BOYS TO MEN

The older I get,
The more I miss my father.
The more knowing I grow,
The more I miss him.
The more I know him.
The more I understand him.
We live life forwards,
But understand life backwards.
When it‘s too late to change anything,
That’s when we understand everything.
The young shall grow.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije
(I just feel like remembering today)

FOREVEREVERMORE

ONCE UPON a time in south-southern Nigeria, high up on the misty Obudu plateaux of those dreamy Sankwala mountain-ranges of which we only hear and read, but hardly ever see, there lived a voiceless girl called Iwi.

Iwi loved the air of the mountain-peak, she loved the clouds which sometimes came visiting, she loved the heavened birds that loved these same heights which she also loved; she loved the stars that shone brightly in the evenings, mornings and through the nights.

Iwi, being a little maiden, did not live alone. She lived with her mother, whom she called “Sister”, and who called her “Iwi, my friend”, for theirs was a deep and true friendship. Iwi’s father had also once lived with them and they had been a happy triangle. In those days her voice had still been with her, and her childlike songs and happy chatter had delighted her parent’s heart. Until one day her father died mysteriously, leaving Iwi and her mother to be each all the other had. The day her father died was the day Iwi lost her voice. As though he had taken it with her, try as she might, no sound ever again escaped her lips.

Iwi and her mother could have gone to live in any of the cities in the valleys where life would have been easier for them, but they loved these mountain-highs and preferred to live in hardship but preserve peace of soul. So up in the mountains they stayed, where they sensed their heart to be, and happiness kept them company every day. Together they reared the goats, tended the fowl, cultivated the farms and the gardens of those rare fruits that grew on those high climates, and rarely, but rarely, did they go down all the way to the valley, mainly to the Sankwala market, indeed just when they had to go.

As mysteriously as Iwi’s father had left the earth, her mother died one day, leaving Iwi now all alone upon their mountain home. If her father’s departure had taken her voice away, her mother’s did not bring it back, voiceless she remained.

After burying her mother, Iwi made the decision to continue to live up there where mountain-air, mountain-clouds and mountain-sighs gave back to her the love she gave. But lonely was she now, alone in the world, if we forget the the goats, the fowl and the flowers, and of course the fairies she saw not, although they saw her, and the friendy stars in the skies – all of which we may however not forget. Yet none of them proved able to restore to her her once beautiful voice.

She grew into a woman and grew used to being a single woman on the heights, managing and flowing, but once in a while longing for another human.

One day, like a miracle, who did she see walking there upon her mountains? A hermit, but younger than most hermits are, more handsome than hermits ought to be. If she was full surprised, then surely she was not half as surprised as he was… to find this beautiful woman living, alone, high up there where he’d come seeking solitude, hoping to discover himself in silence. So, shyly he avoided her for the next couple of months, and shyly she pretended too that he was not up there.

But then one morning, like a man must do, he waited for her outside her mountain hut. And when she emerged, he, in the Obanliku dialect of these parts, introduced himself to her and offered her a small basket of wild ụdara which he had gathered early that morning as the sun’s rays were still struggling to break through the mountain mist.

It is hard to say how long she stood there, silent, surprised, staring at him; but however long it was must have been of no consequence, for just as long did he too remain standing there, refusing to budge, waiting for her to reply. The moment was broken when, to her utmost shock, she heard her voice thanking him and then telling him her name. They both smiled as she accepted the basket of wild berries from him and then he turned around and walked away. And she had a voice again, awakened by love.

And so did they gradually they began to stop, to talk, one word here, two words there. And finally, over a year after he first arrived these heights, they began to live together. That he was a stranger to these parts was clear to her, for she heard it in his accent, although he bravely struggled to speak her thongue. It did not matter to her, it only made her love him all the more.

Love and understanding and joy are three things which when they arrive at the same time, in the same place, around the same people, create that thing which words cannot describe. And so it was between Iwi and the young hermit whose name, as he had told her that fateful morning, was Sike. Their love was eternal, immortal, intense – and it never ceased to startle them.

