LIFE COMES IN CHAPTERS

Kidnapped
Is there still hope for me?
The sun sets sadly as slowly as he can
By the last light of day
Find a way

Did you see the baby that was stolen?
Did you see the boy that was broken?
However hard you look, you will see
No resemblance at all between them and
The man now woken, now walking.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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THE WAY OF THE DRAGON

What was strange to others, was ordinary to us. When other kids went for children’s parties, we went for training and competition in martial arts and swimming. That was our father’s way – and it was the only way we knew; and looking back now, God bless that man. He was just unapologetically himself. He gave us a different world in which to live because it was the only world he was convinced of. A world of discipline, simplicity, hardwork, scholarship, modesty, frugality, brotherhood and fraternity. This is the root of our bond today – my siblings and I.

The most horrible thing that can happen to any person, to any family, to any society, is to think that there is something wrong in being different. For, then, there will neither be change nor progress. Just be yourself, even if it is different – nay, especially if it is different. Earth thrives on diversity. And diversity is only guaranteed when each person has the courage to be himself/herself. Thus, courage is the protector of our future as a human species. People, BE BRAVE.

Our father wanted to strengthen bravery in us, so he threw us into the martial arts, where you are alone in the ring and only your own fearlessness will see you through – and, win or lose, will cement your character and your legend. Just fight fearlessly. That was his message: Let fearlessness be your blood; that is all I ask of you. Win or lose, please my child just fight to the end.

When we turned it against him, though, it caught him unawares. Maybe he unconsciously hoped everybody was burning to be a public servant, or a socialist, and things like that, like himself. But I just wanted to be myself, to answer the call of life in another context – and he had taught me the courage to do so. But myself, at least in that period, was everything different from what he wanted for and from me. The irony and riddle of doing what is expected of you and thereby going against what is expected of you. The split was unpreventable, unavoidable and – for many decades it seemed – unhealable.

But Time, that great Mender, was Merciful. And Love pushed its stubborn head through and I will forever be grateful for the three beautiful years we had until he died.

Well, what on earth is this life all about? Who really knows? Is it politics? – Not everyone can be a politician. Is it the professions? – Not everyone can pursue one. Is it family? – Not everyone will make one. Is it ideology? – Not everyone will feel inclined to one. So what on earth is this earthlife all about?

In the end, it is simply whatever is in you that has to come out of you. And all you need to do, to make that happen, is simply to BE BRAVE. Brave enough to follow your innermost voice, no matter what!

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE OLD POET

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THE OLD poet stood silently upon the highest peak of the Jos plateau and sensed, for the first time in his long life, that it was time to finally put into words the yearnings, the stirrings and the recognitions that had ravaged his heart through the course of his life’s wanderings.

His eyes were raised to the sky, but he saw sky not, nor cloud, nor bird, nay, nor sun, for he was blind. As blind as blind can be. So who shall write down his poems on his behalf? – With a heavy heart he descended the Shere hills, his faithful brown mongrel, leashed, leading him into the valley.

It was two long unbearable weeks later that he encountered Bingel, a young boy, stout of body and heart and perpetually serious, strolling, eyes hooded, in these savannah fields. He stopped. He stopped too:

“I see you not, yet know I that you but a child still are: Your step, though slow, is untempered… your breathing, though measured, is free. Yes, though I see not, indeed I know that though you be young, at heart are you a man; for your step, though untempered, is slow, and your breathing, though free, is measured.”

The young wanderer looked at this old poet who said things he almost understood.

“And what do you want from me?” queried Bingel.

“Once I was a youth like you, wandering through these very same fields, pondering true over those very same questions that course right now through your heart! The answers I found, I did not understand; the answers I would have understood, I did not find. Thus had I to journey through life, learning through experiencing, finding not by thinking but by acting. And now that I, aged and blinded by life, stand before you today, it is with the ironic recognition that I have learnt nothing new in my old age which I did not already silently know in my youth, but now the knowledge I have, I understand, because the knowledge I would understand, I have. And yet the strange gap remains: I am still not complete.

