Fiction, Musings

Lights and shadows

My friends on Facebook put up all sorts of posts. I thought to share two of the best marriage posts I read some weeks ago –

sometimes we get crazy at each other instead of being crazy about each other, yet we soldier on as God’s grace sustains us. Need to believe there’s God? take a look at us. (Darlington Iriogbe on his first wedding anniversary)

… I PRAY that God continues to bless us (would have said ‘you’ but we are one now *winks*). (Georgette Ezechukwu on her husband’s birthday)

Life is not perfect – thanks Oluoma Udemezue for the reminder. But I’m pleased to add this opinion that we both share – that there are many, who like my friends, give their best to make their marriage work.

But then there are some who don’t. Sometimes not out of bad will. But because life is richer than we can ever imagine and sometimes things don’t just work out despite everything. Oluoma sent me a well written story that kind of illustrates this. Or maybe not.


 

Enugu was lonely at that time, and a handful of cold-dry wispy breeze charmed the dust off the earth to a revolt adding some verve to the lonely road. It was New Year’s Eve. A time to discard stuffs you don’t intend to carry into a new year: sins, guilt, long-suffering, burden….

A 2016 Range cut through the cold unnoticed; it made straight for a restaurant down the road.

The scarcity of life on the road gave Chioma food for thought; she roamed in her deep thoughts, of what not to carry along too, into a more promising year; she kept on rubbing at her silver and gold crested wedding ring, as though they weighed down on her searching thoughts. It was a wedding that drew reputation to the open. No, she didn’t want to think straight; to think straight is to make her a rational being and to become a rational being is to be human. No, humane. Yes, that was the right word; to become what she wasn’t would only cause her to forgive, but could she afford to forget? She gazed upon the band that had fisted on her finger: ‘ten years was no common joke.’ She remembered the stern look her eccentric mother spat at her before she walked out on her decision. She wanted only one thing out of the present: to feel her own presence beside him.

The ride from Agbani road to Nise suddenly turned pale orange –just like the street lights of Lagos. Lagos was a dreamer. She felt hot and nasty all of a sudden and gazed out through the clear glass, while the space between them itched to be filled by some soothing. She left her ringed finger, and led the idle hand to her right ear lobe. All of a sudden, she turned pink and felt some flakes of guilt, and suddenly returned the roaming hand where it belonged, on her laps; covered by a short shimmering silver gown; it came home in a gift pack, back with Obi in order to spoil her silly. A shy smile lit up by the corners of her red lips, but her eyes caught the stained back seat, through the review mirror and the smiles indulgently faded away the way they came. Little Kodilichukwu would have been eight that day, had she not been in so great hurry to get to work. The truck would have got her, and not him. She died each time her eyes caught that spot and Obi knew it, but he had decided not to change to car seats, just to punish her.

Obi had already hit the headlights on: it was as though he was not present. They threw silence at each other with uncanny circumstances. He had his full weight on the car seat, too comfortable in his red and white isi agu –his people had given him a title after helping out with a bore hole, one out of too many attentions he had gotten that year. His sight was fixed on the road, but less, fixed on her. But those firm hands he gently placed on the steering wheel could be quick tempered at times. They bumped into a pothole; he grunted and finally slowed the car in front of Calabash restaurant. She couldn’t actually punch a fist at what impregnated the silence between them; nurtured it and purged it out to haunt their marriage. They actually existed in a lake of purgatory, paying for what they actually have no idea about. Obi was different, but she couldn’t let go. Lagos; the subtle memories wouldn’t go away –it stuck close like a bad smell, a bad old habit. But Obi; through his rimmed double lenses, couldn’t see the guilt that was written all over her; the moment she stepped through the door, after Lagos. Or did he? The sea salt mixed with champagne and the luxuries of his yacht still hung about her; the feeling repelled and rebelled everything that walked in her way since she came back, but Obi.

They stepped through the door of the restaurant after Obi locked the car door. He smiled down at her, a quaint smile –Obi was much taller– before they jammed hands to service stray eyes.

Luxury was the best word to describe the restaurant. They walked into a band led by Oliver De Coque junior; he delighted the guests with Biri Ka Mbiri, it was as though they were the ones the music was meant for –Obi just received a transfer letter to Paris from the oil company—so, it was their music, the others knew he got the transfer, including the smudge of red lipstick on the collar of his white crispy shirt that bade her welcome immediately she walked through the door from Lagos. So, they couldn’t wait for her to turn her back before they went in for the kill: creeping mice.

