THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 6

(continued from part five)

***
PART SIX

Somayinozo tried to catch up with the Wolf-soul, but she could not. How ever fast she went, it always remained right there in front of her, until it dawned on her that she was never meant to reach or touch it. She recognised suddenly the path along which it led her. To the lake! She had briefly sought it the evening before, but to no avail…

Then she saw it – how odd! The lake was so beautiful, so clean, so pure, a blue mirror in the little valley. Surely such a beautiful place as this would have been often mentioned to her hearing. Yet, in the one and a half years she had lived in these parts, a housemaid in Madame Ude’s household, nothing of it had ever come to her hearing.

The sun was high. The day was hot. The maiden, Somayinozo, the waif, charged down the hill and plunged into the lake. Memories of the beach, of the Lagos beaches, memories from her childhood came to and left her there, swimming in the lake. The water was warm today.

Emerging from it after a long swim, she lay on the grass by the lake, under the sun and, dreaming lazily, brushed and fought off mosquitoes as the steaming rays of the African sun speedily dried her. She arose and strolled around. There was something blue on the grass, on the opposite bank of the lake. She spent long minutes trying to figure out what it could be. Finally, unable to curb her curiousity, she dived again into the purity-clear lake and, free-stroking, slid across the lake and banked on the other side.

What she saw startled her. – – – A book. A blue book. She turned it over. On the front cover was a picture of what looked to be this very same lake as she had seen it from the hill-top. But on this picture, on the surface cover of the mysterious blue book, there was a face reflected faintly on the total surface area of the lake. It was the face of a man, calm, yet intense, expressionless, yet full of expression, and handsomely beautiful. There was no author-name visible on the book. But it was the title of the book, written it seemed by hand with a ball-point pen across the face of the man, that intrigued her:

The Lake of Love.

There was something familiar about that title, the lake of love. Where had she heard it before? These, mixed with a multitude of other thoughts and perceptions, fought for attention in her head as she looked down at the blue novel in her wet hand. She opened it, read the introduction, and shut it again. The language, the pictures, were different from other novels she read. She opened it again and read two pages. Somayinozo looked up at the sky for a long time. How had this book got here? Whose was it?…

Suddenly she felt strange. She looked round at the wild hills that hulked over this beautiful, hidden lake, and had the feeling that someone was watching her. A chill went down her spine, and her eyes went down to the book again. The strong feeling would not leave her that what ever was happening now, it was not by accident. Gingerly the tall, dark girl slipped into the lake again. With one hand she carefully held the book above the water, while with her three remaining free limbs she maneuvered her way bank to the first bank. And then, dripping with the water, jogged back home. And from behind her came a strange howl. The Wolf-soul. She turned around, and saw nothing, only rough green hills and, further in the distance, an African forest.

A short while later she knocked on the door of Madame Ude’s bedroom.

“Come in, dear.”

Somayinozo entered.

“You’re wet again!”

“I’ve been to the lake.”

“Don’t catch a cold, please, dear…”

“Ma, I saw a book there,” Somayinozo interrupted Madame Ude, something she had never done before.

The woman pretended not to notice.

“A book in the lake?” she asked with a smile.

“No… by the lake – look.”

Madame Ude took the extended blue novel, and Somayinozo saw an odd look flash through her eyes. She seemed, for a fraction of a second, afraid of opening it…

But the fear passed. It was replaced by a rare sense of expectation. She opened the book. Somayinozo was already by her side, peering down too into the book.

“I wanted us to read it together,” she whispered. “The little I read intrigued me… – it’s like some kind of strange fairy tale…”

“Let’s start now.”

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 5

(continued from part four)

***
PART FIVE

She trudged, light and heavy, happy and sad, up and over the hills again, back towards the house. It was always hard to part from Chagonu, Nneni and the three cubs. Chagu was making progress. Today he had stood on all fours, the first time she’s seen him manage that ever since the shooting. He would live.

As soon as she thought this way, she saw it… the Wolf-soul. It appeared. It disappeared. Somayinozo hurried back home.

