Those trips between ports on the African coast…When did I pass my home? Was it one of the nameless, overgrown creeks? We hear people speak strange languages along the coast; I try to catch a word, a scrap, echoes of my mother’s tongue. It is always chatter.
All these things go through my head, but I remain stoic; inside, I cry out for a clue. Am I misremembering? Is my home just over a hill? Are they still waiting for me there? It would do no good to jump ship and abandon my crew just for the hope of a new memory of my first family. I know my sailors well, especially the Africans on board; they feel these same things, but as with all confessions, it is best kept unsaid. Our eyes graze the coastline, however, and we all know.
Some nights ago, I wondered to myself, then—was this my place to disappear? I wanted to quietly slip away into the forest and find my mother’s family there, just over a ridge. But I did not. I might say I was forced to stay, or tricked, but the truth is much simpler. That night, I sat at watch on the deck with some other men, talking quietly near the fire pits. Insects bit us constantly, and that low sleepy noise of the tropical night seemed all around. In that moment, I lost heart; I feared the loneliness beyond the light of the fires, in the black woods.
Yesterday, after a drink had been passed around, I confessed that agony to my men; I told them my thoughts of jumping ship. Black and white alike, they drew quiet looks at each other. Perhaps they were sympathetic, perhaps they were angry, seeing my discomfort. There is little room in their hearts for understanding. This is a dangerous, deadly life. My confession got nods and grunts, but not much else.
And so the sun rises and sets on the Gold Coast.