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The Poor Man and His Princess
By Mark Martinez
A long time ago, when kingdoms were still emerging, there lived a poor man. He lived all alone in his hut just west of the rice fields and north of the okra. This man was indeed quite poor, and lived in a short, small hut made of stone, mud and grass. Considering its size and the materials from which it was made, it was a rather strong home, which the man was content with. In it, the poor man had one stool, and only one mat to sleep on, his bed. He also had a small pile of old books that he had found abandoned in the marketplace in the nearby village. The man kept the inside of his home very clean as well. Outside, the man had a very small plot of soko yokoto*, and a small well. Although it was very little, the man had just enough to sustain himself. It was without a doubt a poor mans home. Still, this poor man was quite grateful for having what he had.
The man was alone. No one really bothered with him because he really had nothing to offer. Although he was quite intelligent and kind, everyone in the nearest village thought of him as an outcaste. The man preferred being alone either way. No one really understood why. So they would make up stories about him.
One story told was that he was a lion in human form that was kicked out of his pride because he was not strong enough to protect the food.
Another story told was that the man was a son of a king. And he left his kingdom to marry a poor woman. The woman then left him because he could not provide for a family.
Regardless of what the man’s true story was, he lived well with what little was given to him on earth, and he appreciated it.
One evening, while the man slept, there was a noise outside his hut. At first the man ignored the noise, thinking that it was just the wind. Then there was another loud noise that finally woke the man completely. When the man went outside to investigate, he saw nothing. He then went back inside. He heard the noise again. The noise did not really concern him because there were never any dangerous animals in the area, and people never bothered him. He simply disregarded the noise as wandering vermin or birds.
He then heard the noise again. But this time, the noise was much louder. When he went outside again and looked around, he could not find anything that could be making the noise he had heard. Then, when he walked around his hut, he heard foot steps. When he heard the footsteps, he walked around the hut to follow them. As he walked faster, he heard the footsteps move faster. The faster he walked, the faster the footsteps he heard became. He then began to run and saw a shadow. He began to chase the shadow. When he began to chase the shadow he heard a giggle.
The man then stopped.
He heard the giggle again.
He then began to chase the small shadow again, and heard the laugh and scream of a child. It was the sound of a child who was playing. Finally, he stopped and ran the other way tricking whomever it was that was running and caught him… or her.
When the man grabbed what or whomever it was that he was chasing, it let out a high pitched scream and a laugh.
The man was shocked to see what he had caught. It was a little girl. He could not believe it.
“Why would a little girl be out here?” The man thought. “And where are her parents?”
The man began to look around. He walked for some distance around his home, but could not find anyone. He walked further and further away from his home, and finally realized that there was no one. The man became very tired and noticed the child getting tired as well. He then decided that he would continue his search in the morning.
When he returned to the hut, the little girl immediately walked over to the man’s bed to lie down. The man became a bit irritated, telling the child that that was his bed. But the child fell asleep leaving the man without a place to lie. Tired and choosing not to awaken the child, the man found an old cloth, rolled it up, and laid his head on it as he lay on the cold floor.
The next morning the man took the child to the nearby village to see if anyone would recognize her. From one market to the next, the man asked if anyone recognized the child to no avail. The man and child were even pushed out of some market areas because he was not purchasing or trading anything. The man walked the child around asking if anyone knew her. And while he thought that someone would take her even if she was not theirs, no one did.
There was though one woman who said that she would take her and find her parents. But the little girl would not go with her. The woman was mean. As she spoke to the man, she was disrespectful to him. Also, as she spoke, she would whip her two children if they moved away from her.
The little girl refused to go. When the man would push her towards the woman, the little girl would grab the man by the waist and not let go. Finally, the man decided to keep her.
When it became late, the man and the little girl made their way to his hut. The man decided that they would continue looking in the morning.
She was a pretty little girl with beautiful big eyes and glowing brown skin.
“Someone must be missing you,” the poor man thought. “Someone must be looking for you.”
On their way back to the man’s hut, the man walked over to a nearby field and sneakily picked some roots for the evening. When they made it to his hut, the man retrieved some water from his well, took some leaves from his small plot and cooked some soup for him and the little girl.
While they ate, the man tried talking to the little. But it appeared that she did not understand him. She simply giggled at the man and continued eating. When they were finished eating, the man began to clean up and saw the little girl making herself comfortable on his bed.
“No!” the man exclaimed. Refusing to allow what happened the night before to happen again.
But the little girl quickly fell asleep. When the man finished cleaning, he took his cloth, laid it of the ground and walked over to the little girl. As he went to pick the child up to lay her on the cloth, he was captivated by her innocence; her loveliness. He then walked over to the cloth on the floor and lay down.
Years passed and the poor man remained poor. Only now, he had an extra person in his home. For some time in the beginning, the man did continue to look for the little girl’s home. But he never found anyone who was missing a child. So the man kept the little girl and raised her.
As the little girl grew, the man taught her how to speak his language and how to maintain their small plot of land and care for their home.
Growing up, the man did have a mother and a sister so he did have some knowledge of how to care for a girl. And so he taught her how to care for herself to the best of his abilities. And the man did well.
And everyday, they would eat the same meal; she would sleep on the same old bed and he slept on the same cloth on the same floor.
Sometimes the man would feel bad that he did not have a lot more to offer the girl. He sometimes would even suggest that it would be best for her to live with someone else. But the child told the man that she was happy where she was. She even began to call the man her father although the man told her not to.
“I am not your father,” the man would insist. “Why would you want a poor man like me to be your father anyway?” He would asked.
The girl, now many years older and more mature, would giggle. “Because, Father,” she would answer. “No other man or woman, rich or poor, would have done a better job raising me. You took me in when you had no room. You managed to feed me when there was little food. You raised me, played with me, loved me and taught when it was not your obligation. You let me sleep in you bed, sit on your stool, eat your food, and read your books… You let me into your life after you were accustomed to being alone for so long. You are indeed my father.”
The man, now old, would scoff.
Time passed. And although the girl was appreciative of all that she had been given, she did dream like every other girl would dream. Reading the books from the old man’s pile gave her ideas of fantasies. Although she was older and mature, she would still play by herself as her father did his chores. She would pretend that she was a princess. She would pretend that her hut was a castle and that the small plot of soko yokoto was her land.
When she and the man would go to the marketplace, she would ask for bracelets and beautiful clothing. But the man could not afford it.
She would of course understand and humbly stop asking.
As the girl became older, she began to feel that she was meant to do great things. One day she told the old man what she felt.
“Father,” she said. “Have you ever felt like you were meant to do great things?”
“I knew this day would come,” the man said. “I knew that you would eventually see that there is nothing here and that you would want more and want to leave.”
“I don’t want to leave!” She exclaimed. “I am simply wondering. I would never wan to leave you. You have given me everything. Why would I leave you?”
Feeling bad for the way her father felt, the girl never brought the subject up again.
Early one morning, there was a call at their hut. When the poor old man went out, he saw a group of men dressed in the richest of clothing. When the poor old man asked what the men wanted, the men explained that many years ago a princess was lost. She was the daughter of a king from the eastern region, who was touring the lands. While visiting the many neighboring regions, the little girl disappeared. They had spent years looking for her to no avail due to the vast size of the regions. The king had passed away making a final wish for his subjects to continue looking for his daughter and to bring her home to her kingdom.
When the girl came out of the hut, the men immediately bowed noticing her remarkable resemblance to the queen, who had died many years before.
The men realized that she was the child princess that they had been looking for. They then quickly took hold of the old man, accusing him of kidnapping the princess.
The girl stopped the men and explained their story.
After understanding the girl’s story, the men released the old man and insisted that the girl come home. But the girl refused.
The men then laughed. They could not understand why she would want to live in such poverty knowing that there was a great kingdom awaiting her.
The old man then said to the girl, “Go! It is what you have always wanted. Remember when you asked me about feeling like you were meant to do great things?” the old man asked. “This is it. You were meant to be a princess.”
The girl thought for a moment. She then turned to the men and said “I will go.”
When the old man heard the girl say that she would go, he felt immediate heartache. Still, he understood. He always knew that the girl was not his to begin with and that one day he was going to have to let her go.”
“… But I am bringing my father with me!” she said.
Surprised, the men refused. “Your father was the king. Not this man.”
“Then I will not go,” she said. “The king is no longer alive and this man raised me like his own. So I am not leaving him.”
“But what about your kingdom?” the men asked.
The girl thought. Deep inside, she always wondered what it would be like to have a great kingdom. It was something she had only read about in books. And it can now be a reality for her.
Then, to the girl’s surprise, her father said, “I am not leaving my home. This has been my home for many years. And although it is poor and small, it is mine. It was meant for me, and I am not leaving it.”
Knowing that there is a much better place for the child that he has grown to love more than anything he has ever known, the man then said holding back his sadness, “Child, go to your home! Go to the kingdom that is given to you. Go to what was meant for you.”
The poor man knew that there was no place for him in a faraway kingdom. He was used to living where his was. He also thought that he would just be in the way. He was a poor man who would not be accepted where the girl was from no matter what she would say. The people of the kingdom may even reject her if they found that she lived as a peasant, the man thought. He was convinced that he could not go.
The girl wanted to argue. But the old man interrupted.
“Go!” He yelled. “This was not your home in the first place! I raised you, kept you fed and alive so that you could live for this moment. Now go! Go away!”
Understanding the sentiment of the old man, the subject in charge took hold of the girl and said, “You will have much more in your kingdom, Princess. In due time, you may even come back. But there is nothing for you here.” He then turned to the old man and said, “Old man, we thank you for taking care of the princess, we leave you two goats and fourteen thousand shells. Please be in peace.”
Speechless, the girl went with the men.
When the men left with his child, the man went into his hut and silently sat. When night fell, he stared at the bed where the girl he accepted as his child slept. He then took his old cloth rolled it up and placed it under his head as he lay on the floor. But he could not sleep for he was too sad.
Hours later, in the middle of the night there was a noise outside the hut. At first the man ignored the noise, thinking that it was just the wind. Then there was another loud noise that finally caused the man to go outside. When the man went to investigate, he saw nothing. He then went back inside. He then heard the noise again. But this time, the noise was much louder. When he went outside again and looked around, he could not find anything that could be making the noise he had heard. Then, when he walked around his hut, he heard foot steps. When he heard the footsteps, he walked around the hut to follow them. As he walked faster, he heard the footsteps move faster. The faster he walked, the faster the footsteps he heard became. He then began to run, and saw a shadow. He began to chase the shadow. When he began to chase the shadow he heard a giggle.
He then stopped and began to cry. However, his cry was not of sadness but of joy.
He then heard the giggle again.
The poor old man then began to chase the shadow again and heard the laugh and a playful scream of a young girl. Finally, he stopped turned, and began to run the other way around the hut. With a great smile and tears of joy, the man saw his daughter running towards him with her arms wide open. He then opened his arms and gave his daughter a great big hug.
“Why did you come back?” the man asked.
“Because, father, I am your princess and this is our kingdom!”
* Soko yokoto-(Lagos Spinach) Celosia- a broadleaf annual leaf vegetable grown in West Africa, the West Indies, Mexico, northern South America, South, East and Southeast Asia.