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A moment in the life of an unknown baby boy.

This is a fictional narrative based on a Prize Papers document.


15 January 1744. A slight breeze is troubling the surface of the water on the Shama trading post on the West African Coast. The rigging of the Abraham is clanking in the wind; men are talking and shouting as they heave and roll casks and boxes out of the ship’s wooden innards. A hundred yards from the Abraham, some birds are fighting noisily over a dead fish.

The 29 men, the woman, and even the baby boy on the shore remain silent. Some of them stare at the ship, some at the horizon, some just gaze into space. The baby boy, in the woman’s arms, is squirming a little in the hot sun, but he remains quiet - as if he knows that, for now, their captors have relegated him to a place of silence, a place where he is supposed to have no name, no history, no allegiances. The name by which he is known to his mother, the histories of his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, their memories and beliefs and allegiances have to travel with him silently until the moment comes where he can find them again.

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Traded for a couple of handkerchiefs

For now, he is just there, uncomfortable, hot, and thirsty in the sun, a few steps away from the men who are now haggling over the adequate price for him. What is he worth? What will he be worth once he grows up? Will he even live to grow up? The hagglers can’t agree if the little boy should be traded for a couple of handkerchiefs, or if he may also be worth some brandywine.

The negotiations come to an end. A lot of brandywine changes hands. Handkerchiefs and fabric. Other stuff, brought from Europe, exchanged for the 29 men, the woman, and the baby boy who still has no idea what is awaiting him aboard that ship. He has no inkling of the horrendous journey he faces, among the 94 other men, women, and children who have already been, or are yet to be, traded for brandywine, fabrics, handkerchiefs in the course of the Abraham’s tour along the trading posts of the West African Coast. Together with ten other baby boys and two baby girls, he will be locked up in the belly of the ship with the grown-ups, seeing some of the men chained leg to leg. The little boy will have to survive for weeks in darkness and squalor and misery, thrown around by the ship’s movement in his own and the others’ feces, blood, and vomit; encountering illness and sorrow and death. He will face unimaginable horror. If he survives, the soil on which he will take his first steps will be that of the so-called „New World“ – it certainly will be a new world for him. He will have to wait in the sun again, on a market this time. Strange people will paw and probe him, exchange him yet again – this time for money -, take him away, and give him a new name. From then onwards, who knows what they will do to him, and what he will do, once he grows up to know. For now, the baby boy is still waiting in the sun, ignorant.

Meanwhile, brute force has settled the seagull’s dispute over the fish; the victor flies away with the spoils. The shore falls silent for a moment. The baby boy is thirsty. Finally, he starts to cry.