Chapter 6: (v.2) Sixth Phase.2 (Continuation)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 89


With a soft thunk, Emeravwe set down the large wicker basket loaded with headscarves, skirts, blouses, and robes of Maidens. Akpokene, who was crouched beside the stream with her own basketful of dirty garments, eyed Emeravwe and her load wearily. Emeravwe returned the look in kind. After their scuffle with Omote Oluchi and Ngozi, the Aye of the Bureau of Halls and Chambers had reported them to the Bureau of Corrections, and Emeravwe and Akpokene had each been flogged ten lashes. Now, for two weeks, they were mandated to assist the Maidens of the Bureau of Wardrobes with daily washing, after which they were to report to the Bureau of Halls and Chambers and attend to their regular assigned cleaning. In addition, not only would their pay be withheld for three months, but they were also required to take supplementary lessons in Mannerisms of a Maiden each evening.

Emeravwe sagged exhaustedly to the ground beside the stream, wincing at the twinge in her bottom. She released a groan, the thought that she and Akpokene still had over a week of their punishment to endure sapping her energy. To make things worse, she would not be able to see Aslan for two entire weeks because of the additional lessons, and he was sure to be worried.

“It is our fault for being born the way we are,” Akpokene said as she scrubbed a blouse against her washboard. Emeravwe glanced at her and she looked up, her brown eyes joking. “Why were you born a nameless valued child? And what was I thinking, coming to the palace with my Wuhwuh blood. Serves us right!”

Emeravwe frowned. In truth, she knew it was no joke. That was exactly what other Maidens thought of them. Without a doubt, it was what Omote Oluchi and Ngozi thought—they had said as much when she and Akpokene were punished by the Aye of the Bureau of Halls and Chambers and Bureau of Corrections, while they were not.

Emeravwe lowered her head, her throat tight and eyes stinging. She said quietly, “I did not choose to be born this way.” She had not chosen to enter the palace, to be nameless, or bejeweled, yet she was always judged because of these things, and she could not change them. She looked through defiant tears at Akpokene, demanding, “Why is it our fault? We did not choose to be born this way!”

Akpokene was silent, staring at Emeravwe, then lowered her eyes. She said dejectedly, “But there is nothing we can do about it.”

The words struck Emeravwe like lightning on a clear blue day, despair flooding her. If even Akpokene, who was spunky enough to challenge the Maidens, felt this hopeless, then…

“That is a lie!” she cried, jumping to her feet and startling Akpokene. “You do not believe that!” She pointed an accusing finger. “You said your mother told you a Wuhwuh should never fight back, but you are always arguing with the other Omote. Is that not because…” she trailed off, seeing the hurt tears brimming in Akpokene’s own eyes. She lowered her arm, finishing softly, “Because you want to do something about it?”

They were silent a moment, then Akpokene wiped her tears. “I do not believe that there is nothing I can do. Even my mother does not believe it—that is why she sent me to the palace.”

Emeravwe moved closer, her spirits reviving as she settled beside Akpokene. “What do you mean?”

Akpokene set down her washboard, eyes gleaming. “She said that though a Wuhwuh cannot amount to much in Xxene, it is different inside the palace. That if you can find your way here, anyone can become someone important!”

Emeravwe’s eyes grew large. “Really? Even a nameless valued child?”

Akpokene’s nod was firm. She picked up her washboard again, slapping a wet skirt vigorously onto it. “Just wait,” she said, “I will not always be a Maiden in the Bureau of Halls and Chambers. When I become a Rode Aye no one will dare call me a puny Wuhwuh!”

They laughed, and Emeravwe thought, Yes, I will do something about it. She would not spend the rest of her life as a neglected and abused palace Maiden. She refused!

Though Akpokene’s revelation eased Emeravwe’s distress, the effects did not last long, for several days later, when she and Akpokene reported to the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, an Omote told her a Eunuch had come to the bureau to ask of her. He had not given a name, but when she described him as having a yellow headcloth, Emeravwe’s heart soared, for she was sure it could only be Aslan. Her excitement quickly dampened, though, when the Omote revealed that she informed the Eunuch of Emeravwe’s punishment at the Bureau of Wardrobes. Emeravwe could hardly sleep that night for worrying. She hoped anxiously that the Omote had not told Aslan why she had been punished, for he would not be pleased with her.

When the period of her punishment ended, it was with apprehension that Emeravwe returned to the garden in the Eunuch’s Compound. Head bowed, she passed nervously beneath the palm trees, expecting a cold greeting, which was the norm on the rare occasions Aslan was upset with her. She was welcomed, instead, by the songs of crickets. Peering through the night and across the pond, she tiptoed toward the stone bench. At first, she could make nothing out and her heart wound in a contradicting mix of disappointment and relief at the thought that Aslan had not come. Then, drawing closer to the bench, she made out a form lying there, Aslan’s brown Eunuchs’ robes draping down to lightly brush the ground. Emeravwe paused just before the pond, her anxiety building again even as a smile quirked her lips.

“Why have you stopped?” came Aslan’s voice, and she sucked in a startled breath. “Come closer.”

