When I was a fourth grader I decided one day on the playground, “I’m gonna be a doctor.”
Actually it was decided when I wrote an essay about science and what it meant to me. I wrote that my lust for knowledge would lead me down the path to becoming a doctor.
“Where did you come across that word?” asked my mother. “How do you know what it means?”
“It means a real strong need to learn about the sciences,” I answered. “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t think you knew what it meant,” she said.
“Yes ma’am. I’m going to study hard and make sure I get into a medical school. I want that most of all.”
“It’s a good goal, sweetheart.”
That was my mother’s first inkling of what my future plans would be. It cropped up again when I got to seventh grade.
I was a seventh grader walking the halls and breezeways of JIHS. I never considered it to be junior high. Heck no. I was attending James Island High School so I was a high school student. And on top of that I was told I could take first year Latin, a genuine high school course, in seventh grade. Yeah, I was definitely a high school student because only a bona fide high school student could take Latin since it was normally taken in the ninth grade.
“Mom!” I yelled when I saw her after school. “They are letting me take my first year of Latin in the seventh grade. It’s an honor for a student like me to take a ninth grade course. It’s something I will need in medical school.”
“Oh my,” she said. “My son, the doctor, is on his way with his first course on the road. I’m so proud of you. “
Her smile made me burst with pride.
Latin was not an easy course. I had to spend a lot of time at home memorizing as well as conjugating verbs and constructing sentences. It was hard but I stuck to it and learned all I could simply because I felt the honor of the chance.
“Rickey, I’d like to commend you on your hard work. We decided to try this out with students fresh in from grammar school to see how it would work. You certainly have applied yourself. It shows me and those who gave all of you this chance that it was a good idea.”
It was Mrs. Seabrook who was talking to me this way after class. I was beaming with pride at the praise she gave me.
“It’s my first step toward medical school,” I said, my face flushed.
“It’s a good step. Your willingness to learn it so well is a good indication of what a good doctor you will make. But don’t forget to have fun as well.” She was looking at me as if I was too dedicated.
“I do, Mrs. Seabrook. I just want to do my best.” I wasn’t trying to make brownie points. I was completely sincere.
“Alright,” she said. “You do know about the Roman Forum coming up at the end of the year don’t you?”
“I heard something about it but don’t really know what it is exactly.”
“It’s the Latin class’s chance to have some fun. We have the “Roman citizens” made up of the second and third year students and you first year students who will be sold at the forum as slaves.”
I squirmed in my seat.
“Slaves? That doesn’t sound like much fun for us first year students.”
She saw my frown of concern.
“Oh, no. It’s nothing to be worried about. It’s a fun thing we do to get into the minds of our Roman ancestors. We learn about the culture by play acting.”
“Yes ma’am but slaves? I don’t really want to be a slave.”
“There is no harm in it. It is all done in fun. Nobody takes advantage of it.”
“So we all have to be involved?”
“Yes you do. It’s part of the grade.”
And there you have, I thought, it isn’t all book learning. There is participation. Participation wasn’t something I was good at but I was told I had no choice.
That afternoon I saw Clyde.
“Hey Clyde,” I yelled at him.
“Hey, nef. What’s up?” He was reaching into the refrigerator for a coke.
“Did you take Latin with Mrs. Seabrook?”
“Naah. What would I take Latin for? Isn’t that a dead language?” He flopped onto the couch in front of the TV.
“That’s what they say.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just wanted to find out about that Roman Forum thing.”
“Well I don’t know what you are talking about but Carole might.”
Carole was the girl he was dating. She was gorgeous. She reminded me of Barbara Stanwick and I was crazy about her but way too young plus she was Clyde’s girl.
“You think you could ask her about it? I’m going to be sold as a slave. I’m not crazy about that idea.”
“How about get some chips from the kitchen for me? I’ll call Carole and ask her about it.”
I quickly ran to the kitchen to procure the bag of chips. He was dialing when I got back. He took the chips. I hovered over him.
“Hello, baby,” said in his Big Bopper tone. “Whatcha doin?”
He motioned for me to get him another coke while he listened to her answer.
I scampered off to the kitchen for another coke. He took it without looking up.
“Uh huh. Yeah. Say, honey, my nef wants to know about the..what was it?...the Roman Forum thing…uh huh. Aren’t you taking Latin?”
He nodded at me. She did. He motioned for me to hand him a pencil and pad.
“Yeah. He said something about being a slave.”
He nodded at me again.
“Any advice for him? He seems worried.”
He nodded again. He motioned that the bag of chips was empty then pointed toward the kitchen. I ran to the cupboard and pulled a second bag of chips out. He took it from me frowning. He handed it back with that frown. I tore it open for him.
“Yeah, he’s right here. She wants to talk to you,” he said handing me the phone. He reached into the bag as I took the phone from him.
She was going to talk to me. I had to sit down.
“Uh…yeah. Hello,” I stuttered.
“Rickey are you taking Latin?”
“Aren’t you in the seventh grade?”
“You must be pretty smart to be taking Latin in the seventh grade.”
“Uh huh.” My sparkling wit was definitely impressing her.
“You want to know about the Roman Forum and the slave auction, right?”
“It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s actually fun.”
“Can you meet me in the lunch room tomorrow?”
“Hello, Rickey? Can you hear me?”
“Uh huh,” I gulped. “I..I..I can meet you.”
