Today is my wedding day.

I should be in school, writing my year-end exams, but I’m here in the chief’s court, adorned with beads on my head that act as a veil, with a blanket draped over my shoulders and a black, beaded A-line knee length skirt covering my legs.

I feel angry, helpless and betrayed. The people who were meant to protect me led me to this hellhole, and I’ve been sold like livestock, to be a wife.

I was snatched by a bunch of men while I was walking home from school with a friend one afternoon. I remember that it was a pleasant day. The warmth of the sun was just right, and I had received my test results for science and biology. I achieved straight A’s, and I was ecstatic. It meant that in two years’ time once I finish high school, I could pursue veterinary sciences and help with taking care of animals on our family farm and in the community.

My kidnapping happened so fast that it’s a blur. They put a sack over my head while overpowering me, and I remember kicking and screaming for help before they hit me over the head and I blacked out.

I was at the back of a 4×4 bakkie as it trekked through the mountains. It was a bumpy ride, and the head was throbbing from being bashed by these human traffickers dragging me through the Drakensburg. My hands were bound together so that I wouldn’t attempt to jump out of the moving vehicle.

I was frightened that they would rape and kill me. It’s the first thing you think of as a young girl being kidnapped. What else would they want with a female body?

After days of trekking through the mountains, I finally arrive at a village, exhausted, starved and almost dehydrated. My strength is depleted, so through my blurry vision, all I can see is an array of huts and a bunch of women coming towards me. They grab me by my arms and I collapse.

I don’t know how long I’ve been unconscious for, but when I woke up, I was in a hut with three mid-aged women. They told me that they were here to look after me and to prepare me for my big day. They also warned me not to attempt to escape, for I was far from home and the herd boys knew the terrain very well and could easily find me.

Part of being a woman, they said, was accepting your fate and respecting authority, putting aside your expectations and doing right by your family. They told me that being here was my father’s wish. The chief of this village sent a request to neighboring villages far and wide some months ago in search of a wife, and obviously, my father heeded the call and submitted my name for his request.

My mother had no say in the matter because according to tradition, wives are seen and not heard, so this disabled her from protecting me. The three women told me that my father put forward a good word about me, resulting in a high lobola (a bride price) payment that made him a wealthy man. I was to wed the chief’s only surviving child, his son, and become a member of the royal family.

When they said this, ululating and celebrating, I felt as though I had been stabbed through the heart. How could my father pass me off to another family, another village, another tribe without considering me? Was I nothing more than a monetary exchange to him? My future, hopes, and dreams were taken from me in the name of tradition, and I had no say in it.

The day of the wedding came, and I refused to get out of bed. The three women that were with me forced me into my wedding outfit and towards to the door. It had been days since I’d seen the sunlight, so I was blinded for a moment before my eyes adjusted.

I heard ululating, drumbeats and singing. People were actually celebrating this nonsense, and they thought that I was happy. Two of the three women held me by my arms, pushing me forward as I refused to walk. My face was covered with the veil of beads so I couldn’t make out where I was being taken.

I was obviously being hauled towards my soon-to-be husband. Who would’ve known that the walk down the aisle would feel like death?

As soon as I reached him, he removed my beaded veil according to custom. To my astonishment, a woman was standing before me, and not a man. My father had forcibly given my hand in marriage to the chief’s daughter, his only surviving child, who is lesbian and rightful heir to the throne.
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