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.

 

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Musings

Jonathan’s Chronicles

January is almost ended. Only four more days to go. It feels like I’ve already lived a year. I think I am getting better in the art of assuming the problems / needs of others and of sharing in them; making them mine. And so I have lived so much. I’ve wept and smiled and laughed so hard.

But today made the crowning point of it all.

Jonathan was born and died today.

When I was in primary school, I learnt a rhyme of Solomon Grundy for the days of the week –

Solomon Grundy; born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, …, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

It didn’t make sense then. I couldn’t fathom how Solomon who lived for only one week could have done so many things. Now, many years later, I don’t have a Solomon. I have a Jonathan instead. I’m going to let him tell his own story. It’s a short one. It lasted not one day but 60 minutes only; 3600 intense seconds.

—–

My name is Jonathan and I am a being for death. Of course that quote isn’t mine – it’s Heidegger’s. A 60 minute old child isn’t supposed to know anything, to have lived anything, to have felt anything. But I know a lot. I know what it is to be chosen to be kept and loved by a mum and a dad and 2 sisters and a brother.

10 weeks ago, when I was five months old inside my mum, we went to hear what the doctors had to say. They said something like ‘fatal kidney failure’ and mentioned ‘death’. At that point, I stopped swimming and squatted still. Not because I knew what that word meant. I mean, I don’t have any online dictionaries inside the womb. I stopped because I could feel mummy’s dread.

The doctors went on and advised abortion given the circumstances. The baby – I – wasn’t going to live after being born. Most couples chose that option. The other one wasn’t worth trying. I wasn’t worth keeping.

Daddy thanked the doctors and got up, ready to take his wife home. A decision had to be made. Mum’s cloud of dread hung thick over me. I laid still, face up, wondering what it all meant.  Mum began to cry as soon as they got into the car. I was disturbed as the cries racked her. But that cry was good, very good. It drove the cloud of dread away. All was clear again. My life had returned to normal. My world was okay again. I resumed swimming.

Two weeks later, I heard Tess, Dan and Leah whispering together. Dad and mum had called a council. Dad repeated what the doctors said, omitting death and the abortion option. It made no difference anyway. I still didn’t know what those words meant. What mattered was this – that thick fog had been dispersed two weeks ago and it hadn’t come back since then. My siblings erupted into cheers. Dad had added that although the doctors had vouched for the uselessness of the decision, we were, they were going to keep the baby. And – mum added – we’re keeping Jonathan. Hurray!

Now they had to inform the rest of the family. Well, I suppose each one reacted in his way. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. What I know is that since that day when Dad told his family and mum told hers, I became a celebrity. There was ‘Jonathan’ on many lips. There were many cries to heaven for Jonathan. My aunt Charlie went as far as telling everyone of her over 100 Philosophy and Theology classmates in Rome; her Jonathan was passing through a rough time and could they please say some little prayer for him and the family.  My feeling of importance shot up. I am Jonathan and I am world famous.

Mum changed clinic. She simply started going to another. I found it strange. But no matter. I guess a woman like her knows what’s best for her baby. The doctors in the new clinic said it was going to be very difficult, almost impossible. But never again did I hear the words ‘useless’ or ‘needless’ or ‘in vain’. Given that everyone, even my 2 year old sister Leah, was saying a little prayer for me, dad decided to add his grain of sand. He would pat mummy’s stomach many times. And I felt his touch; as if he was holding on to me, asking me to fight, to hold on. But I don’t even know what ‘to fight’ means.

Fast track to New Year’s Eve. I was now 28 weeks old. Mum was going to see the doctors again and Dad had patted me to say that he was coming of course. The doctors mentioned February 13th and added ‘an hour more or less’. Dad, I suppose, sent the message to his extended group. My aunt repeated it to all her classmates – a cry for help for Jonathan. Help for his family.

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Baby Jonathan and his brother

Today finally arrived. But it wasn’t February 13th as planned. I couldn’t wait. I had to come now or never. At 6.40am, I was born into earth. After the quick clean up by the nurses, everyone rushed in. Mum was weak but smiling. Dad too. But there was this tinge of sadness in the corners of his eyes. Mum’s dad was there. Dad’s parents too.

They all wanted to hold me, to cuddle me. I couldn’t understand. I could only rest in the intensity of their love. As if they could transform every one of those minutes into days, into years. Imagine, 60 years instead of 60 minutes. But what am I saying – I don’t even know what a ‘year’ is.

