Land of Pharaohs
By: Mark Kodama

I.

It is North Carolina, June 1865. Mo Turner is the head overseer of the Colonel's. Big Mo is Nat Turner's son. Nat Turner led the largest slave revolt in American history, just 34 years earlier. Big Mo is on his brown chestnut colored horse under a large tree on a small hill. He is wearing an old wide brimmed, gray cotton shirt, brown pants and brown leather boots. Next to him is the white assistant overseer also on his horse.

Joshua, a black teenager, runs from the Big House to Big Mo with a note. Big Mo read the note, then carefully folded the note and the tucked it into his cotton shirt pocket. He turned to his white assistant. Big Mo pointed to the field and said told his assistant to tell everybody to gather at the Big House.

"The Colonel wants to speak to everyone," Young Joshua told Big Mo. He looked up to Big Mo expectantly.

"Well," Big Mo said.

"Is that all you have to say?" Young Joshua asked.

"There ain't nothin' else to say," Big Mo replied.

"Gen'ral Lee and Gen'ral Johnston surrendered," Young Joshua said. "And Jeff Davis is on the run. The war is over. We free."

Big Mo looked down at Joshua for a moment, looking down at him from his "Oh yeah. We are far from the promised land. We are just a gett'n started."

"I'm glad slavery is over," said the assistant overseer. "It ain't never made sense to me. Why would anyone want to work for nuth'in anyways? And for the white people who didn't own slaves ain't they poor nuf anyways without having to compete against rich people who did not have to pay their workers.

"Anyone with spirit you have to break their spirit. And any one that is docile becomes more docile. And free whites no longer want to do the work slaves do. The whole system is brutal and inhumane and lacks sense."

The assistant overseer tipped his hat to Big Mo and then rode his horse to the fields.

"You ain't gonna stay here with the Colonel are you?" Joshua said. "You Moses. I thought you supposed to lead us to the promised land. That's what the preacher says the Bible say."

"Well, that Moses is a different Moses," Big Mo said.

"What are you gonna do?" Joshua asked.

"What's right for me," Big Mo said.

The field hands walked passed Big Mo and Joshua toward the plantation house.

"Everyone is gathering at the big house," a field hand said. "The colonel has something to say."

"I will take my own sweet time,' Joshua said. "I free now. "What is freedom for if you can't choose to take your sweet time, hurry or not go at all?"

"Are you strong? Big Mo said. "If you not strong, can you become strong? If the answers to both questions are no, then you can neve truly be free. If the answer to the first question is yes then you are already free."

The people began to sing:

Wade in the water,

Wade in the water children,

Wade in the water,

God's gonna trouble the water.

***

The Colonel was dressed in nice clothes but they are old clothes. He wore white gloves and his face was hidden in the shadows of the porch. He tells everyone that they are now free. They could stay if they want or they could leave. He said he could not pay anyone now but he would feed and clothe those who stayed and would pay them when he was able.

Afterward, the Colonel asks Big Mo to come to his study in his house. When Big Mo enters his study, the Colonel is sitting at his desk with his back to Big Mo. He turns. His face and hands are badly scarred by fire. He pours glasses of apple brandy for Big Mo and himself. "Can't feel my hands," he said. "Damn fires."

He asks Big Mo to remain at the Plantation and continue to run it. The Colonel recalls their service together in the Confederate Army. He thanks Big Mo for saving his life at the Wilderness. If Big Mo had not saved him, he would have burned to death in the fire.

The Colonel said that he owned slaves as his daddy and granddaddy did. They were good hard working family men &1504; Christians. He asked Big Mo if owning slaves was wrong. Big Mo answers his question with a question. "Would you trade places with me? If you answer yes, then you are a fool. If no, then I think you can understand."

"Life is strange," Big Mo said. "It is filled with contradictions that make no sense. You see I have two arms, two legs, two eyes, nose and a mouth just like you. We are not much different. Yet you are considered a man and I property.

"You may be the only friend I have. Yet you have kept me in chains until now. And I fought in a war to keep myself in chains through my own freedom is what I most wanted."

Big Mo said he has other plans. He wants to search for his mother and siblings in Southampton, Virginia. He puts on his Confederate uniform for protection.

"Mo, have you ever heard of the Myth of Sisyphus," asked the Colonel.

"Can't say I have," Big Mo said.

"Well, Sisyphus was the mythical king of the Thebans," the Colonel said. "He was infamous for his cleverness and trickery.

"At the end of his life, the Greek gods sent Death to take him to the underworld," the Colonel said. "When Death came with his manacles, Sisyphus asked him to show him how the manacles worked. After Death put the manacles on himself, Sisyphus took away his key and kept Death as his prisoner.

