Cut and Sold Shackles of the 21st Century
“We will never be free without this,” and Sahr extended his palm.
Time sped up, flying through a tube of water, carrying the viewer to a beautiful horizon overlooking a distant shore. The image fanned out as time spilled into the clear, beautiful water, the home of eels, multi-colored fish, and underwater turtles. A man stood aboard a fishing boat, reeling in a net. After placing his catch in a small icebox, he returned to the cramped quarters of the boat. There slept Sahr.
“Morning, my sleepy friend. How are you today?”
Stretching, Sahr yawned and squinted his eyes. “Where the hell are we?”
“Somewhere you have not been—somewhere called the Atlantic Sea. We will stop at Spain—replenish our supplies—and continue to the Land of the Free.”
“The hell is that?”
The man knowingly understood. Sahr had not been anywhere but in the diamond mining camps since age five. He’d been lucky to have avoided the child soldier raids, and the radical transformation into bloodthirsty killers. His clothing was ragged, his feet were cut and bruised, and his skin was dark. He had every piece to the puzzle, except he wasn’t stereotypically cold and merciless. He was a man hungry for education, a daring African slave that represented not only every African slave’s struggle, but what it took to overcome that struggle. The man knew his struggle, and how close he had come to becoming that heartless bloodthirsty killer. He had lived in that situation for years. But something intuitive told him about Sahr, something that told him he had a heart that was the size of a grapefruit, one that had been broken by Africa. The bigger issue, he knew, was not learning to live with a broken heart, but learning how to fix it and improve it for the future.
“America is known as the Land of the Free, though many argue different. I know what it like to live in America, as I have been there many times. I have learned what it mean to be white, and what it mean to be African. I have tried many a time to learn their English, and to learn their way of living.” He sadly shook his head. “But I have yet to learn what it mean to be white.”
“Is America only white?”
He shook his head. “It has become more diverse, it has become much better since 60s. But still you feel the anger and tension between races like us and them bubble like hot water in the air.”
“What is Spain?”
“A place in Europe.”
Sahr rolled out of bed, and nearly fell. He didn’t have great sea legs, and the wake of the water rocked the boat, sending Sahr to the floor as he attempted to stand. “That is where I need to be.”
“In Spain? The diamond?”
Sahr nodded his head, remembering. “There is a place called Europe where you can sell it.” “My friend told me that Europe was the place to go—the place where diamonds can be sold for thousands of dollars.”
The man conceded. “Yes. It is a place where they can be traded for green. But where you need to go is New York, the United States of America, where deals are cut randomly and without watch. It is there you make lot of money, where you can make a life. Do not try in Spain, even though we will stop there.”
“How long will the journey be?”
The fisherman scratched his head. “My name is Chatuluka. Yours?”
“Sahr. Thank you for your kindness.”
Chatuluka smiled. “It is no problem. I see something different in you than the others.”
Sahr frowned, his previous query forgotten. “And what is that?”
“I know that you will not sell that diamond.”
There was a pregnant pause where the smell of slippery fish and the sound of water slapping against the boat could only be sensed. Both men looked at each other.
“What the hell do you mean by that?”
“Man, my name is Chatuluka, meaning the departure. You are departing for a new life, as that diamond will depart from you.”
“Do not play games with me,” Sahr said dangerously.
“No game is played when the truth is spoken. I have taken many blood diamond carriers—all of them look just like you—but not a single one of them has the same spirit like you. They, in turn, sold their diamonds and are most likely living rich today. All of which got me in trouble…all of which are dead today because their sins came back to haunt them. They ceded to the diamond’s demands.”
“It means to give up.”
“Right. Where did you learn to speak like these white people you speak of?”
“You will learn as time will pass in New York. That is where I learned—from New York and books. My grammar will never be good as white peoples, but man, they have good grammar! But first you must eat much protein and nutrients to keep you alive. We will be getting to know each other very well during the next months.”
Sahr’s eyes widened. “The **** are you talking about? How far away is Sane and this United States?”
