I marvelled at the wonderful sea creatures as I swam deep in the sea. I love being an underwater diver and researcher, as a child my siblings used to nickname me “mami water( mermaid).” Because that was the only thing I ever talked about. I read books tirelessly about water life both plants and animals, I always knew I loved the sea and the ocean but I wasn’t really sure what to do about it.
My parents wanted me to study medicine and so I did, but while I was in school studying medicine, my friend told me once about his distance cousin who worked as a researcher for a marine agency. Then it clicked! I knew what I wanted to become! Lucky for me, my friend also told me about another marine agency in the united states that was open for entries from African countries and the requirement was that you should write an extensive article on aquatic life. I did this and I was accepted! With free training from their agency and a good pay when the training is done.
I was so happy and so was the rest of my family, except my dad. He insisted that I continue studying medicine but I didn’t listen and dropped out to go after my passion, my father and I didn’t speak for a year then he fell very sick and there wasn’t any money to treat him. When I heard this, I flew all the way from the US and paid for his medical bills, it was in the hospital that we finally reconciled.
Just then, a flounder swims past me then stops in front of my face, facing me as if trying to figure out who I am, then turns around and waves its tail at me, then speeds off. I smile under my oxygen mask and wave back at it as it swims away.
Truly, it is a beautiful thing when one follows his dreams.
The fourteen days of nature have finally ended! Meaning I’ll be going on my break from now!
The cool water refreshed my skin as my friends splashed the water from the river on me whilst we swam happily in it. Going to the river early in the morning to fetch water, never seemed like a chore but a source of joy to my friends and I. Oh! What fun we always had there and how we gossiped by the river side!
I can never forget the day when I went to the river one early morning without the company of my friends and I accidentally saw a mans nakedness because he was bathing there. I was so embarrassed but the man was very understanding, we became friends that same day and one year later, we became husband and wife. Ah! My lovely husband, may God bless his soul.
But all these wonderful moments are just memories now, memories that I’ll hold dear to my heart till the day I die. I am now a very old woman who is always confined to a wheelchair because my legs are now to weak to carry me but as I sit down in my room remembering the days of my youth, I feel eighty years younger.
“Grand ma!” My youngest grand daughter shouted bringing me back to the present, “I have been calling you since ma. What were you thinking about?” She asks me.
“Rivers.” I tell her.
“Rivers?” She asks again but this time with a puzzled look on her face.
I hated the construction site I worked in, because of the role I played there, collecting rocks. I disposed of all the rocks that were in the workers way, it was a hefty and very tiresome job but a girl has to eat and survive in this big city of Lagos.
As I worked, packing the rocks in my head pan, so I could go dispose it in a pile nearby, I accidentally kicked my right foot into a large rock. “Aaargh!” I screamed, “stupid rocks.”
“Gloria, Gloria talking to herself as usual.”
I turned around to face Bode, one of the workers here, somehow I preferred the rocks to him.He was a huge problem I had to deal with everyday aside the rocks.
I just rolled my eyes at him and continued my tedious work. I could feel his eyes all over my back as I bent down and picked the rocks.
“When would you give me a chance Gloria? I…”
“Never! In your filthy life, filthy pig!” I sneered at him, interrupting whatever rubbish he was about to say.
His face contorted into a scowl, “has it come to name calling now? Because I am even trying to help you? Who would ever want to be with a dirty girl like you?”
I ignored him and turned to the rocks, I really did not have time for all this nonsense.
“I’ll surely get you!” I heard him say behind me, then followed by him snapping his fingers. I breathed a sigh of relief, finally he’s gone and I could continue my work of disposing these useless rocks.
Night has come and it was finally time for me to go the shanty I called home, my mother had died two years ago, so there isn’t anyone to worry about my whereabouts at night. I walked alone on the dirty streets of Ajegunle, my Dunlop slippers making a splatting sound on the ground as I walked. Then I heard a sound, like someone was following me, I turned around but nobody was there maybe it was just my imagination.
But I soon realized how wrong I was when someone grabbed me from behind to a corner, then down to the floor and got on top of me, I struggled but the person had me pinned down. When I looked up, I saw the person’s face at it was none other than Bode.
