So, wills had clashed and if something didn’t give soon, there probably might be an explosion that would rock the Atam palace and I’m sure it would never be the same again.
Anyway, something did give; apparently the queen’s offence at Nkoyo had made a dent in her confidence. She was beginning to really see herself in the eyes of other people, it wasn’t easy though, in fact, she felt as though she was stabbing herself in the thigh, but she managed.
That evening, she managed to wash her cloths and hung it in front of the AC to dry. The arrangement of the room was still out but she had it in mind to do it. So, when she went down for breakfast the next day, she didn’t feel so self conscious, her cloths smelt clean and she believed she was ready for anything the queen would throw at her today.
Onen had a day worse than the previous one when he’d seen her naked. He was conscious that she deserved the acerbic words he’d thrown at her yesterday, but he couldn’t seem to escape the curious sense of guilt his conscience was flinging at him and he didn’t understand it either.
The woman had said an unforgiveable thing about his kingdom, was he supposed to over look it? As had been his recent habit since meeting Nkoyo, he groaned his frustration and wished that he’d never met the woman; he wished that his parents had never come up with their ridiculous plan that brought Nkoyo to his awareness. The woman was seriously messing up with his concentration and he didn’t know how to handle it.
No matter how he’d loved Trisha, she had never been a source of distraction for him and they had been intimate. He barely knew this woman and yet he could feel the unmistakable pull he had towards her, despite her obvious bad character.
He was last to arrive at the dinning room, his eyes flashed to her first before he even knew what he was doing, when he realized it, he frowned, angry at himself as he took his seat.
Nkoyo had seen the frown and she assumed that the prince was still furious with her. She lowered her head as he greeted his parents and then she had no choice but to greet him.
“Good morning,” she murmured, barely above a whisper.
“Morning,” he grunted curtly, his eyes taking another glance at her again, and the reaction was the same, his breath caught in his throat at her beauty. He curiously wondered though, why she had the same cloth she’d been wearing yesterday, but then assumed snidely that she might arrogantly have the same cloths in the same color. Some celebrities did that, and she looked like a trend follower.
The meal began and conversation between parents and son ensued and nobody paid her any mind as usual. Nkoyo couldn’t fathom how they did it, just ignore her as though she were invisible. She had been conscious of taking over the interest of a room whenever she walked in, she made people want to talk to her but here, she felt like nothing.
Even a slight breeze garnered more interest than her presence and she didn’t like it one bit. Suddenly, her spanking new conscience surged up with a solution to ease her predicament.
Since nobody was looking at her, they missed the tightening of her mouth and the slight shake of her head as she rejected the idea of apologizing; the idea of admitting that she was wrong, therefore seeking forgiveness like a common slave. No, she wouldn’t do it, she mentally argued but it seemed as though her conscience had grown a mind of its own, a very powerful mind, because Nkoyo could feel the words surging up in her throat.
She reached for her glass of water, swallowing it in gulps to desist herself from speaking the words. Nkoyo struggled with herself, valiantly refusing, still, the words stuck in her esophagus and she couldn’t breathe; and if she couldn’t breathe, it meant she couldn’t swallow the food she’d shoveled into her mouth a moment ago…
The urge to apologize was pressing, she was beginning to choke on her food and she couldn’t stand the thought of choking, she might spray everybody on the table with food from her mouth. A disgusting situation that would kill her of embarrassment, especially in front of the prince and with that thought…
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed out through her mouth full of food.
Conversation ceased immediately, all eyes riveted on her and even with suddenly being the center of attraction, she could breathe easily and could swallow her food.
“What did you say, Nkoyo?” the queen asked, almost sounding caring.
She nodded to show that she would reply, while she struggled to hurriedly swallow her food and took a sip of water, “I said I’m sorry for calling your kingdom torpid. I sincerely regret the way I’ve portrayed myself and promise to try changing.”
The table was silent for three more seconds that seemed like hours to Nkoyo, she half expected them to return to their meal without acknowledging her apology, which would be terrible. She hadn’t even planned on saying those other things after the apologetic words but it seemed to have done good, she even felt lighter for saying them.
