I am number 12. That is what they call me now. I wasn't always number 12. My given name is Ayomide, it means "my joy has arrived." My mother used to say it to me in a sing-song way when I was a baby, "Ayomide, Ayomide," she'd whisper to me when I cried. It always made me feel better. No one has called me Ayomide in a very long time.
The first thing they did to me after they threw me on this boat was strip me of my clothes. They said it was to preserve our health, but the way the men stared at me when I was naked made me think otherwise. I tried to hide myself but then the ship captain tossed a scrap of square of fabric at me that tied at my waist that made me feel a bit more covered.
I had never seen white people before. I just keep staring and staring until one of the other women poked me in the ribs and told me to focus on something else unless I wanted a beating. But it was hard not to stare. The pale skin, the soft looking shiny straight hair. I just wanted to reach out and touch it. Some of the men actually looked sweet. How was it possible they were as brutal as the stories I had been told?
I was lucky; my mom taught me how to cook so I served food to the captain's table. One night as I served his soup and rice the captain told me I was "valuable cargo" and everyone at the table laughed. I didn't understand what he meant but I smiled to be polite.
Where are we going? I ask every day but no one wants to tell me anything. But I can't wait. Nothing can be worse than this boat. Below the deck, the men were getting sick and we watch their bodies get tossed overboard like they meant nothing, the same way they dumped the trash after I served dinner. But I believe once we get off this ship things will be so much better. I believe in my heart people are genuinely good; the only reason the men are fighting on this boat because they are shackled and it's hot and smelly and miserable, but once we are back on land, things will be so much better. But every time I say this to one of the other women, they just look at me sadly and shake their head. Why?
I've grown fond of two of the older women aboard the ship with me. They are very protective of me; they braid my hair and teach me songs. I don't understand all the words as they speak a different language, but I know sadness and longing when I hear it. When they sing I miss my mom; I hug these women and call them "Auntie."
This morning our boat docked in the West Indies. There was a big commotion and suddenly everyone was yelling and shoving and pushing me off the boat and dragging me onto a large platform. I cried and hung on to my Aunties; whatever was happening, wherever we were going, it would be all right if we could go together. But suddenly one man pointed directly at me and I was shoved off the platform. My Aunties started screaming and crying really hard and they both tried to hold onto me, but they weren't strong enough. But as I was being dragged off one of my Aunties ran after me--she took off a beaded necklace she always wore; she kissed it and put around my neck. That was the last I saw of her.
I don't know where I'm going or what's going to happen to me. But it's got to be better than being on that boat. I believe people are good at heart and things will be all right, won't they? I hope wherever I go at least they will give me a proper name, and I will no longer be Number 12.