Philis and Malkia are slaves owned by the Wilkins household. Friendships will emerge.
| It was a warm summer day in Virginia in the year 1892. The fields needed to be tended to and Philis was the man…or thing to tend the fields. Philis was a six foot four dark – skinned man with muscles four times as big as the average white man’s muscles. Philis spent twenty hours a day bending over pulling weeds out of the fields, and harvesting crops such as wheat, corn, and cotton. The last four hours of the day that he had, he spent with his wife. At the end of his work day, he walked to his cottage which was on a corner of the field. The floor was made of pure dirt – the walls were simply logs of wood that he had piled on top of each other. There was a simple wooden table that, once again, Philis made, and it sat on the dirt floor. Two wooden chairs sat on either side of the table, where an old dish of oatmeal sat. In the corner of the cottage was a cot that lay on the floor. Philis never had the time to build a place to put the mattress on top of. He figured it was better than simply sleeping on the floor with his wife, Malkia. Malkia has been feeling sick lately, and Philis sometimes slept on the floor as it is, to make sure Malkia was comfortable.
Philis noticed that the sun was starting to set, meaning he only had a few hours left of working. It wasn’t until dawn that he was allowed to go and get at least three hours of sleep. As soon as the first person in the Wilkins’ house woke up, Philis needed to be awake to get back to work. Work…was that what it was supposed to be called? Philis didn’t get paid or even get any benefits, unless you consider a small piece of land to build what Philis considered a house, a ‘benefit.’ Malkia always complains about the house that they have now. Where Malkia used to live, she used to have a four – room house. Her brother and sister each had a room of their own, and then her parents. They had running water, as well. Where Philis and Malkia lived now, however, there was no such thing as running water. All of their dirty dishes had to be taken into the Wilkins’ house to be cleaned and brought back. Nothing was considered the property of Philis and Malkia. Even the house that Philis built, the table that Philis built, or even the chairs…that Philis built. Everything was still owned by the Wilkins. Philis built these things with the Wilkins’ wood from their wood pile, so of course it was owned by the Wilkins.
Before Philis knew it, his work was done for the day. The sun was just starting to rise. He walked back to his house at the edge of the field, where Malkia was laying on the bed, fast asleep. Without meaning to or thinking about it, Philis took in a deep breath of air through his nose and let it out through his mouth. Malkia was never awake these days. She was always asleep by the time Philis was done with his work. Philis couldn’t help but notice how perfect Malkia looked laying on the cot. He chuckled at the fact that she was taking up the entire cot…he remembered days when they used to share it. Her dark brown – nearly black – hair was an entire mess on the awful excuse for a pillow. Malkia’s eyes were shut but her sleep didn’t look like it was forced – this was how Philis thought it looked when he saw some people in the Wilkins family sleeping. Philis quite often wondered how Malkia could make something like sleeping look graceful, but she did. In Philis’s eyes, Malkia was the definition of perfect.
Philis took this chance of Malkia being asleep to use the bathroom, which he had not done in twenty hours. He envied the other slaves that worked in the house. They had bathrooms, furniture that they did not build themselves, and other people to talk to – whether those people were white or not, he did not know. However, Philis felt that it must be better than simply living alone and having no one to talk to. He thanked God every single day he existed that he had Malkia to keep him company, for he believed that if he did not have her, he would be insane by now. The more Philis thought about the slaves inside the Wilkins house, the more jealous he felt. They get to go to bed the time that the Wilkins go to bed – they had entertainment, a bathroom…all Philis had was his dirt floor and a bucket for a toilet. Philis shook his head to get rid of these thoughts, and laid down on the floor. His eyes drifted off to sleep, expecting to be up in less than three hours to do another day’s work.
Suddenly, Philis and Malkia were thrust awake by Walter Wilkins, the leader of the Wilkins house. Philis looked outside. The sun was on top of the sky, meaning the day was already half over. Philis knew this meant trouble for both him and Malkia; however, he was more worried about the fact that Malkia slept this long when she was still more caught up on sleep than he was! He looked up at Walter whose face was filled with pure anger.