Because of the way we struggled, I managed to knee him in his lower abdomen, he withdrew in pain, clutching the area I kneed him in. I got up and started running.
“Get back here Gloria!!” I heard him roar from behind but I kept on running. I spotted a rock nearby, I stopped running then picked it up, soon Bode caught up with me, “finally I’m going to have you.” He tells me with an ugly smile on his face.
I don’t say anything, I just throw the rock at him, it hits his left eye and he falls down instantly. Instead of me to run, I stand still, is he dead? Have I killed him? Were the thoughts running through my head. Then Bode sits up, holding his left eye, his other eye that wasn’t hit by the stone is blood red and tears are flowing from it.
“Do you know what Gloria?!” He growls, “you’re a bastard.” With that, he gets up and starts walking away, murmuring something incoherent to himself.
I smiled then went over to where the rock I had used to hit Bode was, picked it up then tossed it in my hand a little. “I guess you’re not totally useless.” I said to the rock.
Harmattan: a very dry, dusty easterly or north-easterly wind on the West African coast, occurring from December to February.
The dry harmattan breeze blew rather harshly that evening as I made my way through the dusty streets of Kano to go buy food from a local restaurant near by. I sighed under the handkerchief I held to cover my nose and mouth from dry harsh wind. I had always hated harmattan, as a child I would get seriously sick and cough all the time coupled with the nose bleeding and the harmattan this year is seeming like the worst I’m going to experience yet.
The engineering company I work for had posted me to the remotest part of Kano for a road building project. I sighed again, this year wasn’t really my year, I thought to myself. Then, bringing me out of my thoughts, two kids in school uniform, twins because they bore the same face came running around me forming a circle. I stood there unsure of what to do, then they finally stopped.
“I’m Paul.” One of them tells me, “and I’m Peter.” His brother chirps in happily.
“We’ve heard of what you’re doing here, our father talks about you every time.” Paul tells me smiling from ear to ear.
“Yes every time.” His brother Peter confirms with a nod.
I smiled under the handkerchief, “I’m glad to hear that.”
Both the boys smiles’ dropped simultaneously, “why are you talking through that?” Peter asks me with a puzzled look.
“Yes take it off.” Paul says as well.
“Stop disturbing the engineer.” I heard a very soft feminine voice say, I turned around to see who could possibly be my saviour and I couldn’t help but awe.
The lady walking towards us was exceptional in all means, her ebony skin as dark as midnight itself was like a work of art compared to the dull dusty streets and her smile with those perfect teeth of hers was so beautiful, none of this compared to her eyes that were big and coffee brown, she was dressed simply in a plain skirt and top but yet she looked exquisite.
“I’m sorry about them, I was about dropping them of at their parents, we had a late extra mural class.” She tells me with a smile.
I smiled as well , “you’re a teacher?” I ask her but this time, I don’t talk through the handkerchief. Honestly I didn’t know when I stopped holding it to my mouth.
“Yes, it isn’t much but I love it. Well it can’t be compared to what you do, everyone’s talking about you.”
I laughed then shook my head, “all occupations are important because in one way or the other we all have our impact in society.”
She nodded in response then turned in the direction of the twins who busied themselves with some pile of cans.
“I’ll need to start going now, it was nice talking to you.” She says with a small smile.
“Do you mind if I walk with you and drop them off?” I found myself asking.
“Wouldn’t it be a bother? Weren’t you on your way somewhere?”
“No, I was taking a walk anyways.” I lie.
“Okay.” She tells me, “why not?”
“May I know your name?” I ask her. She gigges, laughter never sounded so glorious till now.
“Rukky and you?”
“Alex, its a pleasure meeting you Rukky.”
The dusty streets didn’t seem so unbearable anymore as I walked with Rukky and each of the twins at our sides, in fact it seemed wonderful. Maybe the harmattan wasn’t going to be so bad this year.
I sat down in a corner, my head bent, covering my ears so I could stop hearing the chaos going on in my village. The Hausa soldiers had raided our village, the whole village was in turmoil. They were slaughtering people like chickens, house after house. My head shot up in horror as I heard Mama Nkechi shout her husband’s name, then her children joined in the shouting, I scrambled closer into the corner unsure of what to do and where to begin, the baby inside of me kicked violently, as if aware of the chaos outside.
