Saving Bitrus (Flash Fiction)

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Saving Bitrus

By Veronica Nkwocha

Bitrus answered; “When all these arguments fade as time does its thing and we all pass on handing our baton to the next generation, it is posterity that will judge what strides each one of our elected leaders have made. It has a way of washing away all the dross and only the gold will remain. The yardstick that will be used will by many; how do they compare to others in their same situation, have they taken the cause for which they were elected as their primary duty or have they become distracted, aflush with the wealth of the masses and pissing in the wind? We are but a cacophony of voices eager to be heard but only the truth will remain; we turn their actions this way and that and some fiddle with the dross and hold it up in triumph, mediocrity reigns. From where she seats, posterity shakes her head, you can white wash a sepulchre but the inside will still be full of remains. May those who are working circumspect and leaving a legacy for the next generation be blessed.”

James laughed heartily, “Tori, all na story my brother, wetin all dis ya grammar come mean na?”

Okoro interjected, “Abi, no mind am, too much grammar mtcheww”, he concluded with a long drawn hiss.

James continued agreeing whole heartedly with Okoro, “Na too much book naim come be im problem, abeg give me food chop, make my pickin go school naim be my own”.

Bitrus perplexed that he could not reach them, supposing them intellectually incompetent ranted even louder.

“You must remove your gaze from your bellies and your wants and seek out the common good. Of what use is it to you if you are fed to the brim and your neighbour starves? What good is it if only your own children have an education and the rest wallow in government induced ignorance due to a lack of funding for good schools?”

They looked at him worried, both Okoro and James.

“This man don sick finish”, Okoro said and they both shook their heads with pity.

They walked away, they had only gone a few meters when they looked back and beheld a sight that had them nodding in understanding. Bitrus stood facing a wall, his book tucked tightly under his armpit, a discreet air about him. He was peeing, its trajectory directed at the base of the wall where it splattered against the dull and faded painting.

James said out loud in wonder, “This one naim be the ‘pissing in the wind’ wey im dey talk?”

Okoro shouted, “Hey, hey you dere, abi you no fit see the tin wey dem write for wall?”

Bitrus looked up at the bold and bright red lettering; DO NOT URINATE HERE.

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/

The Lone Elephant

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The Lone Elephant
By Veronica Nkwocha

A certain family of Elephants were on a long journey across vast plains, deserts in search of water. The journey would take them weeks upon weeks.

The Matriarch was strong, she was wise and above all, she had the fire of ten thousand men. She led them, walking alone. Apart and slightly ahead, a lone powerful beacon; through the hills she triumphed, through the valleys, she inspired. And the elephants all followed her. They were tired, they were growing weaker by the day but they had the fire of mama’s leading to urge them on. To the hope of water for everyone, to life.

As the sun set one terrible day, a lion found them. It sniffed for the weakest and trailed the broken. Those who had undergone the journey over the years had the experience to carry on; they were at the fore of the journey, right behind the Matriarch, each one eager for the oasis that was nearly within sight. They could smell it in the air, and most importantly, they saw their old faded footprints from a distant past to show them the way.

At the far end limping along though, were the calves. They tried with all their waning strength to keep up with the herd but their small legs betrayed them.

The lion was getting closer and closer. It gnawed at the heels of the last of them all, a lone yearling, the smallest calf, drawing blood. She limped along frightened and yelping in pain.

Then something strange happened. The stronger, older and wiser elephants surrounded their lone kin to protect her from the lion.

They bellowed and trumpeted, they stomped running around wildly, their large frames covered in a canopy of dust wafting from their terrible anger at the prowling lion.

They formed a bulwark against the rampaging hunter and provided a secure refuge for…
their lone beacon, the Matriarch,
closing their ears to the bitter cry of the lone yearling even as the lion took her away,
the smallest of them all.

*It is easy to be strong for the strong, the true test of humanity is whether we can be as strong for the weak.

Love’s Hearth (Poetry)

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Love’s Hearth
By Veronica Nkwocha

Love is…
the laughter we share in the morning
as we walk out the front door
and go our separate ways…
The happiness lingers and trails us
as we go about our day.

Love is…
an unending ribbon that wrap us,
tickling our hearts
and lighting our eyes.
Echoes of our laughter draw us,
back through that door
ushering us into our hearth.

The Oil Boom Kids

So I found something I wrote ages ago (late 80s) and I was gobsmacked at my…handwriting! It was clear, precise and pleasing to the eye if I may say so. If you were born in Nigeria in the tumultuous years of the Civil War and in the early 70s, I would say, the piece should resonate. There is a lot of generalisation (please pardon me, confused teen/fresh uni student/jambite) and a great deal of it is written from my own childhood (hangs head and hides).

Where there are tales about content children, it would not apply to everyone and I apologise for writing in a hurry and never getting back to re-writing and editing it. I reproduce it here, flaws and all just so you get a feel of one perspective in the Nigerian tale. It is a fragment (albeit a real one) of the picture of the journey of Nigeria.
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The Oil Boom Kids
Written by Veronica Anuga

Out of the ashes, a child is born. From out of anarchy, of chaos, a generation is created. Spewed forth in the heights of war and at the crash of the reign of turmoil, fear and helplessness, they symbolise a pause from the ache, a hope for the battered generation.

