Behind Her Smile
Her heart swelling with a news she could not
contain, Ella raced into the room she shared with her fellow palace maids. Her roommates had been cleaning up the room, but her sudden presence made them halt. She had brought news. They could tell from the look on her face.
“Girls, have you heard?” Ella asked, panting.
She had broken into a sprint just so she could be the first to break the news .
BBC, what news do you have for us today?”
Esther asked nonchalantly.
“Hey Esther,” Ella said, a friendly smile
creeping to her face.
“I always bring clean news, so don’t insult me just because I decided to help you by bringing the latest happening in this palace to your very own hearing o.”
The third maid, Amara, bubbled with anticipation
as she awaited the news Ella had brought. “Sorry, don’t mind her. Just tell us what you have for us.”
“Anyway I don’t blame you, so I will still give
you the news sha,” Ella said to Esther. Facing Amara and the rest of the maids, she smiled broadly.
“The Prince is coming back
“What!” the maids exclaimed in unison.
“Yes and do you know the worst part?” Ella
“No,” Esther said. “Tell us.”
Ella moved to the girls—now muddled as one—and
whispered into their eager ears. Walls had ears, so she wouldn’t want the words from her lips to reach the wrong ears.
“What!” the girls screamed, their eyes round
“Why would the Queen perform such a ritual?”
Amara asked. “I mean wasn’t it banned by the former Chief Priest?
Why would the Chief Priest perform such an evil thing in this land again?”
“But why is the Prince coming back home and why
is it that no body is aware of his coming eh?” Esther asked.
Miriam stood by the window, her fingers tightly
wrapped around a mop. She looked up at the ceiling and a ghastly fear welled up in her stomach. Despite this, she wore her best smile, blinding the world from her true emotions.
‘Oh heavens, why is he coming back so soon
already?’ she said to herself ‘ What am I even saying eh? This is his home, so maybe he misses it and that’s why he is coming home. But I hope he doesn’t distract me from my mission in this palace.’
“Miriam, what do you think about the Prince’s return?” Esther asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Miriam’s grip on the wooden mop tightened even
more. Esther’s question had caught her off guard, draining her face of its chocolatey glow. But she did a good job at concealing her
“What kind of question is that? ”
“But you guys used to be best of friends,” Esther said, more like a question than a statement.
Miriam rolled her eyes.
“You said used to be. Not any more, Esther, so please let me be.” Without another word, she placed the mop against \\the wall. Gliding from the wall, the mop clattered to the tiled floor, but Miriam paid no attention to it. She stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
“Hmm,” Amara said. Her face hardened, flaunting
her exasperation. “What’s wrong with that one?”
Esther waved off her question and any further
conversation about Miriam’s attitude as though she were swatting at a mosquito.
“I wonder what the Prince now looks like,” she said, smiling sheepishly.
Chioma, who had been quietly listening to the
conversation, chimed in, “I’m very sure that he has grown into a very handsome young man, and I am also sure that now that he has grown up, things will not be the same again. He will start acting like the Prince he is.”
“Do you think he will be harsh on us or friendly?” Ella asked Chioma. Just make sure you do all your chores so that no one will have any reason to be harsh on you.” Chioma walked out of the room, leaving the others thinking about the unfolding event.
Behind Her Smile
Sat on a stool behind the palace, Miriam mused
over the news Ella had brought. Her hair danced shyly in the cool evening breeze. She’d packed it in a neat pony, but a few stray strands framed the sides of her heart shaped face. Absent mindedly, she tucked the stray strands of hair behind her ears.
Does he still remember me or has everything changed?” she pondered. Shrugging, she looked up at the sky, her heart filled with prayer a prayer that he would forget her so she could complete her rituals in the palace and leave unnoticed.
Her thoughts settled on the dreams she’d been
having lately. These dreams had introduced her to a whole new level of fear; one she never knew existed. Silently, she prayed none of her dreams came true. An unnaturally brilliant light spilled out of
the heavens, hitting her with the intensity of a thousand suns. A stifled shriek escaping her lips, she leapt to her feet. Instinctively, she sank her eyes into the crook of her left elbow.
“The fulfilment is near,” a voice thundered from
the heavens. “Kill the royal one or you will be offered up in his place.” The roar of thunder punctuated the warning, causing Miriam’s entire body to tremble as though an earthquake was about to erupt. Heart thumping savagely, she dashed into the palace.
The other maids, littered in the kitchen, slowed
down her stride. Unlike her, they had nothing to think of and had returned to their chores. Although she craved some more moments of rest, she had to attend to her chores, lest the Queen hears of her new found laziness. Sighing, she grabbed a wet rag and joined Amara in cleaning the glassware cabinets.
“Wow!” Ella said, swirling around to sweep her
eyes around the sparkling kitchen. A proud smile graced her lips. “Believe me girls, up till now I am not done admiring this house. It’s just amazing.”
“Have you heard the secret behind the foundation of this house?” Amara looked around, making sure no one was watching them. Although Miriam didn’t want to be apart of their conversation, she couldn’t help but listen.
Esther advanced to Amara. “What secret are you
Standing at akimbo, Amara whispered, “I heard it
was build with the sacrifice of new born baby.”