I had mixed feelings about my late husband, I was grateful that he wasn’t here to witness this but at the same time, I wish he were here, he would have thought of something quick to get us out of this.
The door rapped loudly, making me to jolt in shock, they had finally come to my house, it was time for my death and the death of my unborn child. I felt hot tears flow down my cheek as I sat down there helpless.
Then from my window near by, the moonlight shone so bright as day itself. I looked out and saw a path to a forest nearby, the path was clear from any Hausa soldier, so I quickly climbed out of the window and ran towards the forest. For a nine month pregnant woman, this was far from easy but I had to go on for the life of my child. One of the soldiers saw me and raised an alarm, and soon five soldiers were on my tail. I finally stopped behind a big tree to breath a little.
“We know you are here woman!” One of the solider announced inside the forest, “it would do you good if you come out, we would make your death a lot less painful.” He said then laughed, his men also laughed with him like he said the most funny thing on earth.
I held my breath, maybe they’ll get tired and just go away. But my hopes were soon dashed when my water broke then followed by intense pain, I screamed. The soldiers immediately spotted me, one of them looked at me smiling devilishly then brought out a large knife, I screamed again both because of my impending death and another contraction.
As if the heavens heard my cry, everywhere went dark, the bright moonlight was no where to be seen. The soldiers were confused at this like I was, they soon started quarreling in the dark and not long after, I head fists colliding, screaming and flesh being slashed.
I moved closer to the tree and worked on pushing out my baby. This went on for over an hour, then the moonlight came back and I saw her, my beautiful daughter, even though she was born in all this chaos, she was the most beautiful little thing I ever saw, she let out a cry, a very healthy one at that. I laughed while tears of joy ran down my face. I quickly used one of the wrappers on me and swaddled her, I looked around and all the Hausa solders were on the ground, cut badly, bleeding profusely and dead.
I looked up at the moonlight, “eclipse.” I murmured to myself, I had heard of it once, the white man said it happens to both the sun and the moon, when they decide to stop shining for a while.
“Onwa.” I said to my pretty daughter, “I’ll call you Onwa my child, for because of you, I was saved by the moon and its eclipse.”
There has been a tale going on for a long time in my village about a head deep within a forest so old that the name of the forest had vanished in time. The head could grant any wish to mankind, no matter how small or big. Although no one has dared to go, some say its a trap and some say its a myth but I don’t care whatever it is, I’ll go, I just have to go because that’s the only way that I can ever escape from this situation life has placed me in.
I rolled my eyes as my eldest and only surviving family echoed my name in our small compound, I didn’t feel like answering so I simply ignored him and continued munching on my chewing stick.
“Okafor.” My brother said as he came to stand in front of me, “I’ve been calling you since and you’re here sitting and chewing chewing stick? Quick, stand up get your things so we can go to the farm, hurry!” He tells me then starts walking back inside our hut.
“I’m not going.” I tell him. He stops in his tracks then turns to my direction.
“Why?” He asks me.
“Because there is no need.” I answer him then roll my eyes.
“So we won’t eat again Okafor!”
“Uche we will eat but not like this, merely managing scraps. There is a better way for us.”
Uche let out a laugh, “don’t tell me you are still thinking about that silly head in the nameless forest? It is not real! And even if it is real, there are better ways to get by and not diabolical means.”
“Oh.” I said as I eyed my brother, “what is the other way? That Christ that those ndi oyibo has brain washed you with?”
Uche didn’t say anything to me for a while, then he shakes his head and says,”I’ll be in the farm when you decide to go back to your senses”, then he walks back to our hut.
I eyed him as he walked back to the hut. How can someone have such a low mindset? How? Well, I don’t care what it takes, I’m not going to back down. The next day before dawn, I set out in search for the nameless forest. It took me three days to reach there but I finally did, it was three kilometers from another village called Nnewi which is a very far distance from my village.
The forest was huge, the trees were very tall that I could’ve sworn it touched the sky, the strangest thing is that there weren’t any animals, no sound except few birds whistling from a distance.
