Of King Arthur and Castles on the Beach

When I was four, I went on my first trip out of Zimbabwe. My dad was on a long business trip in Ghana and my mum and I went to join him for a couple of weeks. I loved it. My dad worked most of the time, but my mother and I got to do quite a bit of sightseeing. I don’t remember much, just snippets here and there. I remember that the traffic was insane because at that time in Accra, instead of having robots, they had big roundabouts that quickly gridlocked. I remember the stench of the open sewers in the market and the colourful cloth that vendors were trying to sell us. I remember the beach, and watching ships at sea, wondering where they went when they dropped off the horizon.

Random fragments of events come to me from time to time, but there is one memory that I remember vividly. We went to visit a massive fortress, dark and imposing. It’s probably not that big, but to my four year old eyes, it was the biggest thing I had ever seen. I remember admiring the cannons on the walls. I looked out at the Atlantic Ocean and imagined a huge fleet of enemy ships coming towards the castle and a great king like King Arthur ordering his men to fire . I pretended the sky was peach and purple from the smoke and fire from the cannons and not from the sun setting. When we went down into the damp halls, I imagined noble women and children running to find somewhere safe to hide. I thought that the large, dark room was where they sought refuge. I stood on top of that castle and I dreamt of a former glory, of brave knights who would always win because they were fighting for right.

I didn’t notice that the cannons were not facing the sea, but rather facing the land to quell any uprising from the natives. I didn’t notice how high and how tiny the windows were in that large room below. I didn’t notice the chains or realize how damp and uncomfortable that place must have been. I didn’t realize that my “Arthurian fortress” was actually a slave castle. It was only in a US history class in my freshman year of college, when my professor talked about how slaves were obtained that I realized what that place really was. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but now I can never forget it. When I imagine that dark room, I see bodies and bodies crowded in there, some already dead. I hear men groaning, women weeping, cowering in a corner in fear. I imagine them being piled on to the ship, hands and feet shackled. I see them stacked on shelves like sardines, and imagine the complete despair that drove some of them to jump off the ships into the ocean with no land in sight.  Then I see them arriving in the Americas and being sold off like cattle.

All the magic of that castle is gone. All that remains is the horrific truth.

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