The trip to the city drags on. I can think of nothing to say to either of them. I stare at the back of Bantu’s head, thinking about how he used to be my friend and now he is reprimanding me like I am a child. Clearly we are no longer the same people. We have grown up. We are no longer friends.
“We’re here!” Bantu says, as he shakes me awake.
“Sizzly! Welcome to your home,” the king says proudly. I slowly walk towards the house, still half asleep.
“Siz, it is really beautiful. You’ll love it,” Bantu adds excitedly as we enter a brightly lit mansion.
“Where is my room?” I ask with my eyes just half open. I only want to sleep.
“It’s upstairs. It has a beautiful view, ” Bantu tells me with far more energy than I have. He grabs my luggage and leads me upstairs.
“Please, tell me I’m not sharing the room with him,” I whisper to Bantu as we go upstairs.
“He’s not supposed to, but you never know. He might want to,” he says, looking away. I freeze, letting his words wash over me. I’m suddenly wide awake.
“B, you know I love Lizo,” I say, searching for any sign of my old friend.
“I have no right to interfere, Siz. This is beyond my control,” he responds, opening a door. I have no idea how he chose the correct one for the passage was lined with doors on both sides.
“Is this it?” I ask, distracted by the beautiful interior.
“Yep. I knew you would love it,” he says smiling. “Just show the man a little enthusiasm, and this house could be yours,” he finishes.
“My parents did notify him to wait for me, didn’t they?”
“The arrangement is for him to not touch you till you at least reach twenty-two years of age, that is, when you’ve finished studying,” Bantu explains, a bit annoyed. But I can see it in his eyes: he is worried about me.
“So he can’t touch me? I am after all nineteen years old now.”
“I don’t know, Siz. The man can do anything; he’s the king,” he says and leaves me alone.
I slowly look around the room. As I turn I realise there is a key in the door and I quickly run over to lock it. I’m in no mood to fight off an old, beardy man next to me in the bed, or worse, on top of me. Sies!
“Knock, knock!” It’s the king’s voice coming from the other side of my door, just as I snuggle into bed with all my clothes on.
“Yes?” I answer, trying to hide my fear.
“Are you asleep?”
“I’m tucked in bed,” I answer. “I’m really tired from the long trip,” I continue, hoping this will discourage him.
“I wanted to say goodnight.”
“Oh, goodnight,” I say, as I hear his footsteps retreat back down the hall. I stare at the ceiling and think just how alone I feel.
I wake to sunlight peeking through the long, elegant curtains. I want to roll over and go back to sleep. I look at the time on my phone. Just past nine-thirty in the morning. I gaze around the room, taking it all in. It looks bigger now than it had the night before. Everything is so decadently luxurious, including the curtains. I pick myself up and pull them aside. Behind the curtains is a set of big sliding doors and a balcony overlooking a beautiful view of the city. I must still be sleeping I think. This is unreal.
“Nkosazana (Queen)!” Bantu’s voice interrupts my thoughts.
“What do you want?” I crankily reply.
“Please dress and open the door.”
“You’ll have to excuse me then, because I don’t feel like getting dressed.”
“Siziwe, time is money; open up,” he says, no longer trying to sound nice. “The king wants to see you and I need to show you a few things.”
“You are such a nuisance!” I shout as I march to open the door.
“Good. I presume you’ve seen your bathroom, but now let me show you your wardrobe,” Bantu says, as he brushes past me to open an enormous, all-white, walk-in cupboard. “This is it.”
“What?” I say with disbelief.
“Yes, village bumpkin,” Bantu says with a smile. “Have a look inside.”
“This is the wardrobe?” I ask again.
“Yes. Now, let’s see you know how everything works in your bathroom and shower,” he says, leading me out of the wardrobe. “Siz, this is all you’ve ever dreamed of in a home.”
“Yes, but I had a different partner in mind.”
“Not every part of our dreams come true.”
“Thanks to your king.”
“Being angry with him or me won’t help you. Your parents knew you were in love with Lizo, but they agreed to marry you to the king, a man almost thrice your age,” he says, as if he were simply stating the facts out of the encyclopaedia.
“They had no choice. They wanted me to further my studies,” I say defensively.
“Sure they did,” he says, letting the words linger for a moment. “Freshen up before you meet your husband-to-be.”
“You annoy the hell out of me,” I say, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
“Thanks. I trust you’ll find your way downstairs when you’re done,” he says, turning to leave before I can answer.
As soon as he exits I lock the door again, quickly take off my clothes and wrap my naked body in a fluffy bathroom towel that smells new. I think about my English teacher who always said: “Everything comes at a cost. Our freedom came at a cost; you should never forget that.” And I wonder what my future will bring.
After a luxurious bath I slip into jeans and a sleeveless top. I want to show them I am no village bumpkin.
I glide down the stairs and step into a huge kitchen, where Bantu and the king are busy playing cards.
“Oh, you’re finally done? I was starting to wonder if you’d drowned,” Bantu says as I walk towards the pair.
I glare at him. “Don’t start with me!”
“Hey, you two, behave! Siziwe, make yourself a sandwich,” he commands, rather than offers.
“That’s bread with polony, cheese and the works.”
“Thank you, Mr Know-it-all. I had no idea what a sandwich was.”
“My pleasure,” he said with a big smile.
“Where did this all come from?”
“We went to buy them while you were still sleeping, Sizzly. After this we need to go to the university to show you around, and then head to the mall so that you can buy some clothes.”
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” I ask, as I inspect what I’m wearing.
“I thought you would love shopping, but if you don’t, it’s fine,” the king says, almost hurt.
“This is Joburg,” Bantu says, as if he is telling me something I didn’t know. “If you want it to be obvious that you are just a plain Jane from the village then go ahead and wear whatever you want.” Bantu emphasises ‘plain’ and ‘village’.
His words sting me. He might as well have told me to pack up and go back home because I won’t survive the big city.
“Bantu, I demand you to show Siziwe some respect. She’s my chosen wife. Speak to her the way you speak to ma’Mthembu back home,” the king says, raising his voice slightly.
I’m surprisingly happy when he does. But I am also scared at being happy to be defended by someone I hate.
Tell us: Is showing great respect for certain people important in your family?