When A Wordsmith Departs

I never met Austyn Njoku, but since he passed on I have encountered his love for words in many comments on the world wide web. When I saw this elegant poem in his honour, I thought it best to share it, in honour of the departed poet and as a reminder that life is but a mist.

Please read and share.

(For Austyn Njoku)

By Rasaq Malik Gbolahan
There are ways to mourn
the passing of a poet:

Ferry his coffin across seven seas
and scribble his name on every stone
on the path to the funeral ground

There are words they say
whenever the thunder of death
knifes the heart of the sky:

Ferry his coffin without burning candles
for candlelights are not enough
to burn the forest of death

Read his poems
and deck shelves
with his books

Let him breathe not beneath this
empty earth
but through the wind that blows
and the leaves that wave
as every moment sprouts a bud
of memory in the evergreen rose
he plants

Learning How To Hold You

It has been seven short years
But I am still learning how to hold you,
Tremulous at first,
Across the abyss of heart breaks past,
Compared to maestros and charlatans alike,
Driven by a need stronger than my fear,
Surer with time,
As you filled my palms, my arms
With your lithe form,
Firmer through the miscarriage
And the other one, and the other one.
Gentle again
As I waited with bated breathe
Then wild with joy
When I saw our boy,
Now unsure again, waiting for the stitches to heal,
But eager to learn,
I will keep learning how to hold you Babe,
Through every turn.

Chocolate Memories & Brandy Dreams

He lay in the dark listening to the sound of her snoring. He counted to twenty in his head before he slid off the bed and tiptoed to the door. The rhythm of her gusty bellows remained unchanged, so he crept out and made his way downstairs.

As he hobbled down the steps he couldn’t help smiling at himself. Henry Earl Henshaw, former governor, two time senator,former Nigerian ambassador to Canada etc etc, now a late middle aged man, dying of diabetes, banned from eating anything, drinking anything….

This was his longest attempt at staying clean. Magdalene had rid the house of every single bottle of rum, brandy and vodka he owned. He could still hear the screams and shouts of his nephews as they carted everything out amidst lavish thanks. Gosh, how he hated them. Fools, blind in the vanity of their youth, deaf to old age or illness, running off to find the next high, the next skirt to hit.

A spasm of pain raced through his belly and he stifled a scream. No use waking Maggi now, he was almost there. There was one place they hadn’t looked when they were looting his bottles–his library. There he had a three quarter full bottle of Le Valier brandy waiting. Two shots and he would be fine, the pain would pass and he would feel free again.

He limped past the fridge and found himself opening it. It was filled with the usual things: bread, oranges, cough syrup, water and chocolate cake. He loved chocolate cake and he hadn’t tasted any in six months. He pinched a bit of it and savoured the taste then cut a slice and shut the fridge as quietly as he could.

“No Henry.”

He spun around to find Maggi glaring at him. Her full figure was still lovely at 49, the pink silk net on her hair gave her the air of a fairy godmother, the anger in her eyes singed his soul.

“Please Maggi, just a little, just a piece.”

“I’m sorry, Henry, but no. The doctors said you can’t. We are still awaiting your test results. Please, let’s go upstairs.”

So he let her lead him back upstairs to the bed. And he kept savouring the memory of the cake and imagining the taste of his Le Valier until sleep came and with it dreams of being 29 again and conquering bottles, cakes and babes with no thought for the morrow.

My Last

You came into my world
Like a comet
Blazing through the sky
Everything changed
When I looked into your eyes
I can not explain
The way you make
My heart skip,
I feel Love
Swallowing me whole
I feel Hope
Filling the holes
The voids of pain past,
You are not my first
But you will be
My Last.

Love, Death &Ebola

Belinda watched Womako trudge into the makeshift bathroom behind their home.

“Woman! Where is my hot water!”

Belinda didn’t have the strength to remind him that their power had been cut–a souvenir for owing 3 months of bills, nor the patience to explain that she had to conserve fuel for meals.

She sighed instead and said “I’m sorry Woma, please just manage it.”

She heard the clash of metal and stone amidst her husband’s grumbling. They had been a reasonably happy couple before but the disease outbreak had changed things. Woma had to work longer shifts, coming home exhausted and irritable. She couldn’t remember the last time he played with her or the last time she felt him on her thighs.

Now her days were a cycle of watching him rush of to work, grouchy welcomes and loveless nights. Her fledgling bush-meat business was on hold and Woma hadn’t been paid in two months. The government had promised to pay more as hazard allowances to workers in the health facilities affected by the disease. Nothing had been done about that yet.

Woma walked past her into the house. He had hoped to change the thatch and mud hut to a proper house, but now, such talk was fantasy.

She waited a while then joined him in the room. The plate of rice and soup was untouched. The jug of water was empty though and Womako was not in the room.




She flicked aside the curtain to see him prostate on a mat in the adjoining room. They hoped it would be their children’s room, someday, but now it housed the occasional cousin from the village and Womako’s old books.