“Do you realize it is past noon?” Walter snarled, kicking Malkia in the stomach. “And you, you filthy nigger, what have you been doing for work lately? I’ve only seen your precious husband doing the work.”
Philis felt like thrashing out at Walter, yet he knew it wouldn’t do anything good. At this point, it was time to wait everything out, and just apologize for oversleeping.
“I – I’m sorry, Master,” Malkia stuttered, tears streaming down her face. Walter kicked her again, and then lifted her up just to slap her across the face. Malkia dropped to the floor once again and tried to her explain herself. “S – see, I haven’t been feeling well, you see, and…”
“I don’t fucking care. Get to work,” Walter said, heading towards the opening in Philis and Malkia’s house, (there wasn’t a door), and paused in his tracks. He turned around to view Philis and Malkia who were hugging, both of them with tears pouring down their face. “Malkia, you’ll be punished later,” he said, a grin spreading on his face. “And Philis?” he paused, letting the tension grow. “You get to watch.” Walter then turned back around, leaving the building. And, for a few minutes, Malkia and Philis let themselves break down, crying in each other arms. But only for a few moments, they both thought to themselves. They didn’t want Walter to come back. They had to get to work.
It was the year 1887 in Africa. Malkia was sitting on her bed, reading a book. She had learned to read from the village teacher, but only the basics – reading was hard. Malkia heard someone walking into her house from the other room. Not knowing who it was, Malkia stood up from her bed and walked through the doorway of her bedroom. Her father, Marjani, was standing in the entrance of their house. Nearly immediately, Malkia could smell the alcohol in the room. Marjani walked over to his daughter and whispered things into her ear that she would never repeat.
“You’re all grow’d up, I see,” Marjani spoke, his words slurring. Malkia whimpered helplessly, and begged her father to let her go. “You know your mom, she don’t look as nice as you.”
“Stop it, please,” Malkia begged. Marjani didn’t stop, though. In fact, this made him want Malkia more.
“Yer hard to resist,” he spoke. Suddenly, he lifted of Malkia’s dress and thrust himself inside of her. Malkia’s cries weren’t heard outside of their house, and no one would know what happened that day. Finally, he was done. Malkia dropped to the floor, not knowing what to do. Her father of thirty – three years old had just raped her, and she was only thirteen.
Yet she was old enough to know it was rape.
“Good,” Marjani mumbled, staggering out of the house. “Yer a good girl…now stay.”
Malkia didn’t know what to do or how to handle anything, but she knew she had to get out of there. She felt so ashamed that this happened, and knew it was her fault that her father thought he would be able to do that. He must have been led on, right?
Malkia gathered enough strength to lift herself up and drag herself to her room. She didn’t know what she would bring. A book, would that be enough? She picked up her book, and walked to the kitchen, where she found canned peaches that her mother bought at the village market. She picked up a few of those as well, and placed them neatly in a bag and walked out of the house. Malkia spotted her mother and her siblings about a quarter of a mile away. Trying to make sure they didn’t notice her, she walked into a field of tall grass. Just then, a man with no color in his skin attacked Malkia with a rope in his hands and a pistol in the other. She was dragged to a large ship where she was put in a cage where other people whose skin color was like hers. From here on out, Malkia endured the same kind of assault that her father had put her through, and every single time she goes through it, Malkia goes into shock…a dissociative state you might call it – and now with her husband Philis…to this day they avoid being intimate as much as possible because of Malkia’s fear of sex. Because of this, Malkia feels guilty and every day asks Philis why he loves her. “Because you’re you,” Philis responds nearly every time, and gives her a kiss on the cheek.
Malkia has always wanted a child. After she was captured and placed into slavery, where she met her husband, she realized that it would not be best to bring a child into the world, especially under the circumstances. She wouldn’t want her children to suffer the way she does. Every time Malkia gets raped, a fear surges through her that she might be pregnant. And nearly every time she is. However, her children never survive long enough to see daylight. It always pains Malkia to do this, but she usually does everything in her power to make sure her children do not live. Every single time a baby starts to form inside of her, after a few weeks a pool of blood will be laying on the cot that they sleep on. She’ll wake up.
“Did my water just break?” she’d ask Philis, and he’d glance down at the cot. This was the only time Malkia has seen Philis’s face go pale – when he sees that his unborn child, whether it was his biologically or not, in the form of blood on the bed he sleeps in.
“He’s gone,” he’d say, or rather, “She’s gone.” It all depended on what they felt the baby’s gender was – and they always did have that gut feeling.
Something Malkia didn’t realize was that the look on Philis’s face was a mix of fear, shock, and disappointment…while the look on Malkia’s face was a mix of happiness, relief, and excitement. But those feelings that she felt weren’t on her behalf – she felt those for her unborn child. She was happy and excited that her child was put to peace…and relieved that her child would not have to suffer the way she has.
Philis and Malkia are the most loving parents you would ever meet, though. Every single time they know that Malkia’s pregnant; they treat that child for every day that it lives inside of Malkia, like a normal child. To this day, if you ask Philis and Malkia if they have any children, they’ll answer, “Yes, we have nine children. Six girls and three boys.” Every night Philis and Malkia give thanks to their girls: Alikia, Ive, Hasseenah, Miriam, Amara, and Kamaria. And their boys: Deka, Naja, and Nawal.
Elizabeth Wilkins woke up on the left side of her bed, where her husband, Walter, usually slept. She looked around the room expecting to see him, yet he was nowhere to be found. Elizabeth laid in bed for a bit, enjoying the silky sheets on her bare skin. Her hair was the opposite of Malkia’s hair: bright, nearly blonde hair that was neatly tied into a bun. Elizabeth’s hair was never messy – she couldn’t take the chance to be seen by that. She thought back to when she first met Walter, up until the present day. She realized that she has not once had her long, vibrant hair touch her back in the presence of Walter.
Finally, Elizabeth dragged her feet onto the floor. She stood up, and pulled a rope that was hanging from the wall. When she pulled this rope, somewhere else in the house – in the Servant Quarters – a shrill noise came from a series of bells that hung on the walls. There was a sign above each bell to let them know what part of the house Elizabeth, or whoever needed assistance, was in. Though, because none of the servants could read, the signs merely had pictures instead of words. For instance, one sign had a picture of a bowl of cereal. This meant that the servants needed to head to the kitchen to help whoever needed their help, and considering it was the kitchen, it was probably to make food.
Within minutes, Margaret, a petite white female wearing a blue dress made of rags, and a pale blue bonnet, walked into the Wilkins’ master bedroom. Margaret knew the drill. Every morning, when Elizabeth woke up, she had Margaret pick out an outfit and place it on her. Margaret was the only servant in the Wilkins household that was willing to do this. Because Margaret was white, the Wilkins respected her more than Philis and Malkia, who were just filthy niggers in their mind. Margaret was a young orphaned girl who was abandoned by her parents. Walter and Elizabeth found her when they were walking to the market, and decided to take her home. Walter wanted to make Margaret live with Philis and Malkia, but Elizabeth fought for Margaret to live inside the house where she had food, shelter, entertainment, a bed, and a working bathroom. Even though the Wilkins only had an outhouse, it was better than using a bucket like Philis and Malkia.
Walter and Elizabeth eventually agreed on letting Margaret live inside with the rest of the Wilkins, as long as Margaret gets to work in exchange for everything they’re giving her.
Margaret happily agreed.
“How are you doing today, Mrs. Wilkins?” Margaret asked as she flipped through the dresses in Elizabeth’s closet. Elizabeth nodded.
“Good. And how are you, Margaret?”
And that was that. Margaret pulled out a dress and placed it smoothly on the bed. She then walked towards Elizabeth.
“Lift up your arms, please,” Margaret asked, and Elizabeth lifted up her arms. Margaret pulled Elizabeth’s nightgown over her head, and then pulled the off – white dress down Elizabeth’s body. Before Elizabeth knew it, she was dressed and ready to start the day.
