Jude Idada the award winning dramatist, author and filmmaker will be launching two of his new books on the 30th of April, 2015. One of the two books is titled Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs. Details of the launching can be read here. Click here to read excerpt from the second book.
“What do you see in your dreams, Didi?” Aunty Nonye asked in a voice that sounded like a whisper but was actually a voice filled with worry.
Didi slowly lowered her head. She could see the deep concern in Aunty Nonye’s eyes and she didn’t like it. She did not like the fact that she was responsible for it. Didi did not want to do anything that would make Aunty Nonye unhappy.
“Look at me, Didi,” her voice was firm.
Didi had only heard that firmness only once before and that was when Aunty Nonye was angry with Big Aunty. “What have I done to make her angry?” She asked in her head as she lifted up her head and stared at Aunty Nonye. They looked at each other for a moment, before Aunty Nonye reached over and placed bother her hands over Didi’s hands. She held them as though they were eggs, her eyes locked with Didi’s eyes.
“You can trust me, Didi, okay?”
Didi did not say anything for a moment, then she slowly nodded.
“Beautiful,” Aunty Nonye said in Igbo, before she continued in English, “What do you see in your dreams?”
“I see strange things,” Didi said in a voice that was filled with wonder.
“An elephant that flies and grass that sings.”
“Lots of children your age see things like that.” Aunty Nonye said with a relieved smile.
“Not the way I see them,”
“How do you see them?”
“Like they are real, very real, all I have to do is close my eyes and they all come alive, talking to me, playing with me, and showing me how their world is like,” Didi’s voice had a pleading tone to it. She felt the same kind of panic she used to feel when she tried to convince her brothers and sisters of what she saw in her dreams.
“Can you close your eyes now and tell me what you see?” Aunty Nonye asked.
Didi didn’t respond. No one had ever asked her to do it. She wasn’t sure if Aunty Nonye was truly interested in what she saw or if like the others, she either wanted to make fun of her or prove that what she saw wasn’t real. She examined Aunty Nonye’s face across the table. Her eyes were honest and the worry line between her eye brows showed that she was concerned about Didi.
“Yes I can, Aunty Nonye,” Didi finally said and slowly shut her eyes.
Everything was dark for a moment and then there was the sweet sound of singing, before an explosion of light. Didi smiled. She was not afraid. Slowly the light reduced and the image of the singing dwarf appeared, the one they called a bush baby. It was not silent as in the other times. The sweet song was coming from it as it held it’s lamp above its head.
“What do you see, Didi?” Aunty Nonye’s voice sounded as though it was coming from somewhere very far away.
Didi knew she had to answer, “I see it.”
“It…What is it?”
“The bush baby.”
“Yes… the magical dwarf… the one Ede told us about… it is singing,” Didi continued in a sleepy voice.
Aunty Nonye looked at her. She could see that Didi was enjoying what she was seeing. Her face was relaxed, her lips curled at the edges as though she was about to laugh, her closed eyes moving rapidly and twitching from time to time. The more Aunty Nonye looked at Didi, the more she remembered. She held Didi’s hands tighter and felt the happiness flow through Didi’s hands into her hands. Aunty Nonye had thought she would never experience that feeling again. It had been so long ago. Those days in Kano when as a five year old girl she had been forced to take care of herself when the family she was living with and working for treated her so badly. Those nights she cried and cried and cried. When she called out into the night for her father to come and take her back home. She remembered it clearly now. The first night she had also heard the voice singing so beautifully. The sweet voice filtering through the open window in the dark and surrounding her, like it was her mother’s arms hugging her tight. Like it was rocking her to sleep. Taking away her pain and replacing it with happiness. It was a happiness she could still remember. She looked at Didi, sitting with her eyes shut and the song, she had learnt slipped out of her lips. It was one of the songs of the singing dwarfs.
Didi heard another song filter into the space in which she sat watching the magical dwarf sing. It took her by surprise. She could recognize the voice. It was that of Aunty Nonye, but the song was the same song she had heard the magical dwarf sing on the path between the mountains before. It was as though the magical dwarf, the one they call bush babies, heard the song too because it stopped singing and looked at Didi with inquisitive eyes. Like it was saying; ‘Who is that singing my song?’ and before Didi could answer it, the bush baby suddenly disappeared.
Didi opened her eyes and she saw Aunty Nonye sitting across her, singing the song in the language of the magical dwarfs. Although she had heard it when her eyes were closed, she was shocked to actually see it happening.
“Aunty Nonye, you are singing the song of the bush babies!” Didi exclaimed in disbelief.
Her shriek shook Aunty Nonye out of her singing daze. It took her a while to gather herself and realise that Didi had heard her sing the song. Finally someone else had seen what she had kept secret for years.
“How did you know that song, Aunty Nonye…? How do you understand their language?” Once the words came out of Didi’s mouth, she suddenly realised the truth, “Do you see them too, Aunty Nonye?”
Aunty Nonye didn’t say anything. Instead she wiped a tear that ran down her left cheek before she slowly nodded her head. Didi was too stunned to speak. She sat there looking at Aunty Nonye, trying to make sense of it all.
It was at that moment that Aunty Nonye’s cell phone began ringing. It woke them both from their silent moment. Aunty Nonye removed her hand from Didi’s, stood up and walked to the living room where her phone was on a side stool. She looked at the call display and frowned. Didi was looking at her from the table. She took the call.
“Hello,” Aunty Nonye said into the phone, then she went quiet as she listened to the voice at the other end of the phone, “Yes, this is his wife,” Aunty Nonye continued and kept quiet for a short while, before she began screaming.
Didi jumped to her feet and ran over to Aunty Nonye. She was still screaming as she listened to the phone. Didi held her arm and called out to her through the screams.
“Aunty Nonye, what is happening?”
She screamed and screamed and then she began sobbing, when she hung up the phone. As Didi watched her look around in confusion, not knowing what to do, Didi instantly knew what had happened. Her heart went cold with fear as her fingers held tighter to Aunty Nonye’s arm.
“What happened to Uncle Ikenna?” Didi’s words came out very slow.
It was as though her words seemed to wake Aunty Nonye up from her confusion. She looked at Didi like that was the first time she was seeing her. Then she blinked her eyes and whispered to Didi in a very thin voice; A sound that was like the purring of a kitten.
“Your uncle was in a car accident,”
“Is he okay?” Didi asked in a voice choked with tears.
“They say he can’t wake up.” Aunty Nonye wasn’t sure that Didi would understand what the meaning of the word ‘unconscious’ meant so she used something simpler.
“Is he unconscious or is he… is… is Uncle Ikenna dead?” Didi asked with her heart hammering so loudly in her chest, her ears hurt.
“No… he can’t die… we have to go to the hospital… we have to go now… Oh, God, help me… Oh God, save my husband…” Aunty Nonye staggered back as she began to speak hurriedly. Then she tripped over the couch, fell on it with a loud bang and lay still.
Didi leaned over her. She was afraid. She shook Aunty Nonye’s shoulder. There was no response. She knew she shouldn’t get so afraid that she won’t know what to do. Her mother had told her, “Anytime you are afraid and you don’t know what to do, say the Lord’s prayer.” But before Didi could do that, she first called out to Aunty Nonye.
“Aunty Nonye… Aunty Nonye… please wake up.” She tapped her on the cheek and Aunty Nonye’s head rolled to the left. Didi began to sob. She knew she shouldn’t be afraid but she was afraid. Very afraid. She looked at the clock. It was 7.39 p.m. Didi called out to Aunty Nonye again and when Aunty Nonye didn’t respond, she closed her eyes and began doing as her mother had taught her.
“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come…” Just then she heard the sweet song again and then behind her closed eyes, the singing dwarf appeared, it was singing a different song, and its eyes were staring directly at her. It sang slower and slower, before it pointed at its lips with one of its seven long fingers. Didi understood what it was trying to say, it was telling her to sing the song. It wanted her to repeat the words; that was why it was singing slower.
Didi listened and slowly began repeating after it. There were just five words that it was repeating over and over again. Didi had the words memorized after three tries;
Taliyakaliya Meninakaluni Zanafiwiyi luwa maluna
The moment she began to sing it by herself, the singing dwarf went silent. It stood there staring at Didi. Its eyes were looking at her like it had never done before. She felt warmth coming from it. It was like the feeling she had felt when her mother hugged her at night, or when Uncle Ikenna had called her ‘my child’ in Igbo, but this time it was a million times greater.
“What is your name?” Didi asked the singing dwarf.
It didn’t say anything and just when Didi was going to ask it another question, it answered in English, in a voice so clear, it sounded like the cool breeze that blew through trees just after rainfall.
Didi was surprised. Although she had asked the question, she hadn’t expected it to answer.
There was a moment of stunned silence as they stared at each other, before Didi quickly gathered herself together and spoke again to the bush baby.
“I am Didi… Didi Kanu.”
“I know,” it responded, its big ears waving as though saying ‘hello.’
“How do you know?” Didi was surprised.
“We know all the searchers,” it continued.
“You do not have time for questions… sing the song to your Auntie… so that she awakes,” the bush baby said to her before it sang the song again.
