ituba awoke at first light inside the barn, with a clenched fist in her mouth.
Skitôp was smoothing her blanket. “We must wait for Akanni to come.”
Her first thought—how has my child come back? —was shattered as he said, “For them to bring his body back. I heard the master tell them to go fetch… him.”
She wondered at her calmness but she could see that there was no way to change what happened. Yes, she told herself. We must wait. For a last goodbye.
“Master wants me to go back at the tavern to work, but I shall refuse.”
They were worth only the money they made. Why should Parris care if she had to face this agony alone? “No, husband, obey him.” And she told herself—for a while longer.
The days of heavy rains had ended, replaced by unremitting days and nights of bone-rattling cold. Inside the parsonage, Tituba fought whipsawing emotions, trying to keep her thoughts from plunging into deepest despair. Just concentrate on what is right in front of you. When an avalanche of dark emotions loomed, rather than allowing them to frighten her, Tituba let them come, and shortly they melted away.
In their place came a starkly clear awareness. All the terrors she had spent a lifetime suppressing were not caused by her. Not one of them. She was innocent of her mother’s murder in Africa and the horror she had endured during the voyage to Barbados; the captivity of callous insensitive masters, the whippings, the perpetual servitude, and the long estrangement from Mama.
The true cause was the unrelenting need of the English to control others.
She would no longer appease men such as Parris, men who prized hard-heartedness to carve out their paradise, willing to sacrifice kindness in service of their pitiless god. They understood unrelenting cruelty, and she would give it to them.
As she awaited her son’s body for burial, no one bothered her when she slacked off to indulge in sorrowful musings. She heard the family depart for Lecture night services. And they did not disturb her when they returned and went to their beds.
After the house fell silent, Tituba set the fires in the main room hearth and the lean-to. The crackling from the burning logs relaxed her. She would find the power to complete her mission from among the secrets Mama said were embedded inside. Serenity enveloped her, and she lapsed into a dream state. The first vision to appear was Akanni. She recoiled as she saw his wrists were bound behind him as he rode in back of the factor on the pillion saddle. Akanni’s face was bruised and swollen. This was not what she wanted to see.
Tituba roused herself. She opened her eyes to keep her thoughts from dwelling on Akanni’s suffering, but he remained in front of her no matter where she turned.
He and the factor rode in open country. Tituba saw Akanni stand on the saddle somehow, and although what she saw had already happened, her stomach lurched as he tried to leap away.
Sensing the escape, the factor swung around and grabbed for him but too late, knocking Akanni off balance as he launched himself into the air.
He hit the ground head first… his neck snapped with a sound like a brittle stick.
Tituba remained fixated, staring at Akanni motionless and crumpled on the ground. Her old instinct was to blame herself, if only she had better taught him how to cope, to say “yes” and “sir” with a smile. She caught herself, raging at the baselessness of her guilt. No more.
The English were guilty for what happened. She would make the guilty pay.
Did she wait another day, or a week, or a month, for the body to come home? Time had become meaningless. An hour was a minute, a minute… a day. She bided her time, feeding her waxing and waning fury.
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