This stem is sweet, once I pull it out of its thin leaf holster. There are lots of these plants here, and I like its resistance when I pull it out, and its pale sweetness. The two goats are in a floating mind, eating, and stepping forward lightly, dragging a rope tied to their collars and threaded through a stone, their bells tonka tonking as they nibble, nibble, their teeth delicate packed together, their little beards bobbing along the ground. I like their ears, soft to the touch. The other girls are older and have more goats than I do, but I am happy being by myself, the blue sky--
Something is over my head. Mamai! I am in a bag!
Men’s voices. Something hits the bag hard from the outside and hurts my arm and my leg. I yell again and a man yells at me, and hits me again. I yell, and he hits. I stay quiet and then I know there are two of them, two voices, they advise each other as they tumble me over and tie the top of the bag tight and I can feel oh, that I am going up, up, swaying, I am in the air— not free, like a bird, but caught.
The bag smells of the sweat of fear, and of urine. I can hear the men outside, their voices, they are talking in a language I recognize, Fulani. I am Dogon, yes, but why would they take me? I am small for my age. I have not had my ceremony yet.
I am having trouble breathing. The bag swings, and we are moving. I think the bag must be on a stick, as I can hear the man in front talking to the man behind and neither voice strains. I am sitting, my heels tight against my bottom. I slide my hand upwards to the top of the bag, testing with my fingers if there is an opening, not to get out, but so I can breathe. It is tight, tight, even my smallest finger cannot find a passage.
If I moan, they might put me down, they might open the bag, I could breathe, but they might decide to beat me, the way the other goat herders, ones with more goats beat their goats, just so the goats will know they are goats and that they can be beaten. This is a large leather bag, and I search the sides for seams. The one behind says something sharp to the one in front. They stop and the bags stops swaying a moment later and it falls to the ground with me in it. Now my sitting bones hurt. My legs are fiery, and numb at the same time. I stay quiet. The top of the bag is undone and a wave of fresh air lifts my head, my chest, sweet air. I keep my eyes closed so the sunlight won’t blind me. They tie the rope from the top of the bag around my wrist and poke me with their stick and I walk.
I say nothing, I stay quiet. I put my thumb in my mouth to hide how much I am breathing in the air.
I say nothing, I stay quiet. We are heading west, the sun walks ahead of us. By this Jeliba, the slow river, there is a path, and we walk on it. There are many others, men, and women, walking, staying quiet, tied together. I am the only child. Why would they take me, these Fulani?
Everyone knows who they are: they are slave traders who take whomever they can, whoever looks healthy, and sell them far from home. They only hit people if they talk, so we, none of us, talk. The ones at the back have rifles.
Maybe they will pretend I am a woman’s child, so a purchaser will think she can have children, and then they will pretend I am another’s child. I must have some use to them.
I think a song in my head to walk. I use this song to hide what I am thinking, about how I will get away from them. In the distance the land rises, and the soft yellow stone cliffs on the edge of where the Dogon peoples live shimmer in the late afternoon sun. There are rumors that the Bangande live there. My sisters told me.
My mother will look for me and find the goats, but she won’t find me.
My eyes are prickling, but I think of my song, nothing else. I cannot draw the attention of these Fulani towards me. Maybe they will steal some other children and then I will have a chance. I will watch for my chance.
Born in Hastings Country, Hannah Brown received two degrees in film from York University, and wrote screenplays for anyone who would pay. Her screenplay, How to Call Cows won first prize in an National Film Board contest, and her brief memoir about her brother, "The Education of a Class A Mechanic" appeared in This Magazine. More recently, "On Any Windy Day", an excerpt from her novel Listening to Joe Henderson was published in the May issue of Superstition Review, and both Untethered Magazine and Lynn Crosbie's Hoodpublished some of her poems in June and July. She currently lives in Toronto.