We have arrived in that den of iniquity, Zanzibar. Mbubu hasn’t left the cabin since the first island could be seen on the horizon. Anhalt tells me that, before the strictures of Her Majesty’s well-intentioned Government came into play fifty years ago, the mass of human flesh flowing through these ports dwarfed the current deluge. I can only pray that, in coming years, we tighten the noose around this most repulsive of trades, and remove it altogether from the face of the earth.
It is odd, when you reflect on it, how the beauty of Nature obscures the evils of Man. Hides? No, hides is probably not the best way of describing it – throws into perverse relief is more akin to what I’m trying to express. The isles themselves, the sea around them, the clime itself, they are the most temperate and welcoming I’ve experienced in my decades of life. If there were ever a paradise remaining us here on Earth, this is how I imagine it would look. And yet, and yet… the azure of the sea is as ice in the heart, the plentiful heat of the air, so conducive to the growth of vegetation, lends its power equally to moral rot.
I go into the markets, not those of flesh, but rather that of more mundane vendibles – food-stuffs, ceramics, rare spices, intricate textiles – and I witness the smiling faces of the vendors, of the populace, happy in their commerce, drawing enjoyment from their to-and-fro haggling, each in their own way satisfied with the victories they have won. I look on their faces, and I see not the bright countenances. All at once, they contort, and it is as if I am surrounded by a horde of devils – their faces twist and redden, and their teeth grow into fangs, and horns sprout from their temples. It is as if the air itself, laden with the sins of their countrymen, infects them with its villainous potency.
I know not what it is that afflicts me so, if it isn’t my unusually capacious tendency for moral righteousness. I know, I know what evils eat away at the hearts of these men and women, stained as they are by their complicity, their penchant for looking in the other direction, or, worse still, accepting such a loathsome sin and being unworried by it in the least. How I long for a return to proper, civilized lands. How I look forward to once again being amidst our compatriots, those righteous Christians of Enlightened perspective!
When I first set out from Portsmouth those many months ago, I looked forward to seeing more of our great world, of being able to experience more of the pleasures and wonders that are provided us this side of Heaven. It is true that my separation from you rent my heart, but it was well-balmed by knowledge that my commercial duties would provide me opportunity to witness marvels, and that I could, in turn, relay them back to you. I am half way to reconsidering my good fortune in this travel, though, given what horrors I’ve had to face.
If there is one silver lining of the last few weeks, it is that that villain, Habib, that so monstrously attacked Mbubu, is no longer amongst us – fear not, he still has time to repent his heinous ways, he has not passed into the next life. No, it is rather that, whilst we were moored at Mombasa, the last port we visited before sailing on for Zanzibar, he was put ashore. Evidently, Mbubu’s spirited defence has impermanently crippled the wretch, and, with an extended convalescence owing, the captain Ihsan peremptorily put him ashore. The loss of a crewmember did cause some restive feelings on the captain’s part, but an explanation of the situation – it was Habib who assaulted Mbubu, after all! – and a bit of pecuniary assistance from me soon put him to rights. That is another thing I have noticed while abroad, one that has haunted me since entering the Mediterranean at Gibraltar: not a man seems to go about his business for the sake of his deserved pay. No, graft rules, and woe comes to he that can’t afford it! Lawlessness is lord, seemingly. I look forward to the day when the Empire is able to bring a respect for the proper way of things, and the proper place of each man comes to these turgid backwaters.
It is that thought, and that thought alone, that sustains me in this hellish place. I witnessed a particularly disturbing scene, just this morning, which I relate to you only in so far as to render my extreme mental distress intelligible, which must seem so out of keeping with my usual merry demeanour. I was taking my morning walk, as has become my habit while we are berthed here, strictly avoiding that quarter of the city I know to be the haunt of slavers and their debased clientele, when, out of a luxuriant villa flew a woman, skin as black as night and nude as the day she was born. Before I could avert my eyes to preserve what modesty I could for her, a fat Mohammedan came barreling after her, turban atop his head a-wobbling, sweat pouring down his distent face and into his dirty beard. It would seem that this poor woman was an escaped member of an Harem, a type of bondage designed for groups of women by Islamists for unutterable aims. In short, she was a slave. I was aghast to see that the man was armed with a bull-whip, that would better have been suited to the thrashing of dumb brutes than the offensive task he turned it to. Before I could leap to protect her, he lay about her defenceless body, chasing her down the street away from where I stood in shocked immobility. I could hear her cries for some time, though the pair quickly passed from my vision. Each wail was like a physical blow to me, shaking me to my core. Can you imagine the state I was in, gentle creature that I am, to have witnessed such a spectacle!? Suffice to say, my morning had been ruined, and all hope of a palliative walk amongst the Old City architecture rendered completely unthinkable. I returned to the ship directly once my stupefaction had worn off, and here I have remained ever since.
Thankfully, all this should be behind me, soon. We set out the day after next, and should reach the Colony in the early New Year. It will be inexpressibly good to be amongst good, English-speaking, British citizens once more. I dare say, its proximity is all that keeps me sane some hours.
I know that my next dispatch to you will find me in better spirits, in more wholesome environs, and in all-round happier circumstances than this current letter.
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
Posted on November 7, 2014, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland, Mauve Prose, Short(er) Stories and tagged Adventure, Africa, Arab Slave Trade, British Empire, Colonialism, Imperialism, Racism, Satire, West Africa. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.