“Write that letter! Now!” my aunt screamed her lungs out.
“What happened? I thought relations between Blidzi and Nysna had improved,” I say, knowing well that this spec is exactly what my family intends.
“The tables have turned. That is why you must get married to Ngwe to solidify our relations with that kingdom," my aunt says as she moves the paper from the writing table back to my executive desk. Agitated.
How did this happen?
Earlier this morning, around 7:30 a.m., I walked into my office, situated a few metres away from my dining hall, after having a peanut butter overnight oat breakfast that was tasted before consumption. Ever since I was born, I never had the first bite, which somehow never sat well with me.
As I start another day, I am accompanied by two royal guards who both have a buzz-cut fade with a line and broad shoulders. They both speak in husky voices, typically saying “Yes mam” or “No mam” to any of my literal attempts at starting a conversation. Today, they swapped out their blue camouflage cargo suits with a kente-embroidered white shirt and black pants because it was my birthday.
However, not just any birthday. Today is the day I turn 20, which for the daughter of a king means that a day later, I have to participate in the matching ritual where I have to decide and acknowledge who I will marry.
This office will be as affected by my decision as many people, but I feel bitter as it has been home, school, and play for the past 12 years, and just like the memories held by antique settees, the writing desk, and the executive desk, this will soon be but a distant memory.
I move slowly to my walnut-brown-coloured executive desk situated right next to my favourite arched window and slide gracefully into a chair. I then blink twice, and my watch switches on the lights. The air conditioning is turned on while there is a slow release of the table compartments to lay my iPad, eye contacts and drops, my stylus pen, and more awkwardly, a blank sheet of paper made of fresh wood fibre—a testament to one of my kingdom’s abundant resources.
As soon as the compartment’s movements reach a halt, a humanoid robot, Alo, designed to exclusively be my aide, switches on, moves closer to me, and greets me cordially. I nodded in response.
It then dawns on me that I am at the centre of the three nations that are located in the southern microcosm of the African continent: the Kingdom of Blidzi, the Kingdom of Nysna, and the Kingdom of Ngwe. It had never sunk in until today that the kingdoms are home to rare natural resources, magnificent mountain ranges, golden crescent beaches, wildernesses crawling with wildlife, dynamic cities, and centuries of history.
In fact, as a princess, I have never been addressed as an independent person but as a kingdom, which is the same for all the royal candidates eligible to be my partner. I turn to Alo and ask him to pull up all the files regarding ‘my marriage scenarios’ as a refresher on how my life could change today.
My biological existence as the first daughter of the King of Blidzi and my coming of age only lead to one thing: my marriage is at the table. A table where wars between three nations can break out and the resources of those nations hang on my potential words: ‘I do’ or ‘I don’t’. The dilemma was solved through all the simulation models that predicted all the scenarios the minute I was born, and the best scenario has always been to marry Nysna.
To please the strict demands held by the kingdom of Nysna, for as long as I can remember, my woolly black hair and bronze skin have not been tainted. Instead, every part of me has been washed, braided, and based with the softest of hands, with products specially crafted from Blidzi’s finest herbs and remedies. My cough would send the whole nation into research.
I even had to start coding at age 6, and I had to earn a master's degree in brand strategy, design, and human resource management by the time I was 19. I am the epitome of the promised peace, and today is the day I reap the benefits of those exercises.
My dad also privately tutored me in politics as his way of helping me understand why I had to live this way. Through this, I learned that invasions are common between the three kingdoms, with every kingdom aggressively pursuing a military exercise to enter the territory, with Ngwe being the targeted nation due to the poor state of the kingdom.
My father, as his ancestors before him, generally held objectives of establishing or, as speculated, re-establishing control, especially since it is believed that they were the ‘original’ inhabitants of the southern microcosm continent and thereby needed to have access to natural resources and strategic positions in all three kingdoms, while Nysna wants a unified nation with one language, which means that if their invasion is successful, all three kingdoms must adopt Nysna's language. Relations between Blidzi and Nysna have always been tense due to their strong political stances, natural resource endowments, and, more importantly, the Garden of Nede.
The Garden of Nede is a mountainous garden filled with terrain never seen in the world. The river that flows in this garden contains the cleanest water on earth, along with some rare trees that the ancestors of the three kingdoms have learned to secretly develop and process over thousands of years. The animal kingdom is no different, with rhinos, elephants, lions, springboks, and other wild animals roaming the terrain, making the nation a tourist attraction.
