My dear friend has asked me to write the story of my life, thinking it might be of interest to people of other worlds and times. I am an ordinary woman, but I have lived in years of mighty changes and have been advantaged to know with my very flesh the nature of servitude and the nature of freedom.
I did not learn to read or write until I was a grown woman, which is all the excuse I will make for the faults of my narrative.
I was born a slave on the planet Werel. As a child I was called Shomekes’ Radosse Rakam. That is, Property of the Shomeke Family, Granddaughter of Dosse, Granddaughter of Kamye. The Shomeke family owned an estate on the eastern coast of Voe Deo. Dosse was my grandmother. Kamye is the Lord God.
The Shomekes possessed over four hundred assets, mostly used to cultivate the fields of gede, to herd the salt-grass cattle, in the mills, and as domestics in the House. The Shomeke family had been great in history. Our Owner was an important man politically, often away in the capital.
Assets took their name from their grandmother because it was the grandmother that raised the child. The mother worked all day, and there was no father. Women were always bred to more than one man. Even if a man knew his child he could not care for it. He might be sold or traded away at any time. Young men were seldom kept long on the estates. If they were valuable they were traded to other estates or sold to the factories. If they were worthless they were worked to death.
Women were not often sold. The young ones were kept for work and breeding, the old ones to raise the young and keep the compound in order. On some estates women bore a baby a year till they died, but on ours most had only two or three children. The Shomekes valued women as workers. They did not want the men always getting at the women. The grandmothers agreed with them and guarded the young women closely.
I say men, women, children, but you are to understand that we were not called men, women, children. Only our owners were called so. We assets or slaves were called bondsmen, bondswomen, and pups or young. I will use these words, though I have not heard or spoken them for many years, and never before on this blessed world.
The bondsmen’s part of the compound, the gateside, was ruled by the Bosses, who were men, some relations of the Shomeke family, others hired by them. On the inside the young and the bondswomen lived. There two cutfrees, castrated bondsmen, were the Bosses in name, but the grandmothers ruled. Indeed nothing in the compound happened without the grandmothers’ knowledge.
If the grandmothers said an asset was too sick to work, the Bosses would let that one stay home. Sometimes the grandmothers could save a bondsman from being sold away, sometimes they could protect a girl from being bred by more than one man, or could give a delicate girl a contraceptive. Everybody in the compound obeyed the counsel of the grandmothers. But if one of them went too far, the Bosses would have her flogged or blinded or her hands cut off. When I was a young child, there lived in our compound a woman we called Great-Grandmother, who had holes for eyes and no tongue. I thought that she was thus because she was so old. I feared that my grandmother Dosse’s tongue would wither in her mouth. I told her that. She said, “No. It won’t get any shorter, because I don’t let it get too long.”
I lived in the compound. My mother birthed me there, and was allowed to stay three months to nurse me; then I was weaned to cow’s milk, and my mother returned to the House. Her name was Shomekes’ Rayowa Yowa. She was light-skinned like most of the assets, but very beautiful, with slender wrists and ankles and delicate features. My grandmother too was light, but I was dark, darker than anybody else in the compound.
My mother came to visit, the cutfrees letting her in by their ladder-door. She found me rubbing grey dust on my body. When she scolded me, I told her that I wanted to look like the others.
“Listen, Rakam,” she said to me, “they are dust people. They’ll never get out of the dust. You’re something better. And you will be beautiful. Why do you think you’re so black?” I had no idea what she meant. “Some day I’ll tell you who your father is, ” she said, as if she were promising me a gift. I had watched when the Shomekes’ stallion, a prized and valuable animal, serviced mares from other estates. I did not know a father could be human.
That evening I boasted to my grandmother: “I’m beautiful because the black stallion is my father!” Dosse struck me across the head so that I fell down and wept. She said, “Never speak of your father.”
I knew there was anger between my mother and my grandmother, but it was a long time before I understood why. Even now I am not sure I understand all that lay between them.
We little pups ran around in the compound. We knew nothing outside the walls. All our world was the bondswomen’s huts and the bondsmen’s longhouses, the kitchens and kitchen gardens, the bare plaza beaten hard by bare feet. To me, the stockade wall seemed a long way off.
When the field and mill hands went out the gate in the early morning I didn’t know where they went. They were just gone. All day long the whole compound belonged to us pups, naked in the summer, mostly naked in the winter too, running around playing with sticks and stones and mud, keeping away from grandmothers, until we begged them for something to eat or they put us to work weeding the gardens for a while.
In the evening or the early night the workers would come back, trooping in the gate guarded by the Bosses. Some were worn out and grim, others would be cheerful and talking and calling back and forth. The great gate was slammed behind the last of them. Smoke went up from all the cooking stoves. The burning cow dung smelled sweet. People gathered on the porches of the huts and longhouses. Bondsmen and bondswomen lingered at the ditch that divided the gateside from the inside, talking across the ditch. After the meal the freedmen led prayers to Tual’s statue, and we lifted our own prayers to Kamye, and then people went to their beds, except for those who lingered to “jump the ditch. ” Some nights, in the summer, there would be singing, or a dance was allowed. In the winter one of the grandfathers-poor old broken men, not strong people like the grandmothers-would “sing the word.” That is what we called reciting the Arkamye. Every night, always, some of the people were teaching and others were learning the sacred verses. On winter nights one of these old worthless bondsmen kept alive by the grandmothers’ charity would begin to sing the word. Then even the pups would be still to listen to that story.
The friend of my heart was Walsu. She was bigger than I, and was my defender when there were fights and quarrels among the young or when older pups called me “Blackie” and “Bossie. ” I was small but had a fierce temper. Together, Walsu and I did not get bothered much. Then Walsu was sent out the gate. Her mother had been bred and was now stuffed big, so that she needed help in the fields to make her quota. Gede must be hand harvested. Every day as a new section of the bearing stalk comes ripe it has to be picked, and so gede pickers go through the same field over and over for twenty or thirty days, and then move on to a later planting. Walsu. went with her mother to help her pick her rows. When her mother fell ill, Walsu. took her place, and with help from other hands she kept up her mother’s quota. She was then six years old by owner’s count, which gave all assets the same birthday, new year’s day at the beginning of spring. She might have truly been seven. Her mother remained ill both before birthing and after, and Walsu took her place in the gede field all that time. She never afterward came back to play, only in the evenings to eat and sleep. I saw her then and we could talk. She was proud of her work. I envied her and longed to go through the gate. I followed her to it and looked through it at the world. Now the walls of the compound seemed very close.
I told my grandmother Dosse that I wanted to go to work in the fields.
“You’re too young.”
“I’ll be seven at the new year.”
“Your mother made me promise not to let you go out.”
Next time my mother visited the compound, I said, “Grandmother won’t let me go out. I want to go work with Walsu. ”
“Never,” my mother said. “You were born for better than that.”
She smiled at me. I knew she meant the House, where she worked. She had told me often of the wonderful things in the House, things that shone and were colored brightly, things that were thin and delicate, clean things. It was quiet in the House, she said. My mother herself wore a beautiful red scarf, her voice was soft, and her clothing and body were always clean and fresh.
“When will I see?”
I teased her until she said, “All right! I’ll ask my lady.”
“Ask her what?”
All I knew of my-lady was that she too was delicate and clean, and that my mother belonged to her in some particular way, of which she was proud. I knew my-lady had given my mother the red scarf.
“I’ll ask her if you can come begin training at the House.”
My mother said “the House” in a way that made me see it as a great sacred place like the place in our prayer: May I enter in the clear house, in the rooms of peace.
I was so excited I began to dance and sing, “I’m going to the House, to the House!” My mother slapped me to make me stop and scolded me for being wild. She said, “You are too young! You can’t behave! If you get sent away from the House you can never come back.”
I promised to be old enough.
“You must do everything right,” Yowa told me. “You must do everything I say when I say it. Never question. Never delay. If my lady sees that you’re wild, she’ll send you back here. And that will be the end of you forever.”
I promised to be tame. I promised to obey at once in everything, and not to speak. The more frightening she made it, the more I desired to see the wonderful, shining House.
When my mother left I did not believe she would speak to my-lady. I was not used to promises being kept. But after some days she returned, and I heard her speaking to my grandmother. Dosse was angry at first, speaking loudly. I crept under the window of the hut to listen. I heard my grandmother weep. I was frightened and amazed. My grandmother was patient with me, always looked after me, and fed me well. It had never entered my mind that there was anything more to it than that, until I heard her crying. Her crying made me cry, as if I were part of her.
“You could let me keep her one more year,” she said. “She’s just a baby. I would never let her out the gate. ” She was pleading, as if she were powerless, not a grandmother. “She is my joy, Yowa!”
“Don’t you want her to do well, then?”
“Just a year more. She’s too wild for the House.”
“She’s run wild too long. She’ll get sent out to the fields if she stays.
A year of that and they won’t have her at the House. She’ll be dust. Anyhow, there’s no use crying about it. I asked my lady, and she’s expected. I can’t go back without her.”
“Yowa, don’t let her come to harm,” Dosse said very low, as if ashamed to say this to her daughter, and yet with strength in her voice.
“I’m taking her to keep her out of harm, ” my mother said. Then she called me, and I wiped my tears and came.
It is queer, but I do not remember my first walk through the world outside the compound or my first sight of the House. I suppose I was frightened and kept my eyes down, and everything was so strange to me that I did not understand what I saw. I know it was a number of days before my mother took me to show me to Lady Tazeu. She had to scrub me and train me and make sure I would not disgrace her. I was terrified when at last she took my hand, scolding me in a whisper all the time, and brought me out of the bondswomen’s quarters, through halls and doorways of painted wood, into a bright, sunny room with no roof, full of flowers growing in pots.
I had hardly ever seen a flower, only the weeds in the kitchen gardens, and I stared and stared at them. My mother had to jerk my hand to make me look at the woman lying in a chair among the flowers, in clothes soft and brightly colored like the flowers. I could hardly tell them apart. The woman’s hair was long and shining, and her skin was shining and black. My mother pushed me, and I did what she had made me practice over and over: I went and knelt down beside the chair and waited, and when the woman put out her long, narrow, soft hand, black above and azure on the palm, I touched my forehead to it. I was supposed to say “I am your slave Rakain, Ma’am,” but my voice would not come out.
“What a pretty little thing,” she said. “So dark.” Her voice changed little on the last words.
“The Bosses came in … that night,” Yowa said in a timid, smiling way, looking down as if embarrassed.
“No doubt about that,” the woman said. I was able to glance up at her again. She was beautiful. I did not know a person could be so beautiful. I think she saw my wonder. She put out her long, soft hand again and caressed my cheek and neck. “Very, very pretty, Yowa,” she said. “You did quite right to bring her here. Has she been bathed?”
She would not have asked that if she had seen me when I first came, filthy and smelling of the cowdung we made our fires with. She knew nothing of the compound at all. She knew nothing beyond the beza, the women’s side of the House. She was kept there just as I had been kept in the compound, ignorant of anything outside. She had never smelled cow dung, as I had never seen flowers.
My mother assured her I was clean, and she said, “Then she can come to bed with me tonight. I’d like that. Will you like to come sleep with me, pretty little-” She glanced at my mother, who murmured, “Rakam. ” Ma’am pursed her lips at the name. “I don’t like that,” she murmured. “So ugly. Toti. Yes. You can be my new Toti. Bring her this evening, Yowa. ”
She had had a foxdog called Toti, my mother told me. Her pet had died. I did not know animals ever had names, and so it did not seem odd to me to be given an animal’s name, but it did seem strange at first not to be Rakam. I could not think of myself as Toti.
That night my mother bathed me again and oiled my skin with sweet oil and dressed me in a soft gown, softer even than her red scarf. Again she scolded and warned me, but she was excited, too, and pleased with me, as we went to the beza again, through other halls, meeting some other bondswomen on the way, and to the lady’s bedroom. It was a wonderful room, hung with mirrors and draperies and paintings. I did not understand what the mirrors were, or the paintings, and was frightened when I saw people in them. Lady Tazeu saw that I was frightened. “Come, little one,” she said, making a place for me in her great, wide, soft bed strewn with pillows, I I come and cuddle up.” I crawled in beside her, and she stroked my hair and skin and held me in her warm, soft arms until I was comfortable and at ease. “There, there, little Toti,” she said, and so we slept.
I became the pet of Lady Tazeu Wehoma Shomeke. I slept with her almost every night. Her husband was seldom home and when he was there did not come to her, preferring bondswomen for his pleasure. Sometimes she had my mother or other, younger bondswomen come into her bed, and she sent me away at those times, until I was older, ten or eleven, when she began to keep me and have me join in with them, teaching me how to be pleasured. She was gentle, but she was the mistress in love, and I was her instrument which she played.
I was also trained in household arts and duties. She taught me to sing with her, as I had a true voice. All those years I was never punished and never made to do hard work. I who had been wild in the compound was perfectly obedient in the Great House. I had been rebellious to my grandmother and impatient of her commands, but whatever my lady ordered me to do I gladly did. She held me fast to her by the only kind of love she had to give me. I thought that she was the Merciful Tual come down upon the earth. That is not a way of speaking, that is the truth. I thought she was a higher being, superior to myself.
Perhaps you will say that I could not or should not have had pleasure in being used without my consent by my mistress, and if I did I should not speak of it, showing even so little good in so great an evil. But I knew nothing of consent or refusal. Those are freedom words.
She had one child, a son, three years older than I. She lived quite alone among us bondswomen. The Wehomas were nobles of the Islands, oldfashioned people whose women did not travel, so she was cut off from her family. The only company she had was when Owner Shomeke brought friends with him from the capital, but those were all men, and she could be with them only at table.
I seldom saw the Owner and only at a distance. I thought he too was a superior being, but a dangerous one.
As for Erod, the Young Owner, we saw him when he came to visit his mother daily or when he went out riding with his tutors. We girls would peep at him and giggle to each other when we were eleven or twelve, because he was a handsome boy, nightblack and slender like his mother. I knew that he was afraid of his father, because I had heard him weep when he was with his mother. She would comfort him with candy and caresses, saying, “He’ll be gone again soon, my darling.” I too felt sorry for Erod, who was like a shadow, soft and harmless. He was sent off to school for a year at fifteen, but his father brought him back before the year was up. Bondsmen told us the Owner had beaten him cruelly and had forbidden him even to ride off the estate.
Bondswomen whom the Owner used told us how brutal he was, showing us where he had bruised and hurt them. They hated him, but my mother would not speak against him. “Who do you think you are?” she said to a girl who was complaining of his use of her. “A lady to be treated like glass?” And when the girl found herself pregnant, stuffed was the word we used, MY mother had her sent back to the compound. I did not understand why. I thought Yowa was hard and jealous. Now I think she was also protecting the girl from our lady’s jealousy.
I do not know when I understood that I was the Owner’s daughter. Because she had kept that secret from our lady, my mother believed it was a secret from all. But the bondswomen all knew it. I do not know what I heard or overheard, but when I saw Erod, I would study him and think that I looked much more like our father than he did, for by then I knew what a father was. And I wondered that Lady Tazeu did not see it. But she chose to live in ignorance.
During these years I seldom went to the compound. After I had been a half year or so at the House, I was eager to go back and see Walsu and my grandmother and show them my fine clothes and clean skin and shining hair; but when I went, the pups I used to play with threw dirt and stones at me and tore my clothes. Walsu was in the fields. I had to hide in my grandmother’s hut all day. I never wanted to go back. When my grandmother sent for me, I would go only with my mother and always stayed close by her. The people in the compound, even my grandmother, came to look coarse and foul to me. They were dirty and smelled strongly. They had sores, scars from punishment, lopped fingers, ears, or noses. Their hands and feet were coarse, with deformed nails. I was no longer used to people who looked so. We domestics of the Great House were entirely different from them, I thought. Serving the higher beings, we became Re then.
When I was thirteen and fourteen Lady Tazeu still kept me in her bed, making love to me often. But also she had a new pet, the daughter of one of the cooks, a pretty little girl though white as clay. One night she made love to me for a long time in ways that she knew gave me great ecstasy of the body. When I lay exhausted in her arms she whispered “goodbye, goodbye,” kissing me all over my face and breasts. I was too spent to wonder at this.
The next morning my lady called in my mother and myself to tell us that she intended to give me to her son for his seventeenth birthday. “I shall miss you terribly, Toti darling,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “You have been my joy. But there isn’t another girl on the place that I could let Erod have. You are the cleanest, dearest, sweetest of them all. I know you are a virgin,” she meant a virgin to men, “and I know my boy will enjoy you. And he’ll be kind to her, Yowa, ” she said earnestly to my mother. My mother bowed and said nothing. There was nothing she could say. And she said nothing to me. It was too late to speak of the secret she had been so proud of.
Lady Tazeu gave me medicine to prevent conception, but my mother, not trusting the medicine, went to my grandmother and brought me contraceptive herbs. I took both faithfully that week.
If a man in the House visited his wife he came to the beza, but if he wanted a bondswoman she was “sent across.” So on the night of the Young Owner’s birthday I was dressed all in red and led over, for the first time in my life, to the men’s side of the House.
My reverence for my lady extended to her son, and I had been taught that owners were superior by nature to us. But he was a boy whom I had known since childhood, and I knew that his blood and mine were half the same. It gave me a strange feeling toward him.
I thought he was shy, afraid of his manhood. Other girls had tried to tempt him and failed. The women had told me what I was to do, how to offer myself and encourage him, and I was ready to do that. I was brought to him in his great bedroom, all of stone carved like lace, with high, thin windows of violet glass. I stood timidly near the door for a while, and he stood near a table covered with papers and screens. He came forward at last, took my hand, and led me to a chair. He made me sit down, and spoke to me standing, which was A improper, and confused my mind.
“Rakam,” he said–that’s your name, isn’t it?”-l nodded-“Rakam, my mother means only kindness, and you must not think me ungrateful to her, or blind to your beauty. But I will not take a woman who cannot freely offer herself. Intercourse between owner and slave is rape.” And he talked on, talking beautifully, as when my lady read aloud from one of her books. I did not understand much, except that I was to come whenever he sent for me and sleep in his bed, but he would never touch me. And I was not to speak of this to anyone. “I am sorry, I am very sorry to ask you to lie,” he said, so earnestly that I wondered if it hurt him to lie. That made him seem more like a god than a human being. If it hurt to lie, how could you stay alive?
“I will do just as you say, Lord Erod,” I said.
So, most nights, his bondsmen came to bring me across. I would sleep in his great bed, while he worked at the papers on his table. He slept on a couch beneath the windows. Often he wanted to talk to me, sometimes for a long time, telling me his ideas. When he was in school in the capital he had become a member of a group of owners who wished to abolish slavery, called The Community. Getting wind of this, his father had ordered him out of school, sent him home, and forbidden him to leave the estate. So he too was a prisoner. But he corresponded constantly with others in The Community through the net, which he knew how to operate without his father’s knowledge, or the government’s.
His head was so full of ideas he had to speak them. Often Geu and Ahas, the young bondsmen who had grown up with him, who always came to fetch me across, stayed with us while he talked to all of us about slavery and freedom and many other things. Often I was sleepy, but I did listen, and heard much I did not know how to understand or even believe. He told us there was an organization among assets, called the Hame, that worked to steal slaves from the plantations. These slaves would be brought to members of The Community, who would make out false papers of ownership and treat them well, renting them to decent work in the cities. He told us about the cities, and I loved to hear all that. He told us about Yeowe Colony, saying that there was a revolution there among the slaves.
Of Yeowe I knew nothing. It was a great blue-green star that set after the sun or rose before it, brighter than the smallest of the moons. It was a name in an old song they sang in the compound:
0, 0, Ye-o-we,
Nobody never comes back.
I had no idea what a revolution was. When Erod told me that it meant that assets on plantations in this place called Yeowe were fighting their owners, I did not understand how assets could do that. From the beginning it was ordained that there should be higher and lower beings, the Lord and the human, the man and the woman, the owner and the owned. All my world was Shomeke Estate and it stood on that one foundation. Who would want to overturn it? Everyone would be crushed in the ruins.
I did not like Erod to call assets slaves, an ugly word that took away our value. I decided in my mind that here on Werel we were assets, and in that other place, Yeowe Colony, there were slaves, worthless bondspeople, intractables. That was why they had been sent there. It made good sense.
By this you know how ignorant I was. Sometimes Lady Tazeu had let us watch shows on the holonet with her, but she watched only dramas, not the reports of events. Of the world beyond the estate I knew nothing but what I learned from Erod, and that I could not understand.
Erod liked us to argue with him. He thought it meant our minds were growing free. Geu was good at it. He would ask questions like, “But if there’s no assets who’ll do the work?” Then Erod could answer at length. His eyes shone, his voice was eloquent. I loved him very much when he talked to us. He was beautiful and what he said was beautiful. It was like hearing the old men “singing the word,” reciting the Arkamye, when I was a little pup in the compound.
I gave the contraceptives my lady gave me every month to girls who needed them. Lady Tazeu had aroused my sexuality and accustomed me to being used sexually. I missed her caresses. But I did not know how to approach any of the bondswomen, and they were afraid to approach me, since I belonged to the Young Owner. Being with Erod often, while he talked I yearned to him in my body. I lay in his bed and dreamed that he came and stooped over me and did with me as my lady used to do. But he never touched me.
Geu also was a handsome young man, clean and well-mannered, rather dark-skinned, attractive to me. His eyes were always on me. But he would not approach me, until I told him that Erod did not touch me.
Thus I broke my promise to Erod not to tell anyone; but I did not think myself bound to keep promises, as I did not think myself bound to speak the truth. Honor of that kind was for owners, not for us.
After that, Geu used to tell me when to meet him in the attics of the House. He gave me little pleasure. He would not penetrate me, believing that he must save my virginity for our master. He had me take his penis in my mouth instead. He would turn away in his climax, for the slave’s sperm must not defile the master’s woman. That is the honor of a slave.
Now you may say in disgust that my story is all of such things, and there is far more to life, even a slave’s life, than sex. That is very true. I can say only that it may be in our sexuality that we are most easily enslaved, both men and women. It may be there, even as free men and women, that we find freedom hardest to keep. The politics of the flesh are the roots of power.
I was young, full of health and desire for joy. And even now, even here, when I look back across the years from this world to that, to the compound and the House of Shomeke, I see images like those in a bright dream. I see my grandmother’s big, hard hands. I see my mother smiling, the red scarf about her neck. I see my lady’s black, silky body among the cushions. I smell the smoke of the cowdung fires, and the perfumes of the beza. I feel the soft, fine clothing on my young body, and my lady’s hands and lips. I hear the old men singing the word, and my voice twining with my lady’s voice in a love song, and Erod telling us of freedom. His face is illuminated with his vision. Behind him the windows of stone lace and violet glass keep out the night. I do not say I would go back. I would die before I would go back to Shomeke. I would die before I left this free world, my world, to go back to the place of slavery. But whatever I knew in my youth of beauty, of love, and of hope, was there.
And there it was betrayed. All that is built upon that foundation in the end betrays itself.
I was sixteen years old in the year the world changed.
The first change I heard about was of no interest to me except that my lord was excited about it, and so were Geu and Ahas and some of the other young bondsmen. Even my grandmother wanted to hear about it when I visited her. “That Yeowe, that slave world,” she said, “they made freedom? They sent away their owners? They opened the gates? My lord, sweet Lord Kamye, how can that be? Praise his name, praise his marvels!” She rocked back and forth as she squatted in the dust, her arms about her knees. She was an old, shrunken woman now. “Tell me!” she said.
I knew little else to tell her. “All the soldiers came back here,” I said. “And those other people, those alemens, they’re there on Yeowe. Maybe they’re the new owners. That’s all somewhere way out there,” I said, flipping my hand at the sky.
“What’s alemens?” my grandmother asked, but I did not know. It was all mere words to me.
But when our Owner, Lord Shomeke, came home sick, that I understood. He came on a flyer to our little port. I saw him carried by on a stretcher, the whites showing in his eyes, his black skin mottled grey. He was dying of a sickness that was ravaging the cities. My mother, sitting with Lady Tazeu, saw a politician on the net who said that the alemens had brought the sickness to Werel. He talked so fearsomely that we thought everybody was going to die. When I told Geu about it he snorted. “Aliens, not alemens,” he said, “and they’ve got nothing to do with it. My lord talked with the doctors. It’s just a new kind of pusworm. ”
That dreadful disease was bad enough. We knew that any asset found to be infected with it was slaughtered at once like an animal and the corpse burned on the spot.
They did not slaughter the Owner. The House filled with doctors, and Lady Tazeu spent day and night by her husband’s bed. It was a cruel death. It went on and on. Lord Shomeke in his suffering made terrible sounds, screams, howls. One would not believe a man could cry out hour after hour as he did. His flesh ulcerated and fell away, he went mad, but he did not die.
As Lady Tazeu became like a shadow, warm and silent, Erod filled with strength and excitement. Sometimes when we heard his father howling his eyes would shine. He would whisper, “Lady Tual have mercy on him,” but he fed on those cries. I knew from Geu and Ahas, who had been brought up with him, how the father had tormented and despised him, and how Erod had vowed to be everything his father was not and to undo all he did.
But it was Lady Tazeu who ended it. One night she sent away the other attendants, as she often did, and sat alone with the dying man. When he began his moaning howl, she took her little sewing-knife and cut his throat. Then she cut the veins in her arms across and across, and lay down by him, and so died. My mother was in the next room all night. She said she wondered a little at the silence, but was so weary that she fell asleep; and in the morning she went in and found them lying in their cold blood.
All I wanted to do was weep for my lady, but everything was in confusion. Everything in the sickroom must be burned, the doctors said, and the bodies must be burned without delay. The House was under quarantine, so only the priests of the House could hold the funeral. No one was to leave the estate for twenty days. But several of the doctors themselves left when Erod, who was now Lord Shomeke, told them what he intended to do. I heard some confused word of it from Ahas, but in my grief I paid little heed.
That evening, all the House assets stood outside the Lady’s Chapel during the funeral service to hear the songs and prayers within. The Bosses and cutfrees had brought the people from the compound, and they stood behind us. We saw the procession come out, the white biers carried by, the pyres lighted, and the black smoke go up. Long before the smoke ceased rising, the new Lord Shomeke came to us all where we stood.
