SCROLL DOWN FOR A CHAPTER EXCERPT
The Island of Martinique, June 1848
Eulie had long given up any pretense of modesty. The threadbare muslin shift revealed more than it covered when it rained, and it rained most days. It was raining now, sluicing down the faces and bodies of the female cane field workers. The men fared no better in their ragged breeches and bakoua hats. Neither rain nor boiling sun deterred the workers as their billhooks rose and fell among the sugarcane fields. The swish and crack of the sharp, curved knives against the stalks was like the sound of bones being broken.
“You, girl,” a boy called out.
She angled her body toward the speaker, her arms cradling cut stalks ready for the cart. It was Ozee, a boy about her age. She’d felt his black eyes on her all morning, though he would never seek to look her in the eyes. Nor would anyone besides the very young who knew no better, and the whites, the bekes who ran the plantation. Even those of low caste, the mixed chabines like her, refused set their sight on her eyes.
Ozee was handsome, his skin the blackest of blacks. He was desired by many girls. Yet she’d often felt his gaze upon her. If not for the color of her eyes, he might think to take her hand, lead her to the cover of the forest beyond the beach, despite her being among the lowest of castes. He might think it, but Eulie knew he would never act on it. There are some lines that can never be crossed.
“I am Eulie,” she said, lowering her gaze the way a modest girl should, though catching his countenance through her lashes.
“I know who you are, girl” he said, not unkindly. Of course, he knew, but to say her name was to see it.
“You are Ozee,” she said.
Casting his gaze away from her, he smiled a crooked smile at her attempt to engage him. He was cunning, but so was she. She returned his crooked smile. It was a game that had no good end.
“This cart is full. Take it to the mill house now, he said, slapping the mule’s hind quarters with the flat of his machete.”
“Oh, so it is,” she answered, grabbing the yoke as the mule jumped forward. Arching her neck, she pressed her lips together and whistled the call of a mating dove. She stifled a giggle to see the startled look on his face.
She had dallied, and he knew it. Her days at the field would soon end. No longer a young child, she would be trained for the mill and even for the boiling house. Dread of those murderous places welled up in her as she made a pretense of guiding the mule along the rutted path. Her mother had died in the mill house when her hands had been caught and crushed by the iron rollers that pressed the juice from the cane. Her arms had been sliced clean through by a worker with an axe. It was his sole purpose for being there, so frequent were the incidents. Her mother had not survived. Most did not.