Aha! Breakfast time…heads up – the princess Nkoyo is wearing her travel cloths for the third time consecutively, without washing. If only breakfast was just with the ‘old farts’ as Nkoyo had elegantly decided to address the king and queen of Atam kingdom, in her head anyway, it would have been fine. But today, prince charming was coming along for the ride.
A quick summary of everyone’s thoughts would make this tale more interesting, so here goes.
As Nkoyo pulled down her cloths for the third time, she wrinkled her nose and shrugged her shoulders. She really would not give the monarchs the satisfaction of complaining about their ill treatment of her, she believed that at some point, she’d go home, all she had to do was persevere stoically.
Thoughts of learning leadership and ruling seemed pretty far from her mind, she was living every hour as it came. Now she just had to go through another meal…shovel down food and return to the room. She knew the queen was waiting for an apology, the woman would wait a long time, she was ready to play this game of superiority.
Liman followed his wife’s attitude, they didn’t really have any formula for helping Nkoyo to the road of positive change. But his wife had said one thing, they would continue to be aloof with the princess until she learned the magic of sincere apology.
Jesam might have seemed sure of waiting Nkoyo out but she cringed each time she had to see the young girl repeat her cloths. She was sure her own daughter would have waded it out with no concerns, but for someone used to being waited on hands and foot, Jesam pitied the poor girl; but she also knew that she required nothing less than an iron fist if they were going to help her at all.
Onen already knew the lady from yesterday, the only object of his recent thoughts would be at breakfast today. He felt in charge of his thoughts and emotions today, in fact, he was sure that when he saw her this morning, dressed up and horizontal, he would realize he’d been obsessing about a figment of his active imagination…he decided that he’d just been suffering from shock yesterday.
When he walked into the dinning room she had just pulled out the high back dinning seat and was about to seat down. Onen felt like he’d been punched in the gut when she looked up at him with startled eyes, wide enough to look cartoonish.
His steps faltered as their gazes held for a second or two too long, then Onen reined in his erratic emotions and shuttered his expression, continuing determinedly to his seat to the dinning table. He silently guessed his reaction clarified the mix-up, this was no ‘active imagination obsession’, the lady was dressed in a kaftan for crying out loud; deep down he knew he’d have the same reaction even if she’d been dressed in a sack.
“Good morning,” he grumbled while he took his seat; though he felt that way, self preservation directed he not let his feelings be known and so he put up a gruff look.
Nkoyo tingled all over when his voice reached her ears. His deep, gravely tone quickened her pulse and made her hot all over and she wasn’t happy about that reaction, especially, because he’d just given her a cursory glance as though she meant nothing to him.
She should mean something to everybody in this sodden kingdom, she silently griped and was incensed that she’d lost her edge in this nowhere kingdom. Nkoyo felt she should mean a lot to this man that had happened upon her at her most embarrassing moment, she felt she deserved an apology or at least, an acknowledgement of the scenario.
By the time she opened her mouth, she was seething with indignation, “We never got to that part, yesterday,” she replied sarcastically, the emotion apparent in her expression.
Onen looked up to find her arrogant stare directed at him. Even though his heart flipped at hearing her voice for the first time, he maintained an insouciant attitude, his gaze held disinterest. He couldn’t believe he still reacted sexually to her haughty tone, he was used to that tone in Nancy and it was damn infuriating, but apparently not when she was the speaker…he didn’t even know her name.
“I’m Onen,” he said instead, shocking himself too at the unplanned utterance; suddenly the single most important thing that moment was knowing her name.
Nkoyo was thrown off her aim at his unrelated comment and before she could caution her self and tongue, she replied, “Nkoyo,” and she hated that she sounded breathless while doing it; why the hell was her heart thumping so heavily?
“Hmm,” he grunted in his annoyingly sexy deep voice and returned to fiddling with his phone.
Indignation rushed up her throat, she would be fiddling with her phone also if she only had network. How could he dismiss her like that? Nkoyo was furious and despite the fact that maids rushed in with platters of food, she’d been about to open her mouth and let it rain, but the ‘old farts’ walked in then, causing Nkoyo to bite her acerbic tongue, a thing she wasn’t used to doing.
