ZZ Packer's Dayward is set in the period when the emancipation law has been passed and blacks in America were free to leave their masters and live as freed people. Lazarus and his deaf sister, Mary Celeste, though free, are on the run from the Five Daughters. And Miss Thalia, the owner of Five Daughters had fulfilled her promise of setting Kittredge's dog on them after they had had a head-start because she considered
the African race an ungrateful lot of thieves for deserting once emancipation came around. "All I got to say," ... "is that we always fed and clothed you slaves."
Fourteen year old Lazarus and nine year old Mary Celeste were on a journey to reunite with their only surviving relative in New Orleans but first they had to survive the journey and the dogs. Using tales told them by their parents like the man who suffocated and killed a dog by wrapping around his some homespun from his shirt and ramming it down the dog's throat, the siblings managed to survive but not without struggle. It is on this journey that we get to know what had happened to them. Mary Celeste was not born deaf; her deafness developed gradually when she complained of hearing sounds that later became 'a strict calm of long corridors, unaccompanied by anything.' Instead of calling white folks' doctor, Miss Thalia and Mr Thompson called the county's veterinarian, who specialised in horse carbuncles. He had advised 'Master and Miss to refuse to tolerate the girl's melancholy and to end her bed rest.' Gradually Mary Celeste became deaf. Packer also filled us in on how their parents had died. She writes
Lazarus thought on it all. How their father had come to be killed, not from his ear being nailed to the post but from scratching it day and night until it pussed over. How their mother had run off into the woods, witless and mad, after their father's death. She'd been gone nearly three days, then caught pneumonia and died and died before she could be properly whipped for attempting to escape - if churning around the same copse of trees less than four miles off could be called escaping.
Having also rammed his clothed hand into Miss Kittredge's dog's throat and suffocating it to death, Lazarus had to endure an infected and putrefying hand all through the journey aided by Mary and feeding on black berries. But they would finally find Aunt Minnie with her seven children.
The story is not about the what happened in the end, the reunion which itself was nothing spectacular for Minnie had her own problems; however, Packer used the journey was used to discuss the plight of blacks during the days when they were mere properties and also, perhaps, as a metaphor even in today's world. This story reminded me of Toni Morrison. ZZ Packer's story is a haunting one but then that's the history of Americans of African descent. Currently, some African Americans don't want to be referred to by that name as they find it discriminatory.