Through Iwi, Sike came to see and understand the Obudu mountains and their lush green forests with new eyes; its moods became a dictionary of new language upon his heart; mist or rain, animals or fauna, plauteaux or gorges, forests and waterfalls, his senses became born again to a world that was part of his native country but which he had never known, for it was so different from the world he came from that he knew he would never be able to describe it to the people of his world, villagers and city-people alike. And the more he discovered nature, the more he loved this beautiful female spirit who was the source of his rebirth. Everything that was special about this place was reflected in her nature – everything that was special about her personality was reflected in this cradle of nature. How could the one be separated from the other? The source of his joy became the emblem of his sorrow.

For just when Iwi came to believe that Sike would stay up here with her, forevermore, he told the truth about himself: he was a servant of his people who had come here to seek quietude and clarity, but had vowed to return to his people when he was done, to continue with his service. He spoke about communal clashes and border disputes, about social projects and missions of hope and other things he was not sure she understood. Without emotion Iwi listened to him and then, with trembling heart, waited for him to ask her if she would come with him, not knowing what her answer would be.

But the request never came. She did not ask him if there was someone else waiting for him in his old life, nor did he mention it.

Now Sike stood outside Iwi’s hut, looked at the sky, and tear on tear fell from his eyes. He’d come up here to find understandings rare, only to end up with much more than he had expected. After strengthening his heart with a silent prayer which Iwi did not see, but strongly felt, he turned to her and said:

“Iwi… I love you… eternally… but I love also the people I have pledged to serve, and I love the service I have vowed to fulfill all the days of life… they need me… and so I must return there where I came from.”

They held each other tightly one last time under the blue skies, tropical avians winging their way over, and he promised to love her… and she promised to love him… foreverevermore…

They parted on that same evening – Iwi remained with his heart upon her Obudu mounain-tops, Sike took her heart with him to his calling.

She never did find out to which constituency he belonged, he never came to know what became of her in the future; but every morning and every evening, both their heartborn, love-borne thoughts meet in the firmaments of Heaven, and their thoughts promise love foreverevermore.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

Read other inspirational stories in:
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE.

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THE SHELL

The sun was setting at the back of the ocean. I could see it from the beach where I was standing. I stood on a risen shoulder of sand, a few paces away from the edges of the sea where the licking fingers of the waves, rippling and splashing, drew back and forth, and back and forth.

The setting sun itself was of the utmost beauty. It was like a magical shield full of life and light, its fire subdued but radiant, warm and red, the beginning of seven colours and a million and one unnameable hues.

They stratified the wide ocean into homogenous groups and, riding on the waves, transferred the sea of water into an ocean of colour. Every wave was a house of tonal creativity. Every cloud above was a surrealistic masterpiece, briefly floated upon the skyscapes of our hearts. Catch me if you can.

Transfixed, I stood, gazing out at the setting sun.

Normally, on the west coast of Africa, looking south, the sun sets, when we face the Atlantic, on the right side of the ocean. But sometimes a curvature of coastal line, a geographical comma, nature changing its mind, like we all do, produces a long stretch of beach where, standing as I stood upon the risen announcement of hilly sand, I, gazing ahead, gaze straight into the setting sun.

And the sun was a stone, nay, actually it was a shell, a little white shell glittering in the sand just beyond the tips of the reaching fingers of the sea.

You should have seen this shell. There was something about it. It glittered white in the orange sand and seemed to be a stranger. More than glittering, it seemed to glow. My imagination conjured up pictures of master craftsmen in the merrealm just off the West African coast of the Atlantic, leftovers from Atlantis. Silver-bearded, golden ebony, nobly finned, hardworking merfolk, shaping and polishing. Then I thought of gently swaying mermaids, wiser than the wisest housewives of yore, with nimble fingers, moulding, weaving, shaping and polishing. And one of them had formed this shell and polished and polished it until it shone.

Then she had flung it out.

The sea was jealous. It had hardly been in possession of this shell, this beautiful white shell that glistened so beautifully in the sand beneath my gaze on the beach. Now the ocean reached with even longer fingers for the shell, my shell.

For, as soon as I laid eyes on this enchanting, pure white sea shell a few paces beneath me, just beyond the rolling waves, I knew that she, the beautiful mermaid who had made it, had made it just for me and had waited for me to appear on her beach today and then flung it out to me.

But like in all things in life, I also had to fight for it, I had to carry out an action which symbolically or really encapsuled my recognition of this thing’s worth and my need for it, my claim to it. That is to say, I had to walk down the risen shoulder and snatch the shell away from the reach of the sea’s licking fingers and possess it.

