The Wounded Soldier

wounded soldier02

Paul felt an arm lift his shoulder, and another beneath his feet. He knew he was slipping in and out of consciousness; as a med student, he knew the theory but had never experienced it. Until now.

He tried to move, to stand up, to ask what was happening to him, but all his efforts were in vain.

Oh God what is happening to me, Paul tried to say. Blood sputtered from his mouth, his lips moved but no sound came out. All around him everything was getting dark and darker still. He tried to raise his left arm, but the pain was unbearable. Must be broken.

He tried to recall. There had been an explosion, a deafening one. That’s exactly when everything became dark. He tried to remember where he was and what must have caused the explosion but his memory was hazy.

People were talking all around him, “buddy … hold on …”, “hey … pull through …”, “hang on … c’mon bro …”

What is happening? Who are you? Where am I? He tried to ask all at the same time. Instead, he spit more blood.

Paul forced his eyes open; the surrounding light dazzled his eyes. He shut it immediately, and tried again after a few moments. With little effort, he began to recognize his surroundings. It was a village. And a war was on.

Oh God, please help, he prayed. Just like his Sunday school teacher had taught him all those years ago. At first his mum forced him to go but as time passed, he had started enjoying it. He still remembered the look on his mom’s face the evening he sauntered in grinning from ear to ear. The puzzled look on her face transformed to a radiating smile when he announced, “I just gave my life to Christ”. That was years ago, and remembering it now made him smile.

A sudden calm settled over him. He had given his life to a loving saviour, so even though he was in pain, Paul knew that he was in good hands. That assurance lulled him into a deep sleep.

The ‘deep’ sleep lasted all of two minutes before a jolt woke him again. Groggy with pain, Paul tilted leftward where a face hovered over him.

He recognized the face – Jack Rover. They were roommates and best friends right from their first year in the med school. In fact, Jack was the reason Paul chose to join the medical department of the defence academy. And together, they had opted for advanced military training so they could provide medical care on the war front.

Paul tried to speak, to ask Jack what happened. But his head protested. Jack smiled and extended a hand to soothe his chest. Paul couldn’t hear his words over all the noise but he saw the promise in his pal’s eyes: you will be fine.

Paul turned to his other side and saw more faces he recognized. He was on a stretcher being carried towards a chopper with whizzing blades. They walked fast, in spurts; severally, they stopped in a crouch behind a shrub or a shed, and crawled out again moments later. They were trying to avoid being detected. At the same time, they frequently glanced down at him with faces full of concern. They wanted to ensure their movement wasn’t causing him much pain.

A sludge of memories hit Paul, and he quickly shut his eyes as it all came back to him. The men – Jim, Cross, Jitsu and Dele; all of them infantry assigned to that regiment for a peace-keeping mission in Iraq.

They had been in Baghdad for three months, maintaining the order. That morning they had received report of an attack on a squadron in the neighbouring town of Karbala, and had set out immediately in a convoy of tanks, gun trucks and a medical Landrover van. But just as they were entering Karbala, an enemy jet fighter leaving Baghdad spotted them and dropped a ballistic missile. It missed them by a few feet, hitting a transmission pole instead. The pole fell on the medical van sending it somersaulting into a sandy ditch by the roadside. Paul was in the passenger seat.

Pain jolted him back to reality. Just then, Paul saw a figure that looked like … no, it was him. Col. Sanders. Driven by habit, Paul tried to lift his arm in a salute but pain crippled him and he yelped. The colonel touched his shoulder very lightly – at ease, soldier – the unmistakable glint of kindness in his eyes. The colonel was carrying him too? Paul looked around again, slowly.

Though his face stayed as stern as it did when he was supervising a parade, Col. Sanders indeed held on tight to one end of the stretcher Paul was on. How on earth could Col. Sanders suspend a mission to care for a wounded soldier?

Paul was puzzled.

Then he remembered. It was the colonel who taught them never to leave a wounded soldier behind. “No matter what, never leave a wounded soldier behind” Col. Sanders had made them yell it over and over again on their last day of training in Denver.

Impressive, Paul thought, that even the almighty Col. Sanders walked his talk. In fact, it was not just impressive, it was humiliating.

Guilt washed over Paul as he remembered his youth pastor referring to Christians as soldiers. While speaking to them from the second book of Timothy, the pastor had highlighted soldierly attributes that should be possessed by young Christians, like discipline, agility, sacrifice, etc. But he hadn’t said anything about wounded soldiers.

Paul remembered that time Sister Judy got pregnant, how he had quickly condemned her in his mind and never cared to visit her even after she delivered. He hadn’t seen her in church for months, but he never even asked about her. He also remembered when his fiancée told him of a church member that lived on her street who was dating two guys. They had laughed at her impending doom in his apartment that evening and written her off.

A warm tear escaped Paul’s shut eyelids. The more he remembered scores of other wounded soldiers he had left behind, the more freely the tears flowed.

Thoroughly ashamed, he cried out to God for mercy. With quivering soundless lips he prayed, “Lord Jesus, as long as I am a soldier in your army, I promise never to leave a wounded soldier behind again”.

And he drifted off to a deeper sleep.


By Toby Nwazor

Toby Nwazor

Toby Nwazor is a freelance writer, public speaker and personal development blogger. He is the co-founder of www.tobyandkc.com where he shares tips for living a more productive life. And he thoroughly believes in networking.

Letter to Chimamanda

Letter to Chimamanda

Dear Chimamanda,

RE: WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS

I love your first name. It is very beautiful and unique and I think you are very beautiful too. Maybe I will name my daughter after you someday, if I have a daughter or any child for that matter. Why ‘if’? Well because the world is bad and full of surprises; it is not the same world I was raised in so I am scared of bringing an innocent child into this world. But worse, I am scared I will never get married (please don’t tell my mother), not because I am ugly or un-homely or un-womanly; I guess it is just because I am me.

See, I am a feminist. Probably not as hot-blooded as you are but one nonetheless. I am that person who believes in smoothing out the odds between the so-called genders. In this case, not by fighting for equal rights with placards – I am not so politically inclined, but by acknowledging that something is just not right somewhere and deciding to fix it starting with myself and my relationships.