“Above that, a certain peace eludes me still for I yet must ink into readable words the river of thoughts flowing in my soul; but how can a blind man write when he cannot see what he once could see when he could not write? Thus has destiny brought you to me today, my friend, to be my hand and to be my eyes, to write down on my behalf what I shall dictate to you, all I have to give, which is nought but that already in your own ancient heart, my son! This might sound strange to you now, but I am the answer you came here seeking today, for there are no accidents in life.”

Now the youth Bingel gazed long and hard, long at the old poet and hard at the ground, and then slowly began to speak:

“I fathom not one word which you have spoken, yes, not one. And since you say that all you know, already I know too, and yet I experience thus that I understand not what you say, then truly you have erred and I am not the one you seek! A blind man cannot see and so cannot see me! I cannot write down words which are alien to me and which will perhaps render me just as blind as you are, hobbling askance in lonely fields day and night, speaking double-sided words unconstruable to all but you.”

And so saying, the young philosopher walked off and walked away, the tremulous pleas of the old poet dying away unheeded behind his upright retreating form.

The blind old poet found no-one to write down his heart’s poems on his behalf and, just as he had lived with them, died with them veiled, untilled, still deep within his lonely heart.

Jos 2

The young boy grew up, still trying to understand those same strange, vague longings that took him into those lonely savannah fields in his youth. However, like the old poet, he found answers which were no answers, but only newer questions. And so, just like the oldman-poet, he experienced a very turbulent earthlife – one in which violence, bigotry and lack of understanding among the peoples grew from generation to generation. A life which, by its end, had made a poet of Bingel and rendered him blind too – full of the urge to write in words the poems weighing bright in his heart, but hoping for a willing hand to be his needed tool.

This morning he stood upon the very same peak on which, eighty years ago, the old poet had once also stood, and understood the very same strange and simple things the old poet had once grasped, for he had also become a blind old poet. For him too, the gaps remain and he is conscious of his incompletion.

Slowly he descended the Shere hills of the Jos plateau with his dog, his only companion; silvery tears glistened in his sightless eyes as he painfully remembered a friend he met, decades ago, on these very same rustic, primeval planes.

And so did I meet him, broken, upon his knees, blinded and in tears – the old poet. I stopped… And then made to continue, but he held me with his trembling old hand. And…

“What do you want from me!?” I demanded.

Gently Bingel began:

“Once I was a youth like you, wandering through these very same fields, pondering true over those very same questions that course right now through your heart! The answers I found, I did not understand…”

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
Buy the full collection of stories here: “There Is Always Something More.”

KNIGHT’S TRAP

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I fell into the knight’s trap
Of trying to protect my mother
From my father

Nay
Of seeing things from her point of view
And refusing to look at them from his
Forgetting that he and I are the same –

A feathered castle is the strongest prison –

When I became a man too
Then I knew
That wittingly or unwittingly
She had simply divided father and son
For decades of lifetimes
And
Brought me together with my father
In my heart
Today.

A knight should free the maiden –
But then
Thereafter
He should remember
To free himself too
From the maiden
And ride back home
To his own castle.

Never stay.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

 

image: blitzmaerker/pixabay

ELOKA

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

 

image: 3345408/pixabay

I Don’t Run With The Crowd

I don’t run with the crowd.

When I got into secondary school, King’s College, at the age of 11, all of us wanted to each be the fastest runner. It’s in the nature of kids. Including me. But, to my disappointment, I was not a fast runner. Then my school father Emeka Udezue told me, “You look like a jumper. We have nobody to fill the second Triple Jump slot for juniors, because nobody wants to do or learn the Triple Jump. Anokwuru is our only jumper for now. Why don’t you fill the gap and become the second jumper? Every point counts.” I agreed, and learned the Triple Jump one day before interhouse sports and then competed in it. Anokwuru got the Gold and 4 points for Pane’s House. I came fourth and got 1 point for Pane’s House. That year Pane’s House won the Interhouse Sports Competition by just 1 point.
My school father said excitedly: “See what I told you!” And I internalized three valuable lessons in life.