“Woma, what is it? Are you well?”

“Wait. Don’t come closer. I started feeling unwell on my way back and I don’t know. I have called Willie to come and take me back to the hospital. But that will be after he takes you to the motor park and puts you on a bus to the border. Under the mattress, you will find $300, I want you to take the money and travel to Ghana. Stay with your sister there and get tested if you feel any illness.”

“Woma what are you saying? How can I leave you now?”

“You must Bella. You have suffered enough drinking every potion and pill trying to get pregnant for the past three years. Visited every healer, seer and saviour, what they didn’t tell you was that you were fine. I am the one that can’t fill your field. I am the one without seed.

Now, there is no need for me to make bad worse. Do as I say. May God keep you and may He forgive me.”

“But what about the house? What about our plans for the new plot of land?” Bella asked in a tear choked whisper.

“Land and houses are for the living Bella. If I live, we will see. But now, I want you to pack, Willie is coming.”

Belinda packed.

Willie came and took her to the park. She got to Ghana safely. A week later she was told Womako’s ashes were buried in their backyard.

She waited for her own illness to begin. It never did. Instead she put on weight and lost two shades of tan. And many nights she would lay awake thinking. She would imagine herself a judge and Womako an accused. Should she hate him for the three years of lies? Should she acquit him for an act of uncommon courage? The arguments would rage for and against before sleep would whisk her away, to awake again to the toils and troubles of another day.

If Wishes Were Horses: Using Technology To Curb The Spread Of Ebola?

It is a nightmare brought to life. Our worst fears confirmed, the deadly Ebola virus has arrived in Nigeria and already at least 8 people are feared to be infected.

Discovered in 1976, Ebola has been profiled as an ‘African Disease’ that is a reflection of poor healthcare service. The recent outbreak however puts that line of thought in doubt as well as questions all previous assumptions and knowledge about the ailment.

For instance, the co-discoverer of the virus has been quoted as saying that he wouldn’t be worries about sitting next to an Ebola patient on a train except the person vomited on him or something. He went ahead to cite instances of children living in houses with Ebola patients without contacting the disease, in 1976.

The 2014 version of Ebola seems quite different. Despite the use of full Personal Protective Gear (Masks, gloves, goggles,scrubs), health-workers are getting infected.

Mr Sawyer, an American who flew into Nigeria with the disease and was seen in a hospital in Lagos for barely 72 hours and yet at least 4 medical personnel that attended to him are believed to be infected as well.

This raises questions.

1. Is the transmission of this virus fully understood?

2. Is this strain of Ebola different? If yes, how?

3. Can we continue to use the usual methods of patient care and nursing despite the huge risks?

4. What changes could we make? If wishes were horses?

Personally, the outbreak has kept me thinking. One thing is very clear, we don’t know enough about this illness and we need to change the way we are handling it if we are to make any progress towards ending the scourge.

That’s where technology comes in. If resources were available, these are some of the things I would like to see.

1. Robots used to clean, feed and nurse the affected patients.

2. Specialized beddings that soak and disinfect secretions as they are being produced.

3. Skype type communication with affected patients.

4. Mechanised disposal of bodies in dedicated cremation machines.

And so on.

As long as a cure doesn’t exist, breaking the chain of transmission is the only hope. If one man could infect eight others then imagine: how many people could be at risk from the eight?

It is time for scientists, bio-scientists and engineers to join the fight against this dreadful disease.

It is time for a change of tactics in curbing the spread.

The sooner, the best.

P/S: Opportunities exist for clinicians interested in working with Ebola patients. Contact me.

She Sat Alone

She sat alone in the cramped parlour watching the Commonwealth games. Her heart was aflame with regret and shame but she couldn’t tear her eyes away or change the channel.

She watched Mary Bloomer wheel her self to the stand and graciously received her gold medal in the women’s shot-put event.
Nigeria’s national anthem was playing and Agnes looked on as Mary mouthed the words.

And, as she looked, she remembered.

She remembered Steve. Jovial, generous Steve, who was so sensitive and caring. Steve, the sailor that got her pregnant while on a brief stop at Calabar. He had left one misty morning to a destination unknown, leaving her single, pregnant and scared before she had a chance to tell him.

She remembered taking every pill, potion and concoction she could find to flush the baby out. Her job at the convent as a cook and cleaner depended on it.

She remembered the baby growing, growing and kicking.

She remembered that cold night twenty-one years ago when the baby came. She had her alone, a month and a half too early.

She had barely looked at the twisted legs and thin transparent skin. She dumped the child in a carton and ran.

The reverend sisters had taken the child in, she found out later. They had named her Mary Bloomer. They had made sure she went to school and developed her athletic skill despite her disability.

They had done all she had failed to do.

Many times she thought of going back, of reclaiming her daughter, of being a mother.

Many more times, she realised just how impractical it would be.

But tonight, in the dim dark, cramped parlour, she let the regret and shame set her heart ablaze as she sobbed into the beer stained rug.