Why was there pain in her heart when she arose the next morning? She did not know. She prayed hard and plunged herself into her duties. Aunty Ngozi seemed harsher than usual today. The tall, dark fourteen year-old was driven like a mule.

“Clean the kitchen!” – she did so.
“Clean the top floor!” – she did so.
“Go and wash the Madame’s clothes!” – she did so.
“You good for nothing waif!” – her lips became straight and hard.
“It’s not your fault. It’s because you were born and bred in that foolish Lagos. Nonsense.”

It was now two o’clock in the afternoon. Somayinozo was hungry, but her appetite was nowhere to be found. She avoided the kitchen. She slipped out through a side door. She knew that Madame Ude would would be waiting for her in her bedroom upstairs, so they could converse, read or just nourish silence together. SOmayinozo sighed a deep sigh. That woman was so kind. Kindness flowed out of her like her breath, enveloped her like an aura. Again Somayinozo wished she could do something for the sick Madame Ude.

But not now. Now she yearned for aloneness. She waited by the side of the door until Ikem, the driver, had walked out of sight. Then she set off. The sun was high and hot, blazing in unrestrained ardour, happy and content in doing always and only this one same thing: shedding light.

Somayinozo could daily feel herself growing older and older. Everyday the world changed. Everyday she saw people differently. Everyday she grew wiser… sadder… more hopeful… stronger… lonelier. She was changing from one person to another and, in between, she did not know who she was.

She did not feel the heat of the sun. She yielded to the urge to move, move, move, seek, find… find a new destiny. But how? Where?

Suddenly the Wolf-soul, as she called this strange canine apparition, was before her again. It was moving. She followed.

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 4

(continued from part three)

***
PART FOUR

Somayinozo was again on her way to see Chagonu.

Was this dusk descending? So early? Or had she simply not known how far behind noon had already lain by the time she set forth? She had in a nylon bag with her a few pieces of meat. It was very little, she knew, but she really did not like visiting Chagonu empty-handed. No matter how little or not-to-his-taste whatever it was that she brought along was, Chagonu was always grateful.

As her eyes and a sensitive, impressionable part of her consciousness took in the beauty of sunset –

Suddenly she sensed the presence of the strange wolf she had seen upon the morning of the day before. She paused…

Her eyes scanned.

The air was cold. With sunset came mist and delicate dew. All around her rose and tumbled the beautiful green hills of Nsukka. And peace.

But though she looked with yes so keen, and though her heart longed to encounter again the Wolf-soul, all she saw were the hills, sunset and the gentle softening of dusky nature.

She descended the hill and entered into the little woods. Nobody else knew that the woods were still around… and she was going to make sure that no one ever came to know. Her carelessness had already almost cost them their lives once. It would not happen again.

The heard her footsteps and knew it was her. There was a howl. It shivered, gently, in the leaves, and she was at home.

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 3

(continued from part two)

***
PART THREE

IT WAS long past midday when she re-entered Madame Ude’s bedroom. She found her half sitting up, propped up on pillows, her dark face pale and drawn. In her hands was a book. Somayinozo sat on a chair by the bedside and for long seconds the two females communed eyeball to eyeball in absolute silence.

Then, overcome by curiosity, Somayinozo reached for the light green book in madame’s hands, and looked at the title: A Pageant of Longer Poems. It was worn, but stiff, as if it had once been frequently read, long ago.

“Do you like poems?” Madame Ude asked her.

“Yes.”

“Then flip through. Find one you fancy and read it out.”

Somayinozo took a long time in searching through the book. Madame Ude patiently waited, saying nothing, just watching her curiously. Finally the kid raised her braided head..

“This one seems… er… interesting.”

