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 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

MUSICIAN’S MORNING

EARLY IN the morning Egwuobi practised the minor chords on his box guitar, his best friend, whom he called Freedom. His soul was full and empty. He gripped the strings with his heart and gradually played, first arpeggio-style, then a-strumming, slowly changing from one chord to the other, one key to the higher.

Each time he caused the strings to vibrate, each time there arose sound from the instrument, a breath of calm seemed to sink into his soul. He did not want to stop.

By the time it began to grow bright outside, he had gone through only a third of the exercise. With a sigh he dropped Freedom lightly on his sparse, rough bed and arose.

For a few moments he remained motionless on his feet. His chest rose and fell, lightly. A look of gentle, dreamy reflection was trapped upon his face, a hard, rocky face with full lips and a strong, pugnacious forehead. He had an angular skull, radiated an intense and awkward, almost overpowering crude handsomeness. His observant grey-black eyes were turned inwards, his profile was angled towards the window.

It dawned on him again, like it did every once in a while, that destiny is like a skin. It wrapped itself around you even ere you arrived. It encapsules, encloses, protects and undermines you. Captures you. Teleguides you. It limits you. It links you to your world. It is hard to shed and hard to change. It lasts a lifetime.

Once again a wry smile was his reaction to this ever-recurring moment of recognition. A wry and sad smile. Yet it was a smile of amusement. No wonder snakes shed their skin. His humour was sometimes dark, sometimes light. He suddenly remembered that he had written something into his diary sometime in the middle of the night, something about train tracks, cocoon and the birth of butterfly. He remembered the feeling of the struggling butterfly. He reached across his bed, lifted his diary, opened it and read it again. Everything came back, the nocturnal stab of clarity that subsequent sleep had temporarily blotted out. It was the same recognition that had just come back again in the skin analogy. Now he felt calmer.
He emerged, composed, out of his reflection and went into the bathroom. A normal prelude to another abnormal day.

This was how it always started – with music, unfinished, and a startling recognition that would fill him all day long. This was the cycle of his life.

An awakening musician.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE OLD BOOK

I SOUGHT MY daughter whom I had not seen for hours now. It was already at the start of that unfailing daily event called Sunset. I sat down outside the little bungalow; well, I call it a bungalow, I’m sure there are some who’ll call it a hut. I was happy, but a certain restlessness stirred in my soul. Maybe she was playing in the woods downhill; I could imagine her admiring and memorizing the shapes and colours of all the wild flowers and little insects in the bushes, her enduring passion. She would soon be back.

The sun, setting, was beautiful. I saw him playing with the clouds lazily travelling by. The wind tickled the whispering grasses, and I was alone.

I liked this new bungalow of mine, perched on this hilltop, giving me a true view of the entire countryside, the village, and those ancient forbidden caves in the distance of which all kinds of impossible tales are still told even until today; yes, this hilltop and this bungalow up here had a strong hold on me, unlike the old hut further down in the valley where I had been born, where I had grown up.

I missed my wife and longed for her return. She had travelled a hundred kilometers away to care for her sick mother for a few days, leaving our daughter and me alone until she would return.

My mind slipped to my childhood back in the old hut. To my brothers and sisters, my parents and old friends. Everybody was gone now. The old ones had died. The young ones had grown up and moved away. Only I had remained here on these hilly south-eastern plains. Now I lived with my wife and daughter in a new bungalow, well to be honest, a big hut really, on a hill, not far from the old one, the last keeper of our culture. For some reason, my heart just could not detach from these environs. Born freely to farm my village lands, I did just that everyday, walking down into the village, then beyond it, to our ancestral farmlands. This week had been a quiet week, though, as I stayed at home with my daughter and waited for my wife to return from her mother.

It started to grow dark. My thoughts came back to the present. I began to worry. Where was my daughter?

Then she was there…

I saw dimly her fragile lithe form slowly mounting the gentle slope, a small basket clutched to her side. Normally she ran, hopped and skipped. I hoped she was not feeling ill.

I let her come to me. I heard her footsteps. Then I saw her face – drawn… her eyes wide, starring… – something was wrong.

“Neanya!” I gasped, springing up.

She walked on straight towards me, her widened eyes never leaving mine, as though searching for answers, a hold, something. What? And then suddenly, a few paces away from me, she abruptly stopped. I walked quickly up to her, bent down, held her; just eight years old; she stood stiffly; her eyes were white.

“Neanya,” I whispered, “What’s wrong? Did something happen? What happened? Tell me!”

She took a deep breath, swallowed. Still these questioning eyes gripping mine. An uneasy apprehension began to grow within me. With a quick glance I briefly scanned the declining grassland behind her; saw nothing, nobody.

“Neanya…” I began again. Her lips parted.

She spoke. A whisper:

“I saw… a… strange man – ”

“Who? Where?

“Down the hill, near the old hut, behind the forest… on that other path that leads to the farmlands…”

“What were you looking for there? I thought you were on the edge of the forest.”

“After playing with the flowers in the forest, I went to the other side, to the giant ụdara tree, I was hoping to pick some ripe and fallen ụdara berries… for you.”

I looked into her basket, expecting it to be empty. It was full of ụdara. I stretched out my hands, one reaching for the basket, the other her shoulder. She veered away, but remained standing where she was, her basket of wild berries still pressed against her body.

Silence.

“And what happened?

“He was very sad, father. He was crying.”

“A strange man? Crying? Where?”

“By the woods, downhill, near the old hut… he was not an old man… he was crying…”

Her answers came in phrases. Her eyes still gripped mine. Something had happened. But what?

“So I held his hand – ”

“You what? Neanya! Who was he? What did he do to you?”
But she simply continued as though I had not interrupted her.

“ – and asked him why he was crying. He looked at me, father, and he was sad. And then… he smiled a little. He said… he said…”

“What did he say?”

“He said that I looked familiar – ”

“And have you seen him before?”

For the first time the starry look in Neanya’s eyes dispersed somewhat. I could see she was thinking. Eight years old; what was she thinking about?

“I don’t know, father… but he looked very familiar too – ”

All at once I felt very uncomfortable, psychically and physically, as if I was subject to a strange, invisible pressure. My throat went dry. I swallowed, took a deep breath and said slowly to my daughter:

“Now Neanya, just tell me everything! What happened? What did this stranger tell you?”

Standing as though rooted to the spot, my daughter looked at me for a few seconds with that thoughtful, questioning glow in her eyes again, and then, after what seemed like a moment of consideration, nodded and slowly began to speak.

“He said he was trapped there, that he could not move on… that’s what he said… because, he said, he said that he had been torn by guilt, he had…” She paused a while, breathe deeply once, then continued. “He had… killed himself when he was on earth, that’s what he said, that he rejected the gift of earthlife God gave him…” She paused, took another deep breath, quietly exhaled. She seemed to be thinking, yet for a second I almost had the impression… that she was listening.

Then, with a sigh, and a slight nod, she continued:

“And… and he said that amongst other things he did not stay to take care of his only child… and that now he is torn by even greater guilt… that’s exactly what he said, father… – he said he wants me to go to his child today, right away, Father, to tell his child that… that…,” she choked, stopped.

What?” I whispered. Was this a dream? Had the imaginative powers of her mind gone too far?

“He told me to go to his child – ”

I shook my head and held Neanya’s shoulders.

“Ssssh. Sssshh. Ssssshhh. You’ve had a bad day-dream, that’s – ”

“He even told me his child’s name, father, and where I could go to find him this evening,” Neanya whispered, interrupting me gently and raising her eyes to the sky. Her eyes were suddenly old. The sky was a deep dark blue and, all around us, the night crickets were chirping.

“What is his child’s name?”