Erod stood up on the little rise of ground behind the chapel and spoke in a strong voice such as I had never heard from him. Always in the House it had been whispering in the dark. Now it was broad day and a strong voice. He stood there black and straight in his white mourning clothes. He was not yet twenty years old. He said, “Listen, you people: you have been slaves, you will be free. You have been my property, you will own your own lives now. This morning I sent to the Government the Order of Manumission for every asset on the estate, four hundred and eleven men, women, and children. If you will come to my office in the Counting House in the morning, I will give you your papers. Each of you is named in those papers as a free person. You can never be enslaved again. You are free to do as you please from tomorrow on. There will be money for each one of you to begin your new life with. Not what you deserve, not what you have earned in all your work for us, but what I have to give you. I am leaving Shomeke. I will go to the capital, where I will work for the freedom of every slave on Werel. The Freedom Day that came to Yeowe is coming to us, and soon. Any of you who wish to come with me, come! There’s work for us all to do!”
I remember all he said. Those are his words as he spoke them. When one does not read and has not had one’s mind filled up by the images on the nets, words spoken strike down deep in the mind.
There was such a silence when he stopped speaking as I had never heard.
One of the doctors began talking, protesting to Erod that he must not break the quarantine.
“The evil has been burned away,” Erod said, with a great gesture to the black smoke rising. “This has been an evil place, but no more harm will go forth from Shomeke!”
At that a slow sound began among the compound people standing behind us, and it swelled into a great noise of jubilation mixed with wailing, crying, shouting, singing. “Lord Kamye! Lord Kamye!” the men shouted. An old woman came forward: my grandmother. She strode through us House assets as if we were a field of grain. She stopped a good way from Erod. People fell silent to listen to the grandmother. She said, “Lord Master, are you turning us out of our homes?”
“No,” he said. “They are yours. The land is yours to use. The profit of the fields is yours. This is your home, and you are free!”
At that the shouts rose up again so loud I cowered down and covered my ears, but I was crying and shouting too, praising Lord Erod and Lord Kamye in one voice with the rest of them.
We danced and sang there in sight of the burning pyres until the sun went down. At last the grandmothers and the freedmen got the people to go back to the compound, saying they did not have their papers yet. We domestics went straggling back to the House, talking about tomorrow, when we would get our freedom and our money and our land.
All that next day Erod sat in the Counting House and made out the papers for each slave and counted out the same amount of money for each: a hundred kue in cash, and a draft for five hundred kue on the district bank, which could not be drawn for forty days. This was, he explained to each one, to save them from exploitation by the unscrupulous before they knew how best to use their money. He advised them to form a cooperative, to pool their funds, to run the estate democratically. “Money in the bank, Lord!” an old crippled man came out crying, jigging on his twisted legs. “Money in the bank, Lord! ”
If they wanted, Erod said over and over, they could save their money and contact the Hame, who would help them buy passage to Yeowe with it.
-0, 0, Ye-o-we,” somebody began singing, and they changed the words:
Everybody’s going to go.
0, 0, Ye-o-we,
Everybody’s going to go!”
They sang it all day long. Nothing could change the sadness of it. I want to weep now, remembering that song, that day.
The next morning Erod left. He could not wait to get away from the place of his misery and begin his life in the capital working for freedom. He did not say goodbye to me. He took Geu and Ahas with him. The doctors and their aides and assets had all left the day before. We watched his flyer go up into the air.
We went back to the House. It was like something dead. There were no owners in it, no masters, no one to tell us what to do.
My mother and I went in to pack up our clothing. We had said little to each other, but felt we could not stay there. We heard other women running through the beza, rummaging in Lady Tazeu’s rooms, going through her closets, laughing and screaming with excitement, finding jewelry and valuables. We heard men’s voices in the hall: Bosses’s voices. Without a word my mother and I took what we had in our hands and went out by a back door, slipped through the hedges of the garden, and ran all the way to the compound.
The great gate of the compound stood wide open.
How can I tell you what that was to us, to see that, to see that gate stand open? How can I tell you?
Erod knew nothing about how the estate was run, because the Bosses ran it. He was a prisoner too. He had lived in his screens, his dreams, his visions.
The grandmothers and others in the compound had spent all that night trying to make plans, to draw our people together so they could defend themselves. That morning when my mother and I came, there were bondsmen guarding the compound with weapons made of farm tools. The grandmothers and cutfrees had made an election of a headman, a strong, well-liked field hand. In that way they hoped to keep the young men with them.
By the afternoon that hope was broken. The young men ran wild. They went up to the House to loot it. The Bosses shot them from the windows, killing many; the others fled away. The Bosses stayed holed up in the House, drinking the wine of the Shomekes. Owners of other plantations were flying reinforcements to them. We heard the flyers land, one after another. The bondswomen who had stayed in the House were at their mercy now.
As for us in the compound, the gates were closed again. We had moved the great bars from the outside to the inside, so we thought ourselves safe for the night at least. But in the midnight they came with heavy tractors and pushed down the wall, and a hundred men or more, our Bosses and owners from all the plantations of the region, came swarming in. They were armed with guns. We fought them with farm tools and pieces of wood. One or two of them were hurt or killed. They killed as many of us as they wanted to kill and then began to rape us. It went on all night.
A group of men took all the old women and men and held them and shot them between the eyes, the way they kill cattle. My grandmother was one of them. I do not know what happened to my mother. I did not see any bondsmen living when they took me away in the morning. I saw white papers lying in the blood on the ground. Freedom papers.
Several of us girls and young women still alive were herded into a truck and taken to the port-field. There they made us enter a flyer, shoving and using sticks, and we were carried off in the air. I was not then in my right mind. All I know of this is what the others told me later.
We found ourselves in a compound, like our compound in every way. I thought they had brought us back home. They shoved us in by the cutfrees’ ladder. It was morning and the hands were out at work, only the grandmothers and pups and old men in the compound. The grandmothers came to us fierce and scowling. I could not understand at first why they were all strangers. I looked for my grandmother.
They were frightened of us, thinking we must be runaways. Plantation slaves had been running away, the last years, trying to get to the cities. They thought we were intractables and would bring trouble with us. But they helped us clean ourselves, and gave us a place near the cutfrees’ tower. There were no huts empty, they said. They told us this was Zeskra Estate. They did not want to hear about what had happened at Shomeke. They did not want us to be there. They did not need our trouble.
We slept there on the ground without shelter. Some of the bondsmen came across the ditch in the night and raped us because there was nothing to prevent them from it, no one to whom we were of any value. We were too weak and sick to fight them. One of us, a girl named Abye, tried to fight. The men beat her insensible. In the morning she could not talk or walk. She was left there when the Bosses came and took us away. Another girl was left behind too, a big farmhand with white scars on her head like parts in her hair. As we were going I looked at her and saw that it was Walsu, who had been my friend. We had not recognized each other. She sat in the dirt, her head bowed down.
Five of us were taken from the compound to the Great House of Zeskra, to the bondswomen’s quarters. There for a while I had a little hope, since I knew how to be a good domestic asset. I did not know then how different Zeskra was from Shomeke. The House at Zeskra was full of people, full of owners and bosses. It was a big family, not a single Lord as at Shomeke but a dozen of them with their retainers and relations and visitors, so there might be thirty or forty men staying on the men’s side and as many women in the beza, and a House staff of fifty or more. We were not brought as domestics, but as use-women.
After we were bathed we were left in the use-women’s quarters, a big room without any private places. There were ten or more use-women already there. Those of them who liked their work were not glad to see us, thinking of us as rivals; others welcomed us, hoping we might take their places and they might be let join the domestic staff. But none were very unkind, and some were kind, giving us clothes, for we had been naked all this time, and comforting the youngest of us, Mio, a little compound girl of ten or eleven whose white body was mottled all over with brown and blue bruises.
One of them was a tall woman called Sezi-Tual. She looked at me with an ironic face. Something in her made my soul awaken.
“You’re not a dusty,” she said. “You’re as black as old Lord Devil Zeskra himself. You’re a Bossbaby, aren’t you?”
“No ma’am,” I said. “A Lord’s child. And the Lord’s child. My name is Rakam.”
“Your Grandfather hasn’t treated you too well lately,” she said. “Maybe you should pray to the Merciful Lady Tual.”
“I don’t look for mercy,” I said. From then on Sezi-Tual liked me, and I had her protection, which I needed.
We were sent across to the men’s side most nights. When there were dinner parties, after the ladies left the dinner room we were brought in to sit on the owners’ knees and drink wine with them. Then they would use us there on the couches or take us to their rooms. The men of Zeskra were not cruel. Some liked to rape, but most preferred to think that we desired them and wanted whatever they wanted. Such men could be satisfied, the one kind if we showed fear or submission, the other kind if we showed yielding and delight. But some of their visitors were another kind of man.
There was no law or rule against damaging or killing a use-woman. Her owner might not like it, but in his pride he could not say so: he was supposed to have so many assets that the loss of one or another did not matter at all. So some men whose pleasure lay in torture came to hospitable estates like Zeskra for their pleasure. Sezi-Tual, a favorite of the Old Lord, could and did protest to him, and such guests were not invited back. But while I was there, Mio, the little girl who had come with us from Shomeke, was murdered by a guest. He tied her down to the bed. He made the knot across her neck so tight that while he used her she strangled to death.
I will say no more of these things. I have told what I must tell. There are truths that are not useful. All knowledge is local, my friend has said. Is it true, where is it true, that that child had to die in that way? Is it true, where is it true, that she did not have to die in that way?
I was often used by Lord Yaseo, a middle-aged man, who liked my dark skin, calling me “My Lady.” Also he called me “Rebel,” because what had happened at Shomeke they called a rebellion of the slaves. Nights when he did not send for me I served as a common-girl.
After I had been at Zeskra two years Sezi-Tual came to me one morning early. I had come back late from Lord Yaseo’s bed. Not many others were there, for there had been a drinking party the night before, and all the common girls had been sent for. Sezi-Tual woke me. She had strange hair, curly, in a bush. I remember her face above me, that hair curling out all about it. “Rakam,” she whispered, “one of the visitor’s assets spoke to me last night. He gave me this. He said his name is Suhame. ”
“Suhame,” I repeated. I was sleepy. I looked at what she was holding out to me: some dirty crumpled paper. “I can’t read!” I said, yawning, impatient.
But I looked at it and knew it. I knew what it said. It was the freedom paper. It was my freedom paper. I had watched L40rd Erod write my name on it. Each time he wrote a name he had spoken it aloud so that we would know what he was writing. I remembered the big flourish of the first letter of both my names: Radosse Rakam. I took the paper in my hand, and my hand was shaking. “Where did you get this?” I whispered.
“Better ask this Suhame,” she said. Now I heard what that name meant: “from the Hame.” It was a password name. She knew that too. She was watching me, and she bent down suddenly and leaned her forehead against mine, her breath catching in her throat. “If I can I’ll help,” she whispered.
I met with “Suhame” in one of the pantries. As soon as I saw him I knew him: Ahas, who had been Lord Erod’s favorite along with Geu. A slight, silent young man with dusty skin, he had never been much in my mind. He had watchful eyes, and I had thought when Geu and I spoke that he looked at us with ill will. Now he looked at me with a strange face, still watchful, yet blank.
“Why are you here with that Lord Boeba?” I said. “Aren’t you free?”
“I am as free as you are,” he said.
I did not understand him, then.
“Didn’t Lord Erod protect even you?” I asked.
“Yes. I am a free man.” His face began to come alive, losing that dead blankness it had when he first saw me. “Lady Boeba’s a member of The Community. I work with the Hame. I’ve been trying to find people from Shomeke. We heard several of the women were here. Are there others still alive, Rakam?”
His voice was soft, and when he said my name my breath caught and my throat swelled. I said his name and went to him, holding him. “Ratual, Ramayo, Keo are still here,” I said. He held me gently. “Walsu is in the compound,” I said, “if she’s still alive.” I wept. I had not wept since Mio’s death. He too was in tears.
We talked, then and later. He explained to me that we were indeed, by law, free, but that law meant nothing on the Estates. The government would not interfere between owners and those they claimed as their assets. If we claimed our rights the Zeskras would probably kill us, since they considered us stolen goods and did not want to be shamed. We must run away or be stolen away, and get to the city, the capital, before we could have any safety at all.
We had to be sure that none of the Zeskra assets would betray us out of jealousy or to gain favor. Sezi-Tual was the only one I trusted entirely.
Ahas arranged our escape with Sezi-Tual’s help. I pleaded once with her to join us, but she thought that since she had no papers she would have to live always in hiding, and that would be worse than her life at Zeskra.
“You could go to Yeowe,” I said.
She laughed. “All I know about Yeowe is nobody ever came back. Why run from one hell to the next one?”
Ratual chose not to come with us; she was a favorite of one of the young lords and content to remain so. Ramayo, the oldest of us from Shomeke, and Keo, who was now about fifteen, wanted to come. Sezi-Tual went down to the compound and found that Walsu was alive, working as a field hand. Arranging her escape was far more difficult than ours. There was no escape from a compound. She could get away only in daylight, in the fields, under the overseer’s and the Boss’s eyes. It was difficult even to talk to her, for the grandmothers were distrustful. But Sezi-Tual managed it, and Walsu told her she would do whatever she must do “to see her paper again.”
Lady Boeba’s flyer waited for us at the edge of a great gede field that had just been harvested. It was late summer. Ramayo, Keo, and I walked away from the House separately at different times of the morning. Nobody watched over us closely, as there was nowhere for us to go. Zeskra lies among other great estates, where a runaway slave would find no friends for hundreds of miles. One by one, taking different ways, we came through the fields and woods, crouching and hiding all the way to the flyer where Ahas waited for us. My heart beat and beat so I could not breathe. There we waited for Walsu.
“There!” said Keo, perched up on the wing of the flyer. She pointed across the wide field of stubble.
