‘Ouch, My Foot!’

By Thabo Makgoba

‘Ouch, my foot!’ yells the King.

‘Please open her jaws! Her teeth are stuck in my hand. I can't bear the pain. She will cut through my veins! Help me, dear King,’ screams the Prince, in deep agony.

The scuffle continues. The King and Prince are sweaty and running out of strength.

The Princess lets go of the Prince’s hand. Her deep bite is like a gorge. There is blood all over the bed. The Prince is visibly shaken.

The Princess is roaring like a lion with a strength of an elephant; after all, that is the royal family totem animal. The King whispers into the Princess’s ear, whilst keeping her pinned down,

‘Darling, darling, calm down, help is on its way.’

‘Let go of me, then. I need the bathroom,’ retorts the Princess, in a rage.

The King begs. ‘You won't you run away?’

The Princess assures the King that she will not, so gently, the King and Prince let go of her but when she has left, they realise the upstairs window is ajar.

The green paint on this sash window is peeling off like crocodile scales. The windowpanes are almost falling off, with dried putty barely helping. The roof of the piano room below, is visible. The roof is a lover’s corner for Indian minors, hadeda, ibis, Egyptian geese and all sorts of sunbirds, doves, and hovering birds of prey and through the uncleaned windowpanes, acorn trees and pine trees decorate the view. A silhouette of the mighty mountain, with green and brown running streams pierces through. The mountain peak hoists the low-lying cloud and lifts the blue sky. All are colored by the crimson autumn sun as doves sing their songs.

The Princess looks through and contemplates flying down and decides not to. Instead, she gets into the bathroom and locks the door.

‘We have been outwitted. What now?’ says the King.

After ten minutes, there is silence, dead silence. A welter of emotions attack the King and the Prince. They fear the worst.

The King bangs on the door, and it's all silent. The King needs the Prince’s strength and wit. He takes off his shirt and throws it to the Prince who wraps his blood-dripping hand. Downstairs, there are voices.

‘Queen, are you there?’ asks the King, in a stressed voice.

Thankfully, the Queen has brought help.

*

Before the onset, the Princess had, for the first time, answered back to the Queen. No one does that in the Palace.          

It was a warm day, the sun shone through the double-sized sash doors on the north side of the piano room. The grand piano was open, and its golden strings glittered like gold from the sunrays and dust particles. Along the fireplace, was another sash window. This one hardly opened as the ropes were always broken. The painter painted them white, and they got stuck. Finally, they broke from the force of the Queen trying to open the window. 

The double door with side window panels next to the piano opened into a courtyard, covered by a vine tree mixed with a pinkish rose bush. In season, they formed a beautiful tapestry of shade and scent. One stair down, there was a central pond with yellow-colored waterlilies and blue stocks of hadeco plants. The fish died a long time ago, as the palace was regularly visited by birds of prey who helped themselves to the timid, trapped fish.

Ten steps down, the lower level of the magnificent garden was decorated with all sorts of beauty: azaleas, agapanthus, white and orange clivia plants, bamboo, camelia, flowering strelitzia, wild guava and wisteria. There were also avocado trees amidst the towering oak and pine trees, creating a palace jungle at the edge of the vast lawn which was big enough for a game of croquet. The boundary was edged by a ravine and further down was a great city river emptying into the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

It was in the piano room that the Princess had answered back to the Queen. She threw the wooden adornment, a religious relic gifted to past kings, which smashed just past the Queen’s feet. Rage was written all over her face, as was fear; the Princess feared that her immense power would overwhelm her. The Queen feared that an actual physical battle would ensue if she went the harsher route and used her own power.

A stalemate, and the Princess stormed out. She yelled at the Queen from the south quad front door and her yell was carried up the majestic mountain range that could be seen from the upstairs dirty windowpane.

In her unique royal melodic voice she cried, ‘Hit me if you want. I’m tired of your over control.’

The message reverberated, carrying through the whole palace and beyond. The embarrassment was huge. The Queen turned pink and shivered uncontrollably.

The Princess dashed up the stairs to her room and every step of her movement made a loud bang on the shiny yellowwood polished floors. In her temper, she counted out loud every step up.

‘One, two, three… eighteen!’ She turned right on the upper landing and dashed through the passageway gasping for air. She passed the upstairs dining room, the lounge, study and the kitchen. Finally, she passed the bathroom and gym and turned right into her bedroom. She slammed the door shut.

*

Before this had all happened, the King had sensed the palace was not functioning as it should have been. It was protecting itself from outside attacks, and not the attacks from within. The palace was both functional and dysfunctional, and the Princess’ spirit was picking this dysfunctionality in the air – or was it just growing pains? Was it a delayed teenage age-appropriate rebellion? The royalty was baffled, but whatever it was, there was an onset of a tsunami, for which they were ill-prepared.

In a military walk, the King marched down the passageway. When a door is shut in the palace, the message is 'back off', even if you have an emergency. A message should be written and slipped under the occupant’s door to be read (which most of the time it was not), but the King broke this sacred rule and called, ‘Princess, princess,’ in his alto voice which was more like a flat D musical note in the morning.

It was by grace, the Princess replied, ‘Yeah, Dad?’

‘Shall we talk?’ said the King, in a timid voice.

The door was unlocked, and the movement of the key was audible. The King could picture the hands of his little Princess struggling to turn the key.

‘Come in, Dad.’ The King stepped in and immediately felt and saw that the Princess had dissociated.

Her first word was, ‘Shush. Because you don't listen; we always listen to you. You see us, but you don't hear us. Your office and title are essential things in your life. We are just silly flowers decorating your royal stature. So, for the first time, shush and listen.’

Then, the Princess began to take off her clothes and threw them, one-by-one out the first-floor window of her room. Helplessly, the King watched as she entered another world. She talked alone as if four other people were in the conversation. She shut her eyes and continued for thirty minutes, ignoring the King.

Finally, the King said, ‘Princess!’ in a thunderous voice, just as the Princess approached the window and was about to throw herself out.

The kingly thunderous voice awoke the Princess and she said, ‘Dad! Where is the Queen and the Prince? They have taken my soul and me away from myself,’ she sobbed. ‘I hate them; I hate them.’

She motioned to run, but the King managed to put his back against the sash window and was in danger should the Princess charge with force. He could see below, not only her clothes, but her bedding too, which had been thrown from the window.

The Queen and the Prince hurried into the room and immediately, the Queen said, ‘We need medical attention,’ and dashed downstairs to phone for an ambulance.

The Prince and King kept watch over the Princess, but she wanted them out of her room. Worried that she would jump, they waited. She finally agreed to wait in the Queen's bedroom but in the passageway, she started swearing at the King. The Prince was so offended and in a loud voice, he scolded her, ‘You cannot say that about Dad.’

That was the cue she was waiting for. She went for the Prince with her newly done extended fingernails. The King tried to restrain her, but with all her strength and weight, she kicked the King and stamped on his foot.

‘Ouch, my foot!’ yelled the King, in deep pain. The arch of his foot was sorely damaged.

Trained in the art of war and used to defusing warring parties, the King calmed the Princess down and together with the Prince, they managed to pin her down and move her to the Queen's bedroom. It was here, where the sash window overlooked the magnificent scene of the mountain and bird life, that the Prince was bitten.

*

The voices downstairs, with the Queen's voice clear, are a great relief and from the locked bathroom, the Princess says, ‘Dad, I’m coming out so that I can dress up and go wherever the Queen wants me to get help.’

The front quad is now full of red, blue, and orange lights. There are three ambulances, three ADT security companies, vans and South African Police Services. It feels like a horror movie, or like a public figure has been murdered.

The King and Prince drop their guard and allow the Princess to exit the bathroom but as she comes out, she has a plan. She charges out at incredible velocity and jumps over the wooden railing from the third level to the ground.

The King and Prince rush and shout, ‘Queen, Queen, shut the doors!’

By providence, the vast and muscular Dutch ambulance driver is preparing a stretcher and restrainer downstairs. On the landing, the Princess falls into him as if into a rugby scrum. This colossal man pins the petit Princess down.

           

The most painful part for the King is when the Princess is restrained, tied to a stretcher, and given an injection to kill her energy. The injection is so fast that in no time, she becomes somebody they don't know; quiet, timid.

She is carried on a stretcher into the ambulance and the King gets into the back of the ambulance with her and a nurse. He tries to engage the Princess, to explain that if she does not engage willingly, she will be committed to involuntary admission and thus become a state belonging. She does not engage.

Sadly, at causality, the King has to sign the involuntary treatment forms. At casualty, she sees a monk and says, ‘Friar, please pray for me.’ It is a very tender moment, and the King sobs quietly.

The attack resurfaces when the medication wears out, and she bites a nurse staff and tears off her braided hair. It is the beginning of a diagnosis which takes years – and lots of love – to understand and heal. But the royals are thankful.

*

Despite, ‘Ouch My Foot’, and a scar on the Prince's hand, the Queen continues to travel extensively, the King has another, even more enormous palace at their ancestral land, and the Princess openly talks about her diagnosis. The doctors now say that she is not the problem, and the one that needs long-term directive therapy is the Prince. The King feels it is the whole royal family that needs healing.

Nowadays, the Princess sings loudly and hums along to Sade songs. The King overhears her sing a particular song several times and she tells him happily, ‘It’s love that got me through all of this.’

As for the Prince… He lives in this glorious palace, which has hosted kings, prophets, and presidents. His wing on the western side of the palace is breathtaking; almost on top of the mountain rage like a tree house, the wing once accommodated the famous politician and statesman after he was released from many years in prison for his ideals.

It was revealed that the Prince used to associate with friends from other palaces whom he envied and he was never content within. He would pilfer small sentimental things from the Princess. The royal family always held the view that the Princess was younger and would learn to share her special things with the prince one day, but it irked the Princess over time, and she developed a deep-seated sibling rivalry. The royal family would say, ‘All will work out in the end,’ as they feared disturbing the royal artificial externalised peace, but over time, this covering-up made the Prince steal more and more, especially the Princess's personal valuables, until a significant outburst and confrontation occurred.

Yes, indeed, the royal palace functioned well like other families; the Queen and King showed love to their precious pigeon pair. They tried to support and communicate with them, though their communication was blurred and unclear, for fear of upsetting the royal peace.

But the Princess would not allow this pattern of concealing, lack of effective communication and glossing over the dysfunctional patterns which ate her soul like the birds of prey ate the fish in the pond. Instead, the Princess was prepared to lacerate herself and force external help into the palace’s royal bubble to burst open its imperfections until all family members were healthier, direct, unmasked, and clear in their communication patterns and general life.

This functional-dysfunctional family, good, loving, and working ideally from outside but emotionally annihilating from within, would not cut it for the Princess. She loosened the dysfunctional bonds of the royal family and oiled the functional aspects to make the royalty, especially the King, look at the family more lovingly than his kingly crown or what was to follow in his epitaph, when, not only his foot was, ‘ouch and broken’, but when ‘the King is dead’.

It was only when the Prince was arrested by the county police for allegedly stealing, and was kept in a prison holding cell awaiting bail for a week, that the royal family realised the depth of the problem.

And so, the Princess was vindicated and set free. It took biting, tearing of hair, professional help, breaking the King’s foot arch and throwing the crucifix at the Queen to get the compulsory support for the Prince.

The royal family now accepts that it is both functional and dysfunctional. The King, Queen and Princess are relieved that the Prince is receiving attention and is slowly learning how to laugh again as he looks at his scar and joins in by singing his own love song.