Falling

So, in the spirit of a naked flying baby, and his bountiful assembly of pointy arrows, I present… “Falling”

 

My day was like a thunderstorm

Yours was also not the norm

Now two tired heads lie side by side

In peaceful silence of twilight tide

I am locked in your silken gaze

When I feel my lips

Curve into a startled smile…Why?

For love is the colour in your eye

We are breathing slowly

Your breath with mine, wholly

I blink, I think I see you wink

As night befalls in sync

And when our vision moulds with the dark room

You unfold your arms and hold me

I love you, is what you told me

Right before sleep came

And stole me

 

Originally published in a lazy bedroom journal…

06/10/2010

💘

To pluck a flower

 

The unusual sound startles me awake. I listen with premature crust in squinted eyes, then I yawn a chuckle at how some things in Naija never change. It reverberates, this melancholic cry of something like a baby. The shudder in its echo affirms it is indeed a goat, a village goat, wailing in our suave gated community. This goat is defiant, weeping through midnight as if to foreshadow the guillotine come morning, unwilling to compromise with the festive backdrop looming–Cleo’s marriage introduction.

I’ll tell you how it’s often done. First there’s the introduction; a dramatic prelude to the traditional wedding. It’s basically our version of an on bended knee’s I declare my love to you proposal. The groom-to-be you see, the boyfriend, he shows up at the house of the girlfriend–as though they weren’t the ones kissing yesterday at Silverbird galleria over movies and ridiculously expensive popcorn. He shows up at her house with his kinfolk to tell her parents how he just happened to be walking by and saw a beautiful flower in their compound, a beautiful flower he must come and pluck because he has never, ever, ever, in all his life, seen such a special flower.

I attended an introduction once with Cleo, the man used the term “beautiful goat.” We laughed on the backyard floor after this.

“Veny, that’s what some tribes say.” Cleo explained to me later. “Some people see goats, others see flowers.”

“Which one are you?” I had asked as we shared chin-chin off a chipped soup bowl.

She scoffed tucking her thick hair behind her ear. “Girl, do I look like a goat?”

She didn’t. She was a beauty. I liked to believe within me I was just like her. Maybe not by our physical features, but the true me tucked far away inside was Cleo’s twin, the me that was special. That me was Cleo because she lived all the exact dreams of my heart. She did as an unobserved habit, things I had never gotten the chance to do. She had let go and forgotten men I would never get to love. Jaiye would call her flower come morning.

The introduction doesn’t end there. When the boyfriend arrives with a few relatives or intimate clansmen, and the in-laws to be ask what he has come for as though the date for the introduction had not been set by both parties, the boyfriend bows and explains about the flower.

Then they all act as if they do not know it is their daughter he speaks of. Next, other females of the family emerge one after the other and this is accompanied by a monotonous, “A flower? A flower! Who could it be? Is it this one?”

And the young man–poor guy, has to reply with even more embellished vigour, “No Papa, No Mama, it is not this one.”

Until his girlfriend finally ushers herself out and then with dreamy eyes he gasps, “Aha! Yes Papa, Yes Mama, it is that one! I have seen my flower.”

The Parents grant their permission after this and traditional etiquette commences: breaking and sharing of kola, verbal agreements, champagne popping–preludes to lengthy toasts and prayers, cheers, music, laughter, awkward borderline-vulgar jokes from that one elderly Uncle, while yesterday’s sulking goat sizzles a delicious anxiety through everyone’s throats, as smoke from the barbeque grill outside curls to heaven. This, is the fate of the goat.

Banter meets the evening with mouthwatering Jollof rice and chicken chunks. Side dishes of salads dripping with Bama mayonnaise escort the skewered untimely goat, peppered to taste. Bellies brim fill as official dates are finalized. Everyone is happy.

The traditional wedding will come with its own grandeur, enchanting ankara and delightful aso-ebi. And then the final step–the white wedding, glimmering with soft fuchsia bouquets and that delicate poof of fairytale lace. This, is the fate of the girl.

Afterwards Cleo for instance, will go on to live happily ever after … I grab my Blackberry, slip on my earpiece, and pull the duvet over my head. Then I scroll through playlist 2: Jamz. Tuface is singing to me now, I feel a little special. In that fleeting silence between the end of one song and the beginning of another, I still hear the goat, crying.

Damaged Goods

It was another world, like a village lost in a city. It lay somewhere between the long highway stretch that connected High-level Makurdi to the Federal Medical Centre in Api. Somewhere in this quiet mist of uncertain development I lived, forgotten, in this place, another world–like a village lost in a city.

Because it was the largest public building in the district, church was school on weekdays and school was church on Sundays. It was always kept tidy and I was respected by my friends because I lived right opposite its divine glory.

Our Principal lived in the same prestigious line as well, so I was the first to meet Ms Betty when she finally arrived. Ms. Betty had come from overseas to stay in Makurdi a whole year, representing an NGO that would support the special parts of town; places like mine.

Ms Betty was so big her chin sat in a chin of its own, her breasts sulked to her belly, her belly stooped to her pelvis and there was nothing more for her thighs to do but thunder ripples when she walked. Yet she moved with a darting stride, as though it was all a costume she carried underneath her flesh.