Fear flashed across the girls’ faces.
“And how do you know that?” Chioma asked, narrowing her eyes at Amara.
“Am I not in this village?” Amara asked.
“Anyway, I also heard that the story is not allowed to be discussed in this village, especially here in the palace.”
Grimacing, Chioma tugged at her left ear and
leaned in toward Amara who took a step away from Chioma’s intimidating stance. “Hmm! Amara you better watch what you say or else I won’t be responsible for anything that happens to you.”
The girls stared at Chioma in bewilderment as she marched out of the kitchen. “Why is she acting like that?” Amara asked, gazing at the spot where Chioma had been standing. “Or is it because she is the head maid?”
“Let’s just continue with what we are doing
before the Queen meets us here,” Esther suggested, leading the girls back to their hive of activities.
They had barely even resumed their chores when
the Queen’s high pitched voice sailed to their hearing. “My son is back!”
On cue, the maids set down their cleaning tools
and dashed out through the back door. Their eyes twinkled with sheer excitement.
Miriam stayed back in the kitchen, feigning oblivion of the Prince’s return. Although the Queen’s shout out had made Miriam freeze, she let her immobility last only for a moment. Shrugging, she went back to work. She shook her head disappointedly at her friends’ giddiness. She couldn’t blame them though. Who wouldn’t be eager to see the Prince who’d been away for years?
Sighing with frustration, Miriam tossed her rag
to the corner and made for the servant’s quarters. The day had been quite hectic and she needed a break, but as she neared the living room, the cheering from outside interrupted her footsteps.
She gripped a pillar and peeked through the curtains. A crowd of men, women and children streaked in through the gate, singing welcoming
songs as they marched toward the Prince’s car.
They screamed at the top of their voices as a
guard advanced to the car and tugged at the door. Bowing, he held open the door for the Prince to step out. As though a whistle had been blown, everyone else bowed before the Prince.
The Prince stepped out of the car, his head held
high in a kingly pride. Miriam craned her neck to have a better view. She had been right to think he’d grown into a fine young man.
Even though Miriam and the Prince had been
friends in the past, she almost didn’t recognize him. The hair on his head, almost an afro, glittered like coal. His complexion, now many shades lighter, made him no different from those British men who often visited the palace. But this fine young man was no foreigner. This was Michael Jaja, the prince of Ikemba.
Michael smiled and waved at the crowd who had
gathered to welcome him. “Thank you all. I have missed this place so much ”
“Michael my son,” Queen Jaja said, her voice
standing out among the cluster of voices. “Welcome home. Come and give your mother a hug.”
Michael turned toward his mother, but before his
gaze fell on her, the window caught his eye.
Gasping, Miriam ducked away from his sight. She pressed her hand to her chest, leading her pacing heart back to normalcy.
The Prince had seen her. Or had he? Although she craved another sneak peek to find out if he still stared in her direction, she turned away from the living room.
She sauntered to her room and plopped down on the bed she shared with Amara. There she sat, motionless, her chest heaving as she reminisced over the bond she’d shared with Michael in the past.
The commotion outside grew louder by the second. Miriam knew she was supposed to be out there, welcoming the Prince. It was one of her duties as a palace maid, but she just couldn’t handle being
“Wow,” Ella said. Miriam raised her head and
found Ella and Amara waltzing into the room. How long had she been lost in thoughts?
“The Prince has always been handsome,” Ella
said. “But I never thought he would be this charming.”
“He’s been working out too,” Amara said. “Did
you see his muscles? They were almost bursting out of his shirt.”
“What are you girls doing here?” Chioma asked,
standing in the threshold.
“We came to call Miriam,” Ella said.
“I have come to call her myself,” Chioma said.
“It seems she needs a personal invitation.”
“Sorry. I had a headache, so I came here to
rest.” Miriam looked away from Chioma. She always did that when she lied. How could she join them outside when the only thing on her mind was avoiding the Prince at all costs?
“When everybody is busy welcoming the Prince?”
“I said I have a headache,” Miriam said. “I’m
not feeling well, please.”
“Okay,” Chioma said. “That’s what you’ll tell
the Queen. You think she hasn’t noticed your absence? If you like your job and want to keep it, you better go out there and do what you’re being paid for.”
Miriam sighed. She knew she was fighting a
hopeless war. She trailed after Chioma, Ella and Amara as they walked out of the house. While the three maids joined the crowd in cheering and dancing, Miriam stood like a statue, her eyes locked on the Prince who had his back to her. Standing behind Amara, she stared at him, praying he didn’t turn around. She couldn’t handle
him locking eyes with her right now.
Queen Jaja stood behind her son as he crowded
the entrance door. The smile on her face had faded, her excitement replaced with a feeling that could only be fear. With a heart full of prayer, she watched her son step into the house.
A fierce wind whirled around him, rippling his
clothing and wrapping him with a ghastly cold. He swayed backward, losing his footing, but the Queen was quick to grip his arms. She knew why this was happening, and the knowledge that things might go
wrong filled her with untold fear.
‘Oh heavens,’ she prayed silently.
‘Please don’t let anything happen to my son ‘
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D A M B O I
Behind Her Smile