Jessabelle English lived in a small bright house that was built in the 1800s. The sprung wooden floors had been sanded to reveal their natural golden yellow colour; the large sash windows let the light pour in to the kitchen, where Isla and Karabo were standing with Jez (she’d asked the girls to call her Jez instead of Mrs English), who was waiting for the kettle to boil. Jez was making them a cup of tea and already had a tray with teacups, milk jug and a teapot ready to go. She opened a cardboard box and placed four pastries on a plate.
‘My favourite!’ exclaimed Karabo.
‘Me too! I would die without that bakery. It makes living in this one-horse town bearable,’ stated Jez, gently lifting the pastries onto the plate. ‘These are possibly the world’s best pastéis de nata,’ said Jez. Isla looked quizzically at her. ‘Portuguese custard tarts,’ explained Jez.
‘Oh…’ said Isla nodding her head.
Once the tea was poured, they made their way to the outside porch which looked over a small neat garden. Isla noticed that Jez was in high heels, despite being at home. She was also immaculately dressed, and her costume jewellery matched her fitted dress perfectly. Isla had never met anyone so positively perfect and stylish in all her life. Isla’s mom was a jeans and
boots, or shorts and slops, kind of person. Isla guessed that living on a farm like her mom did downgraded your sense of elegance. Perhaps William had got his sense of style from his mom?
They sat down and sipped their tea and oohed and aahed over the custard tarts. Jez asked questions about school, and Karabo’s evidently broken arm. Isla found it strange that at no point did Jez ask about her son William. Perhaps if you were the parent of a son like William, you avoided asking questions about your child? The natural flow of conversation eventually slowed, and Karabo took the opportunity to tell Jez why they were there. ‘Mrs, I mean, Jez, I don’t know how much you know about me, but… well, I can sometimes see or dream things…’ began Karabo, as she looked at Jez, who nodded encouragingly.
‘I’m going to be a sangoma one day, because my ancestors have called me. This means that I sometimes have dreams and visions, forced onto me by my ancestors, although I may not always know what they mean,’ explained Karabo. Jez nodded again but didn’t interrupt.
‘Well, the other day I fell asleep at school and I had a dream. A dream about your family,’ said Karabo, deciding to leave the other sangoma out of her story. Carefully, Karabo recounted the dream of how the queen had appeared, and how a little girl had run into her arms. Throughout the story, Jez’s face didn’t change. She sat, eyes wide and curious — like William’s on a good day — and listened until Karabo was finished.
‘Does it mean anything to you?’ asked Karabo. ‘Do you know who she is? This queen?’ Karabo searched Jez’s face for an answer.
Jez stood up, her face revealing nothing. ‘Wait here. I will bring you something, it may answer your question,’ she said walking back into the house, leaving Isla and Karabo sitting on the patio. Isla shrugged her shoulders when Karabo looked at her.
They didn’t have to wait long. Jez returned with a large brown book. It looked very old and smelt musty. Jez placed it on the table and opened it, slowly turning the brittle yellowing pages, saying nothing; the only sound came from the pages as they flapped over.
‘Here it is,’ she said eventually, turning the book around so that Karabo could see the picture.
Karabo leapt out of her chair, hands flying to her mouth, as her breathing quickened. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the picture.
‘Karabz, are you OK?’ asked Isla, slowly standing up and walking around the table to see the picture in the book. The black and white picture was of a woman. A queen. She was small and petite, with angular features and dark eyes. Isla looked from the picture to Karabo. ‘Is that her?’ Isla asked Karabo.
Karabo nodded and dropped her hands, returning to the table and placing them on the book. She felt heat under her hands and quickly took them away. Accusingly, she looked at Jez. ‘Who is she?’ demanded Karabo.
Jez smiled, ‘My great aunt.’
‘Your what?’ blustered Isla, before she could stop herself.
‘My great aunt,’ repeated Jez. ‘Come, please sit down again and let me explain,’ Jez encouraged, gently placing her hand on Karabo’s arm. Her touch was soothing and Karabo returned to her seat at the table, unable to take her eyes off the image of the queen from her dreams. Isla followed suit.
‘She is Ranavalona III, the last queen of Madagascar,’ began Jez, stroking the face of the queen.
‘Madagascar had a queen?’ blurted Isla again, unable to hide her disbelief. Jez laughed softly. ‘Why yes, they did Isla, it was a long time ago —’
There was a loud knock on the door, and the doorbell began to sing impatiently at the same time. The knocking persisted. It seemed that whoever was at the door wanted attention immediately. Jez’s eyebrows furrowed, ‘Let me see who that is,’ she said, leaving the table to walk to the front door. Karabo was still staring at the picture, saying ‘Queen of Madagascar,’ over and over.
Question: Did you know that Madagascar used to have a royal family?