“Who is there?” I heard a male voice say. I ran to the direction from where the voice came, it must be the head! I thought as I ran with all my might.
When I finally reached the location I heard the voice from, I was more than delighted. There it was, the head that people like my brother claimed that it was a myth, staring up at me.
“Are you just going to stand there or would you tell me why you are here?” The head, a mans own asked me with an irritated look on his face.
I immediately got over my shock.”I’ll like to make a wish sir.”
The head nodded or rather made an attempt to.”Okay, go ahead.”The head tells me.
“I’ll like to be rich, extremely rich!”
The head smiled up at me, “you’re an ambitious fellow, you’re wish has been granted my friend.” I jumped up in delight, I couldn’t help but imagine the look on my brothers face when I’ll go back home and tell him that he was wrong.
“But there is one thing you must do.” The head suddenly says interrupting my celebration.
“Of course!” I say to the head, “anything!”
“I’ll need you to close your eyes and only open it only when I say so.”
“No problem!” I say almost shouting then close my eyes.
“Open them now.” I heard the head’s voice say.
I opened my eyes with a broad smile on my face, but to my dismay, I’m still in the forest and it was like I’ve shrunk in height, I looked around, my body was gone! I was only a head now!
“Foolish boy!” A voice boomed in the forest, I looked around, tears blurring my vision but I didn’t see anyone there.
“Thank you for freeing me!” The voice said again followed by a series of laughter.
I have been here for so long it’s drives me crazy! Day by day I wonder what Uche must be going through, has he forgotten me or is he tirelessly searching for me? I guess I’ll never know.
Can you help me please? I just want to go back to my old life for just a day. Please I beg you, HELP ME!
I ran as fast as I could in the dark forest, but no matter how fast I ran, there were always two paces behind me. One of them struck me with their whip and I fell hard to the ground, the horned creatures laughed showing their brown coloured teeth with their snake like tongues.
As I laid there, helpless waiting for the worst to happen, a very bright light came out of nowhere and cleared away all the darkness, the creatures screamed in pain as they got burnt up by the light.
“Chinendu! Chinendu!” Was the next thing I heard. I opened my eyes and saw my little sister shaking me with all her might. “Mummy has been calling you since, she said you should come down quick.”With that she ran out of my room.
Then I felt the rays of the sun touching my skin from my window, I turned around and saw the most wonderful display of sunshine ever, the rays of the sun were draped down like beautiful golden carpets. I don’t think I’ve seen something more glorious in my entire life.
I soon realized that it was this same sunshine that saved me from those horrifying creatures. I thanked the Almighty for this golden gift of sunshine and I didn’t miss thanking the sun as well.
“Thank you Lord.” I said up to the sky, “and thank you too my golden friend.”
“Where am I?” I ask myself for what seems like the hundredth time. For some reasons unknown to me, I’ve found myself in a deserted place that comprises only of rocks and pebbles with a sky so grey it could be mistaken for smoke or is it? As I stood there in my confused state, still perplexed about the place I’ve suddenly found myself in. A gush of wind, a very harsh one catches me completely off guard and makes me to loose my balance, I fall backwards to the ground filled with pebbles and rocks.
After a while of lying on the ground in pain, I finally manage to sit up, the wind is still blowing harshly and tiny pebbles and some rocks are flying all over in the air. I shield my vision the best I could but there’s something I see in a distance, something white and so tall it touches the grey sky. I squint my eyes so I can see what could be standing so tall and still in this whole madness.
When I finally get a clearer view of what it could be, I nearly faint. A tornado! Just like the ones I’ve seen on weather fore casts, a tornado that tears to shred everything in its path is standing before me! But why isn’t it moving? I know I should be grateful that I’m not being devoured right now but I couldn’t help but wonder. Then something even more strange happens, the tornado though still spinning in one position starts to twist and whine like how a lady does. I could feel my mouth drop open as I watched this horrifying yet amusing sight, I didn’t even feel the pain from the flying rocks and pebbles anymore.
