“Aren’t you happy now, Siz? This is spectacular,” Bantu says looking at the delicious dinner in front of him.
“Can I please eat in peace?” I beg, not wanting to get into a fight.
“What’s wrong, Sizzly? Did we offend you?”
“My parents didn’t like it when someone made noise during dinner time.”
“Oh, sorry. You didn’t tell me.”
“We never talked.”
For a change, it is quiet. I have never heard Bantu so quiet. He usually talks more than the king and I combined. He looks at me every time he thinks of something he wants to say, but has to keep quiet to please me. I don’t care. Sitting in silence is far better than being told how to behave by him.
“Bantu, please go and wash the dishes. I need to talk to Siziwe,” the king says finally, breaking the silence.
“Yes, Sir,” Bantu answers, glaring at me warningly one more time, before clearing the table.
“Sizzly, I am going back home tomorrow morning.” He pauses to gauge my reaction. “You’ll be staying here with Bantu. You have my numbers in cases of emergency, or if you need anything. I don’t want to hear stories about you in the coming months. You must remember you represent both your family and me while here. You are here to study. Do not disappoint me, or your parents.”
I continue to stare down at the table. Then he adds, “And don’t try to get in touch with that Lizo boy.” My head snaps up and I lock eyes with him. He presses on and I go back to looking at the table. “Every December vacation you’ll be going back home; home being my house. You’ll be taught how to be a royal wife. It comes with responsibilities.”
“What? I can’t!” I say instantly, looking up. I am outraged. I want to go home to my family, not his. I’m not ready to be his wife.
“Why not?” he asks innocently.
“Surely you don’t expect me to be a wife so soon,” I say, trying to remain calm.
“You’ll be learning how to be my wife. Do you want me to report bad behaviour to your family?”
I shoot up from the table and sprint up the stairs to my bedroom and throw myself on top of the bed. Questions run through my head. How could my parents do this to me? How could they give me up to this old man? Don’t I deserve to be with someone I love?
The king’s words echo in my head: ‘And don’t try to get in touch with that Lizo boy … Every December vacation you’ll be going back home; home being my house. You’ll be taught how to be a royal wife. It comes with responsibilities.’
The only person’s wife I want to be is Lizo’s. I can’t believe that I have let my parents bully me into this.
I must’ve dozed off because I wake up to voices coming from the lounge downstairs.
“Sir, I think you should give her some time to get used to the idea of being your wife. She gave up her freedom and the man she loved to honour her parents. I know Siziwe, and I know she will not disgrace you or her family,” I hear Bantu defend me.
“I wish she could open her heart to me. I have no intention of destroying her life. I love her, believe it or not. She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen,” the king replies. I roll my eyes, thinking about how all he sees in me is my beauty.
“But you know your first wife. She will not take to Siziwe. She hates the idea of you taking her as your second wife.”
“Leave her to me,” the king says in a warning tone. “She knows it’s our culture. It’s what’s required of me,” the king finishes sternly.
“You’re a wise man. The council will sing your praises for marrying Siziwe. They will all respect you.”
“With a beautiful second wife by my side, I’ll make them jealous. They will see who is number one.”
As I listen I can’t believe that literally all he cares about is my beauty. Lizo never dwelled on my beauty; he saw more than a pretty face. He would tell me how intelligent, humble, loving and independent I am and that I am the most wonderful person he’s ever met.
“Oh, Sizzly! You … how long have you been standing there? You almost missed your favourite show.” I stood in front of the king and Bantu. In my eavesdropping I had wandered down the hall and into the room to listen more closely.
“Long enough to hear that all you care about are my looks,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Sizzly, please. That’s not important. Is that all you heard from our conversation?” he says trying to appease me. “I love you,” he says, as romantically as he can.
“That doesn’t matter. Love doesn’t mean a thing anymore!” I say, raising my voice.
“You are taking things too far now, Siziwe! Don’t forget who you’re talking to,” Bantu shouts.
“Bantu, please shut up! You are not the one marrying an old man who only cares about his reputation. I curse my damn beauty! If I weren’t beautiful, you wouldn’t have even considered marrying me.”
“Siziwe, don’t curse!” Bantu yells.
“Why not? All the king cares about is my beauty, nothing else. I’m to spend three years studying, for what? So I can be his trophy wife.”
For all my life, I have known the king as a confident man. He always had things under control. Now for the first time I see a hurt, defeated man standing in front of me, like a young boy.
Bantu looks at me as the king quickly shuffles up the stairs. I look down at my feet, almost ashamed of what I just said. I sit down, quiet now. Bantu has nothing to say either. He just sits there with worry in his eyes.
‘Please behave. Make us proud…’ My mother’s words ring in my head, reminding me why I agreed to everything.
“I hope you’re happy. I’ve never seen such an ungrateful girl. You always think of yourself. You are not the first, and I bet not the last, to be told to marry a king or a chief. Get over yourself already!” Bantu shouts, as I sit there with my head hanging down like a naughty girl being scolded.
“You’ve always been too good for everyone. When I wanted you to be my partner at the school’s dance-a-thon, you refused because I was nothing to you. You were too pretty to be seen playing with me. Now I see why Lizo chose to leave you by yourself by the river, to get yourself home. He was tired of you acting like the world owed you something.”
His words sting.
“Don’t talk about something you know nothing about. I’m tired of having to defend myself to you. I refused to be your partner in school because you had made a fool of yourself by giving a wrong answer, again.”
“We were in primary school. Who knew what came after ‘D’?”
“We all knew, Bantu! Everyone. Everyone except you, that is. You liked to brag you knew so much.”
“Shut up!” the king shouted from upstairs. “I don’t want to listen to your stupid argument. There are bigger things in life than junior primary grudges, OK?”
“Yes, Sir!” we say in unison, like two primary school learners being reprimanded by the principal.
Tell us: What do you think of Siziwe’s words to, and about, the king? Are they honest or just insulting? Think about his point of view.