Madame Ude smiled and kept waiting. Somayinozo looked up at her for a moment, saw the reassuring look in her eyes, smiled a little half-smile and then started reading:

“ – – – – ‘The Child is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.’
There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream…”

Madame Ude listened, a slight look of introspective, backward looking, wonder on her face. He eyes were shut, her breathing slowed down, moved she listened to the quietness in Somayinozo’s voice as she read one of her favorite poems back to her. It was not the voice of a fourteen year old or diction of someone from a village primary school. These thoughts floated somewhere at the back of her mind as Somayinozo neared the end of the poem. It was a long poem, but swift had been its transport through time, it seemed to her, as the girl had made her way through it, slowly, until she got to the end.

“… Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

Madame Ude opened her eyes and, through her film of tears, saw the tears in Somayinozo’s eyes.

“This last verse is so touching,” the young teenager whispered. “It makes me want to cry.”

“You are already crying, dear…”

And now Somayinozo burst out weeping.

“Do you understand every part of the poem?”

Somayinozo shook her head. “There were some unfamiliar words, but … I understand the poem itself.”

“Hm…” heavied Madame Ude softly. A thoughtful and worried look came over her face as she studied Somayinozo who had again looked down and was perusing Wordsworth’s immortality ode again.

“How old are you, Somayinozo?”

“Fourteen years old, Ma.”

“Where were you born and raised?”

“Far away. In Lagos.”

“What school did you go to?”

“The primary school I attended is called the University of Lagos Staff School. And then I entered I– “

Madame Ude was startled. Before Somayinozo could continue, she broke in:

“That’s a very good school.”

Somayinozo’s gaze slipped into the past. Suddenly the tears started to flow down her cheeks again, streaming, and she began to sob.

Madame Ude was alarmed.

“I’m sorry, dear. Did I say something? I’m sorry.”

Somayinozo struggled to pull herself together. Slowly she succeeded.

“I’m sorry, dear. Did I say something?” repeated Madame Ude.

Somayinozo looked into Madame Ude’s kind eyes for some time, then shook her head.

“No, Ma. It’s the poem.”

“Are you sure?”

Somayinozo averted her eyes and nodded.

“I’m sure you’d like to rest now, Ma, “ she said. “I shouldn’t be agitating you this much. You’re ill. I’ll go now.”

Madame Ude was too absorbed in the moment to feel tired. She stretched out her hands and took Somayinozo’s in hers.

“Come, my child, call me mother, let’s be friends, give me your heart, tell me what’s in you, in your life, in your past. Tell me the substance of your sorrow, let us share it.”

Somayinozo shook.

“Oh, madame, you remind me of my mother!” Again she burst into tears and hid her face in the folds of Madame Ude’s quilts.

“Oh, my.” The madame, astonished beyond words by this confession, placed her palm on Somayinozo’s braided head. “My dear child.”

She waited for the weeping to subside, then gently asked:

“And where is your mother, dear?”

Somayinozo became silent and looked into Madame Ude’s eyes.

“She’s dead.”

Madame Ude nodded and decided to stop asking for now. She felt tiredness begin to creep up on her. The pains were coming back.

She put the book back into Somayinozo’s hand.

“Take it and read it at your leisure, but bring it along tomorrow, so you can read some more to me.”

The tall dark thin teenager stood up, pierced Madame Ude’s eyes for some moments with a searching gaze, then wordlessly left.

Madame Ude slowly swallowed her pills and then gazed at the closed door through which Somayinozo had left. Could a fourteen year old girl whose education had stopped after primary, or at best early in secondary, school really understand such a poem?”

Madame Ude felt strong bonds of love slowly begin to form between her and the young maiden, and a warmth flowed in her heart. She decided to find out more about this girl who her housekeeper Ngozi had brought in here as spare cleaner, maid and housegirl several months earlier. She would have to remember to ask her about Somayinozo some time, she thought groggily to herself, as her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 2.

***
PART TWO

“SOMAYINOZO! COME here! Cooome heeere! You are dead today! Where do you think you’re coming from? Why do you think we employ you in this house?! You stupid waif! Common house-girl! You are leaving a whole ME to clean the kitchen! And then you’ll settle down and eat the food I prepare?! Eh!”

