My Thoughts on ‘Selma’


My Thoughts on ‘Selma’

By Veronica Nkwocha

Selma (Historical Drama on the 1965 voting rights marches)

The Selma girls…giggling, pressed hair, church best, the memory of sweet candy tickling the nostrils and the faint perfume of mama and the mark of papa’s bristle grazing the cheek in a kiss lingers…they own the world, the flowery summer out there waiting to be explored and the joy of tomorrow…

Their lives cut short, a violent pause on a normal day, an explosion ripples through, cuts short what had been cut an overly long time prior, with a sharp tongue…words fanning the flames of fear and hate for the other.

The staccato rain of race being the lowest common denominator in describing the antagonists and protagonists hits the viewer, it tells the basic element that underlines the interactions, there are no grey areas.

Going against the tide is always an arduous task even more so when death is the price for challenging the status quo. White, black, passionate men and women, ordinary folk…and fiery preachers with their retinue of activists pulling here and there, a difference in opinion on how best to tackle the monster in the room, flawed men and dignified women chipping at the edges, fraying the seams of entrenched walls standing resolute, near timeless, final.

A tribute to Oprah Winfrey (Annie Lee Cooper) whose portrayal of the lone woman walking the lonely path trying to register a right to vote was an emphatic, poignant line in the sand.

Hats off to David Oyelowo (starring as Martin Luther King – MLK); he was the beacon on whom all eyes turned to hold this all important story, he filled the shoes, and more, oh one could see his restraint as he brought out his all, anymore and it would be too much.

He struck that delicate balance between the gift that hindsight brings, and the reality of that time not so long ago. The privilege to be alive in a time when the majority aligns with the battled for position, a sure footedness which we take for granted in today’s world on the rightness of this particular cause, absent at the time MLK walked the earth.

He and the stellar cast let us ‘see’ that world as though someone had rewound the reel and allowed us peer in, a ring side seat. Tom Wilkinson (as President Lyndon Johnson) Carmen Ejogo (as Coretta Scott King), Tim Roth (as George Wallace), Common (as Bevel).

It was interesting to see the story of a time in MLK’S life separate from the well know speech ‘I have a dream’.

Selma (Directed by Ava DuVernay) gave life to the story of a people whose lives had come to be interwoven by a bitter bent in history, clouded by race, nuanced by their common humanity. And the resolve in the face of great odds that they must see it together…step by step…mile by mile on that march from Selma, across the now iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, to Montgomery and on to the steps of the State Capitol, an appeal to the conscience of the Nation on the very bastion of the words;

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

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Cassandra (Short Story)



By Veronica Nkwocha

Wisps of snow fall around me. I look up as they drift past me, melting as they float to the ground. It is March. March winds were meant to bring spring showers. The snow showers dance unabated, running riot as they spin around, confused by every fleeting breeze. It is cold. But I pretend they are floating tincy, wincy bits of summer petals. I twirl and turn; it was cold like this the day mama died. Cold as ice when I put a gloved black lacy finger on the coffin one last time, wishing it was her soft cheeks, dimpled from smiling, her eyes melting with love as her gaze look deep into my eyes. Mama. Oh mama.

“Cassandra! Cassandra!!” papa calls.

I pretend not to hear. I hear singing from distant places, it’s a violin, then a flute, and then it’s an orchestra. Papa is at the doorway. Even though I see him from the corner of my eyes, I pretend not to, I twirl and turn to my imaginary song. I smile as the petals fall on my upturned face; the wet snow sips in through the corner of my smile. He yanks me and draws me inside. My face is wet, is it the snow or my tears? I taste the salt; it is familiar, all too familiar since mama died.

“You will catch your death of cold,” he says.

He takes off my wet summer dress and puts on warm layers. I’m trussed like an Inuit in deepest winter when he finishes. I look like an astronaut on the moon. Then he hugs me. And cries and I taste the salt of his tears.

“Cassandra,” he says into the telephone. “It’s Cassandra”.

I wonder what he means. He looks at me long after he finishes his call. A sense of foreboding envelops me. I sit still. He calls me. I run to him. A fear of losing him too propels me. What if. He is startled at my obedience. I know, because I see him wide-eyed, open-mouthed.

“Cassandra?” he calls.

I look into his eyes. I’ve ignored him so long. Since mama died. Two whole weeks and I still crumble on the inside and I’m numb on the outside.

“Grandma will be coming for a few weeks,” he says.

Summer grandma, Mama’s mama. She’s big and she dresses different from everyone I know and lives in a big house. A house of wall geckos and ceiling fans and cousins running riot. In Nigeria. I’m wide-eyed, enthralled. I look behind the great big painting of daddy’s grandpa. I wonder if her geckos will hide there. Or maybe behind the vase where mama puts the flowers papa gives her, she, caressing the petals and telling me; “Cassandra, come see how lovely the scent is!” And we would go, “Ooh! Aah!” and wrinkle our noses to suck the scent in even more.

“With all the cousins?”

He wears a stunned expression. I haven’t spoken since then. He smiles. It’s infectious, I smile back. He holds me close and sways, humming my favourite song. I kiss him on the cheek and he grazes me with his beard. I push him away and rub my soft cheeks, his smile grows even broader.

“No my love, just her.” He carries on a monologue; I no longer listen. I’m lost in his voice, and it lulls me. I drift off to sleep, trussed up and content in papa’s arms.

Papa is tight-lipped. He stares straight ahead as he drives on the M25. Grandma sits next to me at the back of the car, cupping my palm. Grandpa sits next to dad. Two rigid walls. She smells of her house. In Nigeria. Her scent and my favourite soup. I can’t wait to get home so I can hug her properly. She cuddled me in the folds of her garments at Heathrow, my hot chocolaty lips smeared her white dress but she didn’t mind, she said that’s what grandmas are for.

The rigid walls agree a week later at breakfast, all three adults prodding me to finish my orange juice; yes, Cassandra should go to Nigeria for the Easter break, yes, because it will be difficult for papa as he has to be away in Amsterdam for an important conference. I’m happy but scared. Who will be in the house if mama comes back? The silence as we drive to the airport scares me. Grandma holds my hand and smiles.

She sings softly as though she hears my thoughts, “I carry you in my heart everywhere I go, I wrap you in my thoughts so you’ll never go”.

The journey with British Airways flies past in a blur. I sit wedged between Grandpa and Grandma colouring everything I can lay my hands on.

‘Pit pat, pit pat’ the rains are relentless in the darkness as we arrive at their home, dripping wet as we escape into the house, speared by the fattest drops I have ever seen. I want to linger but I am half-dragged, Grandma complaining, “my weave my weave”. I don’t understand until I see her peering at her hair in the mirror at the landing, arranging it here and there.

“This rain has spoilt the style” she says moaning in a resigned tone.

“Nkechi!” she yells in the loudest angry voice I have ever heard from her.

Someone comes crashing down the stairs. A fast slap connects with Nkechi’s face; I nearly melt into the wall.

“Didn’t you hear us drive in? You should have been down since to help with the luggage, stupid lazy fool.”

Nkechi fawning, “sorry ma, sorry ma” as she slips out of the front door before I even have a proper look. She wasn’t here last summer.

“Foolish girl,” grandma mutters under her breath.

“Come here, love,” she says to me.

The change in tone shocks me, I stand momentarily frozen, me no higher than the table where she placed her bag beneath the mirror. Although they say I am tall for six.

We walk into the palatial living room. There are no cousins running riot. Maybe they are upstairs. I hold the carved bannister as I walk. Its beginnings downstairs and the ending upstairs are twin lion heads with full manes of carved bronze. It looks odd like a long winding snake with lions for a head and tail. There are no chirpy voices upstairs or downstairs. I look at grandma askance.

“What is it Cassandra?”

“Where are the cousins?”

“No wonder, I kept wondering why you were going up and down, they all come during the long vacation, what you call summer holidays.”

The disappointment is too much to bear. My empty heart feels emptier. I can’t put it in words.

I nestle into the downy bed. No mama or papa to read me a story or kiss me goodnight. The ache is a big fat lump tonight. There were lots of cuddles from grandpa and grandma after a long prayer and bible reading downstairs; I fell asleep halfway through. I was sent upstairs to my room with Nkechi who was told to hold my hand. She cradled it as though it were a priceless jewel, carefully asking me to watch my step. She covered me with the light blanket and turned the bedside lamp to low.

“Goodnight Cassandra, you are welcome, welcome o. My room is the other one, see that door there?”

I nod, staring at her face, her eyes are pretty and almond shaped, her hair cropped short. Her gown is much too big for her ten-year-old frame, I realise its grandma’s old faded yellow blouse stitched at the armpits to preserve her dignity. She slips out of the room noiselessly.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. The number of times since morning grandma has changed her tone in an instant; a soft voice for me, angry yelling for Nkechi who appears to deflate with every shout. She scrapes, she bows, and she trembles.

“Cassandra!” grandma calls from the next room.

I run to her instinctively, bowing and trembling.

“What is it?” grandma asks, worried at my carriage.

She notices I’m a twin of Nkechi.

“Vamoose from here now, now!” she yells at her.

“Come my dear, come and sit next to me”.

I count the twelfth.

“Is my grandma your grandma? Are you a cousin?”

My query later in the kitchen sends Cook into fits of laughter, her chest heaving. Nkechi smiles, her teeth are like pearls, startling against her dark smooth skin.

Cook says, “She be housegirl.”

A girl in the house, what does that mean? My forehead is creased, curious. “Like me?”

“God forbid,” Cook says. She quickly prays very loudly, “It is not your portion in Jeeeesuuuus name, aamen”.

It seems ‘housegirl’ is a bad word. I determine not to repeat it.

“Her papa and mama don die, God now dey look after her, not so Nkechi?”

“Only God,” Nkechi answers and then lets out a long sigh.

Then she starts to sing as she washes dishes on a sink too high  for her. I watch in trepidation as she balances delicately on a stool; she refuses my request to help. Cook sends me to the dining room, there’s homework to do. Nkechi stops to look, she’s a great help.

“Grandma,” I say later, “Nkechi is good at maths.”

She says; “Forget that one”, holding me in her arms. She has a melancholy look as she stares at me and looks up at mama’s framed picture on the wall. She looks on as a dark cloud sits on my face and refuses to leave; my face is a crumpling mess. The ache is now a lump and it weighs heavy in the back of my throat. The tears shoot arrows behind my lids.

“Oh my baby, my sweetheart, precious Cassandra”, she said, gathering me closer than before.

“Grandma, it makes me so sad when you slap Nkechi, when you yell at her and call her names. She has no mother ‘cos she died. Her mother must cry so much when she looks down from heaven Grandma,” I say wiping a tear.

I watch Grandma, chin in her hands, looking at me as though I am a ghost.

“I can’t help crying for my mama, for Nkechi’s mother, just because…”

I feel her tears fall on my arm but I don’t move it away or wipe it.

“I miss her so much,” I say.

“I miss her too,” grandma says

My fingers look tiny as I wipe her tears and she says,

“Cassandra, you are wise beyond your years.”

‘Beyond your years’. I don’t know what that means but it sounds like something nice so I smile, she smiles at me through her tears and blows her nose. I run away from her at the loud noise and we both break out in fond laughter.

“Cassandra, come let’s get Nkechi.”

The kindly tone to her voice appears to scare Nkechi momentarily, “Nkechi, come my daughter, come and sit with us at the dining room. Let’s eat together”.

I’m in awe as Nkechi walks to the table, trembling; her usual place for meals used to be the kitchen. Her every move is a picture because she lingers as she washes her hands and gingerly puts a morsel in her mouth, suspicious at the turn of events, wary that an adversary can in a blink of an eye become a friend.

A light comes on in my heart and brightens up the room. My laughter is gay and bubbly as I hold grandma captivated with a story. Nkechi is silent but I hear her listening intently and gazing at grandma out of the corner of her eye. Grandma laughs at something I say, she throws her arms about, she’s a funny sight with her overly large bright and shiny red head-tie bobbing here and there so I can’t stop laughing. We hear a tinkle and I am shocked, its Nkechi laughing, the sound almost trapped behind her slight smile. I love the sound.

“This one is called fara, grasshopper,” Nkechi says.

We are lying on the lawn shortly before sun set. It’s nice and warm and the blanket of heat that lay trapped like an oven the entire day has lifted somewhat. Gardener has turned on the sprinklers and the soil is slightly moist. Nkechi holds its green wings gently and turns it upside down. It holds my curious gaze as it wriggles its belly and kicks its spiky legs. It’s beautiful. She feeds it a blade of grass and it chomps, suspiciously at first then as though ravenous. She places it carefully on the lawn and it sits for a moment untrusting at the four eyes gazing closely at it and it flies away.

We skip about and pretend we have wings. Gardener finds it hilarious and plucks two hibiscus flowers, one for my hair and one for Nkechi. She hardly has any so she tucks it behind her ear. I like the look of it so I yell “grandma, grandma! Come and take a photo”. It’s lovely on her camera. She makes it the background picture of her phone.

A terrible thirst awakens me in the middle of the night. I wonder where I am for a few short seconds and then I remember. The room is too dark and I notice there’s light in the corridor. I follow it and down the stairs and stop when I hear voices.

“You see, people thought I was a bigot when I kicked against her marrying someone from faraway England. Now she’s buried far from home and I can’t visit her final resting place at will.”

“Stop it, Ezekiel. He was so good to her, lovely man and she was very happy with him and that’s what counts,” Grandma says.

“And Cassandra? Him already moaning about how hard it is, coping?”

“He’s mourning, there will be difficult days but they’ll pull through.”

I hear grandpa sobbing.

Suddenly the thirst disappears. Did papa send me here because he didn’t want me anymore? I miss the pretty garden at the front of our house, I miss helping mama tend the roses. I miss the lacy curtains and the smell of cupcakes in the oven for tea. I miss the smell of mama. And papa.

He calls in the morning. I hold on to his voice. I want to wrap my hands around the sound and draw him to me. I’m pondering how to do it and I’m not listening to his words. I’m flailing; I’m standing and holding on to the phone but everything about me is falling apart. I whisper ‘I love you’.

Grandma is shopping a lot for Nkechi; new clothes, shoes, books. I help her re-arrange her room. Nkechi said she overheard grandpa calling about good schools for her and a lesson teacher to help at home. She is so excited, it’s infectious. She’s bobbing on the bed and I join her. Grandma pops a head through the door and says “wait a minute”. Nkechi and I wonder what’s next. It’s a cd player for her room. Grandma plays ‘We are Family’ and joins us in a dance. She’s a pathetic dancer, I say. She chases me and Nkechi about the room laughing. Then we are all chasing one another and Cook comes to see what the commotion is about. We are tired after the running and lie on Nkechi’s bed staring at the ceiling fan whirring religiously, seriously.

Nkechi and I hatch a plan that evening. I would compose a letter and beg the driver to post it to papa, explaining why I must return to England and live with him. The roses will need tending and I had watched mama so I knew more than him what to do. His cupcakes were terrible and I could copy mama’s recipe so he wouldn’t have to live on burnt cupcakes. I would also need him on the odd days when I wear summer dresses in snow showers or else I’d catch my death of cold.

We are making a list of everything I need to put in the letter when cook comes heaving up the stairs panting and smiling broadly, her breasts two large swinging pendulums within her loose blouse.

“Im don come ya papa im don come.”

“He’s here!” Nkechi screams in excitement.

I say, “who?”

“Your dad, he’s downstairs!”

I race downstairs, Nkechi at my tail. It’s him! All of him, his blond hair, his handsome smile and his wide arms. I dive into them giggling. I’m proper happy now. So happy.

“Never leave me,” I whisper.

“Never,” he replies.

I lie in the crook of his arms as he sits next to grandpa.

“Welcome my son,” grandpa says. “Seeing the two of you next to me, it’s like Elizabeth is here with us.”

Grandma is bustling about the place ensuring the meal is perfect at the table. Papa tells us about Amsterdam. He’s shocked when I say I thought he wasn’t coming for me. “It was just for a conference, Cassandra,” he says.

Afterwards, Grandma brings out old photos in several photo albums. I see photos from when mama was a baby. Grandpa says papa can choose some to take with us to England. I’m so pleased I kiss him, clinging to his neck. Nkechi helps me and we build quite a pile but grandma says she doesn’t mind.

“Take whichever ones you want, my dear”.

Papa has an idea he says, he would scan them instead and print them off when we get to England. Grandpa says, “please keep the originals and scan copies to us, we’ll print them here.” Papa says that was generous of him. “Cassandra and I treasure these,” he said caressing the photos.

I place the treasured photos in a trinket box.

It’s lovely having papa around. Everyone fusses over him. He enjoys it, I can tell because he’s laughing more. Grandpa takes us out on his fancy boat in the morning. We have a picnic at the beach. I love the palm trees and racing Nkechi to grandpa’s “ready, steady, go”!

The days melt into one and it’s time to leave for the airport. We are off to England, papa and me. I’ll miss Nkechi. She starts to cry. Grandma holds her close and says to me, “don’t worry. We’ve applied to be Nkechi’s legal guardians as she has no family and we hope to adopt. If all goes well, she’ll come with us when we visit you in the summer and we’ll all come back to Lagos together.”

Yay! I’ll be back to summer grandma; to the big house of ceiling fans and cousins running riot. And to Nkechi.

When Tomorrow Calls (Short Story)


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.


“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 unfamiliar yet 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.

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First Cut (Short Story)


First Cut

By Veronica Nkwocha

“I am strong. I’ll just pick myself up and move on!”

She banged on the stool and then moved to the mirror. She hit her reflection shattering the glass to a hundred shards.

One whole, a hundred pieces. They clung to each other refusing to let go. One mirror, crackled like a map drawn by the insane.

She drew blood. It started like a trickle from the edge of her palm and as she raised her hand to look at it closer, it made a bright red trail to her inner elbow staining her sleeve as it went along unheeded.

She grabbed the first piece of cloth she could find and after making sure there were no pieces of glass embedded in the gash, she wrapped it around and around stopping only when she had a tiny bit of cloth left. She tucked it into the flat part on her palm. She looked at her reflection, there were a hundred of her staring back at her.

“I am me. I’ll get up, again and again and again and again! I will never give up. Oh God!”

Then she started to cry.

“Why me? Why? Oh God.”

She wiped her tears and left a smudge of blood. Even as she ran her good hand through her hair, wild and sticking out in places. Her eyes were red, her mascara ran like melting wax staining her cheeks.

With quick movements, she tidied up. In a flash, the bed was made, stained bedding replaced by fresh sheets, the upturned table was back in its place and all the cosmetics and books were arranged back to their own place.

She undressed with deliberate care. Peeled off the remains of her blouse; already ripped, the buttons already popped from their holes with his violent movement. Her torn skirt was still partly ridden up her ample hips. A rivulet from his claw marks marred her soft thighs.

“Oh why?” she moaned when she saw the trickle of blood. From within her. Down her legs. She left sticky footprints.

She ran a bath. She soaked in the warm waters and imagined herself in a peaceful place.

‘If only I could lie here forever’, she thought as she immersed herself deeper into the lavender fragrance of the foam bath and into her thoughts.

But she got up. She dressed. And made up with skill in the one good part of the mirror that she could still see half a face. She smiled at her reflection as she smacked her lips. Her eyes refused to embrace her lips, they were as cold as death.

Knock! Knock!! Knock!!!

She ignored them. This intrusion into her peaceful place.

She swayed. In front of the mirror. A hundred swayed. They danced when she danced. They smiled, her pearly teeth were like pearl necklaces strewn across a dark sky glinting as they spied the stars.

A pirouette and her pink gown flared, rose petals dancing in the mirror.

She ran her fingers down her hair. She caressed her hair. She removed them. Quickly. It reminded her of him. Her countenance changed.

“I hate him”

She looked at her hands. She placed them in her hair again. And removed them.

She grabbed nail polish, she painted her nails. Bright red. Then she ran them through her hair again.

“That’s better, nothing to remind me of him.”

She pulled at her hair.

“I hate him! I hate him!! I hate him!!!”

The wet polish left red flecks in her hair.

“I hate me”

And she folded. And they all folded, her reflections in the mirror.

She lay, a dark shadow in the corner.

Knock! Knock!! Knock!!

Shouts of “Halima! Halima!”

She looked at the mirror

She spoke softly “Halima? They are calling you. Answer them”

Then she laughed.

“Which one of you will answer them? She asked the hundred Halimas.

She heard breaking. Sounds alien, from near and yet far. She crouched, in her corner staring at her nails damaged from running them through her hair.

She got up, picked up the bottle of bright red polish and went back to her corner. She imagined it her cradle. She rocked. She sang. A lullaby.

She was painting the last little finger when the door gave way.

A group of worried friends burst into her room.

“Halima!” they said worried.

“Pretty isn’t it, see my nails, they are pretty.”

The crowded around her, helped her up, and took in the scene. Her wild hair dripping with nail polish and her nails poorly done, smudged and streaky. The shattered mirror and the pristine room. Her pretty pink dress.

“Are you okay? We’ve been worried about you. It’s been two days, where’ve you been? We thought you travelled or something, you didn’t come for lectures or meals or even to Sade’s party. Ore here has been so worried about you.”

He loomed over them. Ore. They made a path for him to make a beeline for her.

She opened her arms, it knocked the mirror and the shards fell.

His arms wide open. His eyes hesitant. Knowing. Pleading. Shame faced.

She smiled, that smile that always had him wanting, needing, hoping.

Her eyes were cold, as always. Closed. As always. To him.

Her arms open, and they embraced.

“Aww, Halima and Ore sitting on a tree” some in the group sang.

She sat in his arms, on the very same bed.

He stopped. Eyes wide open. His side bearing a large piece of glass.

Her hands clutching the piece of glass. Bright red. From polish. And from his and hers. Their blood.

Halima. Singing.

“Halima and Ore. Sitting on a tree. K.I.S.SI.N.G. Halima and Ore. Sitting on a tree. K.I.S.S.I.N.G.”

A lone voice cutting through her friends’ looks of fear and confusion..

Halima swaying.

Ore, sightless in death. Ore embracing the bed. Where he drew first blood.

A Timeless Dance (Short Story)


A Timeless Dance

By Veronica Nkwocha


Ochanya swayed with the young women, content under the full moon. A cool breeze lifted their short ceremonial skirts ever so slightly mesmerising the young men into thinking forbidden thoughts. The old men lay, half way upright on their Ukonobo seats, an eye open even though they lay tranquil, in a bid to catch any young man attempting a bit more than looking.

Lithe, fluid bodies twisted and turned to the rhythmic and haunting thumping of the Uba drums. This was the best part of the evening of the festival; when men sated on the refreshing and slightly sour palm wine and women, half way pliant and slightly drunk, their drink fermented just right by the old women of the village went quiet, their singing barely heard.

Ochanya’s waist beads and anklet tinkered as she twisted her hips here and there. Ameh, the hunter’s son could bear it no longer. As she passed by him, he grabbed her arm and she, anticipating this very move, slithered away with him into the night. For a moment, her father’s friend thought he saw her disappear. He tapped Elika on the arm as he snored away.

“Elika, Elika, I can’t see Ochanya.”

“Eh Eh?” Elika replied from his sleep. “Is ok, is ok.”

“You’re a foolish man Elika, you sleep while your flower disappears into the night.”

Elika made a sucking sound with his gums as he tucked his head further into the crook of his arm. He snored and farted simultaneously. “Ahh!!” His friends hissed. How this buffoon fathered the queenly beauty Ochanya; hardworking and beloved of all was beyond them. He was wry and ‘comely’ was a word that would never be used to describe him. His stature was of no consequence. He would be overlooked in a room of few. His laziness did him no favours either; he was so full of excuses, Atimakpa the village musician used him in the songs chanted as a rite of passage for boys on what not to be.

Ochanya ran along with Ameh. The leaves caressed her arms as she ducked here and there avoiding low branches. The plants poured a carpet of flowers on the path Ameh led her through. Their fragrance was heady and hinted at something new and beautiful. As they slowed to a stop listening intently to see if they were followed, she mouthed the song in her heart, ‘happy tomorrows’.

“Happy” she whispered.

Ameh asked “What?”

“It’s nothing” she said.

He walked around peering here and there to make sure they were safe.

“I’ll love you forever my Ochanya, I’ll do everything it takes to make you my wife.”

“Promise you’ll never leave me,” Ochanya purred.

“Never” he said “I’d rather die.”

Calls of “Ochanya, Ochanya” sent the lovebirds scurrying home.


Elika strolled out with as much pomposity as he could and walked into the Itakpa crammed full of gaily dressed men and women.  A loud rancorous laughter punctuated the soft voices that hummed like a hive of bees. He wore an atrocious hat; an attempt by a poor craftsman at copying the latest style of turbans perched gingerly on the corner of his small head, smooth as a pebble. His oversize but brightly coloured robes caught momentarily on an empty stool at the entrance and he stumbled in. His countenance changed to a slight annoyance as no-one noticed him walk in; he had practiced the entrance for months, now spoiled by the silly stool.

This was his time to shine, his time to be covered in adulation after all the years of derision from his peers. He was after all, giving his daughter Ochanya, his comely damsel of folk tales and a hundred songs to Adeyi, the doctor son of one of the neighbouring town’s earliest converts and catechist. Adeyi was newly returned from England, the home of the Queen where he studied under a much deserved scholarship. Giving her in marriage to him was a very big achievement.

Elika had decided very quickly that he couldn’t wait for tomorrow to get pregnant when today was already suffering labour pangs.  There were rumours of Ameh’s interest and Elika had been quite eager at first, saying his greetings to the hunter, Ameh’s father over and over again and waiting but he had received nary a hint.  Her other suitors who had gone a bit further hadn’t quite asked for her hand with the finality of a proposal. Just a word here and there from an elderly male relative about seeing a lovely flower in his garden; their vagueness, part of the process dictated by tradition. But Adeyi’s family had been ready from the start. He mouthed a silent thanksgiving to the God of heaven, Owo icho for his daughter’s startling looks for all the noble men in the village had tried with as much subtlety as they could, to rope their own daughters with the esteemed doctor. Ojari the Palmwine tapper of note went further. He discussed openly with Adeyi’s grandfather on an Eke market day and was overheard; the shame of it all. One didn’t act as though daughters were goats to be haggled for right at the market!


Adeyi sat in another hut with his cousins as the marriage ceremony carried on in the Itakpa, he would be called in when it was time. He sighed. His legs felt as though they were lead. There was a lot weighing him down. He had only ever had a cursory look at Ochanya, once before today and was nervous. He lifted his chin and held his head upright. He was only doing what had been done, from time immemorial. When it was time, one married. The family researched and chose who one married, it was the way of his ancestors. His father was so pleased at his being so agreeable. There were others whose sons had brought strange women from other lands, who spoke languages so foreign they had never heard them before. It was the price one paid for allowing them be educated in the western ways.

In a sense Adeyi was tired of doing things differently from everyone else in his family, his sense of isolation heightened by his lone experiences of life outside his community. He had seen enough changes to last a lifetime being born at the eclipse of colonialism and growing up in the cusp of the tender shoot of a nation. He was the first of many things in his family; the first to attend school and the first to travel a few hundred miles from Elekwu with the coming of motor vehicles and then further along to far flung towns and then England.

He wanted to stay rooted to his ancestral home even though he had drifted off a long time ago; he was tired of straddling both worlds a stranger to both. Marrying someone who would understand him implicitly, the many nuances that made him; hunting with his cousins for small game in the savannah grasslands stripped of his fancy clothes, eating deliciously prepared okoho with smoked fish that stretched like rubber to the uninitiated and having his wife speak to him and his unborn children in their mother tongue drew him like a moth to an open flame. He would grow to love her in the most important way they said, not the whimsical and fancy way the movies he watched made it out to be. He sighed, his hand cupping his chin.

Ochanya wept softly. Her mother, Ehi, cajoled and tended to her gently. She remembered her own marriage so many years ago, all the apprehension and fear of marrying someone she didn’t know well. She also knew she was going to have to do more than most women for Elika’s laziness did not start recently. Fathers kept their daughters far away from him as though his laziness were contagious. Her impoverished family was glad to have her taken out of their hands practically shoving her into his waiting arms. They were practically squatters on the corners of their ancestral lands doomed to work the fallow lands in the hopes of a meagre harvest. At least with Elika she had a home in a vibrant community and could work a small patch of very fertile land for vegetables for her use and for sale. Yams, the crop men farmed were given to them by Elika’s extended family to cover their shame at his refusal to work.

She wiped Ochanya’s tears and spoke to her in low tones. She sang her favourite songs and soon Ochanya was smiling again even though her heart cried bitter tears. Her father had chosen and it was final. A web of older women made up of aunties and grandmas held her trapped in invisible age-old bonds of submission and acceptance of a Patriarch’s word. The prison she lay in to be primed with gems and trussed with silk was crafted by time and she was powerless against it.

Ehi brought out the makeup and skilfully applied the Otanjile dark and fine lining around Ochanya’s eyes, the whites glistened. Next she applied the Ewo, bright red on her lips. A few spots of black were applied in the middle of her brows and her face was dusted with powder. Her hair was braided high and extended a long graceful line past her neck corralled with beads. Her grandmother held out her new bridal waist beads, all the women agreed they were expensive and the latest fashion as were the wrappers and jewellery from her in-laws. They showed their approval with admiring glances.

Someone offered her a drink. She took a sip and told her mother she needed the toilet.

“It’s just her being nervous Ehi”, her grandmother said fleetingly suspicious as the toilet was located at the edge of the group of huts that made up the homestead.

“Are you sure? Ochanya” Ehi implored.

“Yes mama, and I need to go now” Ochanya replied.

“Ah ah!” The women murmured. “Go on quickly and be back, go with your cousin Ada”

Ada rose and wrapped her cloth around her breasts tighter, making a knot under her armpit. Ochanya also wore something similar as she hadn’t changed into the ones specially made for the traditional marriage. One would find it difficult to tell who the bride was apart from Ochanya’s elaborate hair do and makeup. They snuck out of her mother’s hut throwing on a piece of nondescript cloth over her hair in disguise. She was meant to be sequestered away until the appointed time.

Ochanya ran along with Ada. The leaves caressed her arms as she ducked here and there avoiding low branches. The plants poured a carpet of flowers on the path. The fragrance was heady as always and was tinged with a hint of sadness. They slowed to a stop listening intently to see if they were being followed, Ochanya mouthed the song in her heart, ‘sad tomorrows’.

A tear drop marred her makeup but she trudged along, hoping to see Ameh. Would he go to their secret place in anticipation? After all they were kindred souls and she willed him to be there. For one last kiss, one last touch. They walked gingerly so as not to disturb the leaves; silently they peered through the branches and she saw him.

Ochanya paused, mid motion and drank in the sight of Ameh. Strong, brawny and rippling Ameh; handsome Ameh was beneath the trees, on a bed of palm fronds and banana leaves. But his arms were wrapped around the ebony form of another woman; an undulating breast peeked betwixt their embrace. Ochanya shrieked, the sound was quickly trapped in Ada’s palm as she reached across and covered her mouth. She dropped to the floor in agony shocked at the ease with which he had moved on, un-prodded by the weight of duty and tradition.  Ada wouldn’t let her be. She half dragged her along as they walked homewards, along the path from where they came.

The dance troupe called to entertain the guests was belting out their most popular tunes. Both families were trying their best to outdo the other dancing and there was laughter all around. Adeyi strode in majestically like a young prince. He and his friends squatted in obeisance to the elders of Ochanya’s family. Elika’s grin was permanently plastered on.

When the bride was ushered in, resplendent in her beautiful clothes, there was ululating and singing. She was more subdued than her friends and cousins who walked her in to the itakpa. They danced and clapped their joy. She looked around wildly like a trapped animal and went through the motions to show her consent. Her father watched her carefully; glad she didn’t disgrace the family by publicly showing her hesitation.

Adeyi sat quietly watching her intently. Her eyes cold as glass rested momentarily upon him and turned abruptly away. An icy chill gripped his heart and he wondered what he had gotten himself into. He would have thought she would be grateful, eager. He was stunned at the idea that she may not be as keen as all the other women who constantly threw themselves at him. Her shoulders stiff as an iroko tree looked like an impregnable wall.

He should have stayed with Samantha, his West Indian ex-girlfriend; the laughter they shared walking on the beach and gazing lazily at the sky on summer evenings, the setting sun showing off her artistry painting different colours and hues which they tried in vain to capture in lilting poetry. She said they were soul mates; it seemed he might just be wedding himself to a mate from hell instead.

Ochanya’s beauty had captivated him from that first time he saw her and he had been glad and relieved the wife chosen wasn’t some gnarled woman baked by the harshness of the tropical sun. The fact that she was a person with feelings hardly occurred to him, it ran like an undercurrent utterly unimportant in the grand scheme of things; the goal of bringing up the next generation with some tribute to their ancestors had appeared paramount above all else. Now, why was he waxing philosophical he thought to himself pensive. The beautiful music refused to lift his mood.

The ceremony was over by nightfall, the lone chirping from an insect cut through the night’s silence like the constant dribble from a thatched roof after a rainy day.  Adeyi and Ochanya sat on the stools in his room in silence. He tried to make small talk but she refused to answer any of his questions. She held unto a handbag he bought as part of her wedding trousseau as though her life depended on it.

He tried one more time. “You should at least change from your clothes and go to sleep?”

She ignored him staring straight ahead. A few minutes later, he was fast asleep tired from the long day. Ochanya stared at him; this stranger lying on the bed across from her. She gingerly changed, happy to take off her uncomfortable wedding clothes and careful not to wake him up. She moved closer to the lantern and lowered the wick but did not turn it off entirely. A hard bound cover on the table caught her eye. She sat on the chair and picked it up and her countenance changed, lifted by a happy smile. It was ‘Pride and Prejudice’!

The reverend sister at her primary school which she hadn’t yet completed at eighteen having started her education late for a lack of schools had allowed her read it by chance. She loved reading. The texts that were a part of their curriculum could not satisfy her hunger once she discovered fiction books. Sister Jane had noticed her love of reading and fed the hunger with a wide variety from her ample library.

She held the hard cover excitedly. She had read it almost to the very end, enjoying every morsel from Jane Austen every chance she got; one of her regrets was not finishing the book due to her marriage. Oh how she looked forward to finishing school whilst married, the only hope in a long tunnel. She turned the wick, setting the flame to as high as she could and settled down to Mr Darcy and Elizabeth.

Adeyi found her curled up at dawn the book opened flat across her face. His stunned expression was a picture. He was shocked his wife had any interest in literature. Instead of cuddling up to his new bride through the night, there she lay clinging to one his favourite books of all time. A tender smile played around his mouth. She lifted the book waking up and her gaze met his; hers, tired from reading through the night.

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

She smiled at the incredulity of his quote from the much loved book.

“Imagination, yes. Admiration, love and matrimony? Surely Adeyi, you and I are mirroring the quote backwards, if at all?”

She turned her gaze away from him in embarrassment; maybe she was being too forward she thought suddenly shy.

“Ah imagination, I love imagination” he said a glint in his eyes. He stretched out his hands for a handshake.

“I am Adeyi, good morning and how do you do?”

“I’m Ochanya,” she answered airily taking the proffered hand, “pleased to meet you, how do you do?”

They laughed out loud at their silliness, surprising each other with the sudden conspiratorial and near chummy tint. He leaned over her chatting excitedly both of them flitting across the pages; him sharing his thoughts and she lending him her eyes.

The future looming large and unknown may not be a desert after all; it may well be a thriving garden blossoming out of the seeds of a faltering friendship and watered with the tentative hope that trailed like a ribbon encircling them on the very first morning of their married life.


Embers (Poetry)

IPhone Pix1 2539 - Copy


By Veronica Nkwocha

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

in bonds
made of the tendrils
reaching for you
The clasp elusive
in knots
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