The king was the first to react, Nkoyo thought he sighed with relief as though he’d been holding his breath the whole time. If only she knew, the man had actually been holding his breath and wondering if they would ever be able to help their friend’s daughter. He smiled at her for the first time since she’d arrived and Nkoyo actually felt blessed at the attention.
“You are a good kid, remember that,” he said, even reaching out to pat her hand closest to him. She smiled back and felt as though she’d just won the lottery, it felt good to be liked again, even though she didn’t understand his comment and was shocked that she had been called a kid. With a mental shrug, she guessed she was still a kid to someone the king’s age, even though there was nothing remotely kid-ish about her.
Onen was thinking the exact same thing as his eyes used the distraction to roam her mouth watering form. Even dressed in a kaftan, her breast bulged out and gave him ideas he shouldn’t be entertaining at the dinning table with his parents in attendance. He returned to his meal and didn’t say anything to her surprisingly, unexpected apology. An act that his shameless heart seemed pretty happy about, it meant that she wasn’t so bad after all and he didn’t have to feel conflicted about liking her…not that he was ever going to express his feelings.
“I accept your apology, Nkoyo and I am pleased about it,” the queen said to her, her eyes looking earnest and her smile was relieved. “Please, continue your meal,” she said pleasantly and returned to hers.
Nkoyo noticed though that the prince hadn’t said anything, she chanced a covert glance at him and was shocked to find a slight smile on his lips as he bent over his food. She was sure nobody was supposed to see that smile, but she had and it did unexplainable things to her insides, a melting warmness being one of them.
SHE HAD NO IDEA what to expect, but she’d assumed if the queen reacted positively to her apology, she would have sent someone to return her luggage. That didn’t happen, the queen rather sent over a collection of cloths that weren’t hers, because she was sure she hadn’t packed anything casual except her nighties.
Nkoyo looked over the obvious designer jeans and wondered how the woman had known her size. Apparently apologies were over rated if it hadn’t brought her luggage, of what use was it? With a heavy sigh and the surge from her hyper active conscience, she actually appreciated the queen’s actions, at least she could step away from her kaftan now.
If she didn’t wear the yellow chiffon any longer, for the rest of her life, it wouldn’t hurt her; she almost hated the sight of the kaftan, having worn it everyday consecutively. She looked at the pile of cloths from the queen and counted six jean trousers, three yoga pants, a khaki cut off short and a gazillion t-shirts and roomy tops in different colors and designs.
She really was grateful for the queen’s magnanimity, because the cloths she’d packed had been celebratory. After pulling on a comfortable pair of blue jeans and a green t-shirt, paired with the soft house slip-ons, she left her room and went in search of the queen to thank her. At least that’s what she told herself, but honestly, she thought it was high time she knew her way around the palace, who knew, she might stubble upon a way to escape this punishment.
Wofai had woken up with a pleased smile and a dreamy look on her face as she recalled the oh-so succulent feel of the man’s lips smashed on hers. She didn’t even have to recall, she’d dreamt of him all night and she was curious about who he was and when she’d see him again.
She’d moved around the palace in a happy haze and a fantasy bubble that got busted when she met cook and engaged the equally dazed woman in a conversation.
Sara was her normal bustling self but Wofai, even in her own happy haze, noticed that something was different about the woman. Her eyes were glittering gems of ecstatic happiness.
“You’re glowing, cook,” Wofai observed with interest, leaning on the counter and giving her a pointed look that required Sara to spill her guts.
Sara smiled and then tightened her lips together as though trying to suppress her giddiness. Her eyes lowered in abject shyness while she busied herself with clean up.
“I deserve to know, after all, I helped cover for you yesterday, dinner was almost late,” Wofai blackmailed unrepentantly.
“Oh…I am so grateful for what you did yesterday. I don’t know how to thank you. Did the queen notice?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Nope, she didn’t…I think I deserve to know,” Wofai whispered back, barely hiding her smile. She liked the cook, she had been the only worker who had accepted her without blinking her eyes despite her scream debacle. Wofai recalled that she’d almost screamed in the woman’s face once, but the queen had saved the day; Wofai always felt safe with the queen, the calmness of the monarch left her relaxed.