Obi knew virtually all who seemed too eager to meet his handy wife while they had cleavage display icons by their sides. While he generously made his way around their tables, she felt out of place as always, drew back and left him on the spotlight, the way it has always been. Later, a very young waiter –she noticed for the first time in ten years- led them to a quiet corner, presented the menu in a thick leather bound file and waited with a generous smile that smeared all over them like hot butter on bread. Chioma gazed through the menu, but all she saw was the guilt of Lagos. Obi held the menu in his hands: those hands that cut through wood to see him through the university, it was still those hands that plotted the proposal that won him a good position at the oil company, those hands held her fingers –when he went about in a pair of woollen shoes– while the other made her wear a diamond stud for ten years and counting. Her hands went back to her ear lobe, but this time, it could not miss the spot, the one very close to her ears, where she had to mould with unending Mac foundation, in order to hide her blood that already congealed. It hasn’t gone down yet, she thought. It would have been nice to stay back in Lagos: on Yinka’s yacht, his mansion and his world, where they could do nothing, but frolic on old school days. She had only gone to visit her sister, but he appeared, out of nowhere and swept her off her feet.

“You are not hungry?”

She was gently snuffed away from her day dream by Obi’s concerned voice. She looked at the hairy hand he casually placed on hers –they were cold and strong. Cold from working too long and too hard at the rigs, his wife had to make do with the overflowing and suffocating benevolence of the oil company. She looked at the raised knotted inquisitive browse of a total stranger: Obi.

“No.”

At that instance, they heard loud crashing of plates held by a waiter that even interrupted the band that played.

“No.”

She said again, but this time around, it was forceful, not like the first time. It was as though air was trapped in her tracks, but she forced herself to push beyond it. Her mother’s stern look came at her for the last time, but she found the will to brush her aside, because she knew that theirs was a family, broken.

 

Advertisements
Standard
Fiction, Musings

Pamela’s Patina

Seeing that she was quiet, he left the room. He was upset and needed to calm down; upset and disappointed that his granddaughter could lie to his face like this.

True to his expectations, her sadness had continued. Wednesday passed – the same. When on Thursday, she was still depressed, he became alarmed. Brooding had become her god over the past three days and a jealous one at that. To serve him well, she had embarked on rigorous fasting, barely touching her food and pushing it away. As such, she was fast losing body weight. The irony of it was that it would have been a most welcome development, had circumstances been different. With each passing day, he became more and more afraid for the health of his frail grandchild.

“Is it so difficult for you to confide in me?” he asked again that Thursday afternoon.

She had some notebooks and a Mathematics textbook on the table. She had intended to finish her assignments but brooding got the better of her. She remained there, seated, looking at the books and into space at the same time.

“Pamela, what’s eating you?”

She got up and went to stand by her favourite spot – the window overlooking the small garden, the tears streaming down her face. At once, he followed suit.

“I don’t deserve all this agony, Pamela.” He said, breaking the silence.

“What agony?” asked a surprised Pamela, quickly wiping off her tears with the back of her palms. She had not heard him approach.

“The agony of watching my grandchild, fight a losing battle with an unseen opponent, and not being able to help her. It breaks my heart, Pamela. It really does.

“What losing battle? What opponent? Oh! I wish my problem could be solved by the good use of English Grammar.” She turned to look at him. “I love you, grandpa and I care very much about you. I do not want to hurt your feelings or see you sad and heartbroken” she was beginning to feel guilty. “And that’s precisely why I’m trying to shield you from the knowledge of my problem.”

“But you are making a mess of it” he retorted “You’re not hiding it well as you claim. If that was your intention, then ab initio, you should have acted like your normal self, as if all was well. Then I would have gone about my business, deceived into thinking that nothing was wrong in the first place” he said angrily. Then his tone became gentler

“But that would have been impossible, Pamela. You’re a bad actress…” She smiled for the first time in days.

“And I’m your grandfather. I know you and I know you very well because I love you very much, ok.”

He put his arms round her. “Your heart is heavy. At your service  is someone who cares, who is ready to listen. Besides, he’s not just someone, he’s family. I tell you, it’s not every time that one is lucky enough to find a listening ear ….”

“‘Class’” Pamela said quietly, dry-eyed; there were no more tears to shed.

“Class?” he repeated, surprised at what the word class had to do with the problem.