As a child, I unconsciously imbibed feminist traits from God-knows-where. I found myself saying things like “I don’t want a man to control me” and I fought boys a lot, not physically most times because I am quite a girl, but I never let a boy walk all over me for no reason. My best cartoon TV program was and still is Mulan. I attended a ‘Girls only’ secondary school and that must have just fuelled my passion more.

Presently as a student in the university, I still do not like guys disrespecting me or disregarding my opinion simply because I’m a female. But because guys are ‘chyking’ me now, I am supposed to reflect the image of girlfriend or ‘wife material’ they expect me to be. So I have to cook every day and feed some guys too so that the testimony of my culinary artistry is spread abroad. The penalty for defaulting is an alarming reduction in my yards of wife material. Also I must stop paying a part of the bill when I go on dates, because it emasculates the guys. If I persisted, I have been warned, it will only make them less gentlemanly towards me. Lastly, I must put a stop to both loving and declaring my love for you, Chimamanda. Because if I continue to be so daring, I will never get married.

Chii’m (biko allow me to Igbolize your name), does it matter that I spend my meagre student allowance buying megabytes to download your YouTube videos? Or is it wrong that I have re-read all your books but one more than five times? How does appreciating a married woman make me less of a woman? I think what hurts most is that my friends do not understand. They tell me that women have a ‘cooking gene’ simply because we are nurturers (a fact implied from the fact that we breastfeed). Well, I don’t know how true that is but I doubt I have it – the gene – because cooking is not my hobby.

Letter to Chimamanda 2

Please before all my prospective suitors run away, let me be clearer: I can cook, I can even enjoy doing it in comfortable environments, but cooking is NOT my hobby and I definitely do NOT have a cooking gene.

Even though many people disagree and say that your idealisms of feminism are unrealistic in Nigeria, and that you’re alienated from African culture because you live abroad, I disagree. I believe you are smart and always make a lot of sense. So Nne biko answer, is it true all those things they say about me? On a serious note, Amanda, I relate with your talks especially, your TedX talk, We should all be feminists, and I wish more people, male and female alike will watch, hear or in the very least, read it. It pricked my heart to realize how much we have accepted and unconsciously imbibed certain traits and are teaching it to the next generation.

As an aside, thank God for the invention of mirrors and front camera phones; if I need validation, I simply take a selfie to remind myself of how beautiful I am or better still, I read Songs of Solomon in the Bible and pray. Simply put, I do not understand why I need a man in my life to validate my living or my existence. It hurts me to see many women seeking validation from men or rotating their lives around a man, sometimes a hopeless one. The stereotype that a woman must always be under a man is another amazing one; as an undergraduate hustling for a better future, I often meet the occasional human being with Grade Point Average multiplied by two equalling one or zero, that calls himself a man, telling me that “after all it’s a man’s world, you will still end up in a man’s house and along with all your struggle, certificates and titles, you will belong to him” or “whether or not you are a Barrister or Doctor, as far as your husband is only Mr, all you’ll ever be is a Mrs”. And this height of stupidity in a university community!

I once told a male friend my life plans, they looked something like graduate, law school, youth service, masters, travel, work, PhD etc. and after I chirpily listed all I was excited to stay alive for, all he asked was, “what about marriage, where does it come in?” to which I replied, “well, anywhere. It’s really not a prerequisite to my fulfilment in life.”

Now Amanda, this does not mean that I do not want to get married. It simply means that I do not want to live my life ‘waiting for the right man to find me’. I plan to build myself into the right woman for any man willing and daring enough to support me and my feminine ideals and well, if this does not work out then so be it; I will die knowing I lived a life fulfilling to myself and God.

Finally on the marriage issue, people tell me “keep doing Chimamanda, she’s married and abroad making her money while you are here, unmarried”. Chii’m please should I stop ‘doing’ you just so I can get married? I don’t want to spend the rest of my teenage life and early twenties aspiring for marriage by practicing compromise in relationships where I will be treated as a lesser mortal; by having “ambition but not too much” so that I do not intimidate the man who will be gracious enough to marry a lawyer like me. All of this is just very confusing to me, and bothersome. I need a reply from you ASAP so that I do not become totally unmarriable, especially before I start pursuing my Masters and PhD. I still have a million questions to ask but I will wait till I meet you in person. Please greet Uncle Ivara for me and take care of yourself.

Yours sincerely,

Ada bekee

P.S: I agree with your definition of feminist: “A man or woman who says, Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better”.

P.S: Please don’t tell my mum. P.S: I also love make up and girly dresses and African culture, does this make me less eligible in the race for feminism? Will I be respected in all my femininity and lipstick or do I have to wear ugly pant suits without bras? Just joking, I know your reply here.

P.S: Really, don’t tell my mum.

Cynthia Adaugo Mbajunwa is a Christian Igbo Nigerian African female. She loves, as wholly as possible, and looks to make a difference no matter how little. She is sarcastic and shy, a bold feminist currently studying to become a lawyer

Winie says … Coulda-been-in-laws (COBIL)

COBIL

Coulda-been-in-laws are family members of your significant other whom you get very close to over the course of your relationship but get stuck with even after the relationship ends. It’s painful to form relationships with them, prepare financially, emotionally and mentally to be part of their lives, and then experience a break-up with the person that brought them into your life. It also becomes very complicated trying to analyze, what kind of relationship to maintain with them when you are no longer with their son/daughter, uncle/aunty, brother/sister, niece/nephew, etc. How do you introduce your ex’s sister to your new beau when you run into her in the mall? How do you relate with your ex’s mother that took you in as a daughter or son? How many of these awkward relationships do you want to have in one life time?
Some relationships fail after a long time which might make meeting and knowing each other’s family almost inevitable. Sometimes, you unintentionally, meet the person through their family member which might give you the pre-in-law status very early in the relationship. But there are some very unnecessary acquisitions of COBIL. COBIL might make it difficult for you to move on; constantly expressing wishes that things had turned out differently or bringing back memories that you may be trying to suppress. In my opinion, the more of those we have in our life, the more complicated relationships we acquire too. I have observed three common situations that lead to unnecessary acquisition of COBIL.