With her head raised boldly, Somayinozo slowly approached Aunty Ngozi, the cook. The overweight woman was vibrating with venom, her face squeezed into a mask. Somayinozo had been expecting just this reception.

“I just went to see what was shaking in the hills,” the girl said in a low voice. It had never occurred to her that she spoke differently from other people, so she never understood their reaction to her when she described events in her own words, with her own pictures.

“What! What was what? You and your stupid ways of talking! What are you saying! You want wolves to attack you again? The last one did not satisfy you. Until they’ve eaten you, that’s when you’ll recover your senses!”

“I’m sorry, aunty.”

“Shut up! Now go and sweep!” This was not a random outburst. This was the only tone in which she ever spoke to the girl.

Somayinozo swallowed and slipped nimbly into the house, wisely keeping a wide berth of Aunty Ngozi’s massive bulk.

The kitchen, much to her satisfaction, was already sparkling. She picked up a broom, a duster and a dustpan and slid into the hallway. Nobody was there. She loped down the corridor and then up the stairs. She got to the door of Madame Ude’s bedroom.

Madame Ude was Mr. Ude’s widow. When he died, she had inherited this large mansion with its extensive grounds. The grounds were so large that they simply had not bothered to erect any wall around them, but allowed them to flow into the bosom and arms of the rest of the nature abounding.

Somayinozo softly turned the handle and put her head through the little opening. The slight creaking of the hinges might have stirred awake the woman lying on the bed. The eyes smiled at the girl in the doorway.

“Come in, Som,” she said weakly.

The maid-girl slipped in and shut the door behind her. She approached the bed. Madame Ude’s face was the only visible part of her.

“Sorry, madame.”

Madame Ude smiled.

“Where are you going?”

“I want to sweep upstairs.”

“Your clothes are wet, Somayinozo. Why?”

Somayinozo smiled.

“I saw a lake, madame.”

Madame Ude’s eyes brightened.

“A lake? Where?”

“Between the hills. Hidden away. I never knew there was any lake there.”

“Ah, Somayinozo, it looks like you’ve found my secret lake. How on earth did your feet take you there?”

The tall, thin fourteen year old girl bit her upper lip.

“Ehm… I was just walking,” she finally said.

Madame Ude eyed her suspiciously, then gave a little shrug.

“Change your clothes before sweeping, okay?”

Somayinozo nodded and turned to go.

“You’re growing taller and taller everyday.”

The maiden giggled and hurried out.

The corridor was long and thickly rugged. As she was about to hurry on, she thought she heard her name again from Madame Ude’s bedroom. She reopened the door and looked in.

“When you’re through with your chores, please do come and visit me again. It does get rather lonely here sometimes.”

Somayinozo regarded the sick woman for a moment longer from the doorway. She reminded her of her mother. She swallowed and quickly left again, closing the door shut. As she moved down the corridor, she wiped the tears away with the back of a hand.

… to be continued.

The Waif, the Widow and the Wolf – PART 1

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF — Part 1.

LIKE A Dream, dawn floated upon the world. It was a beautiful dawn, fresh and lonely.

The girl met the morning with a cry akin to the howl of a wolf. She was 14 years old and happy to be alive today. In life there was always hope for better things. In life there were always possibilities, always openings, always new things awakening like miracles approaching from the horizon.

But sorrow will knock, too; sorrow will visit.

The house was still asleep as she noiselessly slipped out. The harmattan haze breathed silently, and silently she breathed along. She took the delicious air deep into her lungs and felt it rush through her head like new thoughts.

She thought of Madame Ude. Madame Ude lying sick on her bed for ten weeks now, looking ever weaker. Somayinozo, the girl, felt the weight of sorrow upon her young heart. Madame Ude was the only person, the one person who was really kind to her in this household. She wished she could help. Wished she could help. But how? The doctors were doing everything they could. Yet the madame just was not getting any better.

Somayinozo shook her head vigorously and turned her feet to the hills, behind which were the woods. There her best friends were waiting. Chagonu and his tribe. Chagonu her friend. He too was very sick. He had lost a lot of blood when the men shot him. There was so much violence in the world.