Just like the man yesterday, she thought and didn’t control her pleased smile.
“You look moony too,” Sara noticed, giving her a queer look, “Am I missing something; did your boyfriend call?”
Wofai grinned, she couldn’t hold it in any longer, she had to tell someone and she had to find out who the man was.
“I kissed a man yesterday and my life isn’t the same again. I can’t stop thinking about him cook,” she said excitedly and giggled.
Sara’s eyes widened in shock, who could the princess have kissed, one of the guards? She was sure it definitely wasn’t one of the workers, none of them inspired such feelings.
“Who did you kiss?” she asked with a frown.
And Wofai described prince Ekong down to the color of his eyes and was confused when Sara gasped, but not in a way that boded well.
“What is it, cook; did I by any chance snuggle with a lunatic?” which would be really terrible, Wofai thought.
Sara shook her head, unable to speak for a while before she stuttered, “You kissed prince Ekong, the princess’ fiancé.”
Her frown cleared and the breathlessness took over. Here she was, already creating an impossible fantasy about a man…a stranger, another person’s husband. Of course, nothing that good could happen to her, she was beginning to wonder if she was cursed. Now, she wasn’t just a crazy screamer, a flirt could be added to her list of negatives.
How could she not have known that when it’s too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true?
Wofai’s chest had tightened to the point that she was groaning for breath. The veins on the side of her neck bulged out at the effort she was exerting not to scream. Tears rushed from her eyes and they were blood shot red in that little time that she’d been told that her dreams were just that, a dream.
“Princess…” Sara called tentatively. She was afraid for the young girl, the news had taken just moments to change her whole sunny demeanor. Sara was confused as to how to handle the whole situation; she was very sure that the girl was about to scream any moment now.
Taking a deep breath of courage, she moved slowly towards her, trying not to make any sudden movements. She looked as though she was suffocating and Sara didn’t want her to faint.
“Should I get the queen?” Sara asked fearfully, feeling extremely bad for being the cause of her pain.
Sara couldn’t have known but Wofai was having a conversation with herself. Of course getting the queen would be quick relief. It always worked like magic, the woman’s presence melted her anxieties…so had the man’s lips on hers. And she groaned at the pain of not ever getting a chance of a good thing with him.
Cook’s question penetrated her fogged mind and she shook her head. She wanted to struggle through this alone. The queen wouldn’t always be there, she had at most three or four more weeks to stay here and she was determined to be better, if not for her sake, then for her parents’ sake, they didn’t deserve the shame her behavior had rubbed on their faces.
Maybe, someday she’d be completely whole and she’d have a man that evoked those nameless feelings prince Ekong had evoked in her. She had to move on from this alone, besides, calling in the queen would require an explanation as to her crisis. Wofai couldn’t have that, she didn’t want the queen hating her at this point for having indecent designs on her daughter’s husband to be, even though she hadn’t known.
Sara was impressed; right before her eyes, she watched the princess struggle with her feelings, her hands sometimes hitting the counter she was leaned on, as though that pain could detach her from the one in her heart.
She had no idea how this kiss had come about; what had the prince even been doing at the palace in the first place when princess Nkoyo wasn’t around?
Wofai was breathing easier, she was taking deep breaths and her demeanor had calmed. She looked up at cook with a small smile and the kitchen woman was sorry to see the sadness in her eyes.
“I’ll be fine,” she croaked as a reply to the pitying look on cook’s face.
“Of course, you’ll be, you’re a strong girl,” Sara encouraged, while moving into action. There was no need to dwell on something that had probably been a mistake, best to move on immediately, and to do that, she pulled open the mighty industrial fridge and took out a small container of ice cream.
Grabbing two spoons, she placed it in between herself and Wofai and handed her one of the spoons. The princess grinned, collected the spoon and dug in. The ice cream was from princess Nkoyo’s stash in the fridge, as far as cook was concerned, the princess wouldn’t die from losing one container of ice cream.
