Shuri Udaku has on a personally customized pink off-the-shoulder, the typography reading ‘If the crown fits’; micro braids done in a princess Leia up-do; and a foretelling bright smile that she doesn’t even bother to fake when she arrives to the dining room, late, and slides into her assigned seat for supper that evening.
“Happy Thursday,” she greets, the attention turning from the platters of food before her family.
Her hyper attention taken notice, queen Ramona watches her daughter, idly plucking at a loose thread on the hem of her sleeve, and then checks the time. Shuri smiles widely as she takes her seat. She's late, but it isn't commented on.
“You’re very exuberant today, aren't you?” she calls out, sounding impressed.
Shuri adjusts in her seat, smoothes out a crease in her clothes underneath her butt. Her smile still hasn't lessened its brightness, though its size has diminished. She shrugs in good nature.
"Did something happen today?" her mother asks, returning to her helping of dinner. Her hands elegant and moves poise
Again, Shuri shrugs, smiling. "Nothing in particular that's outstanding." Her attempt to play innocent fails, and she grins around a moral of food in her mouth.
Across, her brother, too watches, and is much more outward with his suspicion as his forefingers slide around the rough edges of his beard. "You do seem rather happy today, Shuri. Chipper. You mind sharing some of whatever you had today, please," he partially teases. "We need it. especially Mother."
"You're one to talk," Ramona partially scoffs, partially chuckles. She smiles at her children—smiles that everything has returned to normal. The pieces of meat she eats and cuts are small and carefully practiced.
"What, am I not allowed to smile or be happy around here anymore?" The youngest Udaku feeling quite perplexed.
"Not with that smile," her brother gives. "That smile is the one you give when you've been up to something."
The princess rolls her eyes. "Wow. Hurtful." She isn't really; it's a joke. "No faith in me, brother?"
"I have faith that you're up to something," he speaks as he raises a cup to his lips.
At an angle between them, Ramona rolls her eyes at their playful quips.
"That's so offensive. Why would I be up to something?"
Again, but terribly concealed, Ramona barks a laugh. It's covered up—albeit sorely—by her placing a loving hand on her daughter's shoulder.
Shuri stares. "Wow..."
"Oh, you're allowed to be happy, dear. But you look like last time, when—when you were binge watching those videos—"
"Vines," Shuri corrects, a little smugly.
T'Challa points at his sister in agreement, "yes." At the same time, his mother adds, "that's all he meant."
Shuri nods. And directs to T'Challa, "and, no. I wasn't watching them this this time."
The chatter dies down as they return to their dinner, the room filled with sounds of used plates, and consuming good food and drink. Shuri's bright mood carries on.
It's been full, busy that day. And at some times, dinner is the one calming period they get, when they're able to relax, and be together as a family again.
In a room down a hall hangs a portrait of their late father and husband, T'Chaka. Some times Ramona finds herself staring at the portrait, runs a thin, manicured finger down the curve of his cheek. T'Challa hasn't been able to look at it the same for some time now, with endearment and trust. On her list, Shuri wants to invent full body holograms of the deceased, and eventually including the vibrato of their voice, and maybe, perhaps, memories. But still, that's years down the line.
Also in the room are other memorabilia of other relatives. The most resent are of N'Jobu, and his late son, N'Jadaka; the son's mother unknown. Those were added a year ago.
In their dinner area, the quiet prolongs. Small talk arises and dies down in crescendo. There are second servings gathered and finished, platters cleaned.
Then, Shuri—lanky, diamond-eyed, dark-haired, perpetually astonishingly intelligent second Udaku child—sits up straighter in her chair, her arms steeling at either side of her dinner plate, lips in a focused, set line, expression difficult to make out as she calls for attention. "Mother?"
Ramona wordlessly answers her daughter's stare.
Another five, ten, twenty seconds go by, and it occurs to Shuri that nothing has changed. Not much. She must have words, she thinks, as she looks to both her family. Her chin, dainty and delicate, raises in congregated strength. "It is nearly the weekend. There isn't anything planned or scheduled... So... I thought, since so, that I could go out..."
By now, she has her brother and her mother's attention, equally attentive and equally suspicious.
She blinks. Their stares warm her face to be as hot as a stove. She turns to stare at an undefined point, though—and there’s a slight furrow in her brother's brow now, as he waits, and a confused restlessness in how she’s beginning to drum her fingers against the bend of her own knee—and she tries to remember the memorized intro and follow-up answers she's rehearsed hours before.
Shuri encourages herself to continue further, because there isn't going back now. Her fingers twist the fabric covering her knee.
"This Friday, I want to go to the festival—I've been invited to go to the festival, the one where they play films outside." The words vomit out, though her posture remains controlled and firm.
"Oh. That's nice," Ramona compliments. "Have fun, sweetie! Just know that you aren't going alone." The reminder is that, like her brother, Shuri is accompanied by guards, though lesser in number. The queen cleans her fingers on a cloth.
"It... I was more asked out, rather than invited," she admits, more as a second thought to fix her words. Shuri has suddenly lost the vigor in her tone, and is unstable, unsure.
But at that, her mother—her mother slowly, significantly changes; her chewing slows as she looks at her daughter, then a hand raising, suspicious. She's pointing. "Asked out... As in, a date?"
It takes all of Shuri's seventeen years of training for her immediate words to not be spoken out loud, impulsively. Or to spontaneously combust under her mother's stare because she knows. Shuri wonders if the thundering of her heart can be heard—if she were to shout, really loud and scornful, from the depths of her private laboratory, who would hear? And it takes her an additional five, ten more heart-palpitating seconds for her to keep the stare with Ramona. To realize that it isn't specifically even directed at her, but her mother's thought process.
It's seven seconds later that Ramona's simple, brief answer is given: "No."
Shuri's hand curls into a fist in her lap. She wants to rebuttal, but knows she shouldn't. Not yet, at least. Instead, she goes: "I know you and Baba once said that I wasn't allowed to date until I was forty-five......but that's an unreasonable age, Mother!"
Ramona nods slowly, eyes narrowing. "You're not allowed to date, or get involved with boys. And that still stands." Her words drop with finality.
"But Mother, I'm seventeen, and—"
"No boys," the queen raises a long finger, the conversation finished.
In her seat, Shuri huffs, pouting. In the third, T'Challa watches, quiet.
They've talked about this subject once before, before T'Chaka's passing, but since then it hasn't come up; it hadn't needed to until now.
T'Challa drinks, unintentionally loudly, disrupting the tense silence. He apologizes in a low voice.
Ramona cleans her area and plate without another word on the subject. Her snowy white dreadlocks are held high and off her neck by a thick band. T'Challa's plate is most empty. Shuri, even more so, but her stomach is turning from nerves.
Four more seconds of tongue-biting pass until Shuri raises her gaze.
“What if it isn't a boy?” she gets out, and it's like the silence that follows brings its own set of discomfort. At her comment, she's asked to repeat. So, "what if who I went out with wasn't a guy, but a girl?"
A lock falls over Ramona's shoulder as her eyes fall back on her daughter, and she pauses. Luckily this time it's for two beats of a second. "Like, you are planning to go on a date—to this festival—presumably by yourself, because I know you'll try to slip off—with this girl instead of a boy?"
Shuri hesitates. Thinks. Weighs her answers and plausibilities. Swallows. Nods, yes.
And in much less time than before, Ramona answers: "no."
This time, Shuri outright sucks her teeth, regretting it immediately from the glare she receives. "Mother!" she whines.
"Forty-five, Shuri! There is no reason for that to change."
"But you and Baba said boys—"
"Dating was the main point. Are you forty-five yet? No? Then no dating."
Pouting, she tries one last blow with, "what about T'Challa? He wasn't near forty!"
At her side, her brother's jaw slacks open, and he asks to "don't bring me into this."
But Ramona's once-little girl is right, even with her lips pressed into a line and with a slightly trembling finger.
Shuri gets to go to the festival anyway. And she promises to not try to ditch her guards.
And it's in the weeks that follow that Ramona meets this mysterious girl, as she was dubbed: she's dark, radiant skin; large circular, golden thin-rimmed glasses; a small diamond piercing in her left nostril; and a lilac-colored kinky afro.
She and Shuri hold hands often. Shuri has a necklace, gifted to her a few months ago when they shared a first kiss.