Walsu came running from the strip of trees on the far side of the field. She ran heavily, steadily, not as if she were afraid. But all at once she halted. She turned. We did not know why for a moment. Then we saw two men break from the shadow of the trees in pursuit of her.
She did not run from them, leading them toward us. She ran back at them. She leapt at them like a hunting cat. As she made that leap, one of them fired a gun. She bore one man down with her, falling. The other fired again and again. “In,” Ahas said. “Now.” We scrambled into the flyer and it rose into the air, seemingly all in one instant, the same instant in which Walsu made that great leap, she too rising into the air, into her death, into her freedom.
3. The City
I had folded up my freedom paper into a tiny packet. I carried it in my hand all the time we were in the flyer and while we landed and went in a public car through the city street. When Ahas found what I was clutching, he said I need not worry about it. Our manumission was on record in the Government Office and would be honored, here in the City. We were free people, he said. We were gareots, that is, owners who have no assets. “Just like Lord Erod,” he said. That meant nothing to me. There was too much to learn. I kept hold of my freedom paper until I had a place to keep it safe. I have it still.
We walked a little way in the streets and then Ahas led us into one of the huge houses that stood side by side on the pavement. He called it a compound, but we thought it must be an owner’s house. There a middle-aged woman welcomed us. She was pale-skinned, but talked and behaved like an owner, so that I did not know what she was. She said she was Ress, a rentswoman and an elderwoman of the house.
Rentspeople were assets rented out by their owners to a company. If they were hired by a big company they lived in the company compounds, but there were many, many rentspeople in the City who worked for small companies or businesses they managed themselves, and they occupied buildings run for profit, called open compounds. In such places the occupants must keep curfew, the doors being locked at night, but that was all; they were self-governed. This was such an open compound. It was supported by The Community. Some of the occupants were rentspeople, but many were like us, gareots who had been slaves. Over a hundred people lived there in forty apartments. It was supervised by several women, whom I would have called grandmothers, but here they were called elderwomen.
On the estates deep in the country, deep in the past, where the life was protected by miles of land and by the custom of centuries and by determined ignorance, any asset was absolutely at the mercy of any owner. From there we had come into this great crowd of two million people where nothing and nobody was protected from chance or change, where we had to learn as fast as we could how to stay alive, but where our life was in our own hands.
I had never seen a street. I could not read a word. I had much to learn.
Ress made that clear at once. She was a City woman, quick-thinking and quick-talking, impatient, aggressive, sensitive. I could not like or understand her for a long time. She made me feel stupid, slow, a clod. Often I was angry at her.
There was anger in me now. I had not felt anger while I lived at Zeskra. I could not. It would have eaten me. Here there was room for it, but I found no use for it. I lived with it in silence. Keo and Ramayo had a big room together, I had a small one next to theirs. I had never had a room to myself. At first I felt lonely in it and as if ashamed, but soon I came to like it. The first thing I did freely, as a free woman, was to shut my door.
Nights, I would shut my door and study. Days, we had work training in the morning, classes in the afternoon: reading and writing, arithmetic, history. My work training was in a small shop which made boxes of paper and thin wood to hold cosmetics, candles, jewelry, and such things. I was trained in all the different steps and crafts of making and ornamenting the boxes, for that is how most work was done in the City, by artisans who knew all their trade. The shop was owned by a member of The Community. The older workers were rentspeople. When my training was finished I too would be paid wages.
Till then Lord Erod supported me as well as Keo and Amayo and some men from Shomeke compound, who lived in a different house. Erod never came to the house. I think he did not want to see any of the people he had so disastrously freed. Ahas and Geu said he had sold most of the land at Shomeke and used the money for The Community and to make his way in politics, as there was now a Radical Party which favored emancipation.
Geu came a few times to see me. He had become a City man, dapper and knowing. I felt when he looked at me he was thinking I had been a usewoman at Zeskra, and I did not like to see him.
Ahas, whom I had never thought about in the old days, I now admired, knowing him brave, resolute, and kind. It was he who had looked for us, found us, rescued us. Owners had paid the money but Ahas had done it. He came often to see us. He was the only link that had not broken between me and my childhood.
And he came as a friend, a companion, never driving me back into my slave body. I was angry now at every man who looked at me as men look at women. I was angry at women who looked at me seeing me sexually. To Lady Tazeu all I had been was my body. At Zeskra that was all I had been. Even to Erod who would not touch me that was all I had been. Flesh to touch or not to touch, as they pleased. To use or not to use, as they chose. I hated the sexual parts of myself, my genitals and breasts and the swell of my hips and belly. Ever since I was a child, I had been dressed in soft clothing made to display all that sexuality of a woman’s body. When I began to be paid and could buy or make my own clothing, I dressed in hard, heavy cloth. What I liked of myself was my hands, clever at their work, and my head, not clever at learning, but still learning, no matter how long it took.
What I loved to learn was history. I had grown up without any history. There was nothing at Shomeke or Zeskra but the way things were. Nobody knew anything about any time when things had been different. Nobody knew there was any place where things might be different. We were enslaved by the present time.
Erod had talked of change, indeed, but the owners were going to make the change. We were to be changed, we were to be freed, just as we had been owned. In history I saw that any freedom has been made, not given.
The first book I read by myself was a history of Yeowe, written very simply. It told about the days of the Colony, of the Four Corporations, of the terrible first century when the ships carried slave men to Yeowe and precious ores back. Slave men were so cheap then they worked them to death in a few years in the mines, bringing in new shipments continually. 0, 0, Yeowe, nobody never comes back. Then the Corporations began to send women slaves to work and breed, and over the years the assets spilled out of the compounds and made cities-whole great cities like this one I was living in. But not run by the owners or Bosses. Run by the assets, the way this house was run by us. On Yeowe the assets had belonged to the Corporations. They could rent their freedom by paying the Corporation a part of what they earned, the way sharecropper assets paid their owners in parts of Voe Deo. On Yeowe they called those assets freedpeople. Not free people, but freedpeople. And then, this history I was reading said, they began to think, why aren’t we free people? So they made the revolution, the Liberation. It began on a plantation called Nadami, and spread from there. Thirty years they fought for their freedom. And just three years ago they had won the war, they had driven the Corporations, the owners, the bosses, off their world. They had danced and sung in the streets, freedom, freedom! This book I was reading (slowly, but reading it) had been printed there-there on Yeowe, the Free World. The Aliens had brought it to Werel. To me it was a sacred book.
I asked Alias what it was like now on Yeowe, and he said they were making their government, writing a perfect Constitution to make all men equal under the Law.
On the net, on the news, they said they were fighting each other on Yeowe, there was no government at all, people were starving, savage tribesmen in the countryside and youth gangs in the cities running amuck, law and order broken down. Corruption, ignorance, a doomed attempt, a dying world, they said.
Alias said that the Government of Voe Deo, which had fought and lost the war against Yeowe, now was afraid of a Liberation on Werel. “Don’t believe any news,” he counseled me. “Especially don’t believe the neareals. Don’t ever go into them. They’re just as much lies as the rest, but if you feel and see a thing you will believe it. And they know that. They don’t need gwris if they own our minds.” The owners had no reporters, no cameras on Yeowe, he said; they invented their “news,” using actors. Only some of the aliens of the Ekumen were allowed on Yeowe, and the Yeowans were debating whether they should send them away, keeping the world they had won for themselves alone.
“But then what about us?” I said, for I had begun dreaming of going there, going to the Free World, when the Hame could charter ships and send people.
“Some of them say assets can come. Others say they can’t feed so many, and would be overwhelmed. They’re debating it democratically. It will be decided in the first Yeowan Elections, soon.” Alias was dreaming of going there too. We talked of our dream the way lovers talk of their love.
But there were no ships going to Yeowe now. The Hame could not act openly and The Community was forbidden to act for them. The Ekumen had offered transportation on their own ships to anyone who wanted to go, but the government of Voe Deo refused to let them use any space port for that purpose. They could carry only their own people. No Werelian was to leave Werel.
It had been only forty years since Werel had at last allowed the Aliens to land and maintain diplomatic relations. As I went on reading history I began to understand a little of the nature of the dominant people of Werel. The black-skinned race that conquered all the other peoples of the Great Continent, and finally all the world, those who call themselves the owners, have lived in the belief that there is only one way to be. They have believed they are what people should be, do as people should do, and know all the truth that is known. All the other peoples of Werel, even when they resisted them, imitated them, trying to become them, and so became their property. When a people came out of the sky looking differently, doing differently, knowing differently, and would not let themselves be conquered or enslaved, the owner race wanted nothing to do with them. It took them four hundred years to admit that they had equals.
I was in the crowd at a rally of the Radical Party, at which Erod spoke, as beautifully as ever. I noticed a woman beside me in the crowd listening. Her skin was a curious orange-brown, like the rind of a pini, and the whites showed in the comers of her eyes. I thought she was sick-I thought of the pusworm, how Lord Shomeke’s skin had changed and his eyes had shown their whites. I shuddered and drew away. She glanced at me, smiling a little, and returned her attention to the speaker. Her hair curled in a bush or cloud, like Sezi-Tual’s. Her clothing was of a delicate cloth, a strange fashion. It came upon me very slowly what she was, that she had come here from a world unimaginably far. And the wonder of it was that for all her strange skin and eyes and hair and mind, she was human, as I am human: I had no doubt of that. I felt it. For a moment it disturbed me deeply. Then it ceased to trouble me and I felt a great curiosity, almost a yearning, a drawing to her. I wished to know her, to know what she knew.
In me the owner’s soul was struggling with the free soul. So it will do all my life.
Keo and Ramayo stopped going to school after they learned to read and write and use the calculator, but I kept on. When there were no more classes to take from the school the Hame kept, the teachers helped me find classes in the net. Though the government controlled such courses, there were fine teachers and groups from all over the world, talking about literature and history and the sciences and arts. Always I wanted more history.
Ress, who was a member of the Hame, first took me to the Library of Voe Deo. As it was open only to owners, it was not censored by the government. Freed assets, if they were light-skinned, were kept out by the librarians on one pretext or another. I was dark-skinned, and had learned here in the City to carry myself with an indifferent pride that spared one many insults and offenses. Ress told me to stride in as if I owned the place. I did so, and was given all privileges without question. So I began to read freely, to read any book I wanted in that great library, every book in it if I could. That was my joy, that reading. That was the heart of my freedom.
Beyond my work at the boxmaker’s, which was well paid, pleasant, and among pleasant companions, and my learning and reading, there was not much to my life. I did not want more. I was lonely, but I felt that loneliness was no high price to pay for what I wanted.
Ress, whom I had disliked, was a friend to me. I went with her to meetings of the Hame, and also to entertainments that I would have known nothing about without her guidance. “Come on, Bumpkin,” she would say. “Got to educate the plantation pup.” And she would take me to the makil theater, or to asset dance halls where the music was good. She always wanted to dance. I let her teach me, but was not very happy dancing. One night as we were dancing the “slow-go” her hands began pressing me to her, and looking in her face I saw the mask of sexual desire on it, soft and blank. I broke away. “I don’t want to dance,” I said.
We walked home. She came up to my room with me, and at my door she tried to hold and kiss me. I was sick with anger. “I don’t want that!” I said.
“I’m sorry, Rakam,” she said, more gently than I had ever heard her speak. “I know how you must feel. But you’ve got to get over that, you’ve got to have your own life. I’m not a man, and I do want you.”
I broke in-“A woman used me before a man ever did. Did you ask me if I wanted you? I will never be used again!”
That rage and spite came bursting out of me like poison from an infection. If she had tried to touch me again I would have hurt her. I slammed my door in her face. I went trembling to my desk, sat down, and began to read the book that was open on it.
Next day we were both ashamed and stiff. But Ress had patience under her City quickness and roughness. She did not try to make love to me again, but she got me to trust her and talk to her as I could not talk to anybody else. She listened intently and told me what she thought. She said, “Bumpkin, you have it all wrong. No wonder. How could you have got it right? You think sex is something that gets done to you. It’s not. It’s something you do. With somebody else. Not to them. You never had any sex. All you ever knew was rape.”
“Lord Erod told me all that a long time ago,” I said. I was bitter. “I don’t care what it’s called. I had enough of it. For the rest of my life. And I’m glad to be without it.”
Ress made a face. “At twenty-two?” she said. “Maybe for a while. If you’re happy, then fine. But think about what I said. Love is a big part of life to just cut out.”
“If I have to have sex I can pleasure myself,” I said, not caring if I hurt her. “Love has nothing to do with it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” she said, but I did not listen. I would learn from teachers and books that I chose for myself, but I would not take advice I had not asked for. I refused to be told what to do or what to think. If I was free, I would be free by myself. I was like a baby when it first stands up.
Ahas had been giving me advice too. He said it was foolish to pursue education so far. “There’s nothing useful you can do with so much booklearning,” he said. “It’s self-indulgent. We need leaders and members with practical skills. ”
“We need teachers!”
“Yes,” he said, “but you knew enough to teach a year ago. What’s the good of ancient history, facts about alien worlds? We have a revolution to make!”
I did not stop my reading, but I felt guilty. I took a class at the Harne school teaching illiterate assets and freedpeople to read and write, as I myself had been taught only three years before. It was hard work. Reading is hard for a grown person to learn, tired, at night, after work all day. It is much easier to let the net take one’s mind over.
I kept arguing with Ahas in my mind, and one day I said to him, “Is there a Library on Yeowe?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know there isn’t. The Corporations didn’t leave any libraries there. They didn’t have any. They were ignorant people who knew nothing but profit. Knowledge is a good in itself. I keep on learning so that I can bring my knowledge to Yeowe. If I could I’d bring them the whole Library!”
