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

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.”

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.”

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.

BLACK SHEEP

Upon the fields and meadows
Saw I two black sheep
Alone, together
Feeding, side by side

And then evening was near
The shepherd
Slowly shaved the wool
Off one of them
And led it away

And now when I look into the fields
And meadows
Of my youth
All I see is one black sheep
Grazing alone…

Brother
I still miss you –
Except that the fields and meadows
Have become bare
And the second black sheep is gone too…

And the wind is cool
Upon the mountain-top…

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

LONELY, BROTHER

I have a lonely brother, born of a single mother and father, lonely and alone, trudging patiently home through the land of snow-mountains and smoke-forests and sandy deserts, not to forget the bottomless sea. He has few friends, for few comprehend him, even though he treasures the goal also all so alone. I want to help him, but I do not know how to, nor does he always accept help. I know only that, in the end, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Are you lonely, brother? Nobody is ever alone. An angel, a beast or a solitary star – one of these is always there with you and me. If I am not my brother’s keeper, who is? And whose keeper then am I? I guess I keep again our second goal.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

RIVER RIVER FLOWING HOME

image
Che and Kwame

I saw a departed soul
There
On the other side of the river
Yet there is no bridge
Across the river
So how did he get there?
How did he cross to the other
Side of the river

River, river, flowing home

Bathed in the mild glows of
The fields across
The river
Stood a soul
And he said, Brother
Goodbye…

River, river, flowing, going home.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

A LITTLE LAUGHTER

FASSEN DID not know that the three brothers were coming from a war-torn zone. Or, rather, he knew, he just did not understand exactly what that meant. No laughter, no trust, no carefreeness, no childlike play, no joyful working from a love-filled heart – only caution, suspicion, fear, brutality, cunning, callousness. Inner deadening, a certain death. All of which they wished to reverse, to overcome now. The crisis they were fleeing from was not a war-torn hell-hole they’d left behind on another geographical part of the earth. It was the torture they carried within them all the time now, the propensities, the emptiness, the loneliness and the struggle to keep the inner child alive. It was little things that made them happy now – shared chores, small friendships, acceptance. Fassen did not really see all that. All he saw in the three young men were just three guest-workers from the camp, to be treated like everybody else.

The eldest of the three, Mugi, had the deepest eyes, depths filled with pain. Eyes that had seen things their owner wanted to forget, but knew he never would. All that was left in him was the urge to take care of his brothers in a peace-filled world.

Fassen, however, did not understand all this. He was a good, clear-minded, clear-thinking, God-fearing young man who wanted to simply do his job. He was usually one of the last of the restaurant personal to go home each night after doing the dishes down in the basement kitchen.

He could not fathom why these three new cleaners, these brothers, after sweeping and cleaning the house and grounds each night, like to come and join in doing the mountain of dishes and other kitchen utensils. Of course things went much quicker, and there was added human company, but it was a mystery to him and to his colleague, Weller, whose job it was. They stared at one another, mystified, and shook their heads.

It was Mugi who had started it first. One night, he hesitated outside the door and thought of the long walk home in the strange darkness, of all the people out there who never spoke to him and his brothers, never even looked at them, looked away, moved away, subtly, whenever they were in the vicinity; and he thought of the two men in the basement kitchen who were always polite and nice to them. And he walked in silently while they were washing up and, quietly, asked if he could help them. They happily consented, glad to have an extra pair of hands to speed up the work. Then he came again the next night, and the next, and the next.

Fassen and Weller began to wonder. Mugi hardly spoke. He listened fully, almost desperately, to all their conversations, and rocked with laughter, even if hesitantly, when they cracked their funny jokes, but he himself made hardly any contributions, or seemed not to.

And then, one night, his two brothers came along with him. Even more ready, almost desperately so too, to laugh, and willing in addition, unlike Mugi, to crack their own jokes, tell their own stories and, joining in conversations, make new friends at last.

Why did they persist in coming here every night and turning their job into a roundly, albeit effective, circus? Fassen and Weller could not understand. Might there be a hidden motive? What did they actually want?

It was Fassen who first started to get irritated, and a little suspicious, after two weeks. Very irritated! A little wary. And of the opinion that this had to stop now. He spoke with Weller about it and after a little persuasion, the younger Weller eventually agreed. So, that night when the three brothers came, they politely – to the brothers’s startled surprise – denied them their now-customary wish.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” Fassen said with a shrug of his shoulders, looking up briefly as he dried a tumbler, an enigmatic half-smile on his face, his gaze watchful.

Nziko and Kama, Mugi’s two younger brothers, shrugged and nodded. They quickly rationalised it – it was true anyway. They only requested to join in one last time, since they were already there, which requested was grudgingly granted.

But Mugi did not request anymore. It was not Fassen’s words that had registered with him, but the look in his eyes as he spoke. There had been no hatred or malice there, perhaps, but then there had been no love too. Only a desire for safety and order, and boundries. And this desire for safety and order, and boundries, had temporarily blinded Fassen’s inner eyes to the desperate, momentary needs of fellow human hearts, blocked his view into an appreciation of simple friendliness. Mugi recognised here a lack of understanding for and of the depths of pain within his brothers and himself, of their longing and need for love, for carefree play, for a semblace of normalness, for contact, for a place where work is laughter, just a little laughter.

And because Mugi knew that Fassen was right, in accordance with his job, position, responsibility, and level of understanding of human beings, he did not argue, nor made he any further requests. He could not, even. He felt again like a stranger. He felt again many of those silent shifting feelings he wanted to forget, but knew that he would not. He felt again that pain which one feels when one is almost understood and then betrayed, when one needs just a little shoulder to rest a little head for a little while, but finds none… he felt again the character of loneliness.

So he smiled at Fassen, and would also have smiled at Weller if Weller had not averted his young eyes; then he went outside to wait for his brothers who were still attempting to snatch a little joyousness, still seeking a little laughter, companionship and joyful work with which to cure them their sorely wounded young souls.

And he thought of all the many lonely people walking undetected on earth, singly or in groups, who have also come from war-torn zones of whatever sort, physical or psychical, or both, and more, and who carry deep pains, badly healed scars within them, which nobody understands – and he prayed for them.

And, not long after he was through with his prayer, his two brothers emerged from out of the basement, finished here, and together the three of them walked through the cold night to their tiny apartment in the camp, their home. And, as they walked, they cracked jokes and laughed.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
From my collection of thoughts and short stories: amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015