Hauling the basket of wares and trinkets my master crafted by day on my back had me sore and sweating in the hot sun of summer but I couldn’t help but be just a little excited. Today was market day. True, the market ran twice a week, every week. But Master Jovus only sold from his stand once every two weeks. He made plenty to provide for his family at that frequency and he was also a bit lazy. As of late, many of those market days he stayed at home, getting fatter and fatter, sending instead me, his owned property, to do the peddling and bartering for him. In all honesty, those were my favorite market days because then it was just me and our customers. His eyes and his hands were far, far away from me.
Being of the poorer class, my family had sold me to Master Jovus when I was but six years old in order to even up a debt and put a little food on their own table. I wasn’t that surprised, they had already done the same to my older brother and sister. I was just next in line to pay for my father’s bad decisions. My master, from the beginning, was fairly kind although I always felt he hugged me a bit too often and a bit too long in those early days. His wife merely looked on with apathy. She was neither overly kind nor overly harsh. It was as if she was resigned to her fate in life and wasn’t going to fight it nor live resentfully. Master owned three slaves including me: a boy, Levi, who was a year my junior and another girl, Sharon, just my age. The three of us were friends, in our own ways. We tried to stick together and cover for one another as much as we possibly could. Sharing the loads so that none of us was overworked.
It wasn’t so much that my Master was a harsh man. He wasn’t. He always provided enough meat and milk for all in his household. But he was increasingly lazy as the years crawled on and his sweaty hands and body flopping on top me at night were more than I could stand. Sharon, my slave-sister, got the brunt of his attentions, as she was far more beautiful than I. She had the standard brown eyes of our people whereas I, on the other hand, had strange blue eyes that made me a bit too different. Master Jovus always wanted my eyes closed as he took my body, afraid, as he said, that a god would come and claim his soul at the moment of his pleasure if he were to look into them at the same time. I was more than happy to oblige. Closing my eyes, I always went to a different place. I lay as still as possible, attempting to not encourage him to take any longer than was necessary for his needs to be met. Sharon for her part said she tried to make it enjoyable for herself too, to make it easier to handle his attentions but I never understood how she could get her mind to cooperate with her body. It wasn’t that she was happy with his ministrations, just that it was her method of coping.
Our slave-brother was left alone in the carnal way but was used for heavy-lifting tasks and as an all-around errand boy. Many times, he was sent to Master’s friends or acquaintances to work certain jobs as a means of bartering. He was mostly quiet, but a generally happy kid and we all enjoyed each other’s company as much as we could, given our lots in life.
And so the three of us slaves dreamed together in whispers during the early morning hours before the household arose, of days where we all escaped the house together and we promised we would always remain friends until our dying days. Or so the fanciful visions of youth told us. We all knew the truth. Most likely, we would all remain in the house until Master Jovus died and then were auctioned off to the next home or to pay off any debts his death might incur. The reality of freedom was truly just a fantasy. Still. We dreamed.
And so, here I was twelve years later, at a time in my life when most girls my age had already been wed or were betrothed to another. I entertained ideas that maybe our master would sell us off to foreign men who would take a former slave as a wife. Other masters did that, I knew. Claimed their slaves as their own children and then sold the young women as brides to foreign men who desired a wife such as myself. I kept hoping. There was the thought that the man could be horrible or ugly, but at least I’d no longer be a slave. I would have a way to escape my life and perhaps make it better. And then there were the dreams.
I had always been a dreamer. I experienced vivid dreams during the night hours and sometimes visions of significance during the daytime. I had once dreamt that a three-month famine was upon us and told my Master of the dream. He listened to me and built up a coffer of dried foods which ended up providing for the household when the dream became reality mere weeks later. There was also the vision I had of Levi falling in a deep hole, unable to get out. At the time, he was working on a neighboring farm as barter and when Master Jovus inquired he found that Levi indeed had been missing for just over a day. This led to a search of the farm and subsequently finding my slave-brother in a hole near the edge of a field.
There were many such instances. Most of my dreams were just that: dreams. But sometimes I awoke with a start and I knew it was more than a dream. And so, too, were the dreams and visions I had of One so beautiful I could scarce look upon his wonderful face. I had dreamed of him since I was a very little girl. Perhaps even as a babe. He was always there before my eyes. I knew without ever having seen him exactly what his voice sounded like, his brown eyes, his long dark hair, his scraggly beard. I knew his laugh and the feel of his palm against mine. He was a vision all on his own. I was just sure I would one day meet him and he would complete my soul and we would become One. He was the One who kept my hopes alive. My heart remained open to him and I called to him from within my spirit with the idea that I could call him unto myself.
