The Brickmaker


I am the Brickmaker of my village. I was a Brickmaker. I was taken away from my village half a year ago. They took most of us away. I’ve been in the belly of this ship for months now. It can’t last much longer because we won’t last much longer. They have already taken dozens of people through the hole in the ceiling. They die every few hours, and a group of men come down to carry them away. The ones near the hole say that the bodies are thrown from the ship into the ocean.

There is another ship chasing ours! Word is passing that it has a red flag, and the slavers are very fearful of it. There is shouting on deck now. They are all running back and forth. The other ship must be getting close.

I hear cannons roaring. The other ship is firing upon ours. We are struggling to get free, but we are all bound tightly to the racks. Now the men are coming down. They are no longer taking the dead, but the living. I can see the captain shouting down the hole, waving towards the ocean. They mean to throw us over the side! A gruff man leans over my rack and beats me with a baton. I close my eyes and endure it, he’ll have to free me before he carries me away. My hands are free! I have strong hands. I am the Brickmaker of my village. My hands are around his neck and I know the strength remains in them to finish before they kill me. Other hands grasp my arms and pry them away. I scream in frustration as their faces come into focus.

“Restrain him! Hold him! I must sedate him!” The gruff man isn’t a slaver, he is a doctor. The men trying to carry me away are orderlies holding me down. I feel a sharp prick on my arm, and as I fall asleep I hear “It’s the Malaria, you’re safe young man.”

I opened my eyes, but the darkness was complete. I moved my arms, but only felt other people sitting around me. The stone floor was warm from our body heat. I couldn’t tell how high the ceiling was. The air was so stifling that it could only be inches over my head. A panic gripped me and I tried to reach up, but iron manacles kept me from rising further than my knees. As I struggled, a woman next to me said “Calm, young man, we cannot escape.”

“Where are we?” I still pulled on the chains, but my hands were firmly bound.

She grasped my hand in the darkness “We are in a castle by a great lake of water. Boats come every day. Sometimes they put more people in, sometimes they take people out. I have seen three days of people come and go.”

I hear a pounding reverberate through the chamber, and a hundred souls stir from their stupor. A great shaft of light splits the darkness as a door opens. The light blinds us all, and we cringe away from the dark figures in the doorway. One strides up to me and cracks me with a baton. In a daze, I see him unlock my chain, and they drag me from the chamber. My knees buck on the stone stairs leading up to the door, but they don’t slow down.

The blinding light is flashing now, and I focus on it. They are just hallway lights. The orderlies are holding me down, again. My rack rolls past doorways and I can see rooms full of beds for short instants as they go by.

Dung, mud, and straw. Kneaded together and thrown into a mold. That is the Brickmaker’s trade. My hut was away from the others, my work required space. The forms must sit in the sun for days before the bricks are ready for use. The wrong mix, and the wall will fail, the house will fall. My hands were sure in their motions, this would be a good batch of bricks. The chief was building a new hut for his daughter and her husband.

As I start to throw the first bricks, I hear shouting and fighting down in the village. I run down the path, the sounds became louder. I don’t slow down as I enter the center of the village. A man is dragging a woman from her hut. I barrel into him and we spill into the little garden she keeps next to her steps. Mud and bits of straw squeeze through my fingers as I ball my hands into fists.

“You’re hurting my hand, stop squeezing!” The nurse wrestled her hand out of mine, and I let it fall by my side. The present floods into my mind. I have been in a fever for days, all I remember are nightmares. Maybe all there is to remember are nightmares. It’s my life before the slavers that seems like a dream now. I was bound on a ship until the slavers were themselves taken by a larger ship from a far away land. They have told us that we cannot go home again, and have brought us to this new land. I do not know if there are Brickmakers in Liberia, but my hands are strong. I will try to make a future for myself here.

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