Chatuluka laughed. He almost looked sad, pitying Sahr’s ignorance and isolation from the world for so long. “Miles upon miles…miles that will take months to travel. You cannot hope to get there any other way, and you cannot hope to depart Africa through any way apart from this fishing boat. It will become your home, if you like.”
“If I like?”
“If you choose, you could, of course, leave at Spain and hope to sell your diamond. You will be scammed, if not killed, or could fail without even selling it. There are organizations like Waterford Crystal and other diamond buyers and makers that will make your every dream come alive.” The man looked at him, watching Sahr’s eyes light. This one could not wait to depart his old life and embark upon a new one, Chatuluka thought.
Sahr sat back and thought for minutes at a time, and Chatuluka left him alone to think. Ideas were racing through his head about this mysterious place called New York, this organization called Waterford Crystal, the diamond still clutched in his hand, and the life he could have. He imagined calling servants to his side, like those Abubakarr had in Africa, those attractive female ones that were always pretty. He wouldn’t force them to, like Abubakarr had, and would treat them well. He’d treat each of them like they were special, and could have everything in the world, because he believed they could, and should. They’d be employed if their heart desired, and maybe, he might have a wife. Maybe two. Or three. Who knew what America would be like?
He stretched, and smelled himself. He smelled like the jungle in which he’d spent days camped in, waiting for a way out. The scent of leaves, dirt, odor, and that outside smell were all scents he experienced. His shirt smelled like cold iron and so he took it off. He walked to Chatuluka, who was repairing a net.
“Listen, I need to bathe myself. Do you have”—
Chatuluka handed him a hose with a bar of soap, but didn’t say anything.
Still no response.
Sahr took his cue and left Chatuluka alone, and cleansed his body as far from Chatuluka as he could. There were times where men should be left alone, Sahr had learned. He started at his head, his head that was currently covered by slightly dirty and unkempt hair. It had grown out during his time in the jungle into a small covering of hair, and had collected bramble and dirt. He closed his eyes, and let cold water rinse him off, the sun drying him.
It wasn’t rain, but a cleansing. His first cleansing since Africa, where his head and body were thrust into small bodies of water, nude, in public areas. He shuddered at the thought, but felt it all wash away…he felt a new commencement.
The water traveled down his body, the soap soft and caring to his skin. He didn’t care what he smelled like, but knew Chatuluka would—it wasn’t about hygiene, but about consideration. He owed the man his life. The water continued to pour, now becoming soap water as it gathered at his feet on the boat’s floor. It drained off the back.
He breathed, and stretched once again. Instead of utilizing a towel he perceived just a few feet away, he lay out in the sun, and relaxed. The sun was hot enough to dry him in half an hour. He laid there until dark. Even though he was asleep, his fist remained tightly curled around the diamond.
Sahr felt as though he’d accomplished something not many had, something that was unique, something hardly attainable. He didn’t know what, or how, but there was something that he had represented, something that not even he knew what it was.
Time twirled itself like a baton once again, causing the image to blur and blacken. The hours on Earth’s clock quickened, and settled on nine p.m., where night had fallen, its impenetrable darkness flooding the water and fisherman boat. The only light seen for miles was the small lantern hanging above the two men inside the boat, both of who were eating and conversing.
Sahr was no longer on the upper level, but in the cabin room with Chatuluka. He was consuming fish, fruit, and a beer, food he scarcely had in Africa. He generally had rations of beans and rice, causing most of the camp—he included—to become malnourished.
After swallowing a mouthful of fish, he said, “so tell me how you got out.”
Chatuluka, who had not talked to Sahr since he’d talked with him about their voyage, said, “You mentioned earlier of being free because of dee diamond. But what it will do is imprison you, just like Africa has. You have broken free from dee jungles, except until you discard that diamond, Africa will never leave you, and you will never truly leave Africa. You say that you will be free. But what you have done is place a dependency upon an object that carries dee memories you hate the most.”
“Look man, I’ve gotten enough from you for one day. It will build a new life for me.”
“And it will tear it down just as it builds you one.”
“I don’t know what you’re saying, but you’re wrong.”
Chatuluka shook his head sadly, dusting off his a book he carried on white people’s vocabulary. “Maybe one day you will understand.”
“If you think they’re so bad, why do people take blood diamonds?”
“Because they’re tax-free, and they make more money for white people’s buildings and structures. So why don’t you tell me how your story?”
Sahr toyed with his food, and pushed it around his plate. He sighed, exhaling before starting his story. He opened his mouth, and it all spilled out, starting with the mining camp, starting with him conversing with his friend.
Once he started, he couldn’t stop—it just ran out of his mouth, detail after detail. He traveled from his conversations with his friend to what his friend had told him about the diamond, and him placing it in between Sahr’s toes. He stood up, and the whistle was blown.
Sahr sniffed; he tried as hard as he could to not be overwhelmed. The memories were ones that had been burned into his body, ones that he felt he couldn’t erase. “Africa will never leave you, and you will never truly leave Africa.”
Sahr remembered the humid heat, the humid atmosphere, and the imminent danger encircling him continually. He remembered his hands shaking as his friend placed the diamond in between his toes, fear clutching his every organ like claws. He watched the bastard Abubakarr blast his friend away after refusing to collect the diamond, which his friend had lied, claiming it was in the water. His body twitched like he suffered from epilepsy, the bullets running through his body like a track runner running a 100 meter. They opened the skin easily, wounds sprouting like undesired weeds. There was nothing pretty about it, no romanticism as twenty-five black holes spewed red blood, blood that had wet the sand for centuries. Blood that would wet the sand for centuries to come.
Sahr was no longer explaining his story, but reliving it; reliving it to the tiniest detail. The chamber clicked, A sound that reverberated in his head, the sounds of tintinnabulation ringing in his head like bells. The click of the chamber became louder, louder until he was asked by Abubakarr to locate the diamond. Sahr’s pulse increased, his eyes widened, his fists curled and—Sahr lunged, knocking Abubakarr to the ground, disarming him, and beheaded the man, justice having been served—
Sahr pulled out of his narration, and looked around. He had a knife in his left hand, Chatuluka’s head in the other. Holding his head by the scalp, Sahr saw just how close the blade was to his throat. His body shook, making Sahr shake. They both starting quivering, both afraid of the other. Chatuluka did not move; he was shaking, but did not move.
Sahr felt a tear escape out of his eye, and run down his dark cheek. “You see what Africa has done to us? We are savages.”
Chatuluka stood, and brushed the knife away pacifically. “We are not savages. We are the savages people portray us as. We will always be strong, so continue with your story.”
Sahr finished his story, culminating with him hiding in the jungle before approaching the docks. His words slowed, time fazing the mind and tongue. The image blurred, just like before, to viewing a calendar, where days began to speed into weeks, which sped into months, which transformed into over half a year, the calendar pages eventually finished with no more room for time to pass. An image broke out of the calendar, an image that grew quickly, its size increasing, the shape being a perfect rhombus, four equal sides growing continually until it swallowed the entire picture. The image swiveled.
“But since I made it here…I can make it anywhere…yeah, they love me everywhere…”
“Cruising down Eighth Street, all white Lexus…”
“Now I live on the billboard…”
“Man, I could trip a referee, you can tell by my attitude that I am most definitely in”—
“These lights will inspire you, because you’re in”—
Sahr had stepped off the boat and onto the soil of the United States of America. He’d been to Spain, he’d crossed the Atlantic. He’d spent days being lectured by Chatuluka about the dangers and shams diamond buyers pulled. “Check the money…” “Count dee money…” “If he’s a white man, be extra-cautious…” Sahr had so many things to remember. Chatuluka recommended a diamond buyer that represented Waterford Crystal, one that other diamond sellers he knew had done business with.
New York was simply amazing, the “city that never sleeps.” He’d never imagined for there to be such beauty in such a city with so much grey and white. People wore suits, and looked like grey boxes on feet. They walked from Destination A to Destination B. They went from their mobile box to their office box, and then went home to live in a box. Then they woke up, and walked around in boxes.
The beauty was seen in the multi-colored lights, the street lights, the season (apparently white people celebrated ‘Christmas’), and so much more. Sahr was dumbfounded by New York and white people, and how people could love living in boxes. On the other hand, he couldn’t love it more for its structure.
Time became another blur, from him carrying his diamond to checking into his hotel to him eventually sitting in the Soup Nazi’s restaurant. Sahr had showered, loving the availability of water for bathing, but he began to sweat from his forehead to his palms. This is it, he thought. He could have hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few hours. His nerves were shot; what was the dealer going to look like?
A man stepped in, the door to the restaurant jingling. He was wearing a cloak, a hat, and a tailored Armani suit and pants. He walked to a waiter, and whispered in his ear. He looked at Sahr, and walked forward.
He sat down at the table, a seemingly complacent man with the richness to do anything in the world. “So, Sahr. I have heard plenty about you. How do you do?”
Time twirled…and perspectives changed. The image portrayed by time caught up to a man crossing a street who was wearing a long cloak. He entered the Soup Kitchen, and walked to a waiter.
“Excuse me sir, but have you seen a dark African in here by any chance?”
The man pointed, and hastily walked away. The mysterious man could not even thank him.
He walked up to the dark man sitting at the table, watching his every move as he nervously drummed his right hand on the table. He sat down opposite Sahr.
“So, Sahr. I have heard plenty about you. How do you do?” He asked in a smooth English accent.
“Good. I want to deal now.”
“But wait just a few! I have not even introduced myself. The name is Charles.”
Sahr raised his eyebrows. “Charles?”
Charles smiled. “Nothing more.” Charles looked Sahr over innocently, looking more interested than critical. Right hand quivering, left under table. Potentially holding a weapon, or the diamond itself. Shirt torn and dotted lightly with water—perhaps perspiration. Forehead glistening with sweat limited hair in dire need of cutting. Clearly arrived by boat. Voice slightly shaky. Extremely nervous and paranoid. Current projected success:5 percent. Connection and trust need to be gained immediately.
“So…how was your trip?”
“It was fine. Where is the money?” Sahr’s teeth were yellow and cracked. He looked slightly hungry, his build lean and slightly malnourished but muscular. Clearly someone’s been feeding him. Malnourishment due to camps, perhaps. He seems more money-oriented than food-oriented at the moment, which is typical of first-time diamond sellers. His questions should not be answered at the moment. Trust must be gained before anything else.
“Listen, I know you are extraordinarily hungry for money, and I understand that. But frankly, I’ve had an exponentially long day, and would love dipping into some clam chowder. How about it?”
Charles watched Sahr subconsciously glance at a chef walking by with a fish tank of fish. And then at the soup bar. His eyes finally rested on Charles. C’mon…you know you want some clam chowder…
“Gotcha! I knew you would be ameanable,” Charles beamed at Sahr, but watched Sahr’s eyes narrow slightly. Charles stopped smiling immediately. Well, this one’s a little smarter than the others. Note: sincerity can’t be proven through physical means. All attempts must be verbal before money is presented. The time is currently 5:53 p.m. Still running on schedule; forty minutes to departure.
Sahr yawned, his wide black lips stretching to reveal a dirty mouth. Different time zone; recent diamond mining camps have been found in Sierra Leone. The current time is close to two a.m. in most of Western Africa. Probably immigrated illegally with the help of a good friend via boat. Extremely jet-lagged, tired, and paranoid. This could be more difficult than anticipated, though something is to note that he scheduled a deal just a few hours after he arrived.
The two men continued to sit there, both drinking clam chowder in a diplomatic fashion, though not being diplomatic at all. Neither trusted the other; both were paranoid and expecting the worst. They worked their way through three soups and a dessert. Conversation was continually created, becoming more flowered by the minute. Sahr’s trust in Charles, however minimal, had increased by a tenfold. The food is the key source here…keeping him fed, like anyone else, improves one’s mood and lessens his or her paranoia. Brilliant—I only need ten more minutes of this to reach a predictably positive outcome.
Twenty minutes had passed. Charles put down his spoon, but didn’t look Sahr in the eyes. Not yet, don’t indicate interest in pausing. Just ten more minutes of conversation and we’ll be on even ground.
But Sahr had misinterpreted his lowering of the spoon. He lowered his as well. “So, to business.”
Charles knew he couldn’t suppress it any longer. “To business,” he agreed. “Allow me to view the diamond, please.”
Sahr hesitated. Inexperience in negotiations. “Let me see the money.”
“Why don’t we do it at the same time,” Charles said rhetorically, and didn’t expect an answer. He took out his concealed briefcase, which was attached to the inside of his cloak. It wasn’t heavy. He waved it at Sahr slowly. “The diamond.”
Sahr raised his left hand from under the table, which had remained there ever since he’d entered the Soup Kitchen. Latter guess was correct; he was holding the diamond. This African is no less armed than he is intelligent.
Sahr extended his palm. “We will never be free without this.”
Charles obtained permission to examine the diamond, and looked at it in closer detail. He pulled out a magnifier, and then threw it against the ground.
Sahr lurched out his seat, his eyes wide and mouth aghast. “What the hell have you done?!”
Charles’ own heart had accelerated, and knew he had to calm Sahr immediately. “Calm, Sahr, calm down. Diamonds are the hardest element in the entire world. A real diamond doesn’t break, just like this one didn’t,” Charles acknowledged Sahr’s genuine diamond with a nod and smile as he picked it up.
Their fish had arrived, which were apparently compliments from the chef. Sahr was distracted by more food, but looked at the fish, scrutinizing it. A frown appeared, and he itched his ankle. Booger, mate! What the hell is going on?
Sahr placed his right index finger pointing upwards, and rested his head with his thumb below his chin and his middle finger covering his lips. Oh shit, critical evaluation look. Alright, I have to go loud. He’s backing out of the deal. Something’s wrong here…something’s very wrong.
Sahr asked to look at the money, and Charles permitted him to do so. “Where’s the rest?” Sahr had opened the briefcase and had poked through the first layer of cash.
It was now Charles’ turn to perspire. He retracted his hands, and wiped his palms with a handkerchief. Breathing, he said, “Well, Sahr, if you’d like, you’re welcome to count it. But those hundred dollar bills—the ones with Benjamin Franklin on it—add to two hundred thousand dollars. You have heard of Benjamin Franklin, I’m presuming? He’s from the United States.”
Charles was using a dirty move, one that relied solely upon Sahr’s lack of education. Of course he couldn’t count, of course he didn’t even know what a hundred dollar bill was. He was only told that his diamond could be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He’d never heard of Benjamin Franklin, and this ignorant white man seemed to think he came from the soil in which he sat. It was offensive, inflammatory, and distracting—it made Sahr mad inside that he didn’t know, that he hadn’t brushed up on his studies of America while on the fishing boat. It antagonized him to the point where his blood was rushing to his head, where he was not only mad, but distracted.
“I do not come from here,” Sahr said angrily, his face slightly red.
Charles feigned ignorance. “To what do you refer? I thought you lived just down the block, and Chatuluka—a great friend of mine—had met you in the neighborhood!”
But something was happening. It was backfiring upon Charles, his whole plot had backfired—he’d pushed Sahr beyond the limit, and made him feel stupid and, more importantly, vulnerable. He should’ve picked up on Sahr’s critical evaluation look faster, showing skepticism and negative thoughts, but he took a risky, desperate last move and stabbed Sahr in the side by pointing out Sahr’s lack of education and illiteracy. Sahr looked at the briefcase, and then the fish. He put two and two together, and snatched the diamond.