Suddenly the tornado with incredible speed starts to spin towards me, still twisting and whining. I quickly scramble to my feet and start running for my life, I fall a couple of times but I still get up and continue running. But this time I fall, I sprain my ankle so bad that I can barely move my leg. I watch in horror as the tornado gets closer to me and closer.
“NOOOO!” I scream then close my eyes but I don’t feel anything happen, no pain. I open my eyes to find myself on my bed drenched with sweat and by my both sides are the two girls I picked up from the club last night.
One of them has her arm sprawled on my chest, I pushed it off my chest roughly then sit up, she didn’t seem to notice, she just moans then turn to the other side of the bed and continues to sleep.
I sigh. “No more clubbing late at night before bed.” I say as I rub my temples to ease the headache I got not only from the weird nightmare I just had but also from a serious hang over. “Never again.”
I continued moving forward in the Arabian deserts of Dubai, blocking my vision with the back of my hand as the sandstorm continued to get worse and worse. Cover my vision as I may, it didn’t stop the sand from entering my eyes and making my vision more blurry than before. My body finally gave up as it slumped to the sand below. I used the last bit of strength in me to turn around on the sand and lie on my back as I waited for death to come, so I could join my other colleagues in the great beyond.
October 30th 1980 was the best day of my life, I can remember it like it was yesterday even though it was actually two months ago, the memory was still ever green. “He is young but has a lot of potential, that is why he has been selected to come on this research with us.” Professor David of botany from USA told the numerous mass of press men and women at the conference where we explained the exhibition we were about to embark on to discover plants said to be found in the Arabian deserts to solve incurable diseases like even cancer, the president of the united states was there along with the president of my country Nigeria, who stood there beaming with pride. I too was beaming with pride but here I am, breathing my last through a bloody nose. I closed my eyes and waited for death to come take me then I felt someone’s hand, a very soft hand touch me ever so gently.
I opened my eyes to see the most wonderful pair of caramel golden coloured eyes staring at me with concern, the face was covered in a white veil, the only thing visible in the persons face were those fascinating orbs.
“Shukraan lilialih!” The stranger, a girl breathed out with a sigh of relief with a voice so gentle and smooth like the waters that flow in the rivers.
“Hu eala qayd alhaya! Tati tati!” She shouted to three other people who came riding towards us on their camels.
“My father has servants that will give you food and clean you, do not worry”, she tells me with that melodious voice of hers.
If my body weren’t too limp and my throat so parched that I couldn’t utter a word, I would have reached out and uncovered her veil some more so I could see her face better, even if its just once and also ask for her name but instead I just smiled at this beauty before me and even though her lips were covered by the veil she wore, I could have sworn that she smiled back.
My eyes then began to flutter shut and I began to drift into a peaceful sleep where I only saw images of her, the girl with golden eyes who found me deep within the sandstorm.
Shukraan lilialih!- Thank God!
Hu eala qayd alhaya! Tati tati! – He is alive! Come come!
I’ve learnt about typhoons in class, they are terrible storms, cyclones that destroy everything in their path without mercy. I haven’t seen a typhoon before not even on television but I can say I know what it feels like to experience one, because daddy acts just like that ever since mummy left.
He’s worse than before now, then it was only harsh words but now just like a typhoon, he breaks everything he sees, screams all the time and when he drinks he hurts me real bad. I don’t blame mummy for leaving but why didn’t she take me with? Am I that bad that she doesn’t want me anymore?
My door flings open bringing me out of my thoughts, my heart beat starts to accelerate as I watch in horror my dad in a drunken state stagger to where I’m sitting, with an empty bottle of wine in his hand, his face is tear stained and his eyes are blood red.
“Why did you leave me? Do you know how much I love you?! You shouldn’t have left me Grace!” My father screams while also sobbing. He’s hallucinating again.
“Daddy no it isn’t mummy, its me your daughter.” Daddy gives out a weak laugh then staggers back, “what are you trying to say? That I’m a fool? “
“No daddy.” I say trying my best to assure him, I can feel my whole body shaking, “it’s really me, your daughter.”
“Stop saying that!” He shrieks then swings the bottle at me.
The slicing pain I feel next and the sound of shattered glass don’t let me to continue the prayer. I feel my body go limp as I drop to the floor and not long after every where goes dark.