After taking three spoons, Wofai looks at Sara with sincerity in her eyes, “I didn’t know he was engaged. Please, do not think me a slut…”
“Oh my God, princess, I know you aren’t. It must have been a mistake…”
“An unpardonable one and I don’t want the queen to know. I don’t want her to hate me and I don’t want to bring shame to my parents…God knows I’ve done that enough already,” she whispered the last part, obviously talking to herself but Sara heard it.
Her mouth was sealed as to the kiss, the girl did need some modicum of relief and so she nodded to her request.
“We have ice cream in this palace, how come nobody told me?” the queen asked in an appalled tone when she happened on the two women licking away at the crux of the matter.
Sara almost choked on the iced confection at the sudden appearance of the queen, then she cleared her throat and tried not to look guilty, “It’s…it’s princess Nkoyo’s own,” she finally stammered.
The queen kept her hands on her curvy hips in exasperation, “Well, she isn’t here, get me a cup…or container,” she corrected herself when she glanced at the almost empty container in front of them.
“Of course, your majesty,” Sara bustled off and was soon serving the queen a container of ice cream and a tea spoon.
“Thank you very much, Sara. Wofai, let’s talk,” the queen said business like.
Wofai’s eyes widened fearfully, did the queen know about her indiscretion already? Her startled gaze swiveled to Sara who shrugged with an equally fearful look.
“Hmm,” the queen hummed as she enjoyed the first spoon of the ice cream, blithely unaware that she had caused heavy dread to settle in the hearts of the other women in the kitchen. “I can’t still believe we had this in this palace and I’m just knowing about it,” she muttered to herself and she took another spoon.
“Sara, could you excuse us for a moment?” Affy asked politely.
“Of course, your majesty,” she said and hurried off, closing the door behind her and leaving poor Wofai to her plight.
The princess watched the queen savor her ice cream with blatant pleasure, it should have been a funny sight for her, but it wasn’t. If the queen knew about her indiscretion, it definitely wasn’t showing on her face; but then she reminded herself that most queens, her mother included were experts at hiding their real emotions.
Wofai had no idea if there was a special expression control school for queens; she recalled severally when her mother was so pissed at a chief, she could have bit his head off for the rubbish coming from his mouth, but her face had remained serene through out the meeting and she’d never offered any unkind word to the man.
She moved her weight from one foot to the other, the only sign that revealed her anxiety.
“I have been meaning to have this talk with you for a while but royal duties have gotten in the day. So, today I thought, I’d just say a bit before I have to return to the next meeting; is that okay with you?” Affy asked with a small smile while she licked off the ice cream from the spoon.
“Yes,” Wofai answered breathlessly, still unsure what to expect.
“Good. Now I want you to regard this place as a safe place, anything you say to me will remain with me and all I want is to help you with your scream issue. Is that okay?” Affy asked again, making sure that the girl was in agreement, she could not help a person who didn’t want help.
“If you feel the kitchen isn’t conducive, then tell me where you’d prefer. But I can assure you that I’ve sent everybody away from the immediate vicinity, we are alone.”
“I feel safe where ever you are, your majesty,” Wofai acknowledged abashedly and was glad to see an adorably pleased look on the queen’s face.
“Oh, darling, that’s sweet, I feel honored. That means you trust me and I would never betray that trust, okay?” and she watched Wofai nod before she continued.
“Okay, let me warn you, I’m not going to beat about the bush, I’m just going to delve right in, so here goes. Can you describe the feeling that makes you want to scream; the feeling that creates the urge to scream?”
And she wasn’t joking when she said she was delving right in, Wofai thought nervously. She had never examined herself deeply, she’d always been afraid of what she might find. But surprisingly, she was willing, with the presence of the queen, to do that.
“Your English doesn’t need to be elegant, Wofai. I need to get the rough and raw copy of it,” Affy encourage, keeping her voice modulated, so has not to spook her.
“There’s anger,” Wofai choked out as she let her vulnerability show; it was more intense for her since she’d just struggled through a recent crisis.
“Just anger?” the queen prodded slowly, her voice an encouragement.