However, there is one big problem. The garden of Nede is spread across the three nations, with every nation possessing the same portion: one-third. That is why there was so much emphasis on my studying brand strategy and design because the ‘brand’ is exactly what sets the kingdoms apart.
The existence of the Garden of Nede also meant that as soon as I was born, I was prepared to marry into the Kingdom of Nysna, as they are our strongest opponents and there was a need to maintain peace for the sake of the nation's economies.
I have been prepared for marriage, where my art of persuasion must help the Kingdom of Blidzi regain the rest of their homeland (as my dad would put it). Despite that, the Kingdom of Blidzi told the leaders of the two nations that I would be neutral: I would be the princess who would possess the freedom to move between kingdoms and make my own decisions regarding who I would marry.
To gain this freedom, as soon as I was born, my father participated in a ritual called ‘water rise’ where he was soaked in water collected from the highest terrains in the Garden of Nede by water researchers from each kingdom. The water is said to be pure and clean.
Water rise is a water ritual performed when a king or queen has a girl as a firstborn child and is willing to make a political promise using the child. This ritual also suggests that while the life of a male child is occupied by warfare, that of a female is occupied by domestic duties such as fetching water and persuasion; therefore, the girl child is the symbol of peace as opposed to warfare.
My thoughts are disturbed by distant footsteps, and the door opens. My aunt, accompanied by a handful of her assistants and guards, enters, grabs the blank sheet of paper, places it on the writing table, and then says in her matter-of-fact voice, “Write that letter. Now!"
She then waves to one of her assistants, who passes a spec of an article titled "The Princess of Blidzi Marries into Ngwe: A Freedom Decision." I look at the article in astonishment.
“What happened? I thought relations between Blidzi and Nysna had improved,” I say, knowing well that this spec is exactly what my family intends. “The tables have turned. That is why you must get married to Ngwe to solidify our relations with that kingdom," my aunt says as she again moves the paper from the writing table back to my executive desk.
I must marry Ngwe, the poorest nation of all three.
I grab my stylus pen that is installed with my biometric features, and as I place my finger on it, I wonder if this marriage letter on this wooden table is as important as my marriage, or if my marriage is the nightmare I have been dreading.
“Thile, write the letter,” as my aunt continues to feel agitated by my spacing out. "Alright, Aunt Nkulu,” I gently respond as my mind runs through the multiple scenarios again in my head. As accurately as possible.
The shut door then opens again. All the guards and assistants present in the room kneel and bow to the ground with their faces resting on their arms. That’s when I knew it was my dad.
I immediately stood up. He stops me halfway with just a wave of his hand. He then struts to my table to grab a chair that my aunt has pushed aside and sits right next to his agitated sister, and his eyes turn to me.
“Change of plans; I need you to marry into Ngwe.”
There is silence.
“King Weliboho...", as my aunt sings my father’s praises.
He smiles and looks his sister in the eyes.
“Allow me to talk to my little girl, because I know you gave her no explanation whatsoever.”
“Everyone, leave the room,” he adds in his modulated voice.
As soon as everyone leaves, my shoulders rest, and I put the stylus pen down. Amid my now-present fidgeting, I look at my dad.
“Le, you need to marry into Ngwe, or what happened to your mother will happen to you”.
My heart rate increases, and Alo senses that and sends a text from the other side asking if I'm alright. I see it on my watch and send a heart in response.
My mother. A victim of the water rise. I stop at the enunciation of my father’s words, and I immediately know what to write in the letter.
“Give me an hour, Dad. I’ll have the letter ready."
I say this with tears in my eyes as I see my dad’s posture move from shoulders high to a slight slouch, and I know that this marriage is more than what he has told me.
“Okay. Always know that you will forever be my little girl,” he says in the most caring tone as if he just gave me a key to open the road to one of the darkest paths I’ll ever take. He gives me a hug and heads to the door.
In just three footsteps, his guards open the door for him.
Alo comes in and shuts the door. I look at him.
“Thile, mam. Here are the files you asked me to pull up.”
I look at the file of the option I am now taking: "The Princess of Blidzi Marries into Ngwe: A Freedom Decision."