YESTERDAY’S FACES

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YESTERDAY, IT WAS as beautiful as the early morning sunlight dancing upon a rose. My heart was not my heart, but myself; and my face was not my face, but the shimmering reflection of my heart.

As I was striding once, I saw a figure hovering in the Air. But she had no wings, only the longest, most gleaming braids I ever saw, but gleaming not as bright as her eyes, eyes a-smiling straight into mine.

“Come, my friend,” called she to me in voice of purest gold, “Follow me awhile and I will show you distant places of light and harmony, yes indeed I will!”

I nodded and right there and then her words lifted me up into the magic-coloured sky where, I by her side, we flew over two crystal mountains and one silver lake and then hovered a while above a garden where children wiser than the wisest men were building beautiful castles not in the air or sand, but inside their own hearts.

And then we flew off once again and this time when we paused, a circle of beautiful winged horses with talking eyes came flying up to meet us. We mounted two and journeyed on… but where we went from there I know not anymore, for I have lost my memories of then…

Because now I wonder, like one blind, in the dark and earthly worlds of modern men. And ever, when the sun is a-dawning, or a-shinning but not burning, though it be noon, or a-setting down, I ever and again go on long, gentle strolls, as though I were trying to recapture that glorious journey which I barely remember…

And today as I wandered through dingy markets I saw a face… a woman selling decaying fish, eyes materialistic and cunning, impure seduction. Of course she was not that beautiful Maiden of my all but forgotten past.

So why then does she look so familiar? And what was it that startled her when our eyes touched? Unsettled her. But of course she cannot be that same beautiful female spirit of ancient days who I left up in glorious heights yesterday…

I hope.

– che chidi chukwumerije..

LEVELS OF UNDERSTANDING, MOUNTAINS OF CHANGE, AND NO HORIZONS.

amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

THERE IS a land without a horizon. If you stand upon this land and stare with a keen gaze far into the distance, you will see, not a horizon, but at the farthest, most visible line, a mountain range.

And when you have arrived this Mountain range and climbed these difficult and painful Mountains of transformation you will, at their top, find yourself upon a plain, a plateau, which to your amazement you will realise to be the level surface of another land, another level, upon which you may stay and experience, or further wander. And when you again cast your gaze far into the distance, towards the East, there from where the light comes, you will one day see again, not a horizon, but another Mountain range…

And so we wandered, a band of insatiable restless seekers, from one level to the next, slowly coming to comprehend that life and development is an inner journey of many stages, arranging themselves like a flight of stairs in ascent, or descent, one step, one level, of maturity following upon the other. And as you climb the Mountain which is the end of one reality, so you ascend the Mountain which is the lowest point of another.

There came a day when we paused upon a plateau and, looking back, saw our past descending like a flight of giant steps behind us, curving gently downwards like a winding stairway round and round an invisible pillar of life, around which our gazes also bent. And as we followed the sight of the descending steps of our former levels, so did each of us recognise his and her own distinct footprint left upon each plain, silent, unobserved by those former friends and newly sighted wanderers we could see trudging down there upon those lands, standing around or shuffling left and right. For where we had seen Mountains and sought them, they had seen only a misty future and a horizon of clouds. And where we had felt restless, they had felt at home.

Like indelible lines on forgotten pages of an old book, our tracks marked the landscape of yesterday’s land wherein our friends yet lived, waiting for changes they would have to bring about themselves. Then I understood why the old book keeps on changing from reader to reader, generation to generation and writer to writer – when you change the present, you change not just the future… you change also the past.

Like seeking thoughts groping their way through the lines of a sealed page, looking back I saw our former comrades wandering sightlessly round and round the footprints we left behind.

And then a few of them would notice the footprints, and maybe feel something happen inside their souls, and follow then them footprints with their eyes curiously… until, with a startled surprise, one or two would make out far in the distance, a mountain range where formerly they saw only a misty final horizon. Amazed they ask themselves where these mountains suddenly came from. Each mountain will be a hard climb, my friend, for with each upward step you must also actually climb over an obstacle which you bear within.

A word of hope for them. A word, a strong wish that flies back, like a bird, over to them; but not everyone will see the bird – only those looking up will. For these eastward-gazing people with a question gleaming deep in their eyes we whispered a word of hope…, and then we turned around again, to experience this new land upon which we stood.

