THE INVISIBLE PEDDLER OF HEARTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE WAY

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I WAS wondering in the dark, searching for my hands, for my feet, my voice, my mind. I sought all these things, but knew not that I was searching in the dark. In a strange valley that wipes away memory. Truly I was wandering too in the dark.

There are friends that stand around us in the dark, more in number than we know, nearer than we sense, they see us but we do not see them. For, self-centered us, we see only ourselves.

There was a self-centered man, and he never saw anything but himself. His own wants, his own needs, his own hopes, his own fears, his own hunger and thirst, his own pain, joy, views, his own creed.

There he was, wandering in the dark, lonely and alone, thinking he is all alone in the world. Not once does the thought of another cross his mind, for he has long lost the ability to see any other person but himself. A hundred questions trouble his mind, to which he finds no answers. It is dark. Some helpers stand around him, trying to draw his attention for once away from his own ego, for these helpers have the answers he craves. But he sees them not; he has long lost the ability to see any other but himself.

What are these rocks that strike and bleed his feet? He knows not, he sees them not. The light with which to see them is not visible to him. He sees only himself, nothing else. His inner eyes are closed, where is the insight with which to see the inner light? A misty lake has become his insight; therein, trapped, his egotistical love for himself.

So did we wander side by side for decades, centuries, blind to one another, unconscious of each another, for each of us was self-centered. Slowly I started to long for an end to this grey solitude, this heavy empty aloneness. Then did a thought, dimly, strike me, in the depths of my lonely suffering. The thought that this lonely life I led was so sad, so depressing that I would never wish it for anybody else….

– stop. What was that?

Anybody else? … What strange thought is this that strikes me? Is there anything like somebody else? Am I not alone in the world? Could there be any other person here? Struggling in this dark blindness too? A strange new thought that nagged at, and grew in, my heart. If there were anybody else, then would that I could find him, maybe even help him, halve his frustration. – Like a miracle, this thought became a light within me, slowly did my inner eye open.

And… I saw myself in a Valley… walking beside a man who seemed faintly familiar, with the soft sun shinning far away, dimly but visibly. But though I called and called to him, this strangely familiar man, yet he heard me not, felt not my touch. And lo and behold, not he alone, but hundreds, thousands, millions like us were wandering blind in the Valley of Self-centeredness. Unreachable. Alone. I had been simply one of many all this time and I had not known. So deep was my shock that it loosened my heart and set my tears free. Only half the tears were for me. The rest were for my fellow wanderers, as blinded by self-centeredness as I had until recently been. And yet all they need in order to awaken is just once to think of another… spare a thought for another. Focus again on the thought that there are also other people in this world, think of their needs, feel the desire to understand and to help someone else.
After the tears had started to flow from my eyes, I heard a voice. There was a woman walking behind me.

“Did you say something to me?”, I asked, surprised, as I turned to her. She had a voice like a bird singing. She too I seemed to almost remember.

“Osahon, my friend”, she said, “I have been calling your name now for many many decades, patiently trying to awaken you to the way that leads out of this Valley wherein you have been groping…”

“You?… Calling me for decades? Has it been that long? Yet I heard nothing…”

“It is because you have stepped off the way.”

“And where lies the way?” I asked, still dazed, still grappling this new awakening.

And she pointed to my neighbour, he who had been by my side all this time, unnoticed by me, unconscious of me.

“Walk with him a couple of miles. Find out what he needs, and try to give it to him. Therein lies the way.”

“But who is he?” I asked.

“That is Erobo. You were his friend, to whom he once looked up, once upon a time…, like I too once was your star, before we both went blind. Before the bird came to wake me up again. Long long ago. Do you remember?” –

Like a mist slowly parting did I gently recall distant friendships, selfless love, ancient, bright sunlight once upon a time. And as I did, so did the Valley become ever brighter, for this faint Sun had always been there. Only I had gone blind.

“This is what happens,” my ancient lover continued, “when self-centeredness takes over within the soul. So do memory, connection and awareness fade… This is what happens when self-centeredness takes over within our souls.”

I gazed at Efe, my one true love. How could I have forgotten her all this time? … Then I turned and beheld once more my very best friend, Erobo, he who had once been to me even as a brother. Softly I called his name, then louder, until I was shouting it. And yet he heard not.

“He hears you not,” Efe sorrowfully said. “He hears only his own thoughts, and knows not that any other thing exists. And all this he once learned from you,” she said softly to me, “For he has always followed you.

Yet wipe your eyes, stand by his side and keep on calling his name… Weary not, but love him even as you love yourself.”

At first I felt a sense of guilt. I reflected upon this mystery: You can lead a man in, but not out. The thought of an unending, unrewarding sojourn beside an unresponsive soul suddenly brought a hesitation upon me. I looked at the multitude of sleepwalkers around me in the valley, and saw behind so many of them a Helper, bound to each as by an invisible thread, trying to reach them. Tenacious thoughts. They arose again in me. What of my own goals? What of my own wants? A frown, a dark cloud came over my brow, I slowly sunk into brooding –

“Osahon… my friend – “

Startled I looked up. My gaze, as from far away, settled again upon Efe. Her hand was upon my shoulder. A smile was her face. A sad smile, it pierced my core. And then did drop the last chain. I turned again to Erobo, my best friend, placed a hand on his shoulder and began to talk to him, calling his name, telling him of the sun and of friendship and of helpfulness and of the way out of the Valley. Out of my words I made a song, which I am still singing…

“And should he one day awaken and his blind eyes open before Time bids you stop,” my Lover continued, her last words to me, before she left to go there where she must await me, “ … and should he then weary too of selfishness, and desire a way out of this half-lit Valley, then show him also this Way which I have just shown to you, teach it to him gently, and remind him of it should he quickly forget too… – for there is no other way that leads out of this Valley, but the way of selfless love.”

Then I saw her walking away, following a distant bird. When I weary I think of her and of her selfless love; and thus, I too am still talking to my friend.

– CHE CHIDI CHUKWUMERIJE.

From my collection of thoughts and short stories: THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE.