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

LETTER TO MY NEXT

A major beauty of the blogging world is the ease with which we writers can connect, in the blogosphere. I very recently made the acquaintance of one fellow blogger, a lovely young woman by name of Titilola – I try ever so hard not to call her ‘Tits’. 🙂 Titi passed on to me the blog address of yet another blogger, Tolu, whose posts hit real close to home for me.

Reading through Tolu’s work, all I could think was “I could have written this”. It wasn’t just about his words, stories or anything in particular, it was just a feeling about most of his posts, an intense feeling that ‘my pen could have done this’. I have posted my favorite of them all, which also happens to be his last post, below.

Check it out; maybe you will see what I mean for yourself…


 

LETTER TO MY NEXT

1085104_10151799648369792_1737395247_o

Dear (Insert Name Here),
I hope this missive meets you in good health. I’m sure you’re already making some conclusions about me just by reading this but let me assure you; I am not a geek, neither am I a weirdo nor am I jobless. I am just a guy who has been let down so many times that I’ve lost count. I know you don’t quite know me yet, we probably have only mentioned each other a few times on Twitter and liked each other’s pictures on Instagram but I know you and I know we’ll be the best of friends in a little while.
I see us having a pretty amazing relationship, but before that can happen I’d like to give you a few pointers as to the kind of person I am so you don’t misinterpret my gestures.

First, I am unashamedly sapiosexual. The fact that you’re reading this is proof that I’m attracted to you not only because you’re beautiful but because you’re intelligent. I love ladies that challenge me and I’m very sure you’ll be worth the chase. Let me say however that so long as we’re together, my ‘Sapiosexuality’ is turned off. Nevertheless don’t take the fact that I love challenges too serious because as much as I love challenges, I hate trying too hard. I can be very persistent with ladies but when I don’t see changes or ‘Green lights’ as I like to call them, I move on.

Second,

I am a romantic. A young boy with an old school attitude. Yes I exude the ‘cool guy, playboy, all chicks man’ aura but trust me I just want to love and be loved back for who I am. Beneath the tough exterior is a little boy begging to be loved, I hope we last long enough for you to see this side of me. I am the ‘Good Morning, Good Night’ text messages kind of guy, (Yes I’m old fashioned) but I know you can handle that because if you couldn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. I love surprises even though I act like I loathe them with a passion, I am a spur of the moment, spontaneous, ‘ life is too short’ guy so pardon me if at times I spend lavishly albeit foolishly on you. I won’t try to woo you with money or material things whatsoever so if you’re expecting such, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’ve learnt the hard way that a guy shouldn’t be too forthcoming about his financial status to a lady who isn’t in love with him or has agreed to date him. It is bound to be a problem in the nearest future.

Third, I love my Mum to death. I don’t think this needs further explanation. I just love that woman with a passion that is unparalleled. You cannot and must not compete for her affection with me. I promise to love you with the whole of my being but please do NOT try to compete with my Mum, you will FAIL.

In conclusion, I want you to know that this is not a love letter, you’ll get that when the time comes. It is just my way of ‘putting it all out there’. There are a lot of things I feel you should be prepared for when it comes to being my girlfriend but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Just know that I am definitely, irrevocably, helplessly attracted to you.

P.S: Another important thing is that I love writing. After God, my Mum (Family), Food and Music, writing comes next. You’ll be receiving a lot of messages, emails, DM’s from me. I just love putting how I feel into words. This is probably the Tenth or Eleventh missive I’ve written since our first interaction ever. I hope I don’t come on to you too strong that you’ll be scared and decide to place me in one of the many zones you ladies have for guys nowadays. I don’t really function well in any zone except the ‘Friends with Benefits’ zone. So let’s leave our options opened for now, and enjoy each other’s company till we get to the next stage. Have a beautiful week ahead.

Without wax,
Tolu Oke.


 

This was his LAST post, I wrote, not latest. Tolu was a serving youth corps member when he died in a car crash on the 17th of July around Ibadan, a mere 30-min drive from where I had served myself. You can read more of his posts at http://www.toluoke.wordpress.com.

“It is not how long we live that matters; it is how well”

Rest in Peace, brother.

 

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

Call for Entries for 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature

etisalat

Etisalat Nigeria, today announced the call for entries for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, the second edition of the much celebrated innovative literature prize launched in 2013. The Etisalat Prize for Literature which is the first Pan African Literary Award to celebrate African fiction writers seeks to recognise, celebrate and reward debut fiction writers of African descent whose works are published in the last 24 months.

According to the Acting Chief Executive Officer at Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher, “the Etisalat Prize for Literature serves as a platform for the discovery of new creative writing talent out of the African continent and is the first prize with the novel concept of also promoting the growing publishing industry in Africa. The winner receives a cash prize of £15,000 in addition to a fellowship at the prestigious University of East Anglia. The winner and shortlisted writers receive a sponsored two-city tour promoting their books.”

The acting CEO highlighted that following the success of the maiden edition last year, the literary community is eagerly awaiting this second edition. NoViolet Bulawayo won the maiden edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature with her highly celebrated debut novel “We Need New Names”. The Etisalat Prize accepts submitted works which must be a writer’s first work of fiction over 30,000 words, which has been published in the last 24 months. The Etisalat Prize will also launch the online based flash fiction prize later in the year to engage the rising stars of fiction.

A Press Conference will be held in Lagos, in June, to announce the panel of judges for this year’s competition. Rules and guidelines for entry are available on www.etisalatprize.com

Entries close 8th of August 2014.

 

The Medallion: Prize-giving ‘Ceremony’

Lately I’ve been having nightmares courtesy of some of my readers who are intent upon ensuring I do not renege on giving out the prizes for The Medallion Easter bonanza; in one nightmare, I saw a Bollywood williwilli growling “Meee-daaa-llioooon…PRIZE!” and in another one, I was arrested and when it was time for my hands to be bound, the cop pulled out a Medallion.smh.

So, I have succumbed (this one bad pass my village people abeg). As you know, we only have a winner for Prize 1, all of you go and carry last for the second one. My Prize winner though is Walter Uche Ude, better known in these spheres as Walter Shakespearean Ude (WaltShakes). It was a delight for me when I saw his entry as first commenter because I was already a fan of his writing and here was an opportunity for us to meet (oh, that was a clause for the prize I didn’t want to commit to from the start before some of you will go and pay one BH boy in Bornu to run and be first commenter).

Anyhu, Walter and I met up yesterday afternoon here in Lagos for the prize-giving ‘ceremony’. I’d like to tell you that we first saw ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ then proceeded to Kilimanjaro before doing KFC and Calabar Kitchen in one summary swoop. But we just sat and talked, and boy, was it more fun! It had just rained one of those muddy annoyances the Lagos skies are capable of on a bad day but after gisting and laughing so hard with Walter, my day was considerably perked up. Walter is gifted, funny and very ‘gisty’, a good friend already. He is also one of the few guys I know who are lighter-skinned than I am; at least the next time a conductor at Ojuelegba calls me ‘yellow’, I can say “wait till you see Walter!”

It was a full-blown ceremony oh! There was an intro, we both made speeches bordering on just about all topics from writing to modelling agencies in Okoko, then for paparazzi, we asked a good Nigerian (or was she Cameroonian, Walts?) to take a few pics. We finished it off Oscar-style on the way out when we took our own ‘celeb selfie’. For those of you who didn’t know, where two heads and more are gathered in a selfie, there a celeb selfie is; thank God for that unknowing gentleman in the background. 🙂

20140422_174655

Walter blogs at “My Mind Snaps” – http://www.mymindsnaps.com and you can bug him on twitter @Walt_Shakes. He graciously agreed to do the following review for The Medallion; I like to think I was so charming he couldn’t refuse but I’m sure he is just showing off ;). Anyhu…enjoy!

 

THE MIRACLE OF THE MEDALLION

You start out reading The Medallion, believing it’s going to be an Easter story, one that encapsulates the persecution of Christ, His crucifixion, and then His rising.

But then you follow the story, you trace the unraveling of the narration, and you’re drawn into the mind of this commoner – Rufus, an erstwhile Nazarene criminal, one who knows the wiles of the streets as an only way of life. You are led – as he is – to the acknowledgement of a mission. The hunt for something priceless. A quest that is on some level driven by a desire for the invaluable. A tar of self-interest tainting the otherwise incredibly selfless import of the story of Christ’s sacrifice.

And that is when you get distracted from your objective. Your focus is shaken by the intrusion of the persecution of the Son of Man. Those blood-riven scourges that mark the back of the condemned man. The cruel and jubilant delirium of the crowd over the man’s torture. The apparent seal of Heaven and Earth on his suffering. You are repulsed by it. Yet you are drawn to it. You fight your grief. You feel the weight of sadness. You share the aching pain of that mother who watches, helpless, as her child is mauled by the bloodthirsty soldiers and rabid crowd. Your heart cringes with every lash. Your fists curl at every taunt. You wish you didn’t have to witness this. You do not want to be here. You have the medallion to find. Your very own precious.

But more precious is He who bears the tribulations of the world up to the Hills of Golgotha, where He is nailed to a cross and bared to all – the glory of His crucifixion.

And with His passing, you’re right back on the scent of the mission – the hunt for the Medallion. Where might it be? The foothold of the cross that held up the King of the Jews? Perhaps hanging from the plumage of one of the formidable centurions? Or tucked away in the clothes that swaddled the afflicted body of Jesus as he carted off to His tomb. Aha! It just had to be in there – the tomb, nestled amongst rocks and pebbles, glinting softly in the darkness, waiting to be dug out of the slight rubble once the Roman guards were away and the soul was too far gone from the body inside to tell any tales of your invasion.

And then, Jesus the Christ rose from the dead, ablaze with His incandescent glory. A fulfilled testament of the prophetic words “…and on the third day, He shall rise.” And afire with the promise of the life that would be given to His ministry.

That is when you realize that you’ve lost. The find of the Medallion isn’t logical. It isn’t a consequence of reasoning. It defies all that. It is divine. It is magical. The miracle of Easter happened for the people who would later be called Christians. It also happened for Rufus, enclosed, a gleaming bundle, in the folds of his robes.

And it also happened for me, the one who was the first to drop a comment on the thread of the eventual episode of The Medallion.

IMG-20140423-WA0009