Didi sang it with it one more time and then hurriedly asked, “What of my Uncle, they said he is not waking up.”
“Your uncle is caught in the never-ending sleep, the song that can awaken him, is not for me to teach.” It replied and this time, its eyes were sad.
“Who can teach me the song?” Didi asked.
“Mei Kalala,” it responded.
“Who is that?” Didi’s voice was rising.
“The mother who leads the Keepers of the Truth.”
“Who are the Keepers of the Truth?” Didi was confused.
“We are,” it responded calmy.
“You are the singing magical dwarfs, the ones called bush babies.”
“That is what the ones who destroy the Truth call us.”
“What?” Didi was now very confused.
“Hurry… time fades… hurry… hurry… Taliyakaliya Meninakaluni Zanafiwiyi,” the singing magical dwarf faded away as it started singing the song again.
Didi’s eyes popped open. Aunty Nonye still lay on the floor. She was not moving. Didi looked up at the clock it was 7.42 p.m. She couldn’t believe that everything that had happened with the singing magical dwarf, the one they call a bush baby had taken place in less than three minutes. It felt more like three hours.
She laid her hand on Aunty Nonye’s head and began singing the song. She tried to sing it with the same tune and melody but she knew hers could not compare with the one sang by the singing magical dwarf, the one they call bush babies.
“…Zanafiwiyi luwa maluna.” As the last word came out of Didi’s mouth, Aunty Nonye’s eyes flew open. She looked at Didi for a moment.
“Oh Aunty, you woke up, I love you so much,” Didi kissed her on the cheek.
“Someone was singing a beautiful song,” Aunty Nonye said. It was as though, she didn’t hear what Didi had said. Aunty Nonye’s lips were slightly parted when she finished as though she wanted to sing the song herself.
“It was me, Aunty Nonye, you fell down and fainted, I was afraid,” Didi was smiling in relief. She was so happy that Aunty Nonye had woken up.
“Who taught you how to sing it?”
“The singing magical dwarf, the one I told you about. It said its name is Kaliko.” Didi spoke gently to her, afraid that if she raised her voice, Aunty Nonye would faint again.
“Kaliko… Kaliko… I have heard that name before… Ka… oh my God! Ikenna!” Aunty Nonye sat up in alarm. “We have to leave right now… we have to go to the hospital.” She stood up from the floor and rushed straight out of the house.
Didi had a clearer head. She now had less fear of what would happen to Uncle Ikenna. She knew that even if the doctors could not wake him up, the song that Mei Kalala would teach her would. But then she would have to find her first in order to learn the song. Didi hurried to the center stool, picked up Aunty Nonye’s bag, picked up the phone from the floor and then ran out of the living room after Aunty Nonye.
As they ran down the busy street through the warm night air, the sounds of generators accompanied them and when they stopped a taxi, Aunty Nonye realised that she had lost one foot of her shoes, she didn’t care and quickly jumped into the cab, with Didi jumping in after her. As the cab sped down the street, honking to clear the road from the people who were walking down it, most of them coming from work, Aunty Nonye clasped her hands together and prayed silently while she stifled her sobs. Didi had her arms wrapped around Aunty Nonye’s waist as she held her in comfort. Her eyes were fixed to the gear stick of the car as the driver changed it, time and time again, making the car move faster and faster. She really wasn’t seeing what the driver was doing, instead her mind was faraway in the village of Obosi planning a way to journey to the land of the Keepers of the Truth, the ones they called the singing magical dwarfs or the bush babies. The ones who would teach her how to wake up her uncle from the never-ending sleep.
JUUDE IDADA, a winner of an AMAA best screenplay award, ANAA prize for Drama, Goethe Institut Afrika
Projekt and the first runner up of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, he has continually blazed
a trail in the art scene. He was also a finalist in the New Directions Filmmakers of the future project
by MNET in addition to being selected as one of the playwrights for the British Council’s Lagos
Theatre Festival. Amongst many, Jude was also selected as one of the screenwriters for the Toronto
International Film Festival’s ‘ADAPT THIS!’ and the Afrinolly/Ford Foundation ‘Cinema4Change’
As the resident director of the Africa Theatre Ensemble in Toronto, Canada, Jude directed the stage
plays “Flood,” “Brixton Stories,” “Lost” and “Coma”, the later which he adapted for screen is
currently in pre-production. Alongside several optioned screenplays, he has written and published a
collection of short stories “A Box of Chocolates”, an anthology of poetry “Exotica Celestica”, a
stage play “Oduduwa – King of the Edos,” the first book in a trilogy of novels “By My Own
Hands and a children’s book “Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs of the North.”