“Norondu – “

My heart stopped beating.

“Is that not your name, Father?” whispered Neanya, her eyes coming back down from distant skies and reclaiming mine. “Is that not what Mummy calls you?”

My heart had still not started beating.

… My biological father had died when I was a baby. I had grown up with my mother and stepfather and their children, my half-brothers and -sisters. I had never known what my original father died of. I only knew he had been some kind of restless adventurer travelling through the lands. I always assumed he died by some kind of accident. People did not like speaking much about him…

“What did the man want you to tell Norondu?” I whispered to Neanya.

“That the old Book of Knowledge which his grandfather had given to his father, and his father had given to him, and which he would like to give his son … is buried exactly beneath the spot on which I am now standing… – ”

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

ỊHỤNANYA

I STAND upon a cloud, detached and unnoticed, and look down at the gentle green hillocks of Isuochi, those last scattered foothills of the Udi hillrange in south-eastern Nigeria. On one of the most secluded and hidden hinter knolls is a hut. No, a cave. Masterfully blended into the mounded cocoon of the hummock with that subtle touch of which only nature is capable, it bears on its rough back an assembly of wild-haired ụdara trees huddled as though in conference about the destiny of the old man in the cave beneath their roots, one who has for decades made this removed grotto his home. Around the cave, all is still. Nothing stirs; nobody in sight. But I know he is there, in the cave, silent, communing with himself, the old man in the hills. I know it well, feel it deep, for once upon a time, I was he.

But that was long ago, before love seized his heart and ground it to bits, scattering the gold-dust of his longings into the gathering arms of the wind who collected them greedily only to scatter then again with childish abandon, hoping he would never again find them. He blew them to the ends of the earth… where they simply re-gathered, recollected, his love and pain, his yearning heart, glued together by remorse; like phoenix, arising anew. Slowly, with time, they found their way back to him, their origin, as though pulled by a memory magnet. Like a guardian they float above his cave in the harmattan sunset of his life now, steering him… even though he does not know that I do so. Yes, once upon a time we were one.

But now he is much wiser. The substance of his life and the love that purified him, purified his inmost soul in excrutiating pain, had been so powerful that when it was over he had been freed of passion and pain, desire and death, reduced in the crucible of experiencing into a wise man. While I, his passion and pain, the living form of his invisible regret, watch now over him from above his head, yearning for release and dissolution even as much as I yearn for him, the lonely old man. No, not lonely, only alone. The wise man in the hills. A long story of love and pain brought him to this place and this state of being, a long story that cleansed his heart and then poured runes of recognition from the vials of Solomon into the emptied coffers.

As I stand upon the cloud today I feel more heavily than ever the pain of all the experiences we went through, the ache of glaring clarity. Oh, could this agony but ease off a little… a moment of teaching mediated to another wanderer at the crossroads where we too once stood. What is the essence of love? When it has conquered you, you understand.

Dusk approaches, the sun sets, the beautiful sun. I watch him silently depart into the graveyard of night. Always, he keeps his thoughts to himself. The sun has just disappeared… night has fallen. Riding atop my cloud, I descend lower, closer to the cool night earth. The warmth of the buried sun’s radiance still permeates my being like the memory of a delicious meal. I sense that tonight there’ll be a difference. I sense movement within the cave. The old man stirs, awakens, seeking fulfilment.

And then he appears. Tall, firm. Strong, erect. He holds his head up like the noon sun, but cocked slightly to one side. He walks slowly, with easy deliberation, like a king, away from the trees, into the open. His eyes look into the distance, filled with a searching look that arose out of his vast heart. When a man has sinned and in the process set a wrong precedence, maybe through his children or grandchildren an opportunity will one day present itself through which he may atone. Like tonight. I see it coming and I wait. Years have passed since he made the grave mistake that gave birth to me, his love and pain juxtaposed. Will I finally dissolve again tonight? I wait.

And then I see from far away a figure, a shadow of light, approaching, ascending the gradient.

Who?

It is Kulie, walking slowly, but resolutely. It takes him almost an hour. But finally, he arrives the tor. He looks up at me, but he sees only the cloud. Me he sees not. I am higher than eyes can see.

I study Kulie as he stoically traces the tracks of the lonesome wise man in the foothills. I observe Kulie. A handsome, young man. Spitting image of his great-grand-father, the mad man in the foothills.

A moment of silence… then Kulie comes upon the wise man, my wise man, standing iroko-erect, backing the world.

Kulie stands still. He speaks not. All his life he has heard of the madman in the foothills, his great-grandfather, unseen by human eyes now for almost two decades, fuelling speculation that he had finally died. But Kulie’s inner voice had told him that he lived yet. And now he saw him here standing before him. Why have I come?, Kulie thinks to himself. He cannot answer himself. Yet he knows that he acted right.

Slowly the wise man turns. His eyes, burning like the red hot coal in the bowels of these ancient hill-range, pierce Kulie’s soul. Kulie yields not, stares back. Before him he sees a tall, thin, very dark complexioned and very old man. His shirtless torso hangs thinly on his proud skeleton above half-trousers that reach down to just below his knees. His feet are bare. His cheek bones stick out like hard balls upon an impassive face. Only the eyes burn.

“Kulie…” begins the wise man, “Gwam! Tell me. Why have you risked your life and reputation by coming here?” Kulie is at first taken aback by the old man’s directness which leaves no room for a proper traditional greeting. And how come the man knows his name?? All this shoots through his mind as he takes in this voice which seems to spread out, as though trying to permeate the world. “You want people to castigate you for communing with an outcasted, mad, man?” His igbo is refined, royal.

Kulie bows his head for a second. Still he shifts not. Promptly he raises his eyes again.

Nna anyị… our father,” says Kulie in a strong voice, “I am confused.”

“And what confuses you?” asks the wise man softly.

“Love, sir…” replies Kulie, “Only love. Ịhụnanya.”

Calm, like the closing of an umbrella when the rain is done, descends anew upon the wise man. Yes, now he is sure. Kulie is the promised one.

“Speak your heart, son,” says the wise man, “Simply your heart.”

Kulie decides to say it simply, the best way to say some things.

“It is the Cause, father, the one that was first started by you. It has awakened in my heart too. It has landed on the table of my destiny and I don’t know what to do. A great love for the people has seized my heart. It has become my cause, like it once was yours. I am ready to work just for the people, to live and die for them. I have proven this to them many times. They know my love, and they have loved me back.

“But… hurtful has been their love, father. They have often turned away at decisive crossroads; often reciprocated my sacrifices, now with gratitude, now with scorn; often chosen empty promisers of illusion over me, until their hopes were dashed, and then come running back to me… until the next liar showed up again. This has been the cycle for years now, such that now… now… I do not know any longer whether or not this Cause and I really belong together. Maybe I am not the right one for it, nor it the right one for me. And yet I cannot abandon it. I just cannot stop trying to get the people to wholeheartedly follow the path of development and growth. They say yes to me with their lips, sometimes with their eyes too… yet the harder I pull, the more lukewarm they seem to become. From afar they cheer me on. But none wants to walk the path with me. I doubt that they really appreciate the effort, yet my love is so great, I keep on accommodating their lukewarmness.

“And I ask myself: This thing that sits so uneasy in my hand, is it really mine, or am I just forcing the whole issue, pushed by selfish ambition? It obsesses me, but I can’t seem to make any headway. Do you understand? I want it, but does it want me?”

A moon appears from behind a cloud and brightly illuminates the wise man’s face… briefly. The sharp, burning, deepset eyes… the flared, angry nose… the rugged lines of fate running down his forehead, knifing their way into the bridge of his nose… the rocky cheek bones… his glowing countenance was an ebonine wood-carving hung on eternity’s canvas.

