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CONTRIBUTORS

Akinlabi Peter
Amanda Sington-Williams
A M Gatward
Ayat Ghanem
Bobby Parker
Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.
Dike Okoro
E C Osondu
Katie Metcalfe
Laura Solomon
Mandy Pannett
Michael Larrain
Oge Anyahuru
Terri Ochiagha
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

 

drama


The Strange Behaviour of Bronze by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.

 

SCENE FIVE

 

TANDU plays a lone hand of okwe downstage left. Behind him, a tumult is mimed in AGIDIíS courtyard. The box is covered with a green throw. GOGO sits on her plinth,. TANDU V.O. It is six days since he died and I come back here often. To the last place where we sat and played okwe. I miss Agidi. He was not just the greatest man in Ikenga, he was my father too, and I had only been back six days before he died. (pause) I had only been back six days.(Rising hubbub from crowd behind TANDU. He turns to look at them.) They miss him more. (Takes up okwe and exits slowly.)

 

KADIBIA. Is this what Ikenga has come to? Thereís a crisis and not even one man

with the heart of a rhino can step forward!

 

SORAMO. (younger, fortyish, Soramo, sans wig, stoop, and quaver) Since when

did Ikenga need rhinos to fight her battles? Do we have a chief or not?

 

OSSY. Agidi is dead.

 

SORAMO. So? Did we bury our chieftaincy with him?

 

KADIBIA. I know where youíre going, witch, I am chief in Agidiís place, but I have

my own talents...

 

SORAMO. Just how can drinking fermented wine solve this Chia crisis?

 

OSSY. Soramo, letís not be silly here, that Chai bull will break Kadibiaís back

in a moment. We are not looking for a sacrifice; we are looking for a

man with a chance of throwing Zomiri.

 

KADIBIA. And it is not just my back at stake here. You know the consequences

of defeat for Ikenga. Are there no young wrestlers left in Ikenga?

 

ALAM . (sullenly, as other turn away) We are still in mourning.

 

KADIBIA. Agidiís mourning ends tonight, Alam. You can wrestle tomorrow.

(offers toga) Here, take the wrestlerís toga.

 

ALAM. (declines toga) Agidi was my hero, I plan to mourn him one full month.

 

TATA. (rejects toga) I broke my leg. The whole town knows I broke my leg.

 

SORAMO. Tata! It has been months since you stopped limping!

 

TATA. It becomes worse when it rains. (Walks away with a pronounced limp) It is not yet strong enough to wrestle Zomiri. Did you see the height of him? Did you see his girth?

 

SORAMO. Fine! Give me the toga!

 

KADIBIA. (thunders) Have you come here to mock the men of Ikenga?

 

SORAMO. It is no use, rhino indeed! This is a town of cockroaches! Agidi will be turning in his grave. (throws up hands) God send us one hero!

 

Enter TANDU, to universal laughter.

 

TANDU. (disconcerted) What?

 

KADIBIA. We were looking for a volunteer to take on Zomiri. To save a child of Ikenga from slavery. Would that be you?

 

TANDU. (sullenly) I have not wrestled since my teenage years. I play okwe.

 

SORAMO. Leave the kid alone! If anyone has a right to mourn his father one full

month, it is Tandu!

 

NTUA. (comes from rear to stand before TANDU, sneers) This may be the biggest coward in all Ikenga, but he holds the secret of bravery.

 

KADIBIA. This is no time for riddles, Ntua.

 

NTUA. This is no riddle. Ask him what tong he wears around his neck.

 

AJILO dramatically draws cloth cover off the box.

 

TANDU. I see you still take liberties with other peopleís property.

 

AJILO. (contemptuously) Only when they should be public property.

 

NTUA. (to KADIBIA) Ask him what is hidden in Agidiís box.

 

SORAMO. What mockery is this? What else can be in a dead manís box but a

dead manís clothes?

 

AJILO. (points out clay seal on box cover.) No man, dead or alive, needs this

protection for clothesÖ

 

KADIBIA. (peers closer) Alaís seal! (hush from crowd) Thatís a strange security

for clothes. Very strange.

 

TANDU. Thereís nothing in the box. My father told me so.

 

AJILO. Thatís a very big nothing before my eyes. What did you know of your father? You have only been back twelve days. Have you looked into the box for yourself?

 

TANDU. No.

 

AJILO. Well, there you are!

 

TANDU. Agidi said the seal was to keep gossips busy-

 

AJILO. Your father lied! As he always does!

 

TANDU. Is this Ikengaís form of mourning? To insult a hero who cannot defend himself? Who is barely in his grave...

