Scene 1: Interior fort
The noise of the sea slapping against the walls of Cape Coast Castle. The sound of many different African languages, talking fast, scared.
I am a girl. I am in the dark. I don’t know how long I’ve been kept in the dark. High above me, there is a tiny crack of light. Last time I counted, I was eleven, nearly twelve. I am a girl. Last time I saw my mama, I was carrying a water gourd on my head. The water was sloshing-sloshing all over my clothes. Mama was clapping her hands and laughing at me. I am frightened of the dark. I don’t know where I am. I don’t even know why I’m here.
Once upon a time, I lived in a house with a cone-shaped roof, in a big compound. My mother grew okra and pumpkin in her yard. My father shaped woods and metals.
A time now ago, I had my hair just done fresh. Pretty, my Mama say. Small sections coiled with thread. My brother and I were playing and laughing. My brother says my laugh is funny and that my laugh makes him laugh.
All of a sudden, some men come and take us. I know those people. They have the marks on the face of the enemy. I kick and scream and shout. Furious. They bundle us off through the woods. Pushing and shouting. Move. Move. Beating us. I hold on to my brother. My brother holds on to me.
We are dragged through the forest for days and nights and days. It is a long time. I am tired and heavy as an elephant. I cry loud for my Mama to hear me. I cry loud for my Papa to see me.
One day, we arrive here. A place that is bigger than the palace of the Paramount Chief. Some call it a palace, a fort, a factory, a prison, a dungeon. My brother is pulled away. I reach out but I cannot hold him. My tears dry up inside me. My mouth goes dry and my lips. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. After that, I stop talking. The words dry under my lips.
Outside this place, where I am trapped and kept like an animal, there is a sound I never hear before. A crashing and thudding. They say it is The Sea. I think it is a wild monster. I think it is coming for me.
Scene 2: Shipping news
The voice of the Shipping Forecast will be interrupted by the voices of the four black women. These women form a chorus throughout the play. Behind their voices there’s the roaring, crashing of the big Atlantic.
There are warnings of gales
In the Viking North.
The general synopsis at midday – low.
971 moving steadily Northeast and filling.
New High expected Trafalgar
By the same time.
By the same time.
Saturday, August 11, 1707
The weather in Liverpool was close.
Gales running between the south and west.
Dirty weather, the ship’s captain said.
The wild Aurora Borealis
Flew around with unusual swiftness.
The Dorothy reached Barbados, June 1709.
One hundred slaves surviving.
Veering North West 6 to 8.
Occasionally severe Gale 9.
The Duke of Argyll reached London
Eighty slaves surviving. Soon.
The moon that night was in a shroud.
The moon was in a shroud.
The Annapolis reached London –
Less than a third of the slaves survived.
Captain’s Log: 23rd May 1709 –
Buryed a man slave No 84.
Wednesday 29 May –
Buryed a Boy slave, No 86 of a flux.
Decreasing. Rough or very rough.
The weather still dirty, the captain said.
Slow moving, with little change.
The weather filthy!
Rain then showers. Moderate or rough.
Thursday, 13 June 1709
Buryed a woman slave, no 47.
Into the howling, moaning Atlantic.
Into the open-grave-green sea.
Into the choppy waters, another body.
Another stiff black wave into
the tight black waves of the sea.
Into the turbulent waters,
another body yet.
If you want to learn to pray,
Go to sea.
The Lamplighter by Jackie Kay is published by Bloodaxe Books/BBC Productions, price £9.95
#230 Struggles for Truth ● The Arab Spring 10 years on ● The origins and legacies of US conspiracy theories ● The limits of scientific evidence in climate activism ● Student struggles around the world ● The political power of branding ● Celebrating Marcus Rashford ● ‘Cancelling’ Simon Hedges ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Radical publishing houses are under existential threat - just as people look for ways to fill their time. Siobhan McGuirk and K Biswas select lockdown reads from our favourite booksellers
Andrew Dolan spoke with Amina Gichinga of Take Back the City about doing politics differently and righting Labour's wrongs in London
Poet Liz Lochhead describes how an unlikely, made-in-Scotland anthology of contemporary Palestinian poetry, translated into English, Scots, Scots-English, Gaelic and Shetlandic, makes for a fertile cultural exchange
Peter Stäuber reports on the shocking case of Talha Ahsan – the young British man unjustly extradited and jailed in a US ‘supermax’ prison
Jan Goodey meets poet Alan Morrison and explores his latest work on mental illness
Mike Marqusee on Mahmoud Darwish, the poet of the Palestinian people