And his voice says something very simple. Something he once read but did not understand when he needed it the most, something he has always wanted to plant, like a seed, into the heart of someone who stands too at the crossroad but, unlike he, will understand:

“Kulie… when you love something, set it free,” his voice rises, trembles, his eyes look up, “If it comes back to you, son, then it is yours. But if it does not, then it never was.”

For long, long moments, as silence whistles through his heart, Kulie stands looking at a man who has turned round again, backing the earth afresh. In Kulie’s heart he understands. But it’s so painful, too difficult… letting go. He opens his mouth to complain, to quest further –

But the voice of the wise man suddenly rips through the hilltop anew.
Ngwa, Kulie! Go… and be a man! Free yourself.”

And as though the words were a presence by themselves, a force propels Kulie away. He hurries down the incline, his heart burning for his cause.

When you love something, set it free!

Higher climbs the moon, full. Midnight approaches. Maybe Kulie will do the right things. The words were sparse, but the wise man knows that they are exactly what Kulie needs, that he will understand the message at the heart of them. The wise man is free of half of his burden.

Now the other approaches. He bounces up and down the foothills, slowly mounting up the gradient. I look into his face – I see selfishness and inconsideration. I feel a pang of pain stab through me. I seek for the gentleness and love of Kulie in his soul, find them not. Finally, he arrives the hummock.

Again, like Kulie, his eyes first seek the cloud upon which I stand, detached and unnoticed. His name is Jideofor. I know him well, the absolute reflection of that which I used to be. If Kulie is the wise man, then Jideofor is me.

He charges straight for the wise man who faces the moon. I notice an air of reluctance hanging around him.

“Yes?” Tersely. “Ọ gịnị?” Without turning around.

“I knew that I had to come here. So I did.”

Now the wise man turns, looks. Yes, it is he.

“And what is your problem?”

Jideofor grimaces. “It is the people, your people! I love them but I am tired of it all. Why do they complain all the time? Why do they demand all the time. I give and give all I can, yet they never stop demanding, like a bunch of greedy, ungrateful children. They are always irritable. I have outwitted all their enemies, all our enemies, and brought development to the community, and yet they keep demanding, demanding. In other places, people would worship me if I gave them just half of what I have given this people, our people, your people! Fighting your lost cause. But they remain unsatisfied. Truly, I have come to the end of this road!”

The wise man’s voice is cold as ice:

“Jideofor! Gee ntị. Listen very carefully, I will say this only once. When you love something, cherish it. Keep it close to your heart. Cherish it. Do not even slightly ease up your hold on it… or it will fly away and never come back back!

“Do you understand?”

Like a thunderclap his voice slams into Jideofor’s soul, sending him careening down the hill like a dislodged boulder, seeking his fate.

When you love something, hold it tight!

The wise man sighs. His life is over. He has atoned. The two faces of love have been voiced and released into two hearts and into the ether, never to die again. He walks back to his cave. The fire in his eyes, it has died. His body lets out its last breath. His spirit flies away. Home. His remains will have his hill for a grave, his cave for a gravestone. The wild arms of his beloved ụdara trees wave him goodbye in the harmattan wind.

In the sky above the ghostly silhouette of trees on the knoll there glows a lovely fullbloomed moon; riding beneath it on his cloud, slowly dispersing at last, is my pacified self; the shadow of the wise man’s heart; his regret; his remorse; his longing to atone; his burning desire to make good, thawing at last. Reflecting these two so different explanations to love, seemingly contradictory – to let go, or to hold on.

Two views, two songs, two sides.

And the people, trapped in the cause, understand not as Kulie and Jideofor relate and act out the differing messages they each claimed to have received from their great-grandfather in the same night. It seems like a contradiction to the people, another evidence of that old outcast’s state of mind. The different voices of this one simple truth told by the wise man elicit divergent responses from various souls.

