WRITTEN BY NZEH UCHE
My name is Cherish and I am a high school teacher—I teach Literature. My age is really none of your concern, but be sure I am of marriageable age. Like every other bachelorette in their late thirties, I have a hobby, though rare—my work.
I am strict and I am not complacent. My diligence at marking answer scripts in literature has earned me the honour of always marking the highest number of answer scripts of the literature exam written in various schools which participate in the annual unified exams which are conducted nationwide.
I become excited when I receive the answer scripts which are sent by post and are delivered to me by postmen. I love marking the answer scripts: I draw funny faces on answer scripts that are poorly written and I enjoy reading the well-written ones.
I was in my kitchen on a Thursday evening when I heard my doorbell ring, and I was seventy percent sure it was a postman delivering me examination scripts, owing to the academic staff meeting held earlier in the day where the school’s principal briefed each teacher about the expected examination scripts from the district examination council.
“Come in and drop it on my table,” I said to the postman, pointing at my sitting-room table.
I did the necessities of being the recipient of a post and off he went.
I dashed to the bathroom to get my body and mind refreshed and in no time, I started marking.
I had gone about twenty to thirty scripts when one script reminded me why I loved literature; the script was really overwhelming. The script:
Name: Bryan Akuata
Question: In at least 2500 words, write a story ending with the statement;
“If I was given the chance, I would have it all over again”
Doris, a girl of fantasies and dreams—a princess, and the only child of her parents; great king Zako and queen Henda.
She grew up nurtured with all the affection a princess ever needed. Doris’ father was a philosopher and always took her to the kingdom’s ancient room of scrolls; where men consumed words of earlier ink-masters, learning to follow in their successful faiths. The room housed scrolls of love, hate, rulership and many various ideas on philosophy.
Doris had everything a child raised in affluence could possess, but freedom from the choices of her parents evaded her. She had stayed in the castle all her life—being kept away from the outside world.
Doris craved for atmosphere outside the walls of the castle. She wanted a taste of real life tragedies, but most importantly, love—the warmth it instils in the heart of whoever succumbs to the power it wields, was her sole desire—she longed for the feeling of being in-love.
Yes! She had read it countless times, but she wanted a feel of it; she wanted to be “Nkechi” from her last love scroll. How Alex played the hero and saved the day, but her permanent stay in the castle was a barrier to such experience.
On her 18th birthday, she pleaded the throne sitters to permit her a visit to the rare ‘Mount Shakata’ were a strange waterfall produces both hot and cold water.
King Zako was a bit hesitant at first because Doris hardly left the castle and had no knowledge of the cruel nature outside it, but since it was her eighteenth birthday, he didn’t want to denial her such request. The king ordered his commander and fifty soldiers were readied to accompany Doris.
“Don’t you think the escort of fifty soldiers is uncalled for?” Doris inquired from her mother who was helping her prepare for the journey.
“Your father is only being concerned and protective of you dear; it’s no news that there are rogues lurking in the woods looking for rich victims who would feed their selfish pangs of hunger with paid ransom.” Queen Henda replied as she continued to dress Doris.
“I know how to use a bow and arrow like no other, I’ve fought mighty men in hand-to-hand combat, and made them eat the dust beside my boots, so I doubt if a gang of ruthless men would make a mark.”
“Yes you do my child, but you know nothing of an actual fight—about killing a man, the fear in his eyes as he takes his last breath and all that.”
The two women talked more at length, with the conversation ending with a hug.
Princess Doris stepped into a wagon strapped to four horses, riding beside soldiers each on their horses, as they left the castle.
Doris kept her bow and a bunch of arrows beside her for easy reach. She had always prided herself as one with awesome reflexes at the sight of danger. Her archery skills were unmatched.
Doris paid close attention to movements in the woods along their journeying path. She was well ready for the rogues her father was scared of. She opened the curtains of the windows, left ajar, every once in a while inquiring status of their journey from the soldier atop the wagon controlling the horses.
At almost sunset—up ahead along a narrow path, was a massive fallen tree—it blocked their path. A soldier approached the princess, trying to tell her the issues at hand. But as he conveyed the information to her, an arrow flung from the woods piercing his side. The soldier fell to the ground.
“Ambush! Ambush! Ambush!” The wounded soldier alerted.
“Protect! the princess.” The leading soldier screamed.
The soldiers gathered around the wagon—some brought out their swords, flourishing it, and archers took a post, as they all searched intently with their eyes trying to locate the direction of the attack.
Princess Doris backed her arrows; readied for the worst, but remained in the wagon, closing all windows.
The archers amongst the soldiers held their bow and arrow in place; putting the arrow on the bowstring, ready to return the attack, but nothing seemed to move in the woods—it was almost like the previous arrow didn’t come from that direction.
More arrows flew from the other side of the narrow road—they were being attacked from both sides. The attackers aimed at the archers first; killing five soldiers and wounding three—with the shooters still not on-site; they really knew how to hide in the shadows.
The thwack of the arrows on the wagon stirred Doris.
The princess jumped out of the wagon hoping all her life’s training would pay off—she commanded; “All shields up.”
The soldiers instantly obeyed—for she had always trained with them for any such instance. The remaining soldiers formed a circle around Doris; and with this stand, they were less vulnerable—they had eyes everywhere.
The thugs stopped the arrows; they didn’t want to mistakenly shoot the Princess as she stood with her soldiers—she was their target.
Some ruthless men rushed out from the woods with their axes, hammers, swords; screaming with the intent of disorganization, charging towards the princess and her soldiers.
In bewilderment, it dawned on Doris that it was the actual fight queen Henda, her mother had told her she was devoid of.
She was fearless, but sensitive too, as she ordered them to stand their ground. She was not terrified by their shouting or subdued by their noise.
She raised her bow, concentrating on her targets as they came closer and closer to her formation.
Doris reached for her arrows. She narrowed her eyes, shutting out the rest of the world—the calmness she felt amidst everything, the sounds of their feet as they charged towards her—she forced herself to see only their foreheads, at a distance like she had always trained.
Doris shot at them; the arrows splitting open every forehead it came in contact with—the arrows were one of a kind; the arrow-head forged from a rare alloy, its body, made from the finest trees in their land—they were carved by her own hands and they went distances an ordinary arrow wouldn’t.
Princess Doris fought gallantly as did her soldiers but it seemed like the attackers were infinite. They soon were outnumbered and her arrow-case was empty. She watched as the last soldier fell and she charged to no avail.
The princess was then held put by five men as she struggled for freedom—it was clear they didn’t want her dead. One of the men placed white clothing over Doris’ nose leaving her unconscious as the men gathered the horses and many other things they deemed valuable from the travelling party.
The noise of amusements in the thugs’ camp woke the sleeping beauty—she arouses in a cage, stripped of her jewels and hidden weapons as she checked and found none. She noticed a fellow captive, asleep at the other side of the cage—from her observation, she was sure it was a Man. When fully aware of herself, the princess went closer to the lock of the cage. She quickly reached for her mouth, removing two tiny rods linked on her teeth—then she tried picking the lock.
“I have done that already princess to no avail,” a baritone voice from the other end of the cage sounded.
Doris looked around and couldn’t find the speaker. Then, she was sure it came from the lying man—but he barely moved a muscle.
She kept trying but all her efforts were futile—she knew she would have picked the lock, if only she didn’t skip the key maker’s classes while growing up.
Later that night, a man, escorted by two men holding torches approached the cage. He said;
“Well! Well! Well! What do we have here?”
The two prisoners rose to the man’s speeches.
The prisoners held the burglar-proof of the cage, gifting the man who seemed like the leader of the thugs’ audience.
He looked towards the princess saying,
“My name is General Kura and you are now my prisoner; you will surely fetch me huge,”
The princess stared at him in disgust and hate for detention was not part of her plans.
General Kura turned to the other prisoner—a handsome young man, saying,
“You! Even your archery skills couldn’t prevent your capture—best archer my foot.” General Kura spat to a side.
The young man fumed with anger at the general but didn’t say a word as the general left, laughing gibingly with his men.
Princess Doris was in awe that the self-acclaimed general did not mention her own archery skills. She tried to remember how she shot the thugs before her capture; she knew she didn’t miss any forehead—her shots were all on point. So why would Kura take note of this strange man’s skills but not hers? Doris wondered—she was face to face with a mixed feeling; of jealousy and competition.
Sure! She was in wonder why the archery—her life’s training didn’t speak loud enough to her captives.
The young man sat with disappointment, giving a close look at his palms, he clenched them feeling revenge of some sort. The princess barely removed her eyes from him, she took note of his every move, admiring his physique—she was curious what his story was—she also wanted to know what made him tick.
Such huge arms, chest like a broad board of archery target—he was a complete man. She had trained with handsome and well-built men, but his configuration was unique, with a touch she knew she had never seen—only read from scrolls.
The young man still bowing down, said,
“Princess, are you not tired of admiring me? Should I let loose my short so you can have the whole me?”
The Princess quickly removed her eyes from him and responded,
“I was just surprised that, that filth of a man, called you the best archer when I know I am the best,”
“Oh! Really? So what competition graced you the opportunity to such assumption?” The young man inquired as he laughed at her.
“The ones we usually have in our kingdom,”
“Princess, I am Dada by the way,” he said as he continued to laugh.
“What is so amusing?” Doris asked, confused.
“Well, there is a way to settle this. Am a dueller, are you in for one?” Dada asked.
“Yes, I am” Doris affirmed with all boldness.
The both prisoners employed the attention of their detainers. General Kura heard of the duel and agreed since the night of merriment was lacking some sort of entertainment. The thugs—both old and young were ready for the night’s duel.
The prisoners came out in shackles bounding both hands but enough to use a weapon and were handed a single arrow each but just a bow—so that none would feel his or her bow was in any way less enhanced than the others.
Dada looked everywhere like he was in search of something; he stared at nothing in particular. The thugs were always on the move—nothing there was familiar. He saw their horses all at one place, their wine kegs, a forest path and so many other things he could place his eyes on.
One of the hoodlums hit Dada, telling him to focus on why he was let out of the cage.
Princess Doris collected the bow, with her arrow in hand; she closed her ears to every sound. She focused on her life’s training. She measured the target with her eyes—it was just thirty feet—easy for an archer that makes a hundred feet.
She shot right in the middle—piece of cake. She smiled at Dada, knowing he would tear her arrow into halves to shoot in the middle.
Dada returned the smile, collected the arrow and made the shot.
The princess was not bothered—even the worst archer in her land would make the shot.
General Kura ordered his men to take the target farther, and it was taken to forty feet. The duel continued with each increment of ten feet, as both archers kept hitting the middle point of the target.
Dada kept making eye contact with Doris, but her keenness to win the duel afforded her no comprehension.
She knew she would win when it got to a hundred feet.
When the target was placed at eighty feet, the princess took her shot and hit the middle mark, again with ease. The crowd cheered—the bets were on; every shot was an opportunity to make money for the thugs.
Dada positioned for his shot, faced his target, stretched his bow with the arrow in place, then, suddenly turned at the gathered horses, shot at them and routed them; they all scattered causing a stampede.
That was the opportunity he needed for an escape; he bided his time, waiting, plotting, planning, and looking for the perfect time. The duel with the princess had gifted him one.
The horses ran over the men, hitting their torches which in turn hit their tents; burning it. Dada and Doris with the shackles in their hands fought the hoodlums close to them. They both then made for the forest path.
“Come on! Follow me.” Dada shouted, leading the way.
The men were greatly puzzled—they had loosed horses; their transport. Escaped prisoners; their ransom.
Some went after the horses and others after Dada and Doris.
As the princess and Dada ran, they argued;
“Why are you so keen on proving you can hold an arrow in place with a bow?” Dada asked.
“Oh! Is that what it is to you? I am simply trying to show that I am the best.” Doris responded.
“Those are dreams of a naive princess. Do you rather win the duel and always have dirty tea with thugs?”
“How was I to know you even had an escape plan?”
They argued more as they entered the forest.
The escapees ran as fast as their legs could carry them. General Kura and his men followed suit. The forest housed huge trees giving Doris and Dada hiding places.
The two tried to catch their breath behind two trees, but an arrow that missed Dada’s head put them to running again—it was shot by one of Kura’s men. Doris was tired; they were both tired of running. They stopped.
Dada gestured with his pointer and middle finger; signalling Doris to hide. They hid awaiting the pursuers to approach. The four men noticed Dada and the princess had stopped running, as they, in stealthy motions searched Dada and Doris’ location.
As Kura’s men came closer to the trees where the escapees hid, one of the men stepped on dry fallen tree branch giving Doris and Dada their enemies’ exact location. The two attacked; two Kura’s men for each of them. The princess and Dada were both skilful, showing credibility in combat. They now had weapons; the princess, a bow, and bunch of arrows, Dada, two swords.
They helped each other remove the shackles.
“Do you know where we are?” Doris asked.
“I think I do. With the colors of the trees and chill of the air—we are in Auramo forest.