No matter, she would surely let him know his place after the meal; he probably was one of those hangers on relatives with Napoleon complexes.
Nkoyo swallowed her malicious thought the very next instant when she heard the monarchs’ greeting.
“You deign to join us today, son,” Liman joked, slapping his son on his shoulder while passing to his seat at the head of the table. Nobody noticed Nkoyo’s gasp and her shocked eyes as it swiveled to Onen.
He grinned at his dad, “Good morning, father, I was in a hurry yesterday,” he explained, his eyes unconsciously finding Nkoyo’s own, they both looked away at once.
“It’s fine, as long as he’s here now,” Jesam said, rubbing her son’s cheek tenderly while walking by.
“Good morning, mum,” he greeted, seemingly abashed at his mother’s caring gesture.
Both monarchs, when they’d been seated, turned their gazes on Nkoyo, who suddenly felt like a bug under a microscope. She was suddenly conscious of her not so clean cloths and quite glad that she wasn’t sitting close to…the guy.
“Good morning, your majesties,” she muttered belligerently, she felt like a child before them, something she’d not felt like with her parents for a while; she even had the insane urge to pout at that moment.
The king grunted his reply, just like his son, the goddamn prince, had a moment ago. If she’d been looking for proof that he was the prince, that similar feature in the men was proof enough, not adding the fine looks.
“I hope you slept well?” the queen added, ever the courteous hostess.
Several choice replies came to mind, none of them courteous in the least, but Nkoyo refrained from them. She breathed through her fury and gave a slight diplomatic smile, “Very well, thank you,” she actually managed to sound pleased.
“Hmm, I’m glad the torpid kingdom was conducive for you,” Jesam added pointedly, causing the men at the table to look up in open alarm.
“Torpid?” Onen directed his question to his mother for clarification.
“Our guest found our kingdom torpid,” Jesam expatiated calmly, while serving herself from the bowl of rice, after having already scooped a portion of pepper soup.
“Is that so?” Onen commented contemplatively, while turning his gaze to Nkoyo, he was glad for the anger that was surging in his heart; anything that wasn’t sensual in nature was appreciated.
Nkoyo risked a glance at the prince and decided the move had been a mistake, now she felt judged as the weight of his gaze remained on her the whole meal. She realized that she should apologize to the king and queen, but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to do that. So, she remained mute through out the meal and didn’t raise her head.
“Nkoyo, do not hesitate to tell us your needs, okay?”
It took a while for the fact to sink that the queen had been talking to her. The royal family had been conversing over her head the whole time, she didn’t think her contribution was needed. When she understood the queen’s question, a small frown appeared on her brow, was the woman serious? Apparently, she was being mocked, but she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, she would go with whatever game the queen thought she was playing.
“Actually,” Nkoyo begun in her haughty, entitled tone, “Apart from needing my luggage back at some point, like yesterday, I need a maid to clean up my room for me,” she requested.
Jesam opened her mouth to politely reply but Onen beat her it.
“If you can’t handle simple personal cleanliness, then that’s just sad. Around here, you have to rule a torpid kingdom to get maid service; there aren’t extra maids for over indulged princesses,” he snarled and then left the table in an obvious huff.
Jesam and Liman looked after their son in shock. Nkoyo felt humbled, and then she felt insulted, but she got the message loud and clear.
The queen might have wanted to put Nkoyo down but she flinched at Onen’s direct barb at Nkoyo. “Forgive my son,” she said, “He is just not handling the stress at work well.”
The prince works?!
That was the only thought that Nkoyo’s mind latched onto in the face of her very public embarrassment. At this point, she contemplated going on her knees to beg for forgiveness and for freedom to go back home. She wasn’t sure why she felt ashamed of her attitude, or why the prince’s opinion of her even mattered, she just knew that she dreaded the next meal.
SOMEBODY USUALLY CAME TO call her for lunch and other meals, but not today.
In addition to not having any remote urge to tidy her room, Nkoyo had to contain with the pangs of hunger. Since she had no idea why she was being starved in addition to other slights, she stuck to her guns and refused to give anybody the satisfaction of seeing her in a pitiful state.
And so she didn’t go down stairs to seek for explanations as to why there was no lunch. No matter how arrogant she seemed, she at least knew that the palace didn’t lack food, she’d perceived the aroma all afternoon. And she’d not been aloof enough not to know that second to the Bendel, Atam was one of the highest food producing kingdoms.