Hard had been the ascent through the Mountains that led into this land, and one or two had fallen behind, trapped still in these mountains, unable yet to complete the transformation. But a few of us had indeed found the plateau at the top.

It was a strange land, for gaze as we may into the distance, on this one we saw no new mountains in the distant future… only land and clouds and a seeming horizon. It was a beautiful and mysterious land… and years have passed now since it has held us in its embrace. We have forgotten to look to the East, seeking the New… This new land has become, finally, our home. For many years now.

Some, I tell you, meanwhile have become bored here… and journeyed back down to their haunts of yore, welcomed back by many a comrade on a recycled rung, horizontal heroes of their own yesterdays. But the most have remained here on this new won plane, experiencing and experiencing…
Years of experiencing, experiences that satisfied some… but left a few seeking for something new. These few increasingly bear a thoughtful look upon their faces. Until one day they said to the rest of us, “Do you see these footsteps that disappear in that direction?” They pointed towards the clouds.

“No, we see them not,” we replied, after following their gaze.

“And do you see those Mountains far away in the distance?…

We raised our eyes and saw only clouds at the horizon.

“No, we see only clouds. There is nothing more, nowhere further. We have reached the summit.”

But these Few would not be satisfied, and one day when we woke up, they were gone, restless souls, towards the cloudy mists in the future.

Often have I stood, silent, on my own, and gazed after their footsteps, for one of them, Kulie, had been my good friend. And I have gazed and gazed towards the Light coming through the clouds in the East. And sometimes when I intently gaze, my heart full of longing and a quietly persistent question, the clouds seem to disappear, and I slowly make them out, vaguely, rugged mountains of reflection, far far away. While on other days, when I simply curiously look across, all I see are clouds hovering above a final horizon. Quiet thoughts cross my mind.

I wonder if upon a mountain which I cannot yet see, a spirit pauses at this very moment, and turning around, sees me upon this level which he has left behind, sees the question in my eyes, and whispers for me a word of hope.

More and more, such questions arise within me. For as much as I love this strange and beautiful state of being, this mature level of thought, this comfort zone and stable throne, and my circle of friends who inhabit with me this point of view, yet stirs within me an old restlessness anew, urging me again to think ahead, to look up, for there is a new perception somewhere and no horizon comprehensible to me.

What are those mountains I increasingly seem to see there, in the distance? Inviting and imposing at the same time. Peaceful and rugged. Why should I brave them if indeed they do exist? But, if they do, what land lies again upon them? Maybe somebody stands upon them now and whispers words of hope for me. And maybe these thoughts I think, and think are mine, in truth are his, calling me, talking to me –

“Seeking spirit, be sure of one thing: There is always something more…”

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

From my book:
There is always something more.

 

THE FLUTTERING

OUTSIDE MY WINDOW there fluttered a bird…

I opened the window and in it flew. It alighted upon my table and became a story, a book of many pages full of emotion and history. Poet, poet, you anchored the story and it became a masterpiece that fed and accompanied human hearts from generation to generation.

There is an old book that began at the dawn of history and has no end, for from generation to generation there is always a poet to receive its next pages, humanity’s rebirth, return of inspiration and guidance. The mystery, it seems to me, comes always in the shape of a bird and survives in the shape of a flower in the desert.

The bird kept on singing, narrating; I kept on listening, the poet kept on writing, the poet in me. When the last page emerged and the bird disappeared, a day of sharing passed, and I fell asleep.

A century of slumber passed again. Again again the night dawned and swallowed up the world. From the depths of my sleep a sound extracted me, the flutterings of a bird. Outside the window, woman or bird? Woman and bird? A woman stands behind the bird. With sleepy eyes I her behold, a waif of moonlight, standing outside my window, an ephemeral beauty, a strange maid…

I desire her. My desire becomes the magic wand with which she hypnotises me. I lose interest in the bird, the bringer of my stories, the being of my inspiration. Instead, I open the window and walk to the woman. Dimly I was aware of the bird that flew in through the open window of my soul into my chamber of secrets even as I walked out of it, into the hungry night. The glass door shut behind me, Noah’s ark sailed away sans poet. There she stood before me, the night’s promise, unfulfillable. A thousand pleasures she would give to me, but none quenched my thirst… Until it dawned that she was the thirst itself, cyclically renewing itself, fawn Sisyphus.