“Auramo! I thought it was all a myth. My grandfather always told me of its magical presence—the inhabiting creatures and how humans are not allowed to pass, exemption of the royal family of the all powerful Donne kingdom.” Princess Doris replied with surprise and bewilderment fronting on her face.
“Well, am sure it’s no myth. But the part where you said humans don’t pass is. Come on; let’s hurry up before Kura’s men catch up.”
The night was perfect cover as Dada and Doris moved through the magical forest. The forest made way for them as they passed.
So, deep into the night, they decided to rest, making a fire with fallen branches to warm their night.
As they retired close to the fire in the light to warm themselves, Dada laid on dried leaves with stone as a pillow for his head. Doris watched him adoringly, imagining what a love story would look like between them both. All she had ever read and wished about love came rushing to her—the perfect love tale of Nkechi and Alex was in the picture again. Oh! Doris wished she would live that life but she could not make it happen. She didn’t know how to start a conversation with him or even what to say to him, as he gradually became a slave to sleep.
As night rode on the privilege of existence, Doris could not sleep; she was falling for a man she barely even knew. She caused more heart trouble for herself as she continued to stare at the sleeping Dada.
Suddenly, the atmosphere glowed, of white shiny flowers; they floated all around Doris, it was amazing.
“They glow, whenever a person needed companion—like a friend,” Dada said, still lying.
His voice shook her heart—it had come unannounced. It meant he knew she was staring. Doris quickly laid and slept.
At dawn, Dada and Doris rose to complete their journey. Dada was ahead leading the way, while Doris followed. As they walked, a single arrow flew from the woods shot from a distance made its stop in front of Dada’s front foot.
“Who dares to enter the mighty kingdom of Donne through the magical forest?” a voice sounded.
Hearing this, Dada smiled; it was expected of them. Without a word, Dada kept moving on, Doris followed because he seemed confident.
At the end of the forest were guards in shiny armors. Dada approached with a smile for he was finally home.
All the guards knelt before him in respect.
“My prince, sire! we have stayed here for days awaiting your return as instructed by your father,” a front guard said, still bowing.
Doris was in awe, she had been with the prince of a place she thought was a myth—one of the most powerful kingdoms ever. Now she was sure her grandfather’s tales about the Auramo forest allowing only Donne royalty passage was true. What made it stranger was, Dada did not ever mention it—not like they talked for long but, for the case of royalty, bragging is a right. At least that’s what she was taught.
“I have missed him too,” Dada responded.
Dada had missed his father but most importantly, his wife—he was happily married.
Dada, Doris, and the guards rode on horses as they headed to the throne-place.
At the castle, a beautiful woman approached. Dada alighted from the horse and the two hugged, feeling welcomed in each other’s arms and kissed for a while.
Doris, still on her horse, was stunned. She finally realized why Dada never returned the stares—the prince was married. It was clear the love story that played in her head, already had its own “nkechi”. In her head, motions became slow and thoughts attained louder voices; her heart pounded; heat coursed through her skin. She felt competition again.
“Take this woman with me to the king, so we would figure out how to get her safely home, I shall be with you in a jiffy,” Dada said to his guards, still attending to his wife.
The king was happy his son had returned home, so he allowed an archery competition and merriment.
Doris and Dada had a score to settle.
“Now you will see why general Kura called me the best,” Dada said to Doris as he shot the 110 feet ranged target.
Doris amazed with his shot, place her arrow in place—she knew she had never made such a shot before, but backing down would mean defeat.
The crowd cheered, all eyes on her—only splitting Dada’s arrow meant she was still in the game. Her heart raced and finally, she let go the arrow. As it flew, tearing through even the soft wind, the tail of the arrow danced along the path it was commanded by its shooter, and before it could reach the target, Doris heard her name.
Deep, but real, again and again, she heard it like a voice in her head, but way in the back like an echo.
“Why are you sleeping in the cinema?” Doris’ sister asked.
The saliva from her drool was dropping into her popcorn. She woke, noticing four eyes staring at her.
“So it was all a dream?” Doris said inaudibly, her heart sank into her boots.
It was her sister’s birthday and the boyfriend suggested they all go see a movie.
Doris thought hard, trying to get every possibly lost fragment of the dream.
With excitement in her heart, she uttered; “If I was given the chance, I would have it all over again.” She said under her breath, made a face and smiled.
Image credit pinterest.com