TOUCHING A FLOWER

THERE ARE friends you know that you have stored deep within your heart. These friends are blown in by the wind, borne in by a river… a golden river. There are people you know that even if you were parted from them, you would never forget them… There are spirits which share with you a part of your wanderings through creation. Those to whom you entrust your secrets, knowledge about your faults and questions and contradictions… and you know that you are one. That you share so many similar things.

A flower. Who can touch, who can break, who can soil a flower? Who dares? A speaking bird once said to me: “Life is a forest, a jungle, full of wild trees, wild fruits and wild beasts, wild sounds and hunters and preys and the sounds of the forest. You will meet everything, each thing in its own place. Separated according to their species. But there is one thing which you will see everywhere. Always you will see a flower somewhere.

“It will appear unexpectedly from beneath hidden rocks, betwixt twisted trunks, hover above unreachable branches, glow in the rays of the moon, there will always be a flower somewhere.

“Think not that every flower you meet you are permitted to touch…

“Though they warm your heart, raise your spirits, brighten your soul, relieve your mind, inspire you and encourage you…, yet think twice before you touch a flower, consider well before you pick one off its stem. Maybe the simple pleasure that the sight of it has given you, is all it is supposed to bring you. Ask yourself: are you worth it? Will it blossom and bloom in your hands as beautifully as it blossoms and blooms on its own? Is the soil of your heart ready to keep a flower alive? If not, wait… wait for when you will be ready to touch it and plant it in your heart. There will always be one flower waiting for you…

“And should you wander into the desert of life too, your longing to see a flower is what shall see you through. Yet shall your longing not be in vain. For you bear your flower within. Always within. Watered by your love, sunned by your gratitude, rooted in your heart, it will always bloom by your side.”

And so I set forth… but I confess that her words I forgot. Many a flower that delighted my heart I snapped and inhaled and left to wither by the roadside. So crashed I triumphantly through the jungle like a King, littering the path behind me with the fading sadness of flowers I had touched and crushed and left to wither in my restless memory.

In the desert it is eerie and burns like a furnace. Thorns bleed my bare feet, one for every flower I once carelessly crushed. How I long now for a flower, for the sight of a flower again. This eternal desert which the forest has become. I remember all the flowers that litter my past. Would that I had planted just one inside my heart, in my life.

Yet there is one. Brief had been our meeting, short my sight of her. I had reached for her, but strong branches had kept her beyond my reach. The speaking bird had hovered on the branches around her, singing into her ears. Her smile was all I got, and oh how this I treasured. She alone comes back to my mind now, over and over and over again. And as I trudge on through the desert, following the bird that appears and disappears, it is the hope of seeing her again that keeps me alive.

The one flower I left unhurt is the one that shall heal my wound.

– che chidi chukwumerije.

AWAKEN, MY FLOWER

ONCE UPON a time, here beside your heart, I waited.

I waited and waited, but you did not open up. Why? I thought you said you loved me. Finally I knocked on the door, but the door did not open up. So I knocked on the window, but the window remained shut. Then I peered in through the glass-pane of the window. The curtains were drawn aside, I had a clear view into your heart.

You were lying on a couch, a soft couch, you were sleeping. What were you dreaming of? I did not know. Whom were you dreaming of? I did not know. Your eyes were closed, just like your door and your window, there was a peaceful look on your face.

You looked so restful that I did not want to disturb you. I would gladly have remained outside rather than disturb the serene sleep of your heart. But, you see, it’s cold outside and it’s getting dark, and strange figures approach me and call me by strange names to which I know that I must never answer or I’ll be caught and I’ll be dead.

Won’t you open up the door? Won’t you awaken from your sleep?

So I began to sing. It was a song that I had never sung before, a new song that arose unbidden from my heart. The song entered into your sleep and entered into your dream and showed you the way out of your subconsciousness, and led you out of the hall of dreams… and, as your eyes opened, you saw me at the window and I saw the love and the fear in your eyes. Love because you love me. Fear because the monster is standing over me.

But if you rush to the door on time and open it quickly, I will escape the monster and you and I will become one heart.

Hurry up, dear, I’m almost dead.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

A PRIVATE AFFAIR

WE DECIDED TO let her have her affair, and pretended not to know.

We all work in the same office, she sits in front of her computer right at the back of the office, and computes away. We all sit in front of our computers, computing away.

I saw one of the first emails. It was one of those accidents that happen in the workplace. I don’t know where she went to, I don’t know what compelled me to get up and go to her empty desk, and click on. I shouldn’t have. Seeing that she was not there, I should have just walked away; shouldn’t even have gone there in the first place. But I was in a hurry, she should have forwarded the email to me an hour ago, I needed information in it to help me finish the contract I was drafting for an agent, and the deadline was noon. Without thinking, I grabbed the mouse and began to browse her inbox which surprisingly was open on the screen. Normally she always locked her screen before she left her seat.