 

SORAMO. Donít go on and on. Ajilo cannot insult Agidi. Flies will always buzz

around the lionís posterior. Thatís just the way life is.

 

AJILO. (raging) Oho! But you can insult Ajilo, is that not so? Well, flies also

buzz around corpses, donít forget. I have attended a lionís funeral,

letís see whoís next!

 

KADIBIA. Look, whether Agidi lied or not, there is nothing we can do about it

now. Heís dead. Whether he has gold or dust in that box, by our

custom, it all belongs to Tandu.

 

NTUA. It is not that simple sir. Agidi spent his life protecting Ikenga. Now heís

gone and you seek a rhino to replace the lion.

 

OSSY. You say the obvious. Life is short.

 

NTUA. Give me that tong and I will throw Zomiri tomorrow. I will champion

all Ikengaís honour duels. I will fight all her wars.

 

AJILO. (hotly) Club-footed ape! Thatís not what we agreed! And what makes

you think Agidiís charms will make a hero out of a pygmy like you?

 

NTUA. Youíre not that much taller than I!

 

ALAM. If we are looking for a tall, experienced fighter...

 

KADIBIA. I thought you were in mourning.

 

ALAM. What better way to mourn Agidi than to wear his amulets? Give me

the tong.

 

There is a crowd of hustling youths around TANDU, who holds the tong aloft.

 

TANDU. Itís my inheritance!

 

SORAMO. Will you take on Zomiri?

 

TANDU. Me? Take on Zomiri?

 

KADIBIA. Perhaps it is best that... (TATA wrests tong from TANDU) ... hey, I thought you had a broken leg!

 

TATA. (runs without limp) With Agidiís charms, I donít even need a second leg.

 

He struggles through the rest until he gets to the box. There is a silent struggle to break the seal. Tandu has been thrown to the ground by the riot for the key and he loses interest in box. He carries the okwe to the bench, and cradles it on his laps, facing audience. The box stands open, empty but for a white-clad, AGIDI sitting quietly on his heels, with a band of white chalk around his eyes. The men look carefully inside the box, and turn away in disgust.

 

KADIBIA. (clears throat, gives toga to TATA.) The gods be with you.

 

TATA (terrified) Itís empty! You can see that for yourself! I only agreed to wrestle if we found Agidiís charms...

 

TANDU opens his arms to audience in a Ďtold you soí gesture. TATA goes around, trying, unsuccessfully to pass on the toga in mime; the limp is back with a vengeance.

 

TANDU has a handful of tokens in his hand, which he is about to play,

 

AGIDI. (with burr in voice, Drum roll) You are invincible, until the day you die!

 

TANDU freezes, his tokens clatter to the ground. Nobody else hears or responds. (He turns with difficulty. AGIDI has not moved.) No one else can see me. No one else can hear me. I made you a pledge; hereís your satisfaction, eh kwa? (Drum roll) You are invincible, until the day you die!

 

TANDU undergoes transformation. He draws bronze sword and enacts a warriorís

dance. Crowd stops and watches. He takes the toga from TATA and walks off left. Dropped jaws watch him go. Then they leave in bafflement. Only the box and GOGO remain. The percussive music to which TANDU danced remains, slowing now, GOGO. (sings) She lived through the clouding of the skies, She lived through the flooding of the plains, But her life ran out before the harvest of the cropÖ (AGIDI emerges, astonished, from box) At last you can see me! Welcome to the land of the ancestors.

 

AGIDI. Have you... always haunted your bronze?

 

GOGO. Like you, I have unfinished business in Ikenga.

 

AGIDI. Quite a lot you must have seen,

 

GOGO. And heard. I have seen you dance with two more brides... why did they leave the Lion of Ikenga, I wonder...

 

AGIDI. Perhaps they couldnít fill the vacuum that you left, eh kwa?

 

GOGO. Or perhaps you did not dance with them enough, the way you danced with me. Letís dance Agi, (Dances)

 

AGIDI. No one has called me that for years and years,

 

GOGO. Are your joints stiffened from hiding inside boxes? Come dance with

the wife of your youth,

 

They dance, more war dance than romance: a sparring

 

AGIDI. I never thought Iíd say this, Gogo, but death becomes you, youíve never danced as well, no other bride has danced as well...

 

GOGO. In other words Iím a saint, how nice, how charitable, Agi, but remember, I can be a monster too...(she trips him up violently and stands angrily over him as the music ends abruptly.)

