Icy raindrops splattered against her upturned face and mingled with her hot tears before they fell, together, to the waterlogged earth. The footsteps and chants were louder now and Aimee could spot the torches dancing among the trees. They were so close. Aimee swallowed the scream that threatened to rip from her panic clogged throat. There was nowhere left to run. Still, she enveloped her small hand into his larger, roughened palm and whispered, “Let’s run.”
Ahmadou shook his head and her heart ached. He knew, as well as she did, that it was too late. Aimee’s body shook. The once silent tears took on a life of their own until she wailed along with the thunder.
“Please,” she begged him. “He’s going to kill you.”
Sadness shrouded his dark-brown eyes. In the three years they’d managed to keep their relationship secret she’d seen many things in those eyes but this sadness was a first. Panic and fear lived in those eyes too. Aimee wanted to reach up and wipe them away but they both knew there was reason to be afraid. Her father would not suffer a slave to live. Not when that slave had laid his hand on his only daughter. It wouldn’t matter that she’d given herself willingly. Nor would it matter that when Ahmadou’s fingers moved along her body they left not only passion but also a trail of love. Her father wouldn’t understand love if it stabbed him in his heart.
“Let’s run,” she said again. Her plea bellied the defeat she felt. Ahmadou held her wrists and brought his forehead to hers.
“Mon Dieu, I love you.”
He kissed her slowly, sweetly and then the footsteps were upon them.
Ahmadou didn’t put up a fight as they yanked him from her and led him away with their torches blazing and chants ringing loudly in the air. She wanted to scream but nothing came. She couldn’t even move her leaden feet from where she stood.
“Let’s go Aimee.”
A strong hand gripped her elbow and navigated her through the trees and back towards the main house.
“Papa wants to see you.”
She shook her head fiercely, “I don’t want to see him.”
Her brother sighed. Jean stared at her for several seconds before he said, “You have to see him. He’s concerned for you.”
“What will they do to him?”
“What will they do to him?” she demanded so loudly that several men milling about turned to watch the spectacle developing. Jean grabbed her and pulled her up the stone steps and into the foyer.
Mustn’t shame the family any further, she thought bitterly.
Her father would avenge her ‘defilement’ but they all knew that the truth would always be whispered. Aimee Lareaux gave herself to her father’s field slave.
“He’ll be burned…”
She screamed, her green eyes flashing with the anger and hurt she couldn’t contain. She beat her hands against his chest until she couldn’t anymore. Defeated, she let them fall to her side.
“He’s bewitched you…”
“I love him.”
“Papa should have left you in France. I knew the colonies…”
She slapped him, “Damn you. Damn you both. I hate you. It doesn’t end like this.”
The rhythm of the house slowed during the hours Aimee lay in bed watching candlelight flicker shadows against her wall. She knew what she had to do. She imagined Ahmadou lying next to her, pushing her curly, red hair from her face and laughing softly at the preposterousness of her plan.
“Ma fleur,” he’d say. “This plan of yours will never work.”
She turned to her side hugging herself tightly as the tears escaped unto her pillow. It will work. It must.
When she could no longer hear footsteps or voices she moved to her wardrobe and pulled out a scruffy, hooded overcoat. Aimee scanned the outside of her window fearing that her father would’ve sent men to guard it. She breathed a sigh of relief when she could see nothing but the flowerbed below. With the same careful, precise steps Ahmadou taught her, she climbed down the mango tree that grew just outside her window. When her feet touched the ground she pulled on the coat and ran.
“Shivee,” she yelled when she finally made her way to a small hut at the far end of the plantation. One second, two seconds, three seconds passed before she heard the shuffling of feet.
Aimee still tried to catch her breath when the tall, slender dark skinned woman summoned her towards the hut.
“They’ve taken him,” she said. “They have him.”
The woman placed a palm on either side of Aimee’s cheeks and sighed, “I told you both sooner or later…”
“Help us,” Aimee pleaded. “Please.”
“There’s nothing I can…”
“Damn it. I know about your voodoo and I know about Beatrice and Eleanor. I know they meet with you and you practice things that got them transported from France. I know that’s why no one looks for you here. I know you have power.”
Shivee stared at her. Aimee resisted the urge to shrink into herself under her penetrating gaze. Instead, she stood taller.
“Ahmadou told me stories. I know you can help.”
“You love him.”
Aimee nodded wiping the tears away with back of her hands, “I do.”
“I won’t live without him Shivee,” Aimee said her voice a mere whisper. The older woman’s forehead creased but after several seconds she nodded.
“Nine. You’ll have nine chances to find him again.”
“How?” Aimee asked. She tried to turn the words over in her mind, tried to make sense of Shivee’s cryptic statement but nothing came.
“How much do you love him?” Shivee asked again.
“With everything I have,” Aimee responded more confused than ever, “I don’t…”
Shivee patted her cheek gently, “Nine chances.”
“But I don’t know what to do…”
“How much do you love him?” Shivee asked and this time without waiting for Aimee’s answer she strode towards the hut.
Aimee stood in the throng of the crowd, her vision blurred by the tears that wouldn’t stop falling. She was shocked at the size of the crowd that gathered. There were women in fancy dresses looking on with glee. Men puffed on tobacco. She wanted to scream at them. Could they not see that something horrendous was about to happen? Aimee seethed at everything… at God, herself, her father, at Jean but mostly at Shivee for refusing to help. She’d tried for the entire day to make sense of the cryptic statement but couldn’t.
“It’s the least Claude could do to avenge the honour of his daughter,” one woman said. “Poor child.”
Aimee pushed herself forward through the crowd trying to block out the snippets of conversations which all seemed to be some variation of the last. She wanted to scream at them to shut up and to beg them to understand. But, Aimee knew that it was too late for hope and that it was too late for dreaming. She’d failed. She couldn’t save him. She finally got to the front of the crowd and her world spun off its axis and crashed. She gasped at the sight of Ahmadou’s bruised and bloodied body. His head hung limply to the side. A stocky man was busy piling dry leaves at the base of the stick he was tied to. Then, he doused it with a liquid from a bucket.
Fear gripped her throat so that she could barely breathe. The stocky man threw the liquid from the bucket unto Ahamdou and he stirred. His lips were pulled down in a grimace of pain and fresh tears pricked at Aimee’s eyes. She was used to seeing those lips curved into a smile or placing kisses of her forehead. She caught his eye and he tried, but failed, to smile for her. Time hung between them like fog before the stocky man lit a piece of wood and handed it to Aimee’s father.
“Avenge your daughter.”
Her father dropped the stick unto the leaves and the flames roared. Through the loud chatter and applause Aimee heard Ahmadou’s screams. She looked away unable to stop the nausea that roiled in her stomach. As she looked off in the crowd she spotted Shivee frowning at her.
What have I missed?
Shivee’s repeated question echoed in her mind, “How much do you love him?”
“I won’t live without him,” she whispered slowly. Realization dawned. She nodded in Shivee’s direction and watched as relief spread across the older woman’s face. Then she began to run towards her love, towards the flames.
© Rilzy Adams, 2014
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