1: Embrace what others avoid. The seemingly uninteresting. The difficult. The unsung.
2: Every point counts.
3: That which seems inconsequential and even like a failure at the start, might be what provides the complement that makes the difference in the end.

From then on, I concentrated on Triple Jump, and also added High Jump to it.

Five years later, in my last year in secondary school, the cycle closed. The scene was the National Interschool FedCol Games 1991. All the 45 Federal Government Colleges from all over Nigeria converged in Illorin for the competition. Again the stars were the fastest runners. The track events pulled the crowds. Every school wanted to produce the 100m champion! One got the impression that the Field events (jumping, throwing, etc) was not interesting to some sports teachers.
If there was any event even more unattractive to the students than Triple Jump, it was Discus. But this was exactly the event which Ekeinde Ohiwerei had practiced and mastered during our six years in King’s College. He wasn’t fast and he could not jump high, but he threw a mean Discus. And he threw his Discus and got the Gold for K.C.
Chukuka Chukuma was next. He too was uninterested in the sprints and had focused on what he could do well. He picked up his Javelin and speared a Silver medal for K.C.
Like Ekeinde, Chukuka too was not a crowd-runner.
Then I stepped up to my signature event, the Triple Jump. To my shock and surprise, all my six attempts were better than the second placed person. I got the Gold for K.C. – and my mind went back to my school-father Emeka Udezue and the day he told me to learn the Triple Jump, because I can jump and every point counts.
After that came the High Jump. I was up against a great jumper from Waffi, a dark wiry fellow called Toju. He had springs in his heels. We were the only two left in the end. When I missed, he missed. When I jumped the bar, he jumped the bar. On and on, back and forth. The officiators grew impatient, because they were waiting for the High Jump to finish in order to do the final event, the 4 x 400m relay and then end the games before sunset. So they started pressuring us to “Jump quickly! Jump quickly!” hoping one person would miss. I resisted the pressure, because… “every point counts”. But the pressure got to Toju. I took my time and scaled the last bar. He rushed.. and missed, and crashed the bar. That was one more Gold for K.C.
Then came the surprise of the day. The 4 x 400m relay event. It was the last. It was our chance and we threw everything at it. Dike Ugonna, Femi Sholesi, Sanusi Gambo and myself. We just ran like there was a devil after us – and we won the Silver medal. Our only sprint medal at the competition.

The real shock came when the final overall results were tallied. King’s College had won the overall first position. Everybody was baffled. They had only been calculating which schools won the sprint events. Most people’s attention had been on the sprint events. Very few people had taken cognisance of us as we were winning our “uninteresting” field events. And that’s how we climbed to the top. While 40 schools were busy fighting for 7 sprint events, we were calmly taking the road less travelled. And it led us home. We won by a single medal.

1: Embrace what others avoid.
2: Every point counts.
3: What seems unimportant at the start might be the deal-clincher in the end.

You don’t have to run with the crowd. But, if you do, may your fellow bandits be people who also have the foresight and the discipline to go their own path when necessary, even if it be a separate path.

And when you have friends or family members or partners who choose or are forced to take the road less travelled in life, show them the value in it, and encourage them to do it – and do it well. Because we are always a part of a greater endeavour, … and Every Point Counts.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

FARSIGHTEDNESS

There is a Nigerian saying
What a child cannot see from a treetop
An adult can see from the ground
They usually say it with a gentle smile

The boy that I was, the child now in me
Was nourished by my mother’s love
While the man I was becoming, who now I am
Was nurtured by my father’s severity

So when they say true love is severity
And severity is sometimes the truest of love
I guess I know now, in retrospect,
What they mean to say between the lines

It is impossible to see both sides –
Day and Night – simultaneously
You have to experience them one by one
And then piece it together in your mind.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 5

(continued from part four)

***
PART FIVE

She trudged, light and heavy, happy and sad, up and over the hills again, back towards the house. It was always hard to part from Chagonu, Nneni and the three cubs. Chagu was making progress. Today he had stood on all fours, the first time she’s seen him manage that ever since the shooting. He would live.

As soon as she thought this way, she saw it… the Wolf-soul. It appeared. It disappeared. Somayinozo hurried back home.

Why was there pain in her heart when she arose the next morning? She did not know. She prayed hard and plunged herself into her duties. Aunty Ngozi seemed harsher than usual today. The tall, dark fourteen year-old was driven like a mule.

“Clean the kitchen!” – she did so.
“Clean the top floor!” – she did so.
“Go and wash the Madame’s clothes!” – she did so.
“You good for nothing waif!” – her lips became straight and hard.
“It’s not your fault. It’s because you were born and bred in that foolish Lagos. Nonsense.”

It was now two o’clock in the afternoon. Somayinozo was hungry, but her appetite was nowhere to be found. She avoided the kitchen. She slipped out through a side door. She knew that Madame Ude would would be waiting for her in her bedroom upstairs, so they could converse, read or just nourish silence together. SOmayinozo sighed a deep sigh. That woman was so kind. Kindness flowed out of her like her breath, enveloped her like an aura. Again Somayinozo wished she could do something for the sick Madame Ude.

But not now. Now she yearned for aloneness. She waited by the side of the door until Ikem, the driver, had walked out of sight. Then she set off. The sun was high and hot, blazing in unrestrained ardour, happy and content in doing always and only this one same thing: shedding light.

Somayinozo could daily feel herself growing older and older. Everyday the world changed. Everyday she saw people differently. Everyday she grew wiser… sadder… more hopeful… stronger… lonelier. She was changing from one person to another and, in between, she did not know who she was.

She did not feel the heat of the sun. She yielded to the urge to move, move, move, seek, find… find a new destiny. But how? Where?

Suddenly the Wolf-soul, as she called this strange canine apparition, was before her again. It was moving. She followed.

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF – Part 3

(continued from part two)

***
PART THREE

IT WAS long past midday when she re-entered Madame Ude’s bedroom. She found her half sitting up, propped up on pillows, her dark face pale and drawn. In her hands was a book. Somayinozo sat on a chair by the bedside and for long seconds the two females communed eyeball to eyeball in absolute silence.

Then, overcome by curiosity, Somayinozo reached for the light green book in madame’s hands, and looked at the title: A Pageant of Longer Poems. It was worn, but stiff, as if it had once been frequently read, long ago.

“Do you like poems?” Madame Ude asked her.

“Yes.”

“Then flip through. Find one you fancy and read it out.”

Somayinozo took a long time in searching through the book. Madame Ude patiently waited, saying nothing, just watching her curiously. Finally the kid raised her braided head..

“This one seems… er… interesting.”

Madame Ude smiled and kept waiting. Somayinozo looked up at her for a moment, saw the reassuring look in her eyes, smiled a little half-smile and then started reading:

“ – – – – ‘The Child is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.’
There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream…”

Madame Ude listened, a slight look of introspective, backward looking, wonder on her face. He eyes were shut, her breathing slowed down, moved she listened to the quietness in Somayinozo’s voice as she read one of her favorite poems back to her. It was not the voice of a fourteen year old or diction of someone from a village primary school. These thoughts floated somewhere at the back of her mind as Somayinozo neared the end of the poem. It was a long poem, but swift had been its transport through time, it seemed to her, as the girl had made her way through it, slowly, until she got to the end.

“… Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

Madame Ude opened her eyes and, through her film of tears, saw the tears in Somayinozo’s eyes.

“This last verse is so touching,” the young teenager whispered. “It makes me want to cry.”

“You are already crying, dear…”

And now Somayinozo burst out weeping.

“Do you understand every part of the poem?”

Somayinozo shook her head. “There were some unfamiliar words, but … I understand the poem itself.”

“Hm…” heavied Madame Ude softly. A thoughtful and worried look came over her face as she studied Somayinozo who had again looked down and was perusing Wordsworth’s immortality ode again.

“How old are you, Somayinozo?”

“Fourteen years old, Ma.”

“Where were you born and raised?”

“Far away. In Lagos.”

“What school did you go to?”

“The primary school I attended is called the University of Lagos Staff School. And then I entered I– “

Madame Ude was startled. Before Somayinozo could continue, she broke in:

“That’s a very good school.”

Somayinozo’s gaze slipped into the past. Suddenly the tears started to flow down her cheeks again, streaming, and she began to sob.

Madame Ude was alarmed.

“I’m sorry, dear. Did I say something? I’m sorry.”

Somayinozo struggled to pull herself together. Slowly she succeeded.

“I’m sorry, dear. Did I say something?” repeated Madame Ude.

Somayinozo looked into Madame Ude’s kind eyes for some time, then shook her head.

“No, Ma. It’s the poem.”

“Are you sure?”

Somayinozo averted her eyes and nodded.

“I’m sure you’d like to rest now, Ma, “ she said. “I shouldn’t be agitating you this much. You’re ill. I’ll go now.”

Madame Ude was too absorbed in the moment to feel tired. She stretched out her hands and took Somayinozo’s in hers.

“Come, my child, call me mother, let’s be friends, give me your heart, tell me what’s in you, in your life, in your past. Tell me the substance of your sorrow, let us share it.”

Somayinozo shook.

“Oh, madame, you remind me of my mother!” Again she burst into tears and hid her face in the folds of Madame Ude’s quilts.

“Oh, my.” The madame, astonished beyond words by this confession, placed her palm on Somayinozo’s braided head. “My dear child.”

She waited for the weeping to subside, then gently asked:

“And where is your mother, dear?”

Somayinozo became silent and looked into Madame Ude’s eyes.

“She’s dead.”

Madame Ude nodded and decided to stop asking for now. She felt tiredness begin to creep up on her. The pains were coming back.

She put the book back into Somayinozo’s hand.

“Take it and read it at your leisure, but bring it along tomorrow, so you can read some more to me.”

The tall dark thin teenager stood up, pierced Madame Ude’s eyes for some moments with a searching gaze, then wordlessly left.

Madame Ude slowly swallowed her pills and then gazed at the closed door through which Somayinozo had left. Could a fourteen year old girl whose education had stopped after primary, or at best early in secondary, school really understand such a poem?”

Madame Ude felt strong bonds of love slowly begin to form between her and the young maiden, and a warmth flowed in her heart. She decided to find out more about this girl who her housekeeper Ngozi had brought in here as spare cleaner, maid and housegirl several months earlier. She would have to remember to ask her about Somayinozo some time, she thought groggily to herself, as her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

… to be continued.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

THE WAIF, THE WIDOW AND THE WOLF — Part 1.

LIKE A Dream, dawn floated upon the world. It was a beautiful dawn, fresh and lonely.

The girl met the morning with a cry akin to the howl of a wolf. She was 14 years old and happy to be alive today. In life there was always hope for better things. In life there were always possibilities, always openings, always new things awakening like miracles approaching from the horizon.

But sorrow will knock, too; sorrow will visit.

The house was still asleep as she noiselessly slipped out. The harmattan haze breathed silently, and silently she breathed along. She took the delicious air deep into her lungs and felt it rush through her head like new thoughts.

She thought of Madame Ude. Madame Ude lying sick on her bed for ten weeks now, looking ever weaker. Somayinozo, the girl, felt the weight of sorrow upon her young heart. Madame Ude was the only person, the one person who was really kind to her in this household. She wished she could help. Wished she could help. But how? The doctors were doing everything they could. Yet the madame just was not getting any better.

Somayinozo shook her head vigorously and turned her feet to the hills, behind which were the woods. There her best friends were waiting. Chagonu and his tribe. Chagonu her friend. He too was very sick. He had lost a lot of blood when the men shot him. There was so much violence in the world.

Somayinozo shivered. The morning was very cold. Perhaps she ought to go back. She had not yet cleaned the kitchen. Aunty Ngozi would not find it funny when she came downstairs. The girl was about to turn back when she suddenly saw a shape shift in the mist. She rubbed her eyes. Chagonu? Impossible. He was too weak. Maybe it was Nneni, his mate. But she never ever came this way, and since the men attacked them two weeks ago she’d never venture near here again.

Who could it be then?

Unafraid and curious, the girl pattered on rubber-slippered feet after the shape she saw. Her clothes were faded, even slightly torn in places. Her hair was rolled into long rough braids that fell all over her face, shoulders and back. She was thin and dark, growing taller by the day, and loped along with a spring on either heel.

She saw the shape again, like an apparition, the shadow, the silhouette of a wolf. If it was not Chagonu, who was it then? Was it a new wolf? A slight apprehension momentarily seized her and she hesitated a moment. Fear touched her and she remembered six months earlier, being attacked by a wolf. She tasted the blood again, smelled the mixture of fear and fur and slicky sweat, and saw the yellow eyes. She remembered the pain.

Then she shook her head. That had been a mistake. She howled. A soft deep howl that arose first from her young soul before vibrating its way through her wind-pipe and floating after the wolf in the haze.

It appeared again. Silent, dark and still. She stood still and they appraised one another. She felt a sudden kinship and howled again, lifting her dark face with her wild eyes like a wolf. The wolf stood vey still. It made no response. It neither advanced nor retreated. She went closer. This time it did not hurry off. It grew larger and darker in the morning harmattan haze. She was now only a few steps away.

But she could not see its eyes, which was strange. By now she should be seeing its eyes quite clearly. There was really something odd about this figure. It seemed more ghostly than of the earth.

Suddenly it faded away.

“Agh – !” sputtered the 14 year old as the canine form in front of her abruptly and literally melted into thin air without moving a step. What was going on? Was this some kind of sign to her? Was Chagonu dead? Wild thoughts raced through her head. Was this Chagonu’s ghost?

She sped over the hills and into the woods where she sought out the wolf-pack. There was Chagonu, the leader, and his mate, Nneni. They had three cubs. They knew it was she coming. The cubs came to her first, yapping like wild puppies. She picked them in her arms and cuddled them. Then she went into the cave. Nneni licked her fingers and she stroked her mane. Chagonu lifted his head and turned his face to her and they looked into each other’s eyes.

“Oh, Chagonu,” said Somayinozo to her wounded friend, “I was afraid you were dead. I saw a ghost, a wolf, so strange.”

As she spoke she gingerly examined his wound again. It was closing only slowly. She lay down next to him and let her braids fall all over his face. The wolf made a soft sound. It sounded like cooing.

After some time, she knew she had to go.

“I’ll come tomorrow, Chagonu. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it today; and I’ll bring something special for you, I promise.”

On her way home, she saw it again. Suddenly it was there. Much of the haze had lifted, so she got to observe that the strangeness of his appearance was not due to the haze. It really was like a ghost.

“I’ll call you the Wolf-soul,” Somayinozo whispered at it. “I’m sure you’ve come to watch over Chagonu.”

It stood staring at her from beneath lids so dark and bushy that she could not quite see its eyes. Then it set off on a lonely trail in a direction she rarely went. She followed. Soon they were close to the hills. It mounted one, she followed. It descended and cut diagonally between some rocks. Intrigued, Somayinozo continued to follow. It was obviously leading her somewhere.

They mounted another hill. Then she saw it.

Her breath caught in her chest as she looked slowly from the lake to the wolf and back again and again.

It was a beautiful lake.

Unlike all the others she had ever seen in these parts, it was clean, and so blue!

Did no-one know it existed? She moved down the hill towards the lake, the wolf still meters ahead of her. When she got to the lake she plunged in – and squealed! It was cold!

She scampered out and hurried home.

The Waif, the Widow and the Wolf – PART 2

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.