It all started when I applied to the prestigious and highly competitive ‘Zaragoza New Beginnings Scholarship,’ to fund the rest of my Ph.D program in paleoclimatology. The ZNBS, unlike other scholarships, was guaranteed to be fully-funded, not only through college but also throughout any future scholastic pursuits, any of its recipients undertook. As if that wasn’t enough, to sweeten the deal even further, all ZNBS recipients were guaranteed a job at the Zaragoza Consultancy Agency; a firm that people have literally killed for, just to land a job there.
There was a catch though; the scholarship was exclusively offered to students with various dimensions of differences, be it ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and perhaps most interestingly, personality disposition – which at the time of applying, gave me quite the chuckle, because how could they verify that? Now, I didn’t grow up exceedingly poor, thanks to my ever hardworking, no-chill having Nigerian parents, but on the other hand, it wasn’t Coming to America either and I was definitely no Eddie Murphy courting Shari Headley.
Obviously, accepting the scholarship was a no-brainer, especially considering that I had aspirations to use its benefits to its fullest potential and continue using the ZNBS to fund my post-doctoral research as well. Growing up, I’ve always had aspirations to become a world-renowned TV personality-paleontologist, but the increasing cost of schooling proved to be a formidable adversary, but now…now I had the opportunity to fulfill one of my life-long dreams, all I had to do was accept the scholarship, and fly out to Europe to the Zaragoza Estate and complete my three-month orientation. If I’m being completely honest, if I had any hesitations in accepting the scholarship, it was the orientation.
Not only was it weird in having to complete an orientation just to accept a scholarship, but I also didn’t know anyone else who had been awarded the scholarship to ask what the orientation would consist of. “Oh well, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a young, black, David Attenborough! Additionally, who doesn’t want to mess around in Europe for three months anyway!” Those were the words I told myself and shortly after when my mind was made up, and I started looking for tickets to go to the Navarre region of Spain, an area that sits on the southwestern border of France. The Zaragozas' were believed to have lived in that area since the time of the Kingdom of Navarre, and have been influencers in both countries for millennia. Moreover, the Zaragoza Consultancy Agency even had relaxed relations with several nations, in exchange for key investments, among other strategic favors, I’m sure. Needless to say, I was very intimidated to be heading to the home of such a well-to-do and ancient aristocratic European family, especially considering the only thing I knew about the region was the bull-running spectacle that took place in Pamplona. Adding to my frustration of trying to portray myself as this worldly Nigerian-American scholarship recipient, it was extremely hard to find any pertinent information on the family that would aid in this effort, as they tended to be very secretive about their affairs, other than the slew of low-key philanthropic donations that were occasionally traced back to them. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a very good reason why the Zaragozas' chose to live in relative anonymity, instead of basking in their ancestral authority…
The most prominent member of the family was unsurprisingly, the current patriarch; Pierre-Antonio Zaragoza. For a powerful family historically known for operating clandestinely, Pierre was a stark contrast to his family’s reserved demeanor, especially known for his outspoken views about all matters of affairs, extreme hobbies, and extravagant quarterly soirees. Pierre was primarily responsible for all the information that was currently known about his family. Unapologetically benefiting from the hundreds of years his family has been operating in the area, Pierre was able to found his multi-trillion-dollar consulting firm, Zaragoza Consulting Agency (ZCA). The company that hosted the scholarship that I was granted. Of all of his peculiarities, one of the most interesting aspects of Pierre was his self-professed love for astrology. In fact, some tabloids even reported that all his business dealings were based on using astrological information, as to how and when to make any significant business transactions. Given that he was the CEO of an already exceedingly rich conglomerate, it was hard to confirm or deny if his astrology beliefs played any part in his success. For me personally, I always wondered how good his astrology would fair for him, if he was not born into one of the most influential families in the world, worth hundreds of billions, even before his parents had that initial thought of engaging in coitus!
Following in prominence, status, and age, came Pierre’s little sister, Julie-Maria Zaragoza. Where Pierre was brash and heavy-handed, Julie took a more measured and calculated approach in running ZCA as its chief financial officer, which was perhaps another reason why the company was so successful, astrology-related, or not. Julie had all the attributes traditionally associated with being a Zaragoza, not only personality-wise, but also physically. I always heard that if she had not studied economics, Julie would’ve been a shoo-in for any major European Fashion House as a runway model, with her tall, slender, yet toned legs, violet hair, and eyes greener than the lush forests of the Basque country. Honestly, another reason, perhaps more serendipitously for me accepting the scholarship was having the off-chance of meeting Julie, and to show her how she needed a real man like me to show her what was what! Perhaps, it was a bit of astrological intervention, but what I didn’t know at the time, was how close I would actually get to realize this fantasy.