JEMILA’S JOLLOF RICE AND CHICKEN

“Jemila, this your jollof rice and chicken is too sweet oh! Chai! How did you make it?”

“You that can’t even fry egg, how do you want me to start explaining to you how to make jollof rice and chicken?”

Chizo, who was listening, started laughing.

“You people don’t know we are in Africa where you can’t be laughing at your senior anyhow, abi.”

Of course this only made them laugh louder. So I had to take up the challenge.

“OK, next time you want to make rice and chicken, just call me. I will watch, take notes and learn it by force.”

Their laughter became uncontrollable.

Chizo said, “Please, let it be on a day when I am here oh. I have to witness this spectacle.”

It was early 2004. I was abroad most of the time, doing my Aviation Management course. I had given up my flat in Apapa, and anytime I was in Lagos I stayed at Aunty Uzo’s place in Maryland. Jemila, her daughter, had a bad case of sickle cell anaemia. It had taken a slight turn for the worse and she stayed at home a lot. She had bad days on which she lay around and did not say much, but you saw the pain on her face. But she also had her good days. On the good days her voice was loud and her laughter was bright, she would go into the kitchen and cook and there was no end to her cheeky rejoiners and replies to everything she heard. But, good days or bad days, every Sunday she tried her best to get up and go to worship. She prayed a lot and had a pure simple childlike faith. She was 20 years old.

Well, the day finally came. One of her good days. Chizo was there, visiting Aunty Uzo and her younger cousin Jemila like she often did. And I was in the country. I took my notebook and joined Jemila and Chizo in the kitchen.

“So what do you want to learn now exactly?” Jemila laughed.

“That your jollof rice and chicken you made the last time.”

“Everyone makes their own differently oh,” she warned.

“Just that particular one you made, that’s the one I want. It was too delicious.”

“Okay oh. So how do you want to learn it.”

I brought out my notebook and pen.

“Just be doing, I will be watching and taking notes. Anything I don’t understand, I will ask you.”

Chizo had been trying her best to hold back her laughter. At this point she exploded and settled against the doorpost.

“Ngwa nu, let’s go,” she said.

———- ———- ———- ———- ———-

It is 14 years later, I am going through some of my old books and papers, like I am sometimes wont to do. I pick up a little notebook that I have not bothered with for longer than I can remember. Idly I flip open the first pages and suddenly … I freeze. The shock of reawakening memory hits me like a blow. Sadness and joy seize me simultaneously. Slowly, as if in a trance, I start to read:

JEMILA’S JOLLOF RICE AND CHICKEN

1. Put Chicken in small pot with assorted seasoning: e.g. curry, thyme, onions, dried pepper, maggi (1 cube), small salt, any other chicken seasoning. Put everything on fire without water for 2 minutes, turning and stirring. Then add a little water and cover pot on fire. Leave to cook until it gets soft. Along the way keep adding water. Be tasting the broth along the way, adding any seasoning whose taste is missing (e.g. salt, maggi).
– Soft Chicken takes about 10 minues to soften
– Hard Chicken takes about 30 minutes to soften

2. While waiting for Stage 1 to complete itself, grind (or blend) tomato and pepper. Wash the tomatoes and cut them first (if blending). Wash and cut onions also and put into blender. Wash and open fresh pepper (tatase). Wash and remove seeds from Tatase (don’t touch with hand, if possible: tatase seeds peppery). Then cut up and put in blender too. The Tatase is just to make it red, that’s why the seeds have been removed.
We’re cooking 3 cups of rice.
Use e.g. 8 or 9 fresh tomatoes, 1 onion bulb, 2 Tatases, 5 to 8 fresh peppers.
We could have used more Tatase, but because we’re also using tinned tomato, which is very red, 2 Tatases are enough.
NOW BLEND UP! BELND UP!

3. Wash rice. Put in a pot with water. Put on fire. We are parboiling it, maybe 5 to 10 minutes; so it doesn’t get soft, just white. (It may last 20 mins…).
After parboiling, wash again and drain water away (with sieve, if available).

4. Break Maggi into parboiled rice. Put thyme and curry and also any other seasoning you have into the drained parboiled rice.

5. Make sauce in another pot:
Slice a quarter onion. Put enough oil into new pot on fire.
Add sliced onions and little salt.
(Salt helps onion not to burn quickly – CHIZO’S THEOREM!)
Add tinned tomato. Add blended mix of STAGE 2. (Keep stirring all the while). Now cover pot and leave to cook on fire until it boils – might even dry up a bit – because of pepper and tomato. Also add Chicken Broth!
After some 10 or 15 mins, add a little more thyme and curry.
Add a little more water and then transfer the parboiled rice into the ready sauce. Add also a little more oil (groundnut oil oh!). Cook until it cooks fully. (Never turn)

6. While cooking is on, say about 15 mins before end, slice carrots and green pepper.
Add 2 more maggi cubes, soften with tiny water. Slice the carrots lengthwise and breathwise.
When rice is soft, introduce carrots and green pepper. Now turn, stir and mix. Taste for weak seasoning, e.g. salt, maggi, etc. If needed, add, mix.
Turn off fire.

7. WACK UR GRUB.

———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———-

Quietly I close the notebook and sit still for a long time.

If Jemila were still alive, she would turn 35 today. I remember the picture Yvonne and I took of her. It was at the end of 2004, at Azuka’s wedding. She looked happy. If she was in pain, she did not show it. She was shy, smiled and looked down when she saw the camera. She looked older than she was. A beautiful moment. Our favourite picture of her.

The year after that, in 2005, the bad days came more often. Her face would be contorted in pain. An unending crisis. One round of dialysis after the other. Her eyes wiser, much wiser, than her age. On the 26th of February 2005 , she left. She was 21 years old.

The deepest memories are sometimes stored in the simplest of things.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

In loving memory of Jemila Ibrahim: 25.04.83 – 26.02.05

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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 PRESENCE

NEWLY THE sun shone anew. Happy the multitude was to see again their surroundings. But where were they? A no-land. Only space and space and space. But no footprints and not a voice on the wind.

We seek the voices, we hear the silence. The multitude is faced with the choice – to turn inwards or to turn outwards. The multitude turned inwards and became a nation. Generations later, the nation turned outwards and faced the world.

Thus was the first Pride born. For the nation was too much for the world.

Let us leave the world and the nation, the multitude, the space and the silence, and look at the street. A busy street. Hawkers, traders, pedestrians, beggars, jam the sidewalks. Busses, cars, motorcycles, cram the roads.

Above them, an unsmiling face, almost but not as large as the sky, looks down guardingly upon them. The face is not the face of a loving protector, that much can be deduced from its features. It is the face of a prison warden. Emotionless and evil. Because the prison is his.

A face turns upwards. One of the people on the street has a strange sensation hard to describe. She looks up, sees the face, screams and collapses. People walk by her. Others stop. She is dead. They cross themselves, mutter prayers and walk away.

Let us go back to the nation. The nation has arisen. It is all-powerful. It runs like a well-oiled machine, a high-tec computer. It shut itself out of the world for generations. It let nothing in, not even nature. Now it is ready to face the world. It towers over the rest of the world and opposes all who seek to break away from this new sway.

Others raise their gazes too, see the face of the guardian of evil. They collapse and die too, just like the woman. But the souls of the dead have risen too, they mingle amongst the living and strengthen invisibly their resolve. And sometimes now when I look up at the giant face of the prison-guard in the dark dark clouds above us, I see a slightly worried look in his eyes. Things are going wrong. He feels it. But he cannot put his finger on it.

Why are people looking up?

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE SEVEN BROTHERS FROM SOKOTO

THERE WERE once seven brothers from Sokoto who were in everything contrary. They were of contrary mentality and of contrary belief. And, returning from worship on a Sunday morning to find their family home raided and burned yet again in another stab of religious violence, they finally yielded to the plea of their dying father to leave him there in their ancestral land and move south to a place where they could build safe lives for themselves.

