The Price of a Kingdom – A Poem

brown girl
[Illustrated by Shebani Rao]

Brown Girl is born during the peak of a meteor shower on a clear summer night.
Her first cries perfume the village air as the azaan echoes across the jungle canopy,
sewing its way into the fabric of her life.

Brown Girl is the first grandchild in her family so, naturally, Brown Girl is always made a fuss of.
Brown girl is showered in stories of a how a raja from a faraway land will arrive on his royal elephant, entourage in tow,
deck Brown girl in gold and jewels and the finest silk,
and whisk her away to places she can only dream of.

Brown Girl crosses continents, oceans, worlds…
and ends up on an alien planet with unfamiliar languages and porcelain people
who stare at Brown Girl’s cinnamon soaked skin as if it is something out of old worn out sepia photographs they’d seen in encyclopedias.
Brown Girl grows up, trying to call this place home.

Brown Girl’s aunties while away their time creating paper garlands of potential brown boy suitors,
roping them around her neck.
They take a step back.
Pull her chin towards them.
And admire the fruits of their practiced craftsmanship.

Brown boy suitors who stand gingerly against their mantelpieces being sure to make the most of their 5ft and 6 inches of masculinity.
Brown Girl is too brown for them.
Her skin hasn’t had enough time to be watered down by the acid rain of this foreign land to burn itself into the perfect shade of wife.
Brown Girl carries her wide hips, thick thighs and dark lips with too much confidence for their liking.
Her body didn’t take too well to being bent and warped out of its natural shape to please the eyes of those who still choose to have colonised minds.

Brown Girl realises – she will never be good enough for the raja her parents painted with their words.
But
Brown Girl also realises – rajas aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

Brown Girl discovers that love doesn’t always wear a crown or jewels or a silk sherwani.
Sometimes
he arrives outside London Bridge station on a bitter January evening, in a black trench coat, a woolly scarf that has seen more than a winter or two
and a smile, that feels like coming home.

Brown Girl’s love doesn’t pass laws from a throne room or declare war on foes. Instead,
he sings- sweet melodies into her heart, his notes tangle themselves with the verses of the azaan creating a new theme tune to her life.
He writes – of pain, of self-realisation, of things that could never be.
How Brown Girl dreams of being the words he breathes into life with the perfect twist of his tongue and the easy caress of his mouth.

Brown Girl was always taught that a woman’s grace lies in lowering her eyes and speaking only when she is spoken to before a man.
Yeah…
Brown Girl kinda forgot that memo when her love made love to her for the first time on his living room floor.
The intensity of innocence between two first timers blooming beneath each other’s touch cannot be contained in the fluttering lashes of a downcast gaze or a pregnant silence that hangs in the air.
Brown Girl…
came alive that night, in more ways than one.

Brown Girl’s love traces his fingers over every stretch mark and every scar,
mapping, memorising the constellations of her body
he never wants her to forget,
the infinite galaxies she carries with her.
His icy breath ignites the pigment in her skin like gunpowder until Brown Girl
finally
burns into life in the truest shade of love she has ever known.

Brown Girl used to look at this foreign planet through the underside of a glass bottom boat.
She knew exactly how it worked but her perspective was too alien for them.
But
Brown Girl’s love made this submarine she was drowning in feel like home.
He reminded her how to breathe even when her lungs had collapsed in on themselves because the only thing they were full with was…rejection.

And now as Brown Girl stares out into the city lights that replaced her meteor showers decades ago,
he kisses stars into the crook of her neck.

Brown Girl knows brown parents will never accept this titleless love she claimed for herself.

But
Brown Girl also knows that rajas and kingdoms come at too high a price in this strange place where brick and mortar demand a premium
while the legacy her ancestors left in her veins
can be bled out of her, simply in exchange for…acceptance.

Brown Girl’s love wants for nothing but her.
And as two souls finally welcome each other home,
the ripples in the river mix with the lights in the sky and dance in the pools of their eyes.
They taste the salt that finds its way to mouths that drink from each other. And
once again,
Brown Girl’s cries perfume the city air.
Only this time,
in celebration of a love that dared to be born.


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Orin Begum
Orin Begum is a corporate finance lawyer working in an international law firm in London, after having graduated with a law degree from the University of Oxford. She stumbled into poetry in her final year of university as a way to address her experiences of being a South Asian Muslim woman in a predominately white middle class university. In order to keep up with her love for spoken word poetry despite her hectic work schedule, she performs regularly at the Yoniverse Collective’s ‘Golden Tongues’ poetry night. Her poetry is inspired by the struggles and strength of South Asian women, her experiences with colourism and body shaming in her own community and the complications of growing up as a 1.5 generation immigrant in a council estate in East London. Outside of work and poetry, Orin works with various social mobility charities as a mentor to help increase access to the top jobs in the City for people of colour and those from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds.