TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 7

Ada slipped open the sixth and final poem in the small collection –

YOUNG AGAIN

Those were the words, that was the title.

“Were we ever young?”

“Did we ever age?”

Neither replied the other. Each had spoken for the other.

This last poem, for some reason, was italicised from first word to last. We shall be young one day again, younger than we ever were, young as ageless eternity. YOUNG AGAIN.

It becomes simple
Crosses threshold
Mortality into immortality
Denseness into quickness
Old into new, call it young

The good become older
Grow younger
Younger and younger and younger
The better you
Lighter and truer
Younger grow

Let us all grow young again
Fill the Earth with laughter
With truth, with youth –

Ngozi looked into Ada’s eyes and said:

“I want to see Tony again.”

There was a pause. But did a spell break somewhere quietly? Or were we never there?

“Do you have a telephone?” Ngozi pressed, trying to interpret Ada’s silence. It must mean something.

Suddenly Ada was taken aback.

A spell seemed indeed to abruptly lift itself off her and, in its place, her thinking cap, invisible on her head but visible in the sudden, guarded look in her eyes, treacherous windows, descended, full of fears and cleverness and innumerable bad memories, upon her. She was suddenly appalled at herself, and the last twenty minutes swiftly took on the aspect of a fairy-tale, a dream. Had it really happened? Who was this strange woman beside whom she was sitting, sharing the intimate poems of her brother with, like old friends. She experienced the sensation of having been swiftly disarmed and intruded upon, and even, oddly, deceived.

Her head moved back a fraction of a unit of precise measurement and re-appraised Ngozi with suspicious, half-friendly, half-unfriendly, unsure eyes. Like it was in the beginning. – Yes? Who are you?

The returning silence, cold and dividing, began to mature.

Ngozi suddenly understood Ada. She smiled tenderly. Into her handbag she reached, extracted a black, silver-capped pen and then a tiny slip of blue paper. Carefully she balanced the little paper on the side of her bag and, luckily, the bus was temporarily caught in a traffic-jam at Ijaiye. The type that Lagosians call the Standstill, in contradistinction to the Go-Slow and the Hold-up.

Quickly she wrote her name and telephone number down, then wordlessly handed it over to Ada.

“That’s my office telephone number. Please tell him I said Hi.” She smiled again, then turned her head forward; then turned back again, smiling even more disarmingly and added: “and, oh, by the way… Merry Christmas – one day in arrears.”

“Same to you too…”

Ngozi had turned her face away. She didn’t speak again. At the next bus-stop, Iyana-Meiran, she alighted from the bus and left a thoughtful Ada again without her presence, as it was in the beginning.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 6

“So, Ngozi, what’s your surname?”

Ngozi let her eyes roam again and again over Ada’s features, marvelling at the incredible likeness they bore to Tony’s. Twin-beauty.

“Eze-ebube’s my last name,” she replied. Before anything further could be said, however, her eyes darted down to the papers in Ada’s hand, on her lap, and she recognised Tony’s unmistakable hand-writing.

Ada saw the sudden breathdrawn look jump into Ngozi’s eyes and automatically lowered her own eyes as well to the sheet that was now visible on top. On it, as title, boldly hand-printed, were the words SEEING THROUGH.

The two women looked at each other again and if there had been any clumsy last barriers between them, they crashed swiftly down now in the wake of the twin-look of deep, shared understanding that pulsated, in their eyes, from one to the other, and back again, on and on, into their hearts.

It was as though a million things had been spoken and shared, a million fears, a million experiences, a million thoughts of love and concept without number, had been settled, in that one look, after their simultaneous glancing at those words, SEEING THROUGH, in that hand-writing, and the knowledge and memory of innumerable loved poems, written in that hand, once read and stored away forever where hearts alone breathe.

A look in a million. No words were needed. The moment was fulfilled, their friendship sealed instantly as Ngozi gently lowered her eyes again to the poem in Ada’s hand and, in a voice even gentler still than the look she’d just had in her eyes, began to read aloud, yet softly, audible to them two alone, heads locked together over poetry.

“Seeing through…:

Like bird I fly, fly out of sight
To the land of poetry, there I write
A poem for you, a poem for you
And a poem for me too

It is my work, it is my love
When I write I rise above
When I die, yes when I die
Nobody should weep Goodbye…

Because I leave, with every line
A part of me behind, undying
Weep not, o child, weep not, o child,
To simple words so mild…

Fly high with me, far beyond the sea,
To the worlds of art, song and poetry
And then beyond, into silent heights
A little closer to the Lights…”

With a sigh she was through.

And tears came a-calling softly gently tenderly. Tears for that thing, for which we often have no name, for which we are wont to cry when we cry. A little closer to the lights.

“So he still writes poems,” Ngozi softly smiled, a tender look floating upon her features.

“It’s in his blood. He will never stop.”

“No, it really seems, not until he dies.”

“Nay, not even then.”

Ada and Ngozi here paused and searched each other’s eyes.

“How is he?” asked Ngozi.

Ada shrugged.

“The same as always… I don’t know… just himself, I guess…” She liked Ngozi’s eyes and the look in them. Tender, deep, perceptive… strong. Feminine might. The bond, formed, was quickly cementing.

And memory was stirring…; she remembered… three, four years ago… Tony had spoken often of an Ngozi for a short space of time… Ngozi.

“You were…” she hesitated…, “close?”

Ngozi searched Ada’s eyes for a cue, a thread to pick up and weave with, that she may construct adequately before Ada’s inner gaze the nature, simplicity, the intricacy and the intense intimacy of the close relationship that she had shared, for one short sharp moment in time, with her twin-brother.

Finally she simply said:

“Yes – we were.”

And again volumes were said, shared and mutually understood.

As though they feared to say anything further, their eyes went down again to the sheaves of paper in Ada’s hands.

They had no idea of the kind of deep impression they were making on fellow passengers in this dreary bus. There was a similarity, mutually complementary, about them, and a wide gulf seemed to yawn between them and everybody around them. They were alone. They might have been on a hilltop, or on a lonely, deserted beach, or on a boat out at sea. So immersed had they suddenly, apparently yet unperceived by either, become in this shared moment, in this new union.

The Molue is the nastiest form of transport on Lagos roads, except for perhaps the motor-bikes, popularly called Okadas, nasty little metal-birds of the roads. But like a yellow cuboidal prison, this mighty monster of a bus absorbs human numbers like sponge water, clumsily sardines them and then imperils with every mile the lives and destinies of hundreds. Uncomfortable, dirty and dark on the inside, it is perhaps the last place many would expect to see two such pretty, neat young women immersed in poetry and poems that, like golden threads, spun the garment, upon tears, of a newly arising friendship.

But where there is life, there is hope.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 5

Loneliness, heart
Time breathes, in out
Endless time
One foot ahead of the other
The foot you left behind,
Drags
You lift it
Place it ahead of the other
With life, breathe, in out
Pain, unbearable, becomes bearable

Loneliness?
The earth, not our home
We make it homely
But sooner or later
We feel again
Loneliness?
Homesickness?
Loneliness, heart
And the loneliness won’t leave your heart.

As Ngozi watched Ada reading some papers in front of her, she felt again the old loneliness creep back into her heart as thoughts of Tony came floating back, whisp by whisp, into her.

Oh, Tony.

Since they broke up, life had seemed quietly dismal to her. Empty, barren, not so much like night – which, when clear and lit up, is beautiful – as like a sunless, hueless, dreary day. A touch, a smile, a face, a voice… oh, how these could so make a difference in one’s existence! Everything had changed after him. She needed a way out or in, she didn’t know which. Going or coming? She felt trapped in an irresolute destiny. That was when she had started reading Sylvia Plath. Only there had she found a temporary home. And temporary had been long enough. Who needs forever when temporary can do the same job in a fraction of the time?

Why waste forever on the temporary? We will live on.

But, inspite of that, without Tony, the unfriendly world had become and remained even unfriendlier. She could take it, but it was still like a slap in the face. Harsh, stunning, demoralising. But sometimes it could be a clarion-call to action.

Like now!

She touched Ada resolutely a third time on the shoulder. Everybody around her secretly held their breath and guardedly watched this odd spectacle between these two young women.

Ada did not appear, for a second, to have felt the touch on her shoulder. Then she, with deliberation, turned her beautiful head to the man sitting to the right of Ngozi and spoke directly to him.

“Please, could we exchange seats.”

Clearly the man was taken by surprise. His big eyes opened wider on his lean, black, bony face and he sputtered:

“Eh… er… okay.”

Ada stood up, squeezed past the woman on her right and, as she stood in the aisle, waiting for the man to slide past her, became – or rather, her legs became – the objects of general, if mixed, attraction.

Finally, though, the switch was concluded. The woman that had been to her right and thus on the edge of her former bench, had slipped into the position she had just vacated, in the middle, leaving the man to again be on the edge, like he had been in his former bench.

Ada, meanwhile, on this bench, indicated to Ngozi that she would like to sit in the middle, and Ngozi acquiesced. Side by side, they looked at each other.

Then, with a smile, they shook hands.

This indeed seemed, to the spectators around them, like an unexpected but pleasing dramatic finale to the live-show; an unconscious tension that had lain over each person broke and lifted and suddenly everybody burst into smiles as if a bubble had burst, a cue been given, a story found a worthy, happy ending. And everybody likes to know how the story ended. When it ends well, people smile.

Even the man who had taken the seat in front to make space for Ada beside Ngozi, turning just at the right moment with a bemused look on his face, also had to smile, although (which had prompted his turning around) the two fat-bosomed, big-bottomed women to his left were now forcing him to all but perch precariously with barely half of his buttocks on the tiny space they grudgingly allowed him on the very edge of the bench. Too late he had realised that his former seat was much more comfortable, but the damage had already been all but done. He thought immediately of asking for his former seat back, but you know women; the young lady would begin to talk upside-down jargon and by the time he managed to get his seat back, if at all, they would already be at their final destination.

Such were the thoughts going through his vexed mind when he turned round with that bemused look on his face of which I earlier spoke. When, however, he saw the two young women smiling handsomely and shaking hands, looking as though they would soon be hugging each other at any moment, although he had no idea why, the altruistic part of him was suddenly touched and, magnanimously contented, he turned round again with a transformed countenance and bore his fate on his new bench with a noble silence.

to be continued…

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 4

But it was the third one that she particularly liked, and she read it a second time: The Touch

Something different, something true,
Otherly, something new
Very small, something extra large,
Quietly in charge
Inside you
It is what you really are in your soul
You
Your start and your goal
Path, quest, your role
And it is, simply, you.

Someone touched her on her shoulder as she was thoughtfully reading that poem a third time. She turned around to see a young, very dark complexioned woman of about her own age peering questioningly into her face.

“Yes?” she asked, somewhat irritated.

“Sorry, I thought you were someone else. I’m sorry.”

Ada relaxed and smiled at her, then turned back to the poems. But then she was tapped again on the shoulder.

Quizzically she turned her head round again, a slightly confused, even more irritated look on her face.

“Yes??”

The young woman hesitated again, then said:

“You look too much like someone I know –”

“I don’t know you –”

“Yes, no, yes I know. Actually, to be frank, this person is a man.”

“A man?”

“Yes.”

“As you can see, I am a woman!”

“Please, don’t be offended … but … is your name Ada?”

Ada’s eyes focused sharply on the stranger. Her diction was clear and proper, she looked refined and was somewhat pretty, if not beautiful, with a small but african nose, a broad face and large, perceptive eyes. Her skin had that intense darkness that Blacks like to call ‘black beauty’.

“I beg your pardon – How did? -”

“See, I have a friend called Tony whom you resemble to a high degree and he once told me that he has a twin sister called Ada. So I was just wondering… if…”

Ada softened; and realised that everybody around them was paying close attention to their conversation; thus, simultaneously, she became self-conscious and shy. – of course!, Tony! Where was her mind! – such thoughts too raced immediately through her mind., reflected in her eyes, those treacherous windows of hers.

“You know Tony?” she asked in a lowered, nicer voice.

The young woman’s face suddenly lit up and she looked almost like a child. Radiant, naïve, open. Pure.

“Yes!” She struggled to keep her voice down. “My name is Ngozi. I knew him, er, in the university.”

“I see,” said Ada, feeling abruptly very uncomfortable. “Well, nice meeting you, Ngozi.” She turned.

Ngozi, confused, raised her hand to tap Ada’s shoulder a third time, hesitated, and then dropped it once more. Now she became aware also, for the first time, of the attention being paid her. She swept her eyes around and faces turned quickly away, conversations were struck up here and there, while a few understanding eyes surreptitiously melted friendly glances her way, then were gone too, and she was alone again…

Ada, in the seat in front, bent her head meanwhile into the sheets of paper in her hand, on the shopping bag on her lap, and, over and under, through and with the shudderings and other misadventures of the Molue, resolutely went into the assimilating of the fourth of the six poems – earthy moments…

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 3

Ada lifted her bag off the floor and lay it horizontally across her thighs, uncaged by her micro mini skirt. She extracted Tony’s poems now from the bag, which action had been earlier interrupted by the conductor, the look in whose eyes she was trying to push out of her mind.

They were six long sheets, on each one poem. If only he had a job or something, a steady, paying job, she would appreciate his poetry even more. She sighed. No, that wasn’t true. She appreciated and loved him and his anyway.

Her eyes, with part-reluctance, part-eagerness, settled on the first sheet of paper. She read the title and reflected on it… Dance Again. Then she was drawn again into the fluidity of Tony’s poetic philosophy. It had been a long time since she last read any of his poems, and deliberately so… but now she began to peruse:…

People, spoil
Very slowly change
For worse
Soil becomes hard,
Abandon tenderness
Childlike humility
Lose the ability to change
Remain
Where we stopped
Slide into oblivion, proudly
Anxiously
You and I, know it, lost it

Search again
Youth of today
Take it, purely purely
Dive not into pools of rot
Spoil not the young
Soil not the truth

When did we become rigid
Forget how to dance dance
Inner music?

Our world has played a nasty trick on us
Tenderly, self, dance again
That inner dance
Before rigidity
Forever stills us.

Ada smiled and sighed and saw again her brother’s heart and mind. Who he was. This was Tony. Forever still you. Suddenly it seemed to her as if she had just reunited with him after a long, much too long, separation. How could it have happened? When has they parted?

Then she lowered her eyes again, and read further, to know him all over again, her brother – Young.

Heaven-born come the young
Happy, simple, free, humble, strong
Hearts full of wisdom
Naïve, ready to establish some perfect kingdom

We were young
Never faltering, ever wandering with dream
With song

If the young shall rise anew
Then learn again to yearn, in deeds true.

She did not notice the woman sitting behind her, watching her intensely the whole time. Some people, they say, feel stares on the backs of the head. Ada was one such person, but not today. The poems had taken her away.

Behind her sat this woman, however, looking at her with a shocked question in her eyes, willing her to turn around. And when she didn’t, the strange woman put her face briefly in her hands and wondered what to do. Ada was the last person she expected to see on this bus. She knew Ada, but Ada did not know her. She took long deep breaths to steady herself, and wondered what to do…

Continued in Part Four.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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Twice IS Not Enough

TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 2

After the cool breeze had relaxed her somewhat, her anger receded and her mind slipped out of the bus and travelled to her brother, the university drop-out. Having been rid of one set of anxieties, she was now besieged by an other and quite different one.

Tony.

Why couldn’t he be like other people? Afterall he wasn’t the only poet ever born, nor would he be the last, would he?

Thinking about Tony brought pain always to Ada’s heart. If it wasn’t the pain of disappointment, sorrow or worry, it was the pain of incomprehension and yearning.

She slipped her hand into her shopping bag by her feet and brought out the sheets of paper he had given her, a look of hope in his eyes, early that morning before she left for the market.

The Molue bus ambled and roared on. And what a roar. By now they had gone past the Air Force Barracks and were fast closing in on Ikeja Bus-stop, the outer. Because it was the middle of the day, there were not too many people at the intermediary bus-stops who were going their way.

Like a fruit ripening out of the skies, an ADC plane bore down, above and to the left of them, but fast and loud sinking, into the domestic airport behind the National Petrol Station on the other side of the road. One of the bus-conductors was already leaning out of one of the perpetually open doors of this Lagos road-monster, preparing to shout out his route and stops to the pedestrians waiting at the bus-stop.

Another conductor was guardedly, swiftly, unsmilingly moving from one seat to the other, collecting his fare.

He was soon by her seat. His rough hand quivered, open palm face-up, before the faces of the three women sitted there.

“Yes? Owo da!” His voice permitted of no negotiations. His eyes were fixed, heavy-laden, on Ada’s exposed dark brown thighs. As she paid him, his eyes lifted a trifle and hers caught them. They stared at one another coolly for one moment, then he turned, his money in hand, to go.

“Ah-ah! Changi mi da?” the heavy-set woman on Ada’s left called loudly at him.

Ma fun ẹ change, jọọ, durooo,” he replied without turning back.

“Give me my change now! Ole! Thief!” she ejaculated poisonously at him.

Ada shifted a little to the side and stole a glance at her from under the corner of her eye. The woman had a fleshy face that pinched in her eyes and weighed down the corners of her lips.

The conductor turned around and thrust a twenty naira note into her outstretched claws. As he turned to give her the money and then turned back again to continue with his fare-collection, his yellow-brown eyes slid back and forth again up and down and across Ada’s full, exposed thighs, and there was a look in those eyes.

Instinctively, Ada locked her knees tightly together and haunched forward over her upper thighs. The woman to her left saw everything and, with an amused smile, turned her face away and pointed her eyes out of the open window. Now that she had collected her change, she could afford to be thus entertained even by the offshoots of the things the eyes of the same conductor now did, and in the back of the woman’s throat Ada again heard the little dirty laugh. Why was Lagos so dirty?

… to be continued.

PART 1

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

TWICE IS NOT ENOUGH – pt. 1

Whisperings

Whisperings of a new return of harmattan…
Is it hazy? Was it foggy? Dark, bright?
Feels, like Dawn, Sounds, like Dawn
Looks, like new Dawn –

An early breath of Harmattan serenaded
My heart –
Birds accompany, airy prose
Crickets nonstop chirping
Yet night is gone ~
Deeply I love the boundary between
Rains and thirsty Harmattan…

Nature has said yes,
Why say no?

For some reason, that poem had been going round and round in her head all morning. It had been with her when she arose and saw the haze through the window. It had been with her when she thought of her destination. But she had lost it now, in the middle, on the path between her beautiful beginning and the end of her journey. Now she was walking past the toughest, roughest, most chaotic, dirtiest market in her world and it had torn her out of her reverie. She would have much preferred not to come this way, but she had to, to get to the bus she needed.

The beautiful woman continued calmly down her path, ignoring the lusty cat-calls being pelted without restrain at her by the Oshodi traders. Rough young men with coarse voices and bad intentions. Given half a chance, they would make her regret not only her manner of dressing today, but that she even came this way at all, to this dirty, colourless, overpopulated market, to do her shopping.

Yet she walked with her head high, as though she were not burning with shame as she heard the phrases they were directing at her.

“Na me and you o! If I finish you, you no go want leave me lai-lai!”

“Baby you carry o! Me sef I carry. Come see am!”

Loud peals of dirty male laughter rolled after her. Her? Other people were following the scene with amusement. She walked as fast as she could without seeming to be in any hurry. There were other women, she knew, who would have returned insult for insult, thrown dirt for dirt, traded bad tongue for bad tongue, claimed an eye for an eye, verily, and a tooth for a tooth…. But she couldn’t. She was above that, above them. So she silently breathed her humiliation, in and out, in and out, in and out.

Soon she was out of range of the insults. She was in the thick of the crowd now, marching with the faceless rhythm of those who work a lot and earn a little. The masses. Nobody paid any attention to her now. Everybody was walking fast, as though propelled by a common will. Now she relaxed, and as she let out that one big outflow of breath, for some reason a few tears accompanied it and blurred her vision. Surreptitiously her left hand came up to her eyes and, in one quick little motion, her thumb and forefinger, stroking inwards from the outer corners of both eyes, met at the top of the bridge of her nose, and her vision was restored. Yet she was angry.

She boarded the Molue and settled back uncomfortably between two market women on a seat that would surely have seated only two people conveniently, if convenience could ever be spoken of at all in connection with a Molue bus. But a fresh breeze sighed softly through the window as the bus gathered speed and left the hell-hole of a market behind.

… to be continued-

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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