ONCE UPON a time in south-southern Nigeria, high up on the misty Obudu plateaux of those dreamy Sankwala mountain-ranges of which we only hear and read, but hardly ever see, there lived a voiceless girl called Iwi.
Iwi loved the air of the mountain-peak, she loved the clouds which sometimes came visiting, she loved the heavened birds that loved these same heights which she also loved; she loved the stars that shone brightly in the evenings, mornings and through the nights.
Iwi, being a little maiden, did not live alone. She lived with her mother, whom she called “Sister”, and who called her “Iwi, my friend”, for theirs was a deep and true friendship. Iwi’s father had also once lived with them and they had been a happy triangle. In those days her voice had still been with her, and her childlike songs and happy chatter had delighted her parent’s heart. Until one day her father died mysteriously, leaving Iwi and her mother to be each all the other had. The day her father died was the day Iwi lost her voice. As though he had taken it with her, try as she might, no sound ever again escaped her lips.
Iwi and her mother could have gone to live in any of the cities in the valleys where life would have been easier for them, but they loved these mountain-highs and preferred to live in hardship but preserve peace of soul. So up in the mountains they stayed, where they sensed their heart to be, and happiness kept them company every day. Together they reared the goats, tended the fowl, cultivated the farms and the gardens of those rare fruits that grew on those high climates, and rarely, but rarely, did they go down all the way to the valley, mainly to the Sankwala market, indeed just when they had to go.
As mysteriously as Iwi’s father had left the earth, her mother died one day, leaving Iwi now all alone upon their mountain home. If her father’s departure had taken her voice away, her mother’s did not bring it back, voiceless she remained.
After burying her mother, Iwi made the decision to continue to live up there where mountain-air, mountain-clouds and mountain-sighs gave back to her the love she gave. But lonely was she now, alone in the world, if we forget the the goats, the fowl and the flowers, and of course the fairies she saw not, although they saw her, and the friendy stars in the skies – all of which we may however not forget. Yet none of them proved able to restore to her her once beautiful voice.
She grew into a woman and grew used to being a single woman on the heights, managing and flowing, but once in a while longing for another human.
One day, like a miracle, who did she see walking there upon her mountains? A hermit, but younger than most hermits are, more handsome than hermits ought to be. If she was full surprised, then surely she was not half as surprised as he was… to find this beautiful woman living, alone, high up there where he’d come seeking solitude, hoping to discover himself in silence. So, shyly he avoided her for the next couple of months, and shyly she pretended too that he was not up there.
But then one morning, like a man must do, he waited for her outside her mountain hut. And when she emerged, he, in the Obanliku dialect of these parts, introduced himself to her and offered her a small basket of wild ụdara which he had gathered early that morning as the sun’s rays were still struggling to break through the mountain mist.
It is hard to say how long she stood there, silent, surprised, staring at him; but however long it was must have been of no consequence, for just as long did he too remain standing there, refusing to budge, waiting for her to reply. The moment was broken when, to her utmost shock, she heard her voice thanking him and then telling him her name. They both smiled as she accepted the basket of wild berries from him and then he turned around and walked away. And she had a voice again, awakened by love.
And so did they gradually they began to stop, to talk, one word here, two words there. And finally, over a year after he first arrived these heights, they began to live together. That he was a stranger to these parts was clear to her, for she heard it in his accent, although he bravely struggled to speak her thongue. It did not matter to her, it only made her love him all the more.
Love and understanding and joy are three things which when they arrive at the same time, in the same place, around the same people, create that thing which words cannot describe. And so it was between Iwi and the young hermit whose name, as he had told her that fateful morning, was Sike. Their love was eternal, immortal, intense – and it never ceased to startle them.
Through Iwi, Sike came to see and understand the Obudu mountains and their lush green forests with new eyes; its moods became a dictionary of new language upon his heart; mist or rain, animals or fauna, plauteaux or gorges, forests and waterfalls, his senses became born again to a world that was part of his native country but which he had never known, for it was so different from the world he came from that he knew he would never be able to describe it to the people of his world, villagers and city-people alike. And the more he discovered nature, the more he loved this beautiful female spirit who was the source of his rebirth. Everything that was special about this place was reflected in her nature – everything that was special about her personality was reflected in this cradle of nature. How could the one be separated from the other? The source of his joy became the emblem of his sorrow.
For just when Iwi came to believe that Sike would stay up here with her, forevermore, he told the truth about himself: he was a servant of his people who had come here to seek quietude and clarity, but had vowed to return to his people when he was done, to continue with his service. He spoke about communal clashes and border disputes, about social projects and missions of hope and other things he was not sure she understood. Without emotion Iwi listened to him and then, with trembling heart, waited for him to ask her if she would come with him, not knowing what her answer would be.
But the request never came. She did not ask him if there was someone else waiting for him in his old life, nor did he mention it.
Now Sike stood outside Iwi’s hut, looked at the sky, and tear on tear fell from his eyes. He’d come up here to find understandings rare, only to end up with much more than he had expected. After strengthening his heart with a silent prayer which Iwi did not see, but strongly felt, he turned to her and said:
“Iwi… I love you… eternally… but I love also the people I have pledged to serve, and I love the service I have vowed to fulfill all the days of life… they need me… and so I must return there where I came from.”
They held each other tightly one last time under the blue skies, tropical avians winging their way over, and he promised to love her… and she promised to love him… foreverevermore…
They parted on that same evening – Iwi remained with his heart upon her Obudu mounain-tops, Sike took her heart with him to his calling.
She never did find out to which constituency he belonged, he never came to know what became of her in the future; but every morning and every evening, both their heartborn, love-borne thoughts meet in the firmaments of Heaven, and their thoughts promise love foreverevermore.
– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.
Read other inspirational stories in:
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE.