When Tomorrow Calls (Short Story)

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When Tomorrow Calls

By Veronica Nkwocha

Words swirl around my head, like a twitter of birds I can’t control. It is morning but I remain prone, on my bed. I sink deeper into the sheets and pluck a phrase here and another there from free singing birds outside my window. It is not good. I search and pluck despair from the twits that won’t stop. They sound chirpy enough but I refuse their reign, I fold myself. Away from any happiness. I do not deserve it.

Yesterday it rained. Hard pelting rocks that resembled white walls crumbling down like the foam surfers leave in their wake. I could not see through the slush that ran down my face, my cheeks. I stood in the rain.

My penance fizzled. In an instant, bright sunshine ruled. I craved the wet. A shower from a passing car slicing through the flooded street washed over me. I stood waiting.

‘Lord wash me, cleanse me.’

A resolute silence clung to me like my wet clothes draped around me like a morbid shroud.

A honking car slowed to a near stop waiting for me to move to safety, the driver nodding politely, I pitied him. I trudged away from his path.

My wet feet left soggy prints on the thin carpeting, I peeled of my clothes as I walked to my bedroom, the warmth indoors cloying, draining.

Sleep eluded me. Dark thoughts consumed me.

In a basin along with others, my baby lay. Given up before their time. I had thought long and hard and reached the same conclusion every time. For me there was no choice. As had the others. But mine was worse. I had gone of my own volition. I Laraba Nelson.

It began, many months ago. A day like any other in the dry season. Lectures had ended and I had gone to the lady down the road just at the road that forked left to the grounds of the Theatre Arts Department to buy recharge cards.

As usual, I pretended that was all I was out to do but after I loaded the digits on to my phone, I stared long and hard to make sure I wasn’t cheated. Then I asked for another card all the while looking through a veil of my braids to see if he would come.

The birds continue their dance of whatever it was that had them singing this un-merry morning. I get up to shush them. I grab a broom and fling it against the netting on my window. A cloud of dust and the thudding sound send them flying. The momentary silence has me floundering. I sink into the sheets and they resume their chirping.

They make sweet music. Like we made sweet love. Their notes hold a tenderness and a gentleness. Like Ahmed. They call and another answers, rolling the sounds, floating, merry, crisp. Ahmed. Ah Ahmed.

It has to be a sin. To love so strongly and to cut so deeply.

Soyayya, ruwan zuma.

Love and honey. It must be a sage who thought up the saying.

My eyes are like fire when they spy him walking down that fork in the road. He is not alone. The bright sunshine that surrounds him, bounding off the near white sands of the encroaching deserts in the savannah make like one walking on a sheet of pouring gold. I drink him. Silently through a veil of my braids.

He walks past me, as always. He asks the lady for a recharge card. His companion asks for a bottle of coke.

“Would you like a drink, sister?”

His companion asks. I stutter. I can’t believe Ahmed is looking at me intently, a question in his eyes. The voice of Jacob but the hand of Esau. Nothing good will come of this. I am warm from the gold of his gaze, I take the drink from the outstretched hand of his companion.

I am so shy I sit under the mango tree as we finish our drinks. I do not say one word. They argue about the latest results from the Premier League. It is strange living in my dreams. I am sitting next to Ahmed. I spy the fuzz on his arm resting next to me. I want to run my hands down through the hairs, they look soft. He tells his point to Joseph and they nearly stand up at odds with each other about a particular point.

“What’s your name?”

It is Joseph again.

“Laraba”

“Ah, lovely name. Ahmed here just smashed his medical exams.”

Ahmed and I lock eyes. I notice his has a question in them.

“You’re so beautiful Laraba” Ahmed says.

I lower my gaze

They both smile.

Of course I know who he is, his pedigree, and his renown. Everyone on campus knew of his family, his ancestry, a long line of royals.

I only ever came here to day dream, out of his league. Even I Laraba knew to be honest with myself.

I pinched myself. I winced.

We part. I thank them for the drinks.

The canaries flit and float, they sing trapped in their very large cage. Their yellow bellies are the part I love best about them. Like tiny balls of cotton. Ahmed loves my fascination with them. They are his favourite. Of all the animals in their sprawling compound, the horses, ostriches, peacocks, his mum’s Pomeranians and more.

He likes to wake up to their singing. I love that about him. That he would love them, fragile, beautiful.

“What gives you the right to intrude on our peace? How can you even do this to yourself? You realise this will end badly don’t you?”

It is Sameera. His sister back home from Law School in Lagos. We had tried to be discreet. Him sneaking me into his room, his parents blissfully unaware.

Love made me. I knew I should have put boundaries. To stop after I had my fill. I knew to make memories for my old age, for when I would sit at the porch like other old women and have a knowing smile, of my one true love. The one we love and can’t be with.

But I couldn’t help myself. I was everywhere with Ahmed. I moved my daydreams a notch further. I began to envisage marriage. Maybe someone would sweep into our compound, take a look at the forlorn nondescript house, shake his head at the irony and march to the door asking for my father. A letter in hand, he would open it with a flourish. An official letter bearing a coat of arms would fall to the ground and he would pick it up with manicured hands.

We would in the blink of an eye move from being paupers to co inheritors of a royal lineage. The family tree traced by a fluke of a historian bearing a record from a forgotten time. And then I would become able to marry my prince.

To be honest, I tried to pinch myself every time the day dreams began to run off. But the sweetness of honey is addictive. Ahmed was as addicted to me. We wove tales. Of how he would come into his own money and set up a new business for dad and my brothers, surely we could latch on to a faraway uncle or chief who would agree we met the pedigree of those who could marry royalty.

Sameera invaded my dreams. Every time I drifted off, she followed. A trail of ‘end badly, end badly, end badly…’ lingered like the waft from our backyard after the rains. Plumbing was a luxury out of our reach.

He came, bearing a letter. The stranger refused to sit gravely delivering his message. My father jumped up calling out to my mother. A doctor. Laraba. Marriage. My mother ululating, my neighbour ululating, my aunties danced into the compound. I was made to sit down. It was all too much to bear.

Dreams do come true. What better gift to a grown daughter. The gods had smiled down. Just finishing university and I am getting married. A good marriage.

The days are heavy with the threat of the first rains. The clouds are grey and heavy. The rumble of thunder comes but it is a message from afar. It is pouring in the neighbouring town but we remain dry. A cloud of dust lifts up here and dissipates creeping up unexpectedly raining a shimmer of fine sand on corn and beans drying on top of granaries dotted here and there.

The voice on the other end of the phone is polite and gentle.

“You will enjoy England. Your nursing degree is valued here.”

I nod through my tears, under the guava tree. I speak to him and caress my midriff.

I must tell Ahmed. That our tender baby lies cradled in my belly. Made with the sweetest love possible. The most beautiful baby ever. He or she will take the best of both of us. His laugh and his kindness, my smile.

In my dreams I tell him and he hugs me excitedly. He takes me to his mother. She is overcome with joy for her grandchild. Eons of tradition fall like a pack of cards. His father rises like a king over all, over pariahs and taboos. We are knit together by time and by a beautiful ceremony, I the blushing bride.

I walk out of my father’s compound, a prelude to my new life. First I stopped for an appointment with the doctors. For my journey to England, I have to walk alone, empty of my child. Bereft of Ahmed.

My Thoughts on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

 

My Thoughts on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

By Veronica Nkwocha

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the movie directed by Biyi Bandele and adapted from the book by the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a story of two lovers who find themselves caught up in more than the regular mundane trifles that would otherwise concern those in their same situation.

The normalcy is captured quintessentially at the care free start, where Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) worry about things we see across time and across climes; does he/she love me enough, affairs that break the heart, and mothers-in-law who are frightened of the new woman.

We are introduced early on to an archetype angry mother-in-law (Onyeka Onwenu), a cheating boyfriend and a woman in despair and we have a recipe for what obtains quite frequently in Nollywood movies. Same ingredients but tempered as the particular conflict between mother and would be daughter-in-law did not overwhelm. The story was laced with more depth as the characters flowered and found themselves.  HOAYS also takes more risks allowing the audience a peek into a wider range of interactions, the scenes move in quick succession. It sits resolute in a time period, the near picture perfect setting transports the viewer giving integrity to the story.

The serious but optimistic doctor of ‘books’ Odenigbo (a university professor),   his returnee beautiful girlfriend Olanna, her twin sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) and her English boyfriend, Richard (Joseph Mawle) and their academic friends including Ms Adebayo (Genevieve Nnaji), enjoy some happy evenings discussing politics, wine, romance etc, laughing heartily and showing an optimism for the future. Ugwu (John Boyega) the houseboy trailed, never quite commanding the presence he had in the book, not a fault of the actor but more likely the adaptation.

The pacing allowed one momentarily forget that a war loomed. When the conflict that introduced ‘Biafra’ inserted itself violently into the narrative, it came as a shocking intrusion especially with the brutality shown. It drove home a well-known fact in wars; that those who are killed and those who suffer are the innocent, caught up in a gladiatorial contest far removed from their control. Swept along, we follow Olanna and Odenigbo on a journey through their pain and fears and heart-racing; through their triumphs served in small measures, tepid in parts but overwhelming in its intensity.

The gore that typically crowds war movies was nuanced and the flashbacks in black and white, documentary-like, gave a background to the story and fleshed out the narrative. The choice not to use real life actors but archived footage lent a stamp of authenticity of a real life war, it gave a sombre bent to the story taming the after-glow of the happy love story.

HOAYS portrayed the Nigerian Civil War with a delicate balance, walking a tightrope in a story of a two sided conflict of nervous protagonists and antagonists even in today’s Nigeria where a collective amnesia is the seeming default position, a shroud that never quite covers the ‘why’ of the story, barely there but the elephant in the room.

We are held curious to the end. The hunger for more lingered at the end, not only because Kainene was lost, an unending thread tying her to the hearts of her loved ones. Odenigbo and Olanna were brought to life by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton so strongly.

One must not forget Odenigbo’s blue car, it became iconic meandering here and there dodging bombs by sheer luck and nothing else.

The story was told in the second half in ‘quickened’ succession, we raced along as they raced for their lives and arrived at the credits breathless yet wanting more.

Related Articles

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/a-yellow-sun-london-review-647828

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10756927/Half-of-a-Yellow-Sun-review.html

http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/half-of-a-yellow-sun-review-toronto-1200603565/

http://africasacountry.com/review-of-the-film-version-of-half-of-a-yellow-sun-chimamanda-adichies-novel/

http://www.loladeville.com/2014/04/review-of-half-of-yellow-sun-movie-by.html

http://www.hotnaijagirl.com/2014/04/movie-review-half-of-yellow-sun-by-biyi.html

http://brittlepaper.com/2014/04/mad-men-nollywood1960s-fashion-yellow-sun-film/

 

Embers (Poetry)

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Embers

By Veronica Nkwocha

Consumed
by a yearning
only you can heal
Marked
by a hollow
only you can fill
Every hour
my heart whispers
your name

Trapped
in bonds
made of the tendrils
reaching for you
The clasp elusive
Hidden
in knots
grafted
into my every form

I walk
With a smile on my face
Wave a hello
to the gorgeous sunrise
I sing
A happy song
As I face the world
and wipe the tears

My heart
melting wax
The candle lit up
with the light
of a craving
So strong
So endless
Etched with a seal
of my love for you

My Thoughts on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

My Thoughts on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

By Veronica Nkwocha

He is an enigma;  a drink driving, cocaine snorting, sex crazed, sleaze ball whom they all adore. Welcome to Jordan Belfort’s world. A gigantic ball of shiny, newly bedecked, noveau rich stock brokers whom Jordan himself moulds into mini Jordans, each one garish, brutish but entirely loyal and fiendishly capable of separating obtuse investors from their cash in huge mouth-watering sums.

Leonardo DiCaprio hits the road running. He is the chameleon whom we can’t differentiate from Belfort as he strikes at the heart of the role giving it his all. There is nothing caricature about this. He becomes the character so much so that his excesses are no longer something to wonder about, it is just who he is.

Jordan changes his first wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) as he would his old car and old life; he trades her for a newer fresher and more beautiful model with nary a look as she weeps fading away from our screens. Naomi, beautiful, voluptuous and willing to be his fantasy and go the extra step but it is not enough as he pushes himself further and further. His cravings have the lead and they drive him to seek satisfaction from even more debauchery.

The Wolf of Wall Street (directed by Martin Scorsese) is shocking in its decadence; naked grinding women and men become so common place they barely need a glance from the audience. Jordan and his clones are perpetually on a high from a cocktail of prescription drugs and hard drugs, they float on clouds from where they pluck witty comments by the dozen.

Jordan’s charm lie in his ability to sell stocks not only to investors but in his ability to sell his vision first to his friends beginning with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and then to a teeming army of passionate near worshipping salesmen; scratch that, parishioners.

When he stands before his audience, he is like a preacher whose intense belief in the rightness of his cause begins to inspire. He is charismatic, and funny and handsome. He ‘preaches’ with a passion so intense it appears to rival the orgasms from their many orgies, the ‘congregation’ trashes about on the throes of a high so infectious from their benevolent ‘saviour’ they remain hooked as they rake in their successes.

He is himself the proud husband who gifts his new wife Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) a yacht with a landing pad, a helicopter sits daintily on top.

When an investigation into his activities by FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) comes to light, he is nervous but yet arrogant. He belittles the agent’s poor wages and mocks his respectable normal life. His undoing is his greatest strength; his addiction to his vision. He simply cannot let go and when the steam train crashes, Jordan lies in a heap crafted with his own hands. He loses everything, every material thing. Except his gift of gab, his ability to sell and to inspire a following. He fades from the scene and sits a shadow of the former lusty Wolf astride his empire; he is a shadow that lurks as the movie ends, a fool and his money are soon parted.

The Wolf of Wall Street is audacious; it pulls no punches celebrating the lead character as an enigma, and although the victims are a part of the narrative, they are weak and hidden from view. When Jordan Belfort gets his comeuppance, they are but an afterthought, eaten and spat by the Predator and the storyteller.

Related Articles

http://www.theguardian.com/film/movie/155767/wolf-of-wall-street

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jan/22/jordan-belfort-wolf-of-wall-street-depiction

The Storyteller

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By Veronica Nkwocha

Storytelling:

From time immemorial, Man has always found ways to tell the story of life as it happened using rock paintings, folklore, genealogy, dance, staged plays and writing. Art imitates life and poets, writers, painters, griots, actors etc. have always found creative ways of expressing the dynamics of the world around them. They hold a mirror to the interactions and preserve for future generations, a unique insight into what life is like during their time.

As long as life carries on unabated the ‘Storyteller’ will reflect society in its raw form; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Any prescriptive boundaries to cage creativity does some harm to the integrity of the ‘picture’ of our world. Is there family, love, pain, joy, heartbreak, redemption, religion, philosophies? Are there wars, deceit, trials, triumphs etc.? Until we can edit life and make it pristine clean, Art will imitate life especially for the sake of those who will ponder about our world in the future as we do today, paintings on rocks by ancient man.

My Thoughts on ’12 Years A Slave’

My Thoughts on ’12 Years A Slave’
By Veronica Nkwocha

‘12 Years a Slave’ (Directed by Steve McQueen) feels like one is going into a hole, deeper and deeper into an abyss. The dark is cloying and the damp draining every spring within to merge with the tumultuous grey and wet of the Mississippi.

‘12 Years a Slave’ is the story of Solomon Northup played with aplomb by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a free black man from New York in 19th century America. A family man, his jaunty step as he strolls with his wife, son and daughter speak of hope, life and prosperity. He is a violinist, an excellent one. Things go ‘south’ when he is lured under false pretences to Washington for some work, kidnapped and then sold into slavery.

Solomon Northup sheds the garments of a fine gentleman and dons the toga of a slave, from then on, he must answer to the name Platt Hamilton.

Stripped of everything, there is nothing sexual about the nudity and we cover our eyes in shame, embarrassed for the slaves who have to wash in front of others. The dehumanising is thorough and the trembling obeisance that colours nearly every slave is infectious killing any semblance of rebellion.

In Louisiana, the flowers are mute and the surrounding plains of the cotton field are joyless even though there is a song for every scythe that hits the cane. Solomon is wide eyed almost throughout as though he cannot yet believe his new circumstances, even years after.

There aren’t many moments of happiness and life carries on. He leaves a near benevolent master (who even gifts him a violin) where he almost becomes a fatality, almost hanged after a falling out with overseer John Tibeats (Paul Dano). He is sold on to a ‘religious’ Edwin Epps. His new master reads the scriptures as though he believes them even though we catch him making up verses. Michael Fassbender is thoroughly believable and we watch as Epps attacks his role with glee. He is seemingly bumbling yet extremely faithful to the commonly held ideas of a vicious slave master.

Epps’ music by the slaves for his entertainment show a ‘disconnect’ on his part, he is the only one happy and excited as the slaves dance a pretend merriment. His missus (Sarah Paulson) is not pleased; what is there to be jealous of in Patsey? Played by Lupita Nyong’o, she is unwashed, enjoys no perks for being the masters bed mate, favours which he takes mercilessly.

Mrs Epps pristine appearance mirrors her halo wound so very tight, she looks like she has a perpetual headache. It is not a surprise when she declares her own bed is too holy for him. Her simmering rage does not discriminate, the rapist and the victim are fair game for her wrath. We would feel some compassion for her if she didn’t end up looking like she needed penance for her part. Patsey is the broken reed, bruised but waving in the breeze, flowing with the current unable to put an end to it all.

The master’s chat with Bass (Brad Pitt) is illuminating, sound bites and clichés take on new meaning as they are held under the harsh light of an anti-slaver’s scrutiny. Bass is eventually trusted with the buried secret as Solomon tries one last time, would he take a message home?

We hardly see Solomon’s family after the first moments in the movie and we never know how they reacted once they found out he was gone. In not knowing, we are cast into Solomon’s reality, the wall separating him from his loved ones is resolute, impenetrable.

The movie ends in an anti-climax. One is reaching for a happy ending and when the homecoming happens, it all ends suddenly. We are left hungry for more. We want to share in the redemption, in their celebration. We are robbed of the ecstasy that would otherwise have been a catharsis to the intense ordeal of Solomon Northup’s 12 years as a slave.

Related Articles

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jan/09/12-years-a-slave-review

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2024544/