Being contrary as they were, the brothers decided that this was the best opportunity to actualise a dream they had always borne deep within their hearts. They decided to find the sea. This was a monumental decision, for the desire to get to the sea had long been the professed desire of many a soul from their corner of the country, for all kinds of different reasons. Now they decided to find it and get to understand this mysterious pull. They knelt down solemnly before the dying Namah, their father, he blessed them with the sign of the cross; and then after one last tearful embrace with Awabe, their gracefully ageing mother, the seven brothers from Sokoto left the large rocky hills and wide arid plains of their homeland behind them as they set off southwards to find the sea.

KERMA, OR THE FIRST BROTHER

They journeyed for a long time. They passed towns and villages and towns again, then came one evening to a village which at first seemed to be empty. Curiously they made their way towards the village square where they found the entire community sitting around a storyteller. The storyteller was an old man who in his youth had travlled far and wide, seen many wonders, survived many adventures and accumulated many memories in his soul. Having arrived, in his travels, the twilight of his life, he parted generously with these memories, cloaked as stories, sharing them with grateful listeners who repaid him with money, clothes, food and, most precious of all, smiles. His old age thus became too a beautiful experience of which he would one day tell, cloaked as a new story, in a new life when he came back to the earth.

The seven brothers from Sokoto were welcomed into the audience and listened to what the storyteller had to say today. Was it providence? For upon this special evening, the old storyteller was telling the village folk about the sea, the immeasurably great sea at the other end of this large country. Magnificent was the sea, he said, and powerful, surging like the roaring of angry giants.

The diminutive, bald-headed chronicler sighed, looked far into the distance of his memory, and added in his surprisingly strong voice that the sea was close to indescribable. It needed to be seen in order to be understood, believed. It was vast, vaster then minds could grasp, and at its outermost boundary, far beyond reach, shone the line of God’s light.

Nor was the sea empty. It was bordered by strange hollow stones called sea-shells and populated with creatures of all types and sizes – he tried to describe fish ten times as large as human beings, and multiple-limbed creatures, and beastial hunters more ferocious than lions. The pictures he painted were gripping. In colourful language he tried and tried to describe the character of the sea, in perpetual motion, never still, water coming and going forever, rocking back and forth.

The listeners were mesmerized. What kind of water was this?

But that was not all, said the wizened old storyteller; there was more, much more to be said about the sea, but it was getting late… he would continue the story the next day. With great effort he stood up, his folded skin, stubborn like old brown leather, reluctantly stretching into its imitation of an upright form. The people were disappointed, they groaned, yet nobody complained. They all loved the storyteller and followed him at his pace.

The seven brothers prepared to travel on before the sun set completely. But Kerma, the first of the seven, was suddenly seized by a contrary ambition. He was a student, a learner, by nature, and had been gripped the deepest by the words of the storyteller. Solemnly Kerma announced to his brothers that he was going to stay here with these villagers and listen to this glorious storyteller who unveiled the sea to him. He could not understand why the others were travelling on. Did they not know that here they would realise their longing of finding the sea?

Nothing that any of the others told him could make him change his mind. Bluntly Kerma blocked his ears to their words and maintained his stand: Here he had found the sea! –

BANDI, OR THE SECOND BROTHER

So his six brothers turned their eyes to the road and sojourned on, hungry for the sea, their appetite whetted by the storyteller’s tales. Further south they travelled, seeking the sea. They crossed boundaries and hills and then one day they came upon a mighty river, the grand River Niger!

How were they going to cross it? They thought and searched, but saw neither boat nor bridge. They then set off down the banks of the river until finally they saw some of the inhabitants of a rustic little village. To them they revealed their mission, explained their present predicament – they did not know how to cross the river.

There were indeed a few bridges across the river, answered the very curious villagers, but they were few and far between. The next one was further yet down the river. Together they all walked along until they got there. As they were then about to cross the bridge, taking their departure from the helpful villagers, whom they had however also paid for their services, one of the villagers mentioned in passing that this river actually eventually flowed into the sea.

Into the sea?, cried Bandi, the second of the seven brothers.

Yes, the villagers said.

Bandi was a true adventurer by nature. Having understood that this river flowed into the sea, he made the decision to buy a boat and navigate the flowing river to its end, the sea. This he revealed to his brothers.

They reflected upon his words individually. His ambition made sense. And yet…! – they had set off to find the sea, and by walking south they would arrive at the sea. This here was a river, not the sea; nor were they trained mariners.

They bade their restless brother farewell and continued towards the sea. Let Bandi be content in his belief that in the river lay his possibility of finding the sea. Every man has his free will, let each man be free. –

AZEKA, OR THE THIRD BROTHER

The remaining five brothers journeyed on. On their path they met many a city, each full of attractions new and interesting. Unable to resist the temptation to explore, they lingered a little in each new place before they moved on. It was not long before they, upon entering a certain city, found themselves in a marketplace of arts and craft. There they came across a group of people admiring a giant-sized painting… a painting of the sea!

The five brothers halted in wonder and gazed at this beautiful painting of such extraordinary beauty. This was their first time of ever seeing the sea, albeit a painting of it. The sight stunned them! It seemed as if they were standing at a mighty window, gazing out into eternity. And as they stared at it in awe and wonder, the third of the seven made his own decision.

Azeka was a quiet person, he did not talk much. Opening his wallet, he extracted the exact amount of money demanded and bought the masterpiece. When his brothers asked him what he was doing, he told them that with this painting his ambition had been fulfilled. How glorious… could they not see it?

They could not. Silently shaking his head to himself, Azeka walked away from them to build a quiet house for himself away from crowds, and hung his painting on the wall where he could see it everyday. Now he would forever have the sea with him. For the quiet, introspective Azeka, the painting was the sea. –

DIRI, OR THE FOURTH BROTHER

Four brothers were left. They progressed on, further south. The vegetation, climate, landscape changed as they plunged deeper into the tropics.

Eventually they got into the city that was the gateway to the last western stretch of the south, leading to the sea. Soon they came upon a place they learned to be something called a club. The name plastered upon it was what arrested their attention – “Big Sea!”

They stopped, their eyes thoughtful, and looked in. It was a recreational establishment with a very large swimming pool in which many children and adults swam and made a lot of noise. The most impressive thing about this water was that, for some strange reason, it was actually in motion, rocking back and forth the whole time, like the storyteller had once described. How was that possible? Was this the sea?

For the first time, all four brothers were confused. Then the fourth, Diri, a somewhat physically fragile, but fun-loving and sociable character, wearied from the long march across the land, suddenly made his decision. Yes, this was the sea!

Buying a pair of swim trunks, Diri happily jumped in and joined the people playing in the pool. –

SENCHI, OR THE FIFTH BROTHER

The last three brothers, however, remained doubtful that this was the sea, however much like the sea it looked, and silently they journeyed on… until they arrived at a land of which they soon learned that it bordered the sea, and which called itself a land of aquatic spleandour.

It was not long and they began to intermittently happen upon strange hollow stones which they were told were sea shells. Lots and lots of them. And laughing triumphantly, Senchi, the fifth of the seven, a brilliant-minded man full of scientific curiousity, picked up the shells and began to study them, declaring:

“Look! I have found the sea.”

Without saying any further word to his brothers, he walked away, picking shells.

Had Senchi gone mad? –

CHONOKO, OR THE SIXTH BROTHER

His brothers could not wait to find out… the sea was too close. They left him and hurried ahead.

Now there were only two left. They walked and walked, walked and walked, tirelessly. Finally they got to the edge of the mainland and gazed across the lagoon at the island. Or rather, the seventh gazed across the lagoon. The sixth only gazed at the lagoon itself..

Chonoko’s senses swirled. Joy erupted within him like a volcano. He could smell the ocean very strongly… he saw shells everywhere… he felt the soft sand… marveled at the sight of the lagoon, water everywhere… and he began to weep with deep emotion. Were these not the promised signs and wonders?

After all these months of traveling, of seeking and persevering in faithfulness, at last he had found the sea. Gratitude welled up in him, gratitude to God. Chonoko, a deeply religious fellow, sank down to his knees and in a trembling whisper uttered words and songs of praise to his faithful God. Then, full of a mixture of trepidation and excitement, he dived into the lagoon and happily began to splash about. –

PENI, OR THE SEVENTH BROTHER

But the seventh… he looked at his brother for a long time and he looked at the lagoon. Everything seemed so right. Then his eyes arose and he gazed in quiet curiousity at the little bridge that stretched over the lagoon, from the mainland to the island…

What if?…

And quietly Peni began to climb the bridge, and he walked across the lagoon and stepped upon the island.

Gradually he progressed.

As Peni moved forward, his thoughts travelled backwards in time, back to his arid northern homeland of few trees and fewer rivers, the thick bushes that crowded around his father’s household well. He remembered the mixed emotions with which the seven brothers impressed upon their memory for the last time the old faces of Namah and Awabe, their father and mother, as they took their leave. He remembered their determination to find the sea, the cameraderie which had united them as they set forth upon their way. And he remembered his six brothers who were now no longer with him:

The first, the knowledge-hungry Kerma, who joined the listeners of a story…; the second, the wild and adventurous Bandi, who began to sail a river…; the third, the dreamy introspective Azeka, who bought a man-made painting…; the fourth, the fun-loving Diri, who joined sunny pool-swimmers…; the fifth, the brilliant man of science Senchi, who started picking shells…; the sixth, the gratefully believing and religious Chonoko, who dived into a lagoon… –

And he the seventh, Peni, he knew there was, there must be, something more. So he kept on walking. He stopped not, looked neither left nor right, just kept on walking… walking… walking…

On and on.

First he heard the roar… and then, rounding a corner as he emerged from inner streets… suddenly… he saw the Sea.

For a long time Peni stood still, breathless, and looked at it. The sea was glorious, more magnificent in real life than any story or painting could depict, grander than any river or pool.

He breathed out and at once the shock of the attainment of his goal, of the encountering of the sheer size of it, fell away. He inhaled the rough sea wind sharply and let it out again as a cry of joy that pierced crudely the loud shout of the ocean. A silent, wordless prayer of gratitude fortified his heart.

And then Peni put his quivering little boat upon the sea and set sail towards the Horizon.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
From my book, available on all Amazon stores: THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE.
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE

wheel of fortune 1

TWO MEN in search of fortune.

Said the first:
“I will stay and farm my father’s land!”

Said the second:
“I will go and find the Wheel of Fortune, and I will turn it in my direction, and I shall possess it and I shall wield it, and I shall be a controller of happenings, a decider of destinies.”

Said the first:
“You will come back and beg me for a little plot of land on which to farm.”

Said the second:
“You will seek me and plead with me to turn your fortunes around with the Wheel of Fortune.”

Said the first:
“You cannot find the Wheel of Fortune. It is not a physical thing that can be grasped with the hand or seen with the eye. It is a power which started as a concept. It is everywhere.”

Said the second:
“It is a power which started as a concept and ended up as a wheel, a physical wheel that can be grasped with the hand and seen with the eye. I will find it and I will place a firm hold on it. It shall be mine. The Wheel of Fortune. Fortune!”

Said the Spirit of Fortune:
“The sooner you start, the better.”

road 1

The years have gone by and still he seeks. Through fortune and misfortune, through pleasure and pain, he seeks the wheel of fortune, that he may become a controller of happenings, a decider of destinies.

Said the first:
“The years have passed. Fortune, which smiled at me in the first few years, frowns now upon me. The harvest is meager. The earth sits hard upon me. Where is my friend who went to seek the Wheel of Fortune? I must find him. He will surely turn the wheel in my favour, and the winds shall turn in kind.”

Said the second:
“The years have passed. My wandering feet thirst for rest, my restless heart for peace. I have searched everywhere, in vain. I must return to my friend. Surely he will find for me a little plot of land where I can seek my fortune and fulfil my destiny.”

Said the Spirit of Fortune to the first:
“The sooner you go, the better.”

Said the Spirit of Fortune to the second:
“The sooner you return, the better.”

They met again upon the Highway at the halfway point between the going and the returning.

Said the first:
“My friend, have you found the Wheel of Fortune now? For you must turn it my way. The soil is unyielding, the farm is fruitless.”

Said the second:
“No, I have not found the wheel of fortune and was just on my way to you, that you may find me a little of your land where I may seek my fortune, for the road grows weary beneath my feet.”

Said the first:
“But you assured me that the Wheel of Fortune is a findable physical thing.”

Said the second:
“And you assured me that the land would one day support both of us!”

Said the first:
“The land is a deceiver, now I know. It is the whore of fortune and his worthless plaything! I shall go now and find the Wheel of Fortune. Then shall I own the land.”

Said the second:
“Oh, my friend, but you err. Fortune has no wheel. Myths have given birth to this belief. The land is the key to fortune. The land is the wheel of fortune. Possess the land and you have grasped fortune’s wheel.”

Said the first:
“I have turned the land several times, sometimes with my pitchfork, other times with a multitude of other implements such as my shovel, my hoe and my fingers, but not once did my fortune lastingly turn, although I turned the earth repeatedly. Sometimes the winds turned, briefly, but fortune never really. Thus I act with full clarity today. You can have the land if you wish. I shall find the Wheel of Fortune and I shall posess it and I shall wield it and I shall be a controller of happenings, a decider of destinies.”

Said the second:
“When you return to me, begging me to return your father’s land to you, I shall not do so. For it is now mine! Bear this in mind.”

Said the first:
“When you come to me, pleading with me to turn the Wheel of Fortune in your favour, I shall not do so! I shall abandon you to your fate. Bear this in mind.”

Said the second:
“Oh, you fool, why will you not come that we may together plough the land?! Two pairs of hands will soften its heart. There is no physical Wheel of Fortune! It is a power that began as a concept.”

Said the first:
“Fortune is a person. He bears a face and owns a wheel. I shall find him and I shall take the wheel from him. Then shall I turn the wheel against him. My wheel.”

Said the Spirit of Fortune to both:
“The earlier you proceed, the better.”

parting_ways 2

The years passed by like the wind, and old age crept upon them. The land softened and yielded rich harvests, but Fortune and his wheel refused to be found.

Said the first:
“I am old and grey. My days are numbered, my memories rich and poor. I shall return to my father’s land and there shall I lay down, for I do not want to die upon the road.”

Said the second:
I am old and grey. My days are numbered, my memories many and few. I shall set off again after the Wheel of Fortune, that I may turn it and prolong my life and reactivate the youth in me. If I die now, all is lost and I shall be buried upon another man’s land. But if Fortune, who has smiled at me through the land, permits me now to find his wheel, then I shall change the course of my future.”

Said the Spirit Fortune to the first:
“Hurry, hurry, time is.”

Said the Spirit of Fortune to the second:
“Hurry, hurry, time is.”

Their paths crossed again, this time at the junction that leads everybody on.

Said the first:
“Why are you here? Have you not mastered the land which for you is the wheel of fortune?”

Said the second:
“I am tired of you. Please, move out of my way. Your father’s land is there. You can have it if you wish. Die on it; you are old enough for that now. I will have nothing to do with it anymore. It has brought me nothing but comfort, and prevented me from seeking the Wheel of Fortune, which was the ardent spiritual goal of my youth! Look at me: now I am an old man.”

Said the first:
“Then you shall die upon the road. I hope somebody finds you and buries you. I shall conclude my earthly wanderings there where I belong.”

Said the second:
“Rest in peace. Adieu.”

And then they parted ways, never to meet again upon the earth.

Said Fortune:
“Another twist, another turn,
And life goes on…
If they ask, or seek, or yearn
All I can do is turn and point them on…
The path they must go themselves –
The change they must work themselves
The moment they must grasp themselves –
The seeds of fortune they must sow themselves –
I am just a referee…

“Though men pass me by a thousand times
Never do they recognise me;
Nor is it necessary, as long as they heed
The Inner Voice in them that speaks to me.

“For I must obey, I must obey…
And place what they ask for upon their way.”

—–

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

YESTERDAY’S FACES

rose faded 1

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..

NOTHING GOING ON BUT THE RENT

—-
A little familiarity with, even if not necessarily proficiency in, “nigerian english” might be necessary to understand this story. 🙂
—-
—-

My landlady was not a very bright person. Really, amongst all the stupid people I’ve met in my life, she must be the daftest of them all, or so it seemed to me at that moment. I stood behind her and saw the danger ahead. But this woman, instead of going left, she actually went right. Was she mad? OK, now that she had gone right, how did she expect to come out of this alive?

The truck was hurtling straight down upon her at blinding speed. Have you seen a speeding truck before? A monster, grim and merciless. The terror it awakens in the heart is raw, real, paralysing. You see death, literally. Death does not smile.

And into the path of this on-rushing death she stepped. Madam, you love death? Then, so be it! But then not even I am so cold-hearted, in spite of all the horrible things this terrible woman had wrought upon innocent me in the past. It would be good to save her life, to spare myself any future battles with my talkative conscience, and to put her in my debt also.

The slap I gave her sounded like a ringing bell proclaiming victory. I relished the slap thoroughly, my palm jubilated, the woman took off like Arik and flew to the left, out of the path of the on-rushing accident. As she went air-borne, she took me along with her, for my palm was still stuck to the side of her face. We crash-landed into safety on the sidewalk and I disengaged my jubilating palm from her warm oily face. The truck roared past. I had just saved a human being’s life.

Life. Is that not what it’s all about? You would have thought that she would be grateful. No, instead she took offence at the joy of my palm.

“Heei!” she shouted, “this my tenant want kill me oh!”

The word ‘kill’ is the code word. And the speed with which the crowd gathered showed practice in such matters. This is the land of jungle justice, staccato accusation and swift execution. Death, who had formerly been sitting on top of the truck, glaring at her as the truck rushed towards her, had now hopped down from the truck which had long disappeared into the wilderness of Ikorodu Road. Now Death sat cross-legged by my side, betwixt the crowd, and stared at me accusingly as if I had ever done anything against him in my life. The thought suddenly occurred to me that he might be upset with me for not having let the truck do his will.

Before I knew it, the crowd had pulled the woman, my landlady, up and I was still lying there, feeling the jubilation in my palm tingle away. The crowd crowded itself around me like a crowd. It was crowdy. From crowdy comes, rightly, rowdy.

“Hired Killer!” a strange voice, full of mortification and aggression, barked down at me.

“Eh?!?!” screamed the crowd and instinctively drew back one step. If I had been been Ben Bruce and in possession of any common sense, that’s when I should have made a dash for it – bolted away with the full spring and speed of all my unreduced athleticism, in that moment when the fear of a hired killer in flesh and blood in their immediate vicinity paralyzed the life out of them.

But I was distracted by Death. He was still sitting, cross-legged, there in front of me. As if he sensed the quick escape plan that darted into my mind, he scowled and gave me a very threatening look. If you dare try it…!

And in the moment of my preoccupation with Death’s awful mug, the very moment was gone. I did not see the first slap, I did not feel the first slap. Curiously, I heard it. It sounded like a whistle, but I’m not quite sure exactly what kind of whistle. A slap whistle. A whistling slap. In one register it vibrates the eardrum already one micro-moment before impact. You hear it once and then you hear no more. The first becomes the last.

I was confused. Is this what they call a mobbing? After I stopped hearing, I started seeing. Stars. They kept exploding. Why did they keep springing from place to place instead of just hanging still? That was when the pain kicked in. And not just literally. I don’t know why the government, who likes to ban rice and all sorts of other things, has not yet banned the importation of boots. Because the kick to my ribs, the kick that brought back the consciousness which the sonic slap had robbed me of, the kick with which the pain kicked in, the kick that returned to me my hearing, that kick was executed surely by a foot well lodged in a boot, a big strong boot, definitely imported, made I am sure in Russia or Germany.

“Yeeeeiiii!” I screamed, “I don die oh!”

I could not see the sun; dark shapes hovered all around me, hurting me, harming me. Why? And then I heard the dreaded words:

“Tire!”

“Fire!”

“Tire!”

“Fire!”

They were going to put a de-rimmed rubber car tyre around my neck, drench tyre and me in petrol, juice of the Delta, and burn me alive! My teeth went cold.

“Fire!”

“Tire!”

“Fire!”

“Tire!”

I looked to my right, to where Death was sitting down cross-legged, overseeing my extraction from the physical cloak. There was a peacefulness about his countenance that flowed over to me, into me, infected and affected me, a peacefulness that began to creep into my soul.

I seemed to hear a soft slow voice somewhere in the hall of my mind: Don’t struggle… don’t worry… it’s just a journey…

At that moment the tension slipped away from my body, my dogged determination to cling unto life was knocked out of me, aided by a rock, a rock it must have been, felt at least like a rock to the skull. A liquid running down my face, stinging my eyes, blinding me. Warm sweet blood on my tongue. An intimate smell. My blood. So this is how it feels to die.

That was when I heard her voice again, the voice that triggered this happening, bringing it now to its banal conclusion. The first again the last. My landlady was shouting again.

“Abeg, e don do oh! Thank you! My tenant don enter my trap today. Make una call police to arrest am, dem know what to do. Make una no kill am oh! HE NEVER PAY ME MY RENT FINISH!! My rent oh! Make una leave my tenant for me oh! See me oh. Leave my tenant! Abi, who go come pay me my remaining rent money now? Ah ah! I say leave am! Una dey craze? One year’s rent. See my wahala oh. Who send una sef? Busy body! Na so so busy body just full dis Lagos sef! Mchw! I go wound una oh. Ah ah! Police yee! Wey police now?! Which kind bad luck be dis?…”

**********

– che chidi chukwumerije.

**********

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.

seashell

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.”

—————-
che chidi chukwumerije.
—————-

INSOMNIA

THERE IS a frenzy in the air. The world is dark and bloody like an ominous sunset. The land is full of cogitation. Everybody is fired up, wired up, wound up like an electric train, toy trains on their permanently defined tracks. There is a sad desperation in their every chug and hoot, in their every wailing whistle, a longing for a freedom that will never be, must never be, because this freedom, freedom from these tracks, this prison, would mean the end of destiny, the termination of purpose and of life.

This is the continuum in which I live. A dark and dirty cocoon. But who dares to break out? Who dares risking the encountering of the recognition that, truly, all one might be is a toy e-train on toy tracks mounted on a table in the children’s playroom? Who shall risk this dare, in the hope of finding another reality, the celebration of birth of butterfly?

A longing, hard to define, was long the taproot. The root of roots and hope of hopes. The dream unremembered in the clamour of urban dawn. Generation gap after generation gap. Yawning emptiness. Your blood is much too soggy. It weighs you down and is choking you to death, dear continuum. You are more than city, more than state, more than country, more than region, subregion, continent or subcontinent, even you are more than world. You are continuum. And I hate you. Hate you for holding me, for binding me, for being an extension of me and a limitation of me. I hate you because I hate loving you. I love you but I don’t like you. I hate loving what I don’t like. I hate hating you. I wish I could stop hating you and start loving loving you. I am afraid of you. You make me sick. You make my heart beat with a deep quietness that I know to be peace.

Why? Continuum of urban disconnect, why? When the sun rises you will wake me up from my insomnia and refuel me with your frenzy. I flee into the deep.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

HARD TO GRASP

ONCE UPON a time, a man woke up and gazed upon a thought hanging in the air above his bed.

And the longer he looked at it, the more it confused him. And when he looked away, he forgot it.

Through the day it disturbed him, a memory he was trying to remember, but could not remember what he was trying to remember. But this he remembered: I am not who I think I am.

So this thought – I am not who I think I am – stayed with him for many hours, each as long as a decade, as he tried to fathom its meaning. Verily, it became his very name. His very aim.

Many hearts. In which one lies the answer? So he broke them open and left them behind, ravaged, the sought unfound.

He is written about in the books of men. His character has been copied and reproduced in stories down the ages – the raging, ravaging beast that consumes hearts and upturns nations. In truth he is a tireless seeker, and always giving. In shrouded truth. Love and peace cloaked in battle and tears. Shredding hearts to pieces with merciless thirst. How many times has he altered history, chasing the mirror? Thus has his troublesome picture been painted before him repeatedly. Thus too does he see himself, hours later.

But all I want is to find the key. Burning Flame, you are not who you THINK you are. This thought nags in him. Remember.

I am a warrior. No.

I am a lover. No.

You are a bridge. Just be.

Just be.

There! There it is again, the morning-thought, hanging once more in the sky above his mind. Hard to grasp:

Just be.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.