Review of Kemi Ogunniyi’s “My Wife’s Husband”

By Noel A. Ihebuzor

Flash fiction as a genre is enjoying an amazing lease of life and burst of energy in Nigeria’s literary space. Kemi Ogunniyi’s “My wife’s husband” is one more manifestation of the blossoming creativity in this genre. A tale that probes relationships and loyalty, it packs a punch which is starkly at variance with its brevity.

The first striking thing about this work of art is its title, a title that sets the mind wondering whether one is engaging a work that deals with polyandry or one that suffers from some deliberate aberration in its title. When the reader emerges from the jolt caused by this provocative title, he/she then encounters a tightly told story of love where the lives of the living are tied up closely with the dead. The story of woman still in love with a dead man and the struggles of the man who loves her in the present to relate to her crisis and support her in the process is heart wrenching.

The story is compact and packed with “virtual” detail which the mind of the reader unpacks as he/she reads along. By exercising very controlled parsimony and brevity, Kemi provides space for her reader to fill out the unsaid and the unspoken – the death of a husband, the remarriage of the widow, the unhealthy love of the dead, the hallucination that comes with such obsessive attachment to the past, the long suffering of the present husband and the tragedy of dreams and lives shattered by sudden death. Kemi’s skill in this micro fiction lies partly in the space she allows us for these legitimate inferences. But beyond this, Kemi serves us a micro fiction at its very best –  a story with single focus but with multiple subterranean subthemes and streams all ambling along and supporting that single focus. The story’s denouement is startling, plausible and touching. The denouement I have referred to is not one of closure since it leaves the reader still asking more questions and wondering why! All of this is achieved in a prose passage of 309 words using a first person narrative voice where the narrator, despite his pains, manages to remain composed and dignified, thereby revealing his own capacity for empathy and love.

This micro fiction is a must read! May our land continue to witness the flourishing of creative skills of the type we have seen displayed by Kemi and ladies of her generation.

Noel Ihebuzor

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A song on waiting

By Noel Ihebuzor

 

The evening limps on dragging feet

slowly, the enlarging darkness of night

overruns the day

urging the dying day to bed and rest

the lights die out

as silence enfolds the enveloping darkness

and she waits

 

 

Time crawls on millipede feet

seconds last long like sluggish minutes

sadness and worry rest heavy

heavy on her restless pacing feet

(occasionally stamping feet)

as a damp blanket

 

Between pacing, stamping and sitting,

she stays on, stays up, eyes heavy

soul heavier, spirit drooping

wrestling with the harsh hands

of hurt and reality

that now strangle her dreams

and choke her soul

 

she checks the hum of every passing car

ears straining and acute

hearing the silent footfalls of footless spirits

responding to the call of the night

as they glide to their nocturnal haunts

 

And she wishes she could go forth like them

but she cannot

worry has hollowed her eyes

self pity erodes her soul

creeping doubt slowly strangles her self confidence

but courage and hope prop her up

 

and she wonders which company keeps him today

what outside tall tales inspire his loud laughter

what colored claws and lips

trace well perfected caresses on his frame

and bring sparkles and glitter

to his otherwise dead eyes

 

and she wonders

where all that intensity has flown

where, how, why and when

all that “we go die together” died,

where it was buried….

and she wonders and worries

as her mind wanders, and waits and hopes

 

 

and she sits, stands, sits,

sighs and waits…

waiting for the car lights in the drive way

for the well feigned contrition, the well rehearsed tales,

the unreliable car, the low battery…..

dreading the smell of alcohol and strange perfumes

and just wondering how long…yes, just how long before!

For the Sun Child

By Noel Ihebuzor

 

Inert the child lies,

bathed in blood,

still and silent,

 

the silence of the ward

broken by the mother’s aching sobs

exhausted,

 

long labour had drained her,

almost turning her blood blue,

till eventually the blade

 brought relief and pain,

 

baby was curled, drained

 cord twisted and twined

around a narrow neck,

life slowly choked by the connection

that had linked them

and nourished,

 

the emptying evening drags

as she sits and sobs

imagining how this life

she had known in kicks and movements

would have looked

had the cord that nourished

not also extinguished

pondering this mystery of failed procreation

where lives are twined forever,

scars remain after departures,

 

sadness slowly strangling her soul,

like a cord, the pains of an empty womb

 now more acute

as her soul bleeds

above and below the lines of suture.