But a cloud bunched up against the sun for a moment and I remained there, squinting in the direction of the veiled Settingsun until it had been unclothed again.

Then, with a spring, I alighted Risen Shoulder and walked towards the white shell glowing in the orange beachsand.

The wave was faster, and it came without warning. I guess the sea was afraid, that was all. When it saw me move, it knew I would take the shell and keep it with me forever. Seas, being deep, always know such things, for they rest in the depth of heart. So it mustered up all the strength it could gather at such short notice and lunged at the shell.

In Creation, everything happens within the boundaries of space and time. Nothing is instantaneous, as long as it is a process, a development, a translation from one part, or one form, of space to another. The space here can be innerspace or outerspace. By outerspace I mean the physically tangible and, even if only to an extent, measurable, however vanishingly small it is, and by innerspace I mean the conceptually graspable, however large.

If a thing changes position in space, it also does so in time. There is nothing that does not take time to happen; not even light is that fast.

This means that between the ocean’s beginning to summon up all the strength available to it at that moment and its lunging at the shell, moments must have been bypassed in time by both the ocean and me.

If I had not dallied in carrying out my decision, by remaining there squinting at the cloud that had bunched up before Settingsun, the ocean would not have had a chance because the distance in time it had to traverse in order to overcome the inner and outer spatial distance between it and the shell would have been too long. Its time was too short. Had I moved.

I, however, remained there on Risen Shoulder, gazing thoughtfully at the temporarily veiled sun, thus allowing the ocean, who had read my intention, to prepare for me.

And it did.

For the wave was faster.

I was three steps away from the glittering white shell when it was suddenly swallowed by a swift and smooth beaching wave.

The wave was also a mocker, something like a teaser.

It retreated slowly, slowly into the sea. If I moved just a little faster, surely I would overtake it, thought I. A little faster … faster … further out … further in … I was in the sea. Suddenly I saw the shell again, lunged for it.

I did not realise how deeply in I was until it was too late, I slid in the wet sand, the water was above my forehead. I do not know how to swim. I began to drown. I fought, I grasped, gasped, swallowed, choked, drowned. I heard voices. I heard the ocean’s roar.

I thought I felt a hand, a delicate hand, a firm grip … I could not be sure. I passed out.

In how many seas, rivers and lakes have I drowned? From how many been rescued?

The strong hand was still holding mine when I opened my eyes. I was lying on my back in what looked like a garden. The bare walls were trees side by side, green with pulsating life, the red sun had been replaced by a white one whose blue light hurt my eyes and warmed my heart.

The hand was strong. I turned my head to the side. It was a woman whom I did not know. She was wearing a milky white sleeveless wet gown that clung. Her bare arms were slim and chocolate brown. The strong fingers that enclosed mine were long and fine, the kind of fingers only paintings have.

All in all she was slim, with slight and graceful curves, delicate in appearance. Her face … she did not have the beautiful features of a model, she had the beautiful features of a loving friend, yet I knew her not. Her lips were full and soft, and curved into what looked, oddly, like a proud smile.. Her nose was round and flat, open, a negro nose. Her face was oval. Was she the sun? I could not see her eyes, it was covered by her hair, braided, beaded and woven, which clung heavy and wet to her head, hanging down like a curtain across her forehead and eyes, down to the bridge of her beautiful nose. With her other hand she opened the curtain and hung the braids behind her ears. As she did this, our eyes met. She was starring at me worriedly. It was a strange experience.

“Not yet,” she said, with strong emotion, “You can’t go yet.” I did not hear her voice, because her lips did not move. I only heard what she said.

When I woke up, I was lying on the beach with the white shell in my hand, and it shall be my sign and my memory of your promise. It was dark. The beautiful red sun had set, the orange sands had changed colour, grey was its name now, this beach. We had journeyed through time, and space had changed. But one thing remained, unchanged, even up until today: I’ve never forgotten her proud smile or her face or her eyes or the worried, very worried, look in her eyes.

“Why not yet?” I had asked her.

“Because I’m waiting for you on earth in the future, and we’ve not met yet. We have work together to do.”

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che chidi chukwumerije.
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