 

AGIDI (from ground) You have clearly overheard many things Iíve said that meant nothing, eh kwa? (rises)

 

GOGO. (circles him) How about the one deal that meant something, the deal you made to bring our children home...

 

AGIDI. (circles her around plinth) What deal? Whatís gone is gone, eh? No sense recounting what is past. (tries to change subject) How does this place work?

 

GOGO. (coldly) I cannot rest in peace like other mothers, while my children

live in bondage, Agidi.

 

AGIDI. Whatís gone is...

 

GOGO. Nkoma! Anene! Do those names ring a bell? Our twins are not gone.

 

AGIDI. And Tandu, remember? We had three sons! But we are dead, Gogo. Weíve got to accept that.

 

GOGO. So what was that business with Tandu?

 

AGIDI. (stubbornly) A promise made I had to keep.

 

GOGO. Unlike the promise you made to Ukoni?

 

AGIDI. (shocked. stops) You? You know about that?

 

GOGO. (tearfully) I brokered the deal, Agi. It was this motherís misery that found a loophole in the laws of the universe. It was not eight words he said to you. You forgot the most important five: Ďgo bring my children homeí.

 

AGIDI. (covers ears, stumbles away) No!

 

GOGO. Yes! (Follows him, drum roll) You are invincible until the day you die; go bring my children home! You got your powers to make the homestead whole again.

 

AGIDI. I did my best! I fought wars! I filled Ikenga with children...

 

GOGO. Not our own! I didnít think Ďchildrení would need definition to you,

Agi.

 

AGIDI. What would you have had me do? I warred everywhere in search of them! (Suddenly stops being defensive) Donít dump your guilt on me, you sold our sons! What is this nonsense about going to the stream?

 

GOGO. (gasps) How... how did you know...

 

AGIDI. You always hated Tandu, didnít you, the unwanted baggage from your slavemaster; the irony! A child that loves you so! Only seven years, and yet you fed him bitter, unripe, udala!

 

GOGO. (Weeps) Please, donít start...

 

AGIDI. But your business partner reneged, didnít he? He brought an army and took, not just the child you dressed in black for him, he took them all, all our sons.

 

GOGO. No, no...

 

AGIDI. Yes, yes, and they raided Ikenga, whose men were gone to hunt and farm, and they grabbed women and children... you brought the bandits in...

 

GOGO. ...how did you know?

 

AGIDI. (quietens) I sacked Apia, ten years ago. I caught their chief slaver, a

cad called Ganazu.

 

GOGO. (whispers) Ganazu!

 

AGIDI. He was dying of a mortal wound and he confessed to the deal with you. It was his parting taunt, eh, his final victory over me!

 

GOGO. (whispers) Ganazu!

 

AGIDI. He paid you one bronze bar for your son, Tandu, a child of your own womb, eh kwa? You were to mark him out in black clothing. He was to slip in when you went to stream and steal the child you dressed in black, and him alone. But he took them all, eh kwa? And went on and sacked Ikenga. And you came back from the stream. Our three sons, plus forty more children and eight women, all lost because of you.

 

GOGO. (slow bell tolls, dead voice intones in time) So I took your sword down from the wall, and I took my knife as well. I went barefoot, alone, while Ikengaís men fell down and wept. No, I was not alone, the shame of what I did, that, went with me. It was not bravery. It was my terms of suicide. I did not just go to bring them back. I went to die. I could no longer be a mother with the memory of what Iíd done. (Bell stops)

 

AGIDI. You found them near the Nigerís flood.

 

GOGO. I did.

 

AGIDI. (not so condemning, some admiration) You cut them down, eh kwa? They said demon arose from the floodwaters. They said that half your face was gone, three arrows bristled from your breasts, they saw your left hand twitching in the mud, clenching your knife, but your right hand held my sword, was raised in fury, slashing left and right... eh kwa? The slavers called you demon, (Beat) but Ikenga called you saint...

 

GOGO. (without pride) I counted seven slavers dying from your sword before I

died. I counted forty children freed... (Beat) but none of ours.

 

AGIDI. (circles her) A Teraka chief bought Tandu. They journeyed north from Ikenga. Nkoma and Anene went to the cult of Carcasus, remember them? The irony! That the same slab should sell mother and sons! They journeyed upriver. There was nothing you could have done. (Shakes head) We brought your pieces home, with donkeys carrying the very earth that drank your blood, we brought you back to Ikenga our heroine. (She bows head in shame) We mourned you one full month. No woman, no man, was ever mourned like Ikenga mourned Gogo. We built your bronze. (Long pause) I loved that bronze. (Bitterly) Until the day I captured Ganazu, and heard his truth.

