by Milos Petrovic
available on Amazon
-Yes. Let me answer the previous question, regarding me and my wife. And if I assume that your Excellency is not interested in personal or intimate stories, I think that it is impossible to explain some things to a foreigner in any other way. Besides, we have time until Brad gets back.
I was born the son of a maid/cook – of course a slave and a stable man/horseshoe – of course a slave in the house of an old Mr. Hass’ childless widower. Because of the ownership papers, I, as the property of the house in which I was born, have the surname Haas. Mr. Haas was a middle-class man. So, neither rich nor poor.
My father and mother lacked nothing and lived practically the same as paid servants. Not very well paid, but a slave with his own salary…? Sir, that man is someone. In the house next to ours one day, new tenants moved in. A family from America. From Portland, Maine. All white people, of course. Even their servants were white, which caused a lot of suspicion in the neighborhood. They brought their servants with them because they didn’t want, as they later said, to part, they were used to each other. The whole neighborhood marveled at these strange settlers. It was the McArthur family. The new Consul of the United States in the Caribbean Kingdom. Bradley’s family. Brad was a year older than me, and we hung out all the time. I mean, that was all day, morning to night. All day long. Beautiful times.
But all good things come to an end. Mr. Haas dies at the age of 87 as the oldest man on our island. Me, my mother, my father with a house, a small merchant ship, and a nearby forest were inherited by some of Haas’s distant relatives. They sold everything that could be sold and took my mother and father to their property on a distant island. They just needed a good cook like my mother and her pies and cakes that were so famous. They needed a good stable man and a horseshoe like my father, but they didn’t need a kid. Like when you need a cat, but you don’t need her kittens. In this case, a kitten. Me.
And what to do with the child, in this case me? They had more slaves than they needed, and they certainly didn’t need another little slave. And of course, they’d sell me at the slave market. Though hardly anyone would buy a small slave: How much he will eat by the time he grows up, and he certainly can’t do much. But the decision was made, so they’d sell me at any price. Oh, my mother was crying and crying. You see, my father and mother had the money they had been saving for all those years of service with Mr. Haas, but slaves couldn’t buy other slaves.
At the last minute, my mother remembered Mr. McArthur, Brad’s father, and ran to tell them what had happened. They’ll sell her only child, and they have a lot more than a little slave costs, but since they are slaves, they can’t buy him. And they beg Mr. and Mrs. McArthur to buy me back with my mother and my father’s money and for the rest of the money, send me somewhere to be a servant. To learn a craft from the master I serve.
Obviously not accustomed to the hard life of slavery Mr. and Mrs. McArthur burst into tears. Not only they would not take a dime from their money, but they would also buy me and educate at their expense. Mr. McArthur ran to our new owners to ask the price for all of us. A child, that was me, he almost bought for nothing, about the price of a pack of two bad cigars, something like that, and my mother and father were not for sale. Namely, the new heir and his plump wife were eager to try again those dishes and famous pies that were eaten at the celebrations of Mr. Haas. Mr. McArthur raised and raised the offer to a really huge sum, but all this was rejected with a smile and a clap on the stomach, saying: -Gold should be had, but you don’t live on gold. But with good food … ugh, living is nice. And not everyone can do that. The “Old Man” lived 87 years with such good food…? There’s no price, sir!
Defeated Mr. McArthur returned to his house and showed us all the paper of my release and said he had done what he could. However, the mother and father were overjoyed that their only child would not go to a mine or who knows where but to a good house as a free man. Their happiness was endless.
And the time came for them to move into their new home. Now I started crying.
Then, my mother said:
-Don’t look for us, my son. Never. -Promise me!
I made that promise.
-Go your own way and don’t look back. Because as long as you’re doing well, we’re fine. In this world or the next one.
And the father said:
-Learn a craft, do you understand me? You must learn some kind of craft! Because a free man with a craft in his hands is a king. Wherever he goes, he can earn bread and a roof over his head. Even to the end of the world, and there to…
And they left. And I never looked for them. In addition to law school, I also finished the craft of blacksmithing. Brad’s father gave us math problems as a training, and it was not difficult for me to do more math problems than Brad. To read twice as many books. When Brad went to sleep tired, I used to ask Mr. McArthur to give me another assignment in geography, chemistry or whatever.
Years passed and all that knowledge began to touch each other. To intertwine. Literature began to intertwine with painting, chemistry with physics, history with mathematics, religion with politics. The world no longer seemed too big, unfathomable. It has become to me exactly what it is now. A place where a well-educated man with both feet on the ground can determine where his home is. Where his life will take place.
At the age of 23, I was employed by the U.S. Embassy, whose citizenship I gained without ever having been to America. Plus, as a law graduate, I gave legal advice regarding trade, state law, criminal law, etc. I couldn’t be a lawyer doing litigation because, as a negro, I couldn’t enter the Bar Association, but I could always find a bad lawyer to sit next to me in the courtroom and repeat what I said in his ear. Those puppet lawyers would get 30% of each case because they just parroted what I told them, while I, of course, earned 70%. Needless to say, those puppet lawyers were racing to cooperate with me.
Over time, I won so many cases that both the judges and colleagues on the opposite side of the lawsuit respected me very much. It was funny watching it: the judge was talking to me, I was talking to the “parrot lawyer”, and then the “parrot lawyer” was talking to the other side. But somehow it all worked. I made so much money… and now I earn when I decide to take the case because I find it interesting. I made so much money that I could buy a house. And in a classy neighborhood. In the whole world, there were no more than a few black people owning such nice houses and living in nice streets with white people as neighbors.
Bradley was already married, so it was my turn. Now, what kind of woman should I get for myself? I wondered. According to money and social status, I could have taken a white woman. There would be animosity and raised eyebrows, but I would surely find 5-6 willing, beautiful white girls. But I don’t like them. Just something that I don’t like. What about black women? Almost all of them are slaves…? A slave then.
And with those thoughts, I glanced around just to see which one I liked. So, on my way back from a party, I noticed a very pretty young slave girl on a farm. She immediately caught my eye and believe; she liked me to. A young black man in a beautiful suit, being driven in a carriage…? When they see a man like that, all the slave girls starts blinking. We quickly met, and I approached her owner, a man I had known for a long time, and told him that I wanted to marry his slave, and that he should set a price for her. I helped that man with litigation over the inheritance of his entire estate, which was brought by his long-lost half-sister. The man was really appreciative of me and managed to keep most of the property. He also said he would give me the woman as additional “Thank you” and could not wait to do so. I didn’t want that, because I was free, rich and self-confident, and I didn’t need anyone’s gifts.
Then the man said:
-Come tomorrow with the guests to pick her up. A glass of wine will be brought out for you, when you drink it, leave it on the tray as much as you think she’s worth and she’s yours. I’m going to sign her sales papers and register you as the new owner. Those papers will be waiting for you tomorrow.
That suited me already, and I was happy to give a lot of gold coins because a man gets married once and I’m a very wealthy man and I won’t spare buying myself a wife. However, I decided to stop by the McArthur’s and share this happy news with them as they were my only family.
When they heard the news, the party started immediately: Bradley opened the oldest whiskey in the house that is kept for such occasions.
-I am the best man now! -he said. -Don’t even think of someone else.
Mrs. McArthur, Brad’s mom said she was going to make a wedding cake by herself because I, their second son, was going to get married. Mr. McArthur took me by the hand and led me to the library and sat me down in the chair across from him and said:
-Son, someone else has a wedding gift for you.
And he took out from the drawer of his desk a linen red bag, full of coins, and gave it to me.
It’s the same bag that my mother and my father gave for my freedom, for my education, for my life. I recognized the pattern on that red bag. My mother sewed it and put everything they had in it. I took it out on the table and saw everything they had earned for their entire lives. Coins were so small, so unimportant, so insignificant.
But so holy to me…
I started crying like never before. I just couldn’t stop crying. I just couldn’t stop. Everyone gathered around me, comforted me, but they have guessed what had been accumulating in me during all the past years. All these long years. It just had to come out once.
We stayed embraced until the morning. At noon, we all went with a dozen carriages to pick up my future wife, a bride at that moment. I had a glass of wine and put on a tray that red bag of money that my father and mother had left me.
They bought me a wife.
With that woman, I have five children. They bought me a family. In the moments when we are all together, when we celebrate children’s birthdays or when it is Christmas and the children open presents, then I feel that my mother and my father are there with us. In this world or the next one…
And do you think, “Mattie boy”, that there is an army of heaven or a power of hell that will make me give my wife her freedom? To make me forget my own, my first family, to give up my parents…?
Not in this world, not in the next one…