“Good. I can tell you all about it. Maybe we can figure a way so I can buy you as a slave.”
Clyde was looking at me.
“She wants to talk to you again.”
“About time. Do you know where the peanuts are?”
“Uh huh,” I said without thinking. My eyes were filled with visions of being a slave to this beautiful girl.
“Well?” he said.
“Would you go get the peanuts?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” I flew back into the kitchen and opened the cupboard door. The jar of peanuts was on the shelf. I grabbed it and floated back into the front room. Clyde grabbed it. He stayed on the phone while I went to the back to study.
The next day I was a complete bundle of nerves. How was I going to talk to a Goddess from Mount Olympus. She was My Roman Goddess who would own me body and soul in the next few weeks.
Lunch time arrived and I walked slowly to the lunchroom. I wasn’t sure how to approach someone so far above me. As I opened the door she called out to me. I waved and hurried over. She pulled a chair next to her. I sat down awestruck.
“Rickey I want you to meet my friends,” she said.
She named them all but I only had eyes for her. Nodding, I told them I was pleased to meet them.
“Rickey is taking Latin. He’s going to be auctioned off as a slave at the Forum.”
“I want you to buy me,” I mumbled.
She looked at me and smiled.
“Yes, that is the plan,” she said with a laugh. “The problem is that each slave is brought in covered by a sheet so that no one can know who they are.”
“How will you know it’s me so you can bid?” I began to panic. There was a chance someone besides the Goddess I worshipped here before me would not know to bid on me.
“I think I have it figured out, Rickey.” She was smiling directly at me. I saw her deep green eyes covered partially by a lock of golden hair. I asked her to repeat what she had just said.
Her plan was a good one. She asked me to dance with a vigorous swaying of my hips so that she would know that it was me.
“That will be my sign to bid on you. We will have fun.”
“Oh boy, Howdy,” I whispered.
The Forum wasn’t for a couple of weeks. I practiced my hoola hoop swaying so I could not be mistaken for anyone else until the night of the event. We were told to dress up in togas which meant we used an old sheet that could be cut to size. I found an old pair of sandals that set off the short sheet toga. With one last touch, an old rope to cinch up the waste, I was ready.
My mother dropped me off at the school. The slave auction was to be held in the school library. I took myself through the chilly evening air to the front entrance. Inside the doors all of us first year students stood waiting for the auction to begin. We were all nervous and chilly in our thin short togas so we danced around to keep warm.
Suddenly Mrs. Seabrook was standing in the door of the library yelling out, “Claudi os!”
The gentle rumble of whisperings and chatter immediately ended. Everyone’s attention was focused on our Latin teacher.
“I need all of you to line up here at the doorway. Before you enter to be sold as slaves you will be draped with a sheet to cover your identity. Someone will lead you into the room and place you before the Romans who will bid on you. Are there any questions? If not then please line up.”
We all shuffled over to make a line. The first person was covered in a sheet and lead inside the library. There was much shouting as the auctioneer began to bidding.
“The slave is all yours!” said the auctioneer after which there was an evil cackle from the Roman buyer.
The time passed quickly as I made my way to the door. When I reached the doorway a sheet was thrown over me. My arm was gripped firmly. I was lead to the auction block.
As I walked I decided to put a heavy swing into my step hoping my Goddess would see me. The person leading me in faced me forward.
“Here is a male of short stature but quick mind. Who will bid a quarter?”
“Here! I give ten cents!”
It was a male voice. Panic rose in me. I began to sway as if I had that hoola hoop rolling on my hip.
“Be still!” ordered the auctioneer. “Be still I say!”
The Romans began to laugh.
The Romans began to laugh.
“It appears this specimen is a dancer! What am I bid for such entertainment?”
I felt a slap on my arm as I began to put my hips into an industrial gyration.
“I’ll bid one dollar!” It was another deep voice, no Goddess that.
That baritone inspired my fanny wiggle to hyper movement for which I received another slap on the arm accompanied with a warning. “Be still heathen!”
But I could not be still as I heard another bid offered in a gravelly voice decidedly not my Goddess.
This time I produced a wild shaking of my rear end producing a billowing of the sheet from side to side.
The laughter grew making the bidding difficult to hear. The price was up to two dollars yelled out by voices which came from prominent adams’ apples.
I tried to say something, “It’s me dammit!”
It was nipped in the bud by the auctioneer. Then it occurred to me, what if she isn’t even here? I stopped my movements and stood stone still. It’s over, I thought. No Goddess for me.
“I bid three dollars,” said a heavenly voice I recognized.
“SOLD!” said the seller of slaves. “Take this wiggle worm away!”
The sheet was ripped from me. I blinked to see my Goddess shell out three dollars for my week’s slavery. She smiled at me and took the chain attached to my neck leading me out of the Slave Mart.
“I wiggled as hard as I could. I didn’t think you would ever bid on me.”
“It was that last burst of movement that finally caught my eye, Rickey. That sheet didn’t sway much with your moving in the beginning. It was that last sashaying that finally got that sheet to move enough that I knew it was you.”
“So do I owe you three dollars?” I asked thankful to be slave to such a one.
“Heavens no, slave. You’re going to work it off.”
I followed her around like a puppy with her books, her purse, her lunch and on and on. I worked hard for my owner. It was a special time for me. Never before, nor since, have I enjoyed taking orders so much. It was all I ever hoped for as a slave.