From Seed To Oak – A Short Story

Hey guys, I’m always a bit skeptical about posting short stories online, purely for the fact you can never tell whether anyone will take the time to read it all, but hey I want to put across my tone in longer writing so, if you’re interested, have a read and let me know what you think! 🙂

This was originally for a University assignment,and is based around the history of The Caribbean island of Dominica my father is from, and the idea of what your cultures history means to you and your future.

From Seed to Oak

In the beginning, volcanoes erupted, lands split, waters flooded, and islands were created. There is one island, its history so raw, and its beauty so great, that no man, woman or child could possibly comprehend its coming to be. Its independence. Within this island of fire there lived a peaceful tribe, The Arawaks. They lived happily, allowing the migrant Spaniards comfort and shelter in their treasured island of Dominica, fishing, foraging, and living in peace. Yet their generosity and their love was not received with gratitude, it was met with a ferocious rebuttal from the Spaniards. Without warning and within only a matter of a few decades the very existence of The Arawak had been wiped from the earth. Not a single Arawak remained alive. The violence did not end here, for coming to replace and, surely if they were still alive, kill The Arawaks were The Caribs. A complete contrast to the peaceful, loving nature of The Arawaks, they were merciless, cannibalistic, and above all a nightmare none of us now could ever imagine. The flesh of their victim would no longer be taken by the degrading natural process of the earth. Instead The Caribs as if it were a meal so fine, so delicate took pleasure in dehumanising them, feeding on them like eagles until all remained was blood and bone with the odd debris of flesh and muscle. Not too far from the ‘superstitions’ that today’s Dominicans believe in.

Far from the world that these abhorrent beings came from, later came a calmer war, but a war in some respects so much worse. In the same way that The Caribs and The Spaniards had invaded, and taunted the beauty of the island, denying them their lives, the French and the English were to do a similar thing several centuries later. Fighting over an island where its residents, once again a peaceful community had very little control over anything, even the control of their body was at points restricted. Shackled and bound and made to be slaves to fighting children that claimed they represented the greater good for their respective countries, fighting over a land that was not theirs to begin with. Not because they believed they could do better, not because they wanted that island, but because their greed had no bounds. The islands of the Lesser Antilles were like a prize to the French and the English, and the path to their acquiring it was one paved with trouble. “I want it!” “No I want it” “No you’ve already got Guadeloupe and Martinique” “sooo we want this one too”. The continual cries of petty inhumane arguments that should never have existed in the first place. Those plantains they reaped, the sugar canes they forced their natural owners to harvest for them, in exchange for the cruel patterns their whips created snaking down the backs of the island residents. The tears that became the islands anthem, the cries of pain and shared desperation of a community hurt. None of it belonged to these colonial invaders. None. But by the delusion they felt, the manifest destiny they believed in, all they encountered and wished to be theirs would be theirs without struggle.

Then came a woman. A woman of strength and of rebellion. This woman was no human, and no monster, she was a spiritual being. Her presence was felt and heard but rarely seen. Many of the countries men and women fantasised and whispered about what this mysterious being could look like. One slave while working in a plantation surrounding Morne Trois Pitons reported that she called to him. He described her to his fellow slaves as if reciting a secret that only few could know.

It was the first time he had been moved to Morne Trois Pitons and he was already stunned by what stood in front of him in its all natural magnificence, a mountain of fire looking down upon the rainforests and thickets below it. As he brought his gaze down from the tip of the mountain, he saw floating just above the ground in front of him a figure of godliness. Her ebony allure itself made him feel as though his very looking upon her was a sin. Without moving any closer she whispered to him “Listen closely. There is going to be a change, and you will be at the forefront of it, use it to your advantage. It will feel like you are failing, but in truth you will be succeeding”

Like a shared apparition the islands men and women were visited several times by this angelic foreseer, each time someone reporting a different version of her. None of them really knew who had ever seen the true version of her, but with each report the slaves of the time grew more and more rebellious.

Soon there were uprisings, brothers and sisters in arms resisting against the oppression that had cursed them. Large groups of empowered blacks stormed against their captures, several understanding the high possibility of death, all understanding that death through revolution was better than their situation at the time. As death freed their souls from their bodies that truly no longer belonged to them, they freed the lives of those of their family that could not, or were too scared, to revolt. The power of their revolution was infectious, with each protest and outburst came many more deaths, but deaths not only of slaves, but also of their self-proclaimed ‘owners’. They began to make a statement to frighten those that treated them as animals, as property. With each fight, each thought of revolution, the image of that spiritual and elusive woman and her words were heavily ingrained in the minds of all its participants.

