Run Away, Princess!
The following is an excerpt from Helen Nde’s upcoming book “The Runaway Princess and Other Stories”, a collection of short stories recounting the deeds and misdeeds of memorable women from African history, legend, and folklore.
We stay in the tree all night, worried that more Makenyi might be hiding in the bushes. When morning dawns still and peaceful with no Makenyi in sight, we slide down the tree as quietly as we can. We start to run as soon as we reach the ground, our thudding footsteps loud in the strangely silent forest. We don’t know where we’re going but I guide Little Sister in the direction I saw the fewest Makenyi go, hoping that the crowd of them had run towards their underground homes. The forest seems endless as we run, and I am no longer sure if we are headed away from or back towards the village we just left. Then we enter a clearing and come face to face with a Makenyi. It is a female, and it has a baby strapped to its back. It gasps when it sees us and raises the small axe it holds in its hand. Little Sister’s scream cuts through the forest like a machete. I grab her and cover her mouth, frightened that there are more Makenyi in the vicinity. The creature does not move or call out to others. It stands there with its axe raised, watching us. We wait in terrified silence, our harsh breaths the only sounds filling the clearing. When the Makenyi finally moves, it does something so strange Little Sister and I look at each other in confusion: it throws its axe to the ground and then beckons for us to follow it. Little Sister shakes her head so violently my hands slide from across her mouth.
“No,” she cries, trying to wrest herself from my arms.
Her words are loud in the quiet forest. The Makenyi flinches and looks around warily. When nothing happens, it covers its mouth with its hands and shakes its head before beckoning to us again.
“I think it is trying to help us,” I whisper to Little Sister. “Look, it threw away its axe and it is not attacking us. It is trying to help us.”
“Or it will take us to where the others are!” Little Sister hisses. Again, the Makenyi looks around nervously, shakes its head, and covers its mouth.
“It is trying to help us,” I say more confidently, taking a step towards it. It nods encouragingly. Little Sister grabs my hand.
“Chigu,” she whimpers. “It will kill us.”
“We are lost,” I snap. “We will surely die if other Makenyi find us wandering around in the forest.”
A loud buzzing sound overshadows my voice and we all crouch as the swarm of beetles return. They fly around us noisily but they sting nobody, not even the Makenyi. And then, just as suddenly as they arrive, the beetles leave, all except for one who I know is my friend. I laugh when I see it. It flies close to my face for a few moments and then flies over to the Makenyi. The creature crouches again as the beetle flies around it and lands on its nose. It rises from its crouched position carefully, arms out and eyes crossed as it focuses on the beetle. The beetle doesn’t fly off. It ripples its wings a few times making its buzzing sound and then flies back to settle on my shoulder. Looking relieved, the Makenyi pats its face and body, checks that its baby is still asleep and grunts in annoyance. Then it laughs. The sound chimes through the forest and the gesture transforms its face completely. Suddenly, I see the young woman under the hair and strange coverings. It strikes me then how similar the Makenyi are to us. They are small and hairy, and their sharpened teeth are strange but that is as far as the differences go. I start to wonder why they hate us so much, but the Makenyi begins chattering in her language. She points at the beetle, waves her hands in the air while making a buzzing sound, and then mimics the beetles stinging. She laughs again and then picks up her axe. Little Sister stiffens beside me, but the Makenyi smiles reassuringly at her, hangs the axe on the girdle around her waist, beckons at us again and walks off into the forest. Little Sister hesitates but I follow the Makenyi, so she has no choice but to come with us. We walk as quietly as we can, our efforts clumsy compared to the near soundless way the Makenyi slips through the forest, sometimes moving so quietly we wouldn’t even know she was there if we didn’t see her walking in front of us. I want to ask her where she is taking us, but I don’t know how to. I know she means us no harm, but we need to be moving away from our village not towards it. I make a questioning sound and the Makenyi looks back when she hears my voice. But then her eyes widen, and she squeaks in alarm before turning around to run, crashing heedlessly through the forest where before, she was careful. We start to run too, knowing there is only one reason the Makenyi would be so afraid. A whistling sound cuts through the air and the Makenyi falls to the ground screaming. My steps falter but she gestures for us to keep running, her eyes wild with fear. When I see the arrow sticking out of her leg, I grab Little Sister’s hand and we run as fast as we can.
You can learn more about “The Runaway Princess and Other Stories” and support the Kickstarter here.