He will do whatever he can to get to your son.”
What I said hit Joseph like thunder. He was temporarily speechless. And then he nodded, lowly, probably making mental calculations. As soon as the last visitor left, Joseph told his wife to get ready while he went out. He soon returned and started to pack their little belongings.
“What about her?” Mary asked as they headed for the door.
“I can’t come with you. I was going to betray you.” I said, pulling back.
“Well, you didn’t betray us. What if King Herod eventually gets news and comes here looking for us, then he finds you?”
“Where are you going?” Hannical asked as he stepped in. After the prayer, he had gone out to get me more food, water, clothes and herbal concoction for my wounds.
“Away from here.” Joseph responded. “She says King Herod is looking for us. He wants my son dead.”
“Are you sure about this?” Hannical frowned at me.
“I am very sure. Offering to find them is the reason I got whipped in the first place. Herod doesn’t think a slave is worthy to be his spy. But I can’t go with you.’ I said to the young couple. “Just go and be safe. Please”.
“God bless you child,” the wife, Mary, said. She moved closer and patted my cheeks fondly. “I pray that you be safe too.”
“Why didn’t you go with them?” Hannical asked, after they had left.
“As the man who dared to pick me, a slave, up, after Herod’s unjust punishment, I am in your debt. Don’t you have a farmland or a house where I can work to repay my debt? I wish for nothing but to repay your kindness.”
Hannical smiled. He helped me because he couldn’t stand the sight of another human being treated so badly, not because he wanted me to be his slave.
“You are welcome to stay in my home, for as long as you wish. You shall not be taken as a slave, only a guest.”
“Oh thank you kind sir,” I knelt down before him but he quickly pulled me to my feet. “I may not be your slave, but I promise to give my assistance and ensure the smooth running of your home.”
At the first light of day, we resumed our journey. This time I had my own donkey and I was dressed properly, no tattered clothes. We journeyed from sun up till noon, when we finally arrived at our destination.”
Hannical was a humble shepherd with large plots of land for both grazing and farming. He had men who worked for him. Overall, he had done well for himself.
Upon announcement of our arrival, a young girl about my age ran out to meet us.
“Master, master!” she called.
“What is it Anna?” Hannical asked, wondering at her excitement.
“Your wife, my mistress, she has given us a gift From God. A boy.”
“When?” one could see the excitement in his eyes now and hear it in his voice.
Without wasting time, he washed his hands and feet, then ran off to be with his wife and baby. It wasn’t until later at night, he took me before his wife.
“She is the one I told you about.” He said to the beautiful, slightly plumb lady rocking the little baby to and fro the length of the spacious room. “Her name is…” He looked at me.
“What is your name?”
“I have two names.” I replied. “My birth name is Fome Ajakun. But after I was brought to Herod’s palace, I was renamed Rebecca.”
“My dear, you are welcome to our house.” His wife greeted me. Her smile warmed my heart and I knew from that moment that I had entered a home where I was truly welcomed; a home where respect was given to every skin type.
“Thank you, my lady.” I bent low briefly, as she waved me to straighten up. “I promise not to be a burden to you. I will do my own share of the chores.”
“I’m sure you will.” She smiled.
“Your son is handsome.” I said, changing the conversation as I admired the little child resting peacefully in her arms.
“Thank you.” She said, “You want to carry him?”
“Oh yes! Please.” I was excited because it was the first time I would be allowed to hold a child that was not black. Gently, she handed him over to me. He was truly a bundle of joy; little, handsome and peaceful. “What is his name?”
“Judas” Hannical answered, proudly. “Judas Iscariot.”
I wish you all a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year