Wearily I dragged myself back to my window; shut. It was shut, long shut, with me on the outside. Looking in I make out, upon the table, another book, another distant story, buried in my heart. Like a visitor at a glass tomb, thoughtfully I look back in time.

It used to be a bird, a bird that once flew to me. Sadly I gaze at the scroll through the infinity of a glass window. I can see the book deep within my soul, but I cannot reach or read it. I stretch forth my yearning hand, but all I manage to do is scratch the window pane with with my fingernails. Poet, poet, awakened and then distracted, unable to anchor your story, the very reason for your awakening. How does it feel to gaze upon your calling and be unable to enter it?

Weary and more you search until you find the door, and re-enter your inner home, but generations have since passed… the table, it is empty.

So here you go, sleeping again. A century and many more of restless dreams. Then, one day, you hear it… a familiar sound… outside your window… the Fluttering…

The night is dark, the moon is pale and sceptical, the glass is scratched, the witch is calling and the bird is fluttering…

Do you remember? It has been a long sleep. Memory has become a distant memory. Who is this moon? What is this woman? Why is this night? When is this window? How is this bird?… Even yourself you do not know anymore. Long was this sleep.

Poet, poet, you move in my heart, like a bird fluttering outside my window. Time is my window. If I open it and let the bird fly in, I will see and remember that it is no ordinary bird, it is a memory being, a fountain-pen, a poem, a story which, anchored, will grow wings and fly into the hearts of those who are thirsty outside…

Poet, poet, you speak in my heart. Forget that woman and face your true love.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

METAMORPHOSIS

THERE ONCE lived a girl called Vanity. It was in that strange country where newborn babies are left unnamed – simply being referred to as so and so’s first son, so and so’s third daughter, etc – until they have grown into childhood. Only then would their parents and relatives, having up to this time carefully studied the character (for early dawns day) of the one to be named – finally confer upon the child that name which they believed best captured the essence of its core personality.

And so did this girl, from an early age, come to be called Vanity, for she was as proud and vainglorious as a peacock. Vanity believed that the whole world was there just to serve and admire her. She did not care much for others, nor could she tolerate, in her vicinity, another receiving more attention, admiration and adoration than herself. This she simply could not bear. She thus constantly went to all and any lengths to make sure that the attention of everybody would always and only be riveted upon only her. Vanity dressed in the most beautiful of clothes, wore the most attractive ornaments, learned the most alluring manners of self-expression, perfected the most sensational methods of walking and swinging, and – being the scion of wealthy royalty – made it very obvious to the gentry that she had a lot of wealth to spread around. The inevitable consequence of this was that the world divided itself into two groups before her – those who crowded themselves around her and those who avoided her. Great was her pleasure, for ‘her side’ verily outnumbered the other side.

As she grew into a teenage adolescent, a spectacular beauty happened to grow out upon Vanity’s features and fitted itself around her form. Naturally this pleased Vanity extremely  and only served to confirm for her and her court her egotistical claim to prenatal supremacy. And at this point her name changed spontaneously from Vanity to Beauty. Beauty became the rave of her time, the talk of town, the object of the envy and idolisation of the women, the desire of the men – exactly what she wanted. Beauty wore her outward beauty like a trophy and used it ruthlessly to acquire everything she wanted, most of which she indeed also got. For people practically worshipped Beauty; they made her their idol, their goddess, their queen. She controlled all.

Such was it that by the time she had become a young woman her name had changed once more – and now everybody called her Power. Power exalted in this name granted to her by her fellow human beings and proceeded to have a crown manufactured for herself on which her name was inscribed for all to see. She became so full of herself that there was no space left for her in which she could continue to expand, nor could her bloated ego grow any further. It neared its peak, its limits. Her ways became stiff and cold, lifeless. She could not find any further height to reach and claim. She became an ornament herself.

And very soon her name became Rigidity. For rigidly fixed was she to the dogged attachment to vanity, beauty and power. She bore no love for other human beings. Frightening and strange became her ways. Rigidity detested her new name intensely and tried to rigidly hold on to the previous one and to thus force the people to keep on calling her by it, but the people, like people like to do, persisted in calling Rigidity by the newest name they had given to her. And the harder she resisted it, the louder they called it.