Every market day that I worked was an opportunity for me to maybe meet him. I had daydreamed a hundred ways he would rescue me. Perhaps he would steal me away and we’d live on the run for the rest of our days. Or maybe he would be a rich prince who would offer my Master ten times what I was worth and it would not be refused. Then again, he might be an officer who arrested me on the pretense of theft only to take me to his own home rather than the judge. And so on, my imagination would take me. So long as we were together, I would be complete, no matter how it came about.
I carefully laid out the items my Master crafted. Arranging them in a way to be easy to look at but harder to steal without getting caught. To appear appealing without being overpriced. I stacked and organized and prepared for the day ahead. Once my table was laid out and ready, I had just a little time to look over the nearby stalls before the market opened to the city. Taking my place again, I waited as the throngs of hungry and bored and desperate and greedy made their way through the narrow streets set to fulfill their individual needs. A bell tolled and instantly the market square and side streets came alive with sights and smells and sounds. We called out our wares and prices and anything really to catch the attention of those who might think to pass by without a glance.
Sales were quick and generally done with a little haggling to make the customer feel he got the better deal and also so I was paid what was necessary. Some profit was better than others. Some sales faster and some that I had to really work for. The hours raced by, as it was apt to do during these hectic days. Faces coming and going blending into a sea of tan skin and brown eyes and black hair. Robes and turbans of all colors imaginable. Rich or poor, they were all equal on market day. As I entered a slight lull, no customer immediately before me, I called out my goods to those who might hear me, hoping to draw in another mark.
I felt the hair on my neck stand on end. I knew I was being watched; which is an odd feeling when you are in a vast moving crowd of people. My voice faltered and it seemed the surrounding busyness faded a bit. Time seemed to slow. I looked around. He was here. I knew it was him. I scanned the faces near and far. There. Down a side street I saw him. He was looking right at me. His jaw dropped slightly and his face pale almost as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. I almost wanted to look about me to see what he gazed upon but then again I also knew it was me he was watching. Our eyes locked and held. He was just as I saw him in my dreams. He closed his mouth and took a step, two steps in my direction. My spirit called to his and a vision of great significance came upon me with immense force.
I saw in a different realm his spirit and mine across the expanse of the market square. But I knew it was also time itself. I heard his voice whisper my name. But it wasn’t the name I was known by right now and yet I knew it was my true name. I heard my voice whisper his. It was foreign on my tongue and nonetheless I knew it was his true name as well. I saw a dozen other versions of us live and die both together and also apart within the stretch of but a moment’s time. Always our spirits reached out and called to one another. How could this be? What does it mean? Who was this One who stood before me yet so far away?
And then I heard across the span of time his voice call loudly, clearly: “I can’t wait to be with you fully. To feel the Love Light from your heart. You shine, my Love, and it is beautiful. Like the brightest star on the darkest night. I love you completely, my Heart. You’re always on my mind and in my thoughts. You are my everything. My happiness. My future. My dreams. You truly are the sunshine of my heart.”
I didn’t understand what it all meant. But I knew it to be True.
In that moment, everything went dark and then the stall keeper who was next to mine was standing over me. “Are you okay?” I put my hand to my head and nodded. Reaching out, he helped me stand. I looked to where I had seen my Love. He was nowhere to be found.
I continued searching for him the rest of the afternoon but I never saw him again that day. In fact, I was to spend the rest of my days gazing out into the mists of time, hoping, calling. Sometimes I felt a whisper of his voice in the back of my mind. Some nights I dreamt of him. I felt as if a part of me had left my body. As if my spirit joined with his and moved on. It was my body and soul that remained behind. I was separated. My Master immediately noticed a difference in me. He never again took my body as his own. He began to treat me almost as a true daughter, looking to my every need.
Some years later, as he lay in a pool of his own vomit and excrement, his body having succumbed to the obesity and a strange skin ailment like boils which never healed that had started on his forehead and slowly advanced to cover all his skin, his wife handed me a rolled up parchment. On it was an offer to buy me with a day and month given that I knew coincided with that day at the market when I saw Him, my Love in the flesh. She said that a gentleman had come to the house just before I had returned home from market one evening and made the offer to her late husband. Master, of course, had turned the gentleman down to which he responded by speaking a curse over Jovus, immediately robbing him of the ability to perform as a man. This gentleman had then prophesied that the Master would die a demeaning death covered in his own filth and rot. And touching him on the forehead had turned and walked away.
I knew then that this gentleman had somehow moved beyond the confines of time at least in the way we perceived it. That he wasn’t meant to be mine during this life. That he would always be mine and I his, just not now. I was hereafter sold to a kind older foreign man within days of the Master’s death to be his wife. The foreigner always took care of me and I loved him in my own way. It wasn’t deep love but it was love bore of familiarity, kindness, and necessity. I lived out the rest of my days always with the One on my heart and in my mind. Always calling out to him and sometimes he even answered in my dreams.
tara caribou | ©️2019
This is part of my book Phoenix Rising. Someday I will actually edit and publish it.