It is to be tonight.
They said there was a chance.
For me it is a mystery what this chance is.
I was born into slavery. I knew no different but throughout my short life I had been told stories of a life away from the drudgery of our everyday.
Rape, torture and punishment were not normal they said in a civilised world. I thought it was part of our world and I was lucky to have been taught how to survive. So many I had grown up with had been killed, sold off or simply disappeared. That was common, one day you’d be working beside a person who the next day was not there and no one ever said anything about him or her disappearing.
I am well aware of the punishment for trying to escape. The owners see us as property, theirs, to do with what they please and so many do just that. We’re a disposable commodity.
But Maria who runs the quarters I sleep in has said to be ready. There is a path to follow, a light at the end of the tunnel and she intends to take me with her. ‘This is no life for a young girl,’ she says, ‘you deserve better than this.’
I am shaken awake. A hand over my mouth, Maria is leaning over me urging me to be quiet and to follow her. I do so.
I am terrified. What if we get caught? Where am I going? How will it be different? Will it be worth this unease, this fear?
I remember crawling on my stomach for what seemed an eternity. At times we lay still as patrols wandered by.
Then we reached the river. There was a boat. Maria paddled for ages until she beached the boat on a sandy bank. There was a light. Voices, whispered, hushed tones; I knew there was a clear sense of urgency in the voices I heard.
They bundled us into a wagon, we stayed there a long time. At times the wagon stopped and on one occasion a water bottle was pushed under the cover for us.
It was hot for us hidden there. The air was close, we took the risk of raising the edge of the cover to gasp in some fresh air and feel a little cool.
After an interminable time we stopped and the cover was drawn. I feared what I might see. But there were no whips, no guns, no raised voices in anger.
I found myself in the courtyard of a large house. Maria was talking to a tall white man dressed as no man I had seen before. He was in a uniform I had never seen before. They said this was his home.
Then a small white girl approached me said for me to follow her. She took me into the house and then into a room with a large tub full of water.
For me houses were places where the unspeakable happened. My first thought was I was about to experience a new form of the unspeakable.
From that night on I learnt about kindness. I discovered it happened not just among the slaves I lived with but amongst white people as well. No white person had ever shown me any kindness and it did take me a while to understand that I was safe and not likely to be taken away and punished.
My learning curve was steep but I embraced my new life and learnt so much.
It is twenty years since that night we made our escape. I work in the house of the man who first took me in. His daughter and I are best friends and we have in recent years set up a safe house for other escaped slaves, especially women whom I know come damaged from years of abuse.