While Margaret went back to Servant Quarters, Elizabeth roamed her house trying to find Walter. She walked by Charles and Edward’s room. Elizabeth was always amazed by the relationship her two sons had. Growing up, Elizabeth lived in a house where her brothers rarely talked – their relationship going down the drain. Now, even though there’s enough room in this house for everyone to have two rooms in the house to themselves, Charles and Edward talked to their parents and requested for them to share a room.
Elizabeth temporarily forgot about her quest to find Walter and walked into Charles and Edward’s bedroom. She sat on the edge of Charles’s bed and poked his stomach until he stirred and woke up. He looked at his mother with a grim expression on his face. He wasn’t too pleased about being woken up; he hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before.
“What is it?” Charles groaned his eyes half open. “Is Edward awake?”
“No, I’m going to wake him up next,” Elizabeth said, taking a quick swoop from Charles’s bed to Edward’s, and doing the same routine to wake him up – poking him in the side until he groaned, rolled over, pointed his head in the direction of his mom, and slowly started to open his eyes.
“Mother!” Edward whined, lifting the covers back over his face. Elizabeth pulled the covers completely off of his bed, and the same to Charles’s bed. This way, Charles and Edward were both out in the open and had no choice but to lift themselves out of bed.
“Your father’s going to need you,” Elizabeth stated, and walked out of the room.
Downstairs in the dining room, Walter was reading the newspaper that was dropped off on their doorstep.
“Filthy niggers,” Elizabeth heard Walter mutter. She followed his voice that led her into a large room filled with Sarah’s, Elizabeth’s mother’s, china dishes. The rim and legs of the table were made of the finest wood, and the table top was made of pure glass. The walls were a soft pink, the floors were hardwood, and everything was the perfect color for that specific color scheme. Six wooden chairs, with intricate design and soft pink cushions on the seats, sat around the dining table. Walter was sitting at one of these chairs with paper in his hands, detailed calligraphy scrawled all over.
“Can you believe this, Elizabeth? Six of the Henderson’s niggers escaped in the middle of the night. This is why we keep our niggers uneducated.”
Elizabeth nodded, as if she were agreeing, and sat down. A large rope lay in front of her, and she tugged on it slightly. A bell was heard ringing in the distance, and within minutes Margaret was by Elizabeth’s sides.
“Where’s Lilith?” Elizabeth asked, curiosity within her.
She especially enjoyed Lilith’s pancakes.
“I figured I’d make breakfast for you today, Miss.” A smile spread over Elizabeth’s face. She has always taken a liking to Margaret. She was almost like a daughter to Elizabeth, yet if Elizabeth ever said that, Walter wouldn’t understand.
“Alright, Margaret, could we have pancakes for the family please?”
Right on cue, Ruth, the daughter of Walter and Elizabeth, walked downstairs. Ruth was ten years old and had golden brown hair. Her blue dress reached her ankles, and her black sweater covered her arms, leaving no skin available for anybody to see. “Good morning, Mother and Father,” she said, taking a seat by Walter, who nodded his head in the direction of his daughter.
“Good morning, Ruth,” Elizabeth replied. Right before Margaret came back with a tall plate of pancakes, Charles and Edward stumbled down the stairs of the house, still in their pajamas. The pancakes then entered the room, and Margaret eyed Charles, who was around the same age as her. She smiled softly, setting the pancakes on the table, before turning around and walking out of the room.
“Take pancakes. Eat, everyone,” Elizabeth commanded, plopping a pancake onto everybody’s plates. “The rest are going in the trash if we don’t eat them.”
“Can’t they go to Philis and Malkia?” Ruth asked, her large green eyes staring into her mother’s soul.
“Don’t you ever speak of those niggers again! Of course they aren’t getting our pancakes! This is human food!” Walter snapped, grabbing Ruth by her shoulders and pressing her up against the wall. “You take back what you said!” Ruth started to cry, and Walter’s hands loosened, letting Ruth slip free. She scurried back to her chair, looking down at her plate of pancakes. Everyone but Ruth and Walter started to eat, and Ruth mumbled, “I’m sorry, Papa,” and took a bite of her pancake.
Later in the day, Philis and Malkia were sitting down to their lunch.
“What’s for lunch today?” Philis asked, and Malkia let a small smile shine through.