He stared. “What owners thought, what owners did-that’s all their books are about. They don’t need that on Yeowe.”
“Yes they do,” I said, certain he was wrong, though again I could not say why.
At the school they soon called on me to teach history, one of the teachers having left. These classes went well. I worked hard preparing them. Presently I was asked to speak to a study group of advanced students, and that too went well. People were interested in the ideas I drew and the comparisons I had learned to make of our world with other worlds. I had been studying the way various peoples bring up their children, who takes the responsibility for them and how that responsibility is understood, since this seemed to me a place where a people frees or enslaves itself.
To one of these talks a man from the Embassy of the Ekumen came. I was frightened when I saw the alien face in my audience. I was worse frightened when I recognized him. He had taught the first course in Ekumenical History that I had taken in the net. I had listened to it devotedly though I never participated in the discussion. What I learned had had a great influence on me. I thought he would find me presumptuous for talking of things he truly knew. I stammered on through my lecture, trying not to see his white-cornered eyes.
He came up to me afterward, introduced himself politely, complimented my talk, and asked if I had read such-and-such a book. He engaged me so deftly and kindly in conversation that I had to like and trust him. And he soon earned my trust. I needed his guidance, for much foolishness has been written and spoken, even by wise people, about the balance of power between men and women, on which depend the lives of children and the value of their education. He knew useful books to read, from which I could go on by myself.
His name was Esdardon Aya. He worked in some high position, I was not sure what, at the Embassy. He had been born on Hain, the Old World, humanity’s first home, from which all our ancestors came.
Sometimes I thought how strange it was that I knew about such things, such vast and ancient matters, I who had not known anything outside the compound walls till I was six, who had not known the name of the country I lived in till I was eighteen! That was only five years ago, when I was new to the City. Someone had spoken of “Voe Deo,” and I had asked, “Where is that?” They had all stared at me. A woman, a hard-voiced old City rentswoman, had said, “Here, Dusty. Right here’s Voe Deo. Your country and mine!”
I told Esdardon Aya that. He did not laugh. “A country, a people,” he said. “Those are strange and very difficult ideas.”
“My country was slavery,” I said, and he nodded.
By now I seldom saw Ahas. I missed his kind friendship, but it had all turned to scolding. “You’re puffed up, publishing, talking to audiences all the time,” he said, “you’re putting yourself before our cause.”
I said, “But I talk to people in the Hame, I write about things we need to know-everything I do is for freedom.”
“The Community is not pleased with that pamphlet of yours,” he said, in a serious counseling way, as if telling me a secret I needed to know. “I’ve been asked to tell you to submit your writings to the committee before you publish again. That press is run by hot-heads. The Hame is causing a good deal of trouble to our candidates.”
“Our candidates!” I said in a rage. “No owner is my candidate! Are you still taking orders from the Young Owner?”
That stung him. He said, “If you put yourself first, if you won’t cooperate, you bring danger on us all.”
III don’t put myself first-politicians and capitalists do that. I put freedom first. Why can’t you cooperate with me? It goes two ways, Ahas!”
He left angry, and left me angry.
I think he missed my dependence on him. Perhaps he was jealous, too, of my independence, for he did remain Lord Erod’s man. His was a loyal heart. Our disagreement gave us both much bitter pain. I wish I knew what became of him in the troubled times that followed.
There was truth in his accusation. I had found that I had the gift in speaking and writing of moving people’s minds and hearts. Nobody told me that such a gift is as dangerous as it is strong. Ahas said I was putting myself first, but I knew I was not doing that. I was wholly in the service of the truth and of liberty. No one told me that the end cannot purify the means, since only the Lord Kamye knows what the end may be. My grandmother could have told me that. The Arkamye would have reminded me of it, but I did not often read in it, and in the City there were no old men singing the word, evenings. If there had been I would not have heard them over the sound of my beautiful voice speaking the beautiful truth.
I believe I did no harm, except as we all did, in bringing it to the attention of the rulers of Voe Deo that the Hame was growing bolder and the Radical Party was growing stronger, and that they must move against us.
The first sign was a divisive one. In the open compounds, as well as the men’s side and the women’s side there were several apartments for couples. This was a radical thing. Any kind of marriage between assets was illegal. They were not allowed to live in pairs. Assets’ only legitimate loyalty was to their owner. The child did not belong to the mother, but to the owner. But since gareots were living in the same place as owned assets, these apartments for couples had been tolerated or ignored. Now suddenly the law was invoked, asset couples were arrested, fined if they were wage-earners, separated, and sent to company-run compound houses. Ress and the other elderwomen who ran our house were fined and warned that if “immoral arrangements” were discovered again, they would be held responsible and sent to the labor camps. Two little children of one of the couples were not on the government’s list and so were left, abandoned, when their parents were taken off. Keo and Ramayo took them in. They became wards of the women’s side, as orphans in the compounds always did.
There were fierce debates about this in meetings of the Hame and The Community. Some said the right of assets to live together and to bring up their children was a cause the Radical Party should support. It was not directly threatening to ownership, and might appeal to the natural instincts of many owners, especially the women, who could not vote but who were valuable allies. Others said that private affections must be overridden by loyalty to the cause of liberty, and that any personal issue must take second place to the great issue of emancipation. Lord Erod spoke thus at a meeting. I rose to answer him. I said that there was no freedom without sexual freedom, and that until women were allowed and men willing to take responsibility for their children, no woman, whether owner or asset, would be free.
“Men must bear the responsibility for the public side of life, the greater world the child will enter; women, for the domestic side of life, the moral and physical upbringing of the child. This is a division enjoined by God and Nature,” Erod answered.
“Then will emancipation for a woman mean she’s free to enter the beza, be locked in on the women’s side?”
“Of course not,” he began, but I broke in again, fearing his golden tongue-“Then what is freedom for a woman? Is it different from freedom for a man? Or is a free person free?”
The moderator was angrily thumping his staff, but some other asset women took up my question. “When will the Radical Party speak for us?” they said, and one elderwoman cried, “Where are your women, you owners who want to abolish slavery? Why aren’t they here? Don’t you let them out of the beza?”
The moderator pounded and finally got order restored. I was half triumphant and half dismayed. I saw Erod and also some of the people from the Hame now looking at me as an open troublemaker. And indeed my words had divided us. But were we not already divided?
A group of us women went home talking through the streets, talking aloud. These were my streets now, with their traffic and lights and dangers and life.
I was a City woman, a free woman. That night I was an owner. I owned the City. I owned the future.
The arguments went on. I was asked to speak at many places. As I was leaving one such meeting, the Hainishman Esdardon Aya came to me and said in a casual way, as if discussing my speech, “Rakam, you’re in danger of arrest.’ ,
I did not understand. He walked along beside me away from the others and went on: “A rumor has come to my attention at the Embassy …. The government of Voe Deo is about to change the status of manumitted assets. You’re no longer to be considered gareots. You must have an owner-sponsor. ”
This was bad news, but after thinking it over I said, “I think I can find an owner to sponsor me. Lord Boeba, maybe.”
“The owner-sponsor will have to be approved by the government.
This will tend to weaken The Community both through the asset and the owner members. It’s very clever, in its way,” said Esdardon Aya.
“What happens to us if we don’t find an approved sponsor?”
“You’ll be considered runaways.”
That meant death, the labor camps, or auction.
“0 Lord Kamye,” I said, and took Esdardon Aya’s arm, because a curtain of dark had fallen across my eyes.
We had walked some way along the street. When I could see again I saw the street, the high houses of the City, the shining lights I had thought were mine.
“I have some friends,” said the Hainishman, walking on with me, “who are planning a trip to the Kingdom of Bambur.”
After a while I said, “What would I do there?”
“A ship to Yeowe leaves from there.”
“To Yeowe,” I said.
“So I hear,” he said, as if he were talking about a streetcar line. “In a few years, I expect Voe Deo will begin offering rides to Yeowe. Exporting intractables, troublemakers, members of the Hame. But that will involve recognizing Yeowe as a nation state, which they haven’t brought themselves to do yet. They are, however, permitting some semi-legitimate trade arrangements by their client states …. A couple of years ago, the King of Bambur bought one of the old Corporation ships, a genuine old Colony Trader. The king thought he’d like to visit the moons of Werel. But he found the moons boring. So he rented the ship to a consortium of scholars from the University of Bambur and businessmen from his capital. Some manufacturers in Bambur carry on a little trade with Yeowe in it, and some scientists at the university make scientific expeditions in it at the same time. Of course each trip is very expensive, so they carry as many scientists as they can whenever they go.”
I heard all this not hearing it, yet understanding it.
“So far,” he said, “they’ve gotten away with it.”
He always sounded quiet, a little amused, yet not superior.
“Does The Community know about this ship?” I asked.
“Some members do, I believe. And people in the Hame. But it’s very dangerous to know about. If Voe Deo were to find out that a client state was exporting valuable property …. In fact, we believe they may have some suspicions. So this is a decision that can’t be made lightly. It is both dangerous and irrevocable. Because of that danger, I hesitated to speak of it to you. I hesitated so long that you must make it very quickly. In fact, tonight, Rakam. ”
I looked from the lights of the City up to the sky they hid. “I’ll go,” I said. I thought of Walsu.
“Good,” he said. At the next comer he changed the direction we had been walking, away from my house, toward the Embassy of the Ekumen.
I never wondered why he did this for me. He was a secret man, a man of secret power, but he always spoke truth, and I think he followed his own heart when he could.
As we entered the Embassy grounds, a great park softly illuminated in the winter night by groundlights, I stopped. ‘.’My books,” I said. He looked his question. “I wanted to take my books to Yeowe,” I said. Now my voice shook with a rush of tears, as if everything I was leaving came down to that one thing. “They need books on Yeowe, I think,” I said.
After a moment he said, “I’ll have them sent on our next ship. I wish I could put you on that ship,” he added in a lower voice. “But of course the Ekumen can’t give free rides to runaway slaves . . . .”
I turned and took his hand and laid my forehead against it for a moment, the only time in my life I ever did that of my own free will.
He was startled. “Come, come,” he said, and hurried me along.
The Embassy hired Werelian guards, mostly veots, men of the old warrior caste. One of them, a grave, courteous, very silent man, went with me on the flyer to Bambur, the island kingdom east of the Great Continent. He had all the papers I needed. From the flyer port he took me to the Royal Space Observatory, which the king had built for his space ship. There without delay I was taken to the ship, which stood in its great scaffolding ready to depart.
I imagine that they had made comfortable apartments up front for the king when he went to see the moons. The body of the ship, which had belonged to the Agricultural Plantation Corporation, still consisted of great compartments for the produce of the Colony. It would be bringing back grain from Yeowe in four of the cargo bays, that now held farm machinery made in Bambur. The fifth compartment held assets.
The cargo bay had no seats. They had laid felt pads on the floor, and we lay down and were strapped to stanchions, as cargo would have been. There were about fifty “scientists.” I was the last to come aboard and be strapped in. The crew were hasty and nervous and spoke only the language of Bambur. I could not understand the instructions we were given. I needed very badly to relieve my bladder, but they had shouted “No time, no time!” So I lay in torment while they closed the great doors of the bay, which made me think of the doors of Shomeke compound. Around me people called out to one another in their language. A baby screamed. I knew that language. Then the great noise began, beneath us. Slowly I felt my body pressed down on the floor, as if a huge soft foot was stepping on me, till my shoulderblades felt as if they were cutting into the mat, and my tongue pressed back into my throat as if to choke me, and with a sharp stab of pain and hot relief my bladder released its urine.
Then we began to be weightless-to float in our bonds. Up was down and down was up, either was both or neither. I heard people all around me calling out again, saying one another’s names, saying what must be, “Are you all right? Yes, I’m all right. ” The baby had never ceased its fierce, piercing yells. I began to feel at my restraints, for I saw the woman next to me sitting up and rubbing her arms and chest where the straps had held her. But a great blurry voice came bellowing over the loudspeaker, giving orders in the language of Bambur and then in Voe Dean: “Do not unfasten the straps! Do not attempt to move about! The ship is under attack! The situation is extremely dangerous! ”
So I lay floating in my little mist of urine, listening to the strangers around me talk, understanding nothing. I was utterly miserable, and yet fearless as I had never been. I was carefree. It was like dying. It would be foolish to worry about anything while one died.
The ship moved strangely, shuddering, seeming to turn. Several people were sick. The air filled with the smell and tiny droplets of vomit. I freed my hands enough to draw the scarf I was wearing up over my face as a filter, tucking the ends under my head to hold it.
Inside the scarf I could no longer see the huge vault of the cargo bay stretching above or below me, making me feel I was about to fly or fall into it. It smelled of myself, which was comforting. It was the scarf I often wore when I dressed up to give a talk, fine gauze, pale red with a silver thread woven in at intervals. When I bought it at a City market, paying my own earned money for it, I had thought of my mother’s red scarf, given her by Lady Tazeu. I thought she would have liked this one, though it was not as bright. Now I lay and looked into the pale red dimness it made of the vault, starred with the lights at the hatches, and thought of my mother, Yowa. She had probably been killed that morning in the compound. Perhaps she had been carTied to another estate as a use-woman, but Ahas had never found any trace of her. I thought of the way she had of carrying her head a little to the side, deferent yet alert, gracious. Her eyes had been full and bright, “eyes that hold the seven moons,” as the song says. I thought then: But I will never see the moons again.
At that I felt so strange that to comfort myself and distract my mind I began to sing under my breath, there alone in my tent of red gauze warm with my own breath. I sang the freedom songs we sang in the Hame, and then I sang the love songs Lady Tazeu had taught me. Finally I sang “0, 0, Yeowe,” softly at first, then a little louder. I heard a voice somewhere out in that soft red mist world join in with me, a man’s voice, then a woman’s. Assets from Voe Deo all know that song. We sang it together. A Bambur man’s voice picked it up and put words in his own language to it, and others joined in singing it. Then the singing died away. The baby’s crying was weak now. The air was very foul.
We learned many hours later, when at last clear air entered the vents and we were told we could release our bonds, that a ship of the Voe Dean Space Defense Fleet had intercepted the freighter’s course just above the atmosphere and ordered it to stop. The captain chose to ignore the signal. The warship had fired, and though nothing hit the freighter the blast had damaged the controls. The freighter had gone on, and had seen and heard nothing more of the warship. We were now about eleven days from Yeowe. The warship, or a group of them, might be in wait for us near Yeowe. The reason they gave for ordering the freighter to halt was “suspected contraband merchandise.”
That fleet of warships had been built centuries ago to protect Werel from the attacks they expected from the Alien Empire, which is what they then called the Ekumen. They were so frightened by that imagined threat that they put all their energy into the technology of space flight; and the colonization of Yeowe was a result. After four hundred years without any threat of attack, Voe Deo had finally let the Ekumen send envoys and ambassadors. They had used the Defense Fleet to transport troops and weapons during the War of Liberation. Now they were using them the way estate owners used hunting dogs and hunting cats, to hunt down runaway slaves.
I found the two other Voe Deans in the cargo bay, and we moved our “bedstraps” together so we could talk. Both of them had been brought to Bambur by the Hame, who had paid their fare. It had not occurred to me that there was a fare to be paid. I knew who had paid mine.
“Can’t fly a space ship on love,” the woman said. She was a strange person. She really was a scientist. Highly trained in chemistry by the company that rented her, she had persuaded the Hame to send her to Yeowe because she was sure her skills would be needed and in demand. She had been making higher wages than many gareots did, but she expected to do still better on Yeowe. “I’m going to be rich,” she said.
The man, only a boy, a mill hand in a Northern city, had simply run away and had the luck to meet people who could save him from death or the labor camps. He was sixteen, ignorant, noisy, rebellious, sweet-natured. He became a general favorite, like a puppy. I was in demand because I knew the history of Yeowe and through a man who knew both our languages I could tell the Bamburs something about where they were going-the centuries of Corporation slavery, Nadami, the War, the Liberation. Some of them were rentspeople from the cities, others were a group of estate slaves bought at auction by the Hame with false money and under a false name, and hurried onto this flight. None of them knew where they were going. It was that trick that had drawn Voe Deo’s attention to this flight.
Yoke, the mill boy, speculated endlessly about how the Yeowans would welcome us. He had a story, half a joke half a dream, about the bands playing and the speeches and the big dinner they would have for us. The dinner grew more and more elaborate as the days went on. They were long, hungry days, floating in the featureless great space of the cargo bay, marked only by the alternation every twelve hours of brighter and dimmer lighting and the issuing of two meals during the “day,” food and water in tubes you squeezed into your mouth. I did not think much about what might happen. I was between happenings. If the warships found us we would probably die. If we got to Yeowe it would be a new life. Now we were floating.
The ship came down safe at the Port of Yeowe. They unloaded the crates of machinery first, then the other cargo. We came out staggering and holding on to one another, not able to stand up to the great pull of this new world drawing us down to its center, blinded by the light of the sun that we were closer to than we had ever been.
“Over here! Over here!” a man shouted. I was grateful to hear my language, but the Bamburs looked apprehensive.
Over here-in here-strip-wait- All we heard when we were first on the Free World was orders. We had to be decontaminated, which was painful and exhausting. We had to be examined by doctors. Anything we had brought with us had to be decontaminated and examined and listed. That did not take long for me. I had brought the clothes I wore and had worn for two weeks now. I was glad to get decontaminated. Finally we were told to stand in line in one of the big empty cargo sheds. The sign over the doors still read APCY-Agricultural Plantation Corporation of Yeowe. One by one we were processed for entry. The man who processed me was short, white, middleaged, with spectacles, like any clerk asset in the City, but I looked at him with reverence. He was the first Yeowan I had spoken to. He asked me questions from a form and wrote down my answers. “Can you read?” “Yes.” -“Skills?” -I stammered a moment and said, “Teaching-I can teach reading and history.” He never looked up at me.
I was glad to be patient. After all, the Yeowans had not asked us to come. We were admitted only because they knew if they sent us back we would die horribly in a public execution. We were a profitable cargo to Bambur, but to Yeowe we were a problem. But many of us had skills they must need, and I was glad they asked us about them.
When we had all been processed, we were separated into two groups: men and women. Yoke hugged me and went off to the men’s side laughing and waving. I stood with the women. We watched all the men led off to the shuttle that went to the Old Capital. Now my patience failed and my hope darkened. I prayed, “Lord Kamye, not here, not here too!” Fear made me angry. When a man came giving us orders again, come on, this way, I went up to him and said, “Who are you? Where are we going? We are free women!”
He was a big fellow with a round, white face and bluish eyes. He looked down at me, huffy at first, then smiling. “Yes, Little Sister, you’re free,” he said. “But we’ve all got to work, don’t we? You ladies are going south. They need people on the rice plantations. You do a little work, make a little money, look around a little, all right? If you don’t like it down there, come on back. We can always use more pretty little ladies round here.”
I had never heard the Yeowan country accent, a singing, blurry softening, with long, clear vowels. I had never heard asset women called ladies. No one had ever called me Little Sister. He did not mean the word “use” as I took it, surely. He meant well. I was bewildered and said no more. But the chemist, Tualtak, said, “Listen, I’m no field hand, I’m a trained scientist-”
“Oh, you’re all scientists,” the Yeowan said with his big smile. “Come on now, ladies!” He strode ahead, and we followed. Tualtak kept talking. He smiled and paid no heed.
We were taken to a train car waiting on a siding. The huge, bright sun was setting. All the sky was orange and pink, full of light. Long shadows ran black along the ground. The warm air was dusty and sweet-smelling. While we stood waiting to climb up into the car I stooped and picked up a little reddish stone from the ground. It was round, with a tiny stripe of white clear through it. It was a piece of Yeowe. I held Yeowe in my hand. That little stone, too, I still have.
Our car was shunted along to the main yards and hooked onto a train. When the train started we were served dinner, soup from great kettles wheeled through the car, bowls of sweet, heavy marsh rice, pini fruit-a luxury on Werel, here a commonplace. We ate and ate. I watched the last light die away from the long, rolling hills that the train was passing through. The stars came out. No moons. Never again. But I saw Werel rising in the east. It was a great blue-green star, looking as Yeowe looks from Werel. But you would never see Yeowe rising after sunset. Yeowe followed the sun.
I’m alive and I’m here, I thought. I’m following the sun. I let the rest go, and fell asleep to the swaying of the train.
We were taken off the train on the second day at a town on the great river Yot. Our group of twenty-three were separated there, and ten of us were taken, by ox cart to a village, Hagayot. It had been an APCY compound, growing marsh rice to feed the Colony slaves. Now it was a cooperative village, growing marsh rice to feed the Free People. We were enrolled as members of the cooperative. We lived share and share alike with the villagers until pay-out, when we could pay them back what we owed the cooperative.
It was a reasonable way to handle immigrants without money, who did not know the language, or who had no skills. But I did not understand why they had ignored our skills. Why had they sent the men from Bambur plantations, field hands, into the city, not here? Why only women?
I did not understand why, in a village of free people, there was a men’s side and a women’s side, with a ditch between them.
I did not understand why, as I soon discovered, the men made all the decisions and gave all the orders. But, it being so, I did understand that they were afraid of us Werelian women, who were not used to taking orders from our equals. And I understood that I must take orders and not even look as if I thought of questioning them. The men of Hagayot Village watched us with fierce suspicion and a whip as ready as any Boss’s. “Maybe you told men what to do back over there,” the foreman told us the first morning in the fields. “Well, that’s back over there. That’s not here. Here we free people work together. You think you’re Bosswomen. There aren’t any Bosswomen here. ”
There were grandmothers on the women’s side, but they were not the powers our grandmothers had been. Here, where for the first century there had been no slave women at all, the men had had to make their own life, set up their own powers. When women slaves at last were sent into those little slave-kingdoms of men, there was no power for them at all. They had no voice. Not till they got away to the cities did they ever have a voice on Yeowe.
I learned silence.
But it was not as bad for me and Tualtak as for our eight Bambur companions. We were the first immigrants any of these villagers had ever seen. They knew only one language. They thought the Bambur women were witches because they did not talk “like human beings.” They whipped them for talking to each other in their own language.
I will confess that in my first year on the Free World my heart was as low as it had been at Zeskra. I hated standing all day in the shallow water of the rice paddies. Our feet were always sodden and swollen and full of tiny burrowing worms we had to pick out every night. But it was needed work and not too hard for a healthy woman. It was not the work that bore me down.
Hagayot was not a tribal village, not as conservative as some of the old villages I learned about later. Girls here were not ritually raped, and a woman was safe on the women’s side. She “jumped the ditch” only with a man she chose. But if a woman went anywhere alone, or even got separated from the other women working in the paddies, she was supposed to be “asking for it,” and any man thought it his right to force himself on her.
I made good friends among the village women and the Bamburs. They were no more ignorant than I had been a few years before, and some were wiser than I would ever be. There was no possibility of having a friend among men who thought themselves our owners. I could not see how life here would ever change. My heart was very low, nights, when I lay among the sleeping women and children in our hut and thought, Is this what Walsu died for?
In my second year there, I resolved to do what I could to keep above the misery that threatened me. One of the Bambur women, meek and slow of understanding, whipped and beaten by both women and men for speaking her language, had drowned in one of the great rice paddies. She had lain down there in the warm shallow water not much deeper than her ankles, and had drowned. I feared that yielding, that water of despair. I made up my mind to use my skill, to teach the village women and children to read.
I wrote out some little primers on rice cloth and made a game of it for the little children, first. Some of the older girls and women were curious. Some of them knew that people in the towns and cities could read. They saw it as a mystery, a witchcraft that gave the city people their great power. I did not deny this.
For the women, I first wrote down verses and passages of the Arkamye, all I could remember, so that they could have it and not have to wait for one of the men who called themselves “priests” to recite it. They were proud of learning to read these verses. Then I had my friend Seugi tell me a story, her own recollection of meeting a wild hunting cat in the marshes as a child. I wrote it down, entitling it “The Marsh Lion, by Aro Seugi,” and read it aloud to the author and a circle of girls and women. They marveled and laughed. Seugi wept, touching the writing that held her voice.
The chief of the village and his headmen and foremen and honorary sons, all the hierarchy and government of the village, were suspicious and not pleased by my teaching, yet did not want to forbid me. The government of Yotebber Region had sent word that they were establishing country schools, where village children were to be sent for half the year. The village men knew that their sons would be advantaged if they could already read and write when they went there.
The Chosen Son, a big, mild, pale man, blind in one eye from a war wound, came to me at last. He wore his coat of office, a tight, long coat such as Werelian owners had worn three hundred years ago. He told me that I should not teach girls to read, only boys.
I told him I would teach all the children who wanted to learn, or none of them.
“Girls do not want to learn this,” he said.
“They do. Fourteen girls have asked to be in my class. Eight boys. Do you say girls do not need religious training, Chosen Son?”
This gave him pause. “They should learn the life of the Merciful Lady,” he said.
“I will write the Life of Tual for them,” I said at once. He walked away, saving his dignity.
I had little pleasure in my victory, such as it was. At least I went on teaching.
Tualtak was always at me to run away, run away to the city downriver. She had grown very thin, for she could not digest the heavy food. She hated the work and the people. “It’s all right for you, you were a plantation pup, a dusty, but I never was, my mother was a rentswoman, we lived in fine rooms on Haba Street, I was the brightest trainee they ever had in the laboratory, ” and on and on, over and over, living in the world she had lost.
Sometimes I listened to her talk about running away. I tried to remember the maps of Yeowe in my lost books. I remembered the great river, the Yot, running from far inland three thousand kilos to the South Sea. But where were we on its vast length, how far from Yotebber City on its delta? Between Hagayot and the city might be a hundred villages like this one. “Have you been raped?” I asked Tualtak.
She took offense. “I’m a rentswoman, not a use-woman,” she snapped.
I said, “I was a use-woman for two years. If I was raped again I would kill the man or kill myself. I think two Werelian women walking alone here would be raped. I can’t do it, Tualtak.”
“It can’t all be like this place!” she cried, so desperate that I felt my own throat close up with tears.
“Maybe when they open the schools-there will be people from the cities then-” It was all I had to offer her, or myself, as hope. “Maybe if the harvest’s good this year, if we can get our money, we can get on the train ….
That indeed was our best hope. The problem was to get our money from the chief and his cohorts. They kept the cooperative’s income in a stone hut that they called the Bank of Hagayot, and only they ever saw the money.
