Bhekani is tied up and thrown into a hut guarded by soldiers at the royal household. He is resigned to his fate, to death, even as the royal family is in discussion in the king’s court.
“Thobile what has gotten into you?” says the king.
“Baba, people cannot lose their lives because of who they choose to love! That cannot happen in my name. And it should never again happen in your name,” says Princess Thobile.
“But he has shamed our family. He has to suffer for what he has done.”
“No, Baba, he has shamed no one. Bhekani has the courage to live true to his feelings. You can’t kill people over their choices! Imagine the enemies you are making among your own people. These people you kill have brothers, sisters, parents. They have ancestors.”
“Thobile, I’m warning you!”
“If you kill him, Baba, I’ll go away and you will never see me again. If you kill him I will kill myself because I can’t have Bhekani’s blood on my hands. If you kill him you kill me!”
“No Thobile!” screams the king.
Princess Thobile’s words hit the king like a spear in the stomach. He crumples in his seat. His heart is filled with pain like he has never felt, as visions of his beloved daughter committing suicide play out in his mind. He looks at his family and finds that they are all in tears.
“Don’t speak like that, Thobile. Fine, I won’t kill him. But I will give all homosexual people a day to leave my kingdom,” says the king. “Is that good enough for you, my princess?”
“That is better, Baba.”
To everyone’s amazement Princess Thobile bolts out of the king’s court. She is out of breath as she commands the guards to let her see Bhekani. Bhekani looks up at her with peaceful eyes.
“Your courage has made a change, Bhekani. Homosexual people will no longer be killed. Instead of death, Baba has given them a day to leave the kingdom and never come back.”
Bhekani looks away. He shakes his head and says, “I’ll never forgive myself for breaking up families. People will never see their families again because of my own selfish choices.”
“To the contrary, Bhekani. We all know that there are homosexual people in our kingdom but they can’t live freely because they fear prosecution. At least now they have a chance to leave and seek freedom. And I am sure that there are parents who will follow suit and leave with their children. Baba will learn quickly that a kingdom is only made up of the people in it.”
“I see, Thobile. Thank you for standing up for me. I’m sorry for embarrassing you on your wedding day, but I just couldn’t let you live inside my lie.”
“I know, Bhekani. I respect your bravery. I respect that you decided to be true to your feelings. You are free to go.”
At dawn the following day Bhekani looks at his home for the last time and starts the long journey into the unknown. At the edge of the kingdom he stands near the tree where Delani died. He holds on to the tree trunk and whispers, “Delani, my love, I kept my promise. I was willing to die where you died.”
He picks up his bundle and treads on. He can hear voices behind him in the darkness. He looks back as the first light of the day appears. A long procession of people have their belongings with them.
“Where is everyone going?” asks Bhekani.
“We can’t live in a land of hatred where our children can be killed at the king’s whim. We’d rather leave him with his land and start afresh somewhere else,” says the king’s trusted advisor, Pholonjane.
The few people who stay behind in the kingdom of the Ntuli clan wake up to eerie silence. Homes are deserted. The majority of the people have left. There is no one to fetch the water. No one to till the land. No one to sing and dance. All the princesses and princes have left.
“Vusi! Vusi!” the king calls out to his messenger.
“Baba, Vusi left with the rest of the people,” says Queen MaNgema.
The king sinks into his seat, defeated.
“What do you want to do, Baba?” asks Queen MaNgema.
“Forgive me, my dear wife. I was doing what my father taught me. He taught me that this is how a king rules.”
“What do you want to do? Your people are not far away. I can still send one of the boys after them.”
“Tell them to come back. Tell them things will change. I will change,” says the king.
Tell us: what do you think of what princess Thobile did?