Helpers: Very early in relationships some people begin to run errands, buy items for the other person’s family, attend intimate family functions etc. Sadly, some people see it as a way to secure their place in the other person’s life. While it’s unrealistic to have set time when these things should happen, it should be when the two people involved have decided they are part of each other’s future, not when the relationship is new with uncertainties.  As nice as it is to help the family of someone you care about, when it happens too early, you only endear yourself to the family and vice versa without taking enough time to build on the relationship that actually counts. If you two end up together, you have the rest of your lives to buy gifts and help each other’s family. If after you advertise yourself as a ‘helper ’and the relationship doesn’t work out, all you have is a family that loves you and a man/woman who doesn’t. You would have acquired COBIL.

One Chance: There are those bad-belle people who look for people to date because they see a gap in their family that only that kind of relationship can fill. They have no long-term plans for you or the relationship, just the service they want you to offer. A few years back, one of my girlfriends entered a relationship. After a few weeks, the young man asked her to travel alone to another state during her free time to help his elder sister that just had a baby. (Bros!! how far?).  So, he found a girl that he thought was good enough to send for Omugwo. My friend is sharp; she didn’t go. They broke up a few months later; you can imagine. The list goes on: for women who turn young men to their family bank, or the guys that find a girl and promise her heaven and earth just so that she can help his mother when he travels abroad.  Sadly people fall for this plot and enter one chance. When they realize what’s going on, it’s too late, the relationship has gone too far, and someone has dashed them COBIL.

Back Door: These are the people who on purpose go through family members in an attempt to win a person’s heart. This is called using the ‘back door’.  In this case the people either have unsuccessfully tried to approach the person directly or believe using a family member is a surer and faster way. They get close to the person’s family members, buy gifts, inject themselves into their lives, and use them as weapons or use their own family members as baits and tools to lure the person to themselves. There’s a high chance of not winning the person of interest through the back door; this might equally earn you or make you give someone COBIL.

On the part of the family, it’s not also fair to introduce someone to them, and yank that person out of their lives when the relationship fails. I’m sure some of us that grew up with uncles and aunties know that feeling of pain when the person that supplies you biscuit and sweet stops coming. I mourned the end of some relationships of my relatives. Not just because of the goody-goody, but the connection that was made with these people was lost and I missed it.

Bringing family members very close at the beginning of a relationship has its downsides. They make decision-making and building a relationship a little tougher. I’ve witnessed situations where family members like a person more than the other part of the relationship duo. Hearing your mother’s voice in your head about how awesome a man or woman is, when you don’t feel the same, might just mess up some things for you. Of course if the opposite is the case, the hatred or dislike might not allow you make a right decision on what to do.

Finding a life partner is not easy; I’m absolutely convinced that family plays a huge role in the decision.   I support discussing the person of interest with family, talking about qualities, asking questions, etc. and hopefully having someone in your family that you confide in and get guidance.  But a face to face meeting, I believe should come later, because personal interaction is a different ball game. The marriage will be between you, the person and God. Those are the only people who should matter at the initial phase. I like to think of it like building a house. You start with the foundation and you make it as strong as possible. Get to know each other to a certain extent; at least be sure to a point that a future potentially exist. Then you can build the ‘house’ further by bringing in family. A strong relationship foundation can withstand a lot, peradventure you have issues with family acceptance but a weak one won’t stand a chance. When that foundation is strong, family love and acceptance will strengthen it and not complicate it. You also minimize the pain of a break-up when it’s necessary and save your family the trouble.

For those of us that are still yet to tie the knot, I suggest we avoid coulda-been-in-laws (COBIL) so there would be space for the real ones.

These are just my thoughts. Who agrees? Who has had an unnecessary COBIL or an encounter that might have led to one and how did you handle it? Who has a different opinion on when family should be involved, at what point and why? Do not hesitate to share in the Comments below.

While you’re at that,

Winnie says Have a Winning-Day!

WAW

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You steal a glance over your right shoulder at the door. It stays shut. You turn back to your laptop.

.xnx …

Your right pointer hovers over the next key. Your breathing slows almost to a stop; while your heart drums itself silly, you feel moistness form on your forehead. You fight it, with all the might you can muster. But it happens again: the thumps in your chest go up a notch per passing second; you are sure that in another minute, your heart will be lying on the bed beside you, wet, red and raw.

You know what will happen next if you let it, the visions will follow. So you do the only thing you know will take the pain away. You strike ‘Delete’.

And just like that, you are calm again.

***

The first time it happened was the week after that Saturday afternoon when you, Ebele and Kunle from next door lay huddled in front of your laptop. The three of you lay flat on the bed, elbows propping up your chins, as the unfolding scenes of nudity reflected flashes of colour on your enraptured faces. You called it a ‘porn stroll’, PS for short, and it was your ‘guy’ thing. Each of you was thoroughly engrossed, so you did not hear her come in.

“Chai!”

You jumped. Three arms stretched for the screen but in the jumble of limbs, a knobby elbow shot up the volume. For a split second, noone moved, as moans and shrieks of ‘do it, baby … do it harder!’ filled the small room. Ebele – or was it you – was the first to recover and slam the lid shut.

There were whispers in the estate that PQ knew what everybody was up to, especially the dark hidden things. Nobody ever figured out how come, nobody tried. Later when it occurred to you to wonder how she had gone past the gateman, dogs and into your room way in the back on the first floor – wasn’t the door locked? – you would be even more disturbed.

At the time however, the three of you stood in a short line before the intruder. You felt her eyes switch between the top of your bent head, and the bulge in your crotch you tried so hard to hide.

Tueh!” you flinched at the disgust laden in the gesture. “Children are dying of hunger in Chibok,” she said, “and you are here wasting precious MB!”

***

Frustrated, you slam your laptop screen shut. PQ has cursed you, you just know it.

Or how else would you explain the fact that since that encounter, the moment you so much as contemplated a porn-stroll, you got a panic attack followed by visions of hungry-looking children lined up with rusty bowls before a laptop screen.

And on the laptop screen, it always said,

“MB unloading

75%…”

“If internet data were food, a lot more people would starve … eat your MB today!”

Chisom

Roses and Angels V

continued from last week…

roses and angels

“You…you know…”

“Yes,” the old lady interrupted, “I know exactly what you are. You are a light, child, so why are you hiding?”

Your afternoon just went from one amazing high to a terrible low, and now you are just bouncing back and forth, your mind a jumble of abrasive thoughts.

“My dear, has no one ever told you that you have a winsome voice? A voice that moves heaven, and holds the attention of the Almighty?” The lady wore a warm smile as she spoke. “You have no business sitting down here with the rest of us, you should be up there,” she pointed at the section of pews reserved for the choir.

It’s shaky at first, but you try again and your shy face smiles back, saying thank you in whispers, like it is a little secret you shared with her.

“It’s a gift, my child, a divine gift which you can cause to shine for the world to see…”

Her words were cut short by the Anima Christi. You said the words, but your thoughts were rooted in the woman’s words. When the bishop gave the final blessing, she turned to you and smiled.

“Think about it, child,” she said and drifted away with the teeming congregation.

That was the push you needed. The following Sunday after mass, you walked up gingerly to the woman you assumed was the choir mistress. She was excited at your desire and immediately took your data.

The rehearsals were on Tuesdays and Saturday, and you requested that Chime and Saratu, your co-workers swap shifts with you. So you attended your first meeting where the choristers sang for you, embraced you and welcomed you into what they called their family.

Now you can really appreciate life. The sun-ups and sunsets, coming and going of customers, wet and dry season, choral meeting and in them all, you feel you have finally carved your niche in life. You have graduated from the choral probation class, and have been embraced as a full member. You are aloof at first, but you eventually make friends with the members.

There are days when your colleagues at work will be unable to swap shifts for you, and you miss meetings in consequence. Those days, two or three choristers will be sent to check on you, perchance you had taken ill. The nights were sacred for you, there are times you either lay quiet meditating on your past, or wrote several lines of poetry, which you later put away in that white metallic rack. Your salary is still paltry, yet out of it you are eking out a living, and paying small sums into your savings account, perchance another evil day comes knocking.

Some evenings, especially on Sundays, you take a long stroll into the street, taking in the breeze, as though it had some purifying quality. And when the rain meets you in the streets, you do not run, but freeing yourself to its will, you let its waters drench your flesh.

The Cathedral comes alive with activities as months crawl by. It is set to mark its fiftieth anniversary. The choir practices more frequently. You sing soprano and know most of the hymns and other religious songs that are taught by the choir mistress. Two weeks to the anniversary, your association is visited by the Bishop himself. He commends your past efforts, and beseeches you all to be at your best, not only because of the anniversary, but because the President has been invited.

It is three days to the anniversary. You are serving a customer when you are told that someone has come looking for you. It is the deputy-president of your choral group. He has some news.

“Susana’s mother has stroke, and is in the risk of death, so she cannot be present on Sunday; in fact, she is already on her way home.” You curse the devil for inflicting harm on your choir mistress’ mother just when the group needed her the most.

“We have deliberated at length,” Emmanuel continues, “and decided that you will take her place at the anniversary.”

What? You are short of words. You are scared, then excited, then very scared that they are asking too much of you. You are scared that they will insist and cajole you, but you will say no, and for the first time, fail this family, whose hope seems to hang on your unwilling shoulders…

The wine-red curtains compliment the roses that are standing in the cream vase on the sides of the stairs leading up to the podium. Someone whispers behind you that the roses are natural; they were flown in by a church member to dazzle the president who is fond of them. You wish you could go to the bouquet and hold them in your hands and smell their fragrance. Maybe, you think, they will bring you luck, just maybe.

Rehearsals have been tedious since the day you reluctantly said yes to the persistent pleas of your members. The teeming crowd in the hall is one that you have never seen before. The president is seated beside the Archbishop, listening with rapt attention and nodding intermittently to the Bishop’s speech. For the first time you do not listen to him. His speech is the last item on the program before the choral presentation, which would be concluded with a solo rendition that should have been done by Susana, a solo that would now be done by you.

You can hear your pulsating heart. You can feel the sudden stiffness settling in your palms and slowly extending its grip to your hands and chest, as if eager to reach out to your heart. The room feels chilly, much chilly than ever before, and you feel some stiffness around your neck. The applause that attends the Bishop’s final words are not unexpected by you. You manage to jam your stiff palms together a couple of times as your group rises to perform.

The choir is at its best, with each chorister playing his or her part to the nines. Then the others resumed their seats, and your hour has come. You move up to the spot light to perform the original version of Ave Maria. You cannot remember if you smiled at the audience, as you had been advised. Your grip on the micro-phone is tight, yet you can feel your hands tremble. You draw it close to your mouth, and you begin.

You do not hear your own voice at first, and you cannot see because your eyes are shut. But as you sing on you feel a calmness envelop you. You feel light, so light you think you are adrift in wonderland. You draw strength from your soul, strength that reaches your vocal cord and smoothly glides to your lips to birth the most mellifluous tune ever.

Papa is beside you smiling, nodding approvingly, and urging you to go on. Mama stands just off to the other side, wearing her blessed smile, acknowledging with glee, Papa’s enthusiasm. You can feel them by you as if they are really there.

Slowly, ever so slowly, you release your eye lids from their soft embrace. Light floods as if from the heavens into your eyes. They do not blind you. They revivify, filling your mind with sacred illumination. The passion in your voice, the celestial images conjured by their lyrics, their intricacy and angelic qualities, all have the grip of your large audience. As you near the ending lyrics, you can see the expressions on their faces – beyond delight. Buoyed, you pitch, and with dexterity, bear it up to the greatest imaginable height, those heights that always leave you breathless, yet in control of the crescendo. And at last you exhale. It is over.

As soon as you are done, she rises, her face radiant with an infectious smile. She is the first to rise, the president of your country. With her ovation, comes several more, and then the entire hall. Rapturous unending applause ringing like thunder fills the room, accompanied by broad smiles and eyes filled with admiration.

Madam President steps forward, a modest glamour written all over her. You have seen her countless times on the television in the restaurant, always clad in her dark-coloured suits. Now, as she takes elegant steps towards you, you see a tall woman full of love and simplicity and eyes that burnt with zeal. She does not mount the stairs, but gestures at the compere who hands the micro-phone to her.

