A story from 1820’s Charleston, South Carolina, in which a fine balance of justice is maintained.
Smith wife tell me cook up tomatoes we peel day before. I heat up pots, cook tomatoes. Smith wife boilin glass jars for tomatoes, cryin all the time. Noontime. Smith wife and me fillin up glass jars, her next to me. I decides to go ahead. I ax her: “Missus, smith papa need help now?” She shake her head yes. “I got big son, too. Name Marton. Gone be sold soon. Smith papa buy Marton? Marton smart, learn quick.”
Smith wife stop cryin, look in my eyes. “We don’t believe in slavery. We never buy slaves. Slavery ain’t right.”
“But,” I says, “you rents me. Den rents Marton. Rents him for long time. You says, rents not same as buys.”
“Same thing if long time,” smith wife say. “Not right.”
“Maybe you ax smith papa to rents Marton?”
“Maybe you shut up and do as I tell you!” smith wife say. Smith wife eyes on fire.
I does what she say and shuts up. We keep fillin jars with tomatoes. Maybe five rows of jars to do. When smith wife not lookin, I drop one jar on floor. Jar smash. Smith wife start cryin again. “How could you be so stupid?” she yell. “My mama sent those jars all the way from Boston!”
“I so sorry, Missus. I clean up,” I says. Real quick I grab de broom and sweep up broken glass pieces, put all dem in bowl, put bowl outside. She cryin real hard. She go in other room. I keep fillin glass jars, finish tomatoes. I see she layin on da bed, cryin. Baby wakes up, other baby runs in. “I sets out supper, Missus,” I calls to her. I gets out food from cupboard, slices up bread, makes milksop for little baby. Smith papa comes in. Sits at table, eats cold supper, says nothin. I scairt, but I ax him anyways, “You wants to rent my son, Marton? Not same as buy. You needs help.” Missus hear dat, come flyin out da room, yell at me, “I already told you we not doing that. Now shut up about that son o yourn!” Smith papa look at me. “She’s right, you know,” he say to me. “We not doin that. Against our belief.”
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