 

****For the SunChild who lost her baby, and who felt that the sun had gone out! Be strong, Tashie, Ndo!

 

Ogbanje III

By Noel Ihebuzor

Thick as moonless night, debilitating damp

was your grip on our minds, clammy,

our thoughts misty fogged, drugged by mystical myths,

sights clouded, we saw the horned dog,

eyes red chilli, schools of skull carrying

fish flying and whirling around,  transporting

red toothed ageless mermaids sucking young blood

and souls, never questioning

the cry of the night owl calling to mate

made mothers freeze, cowering in fear,

covering the feverish body of

sick children lest the hollow hooting of the owl

their mournful summons siphon their spirits out

mothers, fathers shivering, sweating

ignorance thick on them

like wet blankets, minds haunted

  

New day, new dawn, the frontiers of your kingdom

roll back by half every quarter

the native doctor’s beads and amulets

now gather damp and dust,

shallow short red earth covered mounds

sad resting places for souls spirited away

slowly vanishing with the roll of time

 

new wisdom, knowledge and vision replace

specious séances garbed in obscurity

progress breathes, heaves rolls forward in waves, freeing,

washing away ignorance,

shrinking superstition,

knowledge unrobes untruths and lies,

its rays piercing illuminates the dark kingdoms

where once you roamed, raged

 ragging souls and joy with your minions,

uncovering why children die

that for which we blame the gods recedes

memories of starless bleak nights and deadening days

when mothers and fathers drained by truncated childhood

now distant, your shuttles, abrupt wailings,

the dreaded terror of childhood

ended in infancy by feverish frequent returns

to spirit-land recede, the suckling mother gay

suckled by the sound of happy progressing infancy,

bonding and binding to a child who stays

 

Victory, we rejoice and regale,

cakes and candles

celebrate another passing year new and many more to come

 

But let us beware,

one victory signals another battle

new Ogbanjes could be spawned in the emerging

sterile and suffocating space

where politicians with sterile policies

men and women caged by greed

minds manacled and shackled by corruption

the grabbing hand, ending up throttling life and sucking it

in resources siphoned and stolen

our red eyes survey the empty and emptying clinics

the dying and decaying social provisions

the death of vision, and we weep     

beware also of  kindred new spirits that end childhood

lurking in sprouting new religions that reinvent

the power of witches and wizards

selling smoke, suspicion and superstition

to unsuspecting slumbering followers,

shallow bewitched, emasculated by fear, minds entrapped

 

The bank accounts of preachers, politicians, public servants swell 

as ranks of new ogbanjes now begin to emerge,

to swell in ever increasing shallow graves,

and the soul draining groans of parents in pain.

Fizzy Feelings and Fuzzy Physics #2: Inertia – By Noel Ihebuzor and Susan Daniels

We drift in habitual wobbling circles
hobbling like feet poorly cobbled, feeling
neither earth nor one another, stranded
arid motion free stretch of ever elongating slippery
quicksand highway, without grip or traction

Smiles stiff and still
not sparking eyes, sparkleless
exhausted, shambling, soulless routines once so fresh
now stale, sour, and old
constant motion long past dancing

Radius, diameter and circumference in grating logic
circling each other in yawning cycles 

We roll unresisting into a heavy, unpiloted slide
remaining in these present states easier
as with each change comes resistance
which must be swept across
or persuaded into action

what is held still craves flow,
though frozen and powerless
to break old bindings
and change direction

We shuffle limp on a limping highway
limp unable to rise nor flow, trudging on a treadmill
threadbare, going nowhere

The mournful sky wraps above and around us
mourning our uninspired mornings
soggy flat in colorless monochrome
borderless without hope, our soulless soles
burdened, weighty  and weighed down
at the border of the deadening present and a feared future

Eager to depart, move on and move apart
and resist its own yearning,
and though we have breath and pulse, we lie inert

The half-life of what lived long past
in search of direction,
going nowhere, unable to live
unwilling to leave

Habit a tripwire trapping our feet,
a seething past that teemed,
boiling over, over-run with energy heaves,
now idles
empty of steam and wind

With no wand to wave to will us forward
we live as hollow shells
in endless cycles of repetitions
that weep and
wait for that external force to move us
either backwards or forward,
to push us on or push us over Inertia

 

**While a pleasure, as always, to write with Noel, I can’t wait to move on to more dynamic physical concepts in this series we are working on

Again, Noel’s voice is not italicized, mine is. (Susan)

****Susan and I explore in this duet a concept in physics that dates back to Newton’s seminal work. Inertia is essentially about the inability of an entity for internally generated change and movement in the absence of external impetus.  It is a great joy to feel how in this duet we have been able discover some life and truths about life in Inertia!  Always a pleasure to sing with Susan and to feel her voice, soft and delicate,  blend with mine, gruff and often strident!  (Noel)

 

A song for Santos

I would have played the sweetest of tunes then for you

but boils erupted all over the lips of my flute

and malicious termites mangled its delicate throat

 

Santos, the song I had hoped to play for you

must await another season when these sobs that clog and choke my  throat

these blocks that freeze my heart and voice

slowly clear up

 

in the season of waiting, dry and lean,

O very Santos,

Dimkpa asa,

only this pool of red tears is the voice of my song of sorrow.

 

The long mile

She walks with slow dignity

Feet as lead, soul as stone

auto-pilot, behind him on this long last mile

a dark strangling walk, unfitting end to a journey

that had commenced with songs and stars

a mother’s heart frozen cold, numb

as sorrow scorches and freezes her

all at once  her to the core

of her being

 

No tears flow now

“He would not want me to cry in the public

Even though this mile I walk behind and with him

should be his to walk for me”

 

she dreads the end

the sight of another mother opening to receive and enfold him

the sound as shovelled in loose earth

draws the blinds forever

 

the tumbling sands drown her prayers

for the father’s bosom

to welcome this pilgrim

who returned too early

 

and as she  prayed

the welled up tears, push down the barriers

of soul destroying composure

and cascade, the heaving sobs and wails from

a shattered mother

shattering the solemn calm of a painful goodbye

 

A long song for the boy who waits

He sits and counts the days and the hours

mama has been away to the market

for seven market weeks now

and they all say that this market she went to

is located in some very far away place

and he tells himself that he will ask her

why she did not wake him the morning she left

to go to this far market to say good bye 

He had woken up to learn she left for the market very early

at that time of day when the dew still holds back the lizard’s tail

and slows down their running,

at that time of day when night spirits

are hurrying back to their abodes

before their sworn enemy the sun catches

them out and abroad 

and so he waits and asks

“when will mama return from the market

other children’s mothers come back and go again

and I sit,  waiting for mine, mine who will not come back

mama, when  will you return from this market”

And he wished she would come back

prayed to Chineke and his personal chi

to hasten her return

so that he could tell her

how everybody had been so nice to him lately

and how papa no longer scolded him

how nda Uzoemena had come and taken

him to mama’s maternal village four days

after mama had gone to the market

and he had stayed two days

he would tell her of all the woman who hugged him

all saying Nwam-oo

and the nice meals they all competed to cook and bring for  him

and Nne, his grandmother who held and hugged him,

and the hushed whispers of the women when he was there

and how he thought Nne cried the day he arrived

and how when he asked why

she was said it was from joy of seeing him,

him, son of her only daughter Nwabuaku 

He would tell her when she came back

that once or twice in the night

he heard papa sobbing

when papa thought he was asleep

and he  smiled  as

he imagined how mama would then tease papa,

papa who always said men do not cry

yes, there was a lot he would tell her

how nda Nneka now came over to cook for papa and him

in the evenings and would stay to chat with them afterwards

how her onubu soup tasted more bitter than hers

and how he had resisted the first time she tried to bathe him

a boy of four was a man he prpoudly told her

and needed his privacy

he would tell how he overheard nda Uchechi and nda Onyemauche

discussing the other day

and one of them, he couldn’t remember which one of them,

saying that papa

would need another woman to look after the house, and how

they said Auntie Chimaoge would be perfect for the role

and he wondered why, but he would ask mama

and he knew she would smile softly and shyly and explain

as she always does

and he still sits and waits, missing her with each day that passess 

not knowing when she will come back,

very sure she would come home

but telling himself that he would not tell her any of these stories

until she had given him the ripe udala, the akara and yes, the utara ukwa

she would have bought for him from the market,

and then he would hug her and hold her

and ask her to never ever leave him lonely for this long again .