“Precious angel,” she says, “what is your name?”

“Ijeoma, Madam,” you reply, “my name is Ijeoma.”

“Just as beautiful as her voice,” she says.

Then she turns to the bishop and says, “it not in my character to dine in public. Yet, if I must dine here today as I hear you desire of me, Ijeoma, this lovely angel that I have found this day in the house of the Lord must be found by my side…”

                                                                       ****

The music of life is composed of such notions which none can lay claim to have gained mastery of. Seasons have come and seasons have gone, the tides a million times have risen and fallen, the years have glided past, yet your turn around in life ever more fills you with wonderment. You often share your past stories with your students in the Malcolm University, where you are a now a Professor of Music and have bagged numerous academic awards. You also tell your story – the story of a broken spirit, of resolution and hope – to the eager ears of those teenage girls at Winsome Heart, the organization you run primarily for the emancipation of young girls from the manacles of sexual slavery.

It has been ten years since you published your first work on poetry, and so far, you have published several others. You have won two awards for poetic literature. It has been fifteen years since you read on a local tabloid, the story of Johnny’s conviction for drug abuse, women trafficking, and the murder of a young girl described as his ‘stock-in- trade’; you still book mass for him on every feast day of All Souls. It has been twenty years since you met Madam President, yet you still send fresh scented roses to her every Yuletide. You frequently visit at her country home, where despite old age, she manages a small fruit garden and by the fireside, tells folk tales to her grandchildren.

Carl, your husband, whom you met at a music carnival in Jamaica, often accompanies you, with Chimdalu, and Chidiogo, your twin daughters.  And on every visit, after you have all traded stories and eaten and rested, Madam still implores you, always, to flatter her aging ears with your sonorous soul-songs.

And you do.

THE END

By Uche Anichebe

The Lectern: A Message to Unmarried Women

Emmanuel Akaeze is at ‘The Lectern’ again this month, this time on spinster matters.

If you missed last month’s episode which had A Special Message for Unmarried Men, take a minute to read it before you go on.

The Lectern01

…that we might be read

Are you male? Female? Both? Or undecided?

Are you single? Double? Or undecided?

Yes? No? or well…still undecided?

Regardless of whichever it is, we give you…

A Message for Unmarried Women

Madea

I hear a lot of people took my hard truths a little too hard, especially the prettier and fairer creatures among us. I really do not care for anyone who can afford the luxury of misunderstanding bare-faced facts. So today, I come with even harder, ruthlessly naked truths. Hate it if you must, but read it nevertheless.

Marriage has always been an important thing for many women, but the race for it today has become so bad it’s almost diabolic. Yes, many women are doing all sorts of infernal things to get married. Young woman that wants to get married, pause a bit and ask yourself this important question: why do I want to get married?

I ask you to do this because your reason for getting married may very well determine the kind of man you will hook up with. If you want to be happy in your union, you’ll carefully and prayerfully choose a spouse. Or, still carefully and prayerfully, let a spouse choose you.

But if you want to be married because all your friends are, or because your family thinks so, or because society says your clock is ticking, you may very well end up making the wrong choice. Like a man who abuses you – be it physically, verbally, emotionally, psychologically…hell, even spiritually. No matter what you say, there are always signs of an abuser. Whether he’s a featherweight, middleweight or a heavyweight practitioner of the punching, verbal or emotional slicing arts, those signs – like pi – remain constant.

Now listen to me; when a man makes you stay on a video chat for 24 hours, just so that he can see where you are at all times – don’t look at me, this shit happens everyday – he’s an abuser. You can say he’s just a bit jealous or you know men are like that all you want but we – you and I, know the truth. And the truth is that it is not “a bit” of jealousy and not all men are like that!

When a man makes you take pictures of yourself and send to him 1,440 minutes every day, so that he knows where you are and who with, my sister you’re in bondage. Only that your master hasn’t paid your purchase price. Any man that makes you do this, under the guise that his heart has been broken by the previous women in his life and therefore, you need to earn his trust, is a confirmed wizard. He needs Jesus and you need a copy of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

When a man flings objects at you during an argument, throws and breaks his phone against the wall and then says, look what you made me do, you better run. He will one day throw you and then blame you for it. So run! And when you have run far enough, pause and text him the number of a psychiatrist who will enroll him in Yaba for anger management courses.

When a man tells you that once you get married you will pound yam for him while you’re nine months pregnant, because his mother did it. You will also wash his car, feed your three children and drop them off at school, clean the house, do the family laundry, go shopping, and pound even more yam, all without any help. I ask you: are you familiar with the letters R. U. N?

When you’re in a relationship with a man who arbitrarily picks up your phone, deletes some male contacts and text messages, then grills you whenever you pick a call from a man. He logs into your Facebook account, abuses and warns off all the men who say nice things to you, tells you which friends to keep and which to dismiss, and short of getting you a bodyguard, monitors your movements in every way possible. I have the pleasure of informing you that he is not the man who loves you; he is a monitoring, familiar spirit. The earlier you’re delivered from him, the better for you.

Having said that, I’d like to add that some of these kinds of men can smell desperation and know that there’s little or nothing you can or would want to do to them. They can sense it when you have started asking God to crush you with the train of marriage bells and slam-dunk you with the fruit of the womb. And like sharks smelling blood, they will zoom in and literally answer your prayers.

So my advice to you, dear prospective bride, is build your self-esteem. Be proud of who you are, be picky. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to drag the bottom of the barrel. Know that you deserve a good man and take your time to select one.

Take your time; because once you make your choice, you’re stuck with him. There really is no need to for haste, for where the hare gets to by running, the tortoise will arrive there by walking.

By Emmanuel Akaeze

Emma

Emmanuel is an avid reader, a creative writer, historian and public speaker, a Process Engineer by profession, Business Analyst by occupation. Still single, he lives and works in Abuja. His life philosophy implores you to “Change the way you think, change your life”

If you have written something which you would like read at ‘The Lectern’, send it in a mail titled ‘The Lectern’ to ojukwumartin@gmail.com. If you are unsure about a subject matter but want to be read still, send me an email too and we can work up something appropriate for you. It doesn’t have to be right, left, right or wrong…just your opinion.