"After that no one could die. An angry Ares, the god of war, demanded Zeus, the king of the gods, do something. So Zeus sent his son Hermes, the messenger god, to free Death. Hermes freed Death and led Sisyphus to the underworld. The gods punished Sisyphus by making him roll a heavy stone up a mountain every day to watch it roll down again.

"The next day he again would have to roll the stone up the mountain and so on throughout eternity. He was condemned to live a meaningless afterlife in punishment for his living a meaningless life.

"Sometimes I think I'm Sisyphus. I spent my life trying to build this plantation from swampland, enduring the ups and down of the weather and changing economy. Then the war comes. I barely survive the war, only to come to my plantation destroyed by the union army. And I do not do this for myself. My plantation is like a ship at sea. Everyone on that ship is dependant upon that ship for sustenance. So my family, my workers and all my slaves and all of their families are dependent upon this plantation. "

"Do you know what I think?" asked Big Mo.

"What do you think?" asked the Colonel.

"Sisyphus must be happy," Big Mo said.

"What do you mean," asked the Colonel.

"Life is a rebellion against fate," Big Mo said. "And rebellion gives life meaning."

The Colonel handed Big Mo money for his journey. "Not much, but it is all I have," he said. "Good luck Mo. Fortune favors the brave."

***

Joshua, a teenager without family, wants to join Big Mo. "Where are we going, Big Mo," he asked.

"No where."

"You look like you are leaving," Joshua said. "I want to go whicha."

"I am leaving," Big Mo said. "But not with you."

"Yes."

"Well I didn't invite you," Big Mo said.

"I can help you," said Joshua.

"Don't need no help," Big Mo said. "I travel light.

"I will help you."

"It may be dangerous," Big Mo said. "I move faster on my own."

"I will help you."

"Okay then meet me in an hour at Liberty Road."

"Where are we going?"

"Land of the Pharaohs," Big Mo said.

When Joshua appears at the meeting place, Big Mo is gone. The two old men tell Joshua Big Mo left an hour ago. Joshua runs to catch up.

II.

Big Mo and Joshua come to the small town of Golgotha. The town in the midst of a local election. There is a flyer of the local Sheriff Flay running for re-election.

There are two black Union soldiers, a sergeant and a private. The private bates Big Mo and asks him who side did he fight for. The sergeant, however, restrains the younger man.

"Don't mess with a guy like that. That man is a survivor. And most dangerous.

"Your pride will get you killed some day. Don't go looking for trouble. Trouble will find you sure enough anyways."

Big Mo and Joshua enter the town's general store. There is a timid white clerk with thick glasses behind the counter.

Big Mo gathers butter, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, salt, pepper, flour and cornmeal.

The clerk clears his throat and says in an overly aggressive voice: "We don't serve no niggers here."

Big Mo looks him confidently as Joshua fidgets. "We ain't no niggahs. You must be mistaken. Look at my uniform ."

The clerk in fear looks timidly at the ground. "I see. Well that will be three dollars and twenty cents then."

***

It is morning. Mist rose from the brook. After Big Mo finished reading his newspaper the North Star, he fed it into the fire. Big Mo cooked trout and cornbread in two pans on the campfire.

"All you really need to cook trout is salt, pepper and oil and a hot fire," Big Mo said. If you cook the fish too long, it becomes to rubbery; too short and its raw. If you cook it just right it is tender, flaky and flavorful . Life is like cooking. Timing is everythin'.

"And the mos' satisfying pleasures in life are often times the mos' simple pleasures. The trees, the river, the food and the smell of the fire &1504; life gets no better than this. It's ready. Eat up."

"Ain't you gonna say grace before eating," Joshua asks.

"You can for yourself if you want," Big Mo said.

"Don't you believe in God?" Joshua asks.

"Four days a week, yes," Big Mo said. "Three days no."

"Why don't you believe in God for three days?' Joshua asks.

"Because you can't prove He exists," Big Mo said.

"The preacher says ‘who could create all this beauty but God?'" Joshua said. "That is proof that God exists."

"Why can't nature have created nature?" Big Mo said.

"Without God there would be no morality," Joshua said.

"Why is that?" Big Mo said.

"Well, then why do you believe in God for four days," Joshua asked.

"Well, because you can't prove God doesn't exist," Big Mo said.

"You are a strange man," Joshua said.

"No, I am my own man," Big Mo said. "I think people are strange when they don't have the confidence to think for themselves."

***

Later, after they finished breakfast, Big Mo began reading the newspaper.

"Where did you learn to read?" Joshua asks.

"From my daddy," Big Mo said.

"How did your daddy know how to read?" Joshua asked.

"He was a negro preacher," Big Mo said.

"Who taught him how to read?

"He taught himself how to read," Big Mo said.

"That's a miracle," Joshua said.

"So they said," Big Mo said.

To be continued…

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