“Yes, class. I was as puzzled as you now are when I first heard it.” She proceeded to explain “One needs to be from the upper class to qualify for the contest and one must be able to prove it.” She stopped. It was her turn to be surprised as he slightly threw back his head and exploded into raucous laughter.

{Excerp from Miss Turris by Amaka Anozie}

———————————————

I have given this post a ‘forced’ title. Patina is not exactly the word to describe Pamela’s attitude. But it’s the new world I learned today thanks to wordpress and Merriam – Webster dictionary. I find it very interesting that ‘patina’ comes from ‘paten’. The paten – a small but very important tray – is at the highest point of the Holy Mass in the Catholic Church. There, the bread offered is transformed totally into the body of Christ. And we partake of it. We do so to feed our souls, hoping in the eternal life while living fully this present one.

Standard
Fiction, Musings

Miss Turris Revisited

I once wrote a book which, for love of Latin, I called Miss Turris. I tell people when they ask – ‘oh basically, it’s a story about friendship’. But I’ve heard a different take on it which I found quite interesting. One reader’s comments has helped me re – discover my novel. Just an excerpt from Miss Turris to begin with –

—————————————————-

Alex had taught her the act of manoeuvring and now the situation called for it. She stood up quietly, and walked stiff – necked to the window which overlooked the small garden. Her body all straight and stiff, she gazed at the plants, looking and seeing through them. Those plants knew her as much as she knew them – she spent her leisure pruning and weeding them. They knew her tears and her frustrations. They had listened to her questions and to some of her joys.

She stood like that in silence for about two and half minutes and was almost giving up the act when she heard light footsteps behind her. Her grandpa was coming. A smile lit up her face for a fraction of a second and was quickly replaced by a blank expression; she remained still and waited.

Of course, he knew that she was putting up an act. After all, he was once her age. Even more, he was her grandfather. But, he decided to play along and in the end, indulge her as always. He counted himself lucky that he had a sensible girl for a grandchild. First tantrums; now this. ‘Some progress’ he chuckled as he stood beside her.

One look at her face and he almost burst out laughing. Anyone who didn’t know her would have been deceived by her expression, but definitely not him. He decided to start a conversation.

“The plants are beautiful, aren’t they?” he asked

She almost cried. This wasn’t what she had expected to hear, but she managed to keep her cool.

“The flowers even more so” she replied. “See how pretty that pink Anthurium looks.”

“Still thinking about the ‘hair’ issue?”

“No” An easy lie. It was part of the act – to pretend as if it didn’t mean anything to her, anymore.

He smiled and commended her inwardly. “May I ask why?” he asked

“Well”’ she allowed herself a shrug “because I’ve learnt to take whatever you decide, as law. You know, what an elder sees sitting down, a child will not see it, even if she climbs a palm tree”. She said, quoting him. Another lie.

Not wanting to push further, he said “Permission granted”.

“To do what?” she needn’t ask because she knew the answer, but it was part of the act to do so.

“To start growing your hair; I’ll put no objections in your way.”

The greater part of her wanted to hug him tightly and say a big thank you, but that would mean breaking the rules. So instead, she replied,

“You‘re too kind … to me”

He sighed “And you are a good actress, my lamb”

“Oh! Grandpa,” she said, giggling and hugging him tightly. “You always manage to see through me, no matter how hard I try.”

—————————————————————–

‘She’ is Pamela, my protagonist.  She’s a granddaughter whose family consist in one person – her granddad. And the loving, tender, relationship between him and her is one of the main themes in Miss Turris.

It’s the kind of relationship I would have liked with my grandma – a sweet one as most grandmas are. And we did have it to the extent that the distance and language barriers allowed. She spoke only Igbo; I spoke bekee. She lived in Eastern Nigerian; I in the south 4 hours away. She called me her nnedim – mother of her husband. Everyone who knew the true nnedim said I was her look alike.

Once I went with my grandma to one of our palm tree plantations. She must have been about 70 years old then. We collected some dry sticks for the fire and a medium sized bunch of palm fruits. She tried balancing the bunch on my head. Uff! City gal. I couldn’t bear the weight and I staggered, almost dropping the bunch. On the way home, I had to walk beside her with the light load of sticks while she proceeded gracefully with the bunch on her head. Strong woman!

Dear grandma, you kept our large family going after the death of grandpa. And now 17 years later, you have gone to join him. We buried you today. I can imagine how it went. I can see you smiling at us, resting in peace. Keep watching over your nnedim. Keep watch over us all.

_____

bekee – one of the igbo words for ‘English’.

Standard
Fiction, Uncategorized

Don Giulio

IMG_20160103_115938

Don Giulio’s favourite

 

Tell my son’ said the body lying on the bed. The words spilled out with all the force she could muster ‘tell my son if you can, that I have cancer. That I will like to know how he is before I die’

Don Giulio stepped out of the clinic gate, a new responsibility on his shoulders. He was the chaplain of a prison in the south of Italy; a prison that housed many members of the Italian mafia. Including a boy, a young man of twenty – three. Of him, Don Giulio knew only two facts. That he was like the other mafias whose goal was power and only power; And, that he had a mother who was on her deathbed in Rome.

‘Things will sort themselves out’ he mused to himself, his over-rational self as he liked to call it. How best to communicate the message to the boy was his worry. ‘Tell my son…’ the dying woman had said. ‘Dear Holy Spirit of God’ Don Giulio prayed ‘may this son listen!’

 

The boy was weeping inside his whitewashed cell. ‘I have no mother’ he had screamed, banging the door in Don Giulio’s face. Yet, he was weeping. Don Giulio remained standing outside, listening to it. It was saying for the umpteenth time that the thread that connects man to the Good has not and will never be lost, whatever happens.

Footsteps. Sounds not of weeping. A prison warden with his keys dangling from his hips. Don Giulio beckoned to him and pointed to the door screen.

Now Don Giulio could see him. The boy without a mother was still crying.

‘You do have a mother’ Don Giulio maintained ‘How fortunate you are! Without her, you will not be a man’.

‘Yes, a man’ he said, as the young man’s bowed head jerked up and back down again. ‘You won’t be a man and much less, a mafia’.

And he stepped out of this other door, one less responsibility off his broad shoulders.

‘Now let the young man cry’ it said to him. There will be time for conversation later.

Standard
Fiction, Little things

Stucked!

The elevator was about to leave

‘wait for me’  I cried, running to the bench to gather my possessions.

My laptop bag, a big novel I was struggling to finish and another bag – a hand one. They pressed ‘OPEN’ and waited, smiling as they usually do. I love these classmates of mine; it seemed they were born with a smile. Perhaps, one requirement for admission was a smile surgical transplant in the clinic. Who knows. Now I am in and just as we are about to ascend, Prisca zooms in, hitting the lift’s metallic side. The closing process is interrupted for a millisecond and then the door glides shut.

‘what a speed’ I remarked , clutching my laptop and  holding on to the big novel. She smiles exultantly at having made it. It’s not so easy after the day’s work to trudge up to the highest floor where the rooms were. She is still smiling. The others resume their conversation. We are still on the ground floor.

‘Looks like the lift is stuck’ I commented, sending a casual glance to the half opened door. Thing was, the outer door was well closed, cutting off air supply and giving the impression of all being well.

‘Hello! we are stuck in here’

Another voice answered from the floor

‘oh no’ Chinwe’s British accent floated to our ears

‘poor dears. Stay calm.. I’ll inform the technical crew’

meanwhile, someone had pressed the alarm button from within

‘tell jokes’ someone advised ‘meanwhile’

‘no, better not to talk to conserve oxygen’ said another, concern etched in their tones.

‘I don’t think we are in any danger’ and Ziria started a joke or something like it.

‘once a lady was asked what her favourite colour was.

“fuchsia” she replied

“Fuchsia? please spell it.”

“well” the lady said “it’s red. Red is my favourite colour”

Even Prisca managed to ease her taut facial nerves.

‘another joke’ someone called.

‘you know’ I started ‘we have this character, typical comical character called ‘Akpos’ in Nigeria …

‘Hello…’ a voice cracked on the speaker. Fran´s.

´stay calm’ she continued ´we are on it’

I continued my joke

´so Akpos was in this school where he wasn´t doing well. The teachers invited his dad to discuss his poor performance…

Fran again ‘are you touching any button? Please don’t touch anything. Just stay calm and stay put’

‘Fran, can we touch the wall?’

‘How funny’ Prisca said, more distressed than ever.

‘Here, let me help you with your book’ and she cradled and hung on to my big book which I had been struggling to finish. If the lift was doing a pendulum dance, I would have understood…. But her action in the face of a still lift… well, I’m glad to have the weight off my arms.

‘Back to Akpos….’

A sign of relief greeted my words as simultaneously, the lift started descending to the first floor, underground. we came out hastily and when I suggested that we take the lift as planned to the top floor, everyone uncharitably thought I was sick.

Standard