Mind before body

The mind precedes the body

defying and defeating inertia faster than the physical

Spirit, liquid, the mind defies and denies physics

The mind pulls away before the body 

furling back, recoiling, curling back,

blocking and blanking out,  disconnecting,

once it disconnects, unlocks and disengages

the body limps around empty,

trailing on tottering feet, wobbly on jelly limbs,

trapped by recall habit , afraid, uncertain,

stuttering, stammering, hollow, hesitant

speaking as Judas must have

clutching and trying to drag any sleepy residuals

and left over emotions of the mind along,

often like an unwilling accomplice

to feasts with now impossible satiation and reconnection points.

A song along the beach

by Noel Ihebuzor  

I jogged along, hearing but not heeding tiring feet,

tuned into and turned on by my untiring mind

On the horizon

Where as far as the eye could see,

the awakening sky draped itself in colors

lent to it by the awakening sun

dipped into the wrinkled rippling ocean

The young rising sun painted masterpieces

on the canvas of a willing and wide sky

Here and there, it oozed through the sky

there it streaked through it,

cut through it

like a golden laser,

a dazzling jeddai sword

and over there it streamed

through huge holes

pouring gold-like rays like they were flowing

through a colored sky into the ocean

that rippled, danced and welcomed it,

regaling in the generous hues of rippling silver on gold

with which it was adorned,

The blend of rippling silver with a golden touch

beautiful to behold,

inspiring awe and wonder

And the slow moving ships

in different sizes and shapes

in measured paces and distances hung around

the harbor gates

patiently waiting their turn to be called into the harbor

And I wondered what lesson in life their patience taught us

to learn to wait our turn

For the ships are called into harbor

According to when they arrived, first arrive, first enter

and so each has learnt to wait

to sail into the harbor in the order in which they arrived

as I mused over this

my mind strayed to another journey

when people are called into the final harbor of life

and I wondered why this call

did not follow a logic as neat as this

where you go into the harbor

in the order in which you arrived

and then I thought I heard a voice

break into my thoughts

speaking with soft compassion

“my son, my aging son,

why do you seek answers to questions

beyond the confines of your mind

your restless mind strays

from the path of acceptance

away from the assured safety of trust in me

and the logic of faith.

must my logic and the harbor master’s be the same?

is the gardener not free to walk his garden at will

and to pick the flowers he planted as he wills,

randomly and by his own wisdom and logic

which are above yours

as the heavens are above the earth ?

can the prettiest and brightest of flowers

with its petals dazzling the earth and sky

challenge the logic of the gardener”?

 

How I miss these flowers!

How their beauty and feel haunt me!

How I miss them

I must have said it

Did I say it?

His question meant that I must have

For I heard the same soft voice say

“Or would you want to see these flowers, to feel them

For to do so, I must call you too into the harbor”

And at this,

I thought I saw the faces of those

whose voices I no longer heard

Whose voices I longed to hear

And whose smiles I longed to touch mine

Faces that I miss so painfully

shake their heads in unison

as if to say

“Say no”

And I saw their faces against the silvery skies,

familiar and loved faces bathed in soft glows of silver halos

Of those who sleep well….

As dear now even departed as in life

All who I once held and whose memories I still hold

All signalling by vigorous sideways shakes

Of the halo surrounded frames

“say no, stay on

Emeruo emeruo ka nma” ,

their silent lips all said, all sang

And I found my own voice

Heard myself saying

to the silent approving murmur

of the rustling speaking ocean

“Call me into the harbor

After I have run at least the three score and ten you promised all,

not before

For then my debts would have been paid

And I can sail into the harbor strong, free, strong, slow and steady

Mind free, soul full and spirit willing,

But your will, supreme gardener, supreme harbormaster, not mine”

 

I jogged on, the ships sailed on

In their order and logic,

The ocean rippled,

The waves raced to the beach

The rising sun now bolder

trying as if to drown the ocean with the intensity

of its warmth and embrace

And I jogged on, in the embrace of life

embracing the living and

still remembering the departed.