Chisom

Roses and Angels II

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For some seconds, you shut your eyes and then open them, but he is still there, that man you learnt to dread with all our life. A man you learnt to despise, the man who robbed you of those long ago childish care.

‘O god, oh my god, o god,’ you gasp.

All the while you’re wishing it was one of those dreams whose details you forget almost as soon as you awoke. Your mouth is dry, your lips are limp, you try to scream, but all you can feel is stiffness around your throat. A long limp sound escapes you and just then Chief moves a little, but does not rouse. The tears take form and travel down your face. The memories start to come, those memories you have sealed in the closet of history. You are shaking. You are sobbing. You are weakened by your past. You find your clothing, hastily put them on. Chief is still sprawled out like a small child on the expansive bed when you dash out of the room.

It all started when you were only twelve. That was ten years ago. Like a newly sprouted leaf in the raining season, the details are again fresh in your mind.

You were the apple of your parent’s eye, an only child. Your father called you Angel and nurtured your dream of becoming a world acclaimed singer. He always told you that you had a voice that could move mountains and encouraged you to join the church’s choir. Every Christmas, he watched you rehearse for Christmas carol, and eventually perform at the children Christmas carol. Every Christmas until that cursed Christmas.

The harmattan gale was fiercest that year, and the house seemed mirthless without Papa’s voice. He had left on a business trip but promised to return to watch you sing. He never returned. You never sang. Papa died in a plane crash, and the next week after his demise, Mama received a call from the village. She said it had to do with tradition. She assured you it was going to be alright and you both went to your country-home to perform Papa’s burial rite.

Things took a different shape when you got to the village. Your relatives seemed to have grown hostile over-night. They had occupied your country-home, and would not let you or Mama into the house. You were taken to your paternal granny’s house, which was on the next street. She did not smile up at you as she usually did, and when you asked her why, she gave you a stern look, and called you the daughter of a witch who had succeeded in killing her only son with voodoo. She swore that Mama must undergo some ‘omenala’, customary practices to proof her claim of innocence.

Your mother’s hair was shaved to the scalp so that you could hardly recognize her. A bevy of old women gathered around spiting and mocking and accusing her, while she cried in agony. The next day, you saw the same women leading her out of the garage that had become her room, and you thought it was all over. But it was not.

They made her kneel, repeat some words that you did not hear, and forced her to drink the content of a small wooden calabash. She was hesitant, but the women slapped her face and forced the content of the ugly calabash down her throat.  Granny later told you that it contained the bath water of your father’s corpse. You threw up and refused to eat all day long. You missed your home at the city and the near perfect life you had with your parents. You wished Mama’s travail would come to an abrupt end, so you can return home with Mama, and with considered effort, put your lives back together.  But the women had different thoughts. Mama, they said, must remain in the garage, stripped of all her raiment for a month. She must come out only once a day, when she heard the first cock crow at dawn, and whether she liked it or not, she must wail to the hearing of the entire neighbourhood.

Mama’s mother came to see Mama and in your innocent confusion, you asked her why life has taken a new turn. She told you that it is a path that all widows must thread. You pressed on, and enquired why Uncle Ofodili, Papa’s cousin and his family have taken over your country home. She cast you a sad look which lingered for some seconds, and said, ‘you should have been a boy you know’. 

Her voice seemed distant and accusatorial as she continued, ‘girls are such vain treasures. They come and go, but the man stays, and must be succeeded by another man. Ofodili is the new man!’                           

 Mama died on the second week of her mourning, and the villagers shouted hosanna.

…to be continued next week

By Uche Anichebe

Roses and Angels

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The room is chilly and quiet, so quiet that the tick-tock of the golden vintage clock resonates. Unlike the other times, you are not entranced by the tasteful furnishings this place. It is tagged first-class, this room in which you have lodged four or five times now. Johnny always tells you how lucky you are. He says suites of this sort are meant ‘for the rich, or the accessories of the rich’. The very first time he said it, you decoded what he meant, and into what category you belong – the accessories of the rich. But you did not mind.

The clock keeps ticking. On the muted television screen is a thin woman in tight khaki shorts. She is making frantic gestures. The piece of terra-cotta art work which you learnt is over a hundred years old and have spent time admiring on your previous times here has been replaced with a blue abstract painting.  But you do not notice its absence. Your thoughts are rooted in the fields where anxiety reigns, but you do not know why. There is something amiss about today, and you know it. You cannot explain it, yet it feels strange. Stranger than the sudden stiffness you now feel on your neck.

You try to shake off the present feeling. You decide to take a warm shower; it has always had a magic effect on you. Standing from the bed, you take slow numbered steps towards the wide mirror. You hold up your naked ebony complexioned breasts, wondering if Chief your new client will, like the others, find them attractive. You have heard he has high taste for women, and you are certain that that is why Johnny chose you for him today. Unlike other times, Johnny did not even spend much time bargaining. He had just mentioned the prize – your prize, and chief had accepted without objection. Your heart bounced again when Johnny dropped the phone, with that boyish smile plastered on his bleached face.

The water is running gently over your velvety skin when you hear the entrance door open and shut with a small thud. You hasten up. Chief’s heavy voice comes from outside,

‘Baby, don’t tell me you’re not ready yet.’ Silence follows for brief seconds before he speaks again, ‘Baby, I hate to be kept waiting, so you just tell me if your ass ain’t ready, and I’ll give Johnny boy a quick call,’

Chief’s voice is laced with impatience, arrogant impatience. But wait. You have heard that voice from somewhere. There is something about its heavy baritone that makes it so familiar. You have no time to dwell on such thoughts, to compare the similarities, and reach a conclusion. So you hasten up, calling back with mild apologies.

You rinse the last trace of lather off your body and step out of the sky-blue Jacuzzi. Chief has switched off the light and the only source of illumination is the bathroom room light which is sneaking into the room. You see Chief’s silhouette on the bed. You are sure he is annoyed, but of course, you know what to do to bring him back in the mood. It is your vocation, your calling.