It happened that, at this time, owing to her persistent attachment to old forms, her health broke down. By the time she recovered, her face, older, less beautiful, remained marked by the deep scars of her illness and struggles, and there was a tired ring to her voice. And, for some unknown reason, the people at this point began to call her Lesson. They pointed at her and said: “Lesson, Lesson, Lesson!” And Lesson saw that they were but pointing her out to the new, young beauty in town and pointing out her own destiny to her too. Lesson was very dejected. Sadly she sneaked out of town in the dead of night and wandered lost and lonely, trying to put a finger on what exactly had gone wrong in her life. And Lesson spent many years trying to understand life. Many lonely years.

And during these years of her travels, fellow wayfarers who saw her simply dubbed her with the name Simplicity, for she walked silent and alone and appeared to do all her things simply. When Simplicity found out that this was her new name, it seemed to her that there was a hidden message and clue in this name. She then began to consciously strive to do all things simply, to think simply and to cultivate true simplicity of the soul. Finally Simplicity settled down in a little hut in a little village where she cultivated farms and gardens and grew to love children and nature.

The people of the village loved exceedingly this obviously aristocratic yet so modest, archaic stranger who had come to live amongst them and, inspired by her ways, they named her Humility. This name struck the surprised Humility with such great humbleness that she again, using it as a guiding star, started striving consciously after true humbleness and humility in her life, in order to become worthy of the name. Humility was ever ready to carry out even the lowliest of tasks and was never too proud to speak up for the truth when she saw it being denied, or even to fight for it, no matter how much of a fool she might appear in the eyes of others for doing so; for in her newfound humility it no longer mattered to her what others thought of her. Because true humility is strength, not weakness, as we all know.

The people of the village learnt much from Humility, who was by now rather an old woman, and gradually they recognised the absolute magnificence of the beautiful female spirit that occupied her old body – which revealed to them the essence of true inner beauty – and, unanimously, they agreed to change her name to Beauty! And so, for the second time in her life, Beauty was called Beauty again, but now for a genuine reason, for the truest of beauty is the beauty of the heart.

Many more years has Beauty now lived amongst the people of this dear and beautiful village, and it is Beauty herself who is now writing down her own long and eventful story. Except that now – now that this village has become a place of that true heavenlike peace and beauty which she has always borne hidden, deep, within her maturing soul – Beauty’s name is no longer Beauty, but she now bears an other and final name which will be the one that will be etched unto her grave tablet when this old, warm body of hers is finally returned to earth. And what do you think this her ninth name is? – It might be Service; or Leadership; or Strength; it could be Love; or perhaps Peace; or even Heaven. It may also be Purity; or Guide; or Guardian; or maybe it could be Mirror. Choose for yourself, every woman out there, do.

I am simply what I should be.

Emptiness always makes the greatest noise. Would that emptiness could learn to become silent, that it may be true and become filled.

Goodbye, Earth. – – –

The beautiful old woman died two days after writing down her own story; and when she was buried, the grateful village people inscribed upon her grave stone the single word… HOME.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije (There Is Always Something More)
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

THE VILLAGER

ONCE UPON a time, in a village near Enugu, nestling in the luscious green valleys between the plateaus of the Udi hills, in south-eastern Nigeria, there settled a city-dweller, a young urbanite, come to hide from fellow city dwellers and indeed the city itself in the quiet of this peaceful village.

At first the quiet laze of the unhurried village folk was a great delight to him and a welcome change from the impersonal razzmatazz of the city. However, after some time there arose in him an itch, product of a silent but powerful addiction to city-life which, unknown to him, had become a part of his constitution.

The restless itch became exacerbated to the point where he was about to abandon all hope of a more fulfilling existence in the rural and resort back to the urban.

That was when he met the villager.

Previously he had only seen him fleetingly, as he went to or returned from his farm, presunrise and postsunset, without ever clearly discerning his features or exchanging a word or direct gaze with him.

But did dusk descend later than usual upon this fateful day? Or did the villager’s own restlessness propel him out of his farm, setting him homebound, earlier than usual?

It could be anything.

But as the city-dweller looked up from his front door, there he saw the familiar fleeting figure… only this time he was much more visible in the hanging lights of mesmerizingly tantalisingly unhurried sunset.

For the first time he saw the villager’s features and, lo and behold, he was a young man just like himself; but his face appeared to have been chiselled out of smooth, hard stone, fired in flames like metal ore, and then brought to life by a soft breath from heaven. For the eyes which momentarily seized the city-dweller’s, though set in the most rugged of features, were gentle and kind. Suddenly they seemed so similar, these two very unsimilar men.

Only for a moment did these two men lock gaze and then the villager looked again ahead of him and, sack in hand, hoe slung over his shoulder, sturdily yet gracefully walked on home, a half-spring, half-unspring, in his heels, a man freely born to farm his village land, oblivious to everything else, happy and content in his destiny.

The next day the city-dweller packed his belongings and returned to his home in the city. He had found what he came to the village searching for. He had found and become the villager in his heart.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

ELOKA

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AFTER THE NIGERIAN Civil War, popularly known as the Biafran War, Eloka could not find his feet anymore. He had run away from home and bluffed his way to the front where he miraculously survived. By the time the war ended however he had learnt all those slippery gripping things which are most dangerous to learn in those teenage years.

A drug addict, possessed of fits of violence and passion, and unable to focus his attention on anything serious for any considerable length of time, he became in the post-war years a source of sorrow and heart-ache to his parents and family. He was the fifth and youngest child of his parents, their baby and most beloved. His mother shed innumerable tears. His proud and stately but gentle father, a high chief of their people, bore it with a grim silence.

And then, somehow, someone hit upon the disastrous idea of sending young Eloka to America; for some reason they indulged in the logic that, at school there, far away from home, Eloka would be moulded into a man, forced to become self-controlled, responsible and mature. – And so, off he went to America.

But even many a stable and level-headed adult has been turned and broken by America, that distant continent, not to talk of this unsettled youth. Reports have it that he indeed at first attended his courses at the university, but with time Eloka gradually eased away from contact and eventually disappeared from sight.

Full of concern and agony, in which was mingled a stab of self-blame, Chief Ogbonna – Eloka’s stately father – contacted all known relatives and friends in that giant continent-of-a-country, pleading with them to help find his Eloka. But look high or look low as these people did – even with the help of police and private detectives – Eloka was nowhere to be found.

Sorrowfully his parents resigned themselves to the certainty that death must have overtaken him. Eloka’s war-torn nature, they lamented, had broken out again and done him in. Oh… that war! – Eloka’s mother’s tears flowed again, night after night, as she called his name into the unresponsive wind. And Eloka’s father again bore these times with a leaden heart of silence.

But then, as life always shows itself to be running differently from what we think it is, Eloka suddenly appeared again, not in America, but back in Nigeria. But when Chief Ogbonna gazed into his son’s eyes he saw, not the son he once knew, but a harassed stranger. And the Chief openly shed tears. And whilst others thought they were tears of joy, in truth they were tears of pain and loss. Now he really knew that his son was gone from him for good.

The others, however, only celebrated his return. His mother, though she sensed the absolute change in him, refused to acknowledge it as she clung unto her love for her returned son, and proceeded to go through the motions of being a happy mother.

But, truly, nobody knew the real reason why Eloka had suddenly and miraculously returned. He had simply been on the run from other gangsters who were after his life, and had fled to his native country to wait out the heat.

The heat did cool off, as Eloka established through telephone conversations, and then, just the same way as he had returned, Eloka whisked himself back to America.

Let me not disclose the renewed sorrow that descended upon the Ogbonna family. The years went by. For a long while nobody heard anything from or about Eloka. But then, slowly, pieces of news about him began to painfully filter through: wanted by the police here, fleeing from the law there, etcetera.

To say that all this added to the quickened deterioration of Chief Ogbonna’s health would be an understatement. Slowly he withered mortally away…

Meanwhile, on that strange distant American continent, Eloka began to slowly come to a better understanding of life and himself. The works of great philosophers slid through his fingers and across the canvas of his soul and he discovered his buried I. He began to study and to read and to think. Reading wrought a strange change upon his spirit and suddenly, as though with new eyes, looking about him he found himself surrounded by works and people that had the capacity to inspire him, and all of a sudden the country seemed like a whole different place – a land of opportunity. And then he began to think about his life.

