As I ran through the forest, the wet leaves slapped my face and body as the rain aggressively stabbed my skin. It felt like my ancestors were using the elements of the earth to express how disappointed and angry they were with me, I didn't blame them I felt like a fool myself. The skeletons had finally escaped from the closet, but they weren't mine, they were Ngozi's skeletons disguised as mine.
I knew I was not as fast as the warriors sent after me but if I was going to die I would die knowing that I had at least tried to save my life. I could hear their heavy aggressive feet stomp into the muddy earth as they chased after me. Every step they took shook the ground and made my poor heart tremble with fear as I heard them getting closer and closer, it felt like I was running backwards, or that I wasn't moving at all. I didn't want to die and be remembered for a crime I didn't commit that I had promised to commit. Was I guilty for having considered it at first? Was I weak for letting my emotions make me go back on my word?
My only way to escape the warriors was to cross over to the sacred forest many believed was cursed. I had to cross the crocodile infested violent river. I wouldn't have minded being the crocodile's meal compared to being ridiculed in front of everyone.
As I was about to plunge myself into the river I was stopped in my tracks by my hands that aimlessly and frantically ran across my neck, chest and whole body in search of my heart-shaped locket my parents had gifted me before they were taken away and my only link that made it feel like they were right there with me. Where could it have dropped?
"Should I go back for them or should I go without them?" I debated with myself as I glanced back and forth between the river and the warriors approaching me.
Before I could decide one of the warriors managed to catch up to me, he grabbed my locs and violently dragged me by my locs. I tried to escape and felt like a fish that had been caught by the fisherman trying to wiggle aggressively till I escaped but like the fish the battle was pointless, he was more than twice my size, the only way I could escape was through wit not strength but my fear and feeling of defeat screamed over my wit rendering it silent. He dragged me across the muddy yet rough ground as if I was an animal's carcass or a lifeless body that didn't need empathy for pain because they couldn't feel it anymore. I could feel my locs getting pulled out from my scalp like carrots being uprooted from the earth. I couldn't complain either because complaining would add fuel to the fire I foolishly started, he would worsen the pain and I didn’t want to know what would be worse than the pain he seemed to be effortlessly inflicting on me.
"NDAMUBATA!!" He yelled to inform the other warriors that had spersed out to cover more ground. They all emerged from the forest at once from different directions. I felt like the vulnerable prey surrounded by hungry lions prepared to shred what was left of me. Their eyes were burning with rage and burnt through my soul that was drowning in my anxious thoughts.
"Stop," one of the warriors demanded, and it was clear he was in charge because everyone stopped as if in trance. "I'll carry her from here, to the palace," he continued. He looked the most intimidating and his aura screamed authority and leadership. The warrior that held me by my locs didn't respond but aggressively sighed as he threw me to the ground, to inflict pain one last time and walked towards the kingdom with the other warriors following behind him.
The warrior who was to carry me back to the palace picked me up as gently as he could, like he was picking up a new born baby, and handled me as if handling a rare priceless delicate object.
As the warrior carried me back to the palace my eyes paced through the forest hoping that the moonlight that sipped through small gaps between the leaves would make my locket shine. It felt like I had lost my parents again but this time for good. My tears rolled down my face masqueraded by the rain that trickled on my face. I was being punished by Mwari, the creator along with my ancestors and was now going to be punished by the King as well.
When we finally left the forest and arrived in the kingdom the silence was a loud deafening silence, not even the voices of nature dared to sing through the night. As we entered the palace gates, it looked like the whole kingdom was there. I couldn't read their emotions as if they were hiding them so neither the royal family nor I could tell who they were rooting for.
The warrior slowly put me down to face the King and Queen who were burning up with anger as they gave me a death glare but I stared back at them hiding the fear that gripped me because if I was to be executed I was not going to be known as weak or a coward.
"I didn't do it," I said, blowing through the tension that felt like venomous gas that poisoned my lungs, I felt suffocated as those words tussled out my mouth. "Then why did you run and jump out the window?" The king said, adding more tension among the people. "Because I was not going to make the same mistake my parents made. You had already made up your mind when you walked into that room" I said, trying my hardest to keep my tears in. The locket was lost and an old wound from 10 years ago was ripped open and felt new. "Your parents, whoever they were? Were guilty for what they did like you are guilty now. What you have done is unforgivable, even the gods of this land and Mwari would not forgive you," He said, spitting in my direction with disgust but missing me. I don't know what I felt more insulted by, the fact that he attempted to spit on me or the fact that he referred to my parents as if they were nothing and deserved what they had coming. "Our son said you were the one who stabbed him" The queen said circling me "Are you saying the future King of this kingdom chosen by Mwari, the creator of the heavens and the earth, is a 'Liar' " she said with an aggressive emphasis on the word liar. "It was not me, it was Ngozi. When I entered the room the crime had already been done and Ngozi was gone," I said, trying not to expose the fear that was screaming within me.
"Was Ngozi a shape shifter who had shapeshifted into me to make me pay for breaking my promise" I thought to myself.
"Then how do you know it was him if you weren't there?" The king asked, folding his arms in front of his chest. "Because I had initially agreed to assassinate the prince on Ngozi's behalf," The words effortlessly slipped out of my mouth like a slippery fish by mistake, like for a moment I couldn't keep my thoughts to myself. I was so focused on not exposing my fear, I had forgotten to avoid revealing my initial intentions "But I ended up backing down because I fell in love with the prince," I said, trying to take back the venom I had thrown at them, which was pointless and felt like trying to put a vase back together without mortar. I felt chills run down my spine because now I had exposed my sin and weak emotions. "To think we thought you would make the perfect queen for our son, for this Kingdom," The queen said with her face scrunched up and appalled by me. "I would never want to be queen to a kingdom ruled by a corrupt and deceitful family like yours," I said clenching my jaw, turning away from her to face the rest of the kingdom. I wouldn't be insulted and accused silently. "I am guilty," I yelled with my bloody scarred arms to show defeat "But at least I am not making innocent lives pay for my sins" I paused to look at the King and Queen who seemed utterly confused and fearful. "The sacrificial ceremonies we've held every month since before we were born is not only to save us and pay tribute to Mwari, our ancestors or the gods…" My eyes met my gogo's(grandmother) eyes. She shook her head in disapproval like she already met the cat I was about to let out the bag. Beside her was my amainini who shook her head in approval with a proud smile plastered on her face. I looked back at my gogo and whispered under my breath "I'm sorry" and looked away from her to avoid her guilt tripping me into silence. " We are reaping what they have sown, paying for a generational curse their family acquired but affects us as well because they are supposed to represent us. I don't know what they did, but apparently we will be forgiven if they confess to us what they have done or sacrifice any one of their family members' lives, which they have chosen not to do all these years. They keep sacrificing one of us as a way to buy time till they decide who they will sacrifice which will never happen and…"
"Thandeka!" A familiar voice yelled my name out, interrupting my last words, my last speech. It was the prince who limped towards us with the help of a warrior. "We are going to be fair," he said looking at me then his parents. "The only fair thing is to execute her, she almost killed you and concocted this silly allegation to drag our name through the dirt. An abomination, a bad omen standing before us." The King said firmly.
"She said she didn't, " he responded.
"Is she not who you saw?" asked the queen trying to comprehend.
"She is but I can't help but believe her," The prince said softly.
"You're not being logical. You are using your emotions to decide. Which isn't a 'fair' trial that you speak of," The King whispered to make sure the kingdom didn't hear him doubt the prince, the future king.
"For all we know it could have been a shapeshifter," he whispered back to my defense.
"Those do not exist, my son. But witches do, she has cast a spell on you" The King whispered, staring at me and worried I'd attempt to kill the only heir he had. The prince cleared his throat to get everyone's attention who was already attentive. "I have decided that she should go into the sacred forest and go to the Oracle then return to prove her innocence. Mwari will not let the guilty survive and only he knows if she is guilty or innocent, she leaves tomorrow," He said, waving his hand back and forth to indicate that the trial was over and that everyone could go home. Then he signaled to the warrior to take me away. As they took me away I searched through the crowd for my gogo and amainini.
The smile that had been on my amainini's face turned to fear, regret and worry, but my gogo showed no emotion which taunted me, I really wanted to know what she felt about my fate that was now more uncertain than ever. I did not know whether I would live or die. Now my life was in my ancestors hands who I begged to ask Mwari to forgive and protect me as I was to embark on a journey no one had ever returned from...