Some call it insanity. A few dub it amnesia. Others call it agony, pain.

But I, I call it the Understanding.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

THE FLUTTERING

OUTSIDE MY WINDOW there fluttered a bird…

I opened the window and in it flew. It alighted upon my table and became a story, a book of many pages full of emotion and history. Poet, poet, you anchored the story and it became a masterpiece that fed and accompanied human hearts from generation to generation.

There is an old book that began at the dawn of history and has no end, for from generation to generation there is always a poet to receive its next pages, humanity’s rebirth, return of inspiration and guidance. The mystery, it seems to me, comes always in the shape of a bird and survives in the shape of a flower in the desert.

The bird kept on singing, narrating; I kept on listening, the poet kept on writing, the poet in me. When the last page emerged and the bird disappeared, a day of sharing passed, and I fell asleep.

A century of slumber passed again. Again again the night dawned and swallowed up the world. From the depths of my sleep a sound extracted me, the flutterings of a bird. Outside the window, woman or bird? Woman and bird? A woman stands behind the bird. With sleepy eyes I her behold, a waif of moonlight, standing outside my window, an ephemeral beauty, a strange maid…

I desire her. My desire becomes the magic wand with which she hypnotises me. I lose interest in the bird, the bringer of my stories, the being of my inspiration. Instead, I open the window and walk to the woman. Dimly I was aware of the bird that flew in through the open window of my soul into my chamber of secrets even as I walked out of it, into the hungry night. The glass door shut behind me, Noah’s ark sailed away sans poet. There she stood before me, the night’s promise, unfulfillable. A thousand pleasures she would give to me, but none quenched my thirst… Until it dawned that she was the thirst itself, cyclically renewing itself, fawn Sisyphus.

Wearily I dragged myself back to my window; shut. It was shut, long shut, with me on the outside. Looking in I make out, upon the table, another book, another distant story, buried in my heart. Like a visitor at a glass tomb, thoughtfully I look back in time.

It used to be a bird, a bird that once flew to me. Sadly I gaze at the scroll through the infinity of a glass window. I can see the book deep within my soul, but I cannot reach or read it. I stretch forth my yearning hand, but all I manage to do is scratch the window pane with with my fingernails. Poet, poet, awakened and then distracted, unable to anchor your story, the very reason for your awakening. How does it feel to gaze upon your calling and be unable to enter it?

Weary and more you search until you find the door, and re-enter your inner home, but generations have since passed… the table, it is empty.

So here you go, sleeping again. A century and many more of restless dreams. Then, one day, you hear it… a familiar sound… outside your window… the Fluttering…

The night is dark, the moon is pale and sceptical, the glass is scratched, the witch is calling and the bird is fluttering…

Do you remember? It has been a long sleep. Memory has become a distant memory. Who is this moon? What is this woman? Why is this night? When is this window? How is this bird?… Even yourself you do not know anymore. Long was this sleep.

Poet, poet, you move in my heart, like a bird fluttering outside my window. Time is my window. If I open it and let the bird fly in, I will see and remember that it is no ordinary bird, it is a memory being, a fountain-pen, a poem, a story which, anchored, will grow wings and fly into the hearts of those who are thirsty outside…

Poet, poet, you speak in my heart. Forget that woman and face your true love.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

METAMORPHOSIS

THERE ONCE lived a girl called Vanity. It was in that strange country where newborn babies are left unnamed – simply being referred to as so and so’s first son, so and so’s third daughter, etc – until they have grown into childhood. Only then would their parents and relatives, having up to this time carefully studied the character (for early dawns day) of the one to be named – finally confer upon the child that name which they believed best captured the essence of its core personality.

