Fire. All around. Every bush, every house, every blade of grass, caved under the fog of flames. The people made a symphony of screams and pleas, and their oppressors made a beat of their battery. In their disrepair, they threw their glossy eyes to the sky. Heavy waves of tears rolled down their brown cheeks.
She was paralyzed underneath the pile of rubble on top of her. Unable to move her neck, she stared hopelessly at her people being burnt alive in their homes—dead at the hand of the pale faces. Pale faces that brought forth fire. Pale faces that wrecked havoc. Worst of all, the pale face that belonged to the one person she had come to love and trust was not here when she needed him the most.
As a child, she’d been warned to be wary of the pale faced ones. ‘Never trust the pale faces.’ ‘Pale faces will be your downfall.’ ‘The pale faces are deceitful.’ But did she listen? No! She mocked those who mocked her lover, disgraced them, and crushed them underneath her staff of power. The queen who’d trusted the pale face over her people. The sovereign who’d put aside the strife and hostility the “conquerors” had brought, and tried to unveil their mysteries. The savior who’d neglected her people, and fallen in love with the pale face; with his shiny possessions, and his foreignness. The enchanted sovereign. Look where all that got her.
That night, she watched helplessly as her kingdom fell to ashes. And with it, her reign fell to ashes. Her name fell to ashes, as her people were buried under a blanket of flames, and her heart with them. She burnt slowly, the flames dancing to the beat of her misery and singing to the screams of her people. Her dead father’s words played repeatedly in her head, a Yoruba proverb he tried to raise her with, “A foolish child is no better than a dead child.”
She was dead on the inside, and effectively so on the outside. As she fought to keep the darkness out of her eyes, she did not notice the pale face who screamed her name to keep her awake. He talked to her as her eyes flickered. He looked around at her men, scattered hopelessly around her. He wouldn’t believe this. He wouldn’t have this. They looked at him, skeptically, hatefully. And he looked at them, lovingly and hopefully. He dug through piece upon piece of the rubble on top of her, and they straightened their broken arms. He clawed through the burning wood on top of her, and they shook their burnt faces against the dead breeze. He tore off his wounded flesh, and split the rocks on top of her—the men picked up their machetes in their good arms.
Her heart slowed, and her soldiers limped to their oppressors. Her eyes flickered, her head lolled to the side, and her chest jerked forward. She heaved and then she ceased. Her blood had poured over her eyes. He ran his fingers through her mane of hair, as the tears poured down his cheeks, into the puddle of blood that surrounded her. He screamed.
And her soldiers screamed. They screamed with every painful blow they dealt the pale faces. They wailed in pain as they raised their achy bones against those who had oppressed them. Their bloody fists dealt even bloodier blows. Broken bones broke bones and burnt arms burned arms. They hacked at the pale faces—not for their lives, but for the hope that a future would emerge, and that the people they loved, the customs they loved, and the identity they loved, would live on. And in this spirit, they limped to victory.
Her lover cried over her lifeless form as her people screamed in relief. He became deaf to the chaos that reigned around him. He could no longer smell the scent of burnt flesh. He did not feel the weight of her head on his thigh, or her thick blood as it pooled around him. He could not hear, as his countryman launched a bullet into his heart. He might have loved his queen, but he was a pale-face; born a traitor to her people, and forced to die as one, to his. Although both races hated him, he was grateful to them. Grateful that for a time, he was blessed to live with her, and honored that now, he was blessed to die with her. In that moment, he finally discovered the one thing he had in common with his lover; they bled the same pattern.