In that golden era of the post war days when the oil boom served as a balm to healing wounds, the light of the future gleamed, bright. The tottering giant towered, its granary was full and in the bowels of its earth, the oil lay, thick and murky; the black gold. Nigeria was on the rungs of ladder of success, at the brink of self-actualisation. The climb, it knew, would be fast paced but sure; its way greased with the very oil that was its bargaining power.

The early 70s was a period most Nigerians remember today with nostalgia. A period where small towns grew to large cities. The movement from rural settings to the urban, mono-directional. The need for manpower for the ever growing industrialisation was unparalleled with the number of skilled workers. A lot of emphasis was placed on education. Primary, post primary and tertiary institutions grew in number to accommodate this need. Well-equipped hospitals were available and accessible. The standard of living was high, food, clothing and basic amenities were cheap. The growth of infrastructure was dynamic and the network of roads, a kaleidoscope of high technology.

The oil boom kids were born into homes where material needs were not lacking. There were enough toys to play with, plenty of food to warm their tiny bellies and in school, the quality of education was standard. Teaching aids were readily available. Most school children had good uniforms and most importantly, they wore shoes.

Time moved on and the generation grew, unaware of the intricacies that were a part of its life. The intricacies; the mind of corrupt leaders who uncaring of the after effects, fell victim of the ‘chop’ syndrome.

The late 1979 and the early 80s marked the era of Democracy, where Nigeria still towered, a giant but with the beginnings of crumbling feet. The politicians, as though filled with an innate undying hunger, mismanaged grossly the floundering economy, enacted short sighted economic policies and were masterminds at creating and awarding invisible contracts.

The children now on the verge of becoming full-fledged adults were spectators in a complicated game of chess, powerless to move the pawns that would determine their future. At the close of the day, the Prize is to be laid at their feet, their responsibility? How to carry on.

The glut in oil prices in the international scene coupled with the purposelessness of an inadequate administration saw Nigeria into an era of confusion. It was all a beginning, the worst was yet to come.

Through all this, the oil boom kid is growing. While in the tertiary institution which is his right which he realises he’s lucky to get considering that the generation yet to come might not, he hears stories. Of how the amenities he cannot but imagine, were available. Three square meals provided by the school, a standard library bulging with information from all over the world, where the dynamism of fresh discoveries require for one to keep up to date, clean modern facilities, enough chairs in the lecture halls and a job right after. His dream of being a part of what was while he was growing trickle slowly through his fingers. He is not alone.

The picture at the very end of the tunnel sighted in the oil boom days might have been otherwise blurred. How else can one justify the existence of two very different pictures? The playgrounds where these very kids played are now in ruins. The tiny little children hurrying off to school in the mornings have no school buses. They run along on bare feet and tattered uniforms some of them on a breakfast of watery pap. They will not be punished for being unkempt when they get to school, no, they are a product of the society, a mirror of the society. In their classrooms, the baby voices singing ‘baa baa black sheep…’ might not be sitting on chairs, might not be reading from books because they have none.

Meanwhile the oil boom kids have grown. They are the oil doom youths. Victims of a low quality education where the undergraduate need not ask what ‘001’ means; victims of a corrupt group. Nothing is more painful than the loss of a dream. They watch as those they trusted the most turn to mere children as they clutch at straws in their bid to stem the tide, powerless as a gloomy future flows unheeded carrying in its wake, the oil doom.

The giant, a mother, is breeding in her children, an anger, a fear. The towering mountain of ear-aching debts weigh heavily on their shoulders. For how long can they stoop? They are but children in an old man’s body with none of the proverbial wisdom that comes with age. The oil doom youth is restless. He is like a jungle animal on the verge of extinction, his every instinct scream, survival.

Pondering ‘Life of Pi’

Pondering ‘Life of Pi’

By Veronica Nkwocha

I watched Life of Pi.
It struck me how life has a funny way of throwing us out of our comfort zone.
It is inevitable.
Life is but a swing and we must brace ourselves for the ups and downs.
Sometimes she comes when we are least prepared but like Pi, we find on the inside, an inner strength that astounds us and our naysayers.
Tomorrow must come.
And tomorrow, full of life and love can be birthed from adversity and a seeming hopelessness.
Those who hold our hands through it all may come from the unlikeliest of places,
the ferocious tiger tamed to a degree how can it be?
Miracles pop out and usher us along as we traverse life’s path and bring cheer along dreary dark journeys;
towards an end which may not be what we first dreamed
but stunning in its beauty and happiness all the same.
The sheer miracle of having survived those dark days make up for the all the melancholy music that hummed
tauntingly
beckoning
as though towards an eternal hopelessness.
No, your end will surely be better,
the human spirit triumphs once again.

*P.s. I wrote this many months ago when I watched ‘Life of Pi’