The hot sun prickled on Dinah's face and neck, and sweat dripped from every pore. She straightened up, trying to stretch the ache out of her back. The rows of tobacco spread out endlessly in every direction, dotted with dark-skinned workers.
The woman nearest Dinah stood up and wiped the sweat from her face with a kerchief. "'Bout time for dinner, ain't it? Is Stony eat'n at his house or yours?"
Dinah flushed at the mention of the handsome young man. "He said he eat w' us today."
The woman grinned and shook her head. "When you and that boy gwine t' jump the broom?"
Dinah bent over, burying her face among the tobacco. She ignored the strain in her back and legs. "When he akses me."
The woman reached down again, pulling a handful of nasty tobacco worms from the undersides of the leaves and crushing them under her bare feet. "Stony's a fine boy. He'll make you a good husband."
The clanging sound of the dinner triangle drifted into the field, as welcome as a breeze. The energy picked up as workers finished their rows and headed toward the cabins that they called home.
Dinah helped her mother dish out the porridge and ham biscuits. Stony's little sister, Chloe, popped into their cabin and managed to get as much underfoot as possible for a 5-year-old girl.
"Chloe! Quit jumpin' around, chile!" Dinah fussed. "What you doing at my house? Why ain't you at your own?"
Chloe hopped from one foot to the other. "Cause Stony ain't there."
"Where is Stony? When is he gwine to get here?" Dinah dipped a finger in the porridge and tasted it. She grimaced. It needed more salt or sugar or something. She turned away from the table and rummaged in the food bin.
Crash! Clatter! Dinah spun just in time to see both Chloe and the bowl of porridge land on the dirt floor.
"Chloe! I done tol' you to quit jumpin'!" Dinah ran to help Chloe to her feet. Then she knelt over the bowl. Half of it had spilled on the ground. Dinah surveyed the amount left in the bowl. It wouldn't be enough. With a sigh, she scooped some of the porridge from the ground, trying to gather from the top of the heap where it hadn't gotten gritty with dirt. "Why don't you run see where your brother is and stay out o' my kitchen till I'm ready?"
Chloe agreed and ran out the door, her little bare legs kicking up spurts of dust as she went. Dinah watched her go with a rueful expression.
"Maybe it's not a good day for Stony to sample my cookin'." Dinah tilted the porridge bowl up to the light with a dismal expression.
"You think his mama ain't never scraped porridge of'n the floor?" Dinah's mother laughed.
A reluctant smile crept across Dinah's face. "If our floor was made of sugar, then this porridge would be perfect now."
Her mother set the last ham biscuit on a plate. "Where your beau? He should be here by now."
A shout went up outside. And somebody yelled, "Dinah! Come quick!"
Dinah charged through the doorway into the full sunlight. A wagon was rattling up the road to the right of the cabins.
Stony was tied to the back of it.
Dinah ran toward the road. "Stony!"
Stony trotted to keep his balance as the wagon lurched along, but he twisted to see Dinah's face.
The look of fear and concern in his eyes froze Dinah where she stood. For a second, the world went silent.
Stony's voice broke through her fog. "Get Chloe!" he shouted. "Don't let her see..."
It was then that Dinah saw the 5-year-old struggling to keep up with the wagon. Chloe ran as fast as her little legs could carry her up the road after her brother.
Dinah raced forward, her long legs eating up the ground and overtaking the little girl. She caught her and wrapped her arms around her. Chloe struggled against her.
"Stony! Stoooonnyyyy! Where are they taking my brother?!" she hollered.
Tears blurred Dinah's eyes as the wagon disappeared up the road. She stood up to catch one last glimpse of her beloved before the wagon turned downhill and out of sight. She had seen the overseer in the wagon, whip in hand. Her stomach revolted at the knowledge of what was surely going to happen over the hill.
Chloe turned to hide against Dinah, grasping her skirt with chubby fingers. "I'm skeered, Dinah," she whimpered.
Dinah patted the little girl's back as she stared down the empty road. "There's no need to be scared, chile." Her voice sounded far away, as if it belonged to someone else. "I done tol' you that God is good."
A tear ran down Dinah's cheek. "I done tol' you that He is merciful. And powerful. And that He loves us."
Far away, shouts from an angry man rang out. Dinah winced, knowing that a lash would follow that sound.
"I done tol' you about the children of Israel -- God's people -- when they were slaves in Egypt. God sent a man named Moses to set them all free." Her hand found Chloe's hair and stroked it calmly, but on the inside her heart was breaking. "He's gwine to do that for us, too, chile...He's gwine to do that for us...someday."
Dinah bowed her head and closed her eyes. More tears spilled over, dropping onto Chloe's hair. Dinah tried to make her voice strong again, but it would only whisper.
"I done tol' you."