 

GOGO. ÖYou never told anyone...

 

AGIDI. ...and kill Ikengaís spirit? No, I never did. Not even the child you sold for one bronze bar. I found it in your pot, you know, I gave it into the pool from which your bronze was made.

 

GOGO. (weeping bitterly) I... Iím sorry... I never had the chance to ask your... forgiveness... I ask it now... (Looks up, anxiously) please.

 

AGIDI. Why? Why did you love bronze so? One bronze bar? One bronze bar?

 

GOGO. (coldly) It wasnít bronze I loved; it was Tandu I hated. I was raped in bondage and he was evidence. (hesitates, facade cracks) I...I really tried to love, but... (coldly) I loathed him from my womb. He was too much my slaverís spawn to be my son.

 

AGIDI. He was our son! I took him from your womb. I raised him as my son!

 

GOGO. (coldly) I saw my slavemaster, every single day I looked in Tanduís eyes. He was Ossyís splitting image...

 

AGIDI. He was not! You have jaundiced eyes! He was an innocent, a child! How could you!

 

GOGO. You have the jaundiced eyes! How can you have Tandu for heir! He is what he is, it is written in his blood. You will not make a goose a fowl by brooding her egg with chicks. I wanted my slave history dead, but Tandu made it my future! (beat) Then Ganazu came to buy textiles, and put the devilís idea in my mind. (Follows him on knees) Donít torment any longer, Agi, say the word, make my hell more bearable...

 

AGIDI. Get up. Whatís done is done. I forgive you.

 

GOGO. (rears up furiously, still weeping) Then knowing what you knew, what madness kept you in that business, Agidi? You were a greater slaver than Ganazu! Youíve made more widows than the cult of Carcasus! ĎHit that drum! Hit that drum!í The arrogance! Your power drove you mad! (He tries to hold her, she whips away, sobbing) What lesson did you learn from me? You that sold our sonsí freedom for fame...

 

AGIDI. (flares) Whose fame, eh? Whose bronze was famous right across the world, eh? You would not have a son from Ossy, but you did not mind a bronze from him!

 

GOGO. Did I want it? (sobs) Did I not pay for it with my life? All my death, have I not paid? I that haunted Ikenga to be worthy of that bronze! Have I not paid?

 

AGIDI. Well so have I!

 

GOGO. (quietly) You knew our twins were in Ca... in Carcasus?

 

AGIDI. I did,

 

GOGO. (trembles) And you did not rescue them.

 

AGIDI. I... I... (falters, turns away) It is not the way you think,

 

GOGO. (sobs) My damnation is sealed. My twins! In the same cauldron I was born! And you want my forgiveness, Agi? You warred everywhere, except the very place they were. Because you knew your powers were to end the day they returned. Was that so bad a deal, to give your life for the children of your loins?

 

AGIDI. (conciliatory) Thatís not how it was, eh kwa? I did my best... your errors were undoable.

 

GOGO. (weeps) That was the deal, Agi. I, Gogo, made the deal. I Gogo, wrestled Creator-God to change the laws of his universe, so that our childrenís voices didnít join those crying from the bottom of the seas.

 

AGIDI. (covers ears, stumbles away) No!

 

GOGO. (follows, weeps) That was the deal! Bring the children home. You had a year to do that after which you died, but you found twelve victims didnít you? To extend your heroic life, till Tandu beat you at your game.

 

AGIDI. Tandu! All hope is not lost, Tandu is free - and invincible - and...

 

GOGO. (coldly) What can you expect from the slaverís son?

 

AGIDI stands shock still. Mouth drops. GOGO stands defiantly. Darkness falls.

 

CHILDíS VOICE O.S.(sings) Udala mu cha

nda (chorus by children)

udala mu cha

nda,

nwunye nna mo,

nda

gota udala nafia

nda

lacha lacha lacha

nda

lachapu nwa enwe nne

nda

lachapu nwa enwe nna

nda

enu uwa bu olili

nda

onye nosia onaba

nda

enu uwa bu olili

nda

onye nosia onaba

 

EXIT

 

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OCTOBER INDEX
EDITOR'S NOTE
DRAMA
ESSAYS & REVIEWS
FICTION
POETRY
COMPETITIONS


Chuma Nwokolo Jr. is a lawyer and writer, author of Diaries of a Dead African and publisher of African Writing Magazine. He was Oxford Ashmolean Museum's Writer-in-Residence for 2005-2007. He Lives in the UK.

Website: nwokolo.com


 


 

 

 

 

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