“Honey – roasted chicken, a side of broccoli, and a nice big batch of wine,” she said, and she plopped down a bowl of oatmeal in front of Philis: the only source of nutrition they had.
It helped Philis and Malkia to pretend that they were white folks and living in luxury. Every once in a while, they snapped back to reality and everything just seemed more depressing to them. Then they’d slide back into fantasy, and they figured they were probably some of the happiest slaves in Virginia.
“So,” Philis started, taking a pile of oatmeal with his spoon and shoving it into his mouth, “I was thinking last night, and, why do you think the slaves on the insides of the house get to, well…live inside? Are they better than us?”
Malkia gulped her oatmeal down, and took a sip of rainwater. Since the Wilkins didn’t provide at least tap water, Philis and Malkia placed buckets outside their house, and waited for weeks until the rain came. “Yes,” she stated, not believing her words. “They’re white, and we’re black. So yes, they’re better.”
Philis let this sink in. He couldn’t believe Malkia even spoke the words ‘white,’ and ‘black.’ Usually he refrains from using those words – everything was colored or colorless. It was true, though. The slaves on the INSIDE of the house were colorless, while he and Malkia were both colored. Philis spooned a small bit of oatmeal inside of his mouth, and didn’t say another word.
That night, Philis slept on the cot with Malkia. He didn’t want to let her move any farther away from him than he felt she already was; he pulled her closer throughout the night as if he felt like she’d never get her back.
“No way!” Margaret’s voice roared with laughter in the Servant Quarters, filling up the entire room. She laid back on her bed, staring up at the pale – gold ceiling and then flipping over on her side to gaze at the deep – red walls that surrounded her.
“I’m telling the truth!” Catherine responded, taking the same graceful motions and laying on her side. “And then, Mr. Wilkins told Lilith that it was never to happen again.”
Catherine was informing Margaret of the commotion that had happened earlier that day; Lilith was screamed at for not showing up to make Mrs. Wilkins’s favorite pancakes. Margaret was laughing not because she found this funny, but because it was the funniest thing that Margaret has heard since she had entered the Wilkins’ house, and yet that wasn’t saying much. The Wilkins’ Servants were not allowed out of the house that much, therefore, they thrived on all of the drama that occurred inside the house among their fellow servants. Two tall, tan – skinned females – Margaret guessed they were twice, if not three times her age – walked towards her and Catherine letting out a loud shhhh!, and walked in the other direction. Catherine and Margaret sat there, staring at where what they guessed were twins told them to be quiet. Their heads then turned back towards each other, and they each let their neck roll their head back with laughter, and then they both quieted down once again.
Margaret was known as being the most liked servant that the Wilkins had, however, this did not make her very well liked among the other servants. Catherine was the only one that let Margaret under her wing and took care of her when she needed it. Margaret, to this day, asks Catherine why she treats her as a normal human. “Because you’re you,” Catherine will say, leaning forward and kissing Margaret on the cheek. Margaret never knew if this was to make her feel uncomfortable or not, but whether it was supposed to or not – she liked it. She simply liked it.
Margaret looked over at Catherine who was lying down, her eyes starting to close. Margaret admired Catherine in each and every way she could – she admired her hair, eyes, nose, personality … everything just came so naturally to Catherine that Margaret loved. Catherine was slightly taller than Margaret, and had a skin maybe a shade darker – however, Catherine had the bluest eyes in the world which is what separated her from the slaves.
One night, Margaret was curious what the difference was between a slave and a servant.
“Slaves build their house outside on their own lot with only a pile of wood,” Catherine said, a stern look in her face, as if this was the most serious matter in the world. Margaret didn’t understand what was so bad about the subject, yet whenever she brought it up to a servant, their eyes widened and their mouth shut even more closed than it was before – if that was possible. “They pee in a bucket and work all hours of the day. We on the other hand -,” she gestured towards the gold on the ceiling and the gold trims on their bed sheets, “- have one of the nicest rooms in Virginia. We have our own beds, a working toilet house, food…” Her voice trailed off with the list of items that servants have that slaves don’t, and Margaret suddenly understood: Servants were people who needed a job, slaves were merely property.