“You son a bitch. You never were going to pay me, you arrogant white man. You think because I’m African I’m that stupid to fall for plot? Is that why you had me come alone, so that I couldn’t read that these are ten dollar bills, instead of one hundred dollar bills?” Sahr quivered with anger; his fists had clenched as fast as his jaw had. His face became even darker as blood rushed to his head in his anger. “I came to help myself, to help my people, to make a difference in my life, not a difference in yours! I did not come here to make you rich!”
Goddamn niggers. Charles’ suave style, voice, and clothing all changed. His voice became hostile, he packed up his briefcase, secured it in his jacket, and put it on. He stiffened, and his fists too curled. “Let me bring you a small newsflash, you African ape. No one gives a shit about you, Sahr. No one travels thousands of miles to buy you! No one pays hundreds of millions of dollars for you, you ignorant twat! None of this has to do with you”—
“Oh I see, so you don’t care about us! I understand it all now! It’s just about the money, isn’t it? You never gave a hair about me, this lunch, or my story! I thought you cared”—
“You seem to think that I actually rat’s ass about Africa and your people. We used to bring you niggers by shipload into where you stand now, you ape! People like Conrad put you back in line, and described you for what you are, a bloody savage!”
“We—are—not—savages. You are a controlling white cracker, one who deserves to die in the hole in which you grew out of.”
“And your insolent behavior forces me to castigate you, just like we did in 1600s. It’ll be old style, Pekkie Ou…it’ll be old style. Just like when we had you people under control.” He opened his cloak, and a magnum rested above his pubic area.
Sahr looked from the magnum to the briefcase and to the fish, their eyes dead in their sockets. Their bodies were half-open, reminding him of shrapnel…reminding him of Africa. It saddened and angered him concurrently. But more importantly, he was reminded of the situation at hand.
Chatuluka signaled for Sahr to run, and walked into the now-shocked restaurant. The fight had become so loud that even the cooks were peering over the counter to see what was going on. Sahr’s eyes traveled from the fish to a six-round magnum staring at him mischievously, as though a child was holding it, knowing he was acting naughtily. Its chamber stared at him with the darkness to swallow the room, the darkness to swallow a calendar. As soon as that trigger was pulled, his calendar was at an end. The gun would swallow him just like the rhombus swallowed the calendar.
“You don’t represent Africa, you nigger. You’ll never get help.”
“And you don’t represent buyers. You’ll never get this diamond.”
“Put dee weapon down, Charles. Your time is at an end.”
Charles didn’t even turn, but rolled his eyes. “It’s the famous Chatuluka, who lets diamond sellers immigrate to the United States by the shitload illegally. Oh yes, I don’t think I will,” and Charles spun on the spot.
Sahr turned and ran. He did not stop, not even to avoid people, but simply barreled his way through. He leapt through a window, glass shattering everywhere like tintinnabulation of the click of an AK-47, signaling him to run. He sprinted down an alley, and didn’t stop—he ran all the way through a park, down an apartment block, and around another corner. His heart hammered, telling him to never stop, to never stop running. He knew he could never escape the gunshots, as they still rang as loudly as police sirens, wailing their way down the street.
Sahr leaned over, wheezing as he was out of breath. He couldn’t believe it. He cursed the day’s events. How would he feed himself? He had a few dollars left from Chatuluka and Leone money, virtually useless. He couldn’t even buy food, much less an actual home. All he had was that diamond. It was a drug; intoxicating him with excitement while making him go into withradrawl…if only he could become independent of it.
He looked at a diamond cutter store, then at the trash can, at a distant alley. So many ways to destroy it. He looked at a “fast cash” dealer, a family walking across the street with a young boy hopping along with his mother, a lollipop falling out of his mouth. He looked at the sadness the boy was experiencing. The mother pulled him along. And yet there were so many reasons to keep it.
“Until you discard that diamond, Africa will never leave you, and you will never truly leave Africa.”
Sahr thought about Charles. He muttered, “fucking crackers.”
Bleeding out and resisting arrest, Charles thought about Sahr. “fucking niggers.”
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” (Carl Jung)