Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Vol.2 No.3, April 2009. ISSN 1753-6499 (Online). www.sentinelquarterly.com

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Abayomi O. Zuma
Akinlabi Peter
Angela Nwosu
Ashley Capes
Benjamin Beresford
Gregory A Lawson
Lola Shoneyin
Matthew Coombe
Nnorom Azuonye
Nnorom Azuonye (2)
Simon Green
 
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In October 2008, Sentinel Poetry (Online) in publication since December 2002 was merged with Sentinel Literary Quarterly into a single ezine. You can find Sentinel Poetry (Online) archives at the locations below:
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FICTION

 

 

The Manual

 

By Abayomi Ogunwale Zuma

 

     Most people I have met over the years assume that I chose to become an obstetrician in order to hang around women. That assertion is wrong to begin with, but the premise cannot be totally discountenanced. My students however believe that I must have been very good in the subject while I was in the medical school. You will kindly show a little understanding if I say nothing to dispel the myths surrounding me, won’t you?

 

This confession was inspired by a recent incident in my office. I will quickly tell you about that incident and then get this confession over with.

 

     Last week, I was just rounding off my Wednesday infertility clinic, when the nurse walked into my office and informed me that I had a referral I must attend to. I tried maneuvering my way out of seeing the patient, but as the nurse refused to oblige, I asked her to show the patient in. This she did with some relish, and the middle aged woman settled into the chair in front of me, while I psyched myself up for one last round of consultation. After reading through her referral letter, I realized there was a need to see her husband as well and therefore asked that he be called in. As the man entered, our eyes did not make immediate contact as I was trying to disconnect my laptop from the socket. On sighting him however, the narrative below came back to me vividly like the memory of an illicit affair; clear and embarrassing. I do not think he entertained the possibility immediately, but as we conversed and I set about trying to narrow my differentials, something about the way I spoke alerted him to the possibility of a past encounter and it did not take too long before I saw a light in his eyes and knew he had found me out. We managed to keep a semblance of mutual ignorance as I ordered the required tests and gave them an appointment for next week. Later, as I tidied up my desk and sorted out the case notes I had used in the clinic, I saw a note tucked in below his wife’s case file. I opened it and saw a diagram and two sentences written in the characteristic scrawl I have tried to forget in the last twenty years without success: ‘Tesla was here’ and ‘where is the manual?’ I smiled, folded the note and shook my head.

 

     This is a tale that I have never shared in the past. Here I go:

 

     I was not always a brilliant student. That is a sentence most of my medical colleagues might not readily believe, but it is true. Back in my secondary school days I was a bad student. I was not outrightly dull but I had little or no time for books. I had cultivated the friendship of two older boys, Ijala and Tesla; both of whom were terrible in their own individual and special ways. Ijala was the undisputed bully of the set. Short and stocky, in a way only a prior life on the farm could have produced, he had coarse features and a gruff voice to match the package. He was also an emeritus dullard; even by my own low standards, he was simply pathetic.

 

     Tesla on the other hand was every girl’s delight. Slim, tall and handsome. His face bore traces of his mixed heritage. His American grandfather after whom he was named was the pioneer principal of the school and this conferred some special privileges on him. Whether he performed well at school or not, he could not be expelled for any reason. He was not dull, but he had no patience for school work. Therefore in such inglorious company, the academic tasks fell naturally to me, as I possessed neither looks nor brawn. We all got by on my meager intellect. This arrangement suited every party concerned and we had no automatic leader, each member of the gang just assumed leadership as dictated by the challenges we faced.

 

     Tesla had established a reputation with the ladies and myths had been created around his perceived sexual prowess due to a combination of exaggerations and boredom. The whole school believed the rumors making the rounds, though none of us could mention one girl Tesla had actually slept with. Anyway, he basked in the glory of his alleged abilities and we reaped the dividends of being the ‘men’, around the ‘man’.

 

     One  Saturday evening, after  regaling us with one of his escapades with a senior girl, unnamed as usual, Kome (one of the boys in the hostel), asked Tesla if he had ever considered writing a manual for aspiring studs like us and for the inexperienced junior who might need some guidance in future. We all laughed over the suggestion, but then we began to debate the book's possible contents, design and arrangement. A lot of things were said that are not worth repeating, but, before we went to bed that night we agreed that such a book, if ever it was written, should be known simply as the ‘manual’. The simpler, the better; we reasoned.

 

We all forgot the discussion or so I assumed, until the following evening during prep when I noticed Tesla busy scribbling away in a small red notebook. The usually loquacious Tesla was very quiet that night and soon everybody in class began to wonder just what he was writing. Some said he must have turned a corner academically, while the more cynical of us said he must be writing a very long love letter, or better still a compendium of love letters. I was mandated by the boys to spy on Tesla but I could get nothing out of him. This scenario repeated itself for three straight nights and my friend Tesla was quite reserved during this period. On the third day, when we could no longer bear it, Ijala and I summoned a meeting of the gang behind the incinerator to find out precisely what Tesla was up to. As soon as we got there, we threatened to dissociate ourselves from him if he did not deal us into whatever mischief he was planning. He smiled in his characteristic way, looked around for any sign of another student. Satisfied that we were alone, he spilt the secret he had been hoarding all week.

“Boys, I am working on The Manual.”

“Which manual?” Ijala asked.

“Have you guys forgotten so quickly?” He asked, turning to me. “The one we spoke about last Saturday.”

On hearing this, we quickly forgot about his misdemeanors in the last three days and pressed him to read some portions out for us. It took a while to break down his resistance, but after a while, he drew us further from public view and reluctantly pulled the red notebook out of his pocket.

“Promise me you will not tell anybody about this” Tesla said.

We promised and in return, our esteemed author read some portions of the masterpiece-in-progress out to us. There were chapters with exotic captions such as ‘Toasting in Style’, 'What a Girl Wants in a Man’ the ‘Geometry of Sex’. Of course each title elicited exclamations from the two of us. We would probably have spent the entire day behind that incinerator if the bell had not gone for the end of lunch break .We hurried back to class, barely concealing the gleam in our eyes and the rest of the day passed in a blur.

 

     Over the next few days we spent more time together behind the school incinerator. We could have been found out, but Ijala’s reputation as the strongest junior boy in the school kept every peer at a safe distance. Finally the day we had been waiting for came, when Tesla came panting into the hostel looking for Ijala and I. On sighting us in the quadrangle, washing our uniforms, he signaled us to meet him behind the hostel, on the long road leading to the Teachers’ Quarters. The road we called ‘Jamaica’ for an inexplicable reason. We quickly rinsed our uniforms and hung them on the line to dry. Then we walked briskly out of the junior hostel and broke into a run once we were clear.

 

     By the time we got to the rendezvous point, Tesla was already waiting; a wide grin plastered on his face.

"Why are you guys late?" He asked in feigned anger.

We did not bother responding to him. Our attention was  firmly fixed on the red notebook he was clutching in his right hand. Ijala had to be restrained from grabbing the manual and running off to read it alone. We walked some distance into the bush and settled under a cashew tree, huddled close, spread the red manual on the ground and began to read with testosterone-driven urgency.

 

     Thirty minutes later, we walked back to the hostel with peculiar gaits invented to conceal the awkward bulges in our brown shorts and hearts brimming with mischievous possibilities. Later that night, after prep, we went over the manual again and suggested ways of improving it. A major omission which left Ijala and I somewhat very disappointed was the absence of a pictorial representation of the female genitals. For all his achievements, Tesla failed to provide the ultimate gift each junior boy secretly sought in his private fantasy. He promised to correct this oversight, and true to his word there was a picture the very next day.

 

     Now, before you begin to judge us unfairly, you must understand that we were hormone-driven teenagers who needed some ways of relieving our pent-up sexual tensions and satisfy our often discouraged curiousity about the sacred subject.

 

     When Tesla handed over the picture to me the next day in class, I called Ijala out of the class and we walked straight to the toilets where we could have sufficient time to feast our eyes on an image we had only heard of spoken in whispers. We returned to class wiser in our own eyes and began to look on Tesla with some new found respect. He had finally earned his stripes. He laid his claim to our eternal gratitude and admiration however, later in the hostel, when he pointed to a specific point on the picture and said "That’s where you will put it, you know?"

"Put What?" Ijala blurted out, looking confused.