She wouldn’t let us call her Aunty, she preferred Ms Betty. She gave us long hugs and said Oyoyo in the silliest accent. I loved her. She brought with her so many storybooks that a wooden library was built in the church court-yard. She brought toys I had seen only in cartoons, cartons of Indomie, baskets of vegetables from Wurukum every week, and so many packets of marshmallows I ran out of fingers and toes to count.

Our Principal seized the marshmallows then announced to us during assembly, “I will present one packet each to the best three pupils every end of term!”

Every morning I prayed to God that the marshmallows would not expire before I came first position. Every night after homework I would lie in bed ignoring my little brother’s noise, imagining instead, the taste of marshmallows until sleep crawled into our room.  In my dreams marshmallows were sweeter than chin-chin, ice-cream and birthday cake.

Then a month into her arrival Ms Betty met him; Kamanga, our French teacher who came once a week–a slender young man from Cameroon with honey-gold eyes and long stories. He always arrived playing his brown guitar, strolling down the dirt road all the way to the church building.

After the Principal introduced Kamanga to Ms Betty, he played her a welcome song right in front of the whole assembly. She laughed like a small baby and wiped her eyes with a hanky.

Two months later we heard the news; Kamanga and Ms Betty would be having a traditional wedding in Makurdi and when her time with us was over they would return to her country for the white wedding.

Our principal didn’t seem to like the idea. But I was happy Ms Betty would be getting married and even happier that everyone was invited to the traditional wedding. I planned to wear my Christmas dress.

Ms Betty’s office during school hours was Pastor Victory’s reflection room. I was allowed in there because I was class monitor, appointed by Ms Betty herself, so I was the one in charge of important duties like dusting the blackboard, organizing the wash-hand basin and writing names of noise-makers.

There was this box in her office I adored; so beautiful I could swear it was edible; a pink parcel with a giant bow glued to its top. It was too pretty to just sit there on a quiet shelf, and worst of all she had slapped a strip of dull masking tape across it that read, damaged goods.

Inside it she kept a little chipped mug, an old trinket, a tired hair brush and bits of odds and mismatched ends of other things whose functions I was unsure. Once I said to her, “Ms Betty, why don’t you throw away these things from your fine box?”

“Oh I don’t know,” she laughed, “guess I just hate to toss stuff away,  you know?”

Ms Betty gave me a pocket book of poems once.  My favourite was one that read,

With good news comes bad news

And bad news; good

For good news is no news

 If bad is mute

 

I would come to understand its meaning one morning in July when our principal announced that Ms Betty had returned to her country. This was bad news, terrible news, the suddenness of it–wrenching. For days I wandered about in a daze waiting to wake up from this nightmare. Why had she left us so soon?

But then I learnt to accept the bad news for it had come with good. Ms Betty had left behind more gifts; each child would receive a colouring book and one new toy during Monday assembly. Also Mr. Kamanga would not be leaving us anymore.

And behold there was more good news; and I had heard this from our principal himself when he came to visit my mother. “Kamanga’s pregnant wife from Cameroon is finally coming to join him.” He winked, “I told you Dorcas! Told you that man was married!”

“You always get to the bottom of things!” My mother clapped her hands laughing.

I wanted to be as excited as them but again I was confused, wasn’t Kamanga supposed to marry Ms. Betty?

I tried to take the good with the bad as much as I could, but I was unhappy most of the time.

After school when I would sit in front of my house, watching the cars speed across the highway, I found solace in day dreaming that I was a broken trinket in Ms Betty’s pink parcel. In there I slept on a bed of pink marshmallows and travelled with her, wherever she went.

 

Sin

I’m pleased to share my short story “Sin” published on the amazing Brittle Paper blog.

Enjoy…

Sin | by Cuba Ukoh | An African Story

A curious case of…innocence?

Qba photography

 

They say the journey from childhood to youth

is the gradual loss of innocence

was she ever?

I do not remember…

seeing her lost in this theoretical purity

with that welded heart of hers

broken first by life

Much like Benjamin she was to be born, old

but not by her body, just in her buttoned plight,

yet not so much in her wisdom …

hence a pardon for her mistakes?

So maybe only in this manner

could I concur,

that indeed she was once,

in some twisted way … at first a child.

 

Remembering you…

In loving memory of Chinua Achebe …

 

To Achebe, (originally published on the African Renaissance Theatre blog, 31/03/2013)

 

 

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To Achebe,

 

Tell me it’s not true, say it isn’t you

From childhood I watched

As age in its tender pace

Began to contour your face

Still I swore, I would get to meet you

If only I wrote, and wrote faster

My wish would come true!

But beyond day dreams conjured,

Life happened …

And like all things that come, they go

But even from death’s embers I know

Your legacy shall eternally glow

And though now you tread the dead men’s path

Things do not fall apart

Your words will always traverse my heart

 As you remain for now and always;

A man of the people

 

Sincerely,

Cuba

 

Night

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Photo Credit: Cuba Ukoh

Once upon the nights, when we were young together,

That time it was when fear remembered it had its eyes to open, stalking us,

In whispers we unfurled to each other, boundless conversations that were really, secrets in the dark

Then in the luster of morning, when sunlight had come over our faces,

It was not shame we felt looking at each other.

It was this intrepid dawning, that through all of your mistakes and mine,

We might despite all; thread this life together, until the night came upon,

When it would be my last, or maybe yours.