Nala — An excerpt, Escape from St. David’s
One day a white girl had come to see Mama. Her face was a mix of green and yellow, her head was sweaty, and she was shaking. She leaned against the door, head resting in her hands. “Please help me,” she said between short breaths.
Mama rushed her in, checking outside to be sure no one was following her, and shut the rickety door. The cold wind blew between the door and the frame. Mama sat her down on a stool. Her and Mama talked in hush tones sayin’ things like “How long ago?” and “Does he know?” Now she was sick and askin’ Mama for help.
Mama got in a heap of trouble the last time she had helped a white girl, and she swore never again, but she couldn’t say no to a girl who needed her.
“Bring me anise and dried ashwagandha root,” said Mama to Nala, “and four fresh dandelions.” Nala ran to the back and took hold of the jars that had her mother’s herbs in them, careful not to drop the tinctures like she had last time. She did not want another beating. I couldn’t sit down proper for a week.
This time she would be careful, but she would move quickly. She wanted to hear how these herbs would help the girl. I’m gunna be a healer like Mama, thought Nala. I know what happened to that girl. Even though everyone still sees me as a child, I know. In only a few years, I could be helpin’ people on my own.
When Nala returned, she saw her mama bendin’ low to talk softly to the girl, like she was tryin’ to comfort her. “Put the herbs in some hot water for a handful of minutes,” Mama told the pregnant girl. “Drink it while it’s hot. Do this all night long. This will fix the problem, but you’ll be real sick in the morning. Take these fresh dandelions and eat them when the sun comes up. The flowers will help with the pain all over, and the sickness. Tell them it’s your time of the month and stay away from people but keep drinkin’ the tea. In a day or two, it will all be over. If you pick more dandelion on your own, get the ones with the yellow flowers, not the kind you blow in the wind. Do ya understand what I’m tellin’ ya?”
“Yes, ma’am. I do. Thank you,” said the girl.
“Now don’t you go tellin’ your daddy I helped you. They already gave me a tellin’ and I don’t want any trouble.”
“No ma’am, I won’t tell anyone,” said the girl.
She seemed relieved, and her soft smile said she was grateful for the help. Three weeks later they were there for both Mama and Nala.
White men from the plantation came in the night. One of them got Mama and one of them got Nala, dragging them out of the bedroom, Nala with her night clothes on. Outside, mounted on a horse, the man who had given Mama a tellin’ last time, had evil in his eyes. “Take ’em to the river,” he said. The two men held Nala and Mama with firm grips and pushed them down the path, leaving Mama’s door open behind them as they left.
They traveled the short distance to the river. The white girl Mama had helped was there, crying. “Is this the one who killed your baby?” the hateful man on the horse asked her, pointing to Mama who was being held, hands behind her back.
Nala knew this was going to go badly if the white girl said ‘yes’ to her daddy. But she promised not to tell no one. Looking ashamed, the girl just stared down at the ground and nodded. Coward! Nala made eye contact with Mama, whose eyes said, “Run.” Mama let loose a blood-curdling cry and started fighting the man that held her, pulling her arm free and scratching at his eyes. This took him by surprise, and he grabbed her hand roughly and pinned her arms again, tighter, behind her back.
In all the commotion, Nala noticed that the other man had loosened his grip on her. She broke free and ran as fast as she could go. The man came after her with an anger, devil eye glare on his face. He was fast. Nala was running barefoot in her nightclothes. He reached her quickly, threw her over his shoulder, and started walking back to the river. All Nala could think was that she was a coward too. She had run, but Mama had fought them. She saw Mama again, and this time her eyes told Nala to fight back. She bit the man as hard as she could and tasted blood. He grabbed her, staring in her eyes with such anger on his face.
Nala spat in that face.
That was the last thing she remembered, until she had woken up at St. David’s, next to Mama.