There was a time when I used to believe, naively of course, that when the Big Man in the sky entrusts you with leadership, He almost always locks you up in a tiny capsule and teaches you morality.
That time is gone, sadly, for I’ve seen how leaders begin their leadership, instantly, with bliss in immorality. Today, I will tell you a story my grandma used to narrate to me in her soft tone when I was a child with my head on her blessed thighs. The story, narrated to her by her mum about a young girl, Jongfolo, who defeated a leader’s selfish desires, started with a Japanese haiku, melancholic and soul-moving lines believed to have been written by angels who watched over her:
“Today I cry
For the pain is high
And I’ll die
But when I die
My soul will fly
I had two sisters; two immaculate pieces of work appreciated around town like first drop of rain during drought. Men used to gather at our compound gate because of the two bright fruits in the house while some, out of desperation for their hand in marriage, would send their sisters or aunties to befriend my mum in order to have edge over other competing men. All these were happening prior to my birth and, it would appear, the king himself had been patiently waiting for me.
In our township, a wide cosmopolitan among the seven wards of the country, the king was known for his rather uncanny Lothario lifestyle.
As a young girl growing up, I’ve heard stories of the King’s insatiable promiscuity but I never thought I would be a victim myself, later in the future. The king forcefully unseated his godfather who had ruled the kingdom for three decades and had often bragged about the little countable things he brought to the kingdom.
Every year, the king would spend buckets of cash to organise an event during which young girls would flaunt in front of him with the promise to change their lives. He has a panel of judges whose primary function was to spot the most beautiful girl among the lot; not necessarily the most talented because, as he has proven times without number, he cared only a little about talent but loyalty from men and from women, well, only his Uncle John decides their role. Whenever he got caught up in banal royal paperwork, he would send his women’s affairs emissary to the annual event with strict warning that only beauty counts.
My dad, an honourable man who fought tooth and nail to lift us from embarrassing genteel poverty, would usually sit under the solitary acacia tree behind the house and pray for his beautiful daughters’ safety from the savage king who has already defiled countless other girls. But when the opportunity came for me to save the family from sticky penury, I grabbed it with the hope that when I am announced winner of the show-of-beauty, I would then use the cash-prize to wash away the gums of poverty visible on our faces; on our ragged clothes; in our tasteless foods and our half-roofed houses.
The day came. I joined many other girls who wished for the same and were prepared to get it at all cost. Born beautiful and smart, my only task was to show that beauty to the eagle-eyed judges who would later submit my features to the king like an application letter.
After all the girls, including myself, flaunted on the runway, speeches were made to praise the king for ’empowering’ girls. Before the winner was announced, I stood there trembling at my knees and shaking in my tennis shoes because of two things, one of which must come to reality that very night. I feared losing because if I did, my family and I would have to embrace poverty once again and, my second fear, to win and then see the king play with my precious being; the being he never wanted to own through the right way. Like I said, one of them must be written in history books and that scared the hell out of me.
As the show drew near climax, the king’s education emissary stepped forward after the exhibition of beauty and talent and announced the winner: ME!
For the moment, I didn’t know how I felt or how I should have felt. All I could recall was tears coursing down my cheeks as I laboured to recover from a momentary nervous breakdown.
Shortly after the dust settled, a couple of men visited our house and told me the king wanted to see me. Suspicion was written all over my dad’s face but he had to convince himself that it was just routine before the full package of the prize, among which was a ticket to study outside the country, was handed over to me. I left the house to the palace but I already knew why the king required my presence. I got into the palace convoy like a queen but, deep down, I dreaded the idea of meeting our own 18th century Giovanni Jacopo Casanova.
At the palace, I was escorted to a private room where I was told the king would meet me. A few minutes later, he crawled out of the house like a billionaire recluse and, with pernicious and immutable brazenness, said he craved for me since the first time I appeared on the stage. In his crazy lewd whispers, as if the queen could hear him in the other room, revealed that I should be his mistress before he could marry me. As I had carefully thought before alighting from the luxurious Bentley, ‘no’ was the answer. My pride was non-negotiable! That seemed to have stunned him as he brandished his fist on the shiny desk in his melodramatic tone, larded with archaic oaths and exclamations and general gadzookery.
The first meeting didn’t go well for him and I planned to maintain it that way regardless of the possible consequences. He ordered his men to escort me back home but, from thence, I never had a peace of mind. My house was put under all-day surveillance because the king feared I would talk about his lewd advances to a young girl whose only crime was to take part in a supposed talent show. The weeks and months that followed showed me flank by his men wherever I go; to the market, to school, and to social programmes where I tried to exorcise the ghost of his dirty attempts. That mental torture, which became my daily schedule, ultimately drove me away into the wilderness and I had to leave everything, everyone behind simply because the king’s Uncle John had no boundaries.”
That was part of the story my grandma narrated to me. Yes, I was barely seven years old but the honest narration about the Jongfolo’s plight made me feel like I was watching a Z-list horror film. Whenever my grandma reached the part that entails the girl’s suffering and terror, her heart would slow, numb like she’s looking at the Greek daemon. I would then wriggle and shudder like a slaughtered ram, wishing I could smother the king for his despicable deeds. And, now that I am a man, the king is nowhere to be seen but Jongfolo’s story has inspired me; hope it inspires you
Author: Talib Gibran