To the editor of the heralded Appalachian publication, that you should find the telling of my plight compelling enough to share with your loyal followers dispersed among the outer colonies, so that they may find themselves aware of the true, harrowing nature of Freedonia, a dismal and deluded state that one should only experience through the exterior observation of my prose.
I have never told a soul of the horrors witnessed in Freedonia, the self-lauded capitol of the Columbian empire. I have myself endured an utterly detestable encounter in the capital, an experience I have for years attempted to bury somewhere in the wastelands of my tainted conscience. Through the telling of this true account I hope to make amends for the crimes I have committed, the atrocities forced upon me by the misguided peoples of the Freedonian state, under an empire rapidly growing into a global power that will dominate all commerce and culture within every continent and sea. A colossal state of such magnitude must have its moral rectitude held accountable. Henceforth, as I lay here dying of this terminal affliction, I write to you to scorn the misguided morals of the Freedonian way, and to make peace with myself as I welcome the sweet kiss goodnight of death.
It was upon spring twenty years ago where I made a visit to Freedonia. I was a trader from Columbia’s recently acquired western colonies, and I took to the capitol to secure a contract with the Merchant Marine Company. While docking in Freedonia’s eastern port, Ellis Crossing, I set my eyes on the famous statue erected within the harbor. It was a large, green statue of a woman adorned in an elegant gown, her gaze fixed downwards upon a small black child, to whom she directed an outstretched hand. The frail black hand reached upwards towards the lady’s but did not touch it, the tips of the fingertips reaching, but not connecting. At the base of the statue a plaque read:
Send me your weak and weary, those crushed by the states of dreary, and I will grant solace to the poor the world deplores. Here they shall be lifted up! It is the Freedonian way to rescue those from the fray of the savage jungles far away. Here there is freedom and liberty for thee!
While heading back to my hotel after securing a contract with the Merchant Marine Company, it became known to me that my shoes suffered considerable wear, compelling me to seek out replenishing services. I made my way to a shop I spotted while crossing the large bridge leading into the inner city, and decided to request replenishment there. I was soon greeted by the proprietor, a large, aged man of stern countenance. His chin presented an unkempt, white beard, and he wore bedraggled clothes.
“Good morning. What can I do for ya?” he asked.
I responded, “I just need a moment of your time for repair services, as my shoes have taken very poorly to all the roads while exploring the city.”
“Oh, that’s no trouble at all. Have a seat over there and I’ll have em’ taken care of,” he directed me. I took a seat in a large oak chair on the bridge and fixed my gaze upon the serenity of the countryside. I looked over to my left and saw a thin black boy seated on a wooden box, eyes closed and beads of perspiration sliding down his face. “Boy get over there and fix up the gentlemen’s shoes! Hark along now you lazy indolent,” the proprietor commanded resentfully. As I watched the small black boy hobble on over to me piteously, I began to feel a slight discomfort, for I immediately recognized the boy was of poor health. His clothes were tattered and grimy, and the bloody sores on his leg oozed puss.
“Sir,” the boy addressed me in lowly voice, refraining from looking me in the eyes. He grunted as he lowered himself to inspect my shoes, and his display of discomfort in this simple physical exertion suggested he was in great pain. Moved with compassion for this poor boy, I directed an interrogation to the proprietor, who sat back in his chair reading the morning paper.
“Pardon me sir, but this boy bears a look of poor physical health. Surely you could send him home for the day, so he can reinvigorate himself through proper care and treatment?”
“Excuse me?” the proprietor responded gruffly as he glanced up from his paper.
“The boy doesn’t look healthy. I don’t think it’s in his best interests to toil today. He looks like he needs medical attention.”
The proprietor chuckled. “I can tell you’re not from here. You ever see a nigger before?”
I shook my head. The proprietor returned his attention to the newspaper.
“They’re all born with diseases that make em’ look like that. Besides, best not to let em’ go home. When they young like that, they like to go out and cause trouble. I let him go now and who knows which young wench is gonna be running up into the lawman’s office after being raped. They got these urges. It’s best to keep em in place.” The boy removed a small cloth from his pocket and began to work away at the dirt on my shoes, all the while sniffling and occasionally pausing to let out a harsh cough.
“Hmph,” I uttered as I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “I hope that you will forgive me. I am unaccustomed to receiving the services of slaves, as we do not make use of their labor in the outer colonies. I didn’t realize it was common practice here. I’ve only read of the practice in history textbooks.”
“‘Slave’ is such an outdated term. They are human beings after all.” The proprietor was now gazing upon the boy with a look of compassion on his face. “We are giving them work—something to do, something to make their lives out of. We really are helping them find a sense of purpose,” he remarked with an air of idealism. “Yes, we earn our keep by the sweat of our brow. Are these… workers compensated for their sweat? ” I asked.
The proprietor shifted his gaze towards me, pausing momentarily. He began, “Look sir, their kind, they can’t even do arithmetic. Their brains can’t handle the uh, computations. A chance to work and make meaning of themselves is compensation enough. What we are giving them, the wonderful provision of meaningful labor, the kind that gives a man a reason to exist, a chance to harness his talents and contribute to society, well sir I’d imagine that’s worth far more than wages.”
I stared back at the proprietor, unable to offer a reply. I tried to discern in his eyes whether or not he truly believed the absurdity of his philosophy.
After a few moments passed, the boy began to stammer, “Masta’, oh masta’, I don’t feel very well.” He stood up, wobbling, his weary eyes trembling and blinking repeatedly.
“Pipe down boy and continue working on those shoes! You are well-aware of the consequences for acting out,” the proprietor grumbled harshly.
“Sir, you have been very kind, but your services are beyond necessity. It’s a simple repair job I can manage on my own”, I offered, fixing myself upright in preparation to depart the shop.
Just then, the boy, with an odd jerking of his stomach, sputtered, “I really don’t feel—” before he could finish vomit projected forth from his mouth all over my shoes.
“What in the hell are you doing!” the proprietor furiously shouted as he sprang from his seat. He glanced at me momentarily, his face flushed red in anger. The boy began to sob.
“It’s quite alright, the boy is ill. It’s alright.” I was trying to sympathize with the poor boy and calm the proprietor, who stood with lips quivering in uncontrollable rage.
“What a disgrace!” he screamed while hurling the newspaper at the boy. My heart beat faster and a knot tightened in my stomach at the sight of his outrage.
I attempted to mutter, “Dear sir, truly I tell you—”
The proprietor darted towards the boy and struck his head, propelling him downwards into the pile of vomit. “You good for nothing look at what you’ve done!” he screamed as he kicked the crying boy in the stomach. “Stop sir!” I pleaded, frozen in place as an icy chill constricted my muscles. My stomach churned.
The proprietor stood arched over the boy, his shoulders heaving as he caught his breath. He turned towards me and locked his cold, lifeless stare into my eyes, saying in between breaths, “This demands punishment. It’s the Freedonian way”. Deep down I felt a horrible sinking feeling, the kind you get when you know something is
terribly wrong and you are completely powerless to change it. Outside onlookers began amassing on bridge, startled by the commotion, murmuring to themselves with disgusted faces as they pointed at the boy laying in his own vomit. I heard the sound of hoofs knocking on cobble, and I turned to see a policeman approaching us on horseback. I felt a sense of relief as he departed the horse and walked towards us. The proprietor grabbed the boy by his shirt and dragged him outside the shop, over to the concrete wall of the bridge, ignoring the boy’s cries to stop. He sat the boy on top of the wall, and the boy covered his face with his hands. He faintly whispered to himself, “Mama, mama…”
“What are you doing?” I asked in a shaky voice, trying to conceal my trembling hands in my trouser pockets. I swallowed the thin, icy air.
“I’m not doing anything. The question is, what are you are going to do? Here in Freedonia, no one is above the law. For when the common man rises above the law, he tears down the pillars of our just society. Anarchy ensues. This nigger here publicly humiliated a white man, and for that he deserves the ultimate penalty.”
I looked over at the policeman, who stood silently, and desperately pleaded for him to intervene and stop this madness. “Look sir, I swear to you, I have taken no offense by this incident. We all befall sickness at times, it’s a natural occurrence. Please, I will be on my way, and let the boy—”
In a cold voice, the peacekeeper said, “It is the dutiful right of the citizens to uphold the law, just as much as it is for the peacekeepers. That is how we maintain peace. No one is above the law, and we all share a responsibility to uphold it. You know what you have to do. If you fail to do so, you fail us, you fail our great justice system, and there will be consequences for your condoning of this vile misconduct.” He solemnly brandished his holstered firearm. My heart wildly pounded against the caverns of my chest as hot blood rushed through my face. I looked over at the little boy, his bloody face contorted, snot and tears dripping from his nose. “I just want to go home. Ma, please just take me home,” he wept dispairingly. I stood tautly, feeling the vomit rise up my stomach. It was such a dreary day, with overcast skies and a chilly breeze passing through the tall grass in the fields below. The policeman, the onlookers, the proprietor, everyone was silent. The only audible sound was the beating of my heart.
“Well go on with it!” “Do not let this little nigger desecrate our way of life!” “I think the nigger lover is a traitor!” The shouts of the crowd carried a bitter and ugly contempt.
I haltingly approached the boy. I looked him in his delicate brown eyes. He shook his head and whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
“Me too.” I grabbed his soiled shirt, closed my eyes, and pushed him off the bridge. I sunk to the floor and vomited on the cobble. The crowd cheered.