FOREVEREVERMORE

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.

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MUSICIANS

When the sadness
Coloured the smile
Of the musician’s sunshine
I saw that his joy
Had just got deeper
And the unshed tears
Longing in his eyes
Were less bitter
Than they were bittersweet
To my ears
Music to my heart
Water to my soul – his sorrow
Became the joy of my spirit flame.
That was when I saw him smile
That broke my heart.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

UNBEHAGEN

Behagen
Sah ich schlendernd
An allem vorbeigehen
Es roch nach Komfort
Und hinterließ
Uns Unbehagen

Denn seine Augen
Waren fett wie Matratzen
Global ausgeweitete Pupillen
In jedem lag eine Lüge
Verbreitet
Es geht uns gut
Schaut mich nur an

Ein Gedanke für dich
Ein Gedanke für mich…

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

FAMILY

Is it those that smile at you
Or those that frown at you?

Is it those with the same blood
flowing through their veins
Or those with the same thoughts
springing from their hearts?

Is it those who want nothing from you
even when they’re there
Or those who always want something from you
even when they’re not there?

Is it really a bound tree
With invisible tangled-up roots?
Or is it an open sea
Rolling freely in all directions?

Does the departed soul really stop and turn back
Or does it hurry away into another life?
Are all those who call themselves family
There to bind or to free each other?

Is protection sometimes limitation?
Is liberation sometimes abandonment?
Is a kiss sometimes an embracing of betrayal?
Is severity sometimes an anchorage of love?

Only the sincere should read your inner book.
Only the sincere should read your inner book.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

INNERLICH WEITER LEBEN

Erst kamen die Blumen
Lächelnde Glocken, spielende Kinder
Mädchen blühen auf
Jungen gehen die Augen auf
Das hier, ist das das Leben?

Dann kam eine stürmische Nacht
Wild tobte es hinter Fenstern
Träumend schwebte es in auftauenden Herzen
Ein gebrochenes Herz sinnt vor sich hin
Das hier, ist das das Lieben?

Dann thronte sich die Sonne, krönte sich der Verstand
Stählerne Augen
Stein entwachsen keine Blumen
Ruhiger Erwachsene, sicher, verschlossen
Das hier, das Leiden!

Enttäuschung – Verstand trifft Empfindung
Nachdenken – Langsam, wie der Abend
Fallen die Nachwirkungen der Schicksalsschläge
Irgendwann fällt mal Wahrheit auf
Das da, das war das Lernen…

Zuletzt nimmt zu der Mond, nicht ab…
Ferne Fragen funkeln wie rufende Geheimnisse, schwache Erinnerungen
Vorstufe einer Rückkehr, sehnende Wiederkehr zu Dir
Nimmt jetzt die Runde wieder ab?
Wie geht es weiter? Immer weiter.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

CONSTANT CRY

He lived with us very briefly
When I was still a child
My father’s elder brother

When we prayed before our meals
And made the sign of the cross
He teased us, Protestants, about having gone Catholic

When he shaved in the morning
He explained to us the mysterious science
Of shaving stick, cream and blade

Other than that he didn’t talk much
A quiet quiet quiet man
Hurt no-one, thoughtfully kept to himself

Very different from the others
Never preached, never argued, never moralised
Never scolded, just silently observed

Three decades have passed
Rarely our paths ever crossed again
A short Hello each time, nothing more

I’m still trying to understand
The pain I’ve felt all morning today
Since I heard of Uncle Joe’s death

It doesn’t make sense
Someone I hardly knew
Just a few childhood memories

Just a few memories
That remind me of a time
Rich in memories and childlike insight

And a few memories
Of a quiet adult who never found a voice
In a culture of big egos, loud voices and aggression

His silence was louder, calmer, more lasting
So deep that only his death
Would open the deep wound of memory in my heart

His middle name was Ahamefula
Meaning “May my name not get lost” –
No, dear Uncle, it will not.

In loving memory of
Joseph Ahamefula Chukwumerije
1935 – 2013

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE WAY OF THE DRAGON

What was strange to others, was ordinary to us. When other kids went for children’s parties, we went for training and competition in martial arts and swimming. That was our father’s way – and it was the only way we knew; and looking back now, God bless that man. He was just unapologetically himself. He gave us a different world in which to live because it was the only world he was convinced of. A world of discipline, simplicity, hardwork, scholarship, modesty, frugality, brotherhood and fraternity. This is the root of our bond today – my siblings and I.

The most horrible thing that can happen to any person, to any family, to any society, is to think that there is something wrong in being different. For, then, there will neither be change nor progress. Just be yourself, even if it is different – nay, especially if it is different. Earth thrives on diversity. And diversity is only guaranteed when each person has the courage to be himself/herself. Thus, courage is the protector of our future as a human species. People, BE BRAVE.

Our father wanted to strengthen bravery in us, so he threw us into the martial arts, where you are alone in the ring and only your own fearlessness will see you through – and, win or lose, will cement your character and your legend. Just fight fearlessly. That was his message: Let fearlessness be your blood; that is all I ask of you. Win or lose, please my child just fight to the end.

When we turned it against him, though, it caught him unawares. Maybe he unconsciously hoped everybody was burning to be a public servant, or a socialist, and things like that, like himself. But I just wanted to be myself, to answer the call of life in another context – and he had taught me the courage to do so. But myself, at least in that period, was everything different from what he wanted for and from me. The irony and riddle of doing what is expected of you and thereby going against what is expected of you. The split was unpreventable, unavoidable and – for many decades it seemed – unhealable.

But Time, that great Mender, was Merciful. And Love pushed its stubborn head through and I will forever be grateful for the three beautiful years we had until he died.

Well, what on earth is this life all about? Who really knows? Is it politics? – Not everyone can be a politician. Is it the professions? – Not everyone can pursue one. Is it family? – Not everyone will make one. Is it ideology? – Not everyone will feel inclined to one. So what on earth is this earthlife all about?

In the end, it is simply whatever is in you that has to come out of you. And all you need to do, to make that happen, is simply to BE BRAVE. Brave enough to follow your innermost voice, no matter what!

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.