“I-I thought you were sleeping,” she responded, inching toward the bench.

“Just resting.” He sat up and straightened his robes, then reached into his sleeve and pulled out a small matchbox from which he drew a match and lit the candle in the glass lantern beside the bench. He replaced the box in his sleeve and fixed his eyes on Emeravwe. She had barely moved.

She froze now as Aslan’s face settled in an inscrutable expression, his eyes unwavering as he regarded her in long silence. She held her breath, waiting.

“You were finally able to pull the hair from the heads of your worst enemies. How was it?” Aslan’s tone was even, as stony as his stare.

Emeravwe hovered. She did not know how to respond and wondered if that was a question she should even answer. She studied his calm features, then released the breath and puffed up her chest. Deciding that ignoring the question was her safest route, she strode bravely to the bench.

Aslan leaned forward, persisting, “Was it enjoyable?”

Emeravwe furrowed her brow incredulously at him. “No! I was hurt, too!”

“Ah.” His eyes waxed austere as he sat up again, his voice cooling. “So your pain is the only one that matters.”

Emeravwe was silent. She did not like Aslan being upset with her, but he was not being fair, either. He knew better than anyone how Omote Oluchi and Ngozi antagonized her and Akpokene. She felt that familiar lump beginning to claw up her chest but forced it down, looking obstinately at him.

“They hurt us first!” she defended implacably.

“I am sure of it.” Aslan’s tone was softer, and he beckoned Emeravwe closer till she stood before him, then gently took her hands in his. “That is why I am asking if hurting them in return made you feel better.”

Since their fight, Omote Oluchi and Ngozi treated Emeravwe and Akpokene much worse than before, and even the Aye of the Bureau of Halls and Chambers were harder on them, assigning them to clean the latrines of the Maidens’ Compound. Emeravwe knew it was because Omote Oluchi and Ngozi were connected to officials at court, while she and Akpokene were, at best, an orphaned “valued child” and an Orhorho. The incident had only made the difference between her and her two roommates starker to Emeravwe. She was sorry to have hurt them, but only because doing so hurt her more.

“Eme,” Aslan said sweetly, using the pet name he had begun to call her by as he gently lifted her defiant chin, “they were hurt, too. It is hard to see that when you feel your own pain so strongly, but you must not ignore it.”

Emeravwe’s eyes stung with tears, and she did not know whether it was because she was angry at Omote Oluchi and Ngozi for how they treated her all these years, or angrier at herself for being so helpless, or at Aslan for saying what he did. She knew he was right, but she did not want to think about Omote Oluchi and Ngozi’s pain. They deserved it. Yet she could not stop the tears from flooding her eyes, and hated Aslan for making her feel so guilty when Omote Oluchi and Ngozi had done worse things to her. Even so, she let him enfold her in his arms and allowed herself to be comforted by him as he lightly petted her head.

“I know they have hurt you, Eme,” he said softly as he held her, “but that does not mean you should hurt them in return. Everyone suffers that way.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?” she asked through hiccups, sobbing into his robes.

“Perhaps you could try apologizing to them? If you do, they may also apologize for hurting you.”

Emeravwe was silent but for the hiccups muffled in Aslan’s robes.

“Will you try, Eme?” he asked when she still had not answered.

After a moment more, she nodded.

And she did try. No matter how she pleaded and reasoned with Akpokene, she refused to apologize with her, so Emeravwe approached Omote Oluchi and Ngozi in their chamber the following evening. With several false starts and much stuttering, she managed to mumble a somewhat sincere apology for the fight they had gotten into.

Omote Oluchi flung the comb in her hand at Emeravwe’s head, missing by a close inch. “Take your donkey’s gall apology and feed it to your pet Wuhwuh!” she responded bitterly.

“If a nameless beast wants forgiveness it should grovel on its knees and pay us obeisance of the first degree!” Omote Ngozi demanded.

It took all the self-control she could muster for Emeravwe not to lunge at the girls again, and she thanked Oghene that Akpokene had refused to apologize with her. When she told Aslan how Omote Oluchi and Ngozi responded, he still did not seem to blame the girls for their wickedness, and this vexed Emeravwe.

 “There are people like that in this world, Eme,” he said as she brooded by a stout cycad to one side of the garden’s bench. “But we must embrace even those who wish ill against us and learn to forgive those who are unrepentant.”

“What if I cannot?” she shot back, angry that he was so willing to forgive Omote Oluchi and Ngozi yet was so hard on her. How could he expect her to forgive them when they treated her so wretchedly even when she took the trouble to apologize to them? How could she forgive them when they were not even sorry for how miserable they made her life though she did nothing to them? She could not!

Aslan looked a long time at Emeravwe, his somber gaze and grave bearing slowly melting her annoyance despite herself.

He reached a hand to her, saying softly, “Then you do not have to. I shall bear the responsibility.”

Emeravwe did not know what he meant, but the sad way he looked at her gnawed her heart such that she could not stay angry at him, and she took his out-stretched hand, walking into his embrace. He held her firmly and, feeling that he needed the comfort more than she did, she wrapped her own small arms around him and gently patted his back.

Submitted: July 11, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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