Married royal women are packed in the hut where Princess Thobile is getting readied for the wedding ceremony. They are here to offer Princess Thobile last minute advice about marriage. Although Queen MaNgema is sad to see her only daughter moving away it feels a bit better today; she is no longer constantly crying.
“Thobile, my child, marriage is about perseverance. You have to be strong. Don’t voice your anger too quickly. When you get upset pick up a bucket, go down to the river. You walk to the river and cry your eyes out. Then you go back home and carry on with your chores,” says Queen MaNgiba of the Cele clan.
“Thobile, it may happen that your in-laws may not like you but what you are there to do is love your husband. Don’t talk back to your husband. Don’t argue with your husband. You do what he says and do so without complaining,” says Queen Sbahle of the Dludla clan.
It is crowded in the Dladla household as well. Excitement blows in the wind because today their son is getting married to the most beautiful princess in the land. Bhekani is in traditional garb. Men young and old come up to shake his hand and concede that he won the most valuable prize in Princess Thobile.
Princess Thobile looks like a dream in her attire of Zulu beadwork. The bride and groom’s families are competing in song. The festive atmosphere turns into pure delirium when the bride enters the Dladla household.
Bhekani’s heart sinks. This is the moment of truth.
A well-known induna, Ndosi, presides over the ceremony. People love to get married by Ndosi because he starts the ceremony by asking if the bride and groom love each other.
“Do you, Thobile Ntuli, love Bhekani Dladla?”
“Yes, I love him,” says Thobile smiling shyly.
“Lilili! Lilili!” women ululate.
Ndosi turns to Bhekani. “Do you, Bhekani Dladla, love Thobile Ntuli?”
There is no answer from Bhekani. Murmurs from the crowd fill up the silence. The king shifts uncomfortably in his chair under a old fig tree.
Ndosi starts again, “Maybe you didn’t hear me over the sound of ululating women. My question is: Do you love Thobile Ntuli?”
Princess Thobile is growing nervous, beads of sweat have suddenly appeared all over her body. Questions flood her mind after she notices the empty stare in Bhekani’s eyes. Is this what I think it is? Why has he lost the spark in his eyes? Is Bhekani about to disappoint me in front of the whole world?
“No, I don’t love Thobile.”
The king rises to his feet and says, “What is this boy doing?”
“I don’t love Thobile and I don’t want to marry her. I’ve only had one love in my life. His name was Delani! Delani was my lover!”
The king and his soldiers move towards Bhekani as a collective gasp circulates through the crowd.
Bhekani recognises the gravity of what he has done as the king and his soldiers approach him. They have nothing but menace and disgust in their eyes. Bhekani glances at his parents. He takes a final look at them because he is sure the king will sentence him to death. In his parents’ pained faces he finds compassion. He is suddenly happy, even as everyone else is shocked and confused because his parents look at him with love in their eyes. He’d like to look at his mother and father for longer, but the king’s soldiers surround him, blocking his view.
Princess Thobile’s eyes dart across the gathered crowd. She sees shock and fear. Her stare rests on Bhekani’s parents – the worried compassion in their eyes touches her deeply. The worry in their faces dwarfs the fact that Bhekani embarrassed her on her big day. In those few seconds she remembers nothing but humanity in Bhekani. She recalls his smile and how his parents have shown her nothing but love and kindness.
Princess Thobile has always heard about people being executed in the kingdom but it has never been close to home – it has never been someone she has known. She imagines Bhekani being killed and the pain that will bring to his family. It just doesn’t make sense to her. It doesn’t make sense that Bhekani has to die for choosing who he loves. Courage wells up in her heart until it spills out of her mouth.
“Leave him alone!” she screams at the soldiers. She wriggles herself through the shocked soldiers and grabs on to Bhekani. “Leave him alone!”
“Get away from him, Thobile. This creature has disrespected you, the kingdom, and me!” says the king.
“No, Baba! This is enough now! Enough killing!”
“Thobile! I’m warning you!”
“Baba, no! I’m not letting him go! Why must he die? Why must all homosexual people die?”
“Because they bring shame to their families and my kingdom!”
“But, Baba, what do their choices have to do with you? They make these choices in their lives, it has nothing to do with you!”
“Thobile I am warning you! Show some respect!”
Queen MaNgema realises that neither the king nor Princess Thobile will back down.
“Let’s solve this at the royal household, Baba, not in front of your subjects,” MaNgema whispers to the king.
Tell us: What kind of person is Thobile?