The lack of lunch was just a tactic to get a rise out of her. Rustling in her hand bag, she’d been glad to discover a long forgotten chocolate bar, it wasn’t food but it calmed the growling in her stomach. She had a lot of money in her purse, but she knew no one would deign to buy anything for her. She was a prisoner, and at some point, they would have to pay for this.
Nkoyo wasn’t looking forward to dinner either, they might try to starve her; but that wasn’t her hold up, she was afraid to see the prince again. She was afraid to feel the tingling feeling only the sight of him could provoke and at the same time, see the disgust at her on his face; she wasn’t sure she could stand it.
Could she request to eat in her room? With a heavy sigh she knew that would be impossible. But seriously, why was she so pompous she couldn’t apologize to the king and queen for what she’d said? Some how, having nothing better to do, she’d searched her conscience and had found that she would be extremely pained if someone said such a thing about her kingdom and she wasn’t even the queen.
Guilt for what she’d felt was right was a new feeling for Nkoyo, and she wasn’t handling it well. Every time she recalled the prince…Onen’s expression and the words he’d said to her that morning, she’d groan shamefully and close her eyes as though those simple actions would erase the whole episode.
Sighing heavily and unconsciously rubbing her empty, growling stomach, she was glad to hear the tentative knock on the door and a shouted notice that dinner was ready. Nkoyo sighed heavily again but this time in relief. The relief didn’t last long though, because she recalled she had to go through dinner with Onen and the guilt of having spewed travesties at his mother about their kingdom.
With a deep frown, she wondered why she’d even said those things. Nkoyo was momentarily shocked to actually be questioning herself and decisions; another strange attitude which she didn’t think a would be queen should possess.
Nkoyo took a deep breath and made a decision. She had done those things while fully conscious, it was how she’d always been, the monarchs of Atam kingdom would have to deal with it, after all, she hadn’t asked to be held against her will here.
She would have felt better, more confident, if she had her full make-up box with her, but alas, they were in her missing luggage. Why had she asked that her luggage be returned to the car again? Because you’d just wanted to establish your authority, her new conscience replied. If she was honest with herself, which she found of recent was the case, she realized that whatever slight she was going through here was just a product of her attitude.
But would she acknowledge this to other people, there by making herself vulnerable?
“Nooo,” she muttered, dragging out her reply while using the simple make-up she’d found in one of the drawers to make herself a tad presentable. She could not recall the time she’d used such basic make-up, a loose, white powder, eye pencil and tube lip-stick. She actually felt weird wearing the make-up but she looked better with it than nothing at all.
With a pounding heart, she arrived the dinning room and met only the queen there, seemingly patiently waiting, apparently, for her. Nkoyo’s heart skipped with the unfamiliar emotion of guilt, she had kept the queen waiting…or maybe, she was waiting for her husband the king, since he wasn’t on his seat either.
Jesam had been keen and fast to see the guilt on the girl’s face and she’d also seen the moment it had been wiped off with reason. Liman had begun feeling uncomfortable with the whole charade, her husband was basically an honest man, and left for him, he would have just come out and announced Nkoyo’s bad characteristics and a need for her to change.
But, such simplicity wouldn’t work on this girl. Nkoyo had gone too long with the cloak of entitlement; her actions had gone too long with impunity, so, no, simple won’t work with the princess of Efik kingdom.
“The king will not be joining us,” Jesam announced and gave Nkoyo a pointed look that said she’d kept a monarch waiting.
“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting,” Nkoyo stammered, the unfamiliar words sounding strange in her mouth. She felt like she was eating sand just apologizing for trying to make herself presentable, given her present predicament, ergo, the missing luggage, which was solely their fault! She had to stop her thoughts or else she might start spewing things that might worsen her case. Nkoyo hoped the prince would not join them either but then, a strange feeling of disappointment also suffused her that he wouldn’t be there; she had on make-up for crying out loud.
The queen didn’t deign to reply, she just opened the serving bowls to reveal pieces of boiled yam and a thick, bulging chunks of meat filled sauce. She watched as the queen washed her hands in a small basin and proceeded to serve herself.
Nkoyo couldn’t believe her eyes, the queen was eating with her bare hands! Since she’d arrived, she’d been eating food that needed basically spoons. At her home, she’d laid down the laws of cutlery use, even with the local food; that they used only spoons at this kingdom was just one of those things that had made her call them torpid.
Jesam looked up at the stunned girl, “I know you didn’t have lunch,” she said casually, while watching the girl’s face; the sentence was a sort of question as to why she wasn’t eating.
Nkoyo’s indignation surged, “If it was a tactic to get a rise out of me, then it failed,” she replied belligerently, almost looking close to tears.
She felt pity for the girl, but until she learnt, there was nothing Jesam could do for her. Nkoyo had to decide to change her attitude by herself.
“I didn’t starve you, you did that all by lone yourself,” Jesam pointed out.
Nkoyo frowned, “How so?” she sniffed, wanting to hear the queen’s reasoning and looking forward to shoot it down.
“Let’s assume this palace is a jungle. From your small experience here, you have seen that nobody serves anybody, well, except you’re the ruler of a torpid kingdom,” the queen pointed out with a smug smile, intentionally reminding Nkoyo about breakfast and the prince’s barb at her.
“Your point?” Nkoyo asked with an arrogantly raised eye brow.
Jesam had to swallow her anger to make her point, this child was so infuriating. “You would fend for yourself in a jungle, Nkoyo, unless you are actually as dumb as you’ve been portraying this whole time.”
“I’m not dumb!” Nkoyo sputtered, she’d never been called dumb; nobody would dare to call her dumb…well, unless the queen.
“Then search yourself!” the queen shouted back. This was the first time she was allowing her anger show, and the look in her eyes subdued Nkoyo instantly.
“Your mother is my very good friend and I know that she is upstanding and would never have brought you up the way you’ve been acting. My daughter’s room, the one you’re staying, has never been that untidy, even when she was a child, so what does that say about you?”
“That…” Nkoyo begun answering with a sneer but the queen beat her to it.
“That you are a dirty girl!” Jesam snapped and watched the girl gasp in shock.
“Yes, dumb, dirty and unable to fend for yourself! You have hands, legs that are functioning and a brain that had been expensively trained and what do you do with it? You sit down and whine and wait for other human beings with less of what you have to do these things for you and then you feel that you are better than them; my dear, you are but an empty vessel.”
“Affy taught you better. If you were hungry this afternoon, and I’m sure you heard all the commotion downstairs, you should have reasoned that probably everybody is busy and therefore couldn’t come call you for lunch. Did you even bother to come down to the dinning room to check? You didn’t; your food had been served and cleared when you didn’t eat it.”
By the time the queen concluded her tirade, took a deep breath and returned to her food, Nkoyo was having difficulty breathing. On one hand, she was glad that the king and especially the prince were not around to witness her decimation, on the other hand, she was so pissed, her heart actually ached physically.
Let me add what Nkoyo isn’t adding; this is hurting her so much because it was the truth and she knew it.
“So, you’ve made your point, at least, provide eating utensils for your dinning table. I’m sure that was part of your social graces training,” Nkoyo snipped petulantly.
“And what is wrong with your hand?” Jesam asked with an uninterested look, and scoffed when Nkoyo angrily lifted her very long, artificially manicured nails, pointy and fully painted.
“Provision of cutleries whether they are needed or not are for formal settings. We try at this palace to live as normal people, not as some pretentious persons,” Jesam gave her a pointed look, letting her know she was referring to her.
“I can’t eat with this nails, please get a maid to bring me a spoon,” she griped, watching as the queen ate and her stomach growled in protest that she wasn’t doing the same; the delicious aroma of the meal wasn’t even helping.
“If only you knew the kitchen,” Jesam mocked without looking up from her food.
Nkoyo sat there breathing and considering bodily harm on the queen. There was nothing she could do about the situation, she would probably have to pick her nails under the shower after the meal.
With that decision, she jerkily washed her hands, served herself and attacked the meal, which was so delicious she had to hold back a moan of enjoyment.
The women finished their meal in silence, but I can assure you, their minds weren’t silent, plans and counter plans were percolating in there; this meant war.
INSIDE OUT continues
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