Blood dripped onto the back of his hand. He blinked, feeling dazed. It must’ve fallen from somewhere above. Leaning against the closest wall, he couldn’t tell where exactly it came from. His shoulder? His neck? Or his head?
He felt so tired. He felt his eyelids close, dragged down by lead. Just a short rest. Just a moment. It couldn’t hurt could it?
“Wake up!” A voice shouted beside him. A shake. Why couldn’t he just rest? What he wanted was so simple. Why couldn’t he just close his eyes for a moment and forget about the pain? Why did everyone have to remind him?
“If you don’t get up now, I won’t be able to save you!” The voice urgently cried.
But what if he didn’t want saving? What if he just wanted to escape his fate? Could anyone understand that? Waking up meant that he had to face the pain again. Being saved meant that he would be forced to face it again and again. Why couldn’t it just stop?
He just wanted the whippings to stop. Why did he have to continue to serve? Why couldn’t they just understand? His back stung. His hands were coated in scars. His head was wet. His chest heavy. Pain seemed to emanate from every part of his body. Some areas with more strength than others.
He was so tired. Tired of the pain. Tired of the dissatisfaction. Tired of the work. Tired of hoping for improvement. Tired of dreaming for a way out. Tired of running. Tired of getting his dreams shattered again and again. The shake came once more, more roughly and less respectfully this time. His body was limp. Putting any strength into it to end the shaking seemed like too much effort. He just needed a break. Was it too much to ask for?
“Think of your sister!” The voice shouted.
Right, his sister. He still had a sister. She would be waiting for him, wouldn’t she? She still needed him, didn’t she? No. She should be old enough by now. He was about her age when she was born. The year that their mother was sold. She’d do fine without him. He felt his awareness of the world slip away, everything dimming and fading into the background.
Drifting up and down, he felt himself floating, as if buoyant over some liquid. A hand landed on his shoulder. A warm touch, as if giving him comfort. So unlike the ones that he was used to. The ones that only brought him more pain or exacerbated his existing injuries.
“Wake up!” The voice begged, filled with a mixture of kindness and sadness.
Mother! He’d nearly shouted, as he forcefully sat up. Immediately, the weight of all his injuries came crushing down onto him. He winced, feeling the his recent whipping scabs tear apart behind him.
“Careful!” The voice said, coming from the figure beside him. He blinked. It was his sister. Of course. Mother couldn’t be back. He sighed, sitting up and patting his sister’s head affectionately. Although they were slaves right now, at least their lives were theirs. As harsh as their masters could be: they always had a choice in their hands: do the task, or choose not to and get beaten to death.
Even in the worst case scenario, they still had the option of living honorably, without the blood or sweat of others on their hands. A gleam of light entered the window beside him, despite the darkness of the night. Although he long understood his station, he still peered outside. Under the moonlight, a pathway into the ground revealed itself. His eyes widened.
“Sister, perhaps we can make one last gamble.” He said, his eyes fixated on the opening. There was little hope of success for runaways, but that didn’t mean they should waste any arising opportunities. Even if it costed them the ultimate price, he’d take her as long as she remains willing. A patch of chrysanthemums looked over the path, a symbol of longevity and joy, a good omen. He smiled. Good or bad, whatever happens… whatever was to come was a product of their own free will. And that was enough.
This story was inspired by the writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
Nothing anyone can do will shorten or extend their own or someone else’s exit date — just the circumstances are the product of the chaos of everyone’s free will. — Marcus