Margaret remembered this moment, a tear streaming down her face. She stared off into space, her eyes meeting Catherine’s soft features – her vivid blue eyes, her nose that was straight as a piece of paper and slid up at the end, her rounded cheeks that had a twinge of pink to them, and her auburn hair that reached her shoulders. Catherine had woken up, feeling Margaret’s eyes on her.
“What?” she asked, her mouth forming into a smile. “What are you looking at?”
“Oh,” Margaret muttered, her voice stammering as she spoke. She hadn’t realized she was staring at Catherine. “Nothing,” she said, and drifted off into a deep sleep.
“Wake up!” Philis screeched, shaking Malkia as hard as he could. “Time to work.”
Malkia stirred around on the cot for a bit before turning over to view her husband’s brown eyes. They reminded her of hot chocolate, a rare delicacy that she has had only once before in her life. “What?” Malkia muttered, turning back over and closing her eyes. “Let me sleep,” she demanded. Philis sighed and turned her back over, and her eyes were once again meeting his – hot chocolate coming into Malkia’s mind once more.
“You have to help me today,” Philis said, glancing towards the opening in their house. It seemed as if all of the crops outside had turned brown overnight, the heat suddenly getting to them. “I need help,” he repeated once more, looking desperately at Malkia. Malkia sighed and opened her mouth as if she were about to protest, but she closed her mouth before she started an uproar. She nodded her head and agreed to help Philis in the fields.
Philis and Malkia sat down to eat breakfast – oatmeal again – and started to talk about what needed to be done. They always did this....talk…they found that it made them feel grateful for what they had. Philis heard Walter Wilkins one time talking about how he kept his ‘niggers’ illiterate, making sure that they’d never escape. Well, Philis thought, taking a bite of his oatmeal, I wouldn’t escape anyways just cause I’s so frightened of you. But this didn’t stop Philis from going through the struggles to learn how to read. He still wasn’t completely literate – in fact Philis wouldn’t consider himself literate at all. But at least he was literate enough to have conversations in proper English with his own wife.
Malkia took her skills of reading to her advantage. She had always pretended she was illiterate for the sake of living. If she was literate, nobody would buy her to take care of their family. If she wasn’t bought, she was killed, and that was that. When Malkia found that out, she spent every second of the day using all of her efforts to talk like a normal colored person: not knowing how to speak, not knowing how to read, not knowing how to write, not knowing how to live on their own whatsoever, leaving them to reply on the normal colorless person: literate, and arrogant as hell.
“We gotta water the crops,” Philis said, bits of oatmeal flying out of his mouth. His stomach growled every second of the day, probably from malnutrition, and he savored each last bit of oatmeal he had every time he sat down for a meal. Malkia nodded and he went on. “We gotta pluck the weeds,” he said, scooping another spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth. “And the corn is ready for harvestin’…I think.”
“What do you want me to do?” Malkia asked, gracefully lifting her spoon up to her mouth. Her English was a lot better than Philis considering she had many more years of speaking it – this bothered Philis sometimes and Malkia noticed this, therefore she tried to speak as illiterate as she possibly could. Speaking illiterate often made Malkia feel dirty, though, and it was hard to pretend to be illiterate when there weren’t any white folks around.
“Whateva’ you’d like to do,” Philis finished his oatmeal and used the bathroom before grabbing a bucket and saying, “I’mma go to the well to get some water for the crops,” he spat, and he left without another word.
Malkia continued to eat her oatmeal thinking indecisively about what she was going to do for the day. Her stomach was hurting and he feet were swollen, leaving her no choice but to do the job with the least amount of work: watering the plants. She figured that if she wasn’t bending over every few feet she could successfully do her work without having to stop or take breaks. The only problem was that Philis was still gone getting water, leaving her with no form of liquid to water the plants. Malkia figured that Mr. Wilkins would be at her door – well, open space – within a few minutes if she wasn’t out there working, so she brushed a beetle off of the table she was sitting at, stood up, and walked out the doors to start harvesting the corn.