We looked at him in anger and waited for the answer to click into place in his thick skull. When the answer finally dawned on him, he opened his eyes wide in surprise, whistled and laughed aloud as if he was onto some private joke.

"Of course I know what you will put there; I was just testing you boys."

I looked across to Tesla and he shrugged his shoulders in resignation. It was no time for us to quarrel, so we let Ijala off the hook lightly and began to strategize on how best to present the book to the other boys in the hostel. We resolved to make some profit from the manual and after some arguments, agreed on the sum of Fifty kobo as a fair amount to be paid by anybody hoping to read it. I was to be in charge of publicity; Ijala naturally was assigned the role of fee collector. Tesla had done so much work already, so we assigned no duties to him.

 

     We went straight to work on our little scheme and as projected, the response was great. Although the marketing was done discretely and in the boys hostel alone, we still managed to recruit about 34 prospective readers; and when the reading list seemed like it was stretching too long to manage with only one copy of the manual, we arranged a private reading for a select population of interested readers. Thus, the next Saturday, when the other students had gone to the assembly hall for the compulsory ‘Boogie’ night, we gathered in one of the junior classrooms and Tesla took his place in front of the class to read for us. Throughout the forty minutes it took him to read through his masterpiece you could have heard a dog fart. As his voice rose and fell through the air, our minds wandered off in different directions, after individual desires; different only in location and degree of depravity. Such was the intensity of our private dreams that when he was done reading, there was silence for another two, three minutes, before normal conversations began again. Thereafter, we passed the book round so that everybody could catch a glimpse of the picture Tesla had created. That obscene drawing created its own wave of appreciative murmurs and suppressed arguments as some wanted to hold on to it longer than we were willing to allow. After the reading, as we all walked back to the hostel, busy working on individual strategies to implement the brilliant suggestions in the book, one of the boys suggested casually that we try out the recommendations written in the manual on one girl first, so as to correct whatever deficiencies might be inherent in it, before releasing the book and its nuggets of sexual wisdom to the other junior boys. That suggestion pleased everyone present, and after drawing lots for whom to use, I was chosen as the man to confirm the practical efficacy of the manual. The dark skinned plump girl, Shadia, Ijala’s seat mate in class was to be the subject. For one, she appeared gullible, simple. She also had a crush on me, having asked Ijala to arrange a meeting between us on more than two occasions. Rumours also had it that she was sexually experienced. For, as we reasoned, how else could her breasts have grown so rapidly - from the small mound of hard flesh that it was in the first year at school, to its present almost melon-like proportions if someone had not been working on them? I accepted the responsibility with mixed feelings. In a way, all my dreams were finally going to come true, and with the fresh information gained from The Manual, I was in the most sexually enlightened form of my life. Although the choice of subject left much to be desired. Personally I would have preferred Nene; the fair skinned angel in my class, but with her generous ventral endowments, Shadia was not a bad compromise at all. Besides, I could also easily dump her after the assignment.

 

     The next day, I began wooing Shadia in earnest. She was initially shocked and wary because even at her conceited best, she knew she was in the lower shelf when it came to beauty. But with the help of the lyrics written in The Manual, the wooing of Shadia went ahead of schedule such that, by the end of the third day, I already had her eating out of the palms of my hands. Our blossoming romance did not go unnoticed too. The other girls in the class who barely used to talk to me suddenly found my jokes funnier than usual. Nene even went as far as volunteering to help write my notes whenever I needed assistance. Shadia’s carriage changed, her confidence soared and suddenly she really began to look attractive. That transformation gnawed at my confidence and doubts assailed me as I began to wonder why I had agreed to such a cruel task. She obviously really liked me even more because nobody had given her so much attention in the past. I would have backed out right then, but the thought of facing the boys in the hostel to report my failure was too much to bear, so, I was condemned to choosing between wrecking Shadia’s life and self-destruction. Someone once said that in the fight for self preservation, the truth is usually the first casualty. I cannot agree more.

 

As the decision was completely out of my court, I stopped feeling sorry for her and concentrated on the task before me. As things stood, my fate and Shadia’s had become inexorably knitted and our destinies had a Siamese look to them. Therefore, I kept up the deception. To be honest too, Tesla must have been a genius, because, his social recipes worked as he said they would. He really understood the female psyche, and had made provision for all the conceivable nuances of the teenage female mind. There were suggestions on how, where and when to hold a girl’s hand, how to apologize, how to present a gift and even how to react to rejection. Each day, my admiration for Tesla grew in bounds as Shadia’s love for me took on a life of its own like a malignant tumor. By the end of two weeks, Shadia was ripe for harvesting. She was ready to go anywhere and try anything to prove her love for me and my occasionally wandering hand was never reprimanded. I went places. By that time, all the junior boys in my hostel knew something was afoot, but only the initiated really understood my bearings.

 

     One day as I sat beside Shadia in class waiting for the next boring class to begin, I caught her looking intently at me as if she was trying to read my expressions.

 "What?" I asked her.

"Nothing." She replied.

"So why were you looking at me like that? Am I so handsome that you had to stare so hard? You could simply have asked and I would have posed for you, for free, you know?" I said.

"In your dreams" she whispered, smiled briefly and promptly resumed the staring exercise.

For a moment, I thought she had seen through my deception. I looked back at her, hoping for a sign, some hint, but she kept staring at my face. Her eyes slowly bore through me, and then beyond, into space. As I met her gaze, she turned her face away and back.

"Have you done it before?" She asked in a very low voice, fiddling with her keyholder as she spoke.

I feigned ignorance. "What?"

She looked at me, pursed her lips, hissed and rolled her eyes.

"Oh that? Of course I have!" I lied.

"How was it? I mean, was it painful? Was it painful for you?" She asked with a concerned expression.

I was amazed, and wild thoughts flooded my mind. Could we have misjudged this girl? Was it possible that Shadia was a virgin as well?

My eyes must have betrayed my emotions because she shook her head in denial.

"I have also done it before. So don’t give me that look. Please, stop looking at me like that."

She giggled and playfully turned my face away from her.

 

On hearing that, I heaved a sigh of relief. Our little scheme had gone too far to contemplate replacing Shadia at that time and so far everything had worked according to plan. Before I could answer her question however, the Math teacher entered the class and I had to vacate Ijala’s seat. You see, the Math teacher had a penchant for calling Ijala to attempt every question. So, Ijala’s seat was not exactly the right place to be for a Math class.

 

On Friday evening, I received a note from Shadia asking me to meet her behind the sports pavilion after dinner the next day. When Ijala delivered the note I could barely contain my joy. It seemed my day in the sun was coming earlier than expected and I danced in gratitude to God, the angels and whoever was orchestrating my life-events up there in heaven and made a vow to give double offerings on Sunday if Shadia allowed me into her honey-pot come Saturday night. 

 

Preparations began in earnest for the great night and we divided the tasks as usual. Tesla went round the hostel trying to discretely get a condom for me to use in what proved to be the hardest part of the whole project till He found a way to steal one from his school father. Ijala went over the proposed site of the rendezvous on Saturday afternoon and tried removing stones, bottles and other dangerous objects around the place. Thereafter, he looked for a spot where he, Tesla and an independent observer could hide to witness the act. While they were busy working out the logistics, I went over the last chapter of The Manual again as if my life depended on it. Little did I know that in reality, it did!  But, I get ahead of myself, please, forgive me.

 

That night, I could barely sleep for an hour at a stretch without waking up with the sensation of a weight on my chest. I played over all the possible scenarios in my head and my heart raced in excitement as I reviewed possible angles of approach and positions in my head. Sadly, the book did not say if we had to do the act standing or lying on the floor. That should not pose too much of a challenge, I reasoned. My dad used to say that you do not have to teach a baby how to eat; something within us all directs the satisfaction of our most basic drives. "When it matters, your instincts would kick in", he would say, when talking with his friends at the pool house. So, I assumed things would just work themselves out.

 

The next morning, I noticed that Tesla was also behaving funny and concluded that I was not alone; the tension was getting to him too. Ijala was the most excited man amongst us. It was as if it was him that was in line for the ‘lay of a lifetime’. Throughout the day, he kept on asking if I was alright; if I needed anything to drink, sniff, and so on. When it got to the point when we could no longer bear his doting ways, Tesla and I snapped at him to shut up. He looked at us, his feelings hurt. I could not help but apologize.