It became clear to him that he had nigh on senselessly wasted over two decades of his life being less than he could be, less than his parents had brought him up to be, less than his father had all along been waiting for him to become. His father. His mentor. His childhood hero. He remembered the gulf that had yawned between both of them when he last saw him that time he fled home fifteen years earlier. Remorse gradually took hold of him and the urge to close this gap that had opened up between his father and himself.

To this purpose at the age of forty, Eloka’s life began anew. He turned away fully from crime and, over the next couple of years, settled his cases with the law, left the bars permanently behind and eventually worked himself into a job as a writer of newspaper articles. He wanted to step before his father as a respectable and capable son. – Once or twice he considered writing a letter home, but never did so.

But this period of transformation had not yet ended when the heavy, fateful news suddenly and abruptly filtered through to Eloka that his father had just died after a protracted bout of illness. A wild pain, laced by regret, tore through Eloka. Suddenly his life lost whatever meaning it had recently and newly found again. His only star, only beckoning light, was gone. What was he to do now? Could anything be done? Eloka was tired. For although he dearly loved his mother, his brothers and his sisters, it was his father who had always been the owner of the deepest love in his heart.

Yet why did he not even now return home? Or communicate, or something, anything, to make the pain in his heart, and in everybody else’s too, go away a little. – But, no. His life was empty now, his destiny altered. There was nothing more to strive for… – wispy thoughts that stung at night.

Yet must credit be given to Eloka however. He did not revert back to crime, nor did he ever contemplate suicide. He simply drifted on in that old new world and completely forgot his old homeland, a stranger in a land of seekers and dreamers.

Unknown to Eloka however his father was still alive and, in fact, hale and hearty. Chief Ogbonna was not dead., neither was his mother. It had been a case of misinformation, accidentally or deliberately. Both his parents lived, resigned to their loss and newly resolved to making the best of the rest of their lives. In this spirit, the Chief had kicked against the dejection that had been slowly killing him, and returned to life.

They lived over ten more happy years together and then the old Chief, in his nineties, was the first to close his eyes to a rich and many-sided earthlife. And, in accordance with the customs of his people, an Igbo village in Eastern Nigeria, though his body was interred immediately, the public funeral ceremony was fixed for a distant month.

Hardly had his body been buried, however, than private investigators in America, constantly hired over the decades to seek out Eloka, found him at last. They communicated this piece of news to other relatives of his who also lived in America and these set out to meet him.

Great, and not to be fastened in words, were the emotions that suddenly surged up in and overwhelmed Eloka when he opened the door of his apartment and gazed into familiar, long unseen, loved faces, gazing back at him.

Tenderly, ever so tenderly, they broke the news to him about the recent death of his beloved father, Chief Obinna Ogbonna. But they did not know the reason why Eloka sat so still after hearing this strange, startling piece of news. Eloka was dumbfounded, perplexed, thunderstruck, silent. Very silent and very still. But his soul was in tumult.

The realization that his father had not died over ten years ago like he had heard, like he had all the while thought, but had been alive all this time! All these years, years in which he, Eloka, had finally, even if almost nonchalantly, achieved that which only the longing to meet his father again had awakened in his heart some fifteen years ago now. To be a respectable son and capable, independent, balanced man. Years in which he could have visited the old man as often as he pleased. Ten years. All gone. For he had believed his father dead all along. Now history.

Why had fate misinformed him years ago? But whose fate? And who’s fate?

Eloka’s thoughts floated back to his childhood, to the time before the war, before that haunting turning point. How many evenings had he lain beside his father, listening to his breathing? During how many meals had he sat by the loving man’s side, pilfering solemnly slices of fish and roasted chicken from his plate? How many times had his father tickled him, made him laugh and then made him proud with tales of their ancestors, and then made his heart tremble by telling him how eager he was to see what his boy would be when he became a man. How many times had he longed again and again for his father, his father for him?…

And so, Eloka, now in his mid-fifties, who did not visit his father while the man yet lived, and longed, boarded an American plane in that distant month to go and visit him at his funeral.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

 

image: 3345408/pixabay