Gentle Soul

Gentle Soul by Veronica Nkwocha

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The sun sets on our youth and old friends fall like a pack of cards in slow motion
Memories swell and rise clouding today with the sweet scent of yesterday
Gone not forgotten
Youth fragile like embers in a fading fire
I rest my head on the bosom of Day
While Night steals our strength
slowly
carefully
Painfully

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…”

Related Posts

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2015/01/12/selma-is-a-horror-movie/

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/feb/08/selma-observer-film-review

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/24/selma_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_ava_duvernay_s_new_movie_is_to_the_1965_marches.html

Cassandra (Short Story)

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Cassandra

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.

The Escape (Short Story)

I’m re-blogging this story, it was first published in May.

Veronica

The Escape

By Veronica Nkwocha

Footsteps pounding, the pavement echoing, annoyed at the slap, slap, of sandaled feet. Okon squeezed past some shrubs, sand in his hair, disturbing a hen that had been hidden away for weeks looking after her eggs. She came out fighting, scratching him in crevices he didn’t know he owned. He slapped her away and tasted feather, he spat them out quickly. He leapt over a wall; the grimy algae left a dark patch on his cream chinos trousers. He heard ripping as he landed on the other side and looked down mortified; his trousers were ripped, a line confirming his fears started from beneath his zipper and he felt a wind in his inner thighs.

“Shit” he exclaimed.

He didn’t slow down even though he felt it rip further.

His mind was full. Of words. Consternation, fear, confusion all ran riot, forming themselves into a…

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What I did last night

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What I did last night 

By Veronica Nkwocha

Nestled on the grounds of the Guildford Castle is a gazebo framed by an oak tree. It is summer and hanging plants with pretty flowers lend colour to the evening. Garden furniture sit quietly awaiting their host. A lone bird whizzed past trees high above near empty chairs. They are set out on the lawn in a slight ‘U’, a cheeky smile withholding a secret; they have seen what is about to unfold many times before. There’s time for a quick picnic and then music lures guests to their seats.

We are here to watch ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde staged by the Guildford Shakespeare Company and directed by Anna Ledwich.

The veneer of social ‘propriety’ is circumvented by friends, John (“Jack”) Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff by their creation of fictitious characters. The muddle that came out of their pretense at being Ernest brought to the fore some of the double standards that ran like an undercurrent in conversations typically clothed with etiquette.

Algernon was an effervescent character and very difficult for Jack (Ernest) to put down with his witty comebacks. He contrasted with Jack’s stern but intelligent demeanour. Lady Bracknell was the very air of uppity charm dipped in a cutting wit constantly underlining the importance of an entrenched status quo.

Gwendolen Fairfax was the vivacious and ‘modern’ woman besotted with Ernest (Jack). She formed a rivalry and then a tentative friendship with beautiful Cecily Cardew over their shared obsession with Ernest, but which one? The object of Cecily’s affection was Algernon better suited to her flighty character. The butler‘s transformation in two different households was so dramatic I didn’t realise it was the same person.

The poor local vicar Dr Chasuble was doomed to racing between his parish and Jack’s home about a christening. He seemed to drift off at the thoughts of an inspiration for a sermon. Miss Prism was pinched like a lemon and it was apt that she squeezed out the answer to the secret of ‘the handbag’. How many more hints could a girl give and still the vicar carried on oblivious. And there was ‘Bunbury’, I could almost see him in my mind’s eye, hunched over a bowl of scents to ward away the chills.

From the very first opening of the play, it was a journey into laughter; the story was delivered with panache, a charmed performance by brilliant artists. They came to life with punch and the amount of humour crammed into one play made for a lively evening. There was uninhibited laughter and a sense of camaraderie began to build in the audience with the shared experience.

There were wistful looks as the play ended and we all walked to our exit. The Gazebo was empty. But a slight smile brought a spring to the step; laughter still is the best medicine.

A Tale of the Unexpected (Okene Harrison- Underwater Sailor)

North and South Atlantic Ocean

North and South Atlantic Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tale of the Unexpected – Womb of Despair 

By Veronica Nkwocha

*Update

The unborn child growing, tranquil and awaiting its birth has no concept of fear. It is in the perfect home designed especially for his needs. A cocoon of love and nurture, very different from the ‘womb of dread’ Okene Harrison found himself in.

On the 26th of May, the tugboat he had been working in along with 11 others in the Atlantic Ocean had just capsized, and he was trapped alone in a pocket of air just 1.5m by 3m. Its wreckage 30ft underwater.

“The 470-tonne boat was towing an oil tanker for oil giant Chevron when it went down 20 miles off the Escravos region of the Nigerian coast.”

Would he be rescued? How long would his stay last? Would the air be sufficient to keep him alive?

As with a birth, he wouldn’t perpetually reside in his new home. The end of his ordeal would have been something he wanted but dreaded at the same time, it could go either way.

He was rescued sixty hours later but lost his colleagues. His rescuers have been praised for their bravery. A delicate effort as his body had normalised to the pressure underwater.

According to US Navy Salvage Officer Patrick Keenan “After spending two days at 30 meters of depth, he had become saturated, meaning his body had absorbed all the pressurized gases and equalized with the surrounding water pressure. Bringing him to surface from that depth, and after having been saturated at 3 or 4 atmospheres, could easily have killed him.”

I found the story of his rescue very hear warming and tinged with sadness for those who lost loved ones. I can imagine the intricate nature of the ‘birthing’ of Okene Harrison, every care taken to ensure one of life’s happy endings.

*Update: Here’s are links to interviews with Mr. Harrison:

I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it’s the end. I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not,” Okene said” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/12/nigeria-shipwreck-idUSL5N0EO20320130612

“… I was the one who touched the diver, I touched his head and he was shocked. He was searching and I just saw the light, so I jumped into the water. As he was shocked, he stretched out his hands. I touched him.” http://thenationonlineng.net/new/news/the-untold-story-of-chevron-boat-mishap/

“They told me all the others had died and I cried because I thought I was the only one who had been trapped in the boat”, his voice cracking. Despite suffering from nightmares and peeling skin, daily helpings of his favourite banga soup dish – a fish and palm fruit soup – have helped him feel much better, he said. He is planning to write a book on his experience.” http://africansweetheart.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/sailor-harrison-okene-describes-his.html#.UbmUGfnVCn8