And so did this girl, from an early age, come to be called Vanity, for she was as proud and vainglorious as a peacock. Vanity believed that the whole world was there just to serve and admire her. She did not care much for others, nor could she tolerate, in her vicinity, another receiving more attention, admiration and adoration than herself. This she simply could not bear. She thus constantly went to all and any lengths to make sure that the attention of everybody would always and only be riveted upon only her. Vanity dressed in the most beautiful of clothes, wore the most attractive ornaments, learned the most alluring manners of self-expression, perfected the most sensational methods of walking and swinging, and – being the scion of wealthy royalty – made it very obvious to the gentry that she had a lot of wealth to spread around. The inevitable consequence of this was that the world divided itself into two groups before her – those who crowded themselves around her and those who avoided her. Great was her pleasure, for ‘her side’ verily outnumbered the other side.

As she grew into a teenage adolescent, a spectacular beauty happened to grow out upon Vanity’s features and fitted itself around her form. Naturally this pleased Vanity extremely  and only served to confirm for her and her court her egotistical claim to prenatal supremacy. And at this point her name changed spontaneously from Vanity to Beauty. Beauty became the rave of her time, the talk of town, the object of the envy and idolisation of the women, the desire of the men – exactly what she wanted. Beauty wore her outward beauty like a trophy and used it ruthlessly to acquire everything she wanted, most of which she indeed also got. For people practically worshipped Beauty; they made her their idol, their goddess, their queen. She controlled all.

Such was it that by the time she had become a young woman her name had changed once more – and now everybody called her Power. Power exalted in this name granted to her by her fellow human beings and proceeded to have a crown manufactured for herself on which her name was inscribed for all to see. She became so full of herself that there was no space left for her in which she could continue to expand, nor could her bloated ego grow any further. It neared its peak, its limits. Her ways became stiff and cold, lifeless. She could not find any further height to reach and claim. She became an ornament herself.

And very soon her name became Rigidity. For rigidly fixed was she to the dogged attachment to vanity, beauty and power. She bore no love for other human beings. Frightening and strange became her ways. Rigidity detested her new name intensely and tried to rigidly hold on to the previous one and to thus force the people to keep on calling her by it, but the people, like people like to do, persisted in calling Rigidity by the newest name they had given to her. And the harder she resisted it, the louder they called it.

It happened that, at this time, owing to her persistent attachment to old forms, her health broke down. By the time she recovered, her face, older, less beautiful, remained marked by the deep scars of her illness and struggles, and there was a tired ring to her voice. And, for some unknown reason, the people at this point began to call her Lesson. They pointed at her and said: “Lesson, Lesson, Lesson!” And Lesson saw that they were but pointing her out to the new, young beauty in town and pointing out her own destiny to her too. Lesson was very dejected. Sadly she sneaked out of town in the dead of night and wandered lost and lonely, trying to put a finger on what exactly had gone wrong in her life. And Lesson spent many years trying to understand life. Many lonely years.

And during these years of her travels, fellow wayfarers who saw her simply dubbed her with the name Simplicity, for she walked silent and alone and appeared to do all her things simply. When Simplicity found out that this was her new name, it seemed to her that there was a hidden message and clue in this name. She then began to consciously strive to do all things simply, to think simply and to cultivate true simplicity of the soul. Finally Simplicity settled down in a little hut in a little village where she cultivated farms and gardens and grew to love children and nature.

The people of the village loved exceedingly this obviously aristocratic yet so modest, archaic stranger who had come to live amongst them and, inspired by her ways, they named her Humility. This name struck the surprised Humility with such great humbleness that she again, using it as a guiding star, started striving consciously after true humbleness and humility in her life, in order to become worthy of the name. Humility was ever ready to carry out even the lowliest of tasks and was never too proud to speak up for the truth when she saw it being denied, or even to fight for it, no matter how much of a fool she might appear in the eyes of others for doing so; for in her newfound humility it no longer mattered to her what others thought of her. Because true humility is strength, not weakness, as we all know.

The people of the village learnt much from Humility, who was by now rather an old woman, and gradually they recognised the absolute magnificence of the beautiful female spirit that occupied her old body – which revealed to them the essence of true inner beauty – and, unanimously, they agreed to change her name to Beauty! And so, for the second time in her life, Beauty was called Beauty again, but now for a genuine reason, for the truest of beauty is the beauty of the heart.

Many more years has Beauty now lived amongst the people of this dear and beautiful village, and it is Beauty herself who is now writing down her own long and eventful story. Except that now – now that this village has become a place of that true heavenlike peace and beauty which she has always borne hidden, deep, within her maturing soul – Beauty’s name is no longer Beauty, but she now bears an other and final name which will be the one that will be etched unto her grave tablet when this old, warm body of hers is finally returned to earth. And what do you think this her ninth name is? – It might be Service; or Leadership; or Strength; it could be Love; or perhaps Peace; or even Heaven. It may also be Purity; or Guide; or Guardian; or maybe it could be Mirror. Choose for yourself, every woman out there, do.

I am simply what I should be.

Emptiness always makes the greatest noise. Would that emptiness could learn to become silent, that it may be true and become filled.

Goodbye, Earth. – – –

The beautiful old woman died two days after writing down her own story; and when she was buried, the grateful village people inscribed upon her grave stone the single word…:

HOME.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije (from my collection of short and inspiring stories and essays titled „There Is Always Something More“)
Available on all Amazon stores.
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015

REMEMBER THE SUN, LOOK UP –


image

ONCE UPON a time, there was a bird.

It flew and flew for a long time, over great distances, over lakes, mountains and forests, over deserts, countries and valleys, over vast oceans and across mighty fields of thought.

One day, as it was flying over such a field of thought, it looked down and saw a little girl playing in the red-brown soil of Owerri, a small town in south-eastern Nigeria. Dressed in a short, tie-dyed west African boubou and skipping merrily on bare feet behind her father’s house, the little girl threw thoughts up into the air, bright blue and yellow thoughts, the way other children throw up ribbons and balls. And when the thoughts went into the air, they would take wing and fly high into the sky, so high up that not even the bird could see the height into which they soared.

One by one they would then, after a long while, reappear in the visible firmament as they began their downward flight to the girl. Upon their descent the thoughts were bigger, brighter, more beautiful, and they all bore a crown on their heads. This the bird could see.

By the time the thoughts returned to the girl, her father’s house had washed away and she had grown into a woman, a young and beautiful woman with a silent sorrow on her face, a deep question in her eyes, a lovely, innocent yet knowing smile upon her lips. For in the period in which her thoughts had flown to heaven, many men and women had loved and left her. Some had loved her too little and some had loved her too much. But none had loved her enough. Now she stood there with the universal question in her heart; the search for her destiny.

A song. Beautiful was the song that came out of the bird, descended along with the woman’s returning thoughts. One by one, her thoughts alighted on her breast, folded their wings around her like in an embrace and dissolved into her. As each thought disappeaed back into her, her eyes became brighter, the sadness upon her ebony features faded away, little by little, the question gradually disappeared, and she gradually grew up… until the last thought had reunited itself with her, and she stood there, tall, pretty, mature, clear.

Then did she hear the song… the song of the bird… it pierced her heart like a bird’s beak penetrating into the heart of a wild honey flower and told her wild and gentle stories of things forgotten and remembered. Like the sunflower her heart exploded open and she looked up…

And she saw the sun!

And while she revelled in the sight of the sun, for since attaining adulthood she had not noticed the sun anymore, the bird flapped it’s wings again and flew on, flew away. By the time the woman, filled with the sun, looked around in the sky for the source of the lovely song that made her look up in the first place and awakened her to the sun…, the bird was long gone.

Once upon a time, there was a bird… on and on it flew, over fields of thought and gentle growth. Simple is her song:

Remember the sun, look up –

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

From my book of inspirational short stories and anecdotes:
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE
amazon cover copy there is always something more 2015