Valentines Day was a day of grieving for Larry, the King’s cook. He was opportune to witness the wine-carrying ceremony of the King’s first and second daughters and knew how revered the ceremony was.
The King’s last daughter, Princess Jemima was born in his tenth year of service and he doted on her, to the envy of her elder sisters. The Queen, usually referred to Princess Jemima as “Larry’s baby” and Larry enjoyed the attention he got from the guests whenever she said that.
On that lovely Sunday morning, he was preparing breakfast when Princess Jemima sneaked into the kitchen wearing her bathroom robe and a hair bonnet. He quickly drained his hands on the kitchen towel and shut the door after her.
He sensed that something was awry and asked if she was fine. She nodded and proceeded to hide in one of the empty cabinets and begged him not to tell anyone that she was there. Ah! 😱
He agreed and continued whistling as he fried the eggs and toasted the sliced bread he purchased from the supermarket last night. The door creaked open and the Queen casually strolled in and asked if breakfast was ready. ‘Soon,’ was his reply and he returned to his work table.
The Queen refused to leave and stayed by the door observing him as he cut the fresh pepper and tomatoes. ‘Madam, anything?’ he asked. ‘I thought I heard you talking to someone.’
‘No, madam. I dey follow person talk for phone,’ he replied. She nodded and glanced around the room. She could sense his uneasiness and turned to leave but stopped abruptly.
‘Where is your daughter?’ she asked him. Totally surprised by her query, he shook his head and said that he was yet to set his eyes on her that morning. He could tell that she did not quite believe him.
He was employed as the King’s cook on the day of his coronation, seven years before the Queen was married and being the longest serving house servant, he enjoyed some immunity from the royal couple. She observed the kitchen one last time and left.
‘Princess Jemima,’ he called out and playfully kicked the cabinet where she had entered. Except for the sizzling oil, the kitchen remained silent. Even though the cabinets were big enough to comfortably accommodate an adult, Larry feared that she might be suffocating and threw the door open.
To his amazement, there was nobody in there. He was sure that he had seen her hide in that particular cabinet. He checked the other ones but there was no sign of her. He had already lied to the Queen and wondered how best to tell her that her daughter was now missing. Time was ticking and there was still no sign of her.
He decided to check the cabinet again -the particular one where Princess Jemima was supposed to be in- and found her creeping in through a make-shift hole. The concrete wall had been replaced by a plank but neither he nor any of the other house servants had noticed.
She looked terrified when she came out of the cabinet and rubbed her palms, refusing to look him in the face. ‘Who you go meet?’ he fired at her. The Princess, well aware of her royal privileges, did not speak and started to touch the sides of her neck.
Of course, she owed him no answer. He was nothing more than an ordinary cook. He gnashed his teeth and asked her again, ‘who be that?’ Unsure of what to ask, he knew that it was only a boy that would make a fourteen year old girl escape from home on a Sunday morning.
‘Kelechi,’ she finally said, when she realized that the cook was intent on unraveling the mystery behind her sudden disappearance. ‘No be that your friend?’ he asked. ‘No, that is Ekele.’ Ekele was her classmate and the only person permitted to visit her at the palace.
‘Who be this Kelechi?’ the question had just slipped out of his mouth when the Queen burst into the kitchen crying. Larry began to wonder what was happening in the palace. Breakfast was yet to be served and there was already a lot of drama going on.
‘Go and wait for me in my bedroom,’ the Queen calmly said to Princess Jemima. The fourteen year old obeyed her mother and cast a pitiful look at the cook who was still trying to understand the events of that morning before leaving.
The Queen turned to face Larry but the more she tried to speak, the lesser the words formed. She found herself shedding uncontrollable tears and left hurriedly.
Larry, on the other hand, was praying that she would say something to him. It was forbidden for him to ask the Queen any questions. He only took orders from her. In that moment, he detested his position as a second class citizen in the palace. His right to speech was restricted and he knew it. It wasn’t situationally influenced.
He had a strong feeling in his gut that Princess Jemima was in danger. If only he knew what it was all about. He shrugged his shoulders and decided to dish the breakfast, which was getting cold but an unpleasant smell hit his nostrils and the ceramic plates fell from his hands onto the tiled floor and broke into tiny pieces.
As he bent down to pack the bits of ceramic, he noticed the trickles of blood on the floor and followed it to it’s origin -that cabinet where Princess Jemima had hidden. What could this mean? She was not careless to have forgotten to wear a sanitary pad. Why was it smelling so bad?
He took out the mopstick from the back of the kitchen door to clean the mess on the floor and found himself becoming overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. Nothing must happen to his baby. No. Not now. Never. Who was this Kelechi that made her hide from her mother? From him?
He dumped the mop stick and ran towards the Queen’s bedroom to find out why the morning had suddenly become bleak. The door was slightly open and he could hear the Queen scolding her daughter for bringing much shame and disgrace to the palace. Her father, the King, had been assembled by the Elders for allowing his child desecrate the land.
They allowed her to mingle with people during the Christmas period and that had brought them this trouble. The cook was now certain that Princess Jemima was not the little angel he thought she was. She had not only eaten the forbidden fruit but committed murder. Little wonder she began to withdraw from her family after New Year’s Eve, the day she went to visit a sick friend at the ‘hospital’.
If only she had been more open to him about her emotions, he would have guided her just like he did for her sisters. When her elder sisters were her age, they were not interested in the opposite gender and he had used a similar yardstick on Princess Jemima.
He felt like a failure to himself, Princess Jemima, her elder sisters and the entire kingdom. How could he let this happen to his own baby? He scrunched on the floor and cried like he had never done before. He would tender his resignation letter and leave the palace, hoping that Princess Jemima survives.
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