Wofai shook her head, “Anger is the beginning. And then there’s a tightening in my chest that leaves me breathless and then my throat closes off and I can’t speak or express myself and I hate to cry because I don’t want to appear weak, so it feels like only a scream can unburden all I’m going through,” Wofai said without looking up, she was panting as though she’d just ran a marathon.
“The scream is like killing several birds with one stone. You get to express yourself and your anger, you get to loosen the tightening in your chest and unblock your throat so you can breathe,” Wofai had looked up in shock as the queen spoke, it was like she spoke from experience.
At the girl’s look, Affy nodded, “I understand fully, Wofai but unfortunately, nobody speaks that language. Since you’ve said that anger is a part of it, what do you think causes the tightening in the chest?”
Wofai shrugged, “I don’t know,” she said sincerely.
“Oh, but you do, darling. Every reaction is caused by an action, and if you want to get past this and behave like a normal, beautiful woman which you are, then we have to dig for what’s causing the tightening. If we can find this niggling problem, then we can solve it and you wouldn’t have a need to scream any longer; wouldn’t you like that?” Affy asked with a smile as though she was discussing shopping instead of a deep seated psychology issue.
Wofai nodded and could almost taste the freedom of not screaming ever again and she wanted it so bad she was willing to try. “But I don’t know how to dig for it,” she fretted, looking desperate.
“Okay, let’s look at it this way. Certain situations have always caused these reactions, right?” and Wofai nodded. “Now, tell me, from the recent one the day you arrived, what were you thinking at that moment; what thoughts were crossing your mind?”
Her brows furrowed as she thought deeply, “I was thinking that here was yet another man who thought he could rule me just because I’m a woman,” Wofai looked up with shock, she seemed surprised also at her revelation.
Affy nodded encouragingly, her smile showed understanding. She knew her worth at that moment, she was a prod for Wofai to learn about herself and heal whatever deep issues she had.
“I wanted to carry my bags myself, I’ve always had pride in being self sufficient despite being a princess, but everybody back home just feels it’s wrong and I don’t know why.”
“And how has this made you feel over time?”
“Like I’m worthless; I feel as though I’m not important or as though I’m missing a major characteristic of a perfect woman.”
“Ha,” she murmured victoriously, instantly understanding a part of the underlying problem.
“Wofai my dear, there’s no perfect woman. I am going to end this little discussion here, but I want you to ponder on the fact that there is no perfect woman in the whole universe. Yes, we’ve been created with the same features and yes, some arrogant men insist on piling us in the weak category, but that’s a lie.”
“As women we come with our different strengths and weaknesses, our advantages and disadvantages and we are specifically built to compliment someone out there; none of us is worthless or perfect.”
“I never saw it like that,” Wofai whispered in realization, it seemed as though the narrow passage of her mind was widening to see greater possibilities. Light was slowly filtering in and was eagerly dispersing her narrow ideas and beliefs.
“I always thought that since I’ve been unable to snag a man despite my features, there must have been something wrong with me.”
Affy laughed heartily, “Where you rejected by someone?”
“They always found someone better,” Wofai confessed in a pained and abashed whisper.
Affy zeroed on the word ‘they’ and shared the girl’s pain. “Men, at least the fickle ones are just that, fickle. Nobody knows what they really want, least of all themselves. They are always searching for the next best thing; I bet they left because the idiots couldn’t explain why a princess was self sufficient and not weak, waiting for a prince charming to rescue her.”
“Your majesty, you speak as though you’d been there,” Wofai’s eyes widened in pleased shock that somebody finally got her pain. “Some couldn’t get why I wasn’t extravagant after they’d discovered I was a princess.”
“I understand, Wofai,” the queen said and left her stool to drop her empty ice cream container in the trash and her spoon in the sink, she even washed and rinsed them out, adding the ones Wofai and Sara had used.
Wofai was impressed and she couldn’t wait to continue this discussion tomorrow.
“It is in our hands to not let men subject us…and don’t forget, there is no perfect woman,” Affy said as her parting shot before leaving a grinning Wofai in the kitchen.
INSIDE OUT continues
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