They took pictures with me. I was truly a star. They wanted to keep these memories of their baby and their brother and their grandchild. I was slipping away. But I didn’t know it. I was just content to be in the arms of Tess, Dan and Leah; their arms joined together to hold me, their brother. Time pass quickly. Time passed quickly. Mum called for her baby. And she cuddled me with dad on the bed beside her. I was still slipping, going by the minute. Leaving, leaving…, and still leaving; until the 60th minute when I left. Mum’s dad broke into tears.

—–

Jonathan died at 7:40am today, 60 minutes after he was born, surrounded by family and by love. They dressed him in a white dress with tiny wings attached. Their little angel! And they mourned him, each in his / her way, but together, closely bound by this baby.

Thanks to Charlie for the privilege to share in this story. 2 weeks ago, I practically wept over the death of Catherine, who died from infections after giving birth. She was a total stranger to me. I stumbled on her story on Facebook and wept with the knowledge that she died in an attempt to give life. Women shouldn’t die in the life giving process.

My sorrow was dealt another blow when I read Akwaeke’s story of removing her uterus for reasons which I would never have imagined. Dear Akwaeke, I wish you a quick and complete recovery from your surgery; and a light in your path of discerning your place in this world. I’m with you!

Then came the good news of the birth of my niece. My sister posted pictures on Facebook, thanking our dear mother for having gone to help with the baby. I appreciate my sister. I love the baby. My senses have been sharpened by sorrow. I value this new act of generosity by my sister and her husband. Never again will I take it for granted. My sister added – ‘many more grandchildren on the way’. How beautiful.

Dear Rebecca and Simon, parents of Jonathan, we are with you. And Jonathan too. From heaven. He’ll help you adjust, recover; help you to live through those moments when you’ll want your child in your arms, your new born baby. When your breasts will be full with milk, ready to feed your Jonathan who now has no need of it. You won’t ask yourself if it was worth it – you already answered that question 11 weeks ago when you said yes to Jonathan, to Him. Thank you so much for keeping Jonathan. Thank you so much for giving him the 60 minutes chance. Thank you. Thank you.

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ART, Little things, Pixpers

Transformation

I once heard that no one eats with their mouth

Children eat with their eyes;

Young people with their stomach

Adults with their head.

WARNING;  mouthwatering presentation. Risk of hunger afterwards.

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Okay so, where are these pictures from? Most of them were made by me in collaboration with others. It was such a delight last summer to learn to transform the usual fruits and vegetables into such lovelies.

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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 –

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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.”

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‘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’.

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Little things

When you suffer …

Living as I do in the mire of a crossroad of many cultures, my plan was to blog about ‘true polyglots’. That will come later.

‘I just read’ a man’s heart-pouring account of his wife’s death by euthanasia.

I started this post some weeks ago but couldn’t continue. I felt so heart – broken for his loss, for his bitterness and even more for their outlook on life. I’m back at it again.

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When we suffer, we can either wallow in the valley of the shadow of intense, indescribable pain; or we can take one little step out to the light and appreciate the flowers and fruits of our suffering. I’m back to finish this post because I read Jonie Smith‘s story where she describes in broad strokes how she takes this great little step every day. It’s  not an easy step for being tiny and here the Christian faith helps as it is helping Joni.

Through these challenges, God gave me an awareness of what so called ‘mercy killings {Euthanasia} were stealing away from the sick and elderly. The ‘culture of death’ mentality was trying to steal us away from an intimate walk with Jesus Christ. His loving sacrifice that he had waiting for those who suffer. This world wants to steal our peace, our joy and our uniting our sufferings with His. This world wants to steal our chance to love like Jesus. Jesus taught me what it was to ‘offer it up’. All we need to do is to ask Him to pour out His grace on our brothers and sisters and to offer up our pain and illnesses, our disappointments as well as our joys for the sake of others. God loves us so much that He wants us to share in His loving sacrifice of His Cross. The instrument of His Love and grace, His peace and life in us. The mystery of his Most Sacred Heart.

If this sounds like Greek to you, I’m available to explain further. Just let me know, ok! Meanwhile enjoy this from  ‘The Father’s tale’.

It struck me recently that God wrote a large story in the lives of the people we read about in Scriptures, and it was usually for reasons beyond their understanding. He did so for several purposes, but one of them was to teach and illumine others who would not be born until thousands of years after the events. Is it possible that He is ‘writing’ our lives as well, for purposes we cannot begin to understand, and perhaps may never understand in our lifetimes? Our inexplicable sufferings, especially the blows of injustice, may be far more valuable to other souls than we can now guess. Thus the necessity of thanking Him for all our trials, adversity, unjust sufferings, because the fruit of these may be of incalculable worth, though hidden from our eyes.

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