Each individual had an account, and they kept tally faithfully, the old Banker Headman scratching your account out in the dirt if you asked for it. But women and children could not withdraw money from their account. All we could get was a kind of scrip, clay pieces marked by the Banker Headman, good to buy things from one another, things people in the village made, clothes, sandals, tools, bead necklaces, rice beer. Our real money was safe, we were told, in the bank. I thought of that old lame bondsman at Shomeke, jigging and singing, “Money in the bank, Lord! Money in the bank!”
Before we ever came, the women had resented this system. Now there were nine more women resenting it.
One night I asked my friend Seugi, whose hair was as white as her skin, “Seugi, do you know what happened at a place called Nadami?”
“Yes,” she said. “The women opened the door. All the women rose up and then the men rose up against the Bosses. But they needed weapons. And a woman ran in the night and stole the key from the owner’s box and opened the door of the strong place where the Bosses kept their guns and bullets, and she held it open with the strength of her body, so that the slaves could arm themselves. And they killed the Corporations and made that place, Nadami, free. ”
“Even on Werel they tell that story,” I said. “Even there women tell about Nadami, where the women began the Liberation. Men tell it too. Do men here tell it? Do they know it?”
Seugi and the other women nodded.
“If a woman freed the men of Nadami,” I said, “maybe the women of Hagayot can free their money.”
Seugi laughed. She called out to a group of grandmothers, “Listen to Rakam! Listen to this!”
After plenty of talk for days and weeks, it ended in a delegation of women, thirty of us. We crossed the ditch bridge onto the men’s side and ceremoniously asked to see the chief. Our principal bargaining counter was shame. Seugi and other village women did the speaking, for they knew how far they could shame the men without goading them into anger and retaliation. Listening to them, I heard dignity speak to dignity, pride speak to pride. For the first time since I came to Yeowe I felt I was one of these people, that this pride and dignity were mine.
Nothing happens fast in a village. But by the next harvest, the women of Hagayot could draw their own earned share out of the bank in cash.
“Now for the vote,” I said to Seugi, for there was no secret ballot in the village. When there was a regional election, even in the worldwide Ratification of the Constitution, the chiefs polled the men and filled out the ballots. They did not even Poll the women. They wrote in the votes they wanted cast.
But I did not stay to help bring about that change at Hagayot. Tualtak was really ill, and half crazy with her longing to get out of the marshes, to the city. And I too longed for that. So we took our wages, and Seugi and other women drove us in an ox cart on the causeway across the marshes to the freight station. There we raised the flag that signaled the next train to stop for passengers.
It came along in a few hours, a long train of boxcars loaded with marsh rice, heading for the mills of Yotebber City. We rode in the crew car with the train crew and a few other passengers, village men. I had a big knife in my belt, but none of the men showed us any disrespect. Away from their compounds they were timid and shy. I sat up in my bunk in that car watching the great, wild, plumy marshes whirl by, and the villages on the banks of the wide river, and wished the train would go on forever.
But Tualtak lay in the bunk below me, coughing and fretful. When we got to Yotebber City she was so weak I knew I had to get her to a doctor. A man from the train crew was kind, telling us how to get to the hospital on the public cars. As we rattled through the hot, crowded city streets in the crowded car, I was still happy. I could not help it.
At the hospital they demanded our citizens’ registration papers.
I had never heard of such papers. Later I found that ours had been given to the chiefs at Hagayot, who had kept them, as they kept all “their” women’s papers. At the time, all I could do was stare and say, “I don’t know anything about registration papers.”
I heard one of the women at the desk say to the other, “Lord, how dusty can you get?”
I knew what we looked like. I knew we looked dirty and low. I knew I seemed ignorant and stupid. But when I heard that word “dusty” my pride and dignity woke up again. I put my hand into my pack and brought out my freedom paper, that old paper with Erod’s writing on it, all crumpled and folded, all dusty.
“This is my Citizen’s Registration paper,” I said in a loud voice, making those women jump and turn. “My mother’s blood and my grandmother’s blood is on it. My friend here is sick. She needs a doctor. Now bring us to a doctor!”
A thin little woman came forward from the corridor. “Come on this way,” she said. One of the deskwomen started to protest. This little woman give her a look.
We followed her to an examination room.
“I’m Dr. Yeron,” she said, then corrected herself. “I’m serving as a nurse,” she said. “But I am a doctor. And you-you come from the Old World? from Werel? Sit down there, now, child, take off your shirt. How long have you been here?”
Within a quarter of an hour she had diagnosed Tualtak and got her a bed in a ward for rest and observation, found out our histories, and sent me off with a note to a friend of hers who would help me find a place to live and a job.
“Teaching!” Dr. Yeron said. “A teacher! Oh, woman, you are rain to the dry land!”
Indeed the first school I talked to wanted to hire me at once, to teach anything I wanted. Because I come of a capitalist people, I went to other schools to see if I could make more money at them. But I came back to the first one. I liked the people there.
Before the War of Liberation, the cities of Yeowe, which were cities of Corporation-owned assets who rented their own freedom, had had their own schools and hospitals and many kinds of training programs. There was even a University for assets in the Old Capital. The Corporations, of course, had controlled all the information that came to such institutions, and watched and censored all teaching and writing, keeping everything aimed toward the maximization of their profits. But within that narrow frame the assets had been free to use the information they had as they pleased, and city Yeowans had valued education deeply. During the long war, thirty years, all that system of gathering and teaching knowledge had broken down. A whole generation grew up leaming nothing but fighting and hiding, famine and disease. The head of my school said to me, “Our children grew up illiterate, ignorant. Is it any wonder the plantation chiefs just took over where the Corporation Bosses left off? Who was to stop them?”
These men and women believed with a fierce passion that only education would lead to freedom. They were still fighting the War of Liberation.
Yotebber City was a big, poor, sunny, sprawling city with wide streets, low buildings, and huge old shady trees. The traffic was mostly afoot, with cycles tinging and public cars clanging along among the slow crowds. There were miles of shacks and shanties down in the old floodplain of the river behind the levees, where the soil was rich for gardening. The center of the city was on a low rise, the mills and train yards spreading out from it. Downtown it looked like the City of Voe Deo, only older and poorer and gentler. Instead of big stores for owners, people bought and sold everything from stalls in open markets. The air was soft, here in the south, a warm, soft sea air full of mist and sunlight. I stayed happy. I have by the grace of the Lord a mind that can leave misfortune behind, and I was happy in Yotebber City.
Tualtak recovered her health and found a good job as a chemist in a factory. I saw her seldom, as our friendship had been a matter of necessity, not choice. Whenever I saw her she talked about Haba Street and the laboratory on Werel, and complained about her work and the people here.
Dr. Yeron did not forget me. She wrote a note and told me to come visit her, which I did. Presently, when I was settled, she asked me to come with her to a meeting of an educational society. This, I found, was a group of democrats, mostly teachers, who sought to work against the autocratic power of the tribal and regional Chiefs under the new Constitution, and to counteract what they called the slave mind, the rigid, misogynistic hierarchy that I had encountered in Hagayot. My experience was useful to them, for they were all city people who had met the slave mind only when they found themselves governed by it. The women of the group were the angriest. They had lost the most at Liberation, and now had less to lose. In general the men were gradualists, the women ready for revolution. As a Werelian, ignorant of politics on Yeowe, I listened and did not talk. It was hard for me not to talk. I am a talker, and sometimes I had plenty to say. But I held my tongue and heard them. They were people worth hearing.
Ignorance defends itself savagely, and illiteracy, as I well knew, can be shrewd. Though the Chief, the President of Yotebber Region, elected by a manipulated ballot, might not understand our counter-manipulations of the school curriculum, he did not waste much energy trying to control the schools. He sent his Inspectors to meddle with our classes and censor our books. But what he saw as important was the fact that, just as the Corporations had, he controlled the net. The news, the information programs, the puppets of the neareals, all danced to his strings. Against that, what harm could a lot of teachers do? Parents who had no schooling had children who entered the net to hear and see and feel what the Chief wanted them to know: that freedom is obedience to leaders, that virtue is violence, that manhood is domination. Against the enactment of such truths in daily life and in the heightened sensational experience of the neareals, what good were words?
“Literacy is irrelevant,” one of our group said sorrowfully. “The Chiefs have jumped right over our heads into the postliterate information technology -”
I brooded over that, hating her fancy words, irrelevant, postliterate, because I was afraid she was right.
To the next meeting of our group, to my surprise, an Alien came: the SubEnvoy of the Ekumen. He was supposed to be a great feather in our Chief’s cap, sent down from the Old Capital apparently to support the Chief’s stand against the World Party, which was still strong down here and still clamoring that Yeowe should keep out all foreigners. I had heard vaguely that such a person was here, but I had not expected to meet him at a gathering of subversive school teachers.
He was a short man, red-brown, with white comers to his eyes, but handsome if one could ignore that. He sat in the seat in front of me. He sat perfectly still, as if accustomed to sitting still, and listened without speaking as if accustomed to listening. At the end of the meeting he turned around and his queer eyes looked straight at me.
“Radosse Rakam?” he said.
I nodded, dumb.
“I’m Yehedarhed Havzhiva,” he said, “I have some books for you from old music.”
I stared. I said, “Books?”
“From old music,” he said again. “Esdardon Aya, on Werel.”
“My books?” I said.
He smiled. He had a broad, quick smile.
“Oh, where?” I cried.
“They’re at my house. We can get them tonight, if you like. I have a car.” There was something ironic and light in how he said that, as if he was a man who did not expect to have a car, though he might enjoy it.
Dr. Yeron came over. “So you found her,” she said to the Sub-Envoy. He looked at her with such a bright face that I thought, these two are lovers. Though she was much older than he there was nothing unlikely in the thought. Dr. Yeron was a magnetic woman. It was odd to me to think it, though, for my mind was not given to speculating about people’s sexual affairs. That was no interest of mine.
He put his hand on her arm as they talked, and I saw with peculiar intensity how gentle his touch was, almost hesitant, yet trustful. That is love, I thought. Yet they parted, I saw, without that look of private understanding that lovers often give each other.
He and I rode in his government electric car, his two silent bodyguards, policewomen, sitting in the front seat. We spoke of Esdardon Aya, whose name, he explained to me, meant Old Music. I told him how Esdardon Aya had saved my life by sending me here. He listened in a way that made it easy to talk to him. I said, “I was sick to leave my books, and I’ve thought about them, missing them, as if they were my family. But I think maybe I’m a fool to feel that way.”
“Why a fool?” he asked. He had a foreign accent, but he had the Yeowan lilt already, and his voice was beautiful, low and warm.
I tried to explain everything at once: “Well, they mean so much to me because I was illiterate when I came to the City, and it was the books that gave me freedom, gave me the world-the worlds- But now, here, I see how the net, the holos, the neareals mean so much more to people, giving them the present time. Maybe it’s just clinging to the past to cling to books. Yeowans have to go toward the future. And we’ll never change people’s minds just with words.”
He listened intently, as he had done at the meeting, and then answered slowly, “But words are an essential way of thinking. And books keep the words true …. I didn’t read till I was an adult, either.”
“I knew how, but I didn’t. I lived in a village. It’s cities that have to have books,” he said, quite decisively, as if he had thought about this matter. “If they don’t, we keep on starting over every generation. It’s a waste. You have to save the words.”
When we got to his house, up at the top end of the old part of town, there were four crates of books in the entrance hall.
“These aren’t all mine!” I said.
“Old Music said they were yours,” Mr. Yehedarhed said, with his quick smile and quick glance at me. You can tell where an Alien is looking much better than you can tell with us. With us, except for a few people with bluish eyes, you have to be close enough to see the dark pupil move in the dark eye.
“I haven’t got anywhere to put so many,” I said, amazed, realizing how that strange man, Old Music, had helped me to freedom yet again.
“At your school, maybe? The school library?”
It was a good idea, but I thought at once of the Chief’s inspectors pawing through them, perhaps confiscating them. When I spoke of that, the SubEnvoy said, “What if I present them as gift from the Embassy? I think that might embarrass the inspectors.”
“Oh,” I said, and burst out, “Why are you so kind? You, and he- Are you Hainish too?”
“Yes,” he said, not answering my other question. “I was. I hope to be Yeowan. ”
He asked me to sit down and drink a little glass of wine with him before his guard drove me home. He was easy and friendly, but a quiet man. I saw he had been hurt. There were newly healed scars on his face, and his hair was half grown out where he had had a head injury. He asked me what my books were, and I said, “History.”
At that he smiled, slowly this time. He said nothing, but he raised his glass to me. I raised mine, imitating him, and we drank.
Next day he had the books delivered to our school. When we opened and shelved them, we realized we had a great treasure. “There’s nothing like this at the University,” said one of the teachers, who had studied there for a year.
There were histories and anthropologies of Werel and of the worlds of the Ekumen, works of philosophy and politics by Werelians and by people of other worlds, there were compendiums of literature, poetry, and stories, encyclopedias, books of science, atlases, dictionaries. In a comer of one of the crates were my own few books, my own treasure, even that first little crude “History of Yeowe, Printed at Yeowe University in the Year One of Liberty.” Most of my books I left in the library, but I took that one and a few others home for love, for comfort.
I had found another love and comfort not long since. A child at school had brought me a present, a spotted-cat kitten, just weaned. The boy gave it to me with such loving pride that I could not refuse it. When I tried to pass it on to another teacher they all laughed at me. “You’re elected, Rakarn! ” they said. So unwillingly I took the little being home, afraid of its frailty and delicacy and near to feeling a disgust for it. Women in the beza at Zeskra had had pets, spotted cats and foxdogs, spoiled little animals fed better than we were. I had been called by the name of a pet animal once.
I alarmed the kitten taking it out of its basket, and it bit my thumb to the bone. It was tiny and frail but it had teeth. I began to have some respect for it.
That night I put it to sleep in its basket, but it climbed up on my bed and sat on my face until I let it under the covers. There it slept perfectly still all night. In the morning it woke me by dancing on me, chasing dustmotes in a sunbeam. It made me laugh, waking, which is a pleasant thing. I felt that I had never laughed very much, and wanted to.
The kitten was all black, its spots showing only in certain lights, black on black. I called it Owner. I found it pleasant to come home evenings to be greeted by my little Owner.
Now for the next half year we were planning the great demonstration of women. There were many meetings, at some of which I met the Sub-Envoy again, so that I began to look for him. I liked to watch him listen to our arguments. There were those who argued that the demonstration must not be limited to the wrongs and rights of women, for equality must be for all. Others argued that it should not depend in any way on the support of foreigners, but should be a purely Yeowan movement. Mr. Yehedarhed listened to them, but I got angry. “I’m a foreigner,” I said. “Does that make me no use to you? That’s owner talk-as if you were better than other people!” And Dr. Yeron said, “I will believe equality is for all when I see it written in the Constitution of Yeowe. ” For our Constitution, ratified by a world vote during the time I was at Hagayot, spoke of citizens only as men. That is finally what the demonstration became, a demand that the Constitution be amended to include women as citizens, provide for the secret ballot, and guarantee the right to free speech, freedom of the press and of assembly, and free education for all children.
I lay down on the train tracks along with seventy thousand women, that hot day. I sang with them. I heard what that sounds like, so many women singing together, what a big, deep sound it makes.
I had begun to speak in public again when we were gathering women for the great demonstration. It was a gift I had, and we made use of it. Sometimes gang boys or ignorant men would come to heckle and threaten me, shouting, “Bosswoman, Ownerwoman, black cunt, go back where you came from!” Once when they were yelling that, go back, go back, I leaned into the microphone and said, “I can’t go back. We used to sing a song on the plantation where I was a slave,” and I sang it,
0, 0, Ye-o-we, Nobody never comes back.
The singing made them be still for a moment. They heard it, that awful grief, that yearning.
After the great demonstration the unrest never died down, but there were times that the energy flagged, the Movement didn’t move, as Dr. Yeron said. During one of those times I went to her and proposed that we set up a printing house and publish books. This had been a dream of mine, growing from that day in Hagayot when Seugi had touched her words and wept.
“Talk goes by,” I said, “and all the words and images in the net go by, and anybody can change diem, but books are there. They last. They are the body of history, Mr. Yehedarhed says.”
“Inspectors,” said Dr. Yeron. “Until we get the free press amendment, the Chiefs aren’t going to let anybody print anything they didn’t dictate themselves. ”
I did not want to give up the idea. I knew that in Yotebber Region we could not publish anything political, but I argued that we might print stories and poems by women of the region. Others thought it a waste of time. We discussed it back and forth for a long time. Mr. Yehedarhed came back from a trip to the Embassy, up north in the Old Capital. He listened to our discussions, but said nothing, which disappointed me. I had thought that he might support my project.
One day I was walking home from school to my apartment, which was in a big, old, noisy house not far from the levee. I liked the place because my windows opened into the branches of trees, and through the trees I saw the river, four miles wide here, easing along among sand bars and reed beds and willow isles in the dry season, brimming up the levees in the wet season when the rainstorms scudded across it. That day as I came near the house, Mr. Yehedarhed appeared, with two sour-faced policewomen close behind him as usual. He greeted me and asked if we might talk. I was confused and did not know what to do but to invite him up to my room.
His guards waited in the lobby. I had just the one big room on the third floor. I sat on the bed and the Sub-Envoy sat in the chair. Owner went round and round his legs, saying roo? roo?
I had observed often that the Sub-Envoy took pleasure in disappointing the expectations of the Chief and his cohorts, who were all for pomp and fleets of cars and elaborate badges and uniforms. He and his policewomen went all over the city, all over Yotebber, in his government car or on foot. People liked him for it. They knew, as I knew now, that he had been assaulted and beaten and left for dead by a World Party gang his first day here, when he went out afoot alone. The city people liked his courage and the way he talked with everybody, anywhere. They had adopted him. We in the Liberation Movement thought of him as “our Envoy,” but he was theirs, and the Chief’s too. The Chief may have hated his popularity, but he profited from it.
“You want to start a publishing house,” he said, stroking Owner, who fell over with his paws in the air.
“Dr. Yeron says there’s no use until we get the Amendments.”
“There’s one press on Yeowe not directly controlled by the government,” Mr. Yehedarhed said, stroking Owner’s belly.
“Look out, he’ll bite,” I said. “Where is that?”
“At the University. I see,” Mr. Yehedarhed said, looking at his thumb. I apologized. He asked me if I was certain that Owner was male. I said I had been told so, but never had thought to look. “My impression is that your Owner is a lady,” Mr. Yehedarhed said, in such a way that I began to laugh helplessly.
He laughed along with me, sucked the blood off his thumb, and went on. “The University never amounted to much. It was a Corporation ploy-let the assets pretend they’re going to college. During the last years of the War it was closed down. Since Liberation Day it’s reopened and crawled along with no one taking much notice. The faculty are mostly old. They came back to it after the War. The National Government gives it a subsidy because it sounds well to have a University of Yeowe, but they don’t pay it any attention, because it has no prestige. And because many of them are unenlightened men.” He said this without scorn, descriptively. “It does have a printing house. ”
“I know,” I said. I reached out for my old book and showed it to him.
He looked through it for a few minutes. His face was curiously tender as he did so. I could not help watching him. It was like watching a woman with a baby, a constant, changing play of attention and response.
“Full of propaganda and errors and hope,” he said at last, and his voice too was tender. “Well, I think this could be improved upon. Don’t you? All that’s needed is an editor. And some authors. ”
“Inspectors,” I warned, imitating Dr. Yeron.
“Academic freedom is an easy issue for the Ekumen to have some influence upon,” he said, “because we invite people to attend the Ekumenical Schools on Hain and Ve. We certainly want to invite graduates of the University of Yeowe. But of course, if their education is severely defective because of the lack of books, of information ….
I said, “Mr. Yehedarhed, are you supposed to subvert government policies?” The question broke out of me unawares.
He did not laugh. He paused for quite a long time before he answered. “I don’t know,” he said. “So far the Ambassador has backed me. We may both get reprimanded. Or fired. What I’d like to do . . . ” His strange eyes were right on me again. He looked down at the book he still held. “What I’d like is to become a Yeowan citizen,” he said. “But my usefulness to Yeowe, and to the Liberation Movement, is my position with the Ekumen. So I’ll go on using that, or misusing it, till they tell me to stop.”
When he left I had to think about what he had asked me to do. That was to go to the University as a teacher of history, and once there to volunteer for the editorship of the press. That all seemed so preposterous, for a woman of my background and my little learning, that I thought I must be misunderstanding him. When he convinced me that I had understood him, I thought he must have very badly misunderstood who I was and what I was capable of. After we had talked about that for a while, he left, evidently feeling that he was making me uncomfortable, and perhaps feeling uncomfortable himself, though in fact we laughed a good deal and I did not feel uncomfortable, only a little as if I were crazy.
I tried to think about what he had asked me to do, to step so far beyond myself. I found it difficult to think about. It was as if it hung over me, this huge choice I must make, this future I could not imagine. But what I thought about was him, Yehedarhed Havzhiva. I kept seeing him sitting there in my old chair, stooping down to stroke Owner. Sucking blood off his thumb. Laughing. Looking at me with his white-cornered eyes. I saw his red-brown face and red-brown hands, the color of pottery. His quiet voice was in my mind.
I picked up the kitten, half grown now, and looked at its hinder end. There was no sign of any male parts. The little black silky body squirmed in my hands. I thought of him saying, “Your Owner is a lady,” and I wanted to laugh again, and to cry. I stroked the kitten and set her down, and she sat sedately beside me, washing her shoulder. “Oh poor little lady,” I said. I don’t know who I meant. The kitten, or Lady Tazeu, or myself.
He had said to take my time thinking about his proposal, all the time I wanted. But I had not really thought about it at all when, the next day but one, there he was, on foot, waiting for me as I came out of the school. “Would you like to walk on the levee?” he said.
I looked around.
“There they are,” he said, indicating his cold-eyed bodyguards. “Everywhere I am, they are, three to five meters away. Walking with me is dull, but safe. My virtue is guaranteed.”
We walked down through the streets to the levee and up onto it in the long early evening light, warm and pink-gold, smelling of river and mud and reeds. The two women with guns walked along just about four meters behind us.
“If you do go to the University,” he said after a long silence, “I’ll be there constantly.”
“I haven’t yet-” I stammered.
“If you stay here, I’ll be here constantly,” he said. “That is, if it’s all right with you.”
I said nothing. He looked at me without turning his head. I said without intending to, “I like it that I can see where you’re looking.”
“I like it that I can’t see where you’re looking,” he said, looking directly at me.
We walked on. A heron rose up out of a reed islet and its great wings beat over the water, away. We were walking south, downriver. All the western sky was full of light as the sun went down behind the city in smoke and haze.
“Rakam, I would like to know where you came from, what your life on Werel was,” he said very softly.
I drew a long breath. “It’s all gone,” I said. “Past.”
“We are our past. Though not only that. I want to know you. Forgive me. I want very much to know you.”
After a while I said, “I want to tell you. But it’s so bad. It’s so ugly. Here, now, it’s beautiful. I don’t want to lose it.”
“Whatever you tell me I will hold valuable,” he said, in his quiet voice that went to my heart. So I told him what I could about Shomeke compound, and then hurried on through the rest of my story. Sometimes he asked a question. Mostly he listened. At some time in my telling he had taken my arm, I scarcely noticing at the time. When he let me go, thinking some movement I made meant I wanted to be released, I missed that light touch. His hand was cool. I could feel it on my forearm after it was gone.
“Mr. Yehedarhed,” said a voice behind us: one of the bodyguards. The sun was down, the sky flushed with gold and red. “Better head back?”
“Yes,” he said, “thanks.” As we turned I took his arm. I felt him catch his breath.
I had not desired a man or a woman-this is the truth-since Shomeke. I had loved people, and I had touched them with love, but never with desire. My gate was locked.
Now it was open. Now I was so weak that at the touch of his hand I could scarcely walk on.
I said, “It’s a good thing walking with you is so safe.”
I hardly knew what I meant. I was thirty years old but I was like a young girl. I had never been that girl.
He said nothing. We walked along in silence between the river and the city in a glory of failing light.
“Will you come home with me, Rakam?” he said.
Now I said nothing.
“They don’t come in with us,” he said, very low, in my ear, so that I felt his breath.,
“Don’t make me laugh!” I said, and began crying. I wept all the way back along the levee. I sobbed and thought the sobs were ceasing and then sobbed again. I cried for all my sorrows, all my shames. I cried because they were with me now and were me and always would be. I cried because the gate was open and I could go through at last, go into the country on the other side, but I was afraid to.
When we got into the car, up near my school, he took me in his arms and simply held me, silent. The two women in the front seat never looked round.
We went into his house, which I had seen once before, an old mansion of some owner of the Corporation days. He thanked the guards and shut the door. “Dinner,” he said. “The cook’s out. I meant to take you to a restaurant. I forgot. ” He led me to the kitchen, where we found cold rice and salad and wine. After we ate he looked at me across the kitchen table and looked down again. His hesitance made me hold still and say nothing. After a long time he said, “Oh, Rakam! will you let me make love to you?”
“I want to make love to you,” I said. “I never did. I never made love to anyone. ”
He got up smiling and took my hand. We went upstairs together, passing what had been the entrance to the men’s side of the house. “I live in the beza,” he said, “in the harem. I live on the women’s side. I like the view.”
We came to his room. There he stood still, looking at me, then looked away. I was so frightened, so bewildered, I thought I could not go to him or touch him. I made myself go to him. I raised my hand and touched his face, the scars by his eye and on his mouth, and put my arms around him. Then I could hold him to me, closer and closer.
Some time in that night as we lay drowsing entangled I said, “Did you sleep with Dr. Yeron?”
I felt Havzhiva laugh, a slow, soft laugh in his belly, which was against my belly. “No,” he said. “No one on Yeowe but you. And you, no one on Yeowe but me. We were virgins, Yeowan virgins …. Rakam, araha. . . . ” He rested his head in the hollow of my shoulder and said something else in a foreign language and fell asleep. He slept deeply, silently.
Later that year I came up north to the University, where I was taken on the faculty as a teacher of history. By their standards at that time, I was competent. I have worked there ever since, teaching and as editor of the press.
As he had said he would be, Havzhiva was there constantly, or almost.
The Amendments to the Constitution were voted, by secret ballot, mostly, in the Yeowan Year of Liberty 18. Of the events that led to this, and what has followed, you may read in the new three-volume History of Yeowe from the University Press. I have told the story I was asked to tell. I have closed it, as so many stories close, with a joining of two people. What is one man’s and one woman’s love and desire, against the history of two worlds, the great revolutions of our lifetimes, the hope, the unending cruelty of our species? A little thing. But a key is a little thing, next to the door it opens. If you lose the key, the door may never be unlocked. It is in our bodies that we lose or begin our freedom, in our bodies that we accept or end our slavery. So I wrote this book for my friend, with whom I have lived and will die free.