"Ok, Ijala, go to the kitchen and get a little kolanut from the security man." I urged him, seeing how restless he was.

"Kolanut? For what?" Tesla asked, obviously irritated.

"Don’t you know that it helps? It actually helps the man to charge his thing." Ijala declared in an authoritative tone.

Tesla looked in my direction for an opinion and I shrugged. The farther away from the room Ijala was the better.

"Ok. Go for the kolanut, and please come back in time for the final rehearsals." Tesla waved him away, thankful at least for the calm he left behind.

 

     By eight in the evening when I set out for my date with destiny alone, I was very nervous and to be honest, scared. But, I had gone too far to turn back. Tesla, Ijala and the third boy, Ugo, had gone ahead of me. The plan was for them to walk in an anticlockwise direction around the school so as to arrive at the pavilion some minutes after Shadia and I.

    

     I had barely arrived the designated point when I spotted Shadia walking towards the sports field. Her yellow checked pinafore moving through the grass brought out the kind of feeling I usually have when the script for a test in which I had performed badly is being distributed. I wished I could freeze time, call rain forth or...I must have been so lost in thought that I did not notice her arrival until her voice startled me back to consciousness.

"What’s up? What were you looking at?" she asked waving her hand in front of my face.

"Ha babe!" I stuttered and looked her over.

"You are looking beautiful this evening." I responded, scratching my head in embarrassment. She had certainly outdone herself and was looking unbelievably gorgeous.  I was damned!

"Thank you." She smiled and walked around where I stood drowning me in a mixture of fragrances. Soap. Talcum. Perfume. Womanhood.

 

Then we ran out of words.

 

In the corner of my eye, I saw some movements in the grass where the boys were supposed to be hiding, and I knew we were already being observed. I slowly guided Shadia to the mound of grass specially made by Ijala in the afternoon. She hardly resisted. Both of us were aware of what was about to happen, there was little or nothing else to discuss, I reasoned.

"Whoa! This even feels like a bed." Shadia murmured as she sat on the grassy platform. I thought I could detect some apprehension in her voice.

My hands grew cold and clammy as I helped her onto the platform and then gently placed one palm on her right thigh to test her resistance. I waited awhile for her to push it away or make an attempt to, but she ignored it. Once we were seated and I was sure there was an implied consent, I brought my lips closer to hers for my first ever kiss and she acquiesced, opening her mouth as mine approached. That initial contact stays in the mind forever, you know? Mine was brief, tentative and unsure, but it remains the best taste I ever experienced and though I have tried several times to recreate it, I have never succeeded. That night, we drew back reflexively after that brief kiss, shared an embarrassing moment and then came together again. By that time, my member had started behaving like it possessed a life of its own. Suddenly without any fore warning, it began to throb and then with an embarrassing and astoundingly forceful urgency, also started to grow- one energetic inch after the other - almost in synch with my racing pulse. It was as if I had a trapped animal – some dangerous reptile - in my pants which was wriggling and fighting for space and air. My dad was right, because something really took over events. Soon Shadia and I were rolling on the grass. The Manual and the boys were just events from another life. At that moment if you had asked me to tell you the colour of The Manual I would probably have said ‘twenty’. My hands grew in length and number, they went everywhere. Then my mouth became a brush, painting Shadia with all shades of appellations. We formed shapes that do not exist on this part of heaven yet and then her fingers began to tug at my shorts. My Texas belt was dislodged from position and I soon lost all inhibitions, pulled up her pinafore and dragged her panties down. At this stage, not even my pastor could have called me back, I was too far gone. Soon, we got tired of touching one another; our bodies divined that there was a pleasure we had not yet experienced and we went after that, naturally.

 

When we were both sufficiently exposed to proceed without any encumbrance, I tried to wear the condom and I kept on getting it wrong. So I dropped it before she could change her mind. I ran my hand over her, received the greatest shock of my young life. The anatomy did not tally with the image I had imagined. There was something wrong there, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I drew Shadia to one side till I could see with the light coming from the road and checked again. To my surprise, I saw something like a fleshy gate which was not in Tesla’s drawing. I assumed that this led into the honey pot, but I was wrong. On probing further, I discovered two depressions - obviously marking two different cavities, whereas, Tesla’s drawing had only one large hole. Shadia obviously had two! A small hole flanked by two dimples and a larger one inferiorly, closer in fact to her anus. In my confusion, I hesitated and Shadia felt my indecision.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"Nothing" I snapped.