These atrocities lasted decade after decade, century into century, death after death. Amongst all this pain was something of a miracle. Not a spell-bounding, record breaking miracle, but an everyday miracle of birth. The birth of a baby girl, the circumstances of her conception hushed, by the time of her birth the slavery and wars had begun to filter out, and any mention of malicious behaviour would surely create an unnecessary relapse in violence. Plus her mother Marinette Chouteau, scarred as she was, had already fallen in love with her baby and no longer cared for the circumstances in which she had been born. Although Marinette was relatively free, after being rescued by a British abolitionist just months after that man had planted his vile seed in her, her colour still held her back in that society of class. Lillian, that was the name that Marinette had given to her, was no trouble. She cried just like any other baby but she did not make life any harder for Marinette, even the lightness of her skin, a reminder of the history her father was responsible for, rarely bothered her. There was something in this child that lit a light in the heart of Marinette, that made her want to live, rather than just to survive, if not for herself but for baby Lillian.

Lillian would grow to be a beautiful and important lady, using the very little lightness she held in her skin to do the best she could for her mother, for her kind, for the race she most identified with. She was a treasure to so many white men that their infatuation became a tool, and the things she had to do, a necessary pain. Soon, through the white men she had let take her innocence and witness the curves they longed for for so long, the curves of a woman who belonged to the people they looked down upon, she had built a list of connections. Within every generation and every race of inhumane humans there are good men and women, through the bad, Lillian found the good. She found people willing to do the best they could to make sure that all races were treated as equals, that after the illegalisation of slavery, the world would begin to treat one and other as humans, instead of animals.

Then her mother died. Marinette Chouteau, who despite the circumstances of Lillian’s birth had loved her with everything she had and whom Lillian adored had died. No-one really knew how, many said old age, but truthfully she was not that old, others queried whether the trauma of her previous life had plagued her so much that she had asked God for the chance to be released and he had granted her wish. Whatever happened, however she had died, there was one opinion that everyone shared, it was a great loss to the entire island.

Before she knew it Lillian was married to a nice Dominican man and was in labour with her first child, 10 years after the death of her mother. The years leading up to the birth of her son were hazy and melancholic, most days she was stuck in a nostalgic resistance to the truth. But, just like Lillian’s birth had allowed Marinette to forget the violence of her past, Lillian’s son had granted her a new life. A new purpose. In turn he granted his family heritage a new chapter, they named him Phillip Faustin (Faustin being the family name acquired from Lillian’s husband, a name that had just as much, if not more of a violent history to it). Phillip did something that no-one in the family of The Chouteau’s, of the Faustin’s, of the families before them had done, or for that matter had the opportunity to do. He moved. When he was into his early twenties Phillip travelled from Dominica to England, where he enlisted in the army. A choice not made lightly, but one he believed would be the most satisfying. With all the injustice and violence that had tortured his family and the people and country he loved so much, he wanted to protect others, whether that be in another country, whether that be in exchange for the blood of another. He served his time. He did his work. As much as it could never make up for the problems of his family’s history, it helped him to know that he had saved, had protected, had represented.

With the end of Phillip’s service came the introduction of Catherine Bruce, a war nurse who would become his wife, and whom he took back to Dominica, to be with his love in the place he loved. It was quite some time before they had children of their own, as after the war, the things they had seen and known about, they wanted to be able to take in the beauty of the island and its tranquillity. They spent their time just outside of Roseau, Phillip developing a book that detailed his time in the war and Catherine running a little drug store. Their life was full and happy, and before it was too late they had children. You see for the family of Phillip at least, and for many families in Dominica the idea of family was an important one, and for as long as they could they wanted to continue their lineage. They had two children, Alyssa and Richard. Once the babies were more toddlers, now speaking in a fragmented French, the patois of the island, they all moved once again to England.

Richard became my father, he still is, except he no longer speaks his native patois, neither does my Aunt Alyssa. My father married an amateur sculptor from London and in the early 80’s I was born. A chubby, tanned child, unaware of the world and of the things that created him. The memories. The people. The history. Now in my 30’s, with a wife, and a child on the way, my own job as a writer, it is all I can think of. This is why I’m writing this letter, or I guess in a way, more of an informed memo, to you, my child, now in your mother’s womb. When you are old enough I will show you this, I will ask you to take it your room and to read it alone, to understand what it took me years to understand. As I now sit in my office, writing this, informed by research of all the things that came before me, of all the revolutions, of which without I may have been born into a much different world, I wonder, and hope you will to, what role can I play? In the future of another, in the timeline of my child, and of my childrens children, what role can I play? As I keep this question in my mind, I pray you will always do the same.

Ask yourself: What role will I play?”

– Liam Xavier

Let me know what you think!

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