Suddenly I hesitated. She was a person who guarded her privacy intensely. She was a bit different from the rest of us in the office, at least in this regard. With any other colleague it would not have mattered, but she was… Hmm… Come to think of it, what did she have to hide anyway? Why was she always locking her screen? Mchw!

My annoyance at knowing I would have to let go of her PC without getting what I wanted, thereby facing the risk of not meeting my deadline, almost rubbed me of my morals. But still I hesitated, which in itself irritated me all the more. She was the only one in the office who guarded her privacy with such tenacity. But the moment of hesitation had done its job. I sighed. Don’t be a jerk! I told myself, she’s different from the rest of us, just let her be. I shook my head and started to turn away…

Then I saw the name. The email at the bottom of the page. It rang a shrill bell. I did a double-take. That name! But, even more than the name, was the subject title of the email. “Babycakes, can’t wait”. Almost mechanically, without any conscious effort, I pointed the mouse at the incomprehension and clicked. The clarification came. I closed the email, returned the inbox to the face of the monitor and walked away, thoughtful, to my seat. She was having an affair. With him. It hit me like a thunderbolt.

For the better part of the next hour, my mind was in turmoil. Needless to say, I missed my deadline. Even when she returned to her seat five minutes after I left it, and eventually forwarded the email to me, I couldn’t work. It took me a long while to find my composure.

For some reason I kept it to myself. Over the next couple of weeks, I began to observe her more closely. Such a quiet, shy, unassuming, unobtrusive personality. Babycakes, can’t wait. How had it started? Every once in a while I would turn around, steal a glance at her, or watch her as she walked by. And each time, the wedding ring on her finger would catch my eye, and I would think of her four year old son who she once brought with her to the office. Babycakes, can’t wait. What was she doing? I noticed that she began to receive lots of phone calls. Private phone calls on her mobile phone. Each time, she would jump up and hurry out of the office; and in between the phone calls, frequently, the buzz of incoming text messages. Babycakes, can’t wait.

I don’t know how the others came to know, truly I don’t. Maybe because of all the sudden personal phone calls. One day, while she was out, we were all talking, and the conversation gravitated to love and affairs… and it turned out that we all knew she was having an affair… and with whom.

Maybe because none of us had ever met her husband. Maybe because all of us liked her, liked her quaint, quiet, modest personality. But we never discussed it again amongst ourselves. For some reason hard to explain, we all hushed it up.

The months passed. No one came to visit her in the office. Was she still having the affair? She remained her usual self, quiet, generous with friendly smiles. The phone calls and the text messages kept on coming, an insistent flood of private vibrations.

One day, her husband came to the office. I think that was when the pain of conflict drove all of us into intense inner reflection. He was a nice guy, with an unassuming, almost self-deprecating air, greeted everybody with a wide smile, an eager handshake. In the following days, we started to talk about her affair again. It was moral, it was immoral, life is a mystery, she needs salvation, maybe he’s doing it too, who knows how it really is in their home, it is a sin, everybody has free will, monogamy is unnatural, polygamy is unnatural, judge not, love thy neighbour, trust nobody, watch out for the devil, what a man can do a woman can do better, are we sure, maybe we’re mistaken, stop gossiping, stop spreading rumours, it is true, I have the proof, the world is coming to an end, he must be doing her well, maybe her husband has stopped performing, it’s his money she’s after, but she’s such a good girl, we must put her in our prayers, there must be a reason, love is a mystery… As always we only spoke about it when she was not there. Was she still having the affair? I didn’t know. I didn’t ask.

And then came the day when everything changed. Her phone burped. A short conversation. A loud gasp. An ominous pause… and then it broke out: a frightening, low, howl that gripped every heart in the office. It seemed as though we all started up at once. I turned around. Her face was in her hands, she was sobbing. Wracking, ugly sounds, primitive and real.

I jumped up and hurried with the others towards her. It took a long time to calm her down. After she had shut down her computer and left, I walked into the toilet, to avoid the chatter of the colleagues. I put the seat down, sat on it, closed my eyes and watched again in my head the scene that had played out after we all rushed to her.

“What’s wrong?” someone asked.

She sat frozen, staring at her mobile phone, as if hoping it would ring again. Her voice was a whisper:

“A friend of mine… just died… he took part in the fuel protest in Lagos today… he got hit by a stray bullet… his best friend was with him… “

Silence.

“What’s his name?” someone whispered gently.

A pause.

“Kulie Oto.”

“The artist?”

“The activist?”

“The lecturer?”

All three questions came at once.

She answered mechanically.

“Yes…, the sculptor. He is… was… my husband’s cousin.”

“Really?” Even I felt my eyebrow rise. She was still mumbling softly, almost to herself.

“He’s the one who just called… I mean my husband… to tell me… there was some shooting… people ran… Chiya… was hit… fell… his best friend found him… I don’t understand… he flew to Lagos yesterday evening… he was to travel back to Abuja this evening…” Her eyes travelled from mobile phone to PC screen and back again.

Babycakes, can’t wait.

A very uncomfortable silence followed.

She breathed out slowly, very slowly. As if she was letting something out. She shook her head.

Silence. Longer.

And then:

“I’m so sorry for his wife and three children,” someone said, evenly.

Months have passed again. The calls don’t come anymore. Her smiles are few and far-between. Somewhere in the quiet depth of her heart, her secret, her loss and her pain continue to rest, unshared. In the office nobody talks about it anymore. Silence has encapsuled it once more, like a matter that has been put to rest.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

TWO PAINTINGS

A YOUNG MAN. Alone. Poverty-stricken. What shall he do to survive? He has only one talent, much unused: he can draw and paint. He had done it all his short life, since that moment when he first saw the paintings of that legendary artist who killed herself as a young woman, long ago in the old Nigeria, before the war. Her paintings seemed to have torn open wounds within his heart from which, ceaselessly, it gushed forth.

Growing up in the mad heady dash to afro-modernity that was Lagos, he had forgotten to back himself up with an alternative education while following with audacious self-will his crazy passion and living his dream. Now he stood on the brink of starvation and understood her. But he also knew that if he had armed himself with an alternative, he would today in hungry desperation betray everything he believed in, and he was glad he had not. For this one thing he knew: he would never give up. One day, the tables would turn. So the struggle continued. And then one day arrived in which he had absolutely nothing left and knew not what to do.

Finally he mixed his last paints and, full of anguish, loneliness and a something else not easy to define, wrought two paintings upon two round, flat surfaces, and stood with them beside a mechanic workshop on one of the busy roadsides in Lagos, to peddle them, and eat.

A woman passing in a car beheld the two paintings and the hawker. In Nigeria, people hawk any and all things which they can lay their hands on. Therefore, the woman never even gave thought to the notion that that ragged bony pauper might have actually painted those works himself. All she knew, straightaway, was that they were masterpieces. So she stopped and bargained them down to a cruelly small price and bought them off him, believing in her mind that he must have stolen them from somewhere, thus whatever amount he sold them for would still mean a profit. She bought them for the price of a day’s meal.

But as she was driving away she chanced to glance into the rear-view mirror and noticed the hawker still standing there, gazing after her with a strange, intense, burning look on his face. Suddenly she just knew that he was the artist, the painter who executed these works personally.

She began to do a u-turn but before she was done a sportscar had gone out of control and hit the dreaming painter and sped off. He was on the brink of no return by the time she got to him, and then, after exchanging a look of unwordable intimacy with her, he died, in her arms, his two eyes open, still looking at her.

And suddenly she wondered why he looked so strongly familiar.

She hung his two paintings in her home, for she felt an irresistible connection to these her only connections to that unknown pauper. There was something about the paintings…

One was about women bathing in a stream…

The other was about women lying dead in the woods…

In both paintings, outside the woods, was a single gravestone, with an old woman standing beside it, looking towards the woods with a worried expression on her wise old face.

The paintings held her like a spell.

One day, another woman, one with whom she was bound by quarrels and disagreements and tensions, came calling on her for the purpose of continuing an old line of altercation and settling an old debt. She was one of her bitterest foes.

But then her eyes fell upon, she saw and fell in love with the two paintings, this other woman too. Her heart fell upon them. When the first woman still proved unable to pay back the huge financial debt she owed her, she asked for one of the paintings instead. With anguished heart, the first lady surrendered one, the one where the women lay dead in the woods.

Her foe took it away and hung it up in her home. A few days later she called to ask after the painter of this work, for it seemed to her so familiar. Together they visited his grave, and, for some reason, bitterly wept.

With time they began to call on each other more often, each wanting to see the other painting and to discuss the effect they had on them. So did their bond become mystic, the two women. Each feels an intense connection to the paintings and, through them, to the unknown artist who wrought them, he who seemed so familiar. Their feud came to an end, replaced by a sense of kinship older and deeper than words could explain.

Two paintings. One artist, dead and buried; but his works live on.

And both women still cannot understand what the two paintings mean, nor why they move them both. They only know that the artist had deposited more than just two masterpieces on earth. Verily, he seemed indeed to have also deposited two mistresses and peace on earth, and then departed. –

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE TWO SONGS

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ONCE UPON a time, two birds became friends in a faraway country, different from their own. They decided to make two songs, not just one…

Then they said goodbye and each bird returned to a different country.

Music is a country. Loneliness is a country. But love would like to visit all countries and free all peoples.

I still know our two songs and, tomorrow, when all countries have united in love to be one world, I’ll teach you another song you once wanted to sing…

Do not be afraid to open up your heart because there are two songs in there, not one.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
From “There Is Always Something More” (Short and inspirational stories and thoughts)
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

THE INVISIBLE PEDDLER OF HEARTS

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“WHO STOLE your heart, dear?” a woman said to another
“I don’t know,” replied the disheartened woman, “I just don’t know…
One minute I had it, the next it was gone;
And who the thief was, I simply do not know – “

Finally I had compassion on her
And, making myself visible, confessed to her:
“I stole your heart, dear – “
“You? But who are you?”
“I am the invisible peddler of human hearts.”
“I want my heart back!”
“That’s not possible, dear,
I’ve already sold it to another woman
At a very high price
And made a huge profit for myself,
Especially when one considers the fact that
It wasn’t at all hard to steal it from you.”
“What! What! What!… you you…
And you exchanged my heart for just money?!”
“No, it wasn’t just for money at all, really…
The other woman was suffering terribly.
You see, her heart had been broken
And it refused to heal…
She needed another, and quick,
So she appealed to me in her heart,
Me, the invisible peddler of human hearts.”

The disheartened woman listened in shock and amazement,
Then asked:
“And how much did this other woman pay for my heart?”
“She paid with all her carefreeness
And so, now, though she has a heart
And though her pain is gone
Yet she has no real joy as well anymore –“
“Terrible! You monster! And then me! What about me!?
I need a heart too!
You can’t just steal and sell hearts that way!”
“You should have guarded your heart better, my dear.”
“I want to have a heart again,
For there is in me a creeping coldness now
Which I fear will eat away all my remaining warmth.”
“I can get you a new heart,
But it will cost you a lot – “
“I don’t want a new heart, I want
My old one back.”
“That will cost you much more,
Indeed almost everything you have,
Because the woman who has it now
Has placed it tightly under lock and key –
She has barred it up very securely indeed
Because she does not want it broken, or even
Scratched, in any way damaged, like her first one was.
Hearts are precious, and yours is especially beautiful, you know.”

The disheartened woman said:
“I don’t care what it costs me,
Just get me back my heart – “
“Okay, “ I replied, for she was in earnest.

At nightfall I returned to her with her heart – unscathed –
She reached for it –
“Oh no,” I said… “first you must
Marry me – “
“Marry you?! You thief?! Never!”
“Don’t be so heartless, dear maiden, please.”
“Don’t crack jokes about the aching gap in me – just give me
Back my heart, for I am not heartless…”
“Marry me.”
“I cannot.”
“Why not?”
“Because I do not love you.”
“How can you speak of love when you have no heart?”
“My heart is in your heart, please do not drop it.
I ache. There is pain in me, coldness and loneliness –
I need my heart back.”
“How can you speak of loneliness when you have no heart
with which to feel it?”
“My heart is always my heart,
Whether it be in your hands or
In another woman’s possession –
It is my heart
And when it hurts I hurt –
Please give me back my heart;
Our separation makes us lonely.”
“Dear woman,
Heartless though you are,
Yet are you precious too and clear –
Perhaps not all heartless people are evil,
Just disheartened…
But won’t you now share your heart
With the other woman – ?
Hers is sorely broken, it bleeds day and night
And her agony knows no end –
Won’t you help her? Give her a little of your heart?”
“Who or what could have so badly damaged a heart, I wonder…?”
“It was a lover that did it long ago,
One who loved her too much at the start
And too little at the end –
This confused and frightened her…
And she lost her balance, sought it desperately and briefly,
Found it not, and tripped over…
Her heart slipped out and fell –
Her heart is broken.”
“Then let us share mine, she and I,
At least until hers heals again – “
“Then I shall take you to her
and you shall, out of the fullness of your heart,
Comfort and strengthen her and teach her how to
Dance again.”
“So, you shall give me back my heart then… – ?”
“Aye, verily,
Even as I took it from you, whilst you were not looking,
So have I already given it back to you, even now, whilst we were talking
And you were again not looking……
Guard it, guard it better, dear, please, it’s a good heart;
And now come with me:
Let us go to the woman with the broken heart
So that you may fulfill your own part
Of the bargain –
If you will not marry me
Then you must heal a broken heart
Like you want to,
And you will thereby learn many lessons too,
And reap, too, a heartful of joy.”
“… my heart feels so different in me now… why?”
“Very simple, my dear. It has tasted love, loss and pain,
Has learned what it is, to give
And to need
And to be needed.”

And together we set off for the Broken Heart
And, just as she had promised to do,
She taught and comforted her and helped her
To dance again even with her heart…

And, job completed here, I made myself invisible again
And travelled on once more, another one in my heart,
Another heart in my destiny,
And I just as ignorant as before.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.