Somayinozo shivered. The morning was very cold. Perhaps she ought to go back. She had not yet cleaned the kitchen. Aunty Ngozi would not find it funny when she came downstairs. The girl was about to turn back when she suddenly saw a shape shift in the mist. She rubbed her eyes. Chagonu? Impossible. He was too weak. Maybe it was Nneni, his mate. But she never ever came this way, and since the men attacked them two weeks ago she’d never venture near here again.

Who could it be then?

Unafraid and curious, the girl pattered on rubber-slippered feet after the shape she saw. Her clothes were faded, even slightly torn in places. Her hair was rolled into long rough braids that fell all over her face, shoulders and back. She was thin and dark, growing taller by the day, and loped along with a spring on either heel.

She saw the shape again, like an apparition, the shadow, the silhouette of a wolf. If it was not Chagonu, who was it then? Was it a new wolf? A slight apprehension momentarily seized her and she hesitated a moment. Fear touched her and she remembered six months earlier, being attacked by a wolf. She tasted the blood again, smelled the mixture of fear and fur and slicky sweat, and saw the yellow eyes. She remembered the pain.

Then she shook her head. That had been a mistake. She howled. A soft deep howl that arose first from her young soul before vibrating its way through her wind-pipe and floating after the wolf in the haze.

It appeared again. Silent, dark and still. She stood still and they appraised one another. She felt a sudden kinship and howled again, lifting her dark face with her wild eyes like a wolf. The wolf stood vey still. It made no response. It neither advanced nor retreated. She went closer. This time it did not hurry off. It grew larger and darker in the morning harmattan haze. She was now only a few steps away.

But she could not see its eyes, which was strange. By now she should be seeing its eyes quite clearly. There was really something odd about this figure. It seemed more ghostly than of the earth.

Suddenly it faded away.

“Agh – !” sputtered the 14 year old as the canine form in front of her abruptly and literally melted into thin air without moving a step. What was going on? Was this some kind of sign to her? Was Chagonu dead? Wild thoughts raced through her head. Was this Chagonu’s ghost?

She sped over the hills and into the woods where she sought out the wolf-pack. There was Chagonu, the leader, and his mate, Nneni. They had three cubs. They knew it was she coming. The cubs came to her first, yapping like wild puppies. She picked them in her arms and cuddled them. Then she went into the cave. Nneni licked her fingers and she stroked her mane. Chagonu lifted his head and turned his face to her and they looked into each other’s eyes.

“Oh, Chagonu,” said Somayinozo to her wounded friend, “I was afraid you were dead. I saw a ghost, a wolf, so strange.”

As she spoke she gingerly examined his wound again. It was closing only slowly. She lay down next to him and let her braids fall all over his face. The wolf made a soft sound. It sounded like cooing.

After some time, she knew she had to go.

“I’ll come tomorrow, Chagonu. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it today; and I’ll bring something special for you, I promise.”

On her way home, she saw it again. Suddenly it was there. Much of the haze had lifted, so she got to observe that the strangeness of his appearance was not due to the haze. It really was like a ghost.

“I’ll call you the Wolf-soul,” Somayinozo whispered at it. “I’m sure you’ve come to watch over Chagonu.”

It stood staring at her from beneath lids so dark and bushy that she could not quite see its eyes. Then it set off on a lonely trail in a direction she rarely went. She followed. Soon they were close to the hills. It mounted one, she followed. It descended and cut diagonally between some rocks. Intrigued, Somayinozo continued to follow. It was obviously leading her somewhere.

They mounted another hill. Then she saw it.

Her breath caught in her chest as she looked slowly from the lake to the wolf and back again and again.

It was a beautiful lake.

Unlike all the others she had ever seen in these parts, it was clean, and so blue!

Did no-one know it existed? She moved down the hill towards the lake, the wolf still meters ahead of her. When she got to the lake she plunged in – and squealed! It was cold!

She scampered out and hurried home.

The Waif, the Widow and the Wolf – PART 2

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.