"So go in now. What are you waiting for?"

"In? Where? Up or down?"

Then it dawned on her that it was my first time.

I would not let that stop me so I decided to try dilating each hole in turns, first with my index finger. The first hole was very narrow, barely admitting the tip of my little finger. As I was trying to force it in, I felt a sharp in-draw of breath as if she was consciously trying to conceal the discomfort, so I stopped. That could not be it.

"Sorry, why don’t you show me the hole your first boyfriend used?" I asked her impatiently in a whisper.

When it was obvious that I could get no help from her, I tried the second hole. This admitted my index finger to an extent, but she still cried out just the same, as if, I was hurting her.

By now, I could feel life draining out of my member, like a generator switched off in mid-service.

She had obviously never had sex too.

Then she began to sob. My frustration gave way first to fear, then to raging anger as the truth came out of the dark night and settled on me. The signs were always there, we just didn’t pick them. Tesla had conned us all! He had never slept with a girl before. Everything he wrote in that Manual, he must have picked from the discussions between his school father and the friends. He obviously knew nothing more about sex than the rest of us. I looked in the direction where the boys were meant to be hiding and I could faintly hear them whispering, trying hard to keep their voices low to no avail.

Shadia must have heard them too, as she suddenly stiffened. She turned to me.

"Did you hear that?" She asked looking flustered.

"What?"

"I thought I heard voices."

"Where? There can be nobody here at this time. Come on, let us finish this."

I could have been talking to a dead horse. She did not listen to my pleas, sprang up from the grass, looked around for her clothes and then with amazing ease got dressed in a hurry. I tried to stop her, but by the time I was through groping on the ground trying to locate my belt, she was already on the way back to the female hostel, leaving me to run after her.

 

     I finally caught up with her on the main road, and as I fell in step with her I heard a sniff. She must have been crying. There was nothing to say.

I tried holding her hand, but she snatched it away from my grasp and kept on walking like someone under a spell; her tear-rimmed eyes fixed at a distance beyond the present - were dark and inconsolable.

 

     We walked together slowly towards the female hostel. Each immersed in separate and very individual agonies and finally parted at the gate leading into the female hostel without exchanging any word. The silence we shared on the way that memorable night contained more words than every conversation we shared thereafter, at least till we graduated three years later.

 

     As I walked slowly to the hostel along the dusty road leading to the male hostel, a lot of thoughts courted me. On one hand, I was thrilled by my own performance that night; on the other, I was annoyed by Tesla’s insincerity. My hands had actually been to places I had only dreamt about. I stopped near the bore hole in the front of the hostel to rinse my hands and on second thoughts I decided against doing that just yet. I raised my index finger and admired it. Then my eyes ran over the rest of the palm and the lines that allegedly define destinies. I wished I could see into the future; wished I could predict our ultimate destinations. However I knew some things for certain although I could not imagine exactly how they would come to be.

    

     Tesla and I would cease being friends from that night. Ijala could go to hell as well. The red Manual would go to the incinerator and I was going to apologize to Shadia.

 

     If my palms could speak a language that my ears could distill from the other sounds coming from within me, I reason now, even if only in retrospect, perhaps, they would have told me that night how far the obsession to right the wrongs of that night would ultimately take me. Even at their best, I doubt if my palms could have succeeded in describing just how beautiful and brilliant Shadia ultimately turned out to be; neither could they have described the wonderful life we now live, the children we have raised and more.

 

     That night, my right index finger showed the way to a better life, my palms and the lines they bear only followed that lead. I have been fortunate enough to trace my destiny along one of the paths marked by one of those holes and even now, thirty years later, I have no regrets.

 

     As I walked along that road, I knew none of these of course but I did not care, my fingers had done something worth celebrating with respectful silence and exotic fantasies and I was not going to be denied that luxury.  Never! I swore to myself as I swaggered towards my hostel like a man who knew his place in the world.

 

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Abayomi Ogunwale Zuma is a resident Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Owo, Ondo State of Nigeria.

 

 

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