You immediately drop your towel, unveiling your naked form like it’s a precious offering to a god. You can see Chief’s full cheeks move and you assume it is smile. It is a boost to your morale, so you gently mount yourself on the bed and get down to business. You are about to think of how impressed Johnny will be with you, when you notice on the old man’s face, a tinge of familiarity. You wish the lights were switched on. Anxiety slowly spreads its tentacles on you and tightens its wicked grip when chief mounts on you. His breathing is labourious. His movements are deliberate. His thrusts are quick and forceful, belying the shriveled features of his elderly frame.  

Morning comes with a new awareness. The sun’s rays are creeping into the room when you awake. Chief is still asleep and all other sounds, kowtow to his heavy sporadic snores.

You open your eyes, the environment looks surreal at first, then everything takes shape, and the first thing that your eyes behold is…

‘O god!’

…to be continued next week

by Uche Anichebe

The Lectern: A Message to Unmarried Men

As promised, Emmanuel Akaeze writes from ‘The Lectern’ this month on bachelor matters.

Are you single, dating, undecided, or both?

Are you male? Female?

Yes? Then read!

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…that we might be read

A MESSAGE TO UNMARRIED MEN

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Since most women are incapable of physical abuse, some have resorted to other forms, like economic, verbal and emotional abuse, etc. Young man, if you’re in a relationship or about to ask a woman out who is always talking about money, I advise you to think twice. Unless your surname ends with Trump, Gates, Dangote or Helu, or your father’s mother’s cousin’s son-in-law’s driver’s half-sister owns the Central Bank, you’re in for a rough ride.

If her interests are always in what you bought for her, how much money you gave her this month….she will bring you grief. This woman is a leech and will milk you to the last drop, then wring you, just in case there are some stray kobos left in your pockets, then she will air-dry and dump you. Abeg, borrow my favorite letters for this kind of situation – R. U. N!

Some women will so verbally abuse you that you’ll wish your mother’s womb could open up and take you back into its safe cocoon of innocence. She’s rude, sometimes vulgar, calls you all sorts of names, denigrates you, always compares you with your friends and she calls it – wait for it – “keeping it real.” I agree with her oh…the real thing is she’ll keep on and never stop. And unless you can tame the shrew, pack your load and move on!

If she always harps on a particular issue forever, repeating those words till they burrow inside your brain like itch-mites and you can recite them by heart, it’s called nagging. And from a nagger, methinks you should flee! Else, one day, you’ll either wake up in police custody with a murder charge on your head or realize that you’re a recurrent member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Please oga, in the name of all that’s sane and logical, don’t be with a woman who is still hung up on her ex. If a woman is always going on and on about how her ex, John was mean to her, cheated on her, and didn’t treat her right, bros, unless you’re her shrink and helping her work out her emotional problems, I suggest you pack your luggage and board the next available flight. She is definitely a citizen of Yesterday, living in Baggage House, on Regret Street. You will wake up one day to find a Dear John letter pinned to your pillow.

If a woman keeps telling you that all men are dogs, and how she hates all men except you, her “darling boo”, just know that network is bad and your matter is hanging. One day, soon and very soon, you will slip up on a tiny issue. Then her verdict will be delivered and you will join the long list of men in her life who are hated canines.

If a lady compares your relationship to that of Nneka, Sandra or Sade, just know that you’re nothing but a housemate in the ‘All-time Best Couple’ reality show…the only thing is you don’t know it yet. For this kind of woman, nothing you ever do with and/or for her is good enough, because one of her friend’s boo will definitely be better. In my opinion, you’re better off Keeping Up with the Kardashians than with this woman (and we all really despise that show, don’t we?)

My brother, have you met the NEVER DIVA? Like her name suggests, there are things she’ll never do because she believes they are a man’s, servant’s or professional’s job. She NEVER calls you. She NEVER buys you any gifts. She is NEVER emotionally available. She NEVER takes you out, NEVER offers to pay for half the meal. She NEVER apologizes. She is NEVER wrong. She NEVER compliments you. She will NEVER give up anything for you or the family. She will NEVER compromise. Bros, I can NEVER say this enough – NEVER hook up with this kind of woman.

I know one sister whose favourite song is ‘Just as I am, without one plea…’, only problem is she’s not singing the original gospel version. Like Mount Zion which cannot be moved, her favourite mantra is “you met me like this and so shall I always be!” She’ll never love you enough to compromise or change to make you happy, don’t kid yourself. It doesn’t matter if you own a boutique, her skimpy clothes will stay. Don’t bother enrolling her in evening school, her broken grammar will do just fine. That you’re an accountant that can help with financial advice on saving and investing makes no difference, her money is hers to throw away as she wishes.

I only have one question for you, guy, whence goest thou? I am sure I have by no means exhausted the list; the above are only the commonest I could think of, feel free to add more. Don’t be like Macbeth whose wife pushed and pushed till he broke.

By: Emmanuel L. Akaeze

Emma

Emmanuel is an avid reader, a creative writer, historian and public speaker, a Process Engineer by profession, Business Analyst by occupation. Still single, he lives and works in Abuja. His life philosophy implores you to “Change the way you think, change your life”

If you have written something which you would like us to read from ‘The Lectern’, send it in a mail titled ‘The Lectern’ to ojukwumartin@gmail.com. If you are yet unsure about a subject matter but want to be read still, send me an email too and we can work up something appropriate for you.

Chisom

This Thing Called…Marriage

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My father was wearing his trademark brown khaki shorts, it’s roomy pockets sagging at the sides, and one of those old singlets he loved but which every other person at home hated because they looked like suspenders. The memory stands out in my head, very sharp. He stood straight with his back against the wall, his hands – the only visible sign of his anxiety – busy doing nothing in particular. My mother stood in the space between my dad and I; her wrapper was tightly cinched just below her breasts and she had rolled up the bogus sleeves of the fading Hollandis blouse past her elbows. She took up most of the room in the tiny corridor, her back to dad and her face in mine.

“I si gini?” she asked, her voice a chilling ferocious whisper. What did you say?

I swallowed the ball of bile that threatened to clog my throat. I had thought this through, I was sure that it was what I wanted, what I needed to do. So I willed my racing heart to calm down, and I said to her – to them, “Acholum inu nwanyi kita a” I want to get married now.

I was just 16 years old when this transpired between my parents and I. If you are Igbo, or Nigerian, or human, then there is a 99.5% chance that you know exactly what my parents did afterwards. In fact, you all now have different versions of the ensuing events playing over in your minds but like Nollywood, we all know how it ends – I didn’t get married. Heck, it’s been a long time since then and I am still not married.

This Thing Called Marriage is a matter that will neither lie low for us nor our generations to come. An elderly friend of mine once said that even if humans evolved into giant clumps of metal eons from now, our hills of steel would still find a way to pair off with each other in marriage. It is so important to us that a lot of the time, marriage is the most important medium with which we classify adults, second only to gender.

Think: when you first meet that dashing young auditor who just started at your office, your first thoughts are not about her state of origin, or birth stone or the trait of snoring in her family history, are they? No. You want to know if she’s married. Or when you first see that hunky form from behind, all you want is for him to propose so you can hand over the children you already had for him in advance; then he turns around…and he’s wearing a priestly collar. Bam! And it doesn’t stop at adults either – even 5-year old Kamsi goes home to tell Daddy that he will marry Miss Tayo, his kindergarten teacher.

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Marriage – it’s the all-important issue. Question though is, why?

Some say it’s a holy order anointed by the gods of society: from ‘School’ to ‘Job’ to ‘Marry’ (S-J-M). Others, like my friend Paul, disagree. He believes that it subtracts from the beauty of the union when people say such things about marriage as ‘it is next on the list’. Paul does not think of marriage as a requirement for whatever accolades are given out at the Pearl gates; he thinks of it as a privilege, one he presently is favored by.

When asked about his partner, he gets all dreamy and emotional and starts to cry tears of love says “moments together with her are moments in bliss. There really is nothing more beautiful that when two people give themselves completely to each other. When we disagree, there is this lovable tension between us; the rest of the time, it is the legendary tale of love birds. Fight or no fight, the feeling is awesome. Words really can’t explain such feelings, neither can words describe how anxious I am to consummate it in marriage”

Then you think that it is all roses and chocolatey panty hoses…until you talk to my friend, Walter. In a recent piece, he recounted how in a moment of – I like to think – sheer bravado, he updated his Blackberry dm with the message: ‘I do not believe in the institution of marriage.’ Now Walter is past 25 and talented, so, promising, and he has a day job! So of course, “the aftermath of that declaration was a series of pings and phone calls from friends and acquaintances who wanted to know if I was suffering a fever or feeling inebriated, for me to have the temerity to say such a thing”

You’re wondering “but why” and I’m saying “Wyclef” “I wondered too” Walter stated as his reasons for his disposition, a compulsive nature and his penchant for lonesomeness. He had more to say – or more rightly, ask: “Why do perennial bachelors need to explain why they don’t want to put the ring on it? Does all of humanity have to want the same kinds of things? Must my happiness and fulfillment come from wanting to spend my life with someone, just like everybody else does? Couldn’t I simply live my life, putting out good stories, paying my taxes and occasionally traveling around the world, unfettered by familial obligations or spousal guilt?”

Then I wondered “why not?!” Really, why not? With the calls for equality and fairness multiplying faster than Ebola is spreading, one would have figured that if the married do not have to explain their reasons for marriage, the unmarried should not have to explain their unmarried status either. I remember one time watching Serena Williams claim another tennis trophy on television; I turned to my buddy and said how it was a shame that such a beautiful, strong woman with so much talent was unmarried and without children. Now I think of it, and the real shame is sitting on my head.

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The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect. Some of us confuse wedding for marriage and enjoy the breeze of the former only to wake up in the latter as…

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Even the internet is guilty; try googling the word ‘marriage’ and you’ll find yourself deluged by a litany of rings, white gowns and pristine wedding smiles. That is so wrong. Even for those who understand that the concepts of wedding and marriage are well and truly divorced, it is no guarantee that we understand This Thing Called Marriage.

As at the time I made my intention of marriage known to my parents – yes, at 16, I wasn’t thinking about a wedding. Neither was I thinking of conforming to the societal creed of S-J-M – going by the creed anyway, I wasn’t even half ready. All I was thinking of was the sweet girl (let’s call her Bimi) I was in love with at the time and how I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Like many of us, I was thinking of babies – how they would have my eyes, Bimi’s hair and nose, and a combo of both our lips, and how it would feel to sit in the evening breeze, with them curled up on my chest, making the cutest infant sounds.

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But I wasn’t thinking of children – the mess they can make, the noise which knows no seasons, the tantrums, the pranks, the school runs, the allergies, the grooming and the raising.

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Like many of us, I was thinking of starting small with Bimi – in a little bungalow in this polite neighborhood where the neighbors minded their business and the rain fell softly every Sunday morning; we would spend the days laughing and playing, I would let her win at cards and she would let me win at table tennis; and at nights, we would make babies.

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But I wasn’t thinking of money – the university degrees neither of us had at the time; the rent for that tiny bungalow which we could never afford without jobs; the PHCN bills, generator bills and water bills, and maintenance bills for when the roof leaked or when an errant child smashed a football against a window; hospital bills, transportation costs to wherever we needed to go, and food.

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I wasn’t thinking of Life – the food that would never come without money; the hunger that was bound to come without food; the attention I would need to pay to Bimi, and her hair and make-up – at 16, she had only just started experimenting with lipsticks; the clothes she would outgrow and the new ones she would need; the girl she would outgrow and the woman she would become; the boy I would outgrow and the man I would become.

The list is endless, and common among us, if we dared to be honest about it. We think of a lot of things, true, yet there’s a lot more we do not think of. And as if it isn’t hairy enough, reality is that a lot of the stuff we never thought of is still mysterious to even the married ones among us.

In correction therefore: The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect that all you can expect is to meet with the unexpected.

On this issue, I am neither for Paul nor Barnabas Walter; I am only that voice crying typing out in the wilderness, questions that you must answer for yourself: Firstly, do you ever want to be married? Why? After which you may then answer, what do you think of This Thing Called Marriage?

 

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter