In her debut novel, "Book of Addis: Cradled Embers," Brooke Obie takes the reader on a journey that brings forward the importance of black motherhood and ancestry.
This journey revolves around Addis, a 17-year-old enslaved girl who escapes from her enslavers after accidentally killing her owner. Only left with guidance from mother figures and friends she meets on the way, Addis is left running for freedom on a dangerous path.
Obie, a writer and editor by trade, developed a curiosity about her Nigerian roots at a young age. The Gainesville, Virginia native grew up near the location of the Battle of Bull Run, conscious of the ripple effect of the first major battle of the Civil War. Obie's thesis for her Fiction MFA program at The New School would eventually morph into the slave revolution novel.
Written entirely in Black vernacular, the "Book of Addis" envelops the culture of the Igbo heritage while drawing attention to the joy and strength the enslaved people had despite their many struggles under ownership.
Hopelessness is destroyed under captivity but Addis brings about the hope that the enslaved people need to persevere. In this account of love and guidance, black women demonstrate the idea of a strong black woman as they endure many types of violence in order to protect their own.
Published by For The People Press, "Book of Addis: Cradles Embers" is the first novel in the 3-part series.The following chapter, 'Even in a strange land, a friend can be found: Addis', is an excerpt from that book.
William Henry Burken smiling like a spoilt child when he see Addis walk in. She look to him and see a emptiness behind him eyes. Addis wonder how long that emptiness been there. Since her Gran Gran Dido kill him pap? Since him mam forbid the taste of oji women from him tongue? She been trained to see him pain. He been trained to be blind to hers. Caint you see me? She want to ask him but for once, her words stuck deep down, so she decide her whole self might as well follow
He unbuttoning him own nightshirt and looking to Addis, but Addis aint there no more. Though she placing the candle in a holder on the dresser and walking toward the bed when he motion for her, she be far away in another time. He bring her down on the bed, gentlelike. She don’t even bother to remove her shoes. He lay her there and kiss her neck, clawing at the high collar of her night gown.
But she back at Wellesbury on Three Farm, preparing Chima for her mam’s homegoing, painting uli on Chima’s arms and hands and face to give her beauty and strength. She painting circles collapsing in on theyself to show that the spirit live on and never end. She painting the shining moon cause Chima yet got life in her body. She painting the sun cause the sun know her children and she gon protect her kind. Addis thinking how her and the other women painting up Chima and singing, jumbling up the homeland with Heaven.
There be peace chile in Eboeland,
Gotta get back to me Eboeland
Jesus there be waiting for me.
You aint ne’re felt the peace They bring,
Don’t miss Em chile the King of Kings
They take us back to Eboeland with Em!
Burken ripping at her collar too fast and the beautiful buttons tearing from the cloth. The silver buttons dropping heavy on the floor, jumping and rolling. Clang! Clang! It snap Addis back from Wellesbury to the room where the pap of her brothers laying on top of her, groping her, still grabbing at her neck. She caint breathe.
She saying, --No, but he don’t hear her. Louder, she saying, --No! And again, --No! and she pushing her balled fists into him chest, finding her strength and her voice again.
He growling at her, him hands clasping her wrists down to the bed.
--Now, girl, this here is the one time you don’t have to do anything at all but just stay quiet. You be sweet to your Master and I’ll be sweet to you. Didn’t your mam tell you? Just stay quiet.
She turn her head to avoid the spittle, the stink of Burken’s breath hot on her face. He calmer now, nestling him bristled face on her cheek, getting him lips right close to her ear.
She wrench her head as far away as she can, still pinned to the bed by his knees and his fists round her wrists. --NO! She scream and her knees shoot up into him chest, and he grunt, winded. He release one of her wrists and swat her face like he would a bothersome fly interrupting a meal. He pin her down again.
He release one hand to grab at the hem of her gown, lifting it up. Her freed hand claw him face and he howl in surprise. With the full force of him hand, he slam into her face again. She feel her cheek welting but don’t have time to cry cause now he wrapping him hands round her neck and pushing her legs apart with him knees. With her hands and feets free, she groping the bed for any kind of help.
She losing consciousness and hope til she feel her right foot knocking up against something hard and hot and she know she touching the bedwarmer. She twisting with all her might to get to it, grabbing desperate for the handle. He oblige her by taking him hands from her neck, grabbing her shoulders and throwing her in the direction she squirming in.
--You just be still now, like I told you, he say, scratching him whiskers against her lips. --You be very still now. Be good to your Master, he say.
He grab at her neck again with one hand and free hisself from him trousers with the other, lifting hisself off her just long enough for Addis to grip her hand firm on the bedwarmer handle.
She taking the last of her strength and she swinging the bedwarmer out from under the cover, over and up at him face. She missing him the first time. She hitting him when she swing back again. Back and forth she swinging and she not even feeling the embers that falling loose on her from the pan, burning into her own chest. She swinging until she hearing the loudest crack she ever hearing. And then a stunted groan.
Like a egg she drop when she were careless with the chickens, Burken’s skull caving in with a slow ooze at the forehead. He slumping over on him side, him legs still entangled with hers. A slow breath slip out of him mouth. Him eyes wide with surprise and still fixing on her, but they dead man’s eyes.
That horrible face, that crater in him head. She don’t want to be seeing it but her eyes fill up with it. She wanting to move but she caint. Him eyes stairing deep into her and burn theyself in her memberings. She caint get up, caint scream, caint even look away til the bedwarmer slip from her hand and clamor to the floor. She gasp, then know she got to move. She kick him legs off her and back out of the bed, to the floor on her hands, away from him crumple up body. Addis knowing now she as good as dead and aint nothing left to do but run.
Excerpt from "BOOK OF ADDIS: CRADLED EMBERS" by